Review: The Wangs vs. The World

Hello readers!

Welcome to the new literallykatrina.com – I’m so excited to unveil this refresh, which includes the same great literary posts alongside exciting travel tips and tricks. Stay tuned for reflections on my travels this summer (#kbkeuro2016!) as well as new book reviews.

To celebrate this long-awaited update, I’m thrilled to share a review of The Wangs vs. The World, a dazzling debut by the witty and wonderful Jade Chang. I received an advanced copy from Harper Collins Canada as a part of the #HCCFirstLook program – big thank you to the team at HCC for fuelling my love of books (and chocolate – my book arrived with an adorable baggie filled with chocolate coins!). Read the review below!


The Wangs vs. The World by Jade Chang
Photo by Katrina Sklepowich. Advanced copy provided by Harper Collins Canada.

Jade Chang’s debut The Wangs vs. The World is a modern American epic. Full of heart and humour, Chang’s cross-country road trip romp centres on the Wang family as they grapple with change during the 2008 financial crash.

The American Dream failed Charles Wang. The myth that anyone can do anything as long as they work hard enough – that Charles Wang, a Chinese immigrant-turned-cosmetics-mogul could make something from nothing – is debunked with a single mistake: the Failure. In one fell swoop, the glorious Wangs lose their fortune and must face a new reality: that money does not equal happiness.

As the Wang’s Bel-Air mansion is foreclosed and numerous vehicles and valuables are repossessed, patriarch Charles packs his wife Barbra and some family heirlooms into his Ama’s old Mercedes and drives across the country to reunite with his three children. Style blogger Grace, the youngest Wang, is snatched from boarding school in Santa Barbara with a semi-stolen laptop, while naïve comedian-wannabe Andrew is pulled out of college with a duffle bag full of designer sneakers. Together, they take off for the upstate New York hideout of the eldest Wang daughter, former it-girl artist Saina.

Each Wang family member copes with loss in his or her own way – Grace thinks she’s being punked by a new reality television show, Andrew seeks to cash in both his stand-up and actual V-cards, and Saina makes a tentative comeback in the art community. The ever-resilient Barbra grapples with leaving Charles and reinventing herself yet again – or sticking by him. And Charles stakes all of his hope on reclaiming his ancestral land in China, clinging to family folktales and the promise of a fresh start.

As each Wang comes to terms with financial destruction, Chang rebuilds each character in surprising and beautiful ways. As Charles lies in a hospital bed outside of Beijing, China, he realizes a profound truth: that there can be as much joy in destruction as in rebuilding. Though the Wang family’s financial ruin is significant, their bond as a family brings them hope and strength. The message of The Wangs vs. The World is simple: don’t let failure define you. Instead, learn from your mistakes and own them. And then go forth, a new you – a stronger you.

With laugh-out-loud wit, Chang delicately breaks down what it’s like to make it as an immigrant in America, what it looks like to lose it all, and what it means to redefine what is important. A stunning debut, The Wangs vs. The World is an essay on our resilience in tragedy and life’s beauty amidst adversity.


Thanks for following along! I’m looking forward to sharing more book reviews and travel updates with you over the coming months.

Stay well,

❤️ Katrina ❤️

Literally, Katrina: Refreshed

Hello readers and wanderers!

Literally, Katrina has a new look and new content – combining my love of literature and my passion for travel, you can now look forward to the same great posts about literary news and book reviews, alongside exciting travel tips and tricks.

Over the past year, I’ve been sharing reflections on my personal travel experiences as well as recommendations on where to go, what to pack, and what not to do when traveling on my Hopeless Wanderer blog. I’m so excited to add those posts into the mix here on literallykatrina.com. Thanks for following along!

❤️ Katrina ❤️

Character Study – The Road to Atlantis

Guest post by Leo Brent Robillard

AtlantisFNLwebDiane Schoemperlen’s “How to Write a Serious Novel About Love” offers the following advice:

“Begin with a man and a woman. Many famous novels begin with this familiar combination. Although it may at first strike you as rather trite, in fact, once you get going, you will find that it presents a vast array of possibilities.”

Narrated with tongue-firmly-in-cheek, Schoemperlen’s account nonetheless provides readers – and burgeoning writers – with keen insight into the writing process. Even the tidbit above is more enlightening than one might first imagine: novels begin with characters.

Characters. Not plots. Not themes. Characters.

As a reader, I want someone in whom I can invest. I want someone sympathetic (and I do not mean likeable) upon whom I can depend to carry me through the next two, three, or four hundred pages. As a writer, I want to provide my readers with the same.

I find it difficult to pinpoint the exact moment a character is born. Like fossils, I think they lay in hibernation, fully formed and waiting for that moment when the earth in her stirring spits them up, ready to take on the world.

