Thursday, September 21, 2017

Throw-Back Thursday: Great Reading from My Past


There are books I've read that go to a special place in my heart.  Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is one of those books, and it is a story in which the heart is fully engaged during and after its reading.  Jamie Ford brilliantly combines history with an intimate story of what love must overcome to survive in a time of war, racism, and a country's betrayal of its citizens.  It is thought provoking and emotionally consuming .  And, as it seems with so many of my selections, completely unintended, this book is bound for the big screen.  Through many years of appeals to the author, there is finally an offer that will honor the integrity of the novel and not mangle or maim its essence.  George Takei has just recently come on board as Executive Producer, and production is to start in 2018.

I had the great privilege and pleasure of meeting Jamie Ford a few years back, after his second book, Songs of Willow Frost, was published.  He is a person of great humor, and I enjoyed talking with him so much.  He saw that my copy of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet had post-it tabs sticking out, and he had to have a picture of it.  Just a great guy.  Jamie doesn't put out a book every year, not even every two years, but his books are well worth the wait.  His third book, Love and Other Consolation Prizes was just released last week, and I am so excited to read it.  I will be going to see Jamie Ford in Evansville, IN next week at a "One Book, One Community" event featuring Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet.  It's something I've been looking forward to for some time.



Book Description:
Set during one of the most conflicted and volatile times in American history - the internment of American-Japanese families during World War II - Jamie Ford has created an unforgettable duo whose story teaches us about forgiveness and the power of the human heart.

In the opening pages of Jamie Ford’s stunning debut novel, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, Henry Lee comes upon a crowd gathered outside the Panama Hotel, once the gateway to Seattle’s Japantown. It has been boarded up for decades, but now the new owner has made an incredible discovery: the belongings of Japanese families, left when they were rounded up and sent to internment camps during World War II. As Henry looks on, the owner opens a Japanese parasol.

This simple act takes old Henry Lee back to the 1940s, at the height of the war, when young Henry’s world is a jumble of confusion and excitement, and to his father, who is obsessed with the war in China and having Henry grow up American. While “scholarshipping” at the exclusive Rainier Elementary, where the white kids ignore him, Henry meets Keiko Okabe, a young Japanese American student. Amid the chaos of blackouts, curfews, and FBI raids, Henry and Keiko forge a bond of friendship–and innocent love–that transcends the long-standing prejudices of their Old World ancestors. And after Keiko and her family are swept up in the evacuations to the internment camps, she and Henry are left only with the hope that the war will end, and that their promise to each other will be kept.

Forty years later, Henry Lee is certain that the parasol belonged to Keiko. In the hotel’s dark dusty basement he begins looking for signs of the Okabe family’s belongings and for a long-lost object whose value he cannot begin to measure. Now a widower, Henry is still trying to find his voice–words that might explain the actions of his nationalistic father; words that might bridge the gap between him and his modern, Chinese American son; words that might help him confront the choices he made many years ago.

Set during one of the most conflicted and volatile times in American history, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is an extraordinary story of commitment and enduring hope. In Henry and Keiko, Jamie Ford has created an unforgettable duo whose story teaches us of the power of forgiveness and the human heart.



My Review: 
Jamie Ford's Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is historical fiction at its finest. The format of alternating time periods of the 1940's and 1986 serves to bring this story full circle, which is indeed informatively satisfying. Ford takes on a multiplicity of subjects that stem from the setting of Seattle's area of Chinatown and Japantown in the 40's and the characters of Henry, a Chinese boy, and Keiko, a Japanese girl, and he connects them all brilliantly. Racial prejudices, Japanese internment, jazz in Seattle, father/son relationships, friendship, and love--Ford aptly weaves it all into a compelling story that is impossible to put down until you've finished. And, finish it does, in keeping with Ford's attitude towards endings, which is, in his own words, "a real, unambiguous, nonmetaphorical ending." With many books published about Japanese internment during WWII, Jamie Ford's novel stands out as unique. The inclusion of Chinese and Japanese animosity as a major feature assures this novel's innovative place in books examining the Japanese ordeal in our country.

