Thursday, 25 February 2021

Review: Land of Big Numbers by Te-Ping Chen

China is a country rich with culture and history. It is also a country that is so very often misunderstood by westerners. In Land of Big Numbers Te-Ping Chen brings to us a selection of stories about what life is truly like for the people that live there, those who have left, or for westerners who have married someone from China. The collection opens with Lulu, a story of a girl whose sense of right and wrong--and her need to speak out--lands her in serious trouble. From there, we move to a story of a government call centre worker who is trying to move on from an abusive relationship, a town whose hopes are inspired by, and then ruined, by a new type of fruit, and an old farmer who dreams of building his own aeroplane, and whose success comes in an unexpected way. And so the collection goes on, bringing as stories of triumph, betrayal and something in between.

What I loved most about this collection is the humanity of it all. These are the stories of the every day, ordinary people of China, who are trying to live the best life they can, in spite of the many obstacles that are thrown their way. Some, like Lulu want to make their country a better and fairer place, others are just trying to exist. Then there are the ones like Cao Cao, who does something extraordinary and wins the awe and respect of everyone around him, but for the party secretary who he wants so desperately to impress. Finally, there is Pan who finds herself stuck at the train station for an extraordinary length of time, in a series of events that would seem impossible to outsiders. Although this is Te-Ping Chen's debut collection, each of the stories have an air of wisdom and polish about them that I would expect from a far more experienced writer.

This is collection is highly recommended to anyone who wants to know what life is truly like for the people of China, past the stereotypes and the headlines that we see in the media.

Land of Big Numbers will be released by Scribner, a literary imprint of Simon and Schuster Australia of 3 March 2021.

Thank you to Simon and Schuster Australia for my copy of Land of Big Numbers.

Friday, 19 February 2021

Friday Funnies: Black Market Numbers


This weeks Friday Funny comes courtesy of Sesame Street where, apparently, the black market sale of numbers is a thing. Apparently, it's a great lesson to teach your kid--any time you want a number, you can just buy it from some shady looking character in the street. In all seriousness, it's a fun clip and the whole problem is solved with Ernie's trademark humour. 

Thursday, 18 February 2021

Review: Bunny by Mona Awad

Make no mistake, Bunny is one of the best novels I have read in 2021. A brilliant satire on The Secret History, it tells the story of Samantha Heather Mackey, a lonely and introverted creative writing student who watches her cliquey classmates--a group of four sickeningly twee women who call one another Bunny--with both awe and envy. When Samantha is invited one day to join one of their famous 'Smut Salons' she uncovers far more than she expects ...

Cleverly blurring the lines between what is reality and what is part of a creative writing assignment, Bunny takes numerous twists and turns as it perfectly satirises campus life, and campus cliques. Samantha could be well, any introverted girl, while we've all known and loathed a clique like the Bunnies. The twists are filled with blood and gore and these women truly are the most ghastly things in existence. Or it could all just be a part of Samantha's thesis. Either way, as long as readers don't enter this one expecting a serious horror novel, or for everything to make perfect sense, they're in for a treat. 

I enjoyed reading this one, perhaps even a little more than what I expected to, and ended up reading the second half in a single sitting as I was so keen to know how it all worked out. It was fun to guess at which scenes were real and which were scenes a part of Samantha's assignment. The novel ends with a line that is a bit of a WTF moment, one that perhaps the novel could have done without. Then again, it does offer an additional twist ...

Overall, this is an enjoyable, twisty read with lots of gore that shouldn't be taken too seriously. That said, it's definitely a novel that isn't going to appeal to everyone--skip it for now if what you're after is a light escapist read with loveable characters. For anyone else looking for gore amid absurd situations ...

Highly recommended.

Wednesday, 17 February 2021

Review: Here the Whole Time by Vitor Martins

It's not often that I have the privilege of reading a YA novel that is set in Brazil but fortunately, Here the Whole Time is one of those novels. This sweet novel tells the story of Felipe, an introverted and sensitive seventeen year old who is struggling with body image--he's, well, a little overweight and the bullies at his school are always making a thing of it. Filipe also knows that he is gay, but fortunately he is okay with that and so is his mother, an artist and part time teacher. Filipe is very much looking forward to his school holidays, where he can just be himself, but his plans are soon turns around when he discovers that Caio, his very attractive neighbour will be staying with them for fifteen days while his parents are away on holiday. It's obvious that Caio would never want to be around someone like him. Then, slowly, everything begins to change ...