No I don’t. Not really. I’m not that esoteric.

My characters float past me like jetsam. I bump up against some of them only once and then they are gone. I travel alongside others for years, riding the same current. They are the people who populate my life. Sometimes they are stolen whole-heartedly from a single person. More often they are composites – the gestures of a girl I once taught, coupled with the verbal tick of a cousin, and the eyes of my mother.

People have recognized themselves in my books. Or at least they think that they have. Because ultimately my characters are fictional. They are crafted. They serve and dictate a story. A friend’s ill-temper and momentary pettiness may be recognizable to that same friend. Dare I say she might even find their inclusion in a novel offensive? But characters are the sum of carefully chosen traits. For that reason, they are exclusive and not entirely representative of the living being from whom they are inspired.

Novels – particularly my most recent, The Road To Atlantis – are hypothetical. They are the great “what if?” I plot the characters’ journeys meticulously from the outset, but they continue to surprise me. Even when they end up exactly where I wanted them to be, their methods of arrival can veer off in unexpected ways. Atlantis is as close to autobiography as I have ever come. By that I mean I have drawn heavily on myself and on members of my closest family – the good, the bad, and the ugly. And yet, beyond the opening chapter, the events of this book have never occurred to me.

I simply asked myself, “what if?” And the characters provided the answer.


Robillard,Brent_Caroline Bergeron3_2About Leo Brent Robillard

Leo Brent Robillard is an award-winning author and educator. His novels include Leaving Wyoming, which was listed in Bartley’s Top Five in the Globe and Mail for Best First Fiction; Houdini’s Shadow, which was translated into Spanish; and, most recently, Drift. In 2011, he received the Premier’s Award for Teacher of the Year. He lives in Eastern Ontario with his wife and two children.

About The Road to Atlantis

Following the coast on their summer vacation, the Henrys stop at the beach to break up the monotony of their road trip. Matty and Nat build castles in the sand as Anne and David take turns minding the children. A moment of distraction, a blink of the eye, and the life they know is swept away forever.

Like shipwrecks lost at sea, each member of the family sinks under the weight of their shared tragedy. All seems lost but life is long. There are many ways to heal a wound, there are many ways to form a family, and as the Henrys discover, there are many roads to Atlantis.

2015 in review

Hello lovely readers,

2015 was a great year for Literally, Katrina – thank you so much for reading my posts and listening to my podcast!

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog – check it out!

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 940 times in 2015. If it were a cable car, it would take about 16 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Looking forward to 2016. Happy New Year, friends!

Katrina

Voting Season

Hello readers!

As we approach the end of the year (my, how time flies) voting season is upon us. Soon, we’ll begin seeing “best______of the year” listicles from Buzzfeed pop up all over social media, and I have to be honest, I love reading those lists. I like to see if my favourites match up with other voters. I like to see who or what takes the top honour. And I really like voting – who doesn’t like giving their opinion?

Books are not exempt from this list – the Scotiabank Giller Prize, one of the most prestigious awards for Canadian writers, was just announced on November 10th. I am currently reading Close to Hugh, by Marina Endicott, one of the Giller Prize long-list selections, and it’s great! This year’s winner is Fifteen Dogs, by André Alexis. I’ll have to add that to my TBR pile!

Goodreads

And every year, Goodreads, the biggest online reading community, hosts the Goodreads Choice Awards. The opening round of voting ended on November 8th and the second round ended on November 13th. The verdict is in: readers love giving their opinions on their favourite books – now in the final round, over 2.7 million readers have cast their votes! There are some heavy hitters up for nomination this year in each category (there are 20 categories, ranging from mystery/thriller to cookbooks, so there is something for everyone – check them out below). Some of my favourites of the year are nominees, including Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard, Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee, and An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir. I can’t wait to see which books make it through to the very end!

Goodreads 2

The final round of voting is open until Monday, November 23rd (when Episode 6 of the Literally, Katrina podcast comes out!) – cast your votes now!

Until Monday, happy reading!
Katrina

Enter to Win!

Hay's 9th book, His Whole Life, is out now!

Hey readers!

We’re a week into the Literally, Katrina book give-away contest and this is a reminder to get your entries in to win!

I’m giving away a copy of Giller Prize-winning author Elizabeth Hay’s new novel His Whole Life, a story that stares down tough questions with wit and grace. The winner will be announced on Episode 3 of the podcast, which will be released one week from today, on October 12th!

Here’s how to enter – it’s super easy! All you have to do is share Episode 2 on Twitter or Facebook (or both for two entries and double the chance to win!).

Make sure to listen to Episode 3 on October 12th to find out if you’ve won. Good luck!

