Books Read in October/ November

“Snow Flower and the Secret Fan” a novel by Lisa See

I am what they call in our village ”one who has not died”–a widow, eighty years old.  

Set in nineteenth century China, this novel explores the bonds and roles of women in the Hunan culture. At seven years old, Lilly is matched with her laotong, or “old same.” It is a deep, sacred bond meant to last a lifetime. Throughout the years, they pass a beautiful silk fan back and forth with messages for each other written in a unique language created by women to keep it from being read by the men. We follow them from innocent girlhoods through the misery of footbinding to arranged marriages to childbirth to their possible fracturing of their abiding bond as laotongs.

What I learned: How deep and substantial research can enrich an exquisite story.

“You Came Back” a novel by Christopher Coake

Mark Fife was being watched.  

I fell in love with Coake’s writing after reading his story collection, “We’re in Trouble.” He was able to transfer his skills to the larger form of the novel with great success. The story, about being haunted by memories, failures, who you used to be and by an actual ghost will haunt the reader as well. Seven years after the accidental death of his son, Brendan and divorce from his college sweetheart, Chloe, Mark Fife, newly engaged to Allison, is visited by a woman who now lives in their old hose. The house where Brendan died. The house where his life fell apart. The house where this woman now claims his son’s ghost is stuck. Chloe returns to Mark’s life and they are faced with the memories that both brought them together and tore them apart.

What I learned: Coake does an awesome job of balancing the emotional inner turmoil with physical sensory details of being in that character’s body.

“every day” a YA novel by David Levithan

I wake up. Immediately I have to figure out who I am.

Every day A. wakes up in a different body. A different gender. Different family. A different life. It’s always been this way. A. has learned to accept it and to make as few waves as possible in the person’s life. Then he wakes up in Justin’s body and meet Justin’s girlfriend, Rhiannon. For the first time A. imagines a normal life. for the first time A. aches to wake up day after day in one body, in one life, one life with Rhiannon. This story was mesmerizing. First there’s the premise which fascinates me. So many lessons in literally walking ion another person’s shoes. But ultimately this is a love story and what will we do for the one we truly love. Simply beautiful.

What I learned: To care as much about the characters as the premise.

 “The Trial of Fallen Angels” a novel by James Kimmel, Jr.

I do not remember anymore.

Brek Cutler is a young attorney who has been enamored with the idea of justice all her life. The book opens with her covered in blood, standing on a deserted train platform with no recollection of how she got there. Why? She is dead. She is stuck in this place with distant relatives and people from her past, trying to help her adjust to her new surroundings. She learns that she has been selected to be a part of an elite group of lawyers whose job it is to prosecute and defend souls at the Final Judgment. Each soul she meets and each trial she witnesses brings her closer to remembering what exactly happened to her. This thought-provoking novel explores the practice of compassion, forgiveness, redemption all wrapped up in a page-turning mystery.

What I learned: After reading his author’s note I realized how important it is to follow the  subjects, characters, ideas that pursue you throughout your life. Only you can tell the stories you are meant to tell.