Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, by Jamie Ford

So here’s a book I was probably never going to read, because everyone and their brother was fawning over it when it came out a couple years ago and I only go for those massively loved books if they sound like something I’d read anyway (see The Night Circus). And while I have a soft spot for Holocaust books, I have somehow never gotten into other World War II books in the same way. But perhaps this will change, because this was a pretty good book!

Hotel, as I will call it because dang, long title, is about a dude who hears about a trove of unclaimed stuff left after the forced removal of Japanese Americans from Seattle during “the war years” and is like, “Hey, I know a person who left her stuff there! I’mma go looking for a specific thing that might be there, but also I’ll take some time to prove to my estranged son that I have layers and maybe also stop acting like my father while I’m at it.”

Hmm. That sounds pretty bad. But for all that I love frame stories, I really prefer the frame to be around the story, not all up in it (see The Madonnas of Leningrad), and so this outer story with the dad and the son and the dead wife was pretty meh to me.

What I really enjoyed was the past story, with Our Dude, Henry, growing up Chinese and American at the same time and dealing with all of that drama and then also dealing with having a Japanese best friend (not good for Chinese or American kids at the time) and watching how her life goes terribly and unfixably wrong. There’s so much truth and sadness to Henry’s life at a new, white school — the loss of his old friends, the rejection by his new classmates, his parents’ pride in the scholarship that has him slinging food in the cafeteria every day, his attachment to the only other person who might understand. It’s quite beautiful.

I wish the whole of the book had felt that way; there was a lot of the frame story that was less than truthful and often boringly predictable. But not offensively so, and I was so excited to get back to kid Henry’s story that it didn’t bother me terribly much.

I’m not sure I would ever have picked this book up were it not for my book club, and I’m not sure I would go recommend this book to my past self without the reward of the book club, but I am glad that I read it and I hope it opens up a whole new section of war stories for me.

Recommendation: For fans of war stories and coming-of-age stories, and also possibly people who like jazz music.

Rating: 7/10

A Fractured Truth, by Caroline Slate (12 June − 14 June)

At the beginning of the story, this chick Grace is out of jail on parole after 7 years served for the murder, and she’s trying to readjust to life — including e-mail, because this book was published in 2003. There are some fishy things about Grace’s life before this event: her father is killed or possibly has just gone missing, he was involved with some loan sharks and some iffy money practices, her husband caused her business to go bankrupt… it’s not a good time. She’s also now being followed around by a reporter that wants to write the “true” story of her husband, which Grace doesn’t even know because he was basically a pathological liar. This is a pretty good novel — the conceit of a liar’s history is neat, and I definitely wanted to find out why Grace killed her husband (it’s revealed at the end of the book, no worries), so it went fast.

Rating: 7/10

Change of Heart, by Jodi Picoult (6 June − 8 June)

So… yeah. I think we established a long time ago that I love Jodi Picoult. This is her newest book, and I waited a few weeks in a library queue for it. Unfortunately, the book was okay. I was expecting awesome.

The premise of the book is that the hired help kills a woman’s husband and daughter and is given the death penalty for it. He seeks to atone by donating his heart, after his execution, to the woman’s other daughter who has some heart condition or other. The catch is that he can’t give his heart after dying by lethal injection, so an ACLU lawyer starts up a fight to get him hanged instead using some laws about religion and a lovely court battle. Along the way miracles happen. Like, miracles miracles − water into wine, feeding many with a little, curing the sick/dead (very Green Mile), etc. Some people think the murderer is a second coming, others don’t, religion starts fights again.

Like I said, the book was okay − I saw a couple plot twists coming a hundred pages ahead, and the religion thing got a bit heavy-handed, but I still stayed up until 4 in the morning finishing it, and that’s got to be a good sign.

Rating: 6/10

The Memory Keeper’s Daughter, by Kim Edwards (1 May − 5 May)

A bit of backstory: I bought this book a while ago at the university bookstore because I had a gift card and the title was interesting. Also, there was a positive comment from Jodi Picoult on the back and I was intrigued. Then a friend told me that her mother hated the book and it went on the back burner. The other day I saw that the book was being made into some Lifetime movie or something and I decided I needed to read it before I spoiled it for myself by channel-surfing.

As it turns out, I quite liked the book. The premise is that a doctor delivers his own twins in a blizzard in 1964, but has his nurse take one away to a home because she’s born with Down’s syndrome. The nurse can’t do it, and raises the baby herself. The book explores the relationships between the doctor, his wife, their son, the nurse, the daughter, and the people they interact with. It was very engaging (only moving and job-searching kept me from the book) and the twists of the book were just the right mix between predictable and unpredictable to keep me on my toes. Some of the writing is a little iffy, and the metaphors can be heavy-handed, but it’s all in all an enjoyable read.

Rating: 7/10