Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Book Reviews | Fiction

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is the second book I've read by Jamie Ford. (See my review of Songs of Willow Frost HERE.) This book has been on my to-read shelf since it was a book club selection a couple of years ago. I knew I would be traveling the day of the meeting, so I didn't read it at the time.

Like so many recent publications, this book alternates between two story lines, both following the life of Henry Lee. In 1942, Henry was an 11-year-old Chinese schoolboy living with his parents in Seattle, Washington. His parents, concerned about the growing enmity toward Japanese, made him wear a button that read "I am Chinese." He attends a white school as part of a scholarship program that means he also helps out in the school cafeteria and cleaning blackboards after school. He meets a Japanese girl, Keiko Okabe, who is also scholarshiping at the school. As they work together, they become friends; but Keiko and her family are suddenly "evacuated" to a Japanese "camp" by the American government. At first, they trade letters and Henry even goes for a visit, but eventually the two lose touch.

In the second story line, Henry is still living in Seattle and is mourning the death of his wife after 30 years of marriage. As he is passing the Panama Hotel one day, he discovers that is has been purchased and is being restored. The new owner discovered the possessions of many Japanese families in the basement - items they stored there as they were evacuated during the war. A familiar looking Japanese parasol sends Henry searching for answers about Keiko. I thoroughly enjoyed this book - it's a good read, a love story plus historical information about Seattle and the Japanese evacuations.

The Red Book by Deborah Copaken Kogan has also been on my to-read shelf for a while. I think maybe I picked it up at Barnes & Noble a while back because it has a great cover and sounded like an interesting read. This is a fiction story about four women who graduated from Harvard in 1989 and covers a three-day period as they prepare for and attend their 20th class reunion in 2009.

Every five years, Harvard gathers information on the graduates and then sends them each a copy of The Red Book with addresses and information about each person who graduated with them. The graduates can also include (or not) a 3 to 5 paragraph summary about their current lives.

The story is written from several points of view and is an interesting juxtaposition considering what they write for The Read Book versus what their life is really like at the moment. The characters come from different social and financial backgrounds,  have varying sexual orientations and ethnic identifications, include individuals from different generations, etc. Honestly, this book was a little out of my comfort zone as some of the characters were quite liberal in their beliefs and actions; however, it's very believable in the portrayal of the complications and compromises in marriage, career struggles, mid-life questions about following dreams and/or finding happiness. It's well-written and a page-turner that keeps the reader wondering what's going to happen next. The story is wrapped up nicely with their entries for the 25th Anniversary Red Book.

Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton was this month's book club selection and (once again) follows two story lines. I enjoyed this book, which is very well-written, and think the alternating story lines worked because they were well-paced, developing one story line more in depth before returning to the other one (as opposed to every other chapter).

In 1958/59 Elisa Perez is living in Cuba with her high society family. Her father is a sugar baron and is friends of Batista and the reigning government. She is sheltered from the political unrest in the country until her brother is banished from the family and she meets Pablo, a revolutionist set on ousting Batista and replacing him with Fidel Castro.

In 2017, Marisol, Elisa's granddaughter, makes a trip to Cuba, which has recently become possible because of Fidel Castro's death. She is the first Perez family member to return since Elise and her family escaped to the United States in 1959. Marisol is charged with scattering her grandmother's ashes. Along the way, she uncovers some family secrets and learns more about Cuba's current situation. A very good read!

I'm not sure where I found Rose Cottage by Mary Stewart,, but it's been on my to-read shelf for a while. (Are you seeing a trend here?) 

Kate Herrick returns to the home where she grew up to take care of having her grandmother's furniture and belongings shipped to Scotland (where her grandmother has decided to stay after being displaced there during World War II). Her grandmother (who raised her from the time she was 6-years-old) asks her to get some items from a safe (hidden behind wallpaper and plaster board in the old house), but the items have been removed when Kate arrives. This story is set in a wonderful small village in the English country side. There's a nice batch of characters, a little romance, and a mystery as Kate learns more about her mother (who ran off with a gypsy man years ago). This is an easy, lovely read.

During our summer vacation, Robbie and I listened to several episodes of the What Should I Read Next podcast ... and ordered quite a few books when we returned home. The slimmest book, The Emissary by Yoko Tawada, is the one I've liked least so far. 

This story is set in Japan, which is isolated from the rest of world after some catastrophic event that has changed the order of things. Old people are healthy and continue to live long lives while babies are born unhealthy but insightful. Yoshiro takes care of his great-grandson Mumei, who can't even keep orange juice down and is unable to dress himself. Things get stranger in this dystopian environment; however, there is very little plot line. I kept waiting for something to happen or things to change, but I was disappointed (unless you count that at age 15 Mumei falls out of his wheelchair and starts metamorphosing into a girl). This is definitely not a book I would recommend.

Have you read any of these books? Please share your thoughts in the comments.


  1. Haven't read any but there's a couple I think I'll check out at the library. Thank you. Happy Thanksgiving on Thursday.

  2. I haven't read any of these, but I'm bookmarking your post for future reference. Happy Thanksgiving!

  3. I haven't read any of these, either, but a couple are going on my TBR list! Thanks for the reviews, and have a great Thanksgiving!

  4. I always enjoy your book reviews, and on the strength of your description have just requested your first one from our local library - it's a part of history I know nothing about. So thank-you!

  5. 1, 3, and 4 are on my list to be read. When you refer to "book club selection" - whose book club are you referring to?

    1. I'm referring to the book club I attend at our local library. :)


Thanks so much for your comment - it's like a ray of sunshine in my day!