book review: Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is (as the title suggests) a bittersweet novel about conflicts that come between the love of a young Chinese American, Henry Lee, and a Japanese American, Keiko Okabe, during World War II.  At first, their conflicts were closer to home, with  Henry Lee’s father’s bigotry towards the Japanese being their biggest obstacle.  Then, with the development of the war, Japanese Americans were sent to internment camps.

I loved the way this book was written because it dealt with many complex issues without detracting from the story.  Everything seemed so natural and realistic.  From the way Henry was treated by the other boys at the predominantly white school he attended and at home by his parents, the reader learns about growing up as an outsider.  Henry doesn’t fit in at school because the other boys are more well off and are white.  It doesn’t matter whether Henry and Keiko were born in China, Japan, or the United States because if you’re not white, you will always be a foreigner to some people.  Henry also doesn’t fit in at home because his Chinese parents don’t understand English but won’t let him speak Chinese at home so that he will be more American.  They think that not allowing him to speak Chinese at home will allow him to better assimilate into American culture.  The resentment towards Japanese people borne by Henry’s father shows that it’s not just white people who are racist – people of color are racist, too.  It also serves to show the generational gap between father and son, with his father clinging to old resentments, and Henry, having grown up in the United States, being more willing to accept people for who they are rather than where their ancestors came from.

Through it all, we see love.  There is the persevering, first love between Henry and Keiko.  But there is also love for America.  When Henry asked Keiko’s parents why Japanese Americans went along with the internment, the reply was that it was their way of showing their patriotism.  It made my heart ache.

Advertisements

book review: Convicted by Jameel McGee, Andrew Collins, and Mark Tabb

Convicted is a spiritual story about how Jameel McGee and Andrew Collins found (or maybe rediscovered) God and learned to forgive.  The book’s chapters alternate between Jameel’s point of view and Andrew’s.  It’s obvious where the book leads since the cover and even the extended title basically tell you what the book is about.  I don’t think I’m really going to give anything away with my review, but just in case, don’t read anymore  if you don’t want any spoilers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the first part of the book, Jameel tends to blame his circumstances.  He reiterates that he was in the wrong place at the wrong time on several occasions.  For example, Jameel’s first brush with the law is when he goes for a ride with some friends.  It turns out that the friends had stolen the car so when they get busted, he gets busted along with them.  It’s not until he rediscovers God in prison and learns to let go of his hatred that Jameel starts to see that it’s not just all chance.  Yes, he was in the wrong place at the wrong time, but he put himself into that place.  His dad told him not to get into the car with his friends, but he wanted to go anyway.  When he got a ride with Will, which led to his second arrest, he admits that Will was taking a while to get going and he could have walked to the store and back in the time it took for Will to actually drive him to the store.  Jameel learns not to blame external factors for all of his circumstances, but at the end of the book, he is still somewhat of a victim.

As for Andrew, he only found religion after he was arrested.  There were times when Andrew felt guilty about the things he had done, but never guilty enough to confess or to stop.  If he hadn’t been caught, I doubt that he would have stopped.

The writing was okay – a bit stilted at times.  I’m glad that both Jameel and Andrew are friends now and that they have a nice ending but I didn’t particularly like the book.  Jameel seems too naive and trusting and Andrew was just a jerk for most of the book.  The book was short and an easy read, but it read more as a promotional story for a church.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Blogging for Books.

Book review: The Templar Brotherhood by James Becker

It is obvious that the author has spent a lot of time researching the Knight Templars.  The book itself, though it contains a lot of action, at time acts as a textbook to teach the reader about the various Templar sites through the conversations of its characters, Robin Jessop and David Mallory.  While I found it interesting, it also slowed down the pace of the story.  Also, the characters are supposed to be experts in the field so I don’t think they would be explaining this stuff to each other.  Several of their long conversations were purely for the benefit of the reader.

The book mentioned previous run-ins that Jessop and Mallory had with the Dominicans so I’m pretty sure this book is part of a series (I haven’t looked it up to confirm this).  This may also explain why I didn’t quite bond with the characters.  The author may have developed the characters in the previous books and hadn’t felt it necessary to do so in this book.  I didn’t feel that there was anything special about these characters.

