The Week in Books #106

17/19 ✅

The week in books! I’ve missed a week of posting as I took a little break from reading. The month of May has come to and end and I managed to get through 19 books by Asian (East and Southeast mostly) authors for Asian Heritage Month (17/19 of the above stack plus A Separation and Goodbye, Vitamin). Holy moly. I suppose this is a testament to how much time is spent laying around nursing a baby… I’ve read 60 books since Ziggy’s birth 5 months ago 😅 This month was definitely the most productive and I made it through quite a few that have been on my shelves for some time, so I’m quite happy about that.

Favourites were The Island of Sea Women and The Book of Form and Emptiness. If I had to pick a least favourite it would be between The Jade Peony and The Woo Woo, a book I actually DNF which doesn’t happen very often. I much preferred Listen to the Squawking Chicken which is also a memoir about a Chinese family living in Vancouver with an unusual mother/daughter relationship, it was much more appealing and I’ll tell you why below.

1. The Wangs vs the World by Jade Chang. This book had mixed reviews on Goodreads but in the end it was better than I expected. I liked Charles, he came across as a pretty jovial and kind father, even though he flopped his business and lost everything. The characters could have used a teeny bit more development, particularly the step mom, and there were some loose ends left unresolved (did Saina lose her money or not?!) but overall it was fairly engaging.

Charles Wang, a brash, lovable businessman who built a cosmetics empire and made a fortune, has just lost everything in the financial crisis. So he rounds up two of his children from schools that he can no longer afford and packs them into the only car that wasn’t repossessed. Together with their wealth-addicted stepmother, Barbra, they head on a cross-country journey from their foreclosed Bel-Air home to the Upstate New York retreat of the eldest Wang daughter, Saina.

Amazon.ca

2. Listen to the Squawking Chicken by Elaine Lui. I feel like this is what The Woo Woo was trying to do, but Squawking Chicken was much more pleasant to read. The relationship between Elaine and her Mom (The Squawking Chicken) was sweet and the writing style was super conversational, which is to be expected from someone who made their career as a blogger. Entertaining, though to be honest in writing this review a couple weeks after reading I’m not sure how much of it has actually stuck with me. I enjoyed it, I remember that much.

When Elaine Lui was growing up, her mother told her, “Why do you need to prepare for the good things that happen? They’re good. They won’t hurt you. My job is to prepare you for the hard times, and teach you how to avoid them, whenever possible.” Neither traditionally Eastern nor conventionally Western, the Squawking Chicken raised her daughter drawing on Chinese fortune-telling, feng shui blackmail, good old-fashioned ghost stories, and shame and embarrassment in equal measure. And despite years of chafing against her mother’s parenting style, Elaine came to recognize the hidden wisdom—and immeasurable value—in her rather unorthodox upbringing.

Listen to the Squawking Chickenlays bare the playbook of unusual advice and warnings used to teach Elaine about hard work (“Miss Hong Kong is a whore”), humility (“I should have given birth to a piece of barbecue pork”), love and friendship, family loyalty (“Where’s my money?”), style and deportment (“Don’t be low classy”), finding one’s own voice (“Walk like an elephant, squawk like a chicken”) among other essentials. Along the way, Elaine poignantly reveals how her mother earned the nickname “Tsiahng Gai” or “squawking chicken” growing up in Hong Kong, enduring and rising from the ashes of her own hard times.

Listen to the Squawking Chickenis a loving mother-daughter memoir that will have readers laughing out loud, gasping in shock, and reconsidering the honesty and guts it takes to be a parent.

Penguin Randomhouse

3. If I Had Your Face by Frances Cha. I picked this up in a little free library and then once I had it I spotted it in thrift stores and on bookstagram a lot more. I feel like it can be a good sign to find lots of copies of something in thrift (lots of people bought a copy!) but also a BAD sign (no one wanted to keep it haha). It was ok. It was a neat look into the lives of women living in Korea, and I liked the way the women were all connected through their apartment building. But it didn’t really go anywhere? The story was more of a snapshot of their lives than a start-to-finish narrative.

