Sunday, July 31, 2011

Bitter and Sweet

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford is the story of Henry and Keiko, their friendship and innocent love during World War II.  But this book is more than that, it is the story of a young Chinese American with his parents wishing him to be American while wanting him to follow Chinese traditions.  It is the story of Seattle's Chinatown and Japantown (Nihonmachi) and the differences between the two, as well as the internment of Seattle's Japanese citizens.  It is about forbidden love and friendship between two young Americans from different Asian backgrounds.  All wound around the Seattle jazz scene.  This book truly is about bitter and sweet, the joys and sorrows of life, the things we do for love and family as we come of age especially during a time of great tragedy.  I though Henry's character was charming, both as a 12 year old boy and a 50 something man.

The book takes place in 1942 and 1986.  I did find some rather inaccurate depictions in the 1986 chapters, especially referring to use of the internet and digital recordings/CDs. Otherwise this first book is a really pleasurable read.

The hotel in the book actually exists and does have on display the belongings of 37 Japanese families. After reading this book I'd like to go to the Panama Hotel to see the display and have tea in the hotel's tearoom.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Retold Fairy Tales

I like retold fairy tales, Gregory Maguire has done a brilliant job of Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister and Mirror Mirror.  Of course, Gregory Maguire's best loved series is Wicked and the other three novels that follow its grand success. 

Recently I was introduced to Jim C. Hines and his series of retold fairy tales.  The first was The Stepsister Scheme introducing Danielle Whiteshore (aka Danielle de Glas or Cinderella) and her not so happily ever after life.  We meet a wonderful cast of characters and plunge into a chic-lit romp which includes Danielle's two stepsisters, their ultimate fate, her prince and his family, along with fairies, goblins, witches and Danielle's two new friends, Talia and Snow.  This really is what I call a light read, not fluffy but a good bit of fun. 

Book Two is The Mermaid's Madness, a retelling of the old story of the little mermaid who saved the life of a prince and fell in love. So deep was her love that she gave up all she knew to become human to be with her prince. This isn't your Disney version, nor is it the original story with a happy ever after ending.  This is murder, madness and magic gone wrong.  Our three princesses have to step up and kick ass, which they do in plenty of style.  Danielle and her friends Talia and Snow (White) are the ones who can tell you the real story of what happened to the little mermaid and her prince all while trying to set their world right again.  

I just finished Book Three, Red Hood's Revenge, the little Red Riding Hood story retold. Roudette is an assassin known world wide as the Lady of the Red Hood and we learn the "real" story of Little Red Riding Hood. This book explains the conflict between humans and fairies, and the woman who is at the heart of the conflict, Sleeping Beauty (aka Talia).  Our three friends from the two earlier books band together again to protect each other and fight to the death.  Another great book filled with strong powerful heroines who know how to kick butt. 

These books have been compared to..."as if the Brothers Grimm had been allowed to watch a 'Charlie's Angels' marathon." - Green Man Review.  However, I think it is more the Brothers Grimm with a touch of Kill Bill.

I was given a few days ago, as I was nearing the end of Red Hood's Revenge, the fourth book, The Snow Queen's to follow at a later date.  

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Introducing Flavia de Luce

Alan Bradley introduces the reader to eleven-year-old Flavia de Luce in the first book, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie.  I'll be honest, I picked up the book many times in several book stores only to put it aside.  I just wasn't sure if I really wanted to read it. Then on another cruise through Victoria's wonderful book stores someone mentioned it was a good read.  So I purchased it, and then after reading it waited for the second one to come out in paperback and now wait with bated breath for the third adventure.  

Flavia de Luce is charming, witty and oh so wickedly funny!  Bishop's Lacey the English town she lives in joins Agatha Christie's St. Mary Mead as a place you'd like to visit.  Mysteries being solved by an eleven-year-old girl wise beyond her years is a pleasurable read.  Set in 1950s England, we have the country police officers, a cast of villagers, Flavia's absent-minded father, her two older sisters, the butler-handyman who is her friend and the well-meaning housekeeper-cook. 

The second book is The Weed that Strings the Hangman's Bag (great book titles) and Flavia returns with the same cast of characters we met in The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie.  I enjoyed the second book as much as the first, if not more. Both books are a delight to read!  Flavia de Luce has more spunk than Miss Marble and could hold her own with Hercule Poirot.

Two great reads for the summer.

I'm look forward to A Red Herring without Mustard and have heard book #4 is to be released in November 2011, with two more books to follow.  If Alan Bradley only writes six Flavia de Luce murder mysteries I will just have to be content with that, even if I hope he would do a few more.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

A book in two parts

I was first introduced to Connie Willis with the gift of her book Passage, soon followed by Doomsday Book, Bellwether, Uncharted Territory, To Say Nothing of the Dog, Lincoln's Dreams, Impossible Things, Remake, Fire Watch and Miracle and Other Christmas Stories. Not surprising all have been enjoyable from this six Nebula Awards and ten Hugo award winning author.

