Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and SweetBook – With great pleasure I will be giving away free copies of the book Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford on Wednesday, April 23rd (Shakespeare’s Birthday) for World Book Night. This is a beautiful, sentimental heartfelt story suitable for teens and adults. Set in Seattle during World War II, 12 year olds Henry Lee and Keiko Okabe form a friendship, drawn to each other since they are the only non-Caucasians on scholarship at a prestigious private school. Unfortunately the relationship is forbidden and Henry must keep it a secret from his family since he is Chinese and Keiko is Japanese. Henry is forced to wear a button reading “I am Chinese”   by his father, who has a deep-hatred of Japan. Japanese residents of Seattle have begun to be shipped off by the thousands to relocation centers due to the bombing of Pearl Harbor.  Eventually, Keiko and her family are sent to an internment camp in Idaho and Henry vows to wait for her.  Forty years later, Henry learns that the Panama Hotel will be renovated and that the basement contains the belongings of many of the Japanese that were forced to leave Seattle during WW II.  His fond memories of Keiko are rekindled and he relays of his friendship  to his own son, in hopes of preventing the dysfunctional relationship he experienced with his own father.  This is a good choice for a book club and if you enjoy this novel you may want to read Jamie Ford’s new book Songs of Willow Frost.

The Bellwether Revivals by Benjamin Wood

The Bellwether RevivalsBook – Oscar is doing pretty well for himself. He’s found his way to Cambridge, working his way through his degree as an aide in a nursing home, where he meets the most interesting characters. He never loses his head, though, until he meets Iris Bellwether at one of her brother’s church services (he plays the organ). A little light church music isn’t all Eden Bellwether is interested in, though, and before he knows it, Oscar is drawn into Eden’s circle of admirers, accomplices and experimental subjects. Eden believes that his music has the power to heal. He might be right.

This spectacular Gothic novel by debut author Benjamin Wood sucked me in from the wonderful two-page prologue. It’s been repeatedly compared to Donna Tartt’s The Secret History and Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, but as I’ve read neither of those, I couldn’t tell you how accurate the comparison is. I can tell you that I fell in love with all the characters, who are by turns symbolic and wonderfully genuine, and that the tense, surreal atmosphere was sustained well throughout the book. I’d recommend it for a book club – there’s lots to talk about.

Case Histories by Kate Atkinson

Case HistoriesBook - Three unresolved cases in England span twenty-four years. Case One involves the disappearance of three-year-old Olivia Land. Case Two involves the brutal, seemingly random, murder of eighteen-year-old Laura Wyre. Case Three involves Michelle, a new young mother who feels a murderous rage at being stuck alone out in the country with only her baby and husband for company. As private detective Jackson Brodie begins to look into the cases, he unearths startling discoveries and connections between the cases. We also get glimpses into Jackson’s own tragic past. As he comes to resolutions in the cases, he begins to make peace with his own history. This book was a page-turner and I enjoyed the plots twists and turns. It’s told from several different perspectives, which helps illuminate the hopes, struggles and failings of the characters. Despite the dark topics, the novel offers an overall message of hope and healing.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

night circusBook - Step into Le Cirque des Rêves, which has literally appeared overnight, and it will impact your senses, sight, sound, smell, and touch. As an audience member of The Night Circus, one does not perceive some of the subtle changes that are periodically impacting the surrounding environments of aesthetic wonder. These changes are the result of a long-standing competition between two young illusionists; yet, the duel was not of their making. Cecilia and Marco are pawns in a game constructed by the two powerful rivals, who are also the young contestants’ guardians. However, these controlling mentors do not control the feelings the young magicians develop for each other. Unanticipated, Celia and Marco’s romantic feelings may inevitably have dire consequences for all who inhabit and attend the circus. For the audio-book one of my favorite narrators, Jim Dale, award-winning narrator of the Harry Potter series, adds depth to the large cast of characters populating this turn-of-the-twentieth-century world. His idiosyncratic method of narration is well matched for this story set just outside of reality.

 

Pompeii by Robert Harris

Book Pompeii- This historical thriller will keep you turning pages in anticipation of the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius.  Set on the island of Pompeii in 79 A.D, hydraulic engineer Marcus Attilius is summoned to repair the aqueduct system that supplies fresh water to the residents.  Attilius discovers a blockage that threatens to deprive a large area of the empire of water, but he is also troubled by the strange environmental occurrences that may be an indication of an impending natural disaster on a massive scale. He falls in love with Corelia who supplies him with proof that something sinister is afoot on Pompeii.   As he races against the clock to make repairs, his angst increases and he is hindered by corrupt violent officials from warning the inhabitants of impending and unstoppable disaster. Will Marcus get off the island with Corelia before the volcano blows its top? This novel is well researched with rich historical details transporting us to this ancient world.

