Wrap Up: April 2019 or hell weeks.

I feel like a broken record at this point, but I had a month from hell. Term started (and everything that could go wrong, did go wrong) and I moved into a new place (which I am SO excited about but it still looks like a bomb exploded) and my reading really suffered. I did not have the mental capacity to read for most days.

Books I read in March:

  1. Swan Song by Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott: 2 out of 5 stars (review)
  2. Normal People by Sally Rooney: 5 out of 5 stars (review)
  3. Allegiance of Honor (Psy-Changeling #15) by Nalini Singh: 2 out of 5 stars
  4. An American Marriage by Tayari Jones: 2.5 out of 5 stars (review)
  5. Number One Chinese Restaurant by Lillian Li: 2 out of 5 stars (review)

Favourite of the Month:

Obviously Normal People by Sally Rooney. This makes this the second month in a row when one of her books blew my mind. I cannot wait to see what she does next! (Part of me is keeping my fingers crossed for a short story collection because just imagine the brilliance she can deliver in that format.)

Continue reading “Wrap Up: April 2019 or hell weeks.”

Review: Number One Chinese Restaurant by Lillian Li

35020361Verdict: Middling.

My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction

Published by Henry Holt, 2018

Find it on Goodreads.

The Beijing Duck House in Rockville, Maryland, is not only a beloved go-to setting for hunger pangs and celebrations; it is its own world, inhabited by waiters and kitchen staff who have been fighting, loving, and aging within its walls for decades. When disaster strikes, this working family’s controlled chaos is set loose, forcing each character to confront the conflicts that fast-paced restaurant life has kept at bay.

Owner Jimmy Han hopes to leave his late father’s homespun establishment for a fancier one. Jimmy’s older brother, Johnny, and Johnny’s daughter, Annie, ache to return to a time before a father’s absence and a teenager’s silence pushed them apart. Nan and Ah-Jack, longtime Duck House employees, are tempted to turn their thirty-year friendship into something else, even as Nan’s son, Pat, struggles to stay out of trouble. And when Pat and Annie, caught in a mix of youthful lust and boredom, find themselves in a dangerous game that implicates them in the Duck House tragedy, their families must decide how much they are willing to sacrifice to help their children.

Generous in spirit, unaffected in its intelligence, multi-voiced, poignant, and darkly funny, Number One Chinese Restaurant looks beyond red tablecloths and silkscreen murals to share an unforgettable story about youth and aging, parents and children, and all the ways that our families destroy us while also keeping us grounded and alive.

This is the first time while reading the longlist of this year’s Women’s Prize for Fiction that I am baffled by the inclusion of a book. While I have been struggling with many of the books, I could always see how the books would work for a different reader and see the purposeful way in which the books were structured and narrated. I did enjoy reading this book but I also found it distinctly average (my friend Rachel called it “aggressively mediocre” in her wonderful review, a phrase so perfect a description for this book that I am unsure why I should even bother writing a review).

Lillian Li follows a large cast of characters, all connected to the Duck House, a Chinese restaurant in the US that is as much the reason these people are connected as it is the centre of this novel. While I do think that books with a large cast can work exceedingly well, for me to appreciate them this large cast has to come with a particular kind of narrative voice. Here, Li attempted an intimate narration to imbue the action with an emotional heart, and I don’t think this ever came together. Scenes that should have been emotional did not work for me because I had not spent enough time with the characters to be properly invested. As such, they felt melodramatic and overwrought.

The book is at its strongest when concentrating on familial relationships, be it Jimmy and Johnny, two brothers filled with both love and contempt for each other, who loath those characteristics in each other that they wish they had themselves, or Johnny and his daughter Annie, who love each other but have never found a way to properly communicate. But for me, the most compelling relationship was between Nan (a long time manager at the Duck House) and her son Pat. This relationship tugged at my heartstrings in a way none of the other narrative strands came even close to. Pat in particular reminded me of my little brother when he was 17 and angry at the world. The interactions of lost and confused and vicious Pat and his mother, who just does not know how to deal with her struggling and difficult son, felt honest and true in a way that made me wish for a book more tightly focussed on these two.

I found the writing to be distinctly underwhelming safe for a few really wonderful sentences like this one: “It pained Nan to admit this, but he shouldn’t have bent under her hollow reassurances. She should’ve taught her son how to ask for more. The fact that he didn’t was what made him hers; they were genetic mirrors, with identical weak spots in their bones.” But for the most part the writing veered dramatically between matter-of-factness bordering on boring and overwritten melodrama (especially in the last 50 pages) in a way that I found disatisfying.

