Coming soon! A brand new From My Bookshelf experience.

Friday, May 22, 2009

30. Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford



Title: Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet
Author: Jamie Ford
Copyright: 2009
Pages: 290
Format: Hardcover
Rating: 5/5 stars
Finished: 4-29-09

I had the good fortune to be asked to read Jamie Ford's Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet and my first thought when I finished the book was, "Wow."

About the Author:

Career-wise, Jamie went to art school in Seattle to become an illustrator, and ended up an art director/copywriter. He's won an embarrassingly large amount of meaningless awards including 400+ Addys, 7 Best-of-Shows, and his work has appeared in Adweek, Advertising Age, Graphis and Communication Arts. He also had a commercial appear on an episode of The U.K.'s Funniest Commercials inspired by an embarrassing incident with a bidet that he'd rather not go into right now.

On the writerly side, he won the 2006 Clarity of Night Short Fiction Contest, was First Runner-Up in the 2006 Midnight Road Reader's Choice Awards and was a Top-25 finalist in Glimmer Train's Fall 2006 Short Story Award For New Writers. He's been published in The Picolata Review, and his fiction is online at Flashing in the Gutters and Fictional Musings. He's also an alumnus of the Squaw Valley Community of Writers and a survivor of Orson Scott Card's Literary Bootcamp.

Jamie's debut novel, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet was released by Ballantine on January 27, 2009.

On the personal side, he's the proud father of two boys and two girls. Yep, it's chaos, but the good kind of chaos.

For more information about the author or his work, please visit

About the Book:

In the opening pages of Jamie Ford’s stunning debut novel, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, 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.

Whenever I finish a book like this, I never know how to write about it, only because I never know how to put down on paper the emotions that are churning through me when I finish the book. Jamie Ford's Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is the kind of book that takes me there, into the story, completely. It transports me to that time, filling me with the emotions of the characters; their loves, their fears, their hopes. And hope is what this book is ultimately about. Hope and faith. And knowing that even though sometimes you will lose sight of that faith and lose hope entirely, it isn't always gone.

The book is split between time; the "now," Seattle of the 1980s, and the "then," Seattle of the 1940s. The story opens with Henry Lee wandering by the Panama Hotel, where a stockpile of suitcases and personal belongings have been found in the basement of the hotel. These articles are from another time, a time that Henry thought was well behind him. Henry is Chinese, and has lived in this part of Seattle for most of his life. When he was a boy, his father and mother wanted him to be accepted as American, sending him to private school rather than having him attend the local Chinese public school. During his time at school, he meets Keiko Okabe, and the two become friends. The problem here is that Keiko is Japanese, and Japan is at war with both the United States and with China during this time, and Henry's father has forbidden any involvement with anyone or anything Japanese. Keiko was born in the USA, at the same hospital, in fact, that Henry was born in. She speaks no Japanese. She is fully American, but this makes no difference to Henry's father, or anyone else for that matter. She is Japanese, and therefore, the enemy.

Henry and Keiko's friendship, and eventual love, transcend all these boundaries, and even though they are kept apart by Henry's families strict prejudices, they find ways of seeing each other outside of school. Eventually, the US government moves (or evacuates) anyone of Japanese descent to internment camps farther inland, for their own "safety," or because anyone could be a Japanese spy. Keiko's family is swept up in this "evacuation" and moved to their camp, where Henry, through an unlikely source, finds a way to continue visiting Keiko. Eventually Keiko and her family are moved farther inland, making impossible for Henry to continue visiting, but he writes faithfully every week, even when her letters are becoming fewer are farther between.

Reading about the "evacuations" and the camps that the Japanese families were sent to made me embarrassed and angry to be American. That we would stoop to such lows was a shock to me. I guess not living during that time, I wouldn't understand the full emotions that everyone was feeling then, but to look back from now, I almost can't understand how something like that could happen. The word "unfair" kept going through my mind while I read these portions of the book.

I found the interactions between Henry and his father, and then in turn, Henry and his own son very interesting. To see how Henry handles his father and his prejudices, and how he tries not to act the same way with his son, and yet falls into similar patterns, and how they cope with that. There are so many layers to this story, and each one opened an entirely new set of emotions for me.

