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review 2017-09-14 03:12
You'll Be the Death of Me! by Stacia Wolf
You'll Be the Death of Me! - Stacia Wolf

You’ll Be the Death of Me! stars Allison Leavitt, a successful mystery author, and Jay Cantrall, a Los Angeles police detective who’s been temporarily transferred to Spokane after a scandal. They happen to be neighbors in the same apartment building, and although they’re both instantly attracted to each other, they also don’t entirely trust or like each other.

Allison is leery of men who only want to date her for her money, doesn’t really think that sex (aside from masturbation) is all that great, has body issues (due to some scars and, possibly, her curviness), and is still working through her feelings of guilt and terror over a past traumatic event. The only man who interests her anymore is fictional: Detective Ben Stark, one of the main characters in her mystery series. Shockingly, Jay looks like both Allison’s mental image of Ben and the image of Ben on the proposed cover art for Allison’s next book. She can’t decide whether she’s interested in Jay because he looks like Ben, or because she’s just interested in Jay.

Meanwhile, Jay is leery of women who are more interested in his celebrity twin brother than they are in him. To be honest, he has trust issues with women in general at the moment, since it was his ex-girlfriend’s lies that resulted in the scandal that got him sent to Spokane. But there’s something about Allison that keeps drawing him in. Allison, her best friend Paige, and a landlady with an annoying Chinese crested dog that she believes can do no wrong make it hard for Jay to keep to himself.

I spotted this in a used bookstore clearance section a while back and snatched it up primarily because it was a Samhain Publishing title. Some of those can be difficult to find or incredibly expensive now that the publisher has shut down operations. What if it turned out to be really good and I missed out on it? And if it wasn’t good, well, it only cost me $2.

It didn’t take me long to figure out that I’d picked up a stinker. Allison in particular seemed to have way more issues to deal with than could properly be handled in such a short book, and the whole thing about Jay’s twin seemed incredibly contrived. In general, these two characters needed to spend at least a few months getting to know and trust each other before I could believe in them as a couple. Instead, they were together for maybe a week or two, enough time to drool over each other and have sex, but not enough time to truly trust each other once the issues readers could see from a mile away started cropping up.

I hated them as a couple so much. Anytime Jay made any kind of small talk that touched on money or Allison’s job, Allison immediately assumed that he was just another guy hoping she’d pay his bills in exchange for sex. I was more forgiving of Jay’s blowup when he inevitably spotted Allison’s newest cover art, but their arguments after that made me dislike them both.

They both refused to listen to or believe each other. In fact, Allison somehow still

believed that Jay was after her money even after he blew up on her about the cover art. How did she think that was going to work? Did she think he was simultaneously going to snarl at her for being more interested in his brother or her fictional character than in him and convince her to pay his bills? Besides that, a true gold digger wouldn't have cared if she only liked him because he looked like her character or his twin brother. It should have only taken a second or two of thought to realize that her conclusions didn’t make any sense.

(spoiler show)


But logic wasn’t exactly the author’s strong suit and, unfortunately, the result was extremely inconsistent main characters. For example, after spending most of the book up to that point thinking that Allison knew full well the effect she had on men (or at least on him in particular), on page 79 Jay suddenly divined that Allison was uncomfortable with her body and reacted accordingly. Then there was Allison, who spent most of the book saying that she’d never orgasmed while having sex with a man and could only get off while thinking about her fictional detective. Despite that, on page 104 this thought suddenly popped into her head: “it had been way too long since she’d made love.” Huh?

I hated how the author wrote about Allison’s issues with sex. Jay couldn’t even fathom that someone might not enjoy sex and became fixated on the idea that Allison’s previous lovers just hadn’t done a good job. He, of course, would do better.

“What did Allison need? Love, passion, romance? Him. She needed him. She needed him to teach her the better side of sex.” (106)

I could imagine him saying that out loud and me laughing in his face.

Sometimes things happened just because the author wanted/needed them to happen, and not because they particularly made much sense. For example, at one point Jay and his partner, Pearce, were doing a stakeout and Pearce, for some unknown reason, decided that he absolutely had to make up with ex-girlfriend right then and there. So he asked her to come see him during the stakeout. Yeah, you read that right. And then when the suspect recognized him and the stakeout went bad, Ping (the Chinese crested) accidentally got loose and Jay injured himself trying to avoid him. Allison blamed herself for Jay’s injury because she hadn’t kept a tight enough hold on Ping’s leash, and so she felt obligated to help him out a bit while he recovered. Pearce told her she shouldn’t be so hard on herself...and failed to say anything about his part in the whole incident. In fact, not a single person blamed Pearce for Jay’s injury, and there were no consequences for his actions. The author literally orchestrated the entire thing just to force Allison and Jay to spend more time with each other.

The book had other issues, but I think I'll wrap things up here. You'll Be the Death of Me! was a quick read, and yet it still wasn't worth the small amount of time it took to get through it. Even the dog wasn't very appealing.

 

(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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review 2017-07-05 00:00
Falling Leaves: The Memoir of an Unwanted Chinese Daughter
Falling Leaves: The Memoir of an Unwanted Chinese Daughter - Adeline Yen Mah I liked this book a whole lot more until the last fifty-or-so pages. At that point, it devolved into a laundry list of perceived slights, petty bickering, and old grudges. The narrator, Adeline, went from being winningly naive about her family to being determinedly oblivious, to the point that it made it difficult for me to buy a lot of what she was saying. It began to feel very one-sided, as she portrayed herself as being entirely innocent while everyone else ganged up on her.