Some of the highlights of the book included the historical bits about the Templars and the puzzles that Jessop and Mallory have to solve.  My favorite part of the book was the author’s notes at the end about how the some of the settings in the book were real places related to the Templars.

This is a decent book and while the book was a fun read, I am not motivated to read the other books in the series.

This book will be published October 3, 2017.  I received an electronic ARC from First to Read in exchange for my honest review.

Book review: The Final Hour by Tom Wood

The Final Hour was a fun read.  This book is a part of a series about an assassin named Victor.  I haven’t read the other books in the series, but I was able to understand what was going on in the plot and  I felt there was enough character development.  The author did a great job of creating a cold assassin that was actually likeable.

Victor’s unapologetic efficiency at his profession is part of what makes this book great.   There is a sort of honor-among-thieves mentality, but only slightly, because assassins can’t really have long-term allies.  It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what makes Victor likeable since he acts in his own interest, but I did like him.

I won’t give too much away, but in this book, Victor dodges both the CIA and other killers.  He teams up with Raven, another likeable assassin.  (Raven actually comes through as a bit more compassionate because she at least has family that she cares about. ) I enjoyed reading about how Victor and Raven managed sticky situations.

There isn’t anything too profound in this book.  Like its character, it is an unapologetic for what it is and I, for one, appreciate it.

I will be checking out more books in the Victor series.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from First to Read.

Book Review: Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood

Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood is a re-telling of Shakespeare’s play The Tempest.  It was done as part of the Hogarth Shakespeare Project, which I had never heard of until after reading this book and looking it up.

If you have never read The Tempest, here is a summary of the plot:  Prospero, a magician, and his daughter are stranded on an island after losing his dukedom to conspirators.  After many years, the people who plotted against him are caught in a big storm and end up on the island.  Prospero, with the help of his fairy, Ariel, has his chance for revenge.

Atwood’s book makes no secret that is a re-telling of The Tempest.  The book itself revolves around characters putting on The Tempest at a prison.  Several characters take on characteristics of The Tempest characters.  Felix not only plays Prospero in the play, he identifies with Prospero in his quest for revenge.  Felix uses the play The Tempest to live out The Tempest.

It was a very clever way to do the re-telling.  The Tempest is not my favorite Shakespearean play, but I enjoyed this book.  It was fun trying to figure out which of Atwood’s characters matched up with Shakespeare’s characters.  Hint: Miranda, Felix’s daughter, is not Miranda from the play.

Like Shakespeare’s play, Hag-Seed is at times comedic and at times tragic, which is yet another clever way that the book imitated the play.

If you like Shakespeare, definitely give this book a try.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest review from Blogging for Books.

Book review: The Barrowfields by Phillip Lewis

I find that books and food have a lot in common.  Some books are nourishment and comfort for your soul, reminding us about what is important in life.  Some books are fun to snack on and taste good, but provide little nourishment.  Other books are exotic adventures, asking our noses and tongues to try something we haven’t tasted before.

The Barrowfields was comfort food that someone tried to recreate from a childhood memory.  It never comes out quite the same as when your mom/dad/grandmother/grandfather made it even if you follow the recipe exactly, but that doesn’t mean that it is bad.  It just has a hint of something that is different … That is how I felt when reading this book.

The book itself followed 3 generations of men in a family in North Carolina told through the point-of-view of the youngest male.  On the surface, this book is about family, about growing up, about the South.  It’s also about going through life with mysteries that aren’t solved or that shouldn’t be solved.  It’s about finding oneself and where one fits in relation to others.  It’s about having the self-assurance or character to know who you are without others’ approval.  It’s about separating from your family in order to become the person that you need to willingly accept obligations.

As you may have guessed, I liked this book, but there were parts of the book that I found unnecessary.  There was a little too much thrown into the book.  The whole subplot with the Henry’s girlfriend was a bit much for me.  The book would have been just fine if that whole part had been edited out.  The sinister house portrayal was also a bit much.

When I finished the book, I was left with that quiet contentment after having comfort food.  I just wanted to sit and savour it for a while.