This was a lovely story about blossoming relationships and how everyone has their own struggles, no matter how supposedly attractive or fortunate they may be. The relationship between Filipe and Caio develops slowly, as they soon discover that they have more in common than what they expect. The whole thing is written very gently, and handled with a lot of sensitivity. I found it to be a very enjoyable, light read. Filipe was a great protagonist and very easy to relate to.

A sweet romance that will probably find a huge secondary audience thanks to its universal themes of body image, self acceptance and teenage relationships.


Tuesday, 16 February 2021

Review: The World at My Feet by Catherine Isaac

The World at My Feet is a moving tale of one woman's quest to find inner peace. Ellie has not left her home in two years. She has the strangest of dreams. Ellie is doing okay, though. She loves gardening, to the point where she is a very well respected influencer on Instagram and makes money through sponsored posts. And her kind and loving parents live in the main house on the property, while she has made a comfortable home in a flat outside. But when someone new enters her life, he may just be the thing that convinces her to go outside again.

Bit by bit, the novel slowly reveals the extent of Ellie's illness and the horrific experiences that she had to endure. Without giving away too many spoilers, what Ellie endured in the early part of her childhood is based on true events, ones so horrible and that they made headlines across the globe when the story broke.

Catherine Isaac writes Ellie's story with a lot of love and understanding. Less convincing is the character of Guy--it felt too obvious to me from the start that he was taking advantage of her. I felt that there was little need for his character at all, given that Jamie had such a strong presence in the novel already and was the one who gave her the support she needed. It was also surprising that her family tolerated him as much as they did--at least Lucy eventually spoke the truth!

I found the chapters told from Harriet's perspective a little jarring at first, but her story of being an international journalist who becomes personally involved in the story she is working on to be quite compelling. 

Overall, a compelling read, one that is only let down ever-so-slightly with the inclusion of a certain male character. 


Thank you to Simon and Schuster Australia for my copy of The World at My Feet.

Thursday, 11 February 2021

Review: Beach Read by Emily Henry

What a delight is Beach Read! In her debut adult contemporary novel, Emily Henry tells the story of January Andrews, a previously sunny and optimistic romance writer whose life is falling apart. January's Dad died six months ago. A secret was revealed at this funeral--that he'd been having an affair with another woman at a beach house that he owned. And now he's left the Beach House to January, who, understandably, is shattered by her father's betrayal and wants nothing more than to clear the house out and put it on the market. Unfortunately, there are three things standing in her way. First, she's homeless and heartbroken after her partner dumped her. Second, her publisher wants her next book by the end of summer and she hasn't started writing it yet. And so, she reluctantly moves in to the beach house and that's where the third thing gets in her way. Her grouchy neighbour is none other than Gus Everett, her mean and pessimistic nemesis from university. 

This was such a fun and romantic read. Enemies-to-loves is a common trope, but Emily Henry handles it in a way that is fresh and most important of all, realistic. Gus isn't the kind of enemy who is horrible to January--in fact it's clear from the start that he's a good hearted guy with a very different approach to life. The constant digs the pair have at one another are extremely entertaining, and make for great reading. But where the novel really shines is that the two characters grow and learn, from each other and from various situations and circumstances. 

In other words, this is a very well-written romance. I also love the challenge that the pair--bother writers of very different books--gave one another, which felt fun and reasonable realistic.

The mystery surrounding January's father is present within the novel and resolved in a surprising way. The eventual conversation between January and Sonya did not play out anything close to what I expected, though it suits the story well enough, and helps to build toward other revelations toward the end of the novel regarding characters and their complicated personal relationships--in real life, romance is never quite as easy as in January's novels, or as devastating as the ones penned by Gus.

Overall, this is an enjoyable read. Emily Henry is a seasoned novelist, having penned several YA novels including A Million Junes. A second adult novel, People We Meet on Vacation will be released in May 2021.