Showing posts with label New York. Show all posts
Showing posts with label New York. Show all posts

Friday, February 6, 2015

Caught-Up in Death

It has finally happened–I'm caught up on J. D. Robb (except for two short stories) and am officially ready for Obsession in Death’s release on February 10th. (Which is six days away from where I'm standing.) Whoo-hoo! It’s been a thrill slamming these four books down these past two months. A truly fun and exciting treat/reunion. There were nights where I stood up to keep from falling asleep, as I chuck down 200 pages. In contrast, there was a time where I–pitifully–spent ten days with one book.  Which is not a good thing. I got Lay's Simply thick cut potato chips wedged in some books, as I snacked alongside Eve and crew. I silenced my Korean dramas with the MUTE button to funnel my concentration into some of the more gripping cases.  And I suppose I should mention how I was almost late for work one morning, having stayed up to read and awoke to follow-up with a few more pages.

Fun, indeed.

So the last four books are listed as: Calculated, Thankless, Concealed, and Festive in Death. If I had to rate them in order from best to worse, it'll be Concealed, Calculated, Festive, and Thankless. Nonetheless, you can visit my previous post on Calculated and Thankless to see what I thought of them.  From here I’m going into Concealed and Festive. Okay. Enough rambling.

Concealed in Death is book number 38 in Robb’s In Death series, and it ranks up there with one Eve Dallas’s creepiest cases. It started off simple enough. Eve’s billionaire husband–and series star–Roarke is interested in creating a haven for abandoned children/teens. He’s taken an interest in an old building that done such a thing almost twenty years previous.  Then, it was known as The Sanctuary. 

Nevertheless, a bit of demolition is required to fit Roarke’s taste for the building.  With the contractor present, Roarke wields a sledgehammer into a wall to get the process started. And what he uncovers is a pocket of space. Tucked in that space are the skeletal remains of two, wrapped in plastic. Roarke wastes no time contacting his wife, homicide Lieutenant Eve Dallas. And, upon her arrival, the skeletal remains of ten others are uncovered buried in further walls of the building.

This was probably one of the best In Death books since Treachery in Death. It’s books like this that make me roll my eyes at book snobs. You know, the individuals who look down on what they deem–snobbishly I should say–genre fiction. (Personally, I'd rather get rid of the “genre” and stick with Sue Grafton’s equivalent, “literary form.”) However, genre fiction, or mystery to be exact, explores social subjects and themes just as effectively as contemporary fiction. Though it's done under the duress of murder (which may be where all the snobby squealing comes from), that is only the vehicle to said themes and social conversations. 

Concealed in Death provided both murder and the conversation. Robb took readers on the individual stories of twelve (and then some) unfortunate teens who found themselves abandoned and/or abused by their families.  Subsequently, they're thrown into a shelter. Many of them gathered hard, abrasive defense mechanisms used to control those around them. Many harbored powerful, self-destructive rage. And many were so broken they were helpless and prey to a variety of influences. These teens manipulated, stole, and fought to relieve their sadness. And in the end, they were lured to their deaths by an individual just as destructive and broken.

Concealed in Death just goes on and on.  Whether it's the book's additional presence of mental illness and suicide; it opens conversation after conversation while telling a sad, troubling story that’s very much worth a discussion. It ranked right up there with the disheartening feeling I gathered after I closed Promises in Death six years ago.  Now, that's not to say that Concealed didn't have its flaws.  It certainly did.  However, just the conception of the case alone made it a winner to me.  Twelve skeletal remains hidden behind walls is chilling in itself.  Plus, I'm not one to nibble on flaws in books unless they're too big for me to swallow.

Which more or less brings me to book number 39, Festive in Death. A personal trainer named Trey Ziegler is discovered in his apartment. Murdered, of course. He was bashed over the head twice with one of his fantastic, high-flying fitness achievement trophies, before finding himself (well, his corpse of a self) stabbed in the chest with a kitchen knife attached to a note reading Santa Says You’ve Been Bad!!! Ho. Ho. Ho!  It would be somewhat easier for Eve if she found some sympathy for her playboy victim. Oh, yeah. The fact that he drugged his many sexual conquests takes part of her disgust. Nonetheless, this is her job; she must stand for the dead. So the search for his killer keeps going. From a fashion blogger, a native mistress, and Trey’s body-building rivals, the list of his potential killer goes on just as the variety of possible motives.  Was it a vengeance kill?  A passion kill?  Or maybe Trey was getting in the way of someone else's personal achievement? So, who killed Trey Ziegler and why?

