BOOK REVIEW: THE EMPRESS OF SALT AND FORTUNE by NGHI VO

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The Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi VoThe Empress of Salt and Fortune wasn’t a bad story; it just wasn’t a developed enough one for me. My impression upon finishing this novella—”…that’s it?“—remains my lasting impression of this novella as a whole. In other words, I was underwhelmed.

I want to say that I found this underdeveloped because it was so short, but that would be doing a disservice to all the short fiction I’ve recently read that has been excellent despite, and even because of, its length. The Empress of Salt and Fortune had all the bones of a compelling story: a world based on Asian history and mythology, a story-within-a-story narrative, a focus on the inner workings of an empire from a female perspective. Sadly, though, these facets just didn’t come together for me; the compelling parts didn’t cohere into a particularly compelling whole, here. The characters, especially, felt insubstantial, lacking definition. What little character development they had was confined to their roles, and to the attendant set of qualities you would expect them to have based on those roles (handmaiden = self-effacing, unassuming; empress = bold, self-assured). It was characterization that felt more uninspired than anything else, producing characters that were less fleshed out and complex and more archetypal and one-note.

The plot, as well, only made my issues with the one-note characterization more glaring. It was a fairly traditional, linear plot, moving in exactly the direction you would expect it to move in. That is to say, it’s a plot that ends very conservatively, so much so that I was a bit baffled when I got to the ending because I didn’t think that the author would go in such an unexpected, and frankly underwhelming, direction.

Having said all of that, I don’t expect every story I go into to be ground-breaking or insanely innovative; I love me some good ol’ classic tropes (hate-to-love romances, found family, etc. etc.) from time to time. The issue here is that I didn’t think the tropes in this particular story were as well-executed as I wanted them to be; for me, The Empress of Salt and Fortune was just one of those stories that was more compelling in theory than in actuality.

(Thanks so much to Tor.com for providing me with an e-ARC of this via NetGalley!)

2.5-


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BOOK REVIEW: FUNNY WEATHER by OLIVIA LAING

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Funny Weather: Art in an Emergency by Olivia LaingI know what Olivia Laing is capable of—Lonely City was one of my favourite books of last year—and I don’t think Funny Weather did justice either to her writing or to the subjects she was writing about.

My disappointment with Funny Weather is more about my high expectations for it than anything wrong with this book, necessarily. If you go into this book keeping in mind that it’s a collection of her previously published articles, then you’ll enjoy it. I mean, it’s Olivia Laing, so her writing is still great. But given that this is an anthology and not a cohesive book about one specific theme, like The Lonely City, it read as a little disjointed and underdeveloped. At times I felt like just as I was getting into a piece, it ended. At others it felt like I got barely anything from a piece because it ended so quickly. What I’m trying to say is: these pieces were just too short to be substantial enough for me.

Another thing is that a lot of the artists Laing talks about in this book are people I’ve never heard of before. In The Lonely City I didn’t mind this at all because Laing took her time to develop their histories and relate their art back to loneliness. In this book, though, the pieces we got were essentially the barebones of artists I had no interest in, so it felt like a bit of a lose-lose situation.

That said, I am still ridiculously excited to read Laing’s next book, Everybody, which I think will be more in the vein of The Lonely City. I mean, this is the first line of the book’s description: “Everybody is a fierce, vital exploration of what it means to have a body in the modern era.” I am so sold.

(Thank you to W.W. Norton for providing me with an e-ARC of this via Edelweiss!)

2.5-


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BOOK REVIEW: HOW TO PRONOUNCE KNIFE by SOUVANKHAM THAMMAVONGSA

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Image result for HOW TO PRONOUNCE KNIFE by SOUVANKHAM THAMMAVONGSANever am I more aware of how subjective my reviews really are than when I try to review a book like How to Pronounce Knife. Clearly the fact that my reviews represent my opinions and not some universal objective fact is not a groundbreaking discovery to make, but it’s something that becomes especially salient to me when it comes to a book that I didn’t enjoy for no other reason than: it just wasn’t to my taste.

There is nothing egregiously wrong about How to Pronounce Knife, but there is also nothing about it that is particularly memorable or impressive. It’s a perfectly fine collection of short stories with perfectly fine writing. Thematically, it focuses on how Asian immigrant identity, primarily Southeast Asian, interacts with and operates in family life, romantic relationships, and, more broadly, culture. It’s a collection that reads very quickly, largely owing to its stripped-back, concise writing style and the brevity of its stories’ length.

Though I can see other people enjoying its sparse and to-the-point writing, I unfortunately can’t say that this a collection that will personally stick with me in any way.

Thanks so much to Penguin Random House Canada for providing me with an e-ARC of this via NetGalley!

2.5-


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