Kyuri is a heartbreakingly beautiful woman with a hard-won job at a “room salon,” an exclusive bar where she entertains wealthy businessmen while they drink. Though she prides herself on her cold, clear-eyed approach to life, an impulsive mistake with a client one evening suddenly threatensher livelihood. Her roomate, Miho, is a talented artist who grew up in an orphanage but won a scholarship to study art in New York. Returning to Korea after college, she finds herself in an impossible relationship with the super-wealthy heir to one of Korea’s biggest companies. Down the hall from their apartment building lives Ara, a hair stylist whose obsession with a boy-band pop star drives her to desperate extremes. And Wonna, on the floor just below, is a newlywed trying to get pregnant with a child that she and her husband will not be able to afford to raise and educate in the cutthroat economy of Seoul.

Together, their stories tell a gripping tale at once unfamiliar and unmistakably universal, in which their tentative friendships may turn out to be the thing that ultimately saves them.

Penguin Randomhouse

4. Family Trust by Kathy Wang. This is another book I saw copies of everywhere but didn’t actually pick up, and to be honest it was because the cover design of another edition had a damask pattern on it and it just didn’t catch my eye (I know, I know, don’t judge a book by it’s cover…) but when I saw this edition it immediately appealed to me. I’ve also seen in in the TBR of another bookstagrammer I have lots in common with. I liked it a lot. Just like the Woo Woo had lots in common with Squawking Chicken, Family Trust had a lot of similarities with The Wangs vs the World. Stanley is the patriarch of his family and is dying of cancer. His ex wife, new wife, and older children all want to know what he is leaving them in the will. I found the character development a lot stronger in Family Trust than in Wangs, each character had their own world with interesting events in it. Fred is deep in the business world and gets wrapped up in something he shouldn’t. Kate discovers a secret her husband is keeping from her. Ex wife Linda returns to the dating world and gets involved with a man long distance she isn’t sure she can trust. Through each of their perspectives the new wife Mary is painted as a scammer taking advantage of Stanley in his final weeks but we also see a few chapters from her POV which I felt really humanized her. Lots going on in this one that tie together well in the end. Pretty strong! Would recommend.

Meet Stanley Huang: father, husband, ex-husband, man of unpredictable tastes and temper, aficionado of all-inclusive vacations and bargain luxury goods, newly diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. For years, Stanley has claimed that he’s worth a small fortune. But the time is now coming when the details of his estate will finally be revealed, and Stanley’s family is nervous.

For his son Fred, the inheritance Stanley has long alluded to would soothe the pain caused by years of professional disappointment. By now, the Harvard Business School graduate had expected to be a financial tech god – not a minor investor at a middling corporate firm, where he isn’t even allowed to fly business class.

Stanley’s daughter, Kate, is a middle manager with one of Silicon Valley’s most prestigious tech companies. She manages the capricious demands of her world-famous boss and the needs of her two young children all while supporting her would-be entrepreneur husband (just until his startup gets off the ground, which will surely be soon). But lately, Kate has been sensing something amiss; just because you say you have it all, it doesn’t mean that you actually do.

Stanley’s second wife, Mary Zhu, twenty-eight years his junior, has devoted herself to making her husband comfortable in every way—rubbing his feet, cooking his favorite dishes, massaging his ego. But lately, her commitment has waned; caring for a dying old man is far more difficult than she expected.

Linda Liang, Stanley’s first wife, knows her ex better than anyone. She worked hard for decades to ensure their financial security, and is determined to see her children get their due. Single for nearly a decade, she might finally be ready for some romantic companionship. But where does a seventy-two year old Chinese woman in California go to find an appropriate boyfriend?

As Stanley’s death approaches, the Huangs are faced with unexpected challenges that upend them and eventually lead them to discover what they most value. A compelling tale of cultural expectations, career ambitions and our relationships with the people who know us best, Family Trust skewers the ambition and desires that drive Silicon Valley and draws a sharply loving portrait of modern American family life.

Harper Collins

It was the annual Friends of the Library book sale fundraiser on Gabriola last weekend and I picked up a few goodies, all for $20. I was especially excited to find White Tears and Where the Wild Ladies are (maybe I should just read Asian authors for the rest of the year haha)

A small haul from VV in maple ridge this weekend

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