Prior to that point, it was a mildly interesting story about a woman who accomplished a lot despite a highly dysfunctional upbringing, set against the rapidly changing culture of China in the second half of the twentieth century.
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review 2017-06-23 16:22
The Three-Body Problem, Liu Cixin (trans. Ken Liu)
The Three-Body Problem - Liu Cixin,Ken Liu

What would you do if the laws of physics, of the universe, turned out not to be laws at all? Imagine you're a scientist confronted with this realization. This is one of the more disturbing realities that characters must contend with in The Three-Body Problem, the first of a trilogy by Chinese author Liu Cixin.

 

The book does an excellent job of making the scale of the universe, from its immensity to its sub-atomic particularities, conceivable and real. One of the scientist characters has a gift that allows him to visualize numbers, and in a note the author reveals that he has a similar gift. The book is very intelligent and detailed in its explanation of science; I can't say I could follow it all, but I understood the larger picture and was fascinated by the minutiae.

 

The book begins in China's cultural revolution and fast forwards to the present, shifting perspectives from the scientist daughter of a persecuted university professor to a man working in nanotechnology. Most of the significant characters are scientists, with the exception of Da Shi, a corrupt, wily policeman who became my favorite character. The protagonist, Wang, learns of the deaths of prominent scientists and starts seeing strange things, such as a countdown that appears visible only to him. He is tasked with helping to investigate a shady scientific organization, which involves his playing a strange video game called Three-Body. Nothing is what it seems, and Wang falls down a rabbit hole (more like a black hole) that leads to knowledge of extra-terrestrial life.

 

This Chinese SF novel was something unique; I found its different style of storytelling often engaging, though sometimes odd. The translator explains in a note that there may be narrative techniques unfamiliar to Western readers, and I could sense them. For example, much is explained through pages of dialogue, and the narrative can feel interrupted by the video game chapters, as much as I enjoyed them. I struggled with the fact that, after a brief appearance earlier in the book, Wang's wife and child do not re-enter the narrative, not even Wang's thoughts. His thoughts themselves are often unknown--for a time I wasn't sure where he stood in the quiet war going on.

 

Nevertheless, I do look forward to reading the next book in the trilogy (after a break) and to seeing the movie adaptation.

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review 2017-06-22 19:47
Interesting if you are a fan.
The Mission Chinese Food Cookbook - Dann... The Mission Chinese Food Cookbook - Danny Bowien,Chris Ying

Can't remember what drove me to get this book but it sounded intriguing. I've never been to the Mission Chinese restaurants but I enjoy the stories of cooks, chefs, etc. and thought it might be a good read.

 

Part-cookbook, part biography, part interview with Danny Bowien, Chris Ying and some of the people they've worked with, etc. the book itself is trying to be too much of everything without being any one thing. I think I was under the impression it was more of a cookbook/biography of Mission Chinese itself (as in the restaurant but not necessarily the people behind it).

 

There are some really gorgeous pictures (the book itself also has a nice picture of a dish on the front cover) but I wouldn't be compelled to make any of the recipes since I am not the type to put in that effort and would trust the experts a lot more. I also wasn't all that interested in either of Danny or Chris (or anyone else's!) stories in the book. 

 

Based on Yelp reviews it seems to be they found some sort of way to make Americanized Chinese food/Americanized Asian fusion food, etc. into a "thing" which is odd because it's not a new concept.

 

As you can tell, I don't get the hype. Skip it unless you really like the concept or like cookbooks.

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review 2017-06-20 01:03
Academic but interesting group that does not get much coverage.
The Chinese in Mexico, 1882-1940 - Rober... The Chinese in Mexico, 1882-1940 - Robert Chao Romero

In light of immigration remaining a hot topic, I finally decided to purchase this book that talks about what it says on the tin: the Chinese in Mexico. A few years ago I read a couple of articles (on the Huffington Post and NPR I think) about the presence of Chinese people in Mexico and how that group came to be. I've heard of Chinese people coming to the US but what drew them to Mexico?

 

Turns out the immigration laws and the Chinese Exclusion Act in the US led to "collateral damage" of sorts, where Chinese people (mostly men) settled in Mexico instead. The book looks at how and why these Chinese immigrants came to Mexico, some intentionally, others because they could not get into the US. How they built businesses, how they managed movement between Mexico, the US and China, how they dealt with Sinophobia, how they integrated with the locals, etc.

 

Overall it was fascinating. A mostly unintended consequence (perhaps) of the US immigration laws led to the creation of this community that was interesting to learn about. It was also sad to see that the same experiences of immigrants happen to the Chinese there: some were resented for their business success, their children were considered not Mexican, eventually a group of them would be driven out of one part of Mexico. It's a story that we have seen happening before and it happens again.

 

 

I also wish the author had brought up the book to more "modern" times. As the cover says, it's from about 1882-1940. The book was published in 2011 so I was disappointed not to see more about present day or at least a little closer to it. He does have some thoughts on how to integrate discussing a group like these Chinese-Mexicans into college courses and so I hope there will be more work/articles about them.

 

That said, the book is dry. The topic kept me interested because I really wanted to learn more after reading those articles but this book would very much be a text for a college program. I wish I could have picked it up at the library or found it as a bargain buy but even the used versions that I could find were not all that much cheaper. But I wanted to know and so I'm glad I had a chance to read it. 

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