The Ghost Bride is a historical fantasy novel set in a Malaya ruled by the British Empire. Li Lan is a member of the Chinese community there, the daug...moreThe Ghost Bride is a historical fantasy novel set in a Malaya ruled by the British Empire. Li Lan is a member of the Chinese community there, the daughter of a once prosperous and respected man, who has become bankrupt following the death of his wife. Life seems to hold few opportunities for Li Lan until she learns of an offer to become a ghost bride, the wife of the dead son of the wealthy Lim family. At first she is horrified, but the more she learns about the family and the circumstances surrounding the death of Lim Tian Ching, the more she is drawn into the mystery of the household. Soon she finds herself exploring the spirit world of Malaya, guided by the enigmatic Er Lang, in a quest to find out what really happened and why she has been selected as a ghost bride, before she is trapped forever in the shadowy after-life.
I started The Ghost Bride expecting it to be mainly historical fiction, so the amount of fantasy in the novel surprised me. But in a good way. Choo has taken Chinese beliefs about the afterlife and used them to create a fascinating, fully formed fantasy world that is the unreserved star of the show. I just loved the blending of fantasy with traditional beliefs, it lent an authenticity to the whole book. I'm always on the look out for fantasy that isn't set in medieval Europe, and with this book I stumbled across a great example of it accidentally.
Another thing I enjoyed about The Ghost Bride was the character of Li Lan herself. She starts off as quite shy and easily led by both her family and the Lim family, but as the book progresses we get to see some strong character development, culminating in an episode towards the end where she's in quite a sticky situation. Rather than hope for someone to come and save her, she's determined to sort things out herself, which I really liked. It would have been easy for Choo to write a passive female, especially considering that Er Lang is technically supernatural, so I liked that she made Li Lan stick up for herself as the book went on.
This book does contain a love triangle, but thankfully the romance elements are very light and take a back-seat to the adventure and the exploration of the afterlife itself. I found The Ghost Bride easy to read but yet unlike anything else I've read, a book that I'm sure will stick with me for some time. Recommended for anyone who likes fantasy but is after something a bit different.(less)
The Spirit Level is a non-fiction book that examines the prevalence of what we might think of as social problems in different countries (drug use, vio...moreThe Spirit Level is a non-fiction book that examines the prevalence of what we might think of as social problems in different countries (drug use, violence, obesity, poor educational performance, crime etc.). Wilkinson and Pickett argue that what matters is not how affluent a country is on average, but rather the level of inequality in the country. All Western nations have reached a point where economic development has led to a comfortable standard of living, but the richest countries are not the happiest, or the ones with fewest social ills. In fact, health and social problems are instead highly related to the difference in income between the top twenty and lowest twenty percent in that country, with richer countries like the USA and UK doing poorly compared to countries such as Japan and the Scandinavian nations.
This may all sound like common sense, but what Wilkinson and Pickett do in The Spirit Level is provide overwhelming evidence that inequality is damaging for all members of society, not just those at the bottom. Each chapter examines a different societal problem and time and time again, we see that inequality is strongly related to it. Even things like the amount of trust you have in your community, your chances of developing a mental illness, the prevalence of chronic diseases and the rate of teenage pregnancies are highly correlated. And as Wilkinson and Pickett explained how the link between inequality and each 'problem' might work, the more I found myself nodding my head along with the book. It just makes sense that the healthier societies are the ones where all members of society feel valued and like they have something to contribute. Crucially, the authors show that inequality is damaging for the rich as well as the poor.
The sections dealing with the relationship between inequality and the different health and social problems were truly fascinating, and left me with lots to think about. However, the book then moves on to discussing ways that inequality can be combated by ordinary members of the public, and here I felt it started to lose some steam. I do agree with lots of their suggestions, especially employees having a stake/shares/voice in the company they work for, but this part of the book felt a bit meandering and at times, a little preachy, compared with the fast paced, factual arguments of the rest of the text.
