Audiobook Review- China Rich Girlfriend

Even more polarising than the first?

I think it’s a sign, when you can’t be bothered to blog about something and you literally have to force yourself to do it, 2 months after the fact. Yeah, I’m talking about my review of the second book in the ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ trilogy- ‘China Rich Girlfriend’ by Kevin Kwan.

From what I’ve read online, all the reviews have been glowing and the second book has received critical acclaim- some even saying that it’s even better than the first book!? What the? Have they even read the second book?

You see, the first book was revolutionary! A book which depicted Asians as something cool, something non-Asians could be envious of. The story was of romance, there was intrigue like how would Rachel respond when she finds out that Nick is from a filthy rich family? And the story-line was universal enough, that a global audience were able to embrace the characters and the storyline. But on the other hand, China Rich Girlfriend is fragmented, the story doesn’t really go anywhere, and introducing the China rich into the mix – I don’t think it has much global appeal? All I know is that the China rich are buying up our land and resources, pushing up property  prices around the world – which has made it hard for average you and I to afford a place anymore, and seeing these excesses play out – I didn’t develop any emotional attachment to those characters.

In a nutshell, China Rich Girlfriend picks up the Crazy Rich Asian story 2 years down the track. The book follows 3 main plots- Rachel and her discovery of her father and paternal family; Astrid Teo, Nick’s fashionable cousin and the deterioration of her marriage to Michael Teo; and the mostly pointless story of Kitty Tai (aka Kitty Pong), and her exploits while she attempts to be accepted into Hong Kong’s elite.

My largest criticism of the book is that just when one of the three stories gain momentum, the novel cuts over to one of the other two narratives, thus it always seems to be choppy and the book just doesn’t flow all that much. And the annoying thing is that the three stories by-in-large are stand-alone tales, thus the constant cutting back and forth between the stories isn’t necessary. But the stories do finally cross over at the very end, which sets up for the one and only interesting twist in the book. And the second annoyance I had with the book is some factual inconsistencies from the first book to the second? I know that it is just a minor aspect, but oddly it really, like really annoyed me! In the first book we were led to believe that Kerry Chu (Rachel’s mum) fled to America and on her own raised Rachel to adulthood. But in the second book, we’re introduced to a large extended family from Kerry’s side, which was contrary to our perception of them as a mother-daughter duo who only had each other to rely on. And I don’t understand why Kevin introduced Rachel’s extended family, as with their presence it didn’t add to the story, but it only placed into question the factual inconsistencies between the books.

In the end, the book didn’t draw us in, Nick and his rich-ass family were    relegated to minor characters in the book; the introduction of new characters Carlton Bao and Colette Bing were annoying characters who were given too much air time; and Kitty Pong, a minor character, from the first book, was given a lead role – which was probably the most boring of the 3 sub-plots.

In my opinion China Rich Girlfriend is an easy miss! Don’t tarnish your positive memories of ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ by reading book 2! The silly thing is that we purchased books 2 and 3 immediately after we finished book 1 – so because we’ve already spent the money on it, I feel obligated to read/listen to the final book of the trilogy. I wonder if it gets worse. Or can Kevin Kwan turn this Asian let-down around?

Audiobook review- Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore

You’ll never look at a type-face the same way ever again……

A church-side post-wedding conversation led us to Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore- authored by Robin Sloan. Probably like us, you’ve never heard of this title or its author before? But having too many Audible credits (we weren’t able to accumulate any more before we started to lose them), we started madly buying books, and one novel we shrugging-ly dropped into our virtual shopping basket was Mr. P’s. We honestly had no idea what we were getting ourselves into!

This novel was published in 2012, but I have to admit that this novel was the most ‘present-day’-feeling book I’ve ever read! It wasn’t futuristic, but it just felt so ‘now’! The story centers around a young laid-off tecky named Clay Janan; being unemployed, he takes any job on offer, this being a night-shift shop assistant at a dusty old 24-hour bookstore, which doesn’t sell many books and doesn’t see many customers. But things aren’t what they seem to be, and just when you start to think ‘Where the heck is this book going?’ WHAM! The story takes turns you’d never expect coming!

The writing style is modern and playful, the main character Clay is a character you’d love to have as a mate and you totally get right behind his cause, and although the book is relatively short (audiobook is slightly under 8 hours long), you’re completely invested all the way through to the end, hoping real hard that everything works out well for all of the characters (unfortunately there isn’t a sequel).

I personally think one day this book will be noticed by the masses, and bigger things will unfold for Robin Sloan! For example, George R. R. Martin’s novels remained relatively unknown for 20 years before HBO turned it into a hit TV saga. Thus although Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is still relatively unknown, even though it’s been on bookshelves for the past 7 years+, with next to no web-presence/footprint – I’m a believer that one day it’ll be turned into a movie! It just has all the elements for the big screen – mystery, intrigue, tech, romance, and a secret society……Oh no, I’ve said too much…..

And the audio version of the novel was narrated and edited so well, one of the best audio experiences in recent memory – we’ll definitely be searching for more books narrated by Ari Fliakos- who did a great job bringing to life each of the characters.

“Good job, my boy”.

If you’d like to check out Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore for yourself, just click HERE!

Audiobook Review- Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life…And Maybe the World

I’m sure a portion of you who end up reading this post, have seen the YouTube video of William H. Mcraven’s Commencement Speech at University of Texas at Austin. You only need to be an attendee at any work team-build session in the last 5 years to be exposed to this YouTube clip – and if you haven’t seen it? I’m sure you’ve heard people quote from the book.   

So when we were looking for titles to spend our hoarding of Audible credits on, we ordered the first thing which came to mind – that being Admiral William H. Mcraven’s book ‘Make your bed’. If you’ve sat through the full 19 minute version of his commencement speech, the audio book isn’t much longer than that (1 hour 45 mins in total), the book is essentially an expanded version of his speech with more stories as examples to emphasize the point (with a 19 minute transcript of his original Commencement speech as an appendix included into the total duration of the book ). So if you’re a value for money kind of guy/gal, you might say that ‘Make your bed’ perhaps isn’t worth the Audible credit. But if it motivates you in any-way, then that’s $AUD 16.45 well spent!

But if you want a try before you buy? Here is a high level summary of the 10 little things that may help you change the world!

One. Start each day on the right foot by achieving a goal- it could be as simple as making your bed!

Two. You can’t change the world alone, you’ll need help- find others to paddle with.

Three. Nothing matters but your will to succeed- measure a person by the size of their heart, not by their appearance.

Four. Get over the fact that life isn’t fair or perfect- if you don’t you’ll spend your life focusing on the negatives. Sugar cookie anyone?

Five. You will fail and fail often, but don’t let the fear of failure stop you from attempting your goals.

Six. Sometimes you just need to take risks and try something different to succeed in life.

Seven. When circled by sharks, don’t be afraid, don’t run away, don’t back down- stand your ground and fight!

Eight. Be calm when things reach their worst state, rely on yourself- be your very best in the darkest of hours.

Nine. The power of hope- one person can change the world, by instilling hope in others.

Ten. Don’t ever give-up, don’t ever ring that bell to signify failure.

And there you have it, 10 simple ways to change the world! Maybe it’s easier said than done. I’ve actually been going through a rough patch at work ATM, and at times when listening to the Admiral’s book- it gave me a drive to stick it out, and face my problems head on. But in the end my flight instincts won out over my fight, so I’ve rung-the-bell at work and have been given my marching orders. So when listening to the second half of the book when I’d decided to leave my problems behind, I just felt even more weak and pathetic. *Sigh*.

But if you feel like you need a pick-me-up, check out ‘Make your bed’, if anything it makes for a good read.   

Audiobook Review- Lolita

I don’t know why and how I manage to add Vladimir Nabokov’s 1955 novel Lolita to my audiobook wish-list. But a couple of weeks ago when I was trying to clean-up my horribly oversized wish-list, working my way up from the bottom – I ended up downloading this book to my phone.

Big mistake?

After the first 30 minutes, I told myself I wasn’t going to listen to this anymore. As after the foreword and first few minutes of the narrative, I knew that morally this was not a book or topic I wanted to be engrossing in. I’ve admitted in the past that I virtually listen to anything and what I am is an eclectic reader- but a story of hebephilia?