The newest book is Blackout which I received for my birthday. The story is well researched.  From 2060 the reader is taken back into World War II during the Blitz in London, as well as side events such as the evacuation of London children to the countryside and the rescue of troops from Dunkirk. All the characters from 2060 are historians studying the second World World who can travel back in time to actually witness events. The question is, can a historian be a mere observer or is one able to change events? Connie Willis undertakes that question in Blackout, presenting what seem like little problems to the characters but might actually create chaos. 

I really like Connie Willis's writing, especially this book as I never felt I was reading science fiction but rather a interesting story about World War II and what people had to endure. From stories I've heard from family who lived during World War II I really felt this book conveyed the spirit of the British people.  This is storytelling at its best.  

Don't expect Blackout to be the end, there is more, All Clear is the sequel and continuing story.  I'm waiting to see the sequel under the Christmas tree.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

If you only had One Day

It's 1988, Emma Morley and Dexter Mayhew have only just met.  After one day together they cannot stop thinking about each other.  Over the course of 20 years, each July 15th, the first day they met, Emma and Dexter have their lives reviewed, until we discover the true meaning behind this one day.

This book has been made into a major motion picture starting Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess. I hope the major motion picture doesn't ruin this book as so often happens.  This book is such a great read, full of British humour and if you like Nick Hornby (High Fidelity, About a Boy, Juliet Naked) then you will really like One Day.

I don't think this is chic-lit either.  Considering there are two characters in the book, we get a picture of both. Plus Nick Hornby even recommends One Day....

"A big, absorbing, smart, fantastically readable on-off love story that sprawls over a couple of decades. One Day’ therefore the perfect beach read for people who are normally repelled by the very idea of beach reads." - Nick Hornby, from his blog.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Mathilda Savitch

This is the second debut books I've read in the last few months.  The first being The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot (nonfiction 2010).  Victor Lodato's debut novel Mathilda Savitch was a 2009 release and I'm a bit behind.  I must admit some readers may not like Mathilda, she is rather bratty but there's a sad reason for it, and when one is only 13/14 well we've all been a handful at that age.  I personally liked her. I thought she was a fierce and funny character with a loving heart under her bad behaviour.

If you've ever been 13/14, if you ever pushed your parents boundaries, if you ever had an older sister, had one truly madly deeply close friend, you have to read this book. I read it in a little over a week, not just on the bus but read it during my lunch hour too.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

I must thank Rebecca Skloot for taking on this project and her determination to publish Henrietta Lacks's story. I wish to thank Henrietta Lacks as well and I hope this book will be read by billions of readers so that they too know Henreitta Lacks and her incredible story. This book shocked me.  I was speechless and I was deeply moved.  I think Rebecca Skloot delivers this story in an extremely respectful manner and had to deal with extremely personal issues.  This book will open your eyes to the medical profession, to medical revolutions, and a multimillion-dollar industry. This book will takes the reader into the thorny issue of scientific ethics, it will reveal crippling poverty, racism and will break your heart.

This is Rebecca Skoot's first book, and the praise for this book is well deserved.

Winner of the 2010 Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize for Nonfiction
New York Times Notable Book
O, The Oprah Magazine Best Book of the Year
Entertainment Weekly Best Book of the Year
Discover magazine 2010 Must-Read
Globe and Mail Best Book of the Year
Times (U.K.) Best Book of the Year
and the list goes on and on...

This is one of the most moving non-fiction books I've read, I couldn't put it down.  Further high praise of this book can be found at

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Heather's Picks

Chapters/Cole's/Smithbooks staff picks are a good place to start if you have a problem with finding something to read.  I don't, have a problem finding books to read that is, not that I don't have problems, I do. I have noted though that I often read books that are Heather's Pick.  I don't know Heather, I do know she does pick some good books. This time I choose her pick of The Shadow of the Wind.

This novel is about a writer, one Julian Carax, whose novel The Shadow of the Wind touches young Daniel who sets out on a quest to find the author's other works only to discover someone has been systematically destroying every copy of every book Carax has ever written. Thus we the reader enter into a novel of intrigue, mystery, sinister times and secrets, deep deep secrets.  All is revealed in the end (page 480), and then there is the little Dramatis Personae bringing the reader to the finale on page 487, full circle.

This book is not only about a writer, but about a time in Spain's history, just after the war. The novel begins in 1945 and ends in 1966. The time period makes this novel more sinister and mysterious, as it is a time when men wore suits and fedoras, clothing that lends itself to mystery and secrets.

I think the only way I can fully review this book is to provide Stephen King's review..."If you thought the true gothic novel died with the nineteenth century, this will change your mind. [The Shadow of the Wind] is the real deal, a novel full of cheesy splendor and creaking trapdoors, a novel where even the subplots have subplots....This is one gorgeous read." -Stephen King

In the edition of The Shadow of the Wind I have there is a walking tour for the reader to walk in the footsteps of the Shadow of the Wind. If anyone is travelling to Barcelona I would highly recommend reading this book before you go and then to follow the walking tour in the book.  And even if you aren't travelling to Barcelona and want a book that is full of twists and turns, take this one along on the bus, to the beach,  to the cottage or curl up on a rainy Westcoast winter's night and read to your heart's content.