Year of the Bookwormz: 2011

52 weeks. 2 friends. 1 challenge.

Book #51: LibraryLove December 11, 2010

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

Book description~ Henry Lee comes upon a crowd gathered outside the Panama Hotel, once the gateway to Seattle’s Japantown. It has been boarded up for decades, but now the new owner has made an incredible discovery: the belongings of Japanese families, left when they were rounded up and sent to internment camps during World War II. As Henry looks on, the owner opens a Japanese parasol.
This simple act takes old Henry Lee back to the 1940s, at the height of the war, when young Henry’s world is a jumble of confusion and excitement, and to his father, who is obsessed with the war in China and having Henry grow up American. While “scholarshipping” at the exclusive Rainier Elementary, where the white kids ignore him, Henry meets Keiko Okabe, a young Japanese American student. Amid the chaos of blackouts, curfews, and FBI raids, Henry and Keiko forge a bond of friendship – and innocent love – that transcends the long-standing prejudices of their Old World ancestors. And after Keiko and her family are swept up in the evacuations to the internment camps, she and Henry are left only with the hope that the war will end, and that their promise to each other will be kept.

Forty years later, Henry Lee is certain that the parasol belonged to Keiko. In the hotel’s dark dusty basement he begins looking for signs of the Okabe family’s belongings and for a long-lost object whose value he cannot begin to measure. Now a widower, Henry is still trying to find his voice – words that might explain the actions of his nationalistic father; words that might bridge the gap between him and his modern, Chinese American son; words that might help him confront the choices he made many years ago.  Set during one of the most conflicted and volatile times in American history, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is an extraordinary story of commitment and enduring hope. In Henry and Keiko, Jamie Ford has created an unforgettable duo whose story teaches us of the power of forgiveness and the human heart.

Wow. In a powerful blend of historical fact AND fiction, Jamie Ford churns out a most moving read centered around a Romeo & Juliet-type story of a young Chinese boy who falls in love with a young Japanese girl on the brink of cultural shift. You know the way a warm towel feels on your shoulders fresh from the dryer? Or the way a cool drink of water feels when you’ve been thirsty for an hour? Or the way it feels to crawl into bed after a most exhausting day? This is how Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet felt to me as I finished the last word; both bitter and sweet. You know that towel will cool down; that drink will end; that alarm will sound. It’s so sweet yet fleeting. Ford did an UH-mazing job pacing this novel just so. Shifting between war-time Seattle in the 40s and more ‘modern day’ life in the late 80s, Ford was so tender and artful in his gradual build-up in character, plot, and subplot. Henry and Keiko’s story of young love unfolded in the foreground while Henry and Marty’s once frail father-son connection flourished in the background.

“They arrested more people last night. Japanese, all over the city. All over Puget Sound. All over the state, maybe. People are getting rid of anything that might connect them to the war with Japan. Letters from Nippon. Clothing. It all must go. People are burning photos of their parents, of their families.”

Despite having no prior knowledge or understanding of the Japanese Internment camps during WWII in Seattle or the cultural divide for that matter, I couldn’t help but be immersed in Henry’s world. When people think of genocide, they instantly think of the Holocaust for the Jews. But how many would think of the Japanese Internment ? I most certainly will from now on. I was drawn in with subtlety; Ford’s writing style made it easy to get lost in Henry’s world.

I usually loathe the idea of movies being adapted from novels but in this case, if done well like Memoirs of a Geisha, this novel would translate quite beautifully on-screen. At times I drew parallels to The Boy in the Striped Pajamas , during  scenes of Keiko and Henry’s clandestine meetings in the camp. Henry and Keiko seemed so mature beyond their years and I loved how devoted Henry was, I just wish Ford had written this in first-person when the narration shifted to Henry’s story; as the reader I felt slightly removed from Henry and would have prefered to be inside his head.

My heart DROPPED as the clerk shared the ‘news’ with Henry that life-altering day at the corner of The Panama Hotel and felt my mouth agape and my eyes water; I had to read those lines a few times before they sunk in. I found myself slowing my reading pace because I realized I was almost to the end yet I wanted so much more story and knew I would have to suffice with what was left.

My only criticism is that the editor should have probably done a bit better job of fact checking; I don’t believe the internet was advanced enough for the “search” to have taken place in the late 80s for Marty to have found Keiko so easily.

I must thank Sarrina for letting me borrow this book from her; I am truly changed and wish everyone would read this book AND take their time with it.

6/5 stars (watch me!)

51 down, 1 left …wait did I really just type that?! Holy cannoli.

On deck, Oogy!

xoxo,

LibraryLove

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Sarah Blake’s Book Signing: The Postmistress February 28, 2010

Hi all!

Today was a very special day.  My dear friend and fellow book blogger, Planet Books, whisked me away on a fun-filled birthday date about town. The highlights- mozzarella tasting,  gourmet dinner, cupcakes, and Politics & Prose for Sarah Blake’s book signing!

What an amazing privilege to listen to fDC native, Blake, read in her gentle soft tone, from The Postmistress. Even more amazing? Getting to hear (from where else but the front row of course) about the almost decade long journey to completing this amazing work and the impetus behind it. Like Stockett’s The Help, Blake’s Postmistress was also inspired by events of September 11th, 2001. Blake explained how moved she was by a 9/11 photo. She yearned to know more about what was going on “to the left and to the right” of that particular photo depicting a man and son, who were killed on that fateful day. Directly from Blake’s website, here’s a quick description of the book in case you’ve lived under a rock for the last two weeks and didn’t see it in People Magazine, The NY Times Best Seller List or all the other publications she’s been praised in:

Iris James is the Postmistress of Franklin, Massachusetts a small town at the end of Cape Cod. She firmly believes her job is to deliver and keep people’s secrets, to pass along the news of love and sorrow that letters carry. Faithfully she stamps and sends the letters between people such as the newlyweds Emma and Will Fitch, who has gone to London to help out during the Blitz. But one day she slips a letter into her pocket, and leaves it there.

Meanwhile, seemingly fearless radio gal, Frankie Bard is reporting the Blitz from London, her dispatches crinkling across the Atlantic, imploring listeners to pay attention. Then in the last desperate days of the summer of 1941, she rides the trains out of Germany, reporting on what is happening to the refugees there.

Alternating between an America on the eve of entering into World War II, still safe and snug in its inability to grasp the danger at hand, an a Europe being torn apart by war, the two stories collide in a letter, bringing the war finally home to Franklin.

It was also fun getting to meet fellow book bloggers, S. Krishna’s Books & The Book Lady’s Blog, who shared our front row experience. Thanks to Planet Books, I cannot wait to read my very own autographed copy! Stay tuned for my review in the next few weeks! I will be circulating this book around to my network and can’t wait to hear what they and my book club babes think of this amazing novel. If you can, I urge you to attend one of Blake’s book tour dates. Grab your copy asap!

Xoxo, Library Love



 

Book #9: LibraryLove February 11, 2010

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

Book description~ January 1946: London is emerging from the shadow of the Second World War, and writer Juliet Ashton is looking for her next book subject. Who could imagine that she would find it in a letter from a man she’s never met, a native of the island of Guernsey, who has come across her name written inside a book by Charles Lamb.
As Juliet and her new correspondent exchange letters, Juliet is drawn into the world of this man and his friends — and what a wonderfully eccentric world it is. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society — born as a spur-of-the-moment alibi when its members were discovered breaking curfew by the Germans occupying their island — boasts a charming, funny, deeply human cast of characters, from pig farmers to phrenologists, literature lovers all.
Juliet begins a remarkable correspondence with the society’s members, learning about their island, their taste in books, and the impact the recent German occupation has had on their lives. Captivated by their stories, she sets sail for Guernsey, and what she finds will change her forever.

This is the first book, written in epistolary exchange format, I’ve ever read.  For those of you unfamiliar, epistolary means the book is written through an exchange of letters. Typically, a book is written in narrative form. TGLPPPS was such a fun and unique twist. Authors Shaffer and Barrows used the exchange of letters between characters involved in the story, to insert the reader smack dab into the psyche and inner most thoughts of the Guernsey Islanders. I’m sad the book ended because I want more! Especially with Dawsey’s new found outgoing personality which left me so curious to see what their lives together would hold. I laughed, I cried, and I was completely drawn into Juliet’s world. Her quick whit and charm cracked me UP! She’s just the kind of person I’d love to add to my social network and invite to dinner. I give her much credit for taking such initiative to even want to take on the beast of raising Kit as her own, much less leaving London behind, when she just planned to visit the Guernsey Island to get inspired for her second book.  I also loved what a homage to Elizabeth this story became. She was so integral in everyone’s lives~ of course she should be the focus of Juliet’s second work!

My one criticism is that I’m a bit disappointed we didn’t get to see more of the Dawsey/Juliet relationship explored after the “big day”. But that’s just me being selfish isn’t it? =) I am looking forward to reading The Recipe Club, as it’s another selection written in epistolary format back and forth between friends who share recipes. I really enjoyed learning about Juliet, Sidney and Isola through their letters to one another and think it to be such a unique way to tell a story and hook the reader. My favorite scene is when Juliet’s boat arrives at the port, she in her red cape, about to embark on the rest of her life’s journey on the Island of Guernsey.

This is my 3rd historical fiction reading in a row. The Help took place in the 60s, Keeping the House took place in the 50s, and TGLPPPS took place in the post-WWII era of the late 40s. I’ve enjoyed going “back in time” and definitely caught the historical fiction bug.

Thanks to a very dear friend for “gently coercing” me to read this immediately. xoxo.

5/5 Stars

9 down, 43 to go…

On deck, Kabul Beauty School

Xoxo, LibraryLove