But curiosity is the darndest thing, knowing that I shouldn’t be doing something? So I found myself sneakily listening on, until my wife told me that she had already read-up on Lolita from Wikipedia (btw I tell her everything) and she was aware of how the book was going to unfold and  left me with a warning to not get too caught up in it.

I’m not going to recount the novel, as it contains R-levels of adult themes, but at least the book does not contain actual sex scenes like modern day books – just hints and some seriously heavy adult themes.

The audiobook which I listened to was read by Jeremy Irons, who captured perfectly the neurotic nature of Humbert Humbert the protagonist of the novel. Aside from the themes, the novel isn’t an easy read either, with much word play, double entendres, multilingual puns, anagrams and the use of made-up terms (which has become apart of our modern day language) – therefore there are parts which required much concentration to be able to follow on with Humbert’s crazed narrative.

But what the book Lolita did get me thinking about, was the concept of attraction, or the more sinister term……. Fetish. How strange it all is, how and why people are attracted to what they are attracted to. It was the first time I’d heard someone explain why an adult could be sexually attracted to an early pubescent teen. According to the book, Humbert as an early teen had fallen for a girl his own age, but she had died that same year from a disease (which we have now eradicated in the modern day). But due to this early impression on him, Humbert finds himself attracted to other early teenage girls he meets in the future who reminds him of his first love. And the sad thing for him, was that as the years went by and he grew older and older, the source of his attraction still remained the same age. A seemingly innocent thing when you’re 14 years of age, but something oh-so-illegal in all 50 states when you’re 40-50 years old.

For me, seeing things through this perspective, gave me a slightly new insight into monsters like paedophiles and hebephiliacs. You have to feel the slightest sense of pity for these people if you think about it. If we’re honest with ourselves, we all have our ‘fetishes’, don’t we? Be that an attraction to blondes, or Asians, or knee-high boots or whatever? But for the majority 99% of us, we have to be thankful that our attraction remains on the right side of the law. So you’d have to feel some sorrow for those poor sods who find themselves like Humbert Humbert, horribly attracted to something which society condemns. I don’t like what you’re doing Humbert Humbert, and that’s just not right. But I can’t judge, ‘he who is sinless, cast the first stone’.

Lolita is a strange book indeed, not a book that I’d happily recommend to others, but surprisingly thought-provoking and a bit of a page-turner.

Audiobook Review- A Song of Ice & Fire

This isn’t a book review as such, as George R. R. Martin doesn’t need my recommendation to help promote his books….or anything like that. But these are just my reflections, since I’ve invested more than 8 years of my life on his book series.

So after more than 8 years, I’ve finally finished listening to George R. R. Martin’s audiobook series ‘A Song of Ice & Fire’ – for those who only followed the HBO TV series, I’m talking about ‘Game of Thrones’ of course. I honestly can’t believe it, looking back it hasn’t felt as long as that? And I’m pretty certain that I’d started listening to the audiobooks before the TV series started? As I still remember the conversation with friends who were gushing about the book, who subsequently talked me into listening to it. And at no time did they speak of a TV series, so using that logic I must have started the books before the adaptation went to air? Which means pre-2011.

But 8 years of my life? Pales in comparison to 28 years! 28 years ago George R. R. Martin started writing the first book in the series, and 28 years later the Game of Thrones chapter in all of our lives has been closed out with the airing of the last scenes on HBO. Can you imagine living in that mind-space for almost 3 decades?

I’ve only learnt of these facts today, as long as I’ve been listening to the books I’ve been avoiding all spoilers. Which means I’ve never watched an episode of the Game of Thrones, nor have I even visited the Wikipedia page fearing that I’d accidentally see something I ought not to see. 

So life after the books…. I’ve read up on George R. R. – have to admit, I never knew he was American! I just assumed that he was British as the books were so…… Um……British? and I’m now listening to a podcast which re-caps every episode of the HBO series, as I want to learn how this epic story ends.

All I want to say to George R. R. Martin is, thank you! Thank you for entertaining me over the past 8 years of my life, it had allowed me to escape to a different world, taking me away from my everyday problems, but at this stage you’ve left me with more questions and unresolved plot-lines than ever before! Haaha.

