Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Page 27: Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford takes us back in time to 1940s wartime Seattle and explores the relationship between Asian Americans and the rest of Seattle through the relationship between Henry, who is Chinese, and Keiko who is Japanese.  It is primarily a story about the internment of Japanese Americans in relocation camps, but also the love story of Henry and Keiko, Henry's strained relationship with his father, and Henry's love of jazz fostered by his friendship with Sheldon who plays jazz solo on the street and with a group when he can get the gigs.

This is truly a story that is both bitter and sweet as it moves back and forth between Seattle in the 1980s and 1940s.  Anyone who does not know about the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II has either been living in a cave or attended a school whose books are censored by the Texas School Board.

This book was recommended to me by a very good friend for whom the internment of Japanese Americans was a reality for his family.  In spite of the injustice done to loyal Japanese Americans as a result of the hysteria that gripped our country at the time, I have never heard him express any bitterness or ill will toward his country.  I find this truly amazing and magnanimous.

As usual, here are some reviews to encourage you to read this book.

"Mesmerizing and evocative, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is a tale of conflicted loyalties, devotion, as well as a vibrant portrait of Seattle's Nihonmachi district in its heyday."
-- Sara Gruen, 
New York Times bestselling author of Water for Elephants 

“A tender and satisfying novel set in a time and a place lost forever, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet gives us a glimpse of the damage that is caused by war--not the sweeping damage of the battlefield, but the cold, cruel damage to the hearts and humanity of individual people. Especially relevant in today's world, this is a beautifully written book that will make you think. And, more importantly, it will make you feel." 
--Garth Stein, New York Times bestselling author of The Art of Racing in the Rain

“Jamie Ford's first novel explores the age-old conflicts between father and son, the beauty and sadness of what happened to Japanese Americans in the Seattle area during World War II, and the depths and longing of deep-heart love. An impressive, bitter, and sweet debut.”
Lisa See, bestselling author of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan 

"Fifth-grade scholarship students and best friends Henry and Keiko are the only Asians in their Seattle elementary school in 1942. Henry is Chinese, Keiko is Japanese, and Pearl Harbor has made all Asians-even those who are American born-targets for abuse. Because Henry's nationalistic father has a deep-seated hatred for Japan, Henry keeps his friendship with and eventual love for Keiko a secret. When Keiko's family is sent to an internment camp in Idaho, Henry vows to wait for her. Forty years later, Henry comes upon an old hotel where the belongings of dozens of displaced Japanese families have turned up in the basement, and his love for Keiko is reborn. In his first novel, award-winning short-story writer Ford expertly nails the sweet innocence of first love, the cruelty of racism, the blindness of patriotism, the astonishing unknowns between parents and their children, and the sadness and satisfaction at the end of a life well lived. The result is a vivid picture of a confusing and critical time in American history. Recommended for all fiction collections." - Library Journal

Please read this book.  It is a real gem.

Next Book Page: Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War by Karl Marlantes

Page 26: Pebble in the Sky

Isaac Asimov wrote this book in 1949 when he was in his twenties and launched an amazing string of science fiction novels.  His spectacular career lasted until he died at the age of 72.  Pebble in the Sky is, as they say in the music business, 'a golden oldie' that is well worth reading.  I have not read any of his works in several years and decided on this particular novel after hearing a recommendation on a podcast.

The story begins with Joseph Schwartz walking down the street in Chicago.  In an instant he is transported to the distant future where Earth is part of the Galactic Empire, but ruled locally by an ultra-conservative theocracy.  Much of the planet is radioactive and the citizens are only allowed to live until age 60 in order to keep the food supply and population in balance. Everyone must carry identification and have a unique number.  Joseph is taken to a famous scientist who is conducting brain experiments, since the people who found him don't know what else to do.  The story moves quickly from that point and takes some very unusual turns.  Those of you who have read the Robot Series and the Foundation books will find some some familiar themes in this novel.  Check out Wikipedia for a good summary of the author's professional, scientific, and literary life.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Page 25: The Lion by Nelson DeMille

The Lion, the sequel to The Lion's Game, finds  John Corey and his wife Kate Mayfield once again threatened by Asad Khalil.  Khalil is a ruthless Libyan terrorist with the nickname "The Lion."  He wants to kill John and Kate after he failed in the previous novel.  However, they are not his only targets.  Besides killing targeted individuals he is also interested in mass murder for his backers in Al-Qaeda.

I have enjoyed all the previous John Corey novels by DeMille and this is no exception.  What I did find was that John Corey reminds me a lot of John Sutter in The Gold Coast and The Gate House which I have previously talked about in an earlier post.  They both are 'wise guys' and 'snarky' in their sense of humor.  Nothing is sacred to John Corey.  His comments include his wife, his bosses, his enemies, and many others.  These comments and unspoken thoughts provide some good laughs in spite of the seriousness of the plot.  All readers may not find this attractive, but I think DeMille is one of the best at creating this type of character.

