Sunday, December 14, 2014

Reviewlettes - The Great, the Good, and the Meh

You guys, it's already mid-December.  Can you believe it?  This year has flown by ridiculously quickly.  As ever, I'm facing the end of the year with a stack of unreviewed books cluttering up my desk.  In the interests of getting through them a little quicker, it's time for some reviewlettes.  Now, let's see if I can actually keep them short. 

The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo - Li Lan comes from a family that used to be wealthy but has crumbled in the aftermath of her mother's death.  When finances get tight, her father brings up the possibility of her becoming a ghost bride for a wealthy family who has recently lost a son.  Being a ghost bride would ensure a life of luxury for Li Lan in the Lim mansion, but spending her life married to and placating a haunting ghost of the family's spoiled son is not what Li Lan hopes for her future.  When Li Lan herself comes too close to death for comfort, what ensues is a tale populated with conniving vengeful ghosts, shadow worlds that imperfectly mirror reality, and a mysterious figure who could be the only one who can help Li Lan's spirit return to her body before its too late.  Choo's book offers a compellingly drawn window into Chinese culture and views of the afterlife.  It smacks of a modern day folk tale.  There are parts of the story that really shine, but I also found it overlong and draggy in places.  In fact, it took more than half of the book for me to become truly invested in Li Lan's story and wandered dangerously close to my "did not finish" book pile before sucking me back into Li Lan's vaguely terrifying sojourn through the Plains of the Dead.  Not a bad book, just requires a little extra patience. 

The Cider House Rules by John Irving - This year will go down in history as the year that I finally read a book by John Irving, despite having had a number of his titles on my shelves for a good many years.  The Cider House Rules is the tale of Dr. Wilbur Larch, his orphanage that also serves as an underground abortion clinic, and Homer Wells, the orphan that failed to find a home.  I loved Dr. Larch's character, equally committed to housing and finding good homes for orphans as he is to offering mothers a safe place to go for the less legal alternative.  He's a little rough around the edges but with a heart of gold.  The orphanage at St. Cloud's is populated by a totally rich cast of characters from the nurses that assist the doctor to the orphans themselves to (Spoiler alert?) the couple that comes seeking an abortion that is the family that will finally "adopt" Homer (Questionable spoilers averted!).  This book, to me, read a little like Dickens, with numerous well-drawn characters fanning out in all directions.  As in my experience with Dickens, The Cider House Rules gets a little slow in the middle while Irving is lining up his characters just right for the final denouement, but as with Dickens, the payoff is perfectly executed and beautifully satisfying.  I'm looking forward to reading more of Irving's work in the years to come.

I Shall Be Near to You by Erin Lindsay McCabe - I feel dreadful about this one, just dreadful.  Almost a year ago now (!!) it was like incredible historical fiction reading month for yours truly.  I Shall Be Near to You was one of the highlights.  It's the story of a girl who joins up with the Union Army during the American Civil War to stay with her husband, disputing the "fact" that her place is at home waiting for news, believing that her true place is at her husband's side even if that might put her in mortal danger.   McCabe brings the Civil War to life in all its confusion and horror.  Rosetta is a great character, determined, strong, and sympathetic; and she's as good a soldier as any.  Ironically, during her time posing as a man, her character makes an impressive transformation from an impulsive girl to a strong, thoughtful woman.  This is a great book that had me just about in tears while reading it in public.  Even though my review is pathetically belated, I highly recommend this book which was one of my favorites from last year.

(Disclaimer:  I received The Ghost Bride from the publisher for review consideration, won a free galley of I Shall Be Near To You from the publisher, and The Cider House Rules is mine all mine.)

1 comment:

  1. I had I WILL BE NEAR TO YOU checked out from the library for like a month, but never got around to reading it. I've heard such great things about it, too! I'll definitely get to it in 2015.