On the whole, The Spirit Level is a truly thought provoking book that seeks to provide an answer to the question of why the richest countries aren't necessarily the happiest in the world. It's thoroughly researched, fascinating to read and left me with lots to think about. Recommended for anyone interested in society or politics.(less)
Cut Me Loose is a memoir of a girl who grew up in a strictly Orthodox Jewish household, who was forbidden to speak to boys, learned to suspect anythin...moreCut Me Loose is a memoir of a girl who grew up in a strictly Orthodox Jewish household, who was forbidden to speak to boys, learned to suspect anything modern, had to cover up completely, wasn't allowed to be friends with non-Jewish girls, and who had focused her whole life on the ideal of getting married and having children in her late teens. Although Vincent sometimes struggled against these restraints, she believed in her community and desperately wanted the approval of her father. So, when she is cast out of the community for exchanging innocent letters with an Orthodox Jewish boy whilst staying with family in England, and later for wearing a sweater that was too tight, she is devastated. As her family continue to ignore her, Leah engages in riskier and riskier behaviour as a way to gain their attention and love, before finally coming to terms with her sexuality and the choices she can make for her own life.
I'm absolutely fascinated by what life must be like in strictly religious communities. I grew up in a completely non-religious household, and have never thought about religion as a factor when making decisions about my life, so I'm interested in those that do, as it seems so alien to me. As such, I found the beginning sections of Cut Me Loose, detailing Leah's childhood and expectations for the future, to be the most interesting. She had built her life around a very strict set of rules and marriage market (in which even being seen standing next to a boy would downgrade your prospects) and I was amazed at the extent to which she accepted them, even now when writing her memoir. Cut Me Loose reminded me just how much impact our childhood experiences have on us, and how hard it can be to break away from them.
Once Leah is unwelcome in her community, she finds herself alone in a big city, living on the poverty line. As she wasn't allowed to make friends with non-Jewish people, she is completely without a support network and feels desperately lonely. Eventually she decides that she might as well 'live up' to being exiled from her family, and starts to have a lot of sex with men who do not respect her. Having been bought up in a society where women defer to men and expect lower status, she has no clue how to negotiate modern relationships and lacks the confidence to say no; going along with what the men want in order to feel needed in some way. As you can imagine, this doesn't lead to happiness, and the rest of the book deals with Leah building a life for herself on her own terms, and learning to negotiate the world.
I breezed through Cut Me Loose in a few days, as it's well written and fast paced. Vincent's story is interesting and she captures all of the emotions she felt vividly. I felt as though the ending of the book was a bit rushed, as Leah goes from desperately despressed to a functioning adult in a happy relationship within what seems like a few pages. I'm sure that part of her journey would have been interesting to read about too. Still it's an interesting memoir to pick up if you're interested in religious communities or coming of age stories.(less)
Paige is a clairvoyant, with the ability to leave her body and break into the minds of others. This skill makes her hunted by Scion, who rule a dystop...morePaige is a clairvoyant, with the ability to leave her body and break into the minds of others. This skill makes her hunted by Scion, who rule a dystopian version of London in 2059. Clairvoyance is seen as unnatural and is punishable by death, forcing Paige and others like her to hide their abilities or join the mob-ruled criminal underworld. Paige is working for underground leader Jaxon Hall when she is captured and detained. She is sure she will be punished by the Scion authorities, but instead she is transferred to Oxford, a city that has been kept secret for over two hundred years. There she learns that Scion has kept it's own secrets from it's citizens and that a whole other race exists. Kept in the control of Warden, Paige yearns to escape but the only person who can help her may be the person who is imprisoning her in the first place.
The Bone Season certainly has had a lot of hype surrounding it. Shannon has famously signed a seven book deal with Bloomsbury and this title has been everywhere, with the inevitable comparisons to J.K. Rowling. I was keen to try it for myself and see if it lived up to expectations.
One thing that certainly impressed me was the world building. Reading The Bone Season is an immersive experience, as Shannon throws you straight in there with the characters, leaving you to work out how the society works for yourself. This is how I like my fantasy/sci-fi and I was impressed at the amount of detail and thought that had gone into the set up of Scion London and Oxford, as well as the creation of an entirely new race/type of creature, the Rephaim. The world hung together well and it's clear that the author knows it inside out. For example, there are over fifty different types of clairvoyant listed in beginning of the book.
Although Paige was an interesting main character, The Bone Season is all about the plot. It's an action packed novel and one that will have you turning the pages quickly. This is the kind of book I would happily have stayed up all night to read, as it's utterly engrossing. I was pleased that the romance in the novel was of the slow-burning kind and it never overwhelmed the main plots at all. As Shannon allowed the romance to develop slowly, it felt plausible for Paige's character.
On the whole, reading The Bone Season was certainly a lot of fun and I'm glad I picked it up. I simply rushed through it but having finished it, I've realised that it hasn't had much of an impact on me. The ideas are clever and the story well written, but it's not a book I will remember or want to reread. For this reason, it's not going to be a favourite.(less)