 

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Gia in the City of the Dead by Kristi Belcamino: Reading Room Review


Whoa! Kristi Belcamino has done it! She has created yet another take-charge, intoxicating character who is a fierce protector of those she loves. The new girl in town is named Gia Valentina Santella, and she is smoking awesome. Belcamino's first kick-ass series' character was Gabriella Giovanni, and I have been such a fan of Gabriella that I was a bit skeptical of falling quickly for another contender. But, when this author writes, this reader falls, into storytelling and characters compelling to the core.

Gia Santella is adrift in the world. Drinking herself into oblivion, driving fast cars fast, one-night stands, and spending her well-endowed bank account as fast as she can. Living in San Francisco in a luxury apartment overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge, she is the quintessential Italian Princess, disconnected to any meaningful existence. The death of her beloved parents two years earlier has frozen the capacity of the twenty-three-year-old to move forward with her life. As it turns out, she must move backwards first anyway. 

Having been told that her parents, who were living in Geneva at the time of their deaths, had died in a house fire, Gia is shocked back into the land of the living when a letter arrives from the coroner's wife stating that the Santellas' deaths were no accident. The letter makes it clear that Gia's parents were murdered. This revelation comes right on the heels of a new death in her family, her estranged brother's. The Santella family is slowly slipping into nonexistence, and Gia must use her physical training as a student of Budo karate and her plentiful intelligence to avoid becoming the last coffin in the crypt and finding out who murdered her family. Knowing who to trust is the first tangled web that Gia must unsnarl. However, even care must be taken with those she can trust, because the success of her mission could mean their deaths. Gia Santella begins a life on the run, searching for answers from Monterey to San Franciso to Geneva to Sicily and back to Colma, California that is the City of the Dead. There is not one dull moment in that search.

Kristi Belcamino has a gift, telling thrilling stories with all the excitement they demand. The plots, the action, the descriptions, the characters are all so brilliantly thought out and executed. I am ecstatic that readers have yet another prodigious protagonist and spectacular series to enjoy. Kudos to Kristi, again!

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Throw Back Thursday: Great Reading from My Past

In 2013, I attended my first Bouchercon Convention in Albany, New York.  Bouchercon is the largest gathering in this country of mystery and crime authors, fans, and book world people.  I read like mad that year in preparation for meeting revered authors and getting books signed.  There was one author that was in my sights who was getting lots of buzz and who, by that time, had three books out.  I had only read her first, Dust and Shadow, but I was crazy to meet her because of how much I loved it.  Lyndsay Faye had her first two books of the Timothy Wilde trilogy in Albany, too. The Gods of Gotham and Seven for a Secret were bought by me in joyful anticipation, and Lyndsay signed all three books, a thrill I'll never forget.  How little I knew then that I was at the beginning of a whole new reading relationship that is one of the most special I have.  Lyndsay is brilliant, and every book I read of hers is a new favorite.  But, it all began with my interest in Jack the Ripper and Sherlock Holmes being combined in a story that would bring alive a time of deepest, darkest fear on the streets of London.  I'm not including my review of Dust and Shadow because when I read through it again for this post, I couldn't help thinking that, even though it was a glowing review, how naive it was, how much I had to learn about just what an amazing author Lyndsay Faye is. 

 
Jacket Description:
From the gritty streets of nineteenth century London, the loyal and courageous Dr. Watson offers a tale unearthed after generations of lore: the harrowing story of Sherlock Holmes’s attempt to hunt down Jack the Ripper.

As England’s greatest specialist in criminal detection, Sherlock Holmes is unwavering in his quest to capture the killer responsible for terrifying London’s East End. He hires an “unfortunate” known as Mary Ann Monk, the friend of a fellow streetwalker who was one of the Ripper’s earliest victims; and he relies heavily on the steadfast and devoted Dr. John H. Watson. When Holmes himself is wounded in Whitechapel during an attempt to catch the savage monster, the popular press launches an investigation of its own, questioning the great detective’s role in the very crimes he is so fervently struggling to prevent. Stripped of his credibility, Holmes is left with no choice but to break every rule in the desperate race to find the madman known as “the Knife” before it is too late.