There is so much more than what I've described that goes on in the book, but I hate to give anymore away. The ending left me with goosebumps, and that's all I want to say about it. It may seem a little predictable toward the end, but it was still a perfect ending to this beautiful story, a story about faith and hope, families, and rising above the boundaries of simple race and heritage to become the person you are meant to be.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

We have a winner! Meg Waite Clayton's The Wednesday Sisters

Congrats to Carey of The Tome Traveller. She won a paperback copy of Meg Waite Clayton's The Wednesday Sisters. Thanks to everyone who participated in the contest, and an especially big thanks to Meg, first for writing such a fantastic book, and secondly for offering to autograph the book for our winner.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

35. The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe



Title: The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane
Author: Katherine Howe
Copyright: 2009
Pages: 384
Format: ARC from publisher
Rating: 3.5/5 stars
Finished: 5-19-09

This was an early reviewer book, and I was so excited to receive it. However, for whatever reason, this book took me FOREVER to read. The first 200 pages just seemed to drag on and on, with not much happening. I'm glad that I stuck with it though, as the story did pick up in the last quarter of the book.

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane tells two stories. Connie Goodwin is busy preparing to write her PhD dissertation on American History when she gets the call from her mother to help clean her grandmother's house and get it ready to sell. Connie reluctantly agrees to help her mother, and in doing so discovers a rolled up piece of paper that is inserted into a key that is found in an ancient family bible. On the piece of paper is written a name, Deliverance Dane. What Connie soon discovers is that Deliverance Dane may be a previously unknown Salem witch, and what ensues is her journey to discover the location of Deliverance's recipe book and the secrets that are hidden within. The second story is that of Deliverance and her descendants.

I really enjoyed the historical setting for Deliverance and her family. I found that portion of the book to be very well written and since there isn't much to tell, per se, that portion of the book moved along quite well. However, it was during the bulk of the story that dealt with Connie that I felt the story to drag on. I wouldn't even know what I could put my finger on that would make the story move along. All the characters have their roles to play, and they are all believable, but the story just didn't seem to move, at all, for the first 200 pages of the book. As the pieces of the puzzle started to fall into place during the last quarter of the book, however, I was glad that I stuck with it as the story moved along.

What makes the historical aspect of the story even more interesting is the fact that the author, Katherine Howe, is a descendent of two of the actual Salem witches, Elizabeth Howe and Elizabeth Proctor. The scenes that dealt with the witch trials were very well written, really giving a sense of the mania that had swept through the village and surrounding area. I can honestly say that I enjoyed these interludes even more than I did the rest of the book. I'd like to see Katherine Howe expand these sections into an actual retelling, fictionalized or not, of the Salem witch trials. I think that she could create a very accessible account of the hysteria and trials of 1692.

Overall, The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane is not a bad book. It is thoroughly researched, and you can tell that Katherine Howe really loved her characters and this story, but the book could have benefitted from faster pacing. If you are a fan of witches, or are interested in the history and stories behind the Salem witch trials, I don't think that you'd be disappointed in this book.

Release date June 9, 2009.

34. Midnight Pearls: A Retelling of "The Little Mermaid" by Debbie Viguié



Title: Midnight Pearls: A Retelling of "The Little Mermaid"
Author: Debbie Viguié
Copyright: 2006
Pages: 208
Format: Paperback
Rating: 3.5/5 stars
Finished: 5-14-09

This is part of the Once Upon A Time series, each book retelling a classic fairy tale. This was a clever reworking of Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Mermaid. It has all the base plot points of the original fairy tale, a mermaid who falls in love with a human, a sea witch who grants a human form to the mermaid in exchange for her voice, etc. However, Viguié creates a much more involved story, including a love triangle of sorts, and plenty of court intrigue and conspiracy.

