Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

"Sentimental, heartfelt novel portrays two children separated during the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. In 1940s Seattle, ethnicities do not mix. Whites, blacks, Chinese and Japanese live in separate neighborhoods, and their children attend different schools. When Henry Lee’s staunchly nationalistic father pins an “I am Chinese” button to his 12-year-old son’s shirt and enrolls him in an all-white prep school, Henry finds himself friendless and at the mercy of schoolyard bullies. His salvation arrives in the form of Keiko, a Japanese girl with whom Henry forms an instant—and forbidden—bond. The occasionally sappy prose tends to overtly express subtleties that readers would be happier to glean for themselves, but the tender relationship between the two young people is moving. The older Henry, a recent widower living in 1980s Seattle, reflects in a series of flashbacks on his burgeoning romance with Keiko and its abrupt ending when her family was evacuated. A chance discovery of items left behind by Japanese-Americans during the evacuation inspires Henry to share his and Keiko’s story with his own son, in hopes of preventing the dysfunctional parent-child relationship he experienced with his own father. The major problem here is that Henry’s voice always sounds like that of a grown man, never quite like that of a child; the boy of the flashbacks is jarringly precocious and not entirely credible. Still, the exploration of Henry’s changing relationship with his family and with Keiko will keep most readers turning pages while waiting for the story arc to come full circle, despite the overly flowery portrait of young love, cruel fate and unbreakable bonds. A timely debut that not only reminds readers of a shameful episode in American history, but cautions us to examine the present and take heed we don’t repeat those injustices." - Kirkus Reviews

"Fifth-grade scholarship students and best friends Henry and Keiko are the only Asians in their Seattle elementary school in 1942. Henry is Chinese, Keiko is Japanese, and Pearl Harbor has made all Asians-even those who are American born-targets for abuse. Because Henry's nationalistic father has a deep-seated hatred for Japan, Henry keeps his friendship with and eventual love for Keiko a secret. When Keiko's family is sent to an internment camp in Idaho, Henry vows to wait for her. Forty years later, Henry comes upon an old hotel where the belongings of dozens of displaced Japanese families have turned up in the basement, and his love for Keiko is reborn. In his first novel, award-winning short-story writer Ford expertly nails the sweet innocence of first love, the cruelty of racism, the blindness of patriotism, the astonishing unknowns between parents and their children, and the sadness and satisfaction at the end of a life well lived. The result is a vivid picture of a confusing and critical time in American history. Recommended for all fiction collections." - Library Journal
I was very surprised that the professional reviews of this book were so mediocre.  I absolutely loved it (but I tend to be overly sentimental!)  The book toggles between two time periods - 1942 and the somewhat present 1986.  It tells the story of Henry and Keiko and there unlikely friendship.  It contains all the elements that make a great book (for me anyway) romance, intrigue, drama, loss... I definitely would recommend this book.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Distant Land of My Fathers by Bo Caldwell

From Publishers Weekly

Caldwell's memoirlike first novel begins in 1930s Shanghai, a city where enterprising foreign entrepreneurs can quickly become millionaires and just as quickly lose everything as victims of the volatile political climate. Six-year-old narrator Anna Schoene tells the tale of her insurance salesman/smuggler father, Joseph, the son of American missionaries, whose life-long obsession with the city's opportunities gains him great riches, though it ultimately costs him his family and almost his life. Anna worships her father. Her life in Shanghai has been one of privilege, thanks to his shady business dealings. But after a harrowing kidnapping incident, and frightened by the Japanese invasion of China, her mother, Genevieve, flees home to South Pasadena, Calif., taking Anna with her. Joseph is convinced that his connections will keep him safe and refuses to leave. Imprisoned and tortured by the Japanese and subsequently the Chinese Communists, he survives, although he loses everything and is finally deported back to America in 1954. Over the years Anna has distanced herself emotionally from her father, realizing he needed money and power more than he needed his family. But when the physically broken and spiritually reborn Joseph returns to California, he reconciles with the grown Anna and her family. The memoir-style structure lends the characters a certain flatness, but Caldwell's even tone gives the tale a panoramic elegance. Though lacking in narrative vitality, the novel is interesting from a historical perspective and vivid with details of prewar Shanghai and Los Angeles.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

My Take:

I loved, loved, loved this book.  I read this book in three days and had an overwhelming sadness when I read the last page because it was over.  The characters are so likable and believable and beautifully developed, you just can't wait to see how it all plays out.  If you like this book Lisa See's Shanghai Girls is a must read!

Friday, September 3, 2010

My Fair Lazy: One Reality Television Addict's Attempt to Discover If Not Being A Dumb Ass Is the New Black, or, a Culture-Up Manifesto by Jennifer Lancaster

I don't think I can fully express how much I heart Jennifer Lancaster.  I have never met her but in my mind, she is my bff, seriously.  I read her blog religiously and although I am not a huge twitter fan I do catch some of her posts.  Her latest installment has not let me down.

My Fair Lazy follows Jen's quest, or Jennaissance, to become less of a reality show addict (something that I truly LOVE about her) and become more cultured.  She goes to the theatre, tries new food, *tries* to understand jazz and basically become a more well rounded individual.  Throughout her journey she stumbles and creates laugh out loud situations.  (LOL, or laugh out loud, is a very OVER used term these days but when I use it in this context I truly mean that I laughed out loud, loudly and usually spraining something out of my mouth, tmi???)

I can't say anymore - go out and buy her book NOW, seriously, go now.