Parachutes

I lie in bed listening for the shuffle of my father’s slippers.

Parachutes, Kelly Yang, Katherine Tegen Books 2020

Just to showcase that the element of immigration and immigrant characters can create very different stories (of course). Because this time there’s more Filipino characters (but they’re not the immigrants), but the real immigrants (although temporarily) are the so called parachutes: Asian teenagers that are dropped at prestigious American high schools so they can get an international diploma.
That was a lot of brackets used.

This is a good YA novel. It’s clearly written for a teen audience, (yet) manages to discuss subjects teenagers may experience yet know little about – sexual assault and rape, in this case. There’s even a warning about it in the front of the book, which caused me to kind-of-nervously count down to when things would happen.

That doesn’t mean that Parachutes is an after-school-special disguised as a novel: it’s the troubles of high school life, worrying about fitting in, crushes and clamouring to be older/out of there. Besides that there’s a class difference: Dani is a daughter of a single mum, working alongside her and on a scholarship, while Claire is a parachute who gets an unlimited credit card in her luggage to make sure that “she’s safe in the USA”. You read along with both of their stories.

All written super smoothly, making Parachutes a novel to stay up late for, wonder how the characters will develop further and gush about it online.

Break in Case of Emergency

“It’s hard to reproduce those kind of results if — oh, sorry,” Jen said, realizing a beat too late that the rest of the room had gone quiet.

Break in Case of Emergency, Jessica Winter, HarperCollins 2016

Good gods, absolutely everything and everyone about/in this story is/are annoying. I’ll own up to my responsibility though: I borrowed a book described as a satire.

Break in Case of Emergency tries to merge two different stories, which leads to all of that annoyance. One story is about a start-up, probably the satire part. It’s about ‘feeling’, ‘expanding’, ‘dreaming’, but no-one can give the protagonist a clear assignment because that would just be limiting. The lingo used is straight out of every #GIRLBOSS/life coach-pamphlet, so well done on that. But good gods, how annoying.

The other story is the wish for a child and all the hubbub to get one if it doesn’t come naturally. Of course, stress at a weird work place doesn’t help with that, but it’s the language used that’s so confusing that it took me several chapters to even understand what was going on.

On top of all that, the protagonist has such a bad view of herself that is just plain exhausting. As a reader I can’t fight satire and drama without finding support somewhere.

Often in a story, there’s too little plot or it’s spread out too thinly. This could easily have been two novels with plenty of moments to breathe added.

Plum Rains

Angelica was hurrying toward the crowded crosswalk, determined to get back to her elderly client Sayoko-san before the deliveryman arrived, when the view of buildings and business suits in front of her dissolved.

Plum Rains, Andromeda Romano-Lax, Soho Press 2018

Probably already this year’s winner for coolest author name, no matter if it’s her own or a pen name.

I judged this book by its cover, its title and its author name and it — didn’t necessary end badly. I don’t know if I’d recommend this, though.

At first, the story seems original. The blurb says it’s about a Philippine caretaker in Japan in the nearby future, she worries about being replaced by robots and we’re promised different moves through time across the globe.

But the women suffer. Not just regularly day to day suffering, but – without wanting to spoil – in the way women do. There’s a tiny bit of room for creating a world in which we’ll all be replaced by AI, but the rest of it is about suffering.

And I know that those stories need to be shared as well, especially with the Western audience, but I would have loved a science fiction story in which the (Asian) women aren’t just victim, caretaker, responsible and tired.

So, if you want to read it (because Japanese history, insight in life on the Philippines), you might still enjoy it if you focus on that. If you’re looking for science fiction, expect a dystopian one.

The Salt Path

There’s a sound to breaking waves when they’re close, a sound like nothing else.

The Salt Path, Raynor Winn, Penguin Random House 2019

Is this man really, really really called Moth? I mean, there’s a lot to this story about an older couple going hiking after bankruptcy and illness hit them, but why won’t anyone tell me if it’s a nick name? No-one acknowledges it as being random or quirky, the reader just has to endure a grown man, not a particularly weird grown man, being called Moth all the time!

Okay, it’s out of my system.

The Salt Path must have been welcomed by the UK Tourism Board (I’m sure such a thing exists). Even though Winn writes about plenty of hardship (in detail), I still want to do the hiking path they did, and visit plenty of the villages they did. With a bit more comfort though, that’s true.

Because, as mentioned before, for Raynor and Moth it’s a move out of desperation, not a holiday. They lose their home and work, Moth loses his health and the hike is not so much as a conscious decision as it is running away.

So, besides those descriptions of the country and the path, are there also plenty of musings on work, the future, health and family. Winn shares what life has thrown at them (a lot!), and sometimes her musings get a bit too navel-gazing, but the circumstances… you’d probably cut her some slack.

All that turns this book into some kind of saga, the Odyssey but very, very British. Maybe that’s how we should just view the decision to call a man Moth as well.