 

A masterly re-creation of history’s most diabolical villain, Lyndsay Faye’s debut brings unparalleled authenticity to the atmosphere of Whitechapel and London in the fledgling days of tabloid journalism and recalls the ideals evinced by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s most beloved and world-renowned characters. Jack the Ripper’s identity, still hotly debated around the world more than a century after his crimes were committed, remains a mystery ripe for speculation. Dust and Shadow explores the terrifying prospect of tracking a serial killer without the advantage of modern forensics, and the result is a lightning-paced novel brimming with historical detail that will keep you on the edge of your seat.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Murder in Shadow by Anne Cleeland: Reading Room Review


Murder in Shadow by Anne Cleeland is the sixth entry into the Doyle and Acton Mysteries/New Scotland Yard series, and it is an exciting, thrilling read. It's almost embarrassing how involved I become with the characters and action in these books. I know it's fiction, but it's so engrossing following Kathleen Doyle and Michael Sinclair, aka Lord Acton, and their personal and professional lives. Told from Kathleen's point of view, we are still able to gain great insight into the other character's thoughts and motives due to her intuitive gift. And, at the beginning of each chapter is a short clip of thought from Acton, allowing more insight into his take on the current situation. Murder in Shadow is a complex tale that engages the reader from beginning to end with its layers of actions that build upon each other.

Kathleen Doyle is indisputably pregnant with Acton's son, known to be a son already not because of ultra sounds, but because of Doyle's touch of the fey abilities. These abilities are often used by Acton to determine if a suspect or witness is lying or telling the truth. Doyle makes good use of them, too, in keeping up with her ever secretive husband's tendency to misdirect her. It is her intuitive skills that have her scalp itching with suspicion when Doyle is called to the scene of a murder and finds herself in charge of the scene, with Acton off supposedly testifying on police corruption and DI Thomas Williams, Doyle's closest friend and Acton's right-hand man, also conveniently tied up. Doyle smells manipulation, and since her instincts, even when someone is deliberately trying to cross her wires, sooner or later arrive at the truth of the matter, it's a beeline to Parliament that Kathleen makes to discover Acton in a hearing to protect his claim to being Lord Acton.

But, the manipulated murder case to which Doyle was assigned is not just a red herring for Acton's activities. It is a murder case that will have significant connections to other cases. This murder of a well-to-do man who is left shoe-less in an alley will come back to haunt even the major investigation that Acton is dealing with concerning corrupt officials in Scotland Yard. And, speaking of haunting, Doyle, who has dealt with a ghost or two before, is having nightly visits from a dead psychiatrist who briefly treated Acton, and the ghost is giving her vague warnings about Acton and Williams and her co-worker, Detective Sergeant Isabel Munoz. The dead and the living are constant sources of alarm in this story where Doyle is working frantically to save the lives and reputations of those she cares about. There are so many twists and turns in this thrilling story that GPS navigation would be needed in a lesser skilled author's hands. But, Anne Cleeland deftly controls the multiple threads and characters and guides the reader through the maze with clarity and purpose. 

The storylines in the Doyle and Acton series are always so smart, so clever, and so complex, and Cleeland is such a masterful storyteller. But the stories are deeply enriched by the absolute genius of the author's characters, starting with the insanely (using that word cautiously, Lord Acton) perfect matching of DCI Acton and DS Doyle. The rags and riches romance of Kathleen and Michael is one of the best developed relationships I've read. Their witty dialogue is something I can never get enough of. Detective Inspector Thomas Williams is forever devoted to both Kathleen and Michael, and like Kathleen, I am always buoyed by his appearance. Williams has some troubling matters to deal with in this story, and while he has matured quite a bit, he has made some mistakes that threaten to harm him and his friends. Doyle's somewhat nemesis, DS Isabel Munoz, continues to bait Doyle about her good fortune with Acton and dismiss Doyle's detective skills, but she, too, is coming into her own in both her police work and her personal relationships. Munoz has to walk a fine line in this current story, but she has good instincts that are getting better all the time. Of course, it's fortunate for Acton, Williams, and Munoz that they have Doyle watching their backs. As much as Doyle professes to be thick as a plank, she proves herself sharp as a tack and an invaluable resource time and time again, and it's so satisfying that Acton values her as well as loves her. 

