Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet
By Jamie Ford

Reviewed by Heather Moore

I live about 70 miles from the former site of Japanese internment site, Topaz (Delta, Utah), which locked away thousands of Japanese-Americans during World War II. Across the western United States ten miniature cities rose out of the dust as American citizens with Japanese heritage were rounded up and forced to relocate, leaving behind professions, homes, friends, and belongings. It was the worst of times.

What fear drives an American president to lock away hundreds of thousands of innocent men, women or children? For their protection? For the country’s protection? In my grandparents home in Salt Lake City, Utah, there are hammer marks on the walls in the basement where my grandfather pounded the walls in rage when the Japanese invaded Pearl Harbor. He was “too old” to serve in the military, but served in various capacities on the home front.

Years later, in the late 1980’s, my cousin served a two-year mission to Japan. Impressed with the culture, he returned to study and work, eventually marrying a Japanese woman. So my family knows a little about the dynamics of bringing two cultures together—two cultures that were enemies not long ago.

In Jamie Ford’s debut novel, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, Henry is a twelve-year old Chinese boy growing up in Seattle. The city is a melting pot in its own right, and Henry lives in Chinatown near the Japanese district. Forced to wear a large button by his father that reads, “I am Chinese,” Henry attends an all-white school on scholarship. Each day he’s faced with bullying from the other kids, one boy in particular named Chaz. But this is not the typical coming-of-age story of a kid facing persecution in one form or another. As Henry serves on cafeteria-duty to pay for his scholarship, another student it assigned to the kitchen. But it’s a girl. And she’s Japanese.

Henry’s father is Chinese through and through—and continues to be a bitter enemy to all who are Japanese because of the on-going conflicts back on Asian soil between the two peoples. Henry’s immediate reaction to the Japanese girl, Keiko, is contempt. But he soon learns to take back all previous assumptions, and they form a friendship of a lifetime. Of course, you can see it coming—and Keiko and her family are sent to an internment camp. But the majority of the novel is filled with surprises, and breadth of questions that stir emotions.

Poignant and beautifully written. A book that is complex, yet masterfully simple.

Ford will certainly be a contender for the 2009 Whitney Awards. Readers who are interested in a fictionalized account of the internment camp, Topaz, will enjoy Nothing to Regret by Tristi Pinkston.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Pursued by Lynn Gardner

Pursued: A Maggie McKenzie Mystery
By Lynn Gardner
Covenant Communications, June 2009

Reviewed by Heather Moore

I must confess, this the first book I’ve read by Lynn Gardner. Pursued is the second installment in the Maggie McKenzie Mystery series. Like all good series writers, Gardner catches up the reader on past events in natural snippets throughout the book. I didn’t feel lost for information, or that I was missing out on something.

Lynn Gardner has an impressive list of published books, and from reading her author bio, she has some great real-life experience to base her chosen locations and plot ideas. During a family history trip to England, she took notes on locations as she traveled to put into her work in progress. The research and details are amazing. And I was impressed with the knowledge she shared with us in an unobtrusive way.

The plot is interesting, and gives a whole new twist on family history research. Maggie McKenzie is on assignment to cover a series of travel articles. Problem is, just before she boards the plane to London, she has a literal run in with a terrