Friday, August 2, 2013

Crazy Rich Asians: A Novel by Kevin Kwan

The blurb:
Crazy Rich Asians  is the outrageously funny debut novel about three super-rich, pedigreed Chinese families and the gossip, backbiting, and scheming that occur when the heir to one of the most massive fortunes in Asia brings home his ABC (American-born Chinese) girlfriend to the wedding of the season.

When Rachel Chu agrees to spend the summer in Singapore with her boyfriend, Nicholas Young, she envisions a humble family home, long drives to explore the island, and quality time with the man she might one day marry.  What she doesn't know is that Nick's family home happens to look like a palace, that she'll ride in more private planes than cars, and that with one of Asia's most eligible bachelors on her arm, Rachel might as well have a target on her back.  Initiated into a world of dynastic splendor beyond imagination. Rachel meets Astrid, the It Girl of Singapore society; Eddie, whose family practically lives in the pages of the Hong Kong socialite magazines; Eleanor, Nick's formidable mother, a woman who has very strong feelings about whom her son should -- and should not -- marry. Uproarious, addictive, and filled with jaw-dropping opulence, Crazy Rich Asians is an insider's look at the Asian jet set - a perfect depiction of the clash between old money and new money, between Overseas Chinese and Mainland Chinese -- and a fabulous novel about what it means to be young, in love, and gloriously, crazily, rich.

The rich really are different from the rest of us.  We heard that from Great Gatsby and we see it in Kevin Kwan's Crazy Rich Asians.

The book centers on three families so wealthy that their existence and wealth is kept from the society pages.  We see the old guard of Asian wealth as it clashes with the flashy new multimillionaires and billionaires of the last few decades.  The clothes, jewels, real estate, private jets, impulse purchases, etc. sort of reminded me of the families that reigned during America's Gilded Age.  We certainly see that how the wealthy Chinese suffer prejudice when traveling abroad  and the book has some delightful moments when the more obnoxious snobs are taught lessons in humility.    The very first scene in the book had me hooked.

When Nicholas Young, one of Singapore's wealthiest and most eligible bachelors, invites his girl friend Rachel Chu to travel to Singapore with him to meet his friends and family,  he doesn't think to prepare her for what's ahead.  Nicholas doesn't act particularly rich, extravagant or flashy in New York, so Rachel expects to meet a regular Singaporean family.    Rachel certainly doesn't expect the hostility, drama, and craziness that converge when society matrons and their eligible daughters learn that one of Asia's most eligible bachelors is in love with an American Born Chinese.  The mean society girls that we encounter in Crazy Rich Asians are particularly nauseating and the society gossip gets to be a little too much - but perhaps this is what Kevin Kwan was going for.

I wasn't that drawn to Rachel Chu or Nicholas Young, but I did find Nicholas's glamorous heiress cousin Astrid to be an interesting and sympathetic character.  Astrid is Singapore's It Girl with unparalleled bloodlines and one of the largest fortunes in Asia but she's married a young tech entrepreneur and has been trying to live within her husband's means.  She's making do in a small apartment with a small staff,  hiding her Parisian purchases, and is content with her life until she learns that her husband might be having an affair.  This rocks Astrid's world and transforms her from a caricature to a real person.  My favorite parts of the book were when Kevin Kwan revealed the young Astrid and her chance meeting and escape with her old boyfriend.

ISBN-10: 0385536976 - Hardcover $25.95
Publisher: Doubleday (June 11, 2013), 416 pages.
Review copy courtesy of the Amazon Vine Reviewers Program.

About the Author:
Kevin Kwan was born and raised in Singapore.  He currently lives in Manhattan.  Crazy Rich Asians is his first novel.  Find out more about him at

Friday 56: The Chalice by Nancy Bilyeau

Welcome to this week's Friday 56 - this Friday 56 comes from The Chalice by Nancy Bilyeau.  I discovered Nancy Bilyeau when I heard her speak at ThrillerFest 2013 in New York last July.  She participated in the panel "Who Killed Jack the Ripper?:  Putting the Mystery in History."  
The panel itself was wonderful.  Steve Berry acted as Panel Master while Nancy Bilyeau, William Dietrich, C.W. Gortner, David Liss, David Morrell and M.J. Rose all spoke about their experiences writing historical novels.  I will write more about the actual discussion in another post.  I left the panel with authors that I wanted to learn more about and books to read.