The Nickel Boys

Even in death the boys were trouble.

The Nickel Boys, Colson Whitehead, Doubleday 2019

I read stories by Colson Whitehead before and even though I know their subjects are heavy (Black American history, racism), there’s a certain atmosphere to them that still makes them easy to read. Like there’s a layer between the reader and the story, but the reader can feel how fragile it is.

This time it’s about a Correctional Facility (add air quotes at your own convenience) in Florida that was created in times of segregation and still works along those lines when the reader gets there. Entwined with that story are also jumps back and forward in time to show black American lives and the impact incarceration (directly and indirectly) has on them.

What I liked on top of everything else is the nicely hidden away twist: I felt like a numpty to not have picked it up, and that means that it was worked in without any fanfare nor heralded with a complete orchestra. It gives an extra punch in case you were strangely complacent with all the horrors you read.

Girl Waits With Gun

Our troubles began in the summer of 1914, the year I turned thirty-five.

Girl Waits With Gun, Amy Stewart, Scribe 2015

I judged this book by its cover, by its title and by its summary. Which meant that I went yes/yes/no on it, because I don’t care about the western genre nor showcases about how great and cool American history is. Yes, I’m fun at parties.

This novel was fun. Not in the haha-hilarious way, but entertaining. It’s based on true events (per the acknowledgments, I never heard of it), but provides a universal female experience even if it wouldn’t be: the male that can’t handle a woman not “falling in line” to his actions and demands. With this happening early into the twentieth century, everyone ignoring the women is even worse.

The Kopp women get into an accident with a dodgy factory-owner, try to get what they deserve and therefore get.. threats, violence and a lot of authority figures just shaking their heads.

None of the Kopp women are written very appealingly; I just rooted for them because the other person was so much worse. Besides that it’s an interesting look at New York City and “the back-lands” in that era.

Interior Chinatown

INT. GOLDEN PALACE

Ever since you were a boy, you’ve dreamt of being Kung Fu Guy.

Interior Chinatown, Charles Yu, Vintage Books 2020

I don’t really know how to review it and this time that’s a good thing. It’s original and awkward and confrontational. With racism and hate directed at Asians (in the diaspora) it’s also very, very relevant.

And in between: fun. Throwing you off balance, not being what you expected. It’s not something I experience often, and for that alone I’d recommend this novel.

Oona Out of Order

Oona stopped trusting the mirror years ago.

Oona Out of Order, Margarita Montimore, Flatiron Books 2020

Very like my previously read novel. This review, not the plot. This also felt repetitive and a bit cookie cutter with an element that could have been really weird and eerie.

Oona time travels, but she never knows in which year of her life she’s going to end up in and after a year she’s gone again. She also doesn’t know why this happens, and can’t get used to it.

Which, okay; kind of understandable. But I don’t have to go through that as a reader at the start of every chapter? Whatever happened to Show, Don’t Tell?

At the very least, Margarita Montimore shows New York City very appealingly, and – just as with the previous read novel – leaves you with a tinge of satisfaction because of that one Life Lesson.

The Immortalists

Varya is thirteen.

The Immortalists, Chloe Benjamin, G.P. Putnam’s Sons 2018

I was ready to write this one off until the last couple of pages still got me. Which makes me grumpy, because a book shouldn’t score on just a couple of pages.

In The Immortalists four siblings learn their death date. All four lives are followed, as is the impact of this knowledge on them. Around the second sibling it starts to feel a bit cookie-cutter: character aggressively denies this reality, gets destructive, wants to outrun it and [spoiler] doesn’t manage to; one way or the other. But were they running towards what they feared while thinking they were doing everything to escape it? Chloe Benjamin doesn’t give you any hint in that direction, nor room to interpret the characters’ actions like that.

Any thoughts about fate, goals in life, final destination you have to come up with on your own because the novel only provides character sketches of the people suffering.

As said before: except for the last pages, they delivered an emotional sucker punch. Could have done so a tad sooner, to turn this into a recommendation.

The Bestseller

One day God decided he would visit the earth.

The Bestseller, Olivia Goldsmith, Diversion Books 1996

Olivia Goldsmith is also the author of First Wives Club, if you were wondering why the name is vaguely familiar.

With The Bestseller she wrote another ‘The Upper Circles Can Have Issues Too’ and it’s delicious (you know I have a soft spot for that). It also made me never ever want to attempt getting anything remotely related to a novel published. Because oof. And this is publishing in the nineties.

In this novel the reader follows the stories of different authors. New ones, old ones, unwilling ones, suffering ones etc. While you get a slice of their (sad) life, you also get plenty of insight into the publishing business. It’s not good. It’s not about stories, creativity and adding something to culture: it’s about money, the bottom line, and PR.

It’s 1400 pages as an ebook and I flew through it in less than three days (okay, I had days off, but still). It’s entertaining, aggravating dramady in which very few people look good. After a few duds, this was all the fluff I needed.