It’s a wonderful first book and I look forward to reading more from the author.

Disclaimer: I received an electronic unedited reader’s proof from Blogging for Books NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

 

 

Book review: The Marriage Pact

The Marriage Pact by Michelle Richmond looks at what lengths couples will go through to ensure that their marriage stays intact.  In this book, newlyweds are introduced to a group that promises commitment to the idea of marriage.  The group does whatever it has to to preserve marriages.

Predictably, at first, the newlyweds like the idea and see the group as a force that helps make their marriage stronger.  For example, one of the rules is that couples have to give each other a gift every month.  The gifts don’t have to be expensive, but they should mean something.  Another rule is that couples have to plan a vacation together.  When Alice starts working long hours after their marriage, the group stepped in to make her focus on her marriage.  Alice wore a bracelet so the group could monitor her location.  The group’s involvement varies from benign to extreme intervention.  On the mild side, it involves counseling or coaching.  Other times, it involves sending members off to a “prison.”  Actions that are seen as infractions include things like gaining more than a certain number of pounds per year to flirting with someone other than your spouse to cheating on your spouse.

My favorite part of this book is the realistic look at marriages.  No one ever gets married thinking that they are going to get divorced.  Everyone wants their marriage to last.  Yet, there are always those insecurities that we all feel – did I somehow trick this person into marrying me?  Are they going to fall out of love with me?  Especially in a new marriage, there’s a lull after the initial honeymoon period.  You spend so much time planning and getting ready for the wedding and then have this great party and go on your honeymoon.  When you return to “normal” life after all the adrenaline highs, it may be a bit of a letdown.

There’s always a suspension of belief when reading fiction, but some parts of the plot went beyond a reasonable suspension of belief (for me).  I don’t want to spoil the book so I’ll leave it up to you to read the book for yourself.

This book was an easy, quick read and would be great for a summer day at the beach.  There were some twists that made it interesting.  The book will be published on July 25, 2017.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary electronic preview of this book from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

Book review: The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen

I wasn’t expecting to like The Sympathizer because I was expecting it to be good.  Ha.  That doesn’t sound right, but I’ll explain.  The cover brags about being a Pulitzer Prize winner, which means that the book has got to be good … and when I have high expectations for a book, I tend to be disappointed.  This did not happen with this book.

The basic plot of the story is that the narrator is a biracial Communist spy.  He infiltrated the South Vietnamese military to send intelligence back to the Viet Cong.  He followed a S. Vietnamese general to the United States to monitor the new immigrants.

The writing style is descriptive and yet not overly flowery.  The author paints vivid pictures of life in Saigon and California.  Even if the book had no message, it would have been an enjoyable read.

Though the writing style is enjoyable, the best part of this book is its brutally honest look at relationships, racism, classism, politics, and society.  Many books explore racism between different races, but this one also looks at racism amongst ones own race.  The author doesn’t let anyone slide.  He points out our subtle biases, how we manifest these biases, and how affect others.

The narrator of the book is biracial, having an Asian mother and a French father.  This is enough to ostracize him amongst Vietnamese people.  At one point, he mentions that he has no hope of marrying anyone from a decent Vietnamese family because no decent family would agree to let their daughter marry a biracial person.  If both of your parents are Vietnamese, you must also come from the right family.

To be honest, the book felt a bit long towards the end, but I would definitely recommend this book.

book review: The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead is a powerful book in that, though it is fictional, depicts horrific situations that many real slaves had to endure.  Whitehead’s story follows a slave named Cora from her life on a plantation, her mother’s abandonment, her decision to escape, and the people she encounters during her journey.

Whitehead portrayed many aspects of African American history through Cora’s journey.  In one instance, she saw white people depicting blacks, using their racist stereotypical beliefs as motivation.  In reality, this happened quite often in film, with white people dictating how blacks should look and behave on screen.  In another instance, she saw white people gathered to watch the hanging of a runaway slave as an afternoon amusement.  Historical documents show that this, too, happened.  In another instance, Cora learned about a hospital for blacks that were actually conducting experiments on them for syphilis (read “Bad Blood” about the Tuskegee experiments).  There were descriptions of how the KKK burned houses.  From what I know or have learned about slavery, the things that happened to Cora or that she saw actually did happen to slaves and blacks in the United States.