There’s not that much I want to say about Festive in Death. I thought it was kind of standard. It wasn't all that exciting–especially after the gripping atmosphere Concealed gave me.  However, it was an enjoyable glide with Eve and the cast. See, the thing about Festive was Robb never really flipped any switches to me. I read it thinking to myself “wouldn't it be interesting if Trey’s killer was his gay lover”. Conversely, “what if Trey’s hiding someone else’s homoerotic voyeurisms.” Or even, “wow, I wish the character who seems naive and dumb was actually a blood-thirsty vengeful bitch.” Anything but the status quo would’ve done. And while it did twist a little in the end, it wasn't all that grand.  Plainly put, the book was too damn safe for me.

The true treat of Festive was probably the long scenes dedicated to Eve and Roarke’s life with family and friends. Seeing that this was a Christmas-themed book, it only made sense. Now, I'm not one to really invest too much in Eve and Roarke’s relationships with others. It’s true. To me, the books move so slow and are so stagnant in the relationship area that I don't feel like I really miss much.  Let me explain... 

Early in the series there was an arc where the dating couple, Peabody (Eve’s partner) and McNab (New York’s electronic division officer), were having a tiff.  He caught her being kissed by another individual and it deconstructed/reconstructed everything between them for a couple of books.  It was an issue that was there.  It came present, explored and experience without having been watered down or glossed over.  Another example comes when the resident psychologist, Dr. Mira, and Eve were on rocky terms during another arc in the series.  Their tiff had to do with an ethical disagreement involving a case. So other than that, nothing really sticks out to me concerning characters and their relationships with others. Perhaps I'm just blind to it, because I've read reviews where others are excited for growth in certain relationships where all I see is the same. Even with Eve and Roarke, I hardly see much of this “growth” people keep talking about. Basically, what I'm saying is that nothing breaks down to be built back up between these characters.  At least nothing serious, detrimental, or dynamic-changing.

I'm not as invested in the character relationships as other readers, but when it happens, I do notice piquing changes.  And I also want to add that I believe part of this issues comes with how everyone's world almost always orbits back around to Eve and Roarke.

Nonetheless, with all of that said, I will say that I did enjoy the parts in Festive not focused on the murder case.  (Honestly, I'm kind of shocked that I did enjoy them.) After all, a Christmas party is usually a good time. And in saying that, I still wish Robb would do something with the gay medical examiner Ty Clipper. So annoying how all these straight couples get to have all the fun. Even the coupling between a licensed male prostitute and a doctor (though I like them in general).

Well, that’s it. Enough rambling. I’m moving on to Obsession. Check with me there!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

I can not write a post on Chinese biographer, Jung Chang, and Chinese-American author, Amy Tan, without mentioning Singapore born and raised, Kevin Kwan, and his take on satiric romp-literature in the form of his first novel, Crazy Rich Asians.  Now that was a mouthful of a sentence.  In any regard, I’ve wanted to read this book since I ran across it this past summer at my local bookstore.  The glittery gold cover and downy pink-colored lettering just screamed DRAMA LIKE NO OTHER.  Top that with the title itself and your forever-fettered Kdrama (Korean drama) obsessor was ready to peel open its pages to absorb all of the melodrama, fashion, money, and behind-closed-doors corruption of Asian millionaires and their spoiled heirs/esses.  Quite simply, I was ready to get my Kdrama fix in literary form, despite Kwan's cast being Chinese as opposed to Korean.  Should something that insignificant even matter.

This juicy piece of amusing fiction delivered just what it intended to, with the exception of a slap-across-the-face scene served by an overprotective, old money mother to her low-income son’s girlfriend.  That, unfortunately, didn’t happen.  And in many ways the devious antics displayed in the book were soft, as opposed to the cruel and downright trifling excursions played out by rivals in Kdramas.  But you know what, that’s not what this book is about.  Hardly.

