Double Review: Crazy Rich Asians (book + film)

If you'd prefer to listen or watch this review, choose the audio track or video below, or read on for the text!

How did I discover this book/film?

I saw a trailer for the Crazy Rich Asians film when I was seeing another movie, and then the book turned up in my audible feed, so I decided to read [or rather listen] to it first.

The review!

I'm a huge fan of romantic comedies – there's such a pleasure in those stories when they're done well. But they can be a bit samey – sometimes that's part of the pleasure, and sometimes it becomes tired. One of the great things about Crazy Rich Asians is that it sits broadly in romantic comedy, but is very different from other stories – the characters, the setting, it's all very much not Jenifer Aniston/Lopez. To be honest, I found the book a very slow start. Lots of characters to meet, and a lot of the opulent "world" to be built before the story really feels like it gets going. I wonder if I had been reading a hard copy if I would have stuck with it.

In audiobook, however, I pushed past that start, and the page traction picks up. It's very much a story about the setting – that over-the-top opulence is what makes it work, though there's enough story to be satisfying.

When I saw the movie, I was expecting a huge on-screen realisation of that opulent setting, and to be honest I was a little disappointed with how restrained it was compared to the book. The other dissatisfaction is that, while I think it's a good adaptation, the nuances and complexities of the secondary characters and subplots is completely missing.

The ending, particularly of Astrid's story and Rachel's family past, is very Hollywoodised and underdone in an unsatisfying way. It was odd to watch that, when the early scenes of the movie were straight takes from the book, even the bible study scene which I always thought stood out as not matching the rest of the book. I read somewhere that it was one of the originating scenes for the story, and it read that way – something that was a legacy and didn't quite belong. So double odd that the movie went with it anyway, but then departed so drastically from the book in all the wrap-up.

However, it's enjoyable to watch a rom-com without the usual suspects in the cast, and despite the other-worldly wealth, it does a good job of conveying a universality of romantic difficulties common to everyone. Plus it has some very funny moments!

It's rare for me to read a book so close to seeing the movie (the last time was Lord of the Rings), and it does create a strange story dissonance in my mind where it's hard to separate the two versions of the story, which might be one reason I found the film more unsatisfying. One thing is for sure though – I've never wanted to go eat in a Singapore food market more in my life.

Book – 4 couture dresses out of 5
Film – 3 mega-diamonds out of 5

Interested? Watch the trailer ...

TV Review: Younger


How did I discover this show?

Like a disturbing number of my streaming choices recently, I received the recommendation from fellow author Christine Wells, whose judgement I now rate highly after enjoying Lovesick (Netflix), which she also put me onto. I signed up for Stan (again) just to watch Younger, and very glad I did. The show is currently in season 5, an incredibly rare case of me actually cottoning onto a show before it goes off the air. Sadly, this also means I've caught up to the current episode and am having to exercise all my powers of delayed gratification to WAIT for the next one. Grrr. On the plus side, the series has renewed for season 6.

The review!

If you know nothing about it, Younger follows Liza Miller (Sutton Foster) a 40-year-old who pretends to be 26 to get a job in publishing after her marriage breaks up, and an expanding pool of friends and colleagues. While the show does centre on Liza, the ensemble cast is one of the huge strengths and pleasures of the show, with each character maintained in the story even when they are not directly in Liza's scenes. The show is also stuffed full of publishing industry in-jokes and literary references, which is titilating and for me, pumps the funny. The plot follows the ongoing consequences of Liza's lie as different circles of her acquaintence discover her secret.

The irrepressible Diana Trout

The irrepressible Diana Trout

The writing is tight and effective, a rare case of a drama genuinely keeping the romantic tension going on multiple fronts, and the plot has pleasantly surprised me more than once. The characters are fun to watch, and I have special affection for Head of Marketing Diana Trout (Miriam Shor) with her avant-garde fashion, endless necklace wardrobe and spectacular haughty derision. Ever since she quipped something about the "bottom feeders at Little, Brown" and I spat my tea, I have enjoyed her.

Then there's the ongoing debate between #teamjosh (Nico Tortorella) and #teamcharles (Peter Hermann). And I still don't know whose side I'm on. Do you take all that Joshian romantic passion and raw energy, or Charlesian restrained brooding and experience? I can't say ... and I love that.

Choices. Cruel choices.

Choices. Cruel choices.

In short, this is a binge-worthy, funny, romantic show, that still has some deep moments, dealing with friendship and intimacy, as well as generational changes in attitudes towards age, work, sex, and so much more.

5 New York moments out of 5

Interested? Watch the season 1 trailer. Zero spoilers. Honest.

If you're super interested, you'll find Younger on Stan.

Book Review: Unmentionable: The Victorian Lady's Guide to Sex, Marriage, and Manners


How did I discover this book?