Finneas is a fisherman, and one night he discovers a child floating in the water. He and his wife Mary raise the child, whom they name Pearl, as their own, even though she is clearly not quite human. As Pearl grows up, her family overlooks the things that make her different, but the villagers are always leery of her. Unbeknownst to everyone, over the years Pearl has become best friends with Prince James, and their friendship may be growing into something more. However, on a boating trip out to sea, an accident occurs, and Prince James is saved from drowning, not by Pearl, but by a mysterious girl in the ocean. What is the mysterious girl's connection with Pearl? What lengths will the mysterious girl go to find her true love? Read the book and find out!

A fun retelling that keeps enough of the essence of the original story to make it recognizable but still creates a new, fresh story. I might pick up another of the Once Upon a Time series someday.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

33. The Titan's Curse by Rick Riordan



Title: The Titan's Curse
Series: Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 3
Author: Rick Riordan
Copyright: 2007
Pages: 320
Twitter: @camphalfblood
Format: Audiobook
Rating: 3/5 stars
Finished: 5-14-09

The continuing adventures of Percy Jackson and his friends as they prepare for the coming war with Kronos and his Titans, The Titan's Curse finds the kids on a quest to save both Annabeth and the goddess, Artemis. The stakes are getting higher and the challenges more... challenging, as Kronos and Luke are finalizing their plans to attack Camp Half-Blood, and then Olympus. The story itself is becoming slight more serious as the series progresses. Riordan doesn't lose any of his wit and humor, but you can tell that the series is beginning to take a grave turn.

I know that I shouldn't think too much about these stories and just enjoy them for what they are, brain candy, but I can't help but feel that the stories are just a bit rushed and that the death of a character is not usually met with more than a cursory, passing comment. If fact, there was one death in the book that I actually didn't believe to be a death just due to the flip attitude that the surviving characters had to the death. It's just me, but the idea of characters dying in this series doesn't seem to carry much weight at all.

I'm still really enjoying the interactions the gods are having with the kids, and I really like that Riordan does stick to the ancient laws that have been set down in mythology, instead of bending the rules to fit the needs of his story. Flaws aside, I'm still enjoying the series.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

32. The Strain by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan



Title: The Strain
Authors: Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan
Copyright: 2009
Pages: 416
Format: ARC from publisher
Available: 6-2-09
Rating: 4.5/5 stars
Finished: 5-12-09

I have to admit that it takes a lot for a book to creep me out. Horror movies can creep me out just about any time, but for some reason, reading a horror story generally doesn't bother me too much. I take that all back with The Strain. There was just something about this book that totally took me off guard and left me feeling slightly uncomfortable, but in a way that left me wanting more at the last page. Luckily, there will be two more books to follow to finish off the story!

The Strain is a story about vampires. But these aren't your everyday, normal, Stoker-style vampires. These vampires speak to our times. Are they terrorists? Why does the CDC need to be involved? Del Toro and Hogan took everything that was profound about the ancient legends and myths and recreated them using our modern day fears, and I think this is where my discomfort came from in the story. Not only are these vampires, but they are vampires that are created from and feed on the fears of today. They are an ancient evil in del Toro and Hogan's world, yes, but their existence is based off of very modern anxieties; disease, terrorism, uncertainty of our future.

The story is perfectly paced, with just enough action and emotion to keep the story interesting, without being bogged down. I can almost imagine how del Toro would be setting up his shots if he were making this into a film. I think that is one of the advantages to having a film director co-writing this book; it is told in a very visual style. It was easy for me to picture in my mind how the scenes are played out. The characters are all believable and fully matured; I didn't really feel that any of the characters were overplayed or underused.

I'd love to go into more detail about the story, but I think that giving anymore away would lessen the impact of the story. If you are a fan of horror stories or vampires, than this book is for you. It's definitely not for the timid.

Release date June 2, 2009.

Monday, May 4, 2009

The Wednesday Sisters by Meg Waite Clayton released in paperback! And a giveaway!

I'm happy to announce that Meg Waite Clayton's national bestseller, The Wednesday Sisters, will be released in paperback tomorrow! I had the privilege of reading Meg's book last year as an early reviewer, and instantly fell in love with it. This is what I had to say about the book then:

I received The Wednesday Sisters through the Early Reviewer at LibraryThing. It's an excellently written story about friendship and family (and especially how friends can grow into being more than just friends, they can become family too). From the moment I started reading, I knew that this was going to be a great book.