The book moves fast from the very beginning and provides plenty of surprises.  This book is not for the squeamish, so be warned. Here is a comment from Booklist that should help you decide to read The Lion:

From Booklist

"In The Lion's Game (2000), terrorist Asad Khalil, also known as the Lion, came to the U.S. to kill the people responsible for bombing his village in Libya. John Corey, the NYPD cop turned antiterrorist agent, and his FBI trainer, Kate Mayfield, gave chase, but their quarry got away. Now it's a few years later, not too long after 9/11. John and Kate are married, and John's an experienced agent with his own trainee. Out of the blue sky, literally, in a very creative and exciting scene, Khalil swoops down, bent on continuing his revenge against the people behind the bombing. And now he's added Corey to his hit list. Can Corey outmaneuver and outwit a determined, ruthless assassin? This is a well-constructed and satisfying sequel, full of exciting (and occasionally gruesome) visual imagery. Corey is a more developed character this time around, and Khalil is every bit as intelligent, cold, and compelling as he was in The Lion's Game. If the book has a flaw, it's that it might be a little close in feel, plot, and even dramatic structure to the earlier book. On the other hand, Khalil is a single-minded guy, and it doesn't stretch credibility at all to imagine that he'd pick up right where he left off." --David Pitt
If you like Nelson DeMille, I guarantee you will like this book.  If you have never read any of his novels, read this one and then check his other novels on his web site.  You will not be disappointed.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Page 24: The Help

The Help by Kathryn Stockett is one of those rare first novels.  It has all the great ingredients you wish all novels to have: wonderful characters who face difficult and dangerous choices, a great plot, and tons of tension.  This book started slowly for me, but then took off like a rocket and kept going.

The novel is set in Jackson, Mississippi during the beginning of the civil rights movement in the early 1960s.  The main characters are three women, one white and the other two black.  Skeeter is a recent college graduate from Ole Miss.  The two maids collaborate with her on a book about the relationship between black maids and their white employers.  The maids, Aibileen and Minny, face many difficult and potentially life-threatening situations for helping with the book because of the time and place they are living.  Their bravery and courage is inspiring.  The book they  write includes stories from a dozen maids who risk a great deal to take part in the secret project.  This microcosm of the south in the early 1960s explores the tightrope that both whites and blacks had to walk as part of the racist culture that had existed there for so many years.  For those of us who lived during this tumultuous era it will bring back many memories of that time, and the terrible events that occurred.  For the younger generation, it will hopefully serve as an important history and morality lesson.

This is a very good book. I'll include a review for you to read before you go out and buy it.

"Southern whites' guilt for not expressing gratitude to the black maids who raised them threatens to become a familiar refrain. But don't tell Kathryn Stockett because her first novel is a nuanced variation on the theme that strikes every note with authenticity. In a page-turner that brings new resonance to the moral issues involved, she spins a story of social awakening as seen from both sides of the American racial divide.

Newly graduated from Ole Miss with a degree in English but neither an engagement ring nor a steady boyfriend, Eugenia "Skeeter" Phelan returns to her parents' cotton farm in Jackson. Although it's 1962, during the early years of the civil rights movement, she is largely unaware of the tensions gathering around her town.

Skeeter is in some ways an outsider. Her friends, bridge partners and fellow members of the Junior League are married. Most subscribe to the racist attitudes of the era, mistreating and despising the black maids whom they count on to raise their children. Skeeter is not racist, but she is naive and unwittingly patronizing. When her best friend makes a political issue of not allowing the "help" to use the toilets in their employers' houses, she decides to write a book in which the community's maids -- their names disguised -- talk about their experiences. 

Fear of discovery and retribution at first keep the maids from complying, but a stalwart woman named Aibileen, who has raised and nurtured 17 white children, and her friend Minny, who keeps losing jobs because she talks back when insulted and abused, sign on with Skeeter's risky project, and eventually 10 others follow.

Aibileen and Minny share the narration with Skeeter, and one of Stockett's accomplishments is reproducing African American vernacular and racy humor without resorting to stilted dialogue. She unsparingly delineates the conditions of black servitude a century after the Civil War.

The murders of Medgar Evers and Martin Luther King Jr. are seen through African American eyes, but go largely unobserved by the white community. Meanwhile, a room "full of cake-eating, Tab-drinking, cigarette-smoking women" pretentiously plan a fundraiser for the "Poor Starving Children of Africa." In general, Stockett doesn't sledgehammer her ironies, though she skirts caricature with a "white trash" woman who has married into an old Jackson family. Yet even this character is portrayed with the compassion and humor that keep the novel levitating above its serious theme." 

Copyright 2009, The Washington Post. All Rights Reserved.