Murder in Shadow, the sixth book in the Doyle and Acton Mystery series, is simply a smashing success. I recommend it highly and will no doubt be rereading parts of it myself. These books are truly places that I don't want to leave.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Throw Back Thursday: Great Reading from My Past

One of my favorite books ever is Connie Willis' Doomsday Book, the first in her Oxford Time Travel series, and I will feature that book another day.  Today I'm talking about the second book in that series, To Say Nothing of the DogDoomsday Book and the other books in this series, Blackout and All Clear, are serious, contemplative novels, and I thought we all might be needing a lighter touch today.  Ned Henry, one of the time traveling historians of these books finds himself going back in time from 2057 to Victorian England, 1888,  in conjunction with his pursuit of  "the bishop's bird stump" and a much needed rest.  The phrase "the bishop's bird stump" alone should send readers scurrying to the library or bookstore.  The result of Ned's journey is a comedy of errors, a mystery, a romance, and a delightful homage to Jerome K. Jerome's Three Men in a Boat.  This witty story will have you finding some laughter and joy that is much needed today.  

As a reader of mostly mystery and crime, science fiction has never been my preferred genre, but Connie Willis is such a brilliant writer and storyteller that not reading her because of the genre would be an egregious error.  Repeat winnings for the Hugo and Nebula awards, Willis is one of the top five authors I would still love to meet.  I haven't yet read her latest novel, Crosstalk, which came out a year ago and was selected by NPR as one of the best books of the year, but I will and hopefully soon.  I consider Connie Willis one of the best examples of why readers should keep an open mind about genres and thinking that one is not for them.




Book Jacket Description:
Connie Willis' Hugo and Nebula Award-winning Doomsday Book uses time travel for a serious look at how people connect with each other. In this Hugo-winning companion to that novel, she offers a completely different kind of time travel adventure: a delightful romantic comedy that pays hilarious homage to Jerome K. Jerome's Three Men in a Boat.

When too many jumps back to 1940 leave 21st century Oxford history student Ned Henry exhausted, a relaxing trip to Victorian England seems the perfect solution. But complexities like recalcitrant rowboats, missing cats, and love at first sight make Ned's holiday anything but restful - to say nothing of the way hideous pieces of Victorian art can jeopardize the entire course of history.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

The Blood Card by Elly Griffiths: Reading Room Review


The Blood Card by Elly Griffiths is the third book in the new Stephens and Mephisto or Magic Men series. As an ardent fan of Griffiths' first series, Ruth Galloway Mysteries, I didn't know if I could love this second series as much. Rather like a mother pregnant with her second child wondering if a new child could ever be as thrilling as the first. Well, having had two children, I know that the second child brings out every bit as much love as the first. And, having now read three books in Elly Griffiths' second series, I know that I have plenty of love to go around for it, too. Set in the early 1950s, the historical aspect of England shortly after WWII is fascinating, and the added presence of the variety acts, especially magic, that had long been a part of the British theater of performance create a setting that is constantly evolving amidst the changes of a new world after war.

The story begins at a pivotal point in British history after the war, the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, a new era of a woman once again on the throne of England. Preparations for the coronation are busy everywhere throughout England, from the ceremony and events in London to the celebrations throughout the towns and villages of the country. The few days before this spectacular event finds Detective Inspector Edgar Stephens investigating the death of a Brighton Gypsy fortune-teller, who met her fate of drowning by either her own hand or someone else's. Max Mephisto, Edgar's friend and former teammate in the Magic Men unit for diversion and misdirection in WWII army operations, is performing his famous magic act in London at the Theatre Royal. A mysterious call from a General Petre brings both men to the London address of their former commander, Colonel Cartwright, who has been murdered. With Cartwright's body having already been removed by the police, Edgar and Max are asked to look around for clues. The most significant is the discovery of the ace of hearts playing card, which Max recognizes right away as the "blood card." There is also an old playbill for a variety performance show, a crossword puzzle, and a news article featuring a story about an American mind-reader. Not easy clues to decipher, but ones which the friends are determined to follow. Petre also tells Max and Edgar that General Cartwright was on the trail of an anarchist scheme to disrupt the coronation when he was killed.

