2016 reads

Book Review: China Rich Girlfriend by Kevin Kwan


china-rich-girlfriend-book-coverTitle:
China Rich Girlfriend

Series: Crazy Rich Asians #2

Author: Kevin Kwan

Publisher: Doubleday {imprint of Knopf}

Date Published: June 16, 2015

Format: Hardcover {Library}

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I really enjoyed the first part of this series; Crazy Rich Asians was a lovely little surprise for me last year. I usually don’t read too much contemporary and it’s beyond rare to find a book that will make me laugh (particularly in the out-loud-while-sitting in-a-coffee-shop-and-drawing-stares variety). All of this considered, I was very excited for this book! I had heard from friends that this sequel wasn’t as good as the first, so my expectations were somewhat tempered. While I agree it wasn’t as amazing, this book was tons of fun!

China Rich Girlfriend picks up 2 years after the first book ended. Rachel and Nick are about to get married, Astrid is still married to the increasingly wealthy (and awful) Michael, and their numerous aunts and uncles are still finding things to get upset about, from serious to ludicrous. While Crazy Rich Asians was mostly about Rachel being introduced to her boyfriend’s ridiculously wealthy family and trying to gain their acceptance, this book introduces us to Rachel’s mystery father and his family comes with a whole host of problems. Surprise, surprise, they are also billionaires (what would be the fun if they weren’t? :P)!

I totally recommend this to someone looking for a beach/vacation read or just in need of some entertainment. The characters are pretty much the same as the first book, don’t expect too much growth or enlightenment here, but I didn’t feel that was the point of the book. This is a sneak peek into this wealthy lifestyle and I’m not looking for major character growth. Don’t get me wrong, Rachel and Astrid, in particular, are lovely, but many of the side characters are flat. I did find the new characters from Rachel’s family, entertaining and there were some good stories there. I’ll refrain from saying too much in the review, but they are different from what we’ve seen before.

I will add, I am really happy that there is a third book in this series. It ends in an unsatisfying way, it’s not a cliffhanger or anything horrible, but my thoughts about the book would’ve been more negative if I thought it was the conclusion to the story.

Cover Critique: I love the covers to this series. I will shamelessly say that the covers are the reasons I wanted to read them in the first place! They are very graphic and simple, and I adore the bright colors. The paperback of China Rich Girlfriend has a different cover, which I also really like. I do think it makes a better pair with the paperback of Crazy Rich Asians than this one does, since they are both just faces rocking some awesome earrings.

Quick Version: This is a perfect summer read. And by summer read I mean something that will make you laugh and enjoy some soap-opera-level drama. China Rich Girlfriend is a charming book that excels in pulling you into its lavish world. The characters, apart from the main few, are fairly two-dimensional, but from the way Kwan writes them they still feel like people. Money can bring out the peculiarity in people and this book captures this in an entertaining way.

Score: 4 stars 

Book Review: The Courtesan by Alexandra Curry

76bb0ddee4f2bc28810f6a7067006eeb1Title: The Courtesan

Author: Alexandra Curry

Publisher: Dutton [imprint of Penguin Random House]

Date Published: September 8, 2015

Format: Hardcover

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Sai Jinhua is only seven-years-old when her father is executed and leaves her all alone. As the daughter of her father’s adored concubine, she may have been his treasure, but his first wife does not see her in the same way. Left in ruins with a girl she despises, she sells young, sheltered Jinhua for seven silver coins. Jinhua is eventually sold to a brothel and her life takes an ugly turn. From having a father who refused to let anyone bind his little girl’s feet, she has her feet broken and destroyed. For their investment in her, she is expected to become a “money tree” at the brothel when she reaches the ripe old age of twelve. Her only joy at this time in her life is her friendship with the crippled maid (crippled by a foot-binding gone wrong) at the brothel, who becomes her sister.

The Courtesan is a beautifully written novel inspired by the real-life courtesan Sai Jinhua. She lived during a tumultuous time in China’s history (end of the Qing dynasty, the Boxer rebellion, and invasion by European powers, for example) and tended to find herself in the middle of it. Eventually she is taken out of the brothel and an old, peculiar scholar makes her into his concubine. With him she travels the world. He is named the ambassador from China to the Austro-Hungarian Empire and while he dreads leaving the homeland, Jinhua flourishes abroad. She tries her hardest to learn about this new world while her husband will not allow her to leave the house or take guests. However, little by little Jinhua starts to find her freedom.

Curry takes many liberties with the life of Jinhua, but there is not much concrete known about her life in the first place. She has become a figure of legend in China where people debate the veracity of almost every aspect of her life. I wasn’t bothered by this, though. Curry embraces this mysteriousness in the novel. She skips time periods in Jinhua’s life and at times (especially towards the end of novel) the novel feels like a series of elongated vignettes and poetic moments. This novel excels in my favorite part of historical fiction novels, which is crafting a character that feels real. Sometimes this genre gets so bogged down by accuracy that it neglects to make these legendary figures feel human and to give context for their world and actions.

This novel is truly about the search for freedom. Jinhua was owned for most of her life. She was either paying off a huge debt to a brothel or being a concubine to a man who saw her as something she wasn’t. She pays some huge prices for this throughout the novel. Her strife is mirrored by her friend, Suyin, who does not have the luxury/curse of being beautiful and desired. While Jinhua is the lead character without question, Suyin does play an important role in the novel and without her I feel that it would’ve been a lesser book.

Cover Critique: It’s so beautiful. I love the painting they chose for the cover. She looks so guarded and shy, while still being beautiful and intriguing. I also really like the title and author’s name on those two strokes of paint. The painting behind them is so realistically done and perfect, and those two slashes show a impulsive and emotional quality to the book.

Quick Version: The Courtesan is a book about a near-mythic, mysterious, controversial figure of Sai Jinhua. She went from young “money tree” at a brothel to a woman who traveled the world and influenced key political figures in early 20th century China. Curry weaves her tale with a focus on poetic language and immersing the reader into Jinhua’s emotions and experiences. I sadly didn’t know anything at all about Jinhua before reading this book and I’m left with a desire to learn more, which is something that all good historical fiction does.

Score: 5 stars