Happy reading,
Katrina

Book giveaway coming your way!

Hello readers,

With a new podcast episode on its way (Monday!), I want to let you in a little not-so-secret-secret – to celebrate the launch of the Literally, Katrina podcast, I’m giving away a book! Exciting!

Hay's 9th book, His Whole Life, is out now!
Hay’s 9th book, His Whole Life, is out now!

As a thank you to all of you for listening to Episode 1 and subscribing to the podcast, I will be giving away a copy of His Whole Life, by Giller Prize-winning author Elizabeth Hay.

Hay was in Winnipeg this week promoting His Whole Life at Thin Air, the Winnipeg International Writer’s Festival, which wraps up tonight with After Words at 8pm at the Centre culturel franco-manitobain (CCFM). For instructions on how to enter to win His Whole Life, be sure to check out Episode 2 on Monday, September 28th.

Speaking of the podcast, I’ve got great news – you can now subscribe to Literally, Katrina on iTunes and on the Apple Podcast App! Subscribing to the podcast ensures that you get access to new episodes as soon as they’re up – worth it! I’m also happy to announce that I have a brand-new Pinterest board up and running, dedicated purely to books. I’m a literary pinning machine, so get excited for some excellent Harry Potter pins (I’m a little obsessed!).

Until Monday, happy reading!
Katrina

The Dogs by Allan Stratton

Hey there readers,

Allan Stratton's new YA novel, The DogsIt’s hot and stormy out and there’s nothing better to read poolside (or lakeside!) than a little summer suspense. Check out The Dogs by Allan Stratton, an award-winning Canadian writer who will be in Winnipeg this September for Thin Air 2015, the Winnipeg International Writer’s Festival!

I’ll be partnering with the festival this year to keep you up-to-date on what’s going on, what to read, and what events to check out, so keep your eyes on the blog for more updates as we get closer to the festival. I’ll also be posting regular features on the Thin Air website (like this one on The Dogs), so be sure to check out their website frequently. Big names are coming to the festival this September (including Lawrence Hill, author of The Book of Negroes!) – you won’t want to miss it.

To prepare for TA2015, check out the newly released Summer Reading List. Even though I’m still chipping away at Jeff Rubin’s super-relevant The Carbon Bubble: What Happens to Us When It Bursts, and just started S.E. Grove’s The Golden Specific (the follow up to Grove’s amazing first novel The Glass Sentence – trust me, even though you’ll find these babies in the 9-12 section, these books are entertaining and sophisticated enough for all ages to enjoy!), I’m also about to dig into Méira Cook’s Nightwatching, out now and on the TA2015 reading list. PS: Méira Cook’s from Winnipeg!

Happy reading and stay cool!
Katrina

Summer Reads

Hello readers,

Welcome back! I’ve taken quite the break from blogging over the past few weeks but I promise you, I haven’t stopped reading. One of my favourite things about summertime is having more time to read, so here are a few good ones I’ve picked up over the past month and a half.


 

X-Men Reimagined. 

I mentioned these two briefly in my last blog post – here’s a more thorough look.

  • If you like X-Men and the what-if-we-had-special-powers scenario, I recommend Alexandra Bracken’s The Darkest Minds series. Set in dystopian America in the near future, The Darkest Minds series examines the lives of children with special abilities and their rebellion against repression and certain death. To mutant or not to mutant? I couldn’t put these books down – I finished the series in a week.

The Darkest Minds series by Alexandra Bracken

  • If you like the special-powers scenario but are looking for a different angle, check out Victoria Aveyard’s Red Queen. Aveyard has created a world where those with special abilities are the ones in power and heroine Mare Barrow is about to upset the whole system. This is looking to be a big seller in Young Adult fiction this year, so definitely take a read. Aveyard is set to release Book 2 in 2016.

 

The Queen is Back.

The Queen of the Tearling by Erika JohansenThe Invasion of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

  • If you haven’t read The Queen of The Tearling yet, well, shame on you. It’s a book people have been buzzing about all year, and here’s one reason why: Emma Watson is set to star as the heroine, Kelsea Glynn, in the film adaptation. Erika Johansen signed a seven-book deal last year and the second book in the series, The Invasion of the Tearling, was released last month. In my honest opinion, I found The Queen of the Tearling lacking – but Invasion had a lot more substance and it left me wanting more. If you’re a fan of fantasy, pick these two up and tell me what you think.

 

Emily St. John Mandel's Station ElevenWhat the End of the World really looks like.