Not only were the depictions accurate, the characters were realistic.  What I mean by that is that none of them were perfect – they all had their flaws and they seemed like real people with their own personalities.  The author did a great job of revealing enough of their traits to tell the reader who they were.

I was enjoying this book (actually, enjoying is probably the wrong word because there were many gruesome things described, but I liked the writing style and the book was engaging) until I got to the bit where Cora ran away on a real underground railroad.  I had to do a double take when the author described a real railroad.  Huh?  I had always heard that the underground railroad was a metaphor for the network of people that housed runaway slaves.  I know that this book is fiction, but this part of it really annoyed me.  Mostly, I didn’t understand the reason for changing the metaphor into a real railroad.  Everything else in the book seemed historically accurate – sometimes the years may have been off, but the events themselves were accurate.

I would still recommend this book, but I hope that people will understand that it is fictional and won’t think that there was a real underground railroad that runaway slaves used.

book review: The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco

I procrastinated about reviewing this book because I wasn’t quite sure that I liked it.  The book started out strongly – there were 2 points-of-view.  The present was told by a bard and the past was told by the main character, Tea.  It’s obvious that something serious happened because the beginning of the book reveals that Tea has been banished to an island by herself.  I enjoyed the writing style, but I wish there had been more substance to the book and less of the airy descriptions.

There were also some holes in the story that didn’t make sense to me.  First, I didn’t understand how Tea was able to accidentally resurrect her brother, Fox, from death.  Supposedly, she has magical powers, but later in the book, in the descriptions of asha training, ashas (witches) have to draw ruins, sometimes using their own blood to create spells.  How does one accidentally draw ruins when one doesn’t know how to do it?  It occurs later on in the story, too, but with some sort of stone that amplified Tea’s powers.  I also didn’t understand the point of the heartglass.  Everyone has a heartglass (from what I can gather, some sort of stone) that changes colors according to their moods.  If you love and trust someone completely, you can exchange heartglasses with them, but it makes you vulnerable if they no longer love you at some point.  It’s also supposed to make  ashas weaker not to have their heartglass.  If you lose your heartglass and you don’t care about the person that you gave it to, you can have another one made for you at great expense.  It seems ridiculous to me.  You’re not born with these heartglasses attached to you so why bother going through the expense in the first place if it makes you vulnerable?  The book said that only really wealth people could afford to have another heartglass made.  How did the average person obtain a heartglass in the first place?  Maybe I missed something in the story that explained this?  It seemed like there were too many magical things going on in the story that the author couldn’t even keep track of them all.

I also didn’t understand some of the societal descriptions in the book.  People feared Bone Witches because they practiced “dark” arts.  Dark, in this case, means that they bring things back from the dead.  If they fear them, why would they call them Bone Witch, which is considered a derogatory term, instead of dark asha?  Throughout the book, there’s a hint that dark ashas are somehow bad, but they’re the ones protecting everyone from the daevas (monsters), at great personal risk.  The author said in the book that people fear and hate people they need.  That may be true of some people in a group, but I can’t see a whole society behaving like that.  Even if it were true, why would someone who was so useful and powerful need to dress up and entertain rich people at parties?!?

As if it weren’t enough that Tea has to face people who hate her and awful monsters, she also has to face an enemy known as the Faceless.  The Faceless appear to have strong powers, but we have no idea why they’re trying to harm everyone.  There’s no explanation about why some people have power and some don’t.  There’s no explanation about why some people are born with more power and others aren’t.

This leads me to my biggest problem with this book – it started a bunch of interesting characters and possible story lines, but then it never went anywhere.  I kept waiting for explanations or something and there was just nothing.  Fantasy books still have to make sense within the scope of that fantasy world.  I felt like this didn’t.  The ending of the book was supposed to be a cliffhanger to make the reader excited about the sequel.  I just felt disappointed that I read an entire book that was basically just a confusing prologue.

I don’t think I could recommend this book to others.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary e-book from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.