I found Unmentionable: The Victorian Lady's Guide to Sex, Marriage, and Manners (hugh breath!) on a table somewhere in the labrynth of Barnes and Noble (Union Square) New York City. It wasn't on the ground floor, or particularly prominent, but the combination of risque cover (at least for the Victorians), the humour, and the fact I am researching the Victorian period for a book led me to hand over my money. I have no association with the author or publisher.

The review!

If you find historical era books a bit inaccessible, this book might be for you. It's fun, witty, and does a good job of using our expectations as modern day women to frame the differences in Victorian times. It's also transatlantic in focus, so you'll have examples from both the American Victorian era, and the British one. If you're a stickler for historical texts, the humourous style might get your hackles up, but it's an excellent introduction point if you want to dig further (a reference list is in the back). And if you're not researching, it's still entertaining. And occasionally sobering. Be glad to be a 21st century woman, I think.

Overall, I read the book very quickly, and I think I took more away from this about the lives of Victorian women than I have in a dozen drier, more traditional history books. A book that is trying to straddle the ground between entertainment and fact isn't an easy feat to pull off (when I get around to posting the review of Gut here, evidence will be presented), but Unmentionable does that for me. That's a win. Also, there is a sequel coming on children of the era - Ungovernable, I think.

5 tight corset stays out of 5

Interested? Here's the blurb from Goodreads

Ladies, welcome to the 19th century, where there's arsenic in your face cream, a pot of cold pee sits under your bed, and all of your underwear is crotchless. (Why? Shush, dear. A lady doesn't question.) 

UNMENTIONABLE is your hilarious, illustrated, scandalously honest (yet never crass) guide to the secrets of Victorian womanhood, giving you detailed advice on: 

~ What to wear
~ Where to relieve yourself
~ How to conceal your loathsome addiction to menstruating
~ What to expect on your wedding night
~ How to be the perfect Victorian wife
~ Why masturbating will kill you
~ And more

Irresistibly charming, laugh-out-loud funny, and featuring nearly 200 images from Victorian publications, UNMENTIONABLE will inspire a whole new level of respect for Elizabeth Bennett, Scarlet O'Hara, Jane Eyre, and all of our great, great grandmothers. 

(And it just might leave you feeling ecstatically grateful to live in an age of pants, super absorbency tampons, epidurals, anti-depressants, and not-dying-of-the-syphilis-your-husband-brought-home.) 

Super interested? Amazon | iBooks | Kobo

What other people think

On dealing with online judgement, with some great words to remember


Any writer will tell you that dealing with reviews is a tough gig. Issac Asimov is supposed to have said that writers "fall into two groups: 1) those who bleed copiously and visibly at any bad review, and 2) those who bleed copiously and secretly at any bad review."

We all have different techniques for dealing with it. Mine is to not read reviews (works most of the time, but sometimes I must to say, maintain this website). One other writer I know takes a pragmatic approach and says that as long as someone's paid for her book, they can write whatever they like.

But there's no avoiding the fact that the online nature of the world now means that what other people think of you -- your books, or just you -- can be right in your face. If you write romance, or you self-publish, that can be particularly sharp, because so many people think that it's fine to take a dig at you (including big respectable institutions, like this in The Guardian and this in The New York Times) and make fun of what you do because, I don't know, they feel morally superior or something like that. People who are in privileged positions will do it, even though it's really beneath them to be so petty. They do it anyway. I've had it happen to me so many times I've lost count.

When you're starting out on a new venture (as I am right now - can't share details yet, but I will) you're particularly vulnerable to that. And so I wanted to share with you this from the Barefoot Investor that landed in my inbox this week. As someone who's been through financial ruin due to predatory financial advice, I'm a keen follower of Scott Pape and his no BS independent stance, but please know that I don't have any association with him. This is just very timely and important to remember advice, I think. 

Truth is, most people worry about what other people say about them.

Yet here’s the rub: if you’re doing brave things — working hard, starting a business, kicking arse with the Barefoot Steps — chances are you’re going to make someone around you feel uncomfortable. And they may try to bring you down a peg or two … back to their level.

If you listen to them — or worry about what you think they’d think — it’ll eat away at your self-confidence. And that will keep you in jobs you don’t like, relationships you’ve outgrown, cars you can’t afford. Worse, it’ll waste the precious time you have on this planet.

What’s the answer?

Care with both hands. I can count the number of people I care about on two hands — chances are you can too. And when you think about it deeply (and I have), these are the only people who matter.

If you’re being a jerk, or hurting people, or behaving like a Kardashian — they’ll pull you up on it. And that’s the only time you need to worry about someone’s else’s opinion. For the rest, just talk to the hand.
— -- Scott Pape, Barefoot Investor Newsletter, 25 Sep 17

So, for all those doing brave things, carry on. If you see someone trying to be brave, lift them up. The world will be cruel enough. And don't be afraid to call out your friends when they behave like jerks to other people beneath them. Hard to do, but important.