I like to think that Crazy Rich Asians is a percussion strike between Kwan’s insider view of elite Asians and Jackie Collins's Western glitzy glam.  And to be honestly, while I love Collins, Kwan’s writing is far less diarist and cliché.  Which brings me to another point as to why I liked this book.  Crazy Rich Asians moved away from those stereotypical/cliché numbers we’ve become accustomed to by Asian-enthused novels.  This isn’t a book about an immigrant experience or a pro-democratic movement over China.  Matter-of-fact, it doesn’t even take place in China--specifically.

Aside from the opening character introduction taking place in 1980s London, Crazy Rich Asians starts in New York.  It's here that our main couple, Rachel Chu and Nicholas Young, share a quiet moment over tea in their favorite spot.  They are professional educators, matched by a mutual associate.  Nevertheless, the discussion over tea seems simple: Nick’s best friend’s wedding will take place in Singapore and he would like Rachel to attend and meet his family.  Rachel comes from a modest family/background, and is not even partially aware of Nick’s wealthy background and family.  She might’ve picked up on small, curious bits concerning Nick’s "resources", but the majority of her perception of him is that he is frugal and hardworking (besides being sweet to her).  Therefore, there is nothing for Rachel to assume, regarding Nick’s family.  Yet, she is tentative about meeting them and Nick's friends for the summer.

And for good reason.  Minutes after Rachel and Nick share a closing kiss, their conversation is captured by a nosy patron who recognized Nick.  Said patron emails her sister, who in turn calls her best friend in Singapore, who then texts eight different friends.  Eventually the news of Nick bringing a girl home to Singapore spreads like a virus across powerful social circles.

The proceeding chapter showers us with Nick’s uppity mother, Eleanor Young, receiving some unsettling information that Nick is heading to Singapore with a Taiwanese-American gold-digger (that‘s how far Rachel‘s “dossier” has stretched from the truth).  That’s three demeaning strikes and two lies already against Rachel before she even sets foot on a plane to Australia.  The only truth is that she is American.  She is later coined an ABC which means American Born Chinese.  However, this does not make Rachel’s situation any better as Eleanor use every available force of power that she has to put an end to Rachel and Nick’s relationship (the snubs begin with Eleanor leaving Singapore before their arrival).  The inventive cohorts that support Eleanor’s cause do most of her dirty work.  Of course she couldn't be bothered to roll around in the mud.  However, she is very present as a villainesque mother, drenched in her obsession with maintaining control, wealth, and her definition of the Young family image.

While Rachel and Nick's A plot takes up the ground of the book, Kwan gifts us with several B plots that increases the book‘s focus on wealth and the personal turmoil and baggage it creates.  One B plot consists of Nick’s fashionista cousin, Astrid, and her martial woes.  While another focuses on Nick’s other cousin, Eddie, and the strife he puts his children through as he struggles with his desire to appear seamless before his family and peers.

And believe me when I say that there is more to be had from this book.  Much, much more.
Alexis Rodriguez-Duarte

Crazy Rich Asians was just an entertaining read all around.  I enjoyed it a lot more than I anticipated, considering how I had a hard time establishing the multitude of side characters with their names, families, and purposes.  I probably struggled the most here, whereas some reviewers didn’t exactly like Kwan’s use of dropping big brand fashion names.  Nonetheless, after their fifth appearance, I started to understand who side characters like Daisy Foo and Ling Cheh represented in the scheme of the novel.  I also sputtered along with Kwan’s mixture of English and Romanized Chinese.  Not because they were present, but because they were footnoted.  This usually meant I had to cut myself from the narrative to spot the translation.  In nonfiction this doesn’t seem to bother me, but in fiction I realized that it did.  I would’ve preferred if he integrated the translations into the text by means of simply having the characters translate it themselves as a form of emphasis, or have characters respond accordingly so that it translates clearly to the reader.  

Nonetheless, nothings takes away how absorbing and fun Kwan’s novel is.  His writing didn’t slow down as he switched between revolving plots on the fly.  Each main character he employed drove me with a smile through their stories, as well as hot moments of rage (even the genuine Rachel drove me crazy at moments).  I don’t recall being able to put the book down after my initial adjustment to his style.  While it’s too late to label this a beach read, I still encourage anyone interested in peeking into the screwball lives of elite and powerful Asian families to pick up this book.  That way Kwan can present us with another book because Crazy Rich Asians will leave you wanting more.


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