The next Book Page should be Nelson DeMille's The Lion, but I may find something else before that.  Keep on reading.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Page 23: Innocent by Scott Turow

I am currently reading Innocent by Scott Turow which I blogged about briefly in a post about new books a few weeks ago.  So far so good.  More to come when the book is finished.

I just finished the book today.  Scott Turow is still amazing, and has taken some of the same characters from Presumed Innocent and put them into another legal cliff-hanger.  Rusty Sabich is back, but is now a chief appellelate court judge. Tommy Molto is still working as a prosecutor, but now is the acting head of the Kindle County Prosecuting Attorney's Office.  The animosity between Rusty and Tommy has been put into a restless sleep for twenty-one years, but not forgotten by either.

 Rusty is once again charged with murder.  This time it is his wife Barbara.  When Rusty found her non-responsive one morning, he stayed with her for nearly twenty-four hours before calling his son Nat.  Nat convinced him to call the authorities and report her death.  This seems like strange behavior for a judge, and Tommy Molto's assistant, Jim Brand, thinks so as well.  Jim convinces Tommy to let him start a quiet investigation into the circumstances of Barbara Sabitch's death.

Scott Turow takes a different approach to this novel than the one he used in Presumed Innocent.  The story is told from several viewpoints and jumps around in time.  At first I thought this distracted from the story, but soon came to realize it was a good technique.  We hear from Rusty, Tommy, Rusty's son Nat, and Rusty's former clerk Anna.  Tommy Molto has mellowed over the twenty-some years since he prosecuted Rusty for the murder of Rusty's mistress in Presumed Innocent.  Jim Brand finds enough circumstantial evidence to get Tommy all fired up again, and they decide to press charges and prosecute.

This is a great legal thriller with plenty of plot twists and surprises.  The trial scenes are vintage Turow and will not disappoint.  Sandy Stern is back as Rusty's defense attorney.  Sandy's daughter Marta is his partner.  Together they mount a defense to counter the attacks of Tommy Molto and Jim Brand.  Rusty, Tommy, and Sandy are all older, but pretty much the same people they have always been.  However, the trial judge is one of the best characters in the book.

I always like to include some reviews from the publishing world, and here are two of them.

Here is a review from Publishers Weekly:

"Mesmerizing prose and intricate plotting lift Turow's superlative legal thriller, his best novel since his bestselling debut,Presumed Innocent, to which this is a sequel. In 2008, 22 years after the events of the earlier book, former lawyer Rusty Sabich, now a Kindle County, Ill., chief appellate judge, is again suspected of murdering a woman close to him. His wife, Barbara, has died in her bed of what appear to be natural causes, yet Rusty comes under scrutiny from his old nemesis, acting prosecuting attorney Tommy Molto, who unsuccessfully prosecuted him for killing his mistress decades earlier. Tommy's chief deputy, Jim Brand, is suspicious because Rusty chose to keep Barbara's death a secret, even from their son, Nat, for almost an entire day, which could have allowed traces of poison to disappear. Rusty's candidacy for a higher court in an imminent election; his recent clandestine affair with his attractive law clerk, Anna Vostic; and a breach of judicial ethics complicate matters further. Once again, Turow displays an uncanny ability for making the passions and contradictions of his main characters accessible and understandable." (May) 

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Here is another review, this one from Booklist, with a different take on the book.
“The more things change, the more they remain the same” seems to be the burden of Turow’s ninth novel, which is a clever reprise of his first, Presumed Innocent (1987). In Turow’s breakthrough book, prosecuting attorney Rusty Sabitch is put on trial for the murder of a woman colleague with whom he’d been having an affair. Tommy Molto, another attorney, launches an unsuccessful prosecution against Sabitch in a nail-biter of a courtroom drama (with added zest provided by Turow’s own background as a lawyer). Twenty-one years later, as this story begins, Sabitch has ascended to an appellate court judgeship, Molto is still a prosecutor, and they retake their roles as defendant and prosecutor (and persecutor, since Molto investigates Sabitch before the trial). Rusty’s wife of 36 years, Barbara, is bipolar and extremely difficult. His senior clerk, Anna, is jolly and extremely willing. Sabitch embarks on an affair that has disastrous consequences and winds up with the judge once again fighting a murder charge. The first part of the book shuttles between Sabitch and Molto, each narrating his take on events—suspense is often spoiled, though, because readers know what Sabitch has done before Molto figures it out. Part 2, inevitably, is the criminal trial, in which the two antagonists meet again. Turow is as agile as ever at plotting and characterization, and his fans will be thrilled at the prospect of a reprise between two of his most memorable characters. But this time the courtroom drama has a mechanical feel to it, as if Turow accepted a dare to put Sabitch and Molto back in the courtroom, older, but in the same position and pickle as in Presumed Innocent. --Connie Fletcher
I liked this book and urge you to read it as well.  Judge for yourself.

Next Book Page: The Help by Kathryn Stockett