Sea Change by S.M. Wheeler

Sea ChangeBook – For the past several years I’ve been attending the awards ceremony for the James Tiptree, Jr. Award, “an annual literary prize for science fiction or fantasy that expands or explores our understanding of gender.” Sometimes I’m already familiar with the winner, but usually I get a list of great new books to read. This year the only one of the nominees I’ve already read is Sea Change, a fairytale by S.M. Wheeler about a girl and her octopus.
Lilly lives a sad and miserable life as the only child of parents who hate each other, perched in their castle by the sea. Her best friend is Octavius, a kraken; the two of them talk about friendship and morality. Then one day Octavius is captured and sold to a circus, and Lilly sets out on a quest to rescue him.
This is an incredibly poetic book, written more for the beautiful language and the sense of a fairy-tale than for ease of reading. Lilly’s story is a hard one, but the way she perseveres and changes is inspiring. I’d recommend it for fans of Caitlín R. Kiernan and Catherynne M. Valente.

The Journal of Best Practices: A Memoir of Marriage, Asperger Syndrome, and One Man’s Quest to Be a Better Husband by David Finch

Journal of Best PracticesBook – David Finch has been married to Kristen for 5 years and their marriage is in crisis. They have two young children, own a home in the northern suburbs of Chicago and work full-time. But they no longer communicate with each other and miss the fun they had together before they were married. The catalyst for a change in their relationship comes in the form of an online survey testing for Asperger Syndrome. David scores 155 out of a possible 200. Kristen scores an 8. (David’s diagnosis is later confirmed by a medical professional.) David is stunned, but realizes that they now have answers for some of the behaviors that are causing issues in his life. He sets on a quest to improve those behaviors and his communication skills. He records his lessons and results in a Journal of Best Practices. David discusses the progress of his journey in a straight-forward and often humorous manner. I was impressed by the amount of effort it took him to learn, understand and maintain socially acceptable norms. Both David and Kristin were committed to the process, and Kristen’s patience in accepting and guiding David was also awe-inspiring. While this is a non-fiction account, if you are interested in further exploring personal accounts of living with Asperger Syndrome, try the novels The Rosie Project or The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.

In Great Waters by Kit Whitfield

In Great WatersBook – What would the world be like if there really were mermaids? No, really, what would that be like? That’s the question Kit Whitfield sets out to answer in her spectacular novel In Great Waters, an alternate history of the world where the royalty of Europe are all descended from the deepsmen, tribes of not-quite-human folk who live in the sea and who first rose to land in Venice in a time of political strife. Now – in something very like sixteenth-century England – a half-human, half-deepsman boy has been abandoned by the deepsman tribe that tried to raise him. He represents an opportunity – the chance to overthrow the incompetent, inbred crown prince before he has a chance to ruin the kingdom. The boy himself, however, may have some different plans.

This is a tremendously inventive story, not fantastical at all except for the existence of the deepsmen – if it were set in the future, you’d call it science fiction. The book explores the implications of its premise, but it never loses sight of the characters at the heart of the story: abandoned, bastard Henry and Princess Anne, both trapped by others’ expectations and fighting to define themselves on their own terms.

The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown

lost symbolBook - Towards the beginning of Dan Brown’s third book featuring Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon, Langdon points out that fewer students in his class have visited their own nation’s capital than have traveled abroad. In The Lost Symbol Brown wraps the buildings, monuments, and leaders of this nation in the intriguing style of clandestine history with which he previously enlivened the locales of Paris and Rome. At the request of a close friend and mentor, Langdon is called to Washington D.C. to present a lecture. However, his arrival at the U.S. Capitol Building begins a race to save his mentor’s life. During the thrilling chase and unraveling of codes meant to protect sacred metaphysical truths, and intertwining revelations of noetic science, readers are treated to a captivating underground tour of Washington. As in the movie National Treasure a large part of this story’s success is the authentic impression of historical embellishments. Here are several texts to help distinguish fact from fiction before embarking on a trip inspired by The Lost Symbol: Secret societies of America’s elite : from the Knights Templar to Skull and BonesThe Truth About Masons, Secret Societies and How They Affect Our Lives Today, Secret Societies: Gardiner’s Forbidden Knowledge, The Washington Monument : it stands for all, America’s library : the story of the Library of Congress, 1800-2000The City of Washington, an Illustrated History. I listened to The Lost Symbol with the Library’s updated Overdrive app, which has convenient controls for listening at advanced speeds and for setting a timer.

 

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

Book – My grandson Lorenzo, Enzo for short, was born just a few weeks ago.  Enzo . . . the name made me think of one of my favorite books, The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein.  The story is told from Enzo’s perspective, but what is very different about this novel is that he is a dog, a lab terrier mix.  I had my doubts whether I would like this book, because it is about auto racing and the world is viewed through a dog’s eyes.  But I read it, since it was on all the best seller lists and I was looking for a good candidate for our book discussion group.  Not only did I love The Art of Racing in the Rain, but it was a great pick for discussion.  From the book jacket:  “Enzo knows he is different from other dogs: a philosopher with a nearly human soul (and an obsession with opposable thumbs), he has educated himself by watching television extensively, and by listening very closely to the words of his master, Denny Swift, an up-and-coming race car driver. Through Denny, Enzo has gained tremendous insight into the human condition, and he sees that life, like racing, isn’t simply about going fast. Using the techniques needed on the race track, one can successfully navigate all of life’s ordeals.”  A movie version is currently in production and will star Patrick Dempsey, who is an amateur race car driver as Enzo’s owner Denny Swift.  You don’t need to be a dog lover an auto racing fan to enjoy this book. It is a feel good story of loyalty, family, thoughtful philosophical insight, and working to reach your full potential.