Before he can say Bob's your uncle, under the direction of General Petre, Edgar is on a plane to Albany, New York to decipher why his old commander had the article about the American performer in his possession, with the man's phone number on it. Edgar's experiences in Albany further convince him that there is a connection to the murder investigation. Meanwhile, Max is busy contacting past members of the Magic Men to try and uncover if there's a connection to Cartwright's death. Max is also preparing for his television debut in a variety show to be part of the coronation celebration. His daughter Ruby is also on the show, and they both could be in danger's way. And Emma Holmes, Edgar's Sergeant on the Brighton Police force, is conducting a dogged inquiry into the death of the Gypsy woman, Madame Zabini, and in the process discovers disturbing and important information tied to an anarchist scheme. Edgar, Max, and Emma arrive at a shocking conclusion in their investigations, but the timing may be too late.

The two areas which I was especially enamored of in book #3, besides, of course, the story itself, were the historical features and the further development of minor characters. With so much written about WWII itself, this series is a breath of fresh air in its setting of the early 1950s when rationing was still in effect, television was just becoming a desired item (which the televised coronation did much to promote), variety stage shows were undergoing a shake-up, and air travel was new to most people. Griffith's description of the flight Edgar took to New York was marvelous. So different than modern day plane trips, the amenities described are unbelievable. I won't spoil the description here, as it's such a delight to read. The reactions to having a television set in the home, from it being front and center to it being hidden away with curtains drawn across it to conceal it, are as entertaining as the forum itself.

The Blood Card takes us further into the supporting characters' lives, too. Emma Holmes, who is one of my favorites in the series, has her role expanded into sharp investigator, infatuated admirer of Edgar's (but in a dignified manner), and unsettled daughter. Ruby, who is Edgar's intended is given more insight as to her motivation, ambition, and feelings for Edgar. The variety of entertainers is always enchanting, with their talents and quirks exposed. I felt that this book has brought so much together for the reader of the series, connected so many dots, with, of course, many story threads that could go down many different paths. Elly Griffiths is a master pacer, and her delivery of these developments is perfect timing. 

I do hope that those who are devoted fans of the Ruth Galloway series are giving the Magic Men series its proper attention, too. Elly Griffiths is no one-trick pony. She is a brilliant creative source for multiple stories and multiple characters. To limit her to one set is to deny great storytelling to be shared in all its glory. This reader will take all she can get from this author because it's all exceptional reading.

Friday, September 1, 2017

September Books: New Publications to Start out Your Fall Reading


September is here, and it is a month that will kick off your fall reading to a great start.  So, grab your blanket and your cup of coffee or tea to snuggle down in the cooler weather with some of the following outstanding new books.



September 5th
The Blood Card (Stephens and Mephisto/The Magic Men #3) by Elly Griffiths
Dead Woman Walking by Sharon Bolton
Under a Pole Star by Stef Penny
Lie to Me by J.T. Ellison
Genuine Fraud (YA) by E. Lockhart
The Child Finder by Rene Denfeld
Good Me, Bad Me by Ali Land
The Seagull (Vera Stanhope #8) by Ann Cleeves
Idyll Fears: A Thomas Lynch Novel by Stephanie Gayle


September 8th
House. Tree. Person. by Catriona McPherson
That Last Weekend by Laura DiSilverio


September 12th 
Love and Other Consolation Prizes by Jamie Ford
Lightning Men (Darktown series) by Thomas Mullen
Death at the Seaside (A Kate Shackleton Mystery) by Frances Brody
Body on Baker Street: A Sherlock Holmes Bookshop Mystery by Vicki Delany
Robert B. Parker's The Hangman's Sonnet (A Jesse Stone Novel) by Reed Farrel Coleman


September 19th 
Gia in the City of the Dead: A Gia Santella Novel (Book #1) by Kristi Belcamino
Close Enough (Kate Fox #1.5) by Shannon Baker
Keep Her Safe by Sofie Hannah
Wicked Deeds (Krewe of Hunters) by Heather Graham
An Echo of Murder (William Monk #23) by Anne Perry


September 26th 
Before It's Too Late (An F.B.I. K-9 Novel) by Sara Driscoll
This Side of Murder (A Verity Kent Mystery) by Anna Lee Huber
The Blackbird Season by Kate Moretti 
Casualty of War (Bess Crawford #9) by Charles Todd 
Sleeping Beauties by Stephen King and Owen King
There's Someone Inside Your House (YA) by Stephanie Perkins