* Grab the book nearest you. Right now.
* Turn to page 56 or 56% on your e-reader/
* Find the fifth sentence.
* Post that sentence (plus one or two others if you like) along with these instructions 
on your blog or (if you do not have your own blog) in the comments section of this blog.
Post a link along with your post back to this blog and to Freda's Voice at
* Don't dig for your favorite book, the coolest, the most intellectual. Use the CLOSEST.

Here's my Friday 56 from The Chalice by Nancy Bilyeau
But reports of Arthur's growth, dreams of a tapestry business, my missing my father - it was all so very personal.
The blurb:
In 1538, England's bloody power struggle between crown and cross threatens to tear the country apart. Novice Joanna Stafford has tasted the wrath of the royal court, discovered what lies within the king's torture rooms, and escaped death at the hands of those desperate to possess the power of an ancient relic.

Even with all she has experienced, the quiet life is not for Joanna.   Despite the possibilities of arrest and imprisonment, she becomes caught up in a shadowy international plot targeting Henry VIII himself.  As the power plays turn vicious, Joanna realizes her role is more critical than she'd ever imagined.  She must choose between those she loves most and assuming her part in a prophecy foretold by three seers. Repelled by violence, Joanna seizes a future with a man who loves her.  But no matter how hard she tries, she cannot escape the spreading darkness of her destiny.

To learn the final, sinister piece of the prophecy, she flees across Europe with a corrupt spy sent by Spain.  As she completes the puzzle in the dungeon of a twelfth-century Belgian fortress, Joanna realizes the life of Henry VIII as well as the future of Christiandom are in her hands -- hands that must someday hold the chalice that lies at the center of these deadly prophecies.

About the Author:
Nancy Bilyeau, author of The Crown, is a writer and magazine editor who has worked on the staffs of InStyle, Rolling Stone, Ladie's Home Journal, and Good Housekeeping; she is currently executive editor of DeJour magazine.  A native of the Midwest, she graduated from University of Michigan.  She lives in New York City with her husband and two children.  Learn more about her at

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Under the Empyrean Sky (The Heartland Trilogy) by Chuck Wendig

Under the Empyrean Sky is set in a post apocalyptic world where the use of genetically modified corn by the government/ruling class has left much of farmer population little more than slaves.  This new corn does not just deplete the nutrients from the soil but the actual organism is physically aggressive and  able to attack animals.  The government agricultural policy, implemented by the mayor and the police force, prohibits the planting of any other crops and strictly regulates trade.  Not everyone lives in these poor conditions - the upper classes live in flotillas far above the farm areas. They're not required to work the land, not subjected to hazardous pollen storms or the dangers of being near the corn.

The hero of the piece is a teenage boy, Cael McAvoy who with his group of friends, competes with Boyland, the mayor's son, to scavenge and trade whatever treasures they might find.  Cael and his group have little resources, threadbare equipment, weak trading connections, and are often picked on.  Cael does have Gwennie, the love interest, and the top person in his crew.

There are two annual scheduled events in this world that are particularly significant.  First, the Harvest during which young men and women are paired together, effectively, a government organized engagement.  It appears that there is no way to request a mate in advance or to ask that the pairing be changed.  The actual marriage is supposed to occur within a year of the "Harvest".  Second, is the Lottery during which the government selects one family from below to move up to a privileged and protected life in the flotillas.

Cael must find a way to feed his family and keep his group together even as his resources and allies decrease.   He does have one stroke of luck when he comes across a hidden garden full of prohibited produce - tomatoes, strawberries, peppers, all sorts of wonders.

I found Under the Empyrean Sky slow at the start. I'd hoped for more action and less detail on the invasive corn.  But the corn is critical to this new world and the story, so I may have been a bit too impatient and take part of the blame.  It takes the middle of the story and learning about Cael's family before I start to care about him and his friends.   Under the Empryean Sky strikes me as a carefully plotted novel/series and I expect that the second book will be particularly interesting as we learn what life is like for the lucky people living in the flotillas.  I wasn't that drawn into the world of The Heartland Trilogy and will likely pass on the next two books.

ISBN-10: 1477817204 - Hardcover $17.99
Publisher: Skyscape (July 30, 2013), 354 pages.
Review copy courtesy of the Amazon Vine Reviewers Program.

About the Author:
Chuck Wendig is a novelist, screenwriter, and game designer. He's the author of BLACKBIRDS, DOUBLE DEAD and DINOCALYPSE NOW, and is co-writer of the short film PANDEMIC, the feature film HiM, and the Emmy-nominated digital narrative COLLAPSUS. He lives in Pennsylvania with wife, taco terrier, and tiny human.