Book Review: Portrait of a Thief

Title: Portrait of a Thief

Author: Grace D. Li

Genre: Contemporary, Thriller, Mystery

Pages: 384 pages; 11 hours (audiobook)

Level of difficulty: 3/5 Dictionaries

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Brief Introduction:

A cultural heist, an examination of Chinese American identity, and a necessary cri­tique of the lingering effects of colonialism.

Review:

I’m giving this book a four-star for the literary, emotional and critical commentary rather than the actual heists. They were very faulty, quite convenient plans – definitely full of holes. Thus how they managed to execute them as novices was a suspension in disbelief.

The book is a feel-good about a possible situation where one can earn a tremendous amount of money to remove the burden of responsibilities and obligations while doing something meaningful and morally sound.

A running theme in the novel is the pressure of being an immigrant, more specifically, a second-generation Chinese in America trying to perform to the expectations of parents who believe in the American dream.

The critical commentary on imperialism (from both parties), colonialism, violence, and power were well woven into the story.

Book Review: Notes on an Execution

Title: Notes on an Execution

Author: Danya Kukafa

Genre: Fiction, Mystery, Thriller, Crime

Pages: 306 pages; 10 hours (audiobook)

Level of difficulty: 3/5 Dictionaries

Rating: 5/5 Stars

Brief Introduction:

Through a kaleidoscope of women – a mother, a sister, a homicide detective – we learn the story of Ansel Park’s life, a serial killer who is scheduled to die in twelve hours.

Review:

The latter half of the book was what raised my initial four-star rating to five stars and why I would recommend this book to others. The commentary on the prison system, mainstream media craze about serial killers (especially when they are young and attractive), and how victims are usually remembered at their last living moment (often how they were brutally murdered).

I think the plot was brilliant, as we moved from the perspective of all those whose lives were impacted by the main character’s actions. Furthermore, it was pretty interesting how the main character’s perspective, the serial killer, counted down in hours to his execution and shifted from first-person to a narration (in which a narrator speaks directly to the readers, almost as if they were the murderer themselves).

The author was cautious in how they wrote each character and addressed the sensitivity of serial killers being psychopaths, sexual violence, loss, and murder. I appreciated how they were no violent descriptions of how the victims were killed.

TW: animal abuse, violence

Book Review: The Best Kind of People

Title: The Best Kind of People

Author: Zoe Whittall

Genre: Fiction, Mystery, Crime

Pages: 404 pages; 11 hours (audiobook)

Level of difficulty: 3/5 Dictionaries

Rating: 3/5 Stars

Brief Introduction:

George Woodbury, a well-liked teacher, beloved husband and father, is arrested for sexual impropriety at a prestigious prep school on the birthday of his seventeen-year-old daughter. The arrest leads to a series of events for his wife, Joan, his daughter Sadie who is a student at the school, and his son Andrew, a lawyer in New York. The book follows the family’s journey of coming to terms with the allegations.

Review:

This book engaged with what happens to the family of a sexual assault offender/predator, how they gripple with the scrutiny, the deceit, and their lives changing forever. The author did a good job of engaging with the plot and issues addressed sensitively. However, I did not like the element of fatalism – several characters not speaking up for themselves, several characters easily getting away with questionable character and the lack of critical dialogue required in a book that engages with sexual violence.

TW: sexual assault, violence, drug abuse

Book Reviews: May 2022 Reads*

by Asian Authors

*(3 stars or more)

Victoria in Gold

For years, the majestic beauteous painting of Aunt Victoria had hung on our cream walls. It had a large iridescent frame and the painting was made of gold. It was a portrait of Aunt Victoria dressed in an iwis elegant dress. She had no expression but it could easily be mistaken for sadness. Still, she looked very beautiful, a beauty I have longed for, for ages. I had asked the story of how the painting came about multiple times but the topic would always be changed. That was until my dearest Grandmother held me by arms, dragged me to her favourite Victorian styled room, sat me down and began to tell me the story of Victoria in Gold.

In the old days, Aunt Victoria was the finest lady in town. She had long wavy brown hair, a slender figure, pearly white teeth, and an incredulous smile and was beyond voguish. Every woman wanted to be her and every gentleman wanted to marry her. She had many suitor especially young gentlemen from prestigious families but she never fancied them. She treated them like stone on the pavement. They all failed to get her attention except dear Victor.

Victor was an adonis but average nevertheless. His father was a well-known doctor and his mother a caregiver. They led a humble life. He had manners far beyond any royal and a gorgeous smile. He made Victoria feel happy and comfortable in her own skin, something she did not feel often. However, they both knew that they were living a fantasy. They were from far too different classes after all he was a painter with a gardening job at Victoria’s house on the side. They were positive that if their love were to live, they had a tremendous uphill battle to face.

Victor left wonderful paintings week after week addressed to Victoria. They always had a hidden meaning and Victoria could decipher them with just one look. At times, she would laugh upon seeing them and other times she would cry and lock herself up for days at end. Victoria was Victor’s poetry and his pen was his paint brush. Victoria’s parents questioned her about the man sending paintings but she feigned ignorance and they soon became accustomed to the delivery of paintings.

Months passed and Victoria’s room was filled with numerous picturesque paintings. Yet, at the same time, Victoria’s father’s patience was depleting. His greatest wish was to see his only daughter joyfully married. He pleaded with Victoria to find a man she would be blissfully married to but she could not tell him about Victor thus she kept refusing. She did not want him to be rejected before she woke up from the fairy tale love of hers.

For Victoria’s father, days passed like years and he was very aware that his early years were long behind him. He could not take it anymore and thus he got Victoria engaged to one of the finest gentlemen in town. When she heard the news, Victoria uttered “I am not a property in which you may trade for your wish to be fulfilled,” in a calm yet vile
tone.

“This is for your own happiness, you shall be thankful in the future,” replied Victoria’s father in a heartbroken manner.

Just like that, the topic was concluded. Victoria had too much respect to overturn her father’s command or even protest more than she had done which left her torn, as she felt she was betraying her love for Victor.

News spread and Victor heard about the betrayal but he did not say nor do anything until the night before Victoria’s engagement. Days before so, Victoria felt penitent. She believed that Victoria’s silence was punishment for her lack of courage. On the night before her engagement, Victoria received a huge painting from Victor. She took it and flew up the stairs into her quarters with a big smile despite the size of the painting.

That was the last time Victoria was seen smiling. Victoria never woke up the next morning. On her dressing table was a letter worded with ‘I am sorry but I hope you can hang the painting up’. The reason for her death nor how she died was never known, just like the location of Victor. That was the beginning to Aunt Victoria’s gaze upon us from our cream walls.

Grandmother believes that she died because she was love sick.

I, on the other hand, believe that there was something in the painting that only Aunt Victoria could understand.

04/12/15