I am reading the Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist this year. My current ranking is as follows:

  1. The Pisces by Melissa Broder (review)
  2. Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi (review)
  3. Normal People by Sally Rooney (review)
  4. Milkman by Anna Burns (review)
  5. Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss (review)
  6. An American Marriage by Tayari Jones (review)
  7. Bottled Goods by Sophie van Llewyn (review)
  8. Swan Song by Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott (review)
  9. Number One Chinese Restaurant by Lillian Li
  10. Praise Song for the Butterflies by Bernice L. McFadden (review)

Women’s Prize for Fiction Longlist: Reaction

The longlist is finally here! I am beyond excited and a bit baffled because of the depth excitement. I stayed up yesterday to hear the announcement the moment it went live, something I have never done for a longlist announcement.

My longlist predictions were so wrong, it’s not even funny; I only correctly predicted two books. Of the 16 books on the longlist I have read three, am currently reading one, and three I had never heard of before yesterday. This means that I have an awful lot of reading to do (according to the Goodreads page counts it’s 4023 pages). I will really try to read the longlist but I will definitely DNF the books that don’t work for me.

Without much further ado, here is the longlist in all its glory:

The Silence of the Girls Pat Barker
Remembered Yvonne Battle-Felton
My Sister, the Serial Killer Oyinkan Braithwaite
The Pisces Melissa Broder
Milkman Anna Burns
Freshwater Akwaeke Emezi
Ordinary People Diana Evans
Swan Song Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott
An American Marriage Tayari Jones
Number One Chinese Restaurant Lillian Li
Bottled Goods Sophie van Llewyn
Lost Children Archive Valeria Luiselli
Praise Song for the Butterflies Bernice L. McFadden
Circe Madeline Miller
Ghost Wall Sarah Moss
Normal People by Sally Rooney

My thoughts:

Read: I am beyond thrilled The Pisces by Melissa Broder made the list; it was by far my favourite book of last year and I want more people to read it. In case you need convincing, here is my gushing review for it. I am also happy to see Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi on the list, which I also adored (my review). I was a bit worried that Emezi wouldn’t want to be included as they are non-binary but they are pleased so I am pleased. I am keeping my fingers crossed that people will try to make an effort to use the correct pronouns though (the first glimpse on twitter makes that seem unlikely). The only other book I have read is Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss, where I seem to be the only person online to not have enjoyed it all that much (my review) – but others really do, so I am glad for its inclusion.

Currently reading: I have started Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli a while ago and really enjoyed the first few pages but found the prose very wordy – I am excited to see it on the list though because that means there is at least one book I don’t need to hunt down.

Well pleased: I am super excited to get to Normal People by Sally Rooney; I finished Conversations With Friends yesterday and I am so very much in love with it that I will read everything Rooney ever publishes (I spent yesterday periodically exclaiming “What a book!”) – and Normal People sounds brilliant. I am also happy to see both Circe by Madeline Miller and The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker on the list; I adore feminist myth retellings and I have heard great things about both books. I did not think both would make it but I am glad for it. I am also really excited to have an excuse to finally take the plunge and read Milkman by Anna Burns, a book that scares me but also sounds really great. I opted for the audiobook version of this as I have heard listening to the prose makes the book more accessible. My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite is another one of the books I did want to read at some point anyways and this is a welcome excuse to prioritize it.

Cautiously optimistic: I requested a review copy of Ordinary People by Diana Evans last year and didn’t get approved but it does sound like a book I could really enjoy. Swan Song by Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott isn’t quite a book I would have picked up on my own but I have heard great things about it. I am not good with books that deal with injustice, but again I have heard brilliant things about An American Marriage by Tayari Jones, so hopefully I will enjoyed it. I hadn’t heard of Bottled Goods by Sophie van Llewyn but it is a short book that actually sounds like it could be my cup of tea.

Slightly pessimistic: While Number One Chinese Restaurant Lillian Li sounds interesting, I have read rather negative reviews of it – however, sometimes my taste is different to Goodreads’ average and I might enjoy this more (after all, The Pisces has a dreadfully low rating as well and that book is perfection). Remembered by Yvonne Battle-Felton could be great but it is also really outside my wheelhouse.

Really dreading: Praise Song for the Butterflies by Bernice L. McFadden does not sound like my type of book at all – and the blurb includes this: “educational, eye-opening account of the practice of ritual servitude in West Africa.” and I do not really appreciate books that are meant to be educational. I am hoping to be proved wrong.

Overall I am mostly pleased (The Pisces!!!) but also sad for a few notable exclusions. I was really hoping for both My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh and Motherhood by Sheila Heti because I really, really want to read these books. I was also hoping for Women Talking by Miriam Toews because it sounds intriguing but I don’t know whether I’ll get to it without the added push. I also thought there would be more overlap with the Man Booker longlist and would have really liked The Water Cure by Sophie Mackintosh and Everything Under by Daisy Johnson to get a shout out because I really liked both books and think the authors are awesome.

What are your thoughts? Are you still planning on reading the longlist?