Tuesday, November 20, 2018

My take on: Family Trust

Family dramas are a sweet spot for me, and my latest read Family Trust by Kathy Wang was right up my alley.

Family patriarch Stanley Huang is dying of cancer. Stanley is facing his own mortality with a positive, but slightly passive attitude. His wife, Mary, his much younger second wife, has him eating all kinds of cancer-fighting foods. While his kids, Fred and Kate, and his ex-wife, Linda, wished he would approach death with a little more practicality.

Getting Stanley to get his legal and financial affairs in order is proving difficult. However, Fred, Kate, and Linda also have their own problems to deal with. Fred has dreams of career advancement, while his girlfriend, Erika, has dreams of a diamond engagement ring and a large bank account. Kate is supporting her two kids and her "entrepreneur" husband, Denny. Financially savvy and retired, Linda has suddenly discovered the joys and perils of online dating.

Personally, I found the stories and shenanigans of Stanley's extended family to be far more interesting. Fred seems to only tolerate his golddigger girlfriend. Everything has to be the most expensive and best quality for Erika. Anything less than the best won't do. She also seemed borderline racist. Erika, a native of Budapest, didn't grow up around people of other races, which is sometimes her excuse for the things that come out of her mouth. But Fred tolerates this to a point. As an Asian man, he struggles with the belief that women don't find him desirable or attractive. So it makes sense that he would put up with Erika, that is until he reaches a breaking point.

Kate doesn't mind being the sole breadwinner because she has faith that her husband's startup will one day take off. But how can that day come when Denny spends most of his time in the attic "running" his business. Kate isn't sure what Denny does all day in the attic. On some level she doesn't want to know, but eventually curiosity gets the better of her. She starts spying on Denny and changing up her routine in hopes of "catching" him in the act. In the act of what? She's not sure, but she's about to get hit over the head with what seems to be the obvious answer: an affair. Kate suspects he's cheating, but hesitates on acting upon her suspicions.

Linda on the other hand, steps out of her comfort zone and into the adventures of online dating. The first few in-person dates don't go so well. But a relationship via phone calls and video messaging are right up Linda's alley. She has the companionship she seeks without the drama and pressures of actually living with someone. But even this relationship has its limitations once her paramour starts asking for money. My radar went up immediately. The dude has to be a scammer. He professes his deep undying love for a person he's never met, all the while asking for money for his own kids (if they exist). And he can't come to the United States -- yet. For a woman who comes across so smart, sarcastic, and witty, I thought she was acting rather dumb in her online relationship.

Overall, I like the book but thought the pacing was a bit slow. Fred, Kate, and Linda narrate the book, and sometimes I felt the author went off on a lot of unnecessary tangents and overly long backstories. When Kate makes the decision to spy on Denny, it was because of a technological tool created at the company she works at. But it took several pages before the author made the connection between the two, which was annoying to me. I think 50-75 less pages would have made for a tighter and more enjoyable story.

Rating: Give it a try

Notes: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (HarperCollins) as part of a blog tour with TLC Book Tours

Sunday, November 11, 2018

My take on: How to Be Alone

Being alone means something different to everyone. To me, it means being devoid of family, friends, and even casual acquaintances. It's more than being without a romantic partner. To me, being completely alone means you don't have someone to turn to when you really need it. I'm single but I don't know what it truly means to be alone, which is why I was intrigued by my latest read How To Be Alone: If You Want to, And Even if You Don't by Lane Moore.

The author had an abusive childhood, lived out of her car as a teenager, and struggled in multiple romantic relationships. But she's managed to persevere, building a career as a writer, comedian, actor, and musician. With her background, there is certainly a story to tell.

There are things I can relate to, like putting friends in certain categories. There are some friends you can literally pour your heart out to, but then there are others who will never be more than a drinking buddy. The belief that there is a "soulmate" is a common theme in some of the essays in the book. You grow up believing there is a "soulmate," you'll meet this person at a certain age, and they will solve all of your problems. As the author points out, the belief in "soulmates" makes for great TV and movies, but it's really just an illusion. No one person can solve everything and make everything perfect.

What I can't relate to is having an abusive family, online dating at 13, not knowing my extended family, and living out of my car. I don't point these out as if they're the fault of the author, but I wish her essays tackled these issues with more depth. I felt like I got a very surface level understanding of her background. I guess I was looking for more insight into how her past shaped her present, but perhaps that's material for her next book!

Overall, this book felt like it was more about how the author felt alone in her friendships and romantic relationships not necessarily how she was completely alone. The strongest essay was actually the last one, aptly titled "How to Be Alone." The biggest takeaway I got from that essay is that just because you don't have a perfect group of friends or the perfect romantic partner, you're not alone. The person you talk to casually everyday waiting for the train, a co-worker who you crack jokes with, or the person you chat with in line at the grocery story knows that you matter. Not everything was a home run for me with this book, but there was a lot to like.

Rating: Give it a try

Note: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (Atria Books) in exchange for an honest review. 

Monday, November 5, 2018

My take on: The Splendor of Birds

The only birds I see on a regular basis are the pigeons when I get off the subway. To me, they're more of a nuisance than a thing of beauty. But I'm all for getting out of my comfort zone and looking at things in a new light.

The Splendor of Birds, a 500-plus page tome, is a vivid exploration of more than 130 years worth of photos and paintings from the National Geographic archive. And "vivid" seems like such a mild description of the artwork in this book. To truly grasp it, you have to see the photos/artwork up close. The vibrant colors of some of the birds, like cobalt winged parakeets, ostriches, and hummingbirds, really pop on the page.

I would say the book is 90 percent photography/paintings, with the other 10 percent focusing on the history of Nat Geo magazine and the publication's coverage of birds. The first managing editor of the magazine had a love birds, so much so that he championed for the use of color and photographic images. Sections labelled "Then & Now" showcase the challenges of photographing birds in the past and the present. Film vs. digital photography was particularly interesting. In 1986, one photographer was fortunate to have several roles of film with, leading to the perfect shot of penguins swimming underwater. In 2012, another photographer didn't have to worry about reloading the camera because with digital photography thousands of images can be a single memory card.

The mix of history and photography plays well here. Although I wish there was a little bit more text. There are a couple snippets here and there about the backstory of some of the photographs and I wanted more!

Rating: Superb

Note: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (National Geographic) as part of a blog tour with TLC Book Tours