Like what happened to Sanwell Tarly? What about the undead Catelyn Stark? What about Rickon? Where did Gendry disappear to?  Sandor Clegane, dead or alive? Mance rayder and his spear wives? Where did Jaime Lannister go with that wench? What about Sansa and Petyr Baelish? What about Benjen Stark? What about? What about? What about?!!!!!

Half of the time I think it was me, that I must have skipped a chapter by mistake or fallen asleep one night and had missed a critical chunk of the book? But if half of the above plot-lines are truly unresolved? Even after the finale of the TV Series? No!!!!! You can’t leave us hanging George R. R.! Grrrr!

Audiobook Review- Robert Langdon series Books 1-3

I hope you’re not thinking that I’ve stopped listening to audiobooks due to the long gap in between audiobook reviews! As it has been almost 3 months since I’ve last posted an audiobook review. However it’s only due to the fact that I wanted to post this review as a single block, rather than monthly posts on a similar topic.

Oh my goodness! We’ve spent the last 3 months listening to the first 3 books of the Robert Langdon series by Dan Brown! Imagine that? Every night for the past 90 days, we’ve been ending each evening with Robert Langdon running around in our minds! And are we worst off for it?

Angels & Demons (2000)

This all came about when we finished Dan’s fifth and most recent book (Origin) in the Robert Langdon series, so now my wife had heard 3 out of 5 books and was now well and truly invested in the series. Thus it made sense to go back and listen to books 1 and 3 (Angels & Demons, and The Lost Symbol), to complete the story for her. While for me, I had listened to all 5 titles shortly after they were first released, so I was up for listening to them again.

When Angels & Demons commences, you’re reminded of how much Dan Brown was a newbie author back in those days, and how far he’s come since then (although he’s still far from perfect today). But for a book which is now 19 years old and was quite ground-breaking at the time of its release, (exploring the powers of antimatter; revealing insights into the Vatican; and a rush across Rome following the path of illumination), it still felt fresh and new all these years on. We can certify that it’s still a suspenseful page-turner, and although Dan’s formula is predictable enough, it was amusing to hear my wife’s guesses on who she thought the shadowy mastermind was, and Dan succeeded in keeping her in the dark right to the end, finishing his first Langdon book with a twist-on-top-of-a-twist (I had totally forgotten about the second twist)!

The Da Vinci Code (2003)

And like everyone in the English (and non-English) speaking world, we both had read/listened to the Da Vinci Code shortly after its release back in 2003, so although there wasn’t a need for either of us to re-listen to the book, since we were going right back to the beginning, it made sense to re-visit the Da Vinci Code as well. And a decade and a half on, there were definitely parts and details which we had forgotten. However on second listen, it actually felt a bit draggy at times, not as compelling of a page turner as it had felt all those years ago.

But learning of hidden secrets within Da Vinci’s most famous artworks, and re-visiting heretical claims of Jesus’ continued lineage……You can see why there was such an uproar at the time. But as a fictional novel it was fun enough. And it reminded us of how much time had passed between listens, the first time we were both at university, now we’re well and truly middle aged!

The Lost Symbol (2009)

And the last of Dan’s first 3 books (which we just finished) was the most divergent from Dan’s other books. Instead of being in Europe or the UK, Robert was based on home soil (be that at the Nation’s Capital); and instead of a story driven by hidden meanings in artwork, this time the novel was based around a single fraternal organisation. Although I’ve previously made the claim that The Lost Symbol was the worst book in the Robert Langdon series, on second listen it was actually better than I had remembered it to be. Again Dan delivered a twist on top of a twist, and again my wife was unable to work out who was the mastermind until their identity was finally revealed! And wasn’t it SHOCKING!!!

So now that we’ve gone back down memory lane with the early works of Dan Brown, I have to admit it has kept us entertained for three entire months! And I think it’s been long enough that you too can re-visit his books, it’s highly likely that you actually read (the physical novel) of his works the very first time, so this time why not try them out as audiobooks?

To listen to Angels & Demons, click HERE!

To listen to the Da Vinci Code, click HERE!

And to listen to The Lost Symbol, click HERE!