  • One of the best books of 2015, Station Eleven will make you long for a world we already live in. I’ve never felt nostalgic for light switches or refrigerators until I read this masterful novel written by Emily St. John Mandel. It’s ridiculously realistic – a pandemic hits Toronto and life as
    we know it grinds to a screeching halt. Station Eleven chronicles the lives
    of the survivors, giving us a glimpse of humanity’s darkest days and reminding us how precious life really is. I loved this book.

 

 



The Little Old Lady Who Broke All The Rules
Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreightGossip|Gilmore Girl(s) and Feisty Females

  • It’s Literally a Book Club read and discussed two great summer reads to put on your nightstand: Reconstructing Amelia and The Little Old Lady Who Broke All The Rules.
    • We were huge fans of Reconstructing Amelia. Having just read The Girl On The Train, we were in mystery/thriller mode, so this was the perfect follow-up. After the tragic death of her daughter, Kate begins researching the mysterious circumstances surrounding her daughter’s last days and final hours. Kimberly McCreight definitely has a knack for nailing mother-daughter relationships and strong female leads. Secret societies, long-held grudges, and prep school politics are uncovered in this thrilling and heart-wrenching story. If you’ve enjoyed Gossip Girl and The Gilmore Girls, you’ll definitely find a favourite in Reconstructing Amelia. We gave this one 3.5/5.
    • Next, we tackled Catharina Ingelman-Sundberg’s The Little Old Lady Who Broke All The Rules, a hilarious romp about a group of pensioners who believe that jail would hold more comforts than their retirement home. A comedy of errors, this book will keep you giggling. To sum up the funniest scene, two words: sauna + marijuana. Funny things happen. This was an unexpected pick for our group but we enjoyed it. 3/5.
  • Next up, we’re reading Agatha Christie’s classic mystery, The Tuesday Club Murders. It’ll be just like reading a game of CLUE and I can’t wait.

 

Close to Hugh by Marina EndicottJeff Rubin's The Carbon BubbleCanadian writers are the best writers. I’m biased.


 

A few more books on my “to be read” bookshelf: Sabaa Tahir’s An Ember In The Ashes and Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman, out next week. So many good books for us to explore this summer, my friends!

Keep your eyes on the blog for more summer reading recommendations.

Happy reading,
Katrina

 

Review – Where They Found Her

Hello readers,

Now that school’s out, I’ve been a book-reading machine! I’ve had the chance to finish up Love in the Time of Cholera, The Darkest Minds, Red Queen, and binge-read two Kimberly McCreight novels in 3 days: Reconstructing Amelia and Where They Found Her. You can look forward to my thoughts on Reconstructing Amelia in the next month, as that’s the book that It’s Literally a Book Club is reading for April and May.

As a part of Harper Collins Canada’s newly relaunched #HCCFirstLook program, I, along with 9 other readers across the country, received an advanced copy of Where They Found Her and got to review it. Here’s your first look at my review – enjoy!


 

Where They Found Her by Kimberly McCreight
A review by Katrina Sklepowich

where they found her

Kimberly McCreight’s sophomore novel, Where They Found Her, masterfully weaves together the stories of a mother struggling with a devastating loss, a daughter desperately striving for perfection, and a town reeling from the discovery of a newborn dead in the woods.

Where They Found Her explores more than what is lost and found in an idyllic New Jersey college town ­– it explores mother-daughter relationships at their very core and what it means to be a parent in today’s world.

When Ridgedale, a picture-perfect town by definition, is shattered by tragedy, former lawyer and budding small-town journalist Molly Sanderson is there to pick up the pieces. But instead of a plucky heroine in designer clothing and stiletto heels, McCreight gives us a broken, depressed, and wonderfully human character that not only solves a mystery, but also heals herself in the process.

Like Reconstructing Amelia, Where They Found Her pieces together a story through the voices of multiple women, all of whom are flawed, struggling, and relatable. This is McCreight’s strength: providing characters with which we, as readers, can deeply relate. Each character’s wishes, fears, insecurities, and hopes are what drive this story and keep us yearning for more.

A page-turner filled with unexpected twists, creepy characters, and McCreight’s exceptional knack for online and social media commentary, Where They Found Her will keep you guessing until the very end. And as you find out more about Molly, Sandy, and the other strong women in this story, you’ll also probably find out more about yourself. You’ll also come away with a newfound appreciation for your mother.

The perfect read before Mother’s Day, Where They Found Her will keep you on the edge of your seat but it will also inspire you.


This review, and others, will be posted on TheSavvyReader.com – be sure to check out the site for more great recommendations.

I encourage you to pick up a copy of Where They Found Her and get reading, especially if you are fan of books like Gone Girl and The Girl on The Train. I also think it would make a great gift for mom – remember, Mother’s Day is coming up this Sunday, May 10th!

Happy reading,
Katrina