The story revolves around no-nonsense, athletic Linda, super smart Brett, quiet Frankie, Southern Belle Kath & shy Ally, friends who first meet every Wednesday in the park for play time with their kids, but where they eventually start to discuss what books they've been reading and the general small talk of forming friendships. Later, they discover that each has had a small desire in one way or another to become writers, so the Wednesday meetings change to writing critiques, as they each try to help the other into becoming better writers. The book is so much more than just about their writing, though. It's also about the hopes, dreams and challenges of young families and budding friendships. We get a glimpse into 5 years of their friendship and watch through their eyes as the world is changing around them (the story starts in the summer of 1967) and how they themselves grow as individuals with the rest of the world.

This was a delight to read; smartly written and nicely paced, with believable characters living real lives. I think Meg Waite Clayton describes her own book best, when the Wednesday Sisters are critiquing Brett's book and Frankie asks, "How did you make it so funny and so touching at the same time(?)... It's a little bit of magic, that." When I read that line, I thought the exact same thing about The Wednesday Sisters.

And I stand behind every word of that review now. I also had the good fortune to meet Meg shortly after the publication of her book! We spent a loverly evening talking books and getting to know each other. I felt like I'd found an long lost friend. You can also check out Meg's website by clicking right here!

I am so thrilled and happy for her that her book is doing so well and in celebration of the release of the paperback edition, I want to share The Wednesday Sisters, so I'll be giving away a brand new copy of the paperback to one lucky reader. And as an extra surprise, Meg has offered to autograph the copy for the lucky winner! All you need to do is leave a reply on this thread. Let your friends know, too! This book is all about friendship, and the more of your friends you let know about the book, the better your chances are. If you have a book blog, just mention the book and/or contest there, and you'll get another chance at winning. If you don't have a blog, just email your friends and tell them about it. I'll keep the contest running through this weekend, and announce the winner in my next Sunday Salon post. (OK, I know I was going end this on Sunday, but I decided to leave it open for about another week to include the people that are participating in the LibraryThing author for the next week.)

So, go check out The Wednesday Sisters. Stop by your local bookstore and support them at the same time! Or if you don't have a local store nearby, click on the handy-dandy Amazon link below. Either way, get yourself a copy of The Wednesday Sisters. You won't be disappointed!

Friday, May 1, 2009

31. The Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan



Title: The Sea of Monsters
Series: Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 2
Author: Rick Riordan
Copyright: 2007
Pages: 304
Twitter: @camphalfblood
Format: Audiobook
Rating: 3/5 stars
Finished: 4-30-09

The second installment in Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, The Sea of Monsters finds Percy and his friends Annabeth and Grover on a quest to recover the Golden Fleece. Along the way, they pick up Percy's half-brother, the cyclops Tyson. I had thought the first book seemed rushed in some places, but with this one, t really seemed that Riordan was running through this one, like he had way too much story to tell in the book, so he glossed over certain bits to make it all fit. For instance, most of the time, I completely forgot about Clarice and Luke, two other key players in the story.

Don't get me wrong, the book was still enjoyable. I just feel that it suffered from the "second book syndrome," where the second book is there merely as a stepping stone from the first book, the introduction of the series, to the rest of the story. You might get the introduction of a couple more secondary characters, but since the gist of the entire plot has already been set forth in the first book, and there are still several books to go, the second book is just there to get the reader by from the the thrill of the first book to the solidity of the story in the third and future installments. While these are never bad books, they always seem like they are lacking in something.

Tyson quickly became my favorite part of The Sea of Monsters. Percy's monster half-brother, Tyson is a young cyclops who befriends Percy at school, before they know they are related. The Mist hides Tyson's true nature from Percy until they make it back to camp, and while Percy is ashamed at first to have a monster for a half-brother, the two quickly grow close and Tyson ends up playing an integral part in the story. He's big, goofy, innocent and grew on me almost instantaneously.

While not as enthralling as the first book, only due to the speed with which Riordan paces his story, The Sea of Monsters is still a fun book nonetheless. I'll be interested to see how the next volume plays out and what lies in store for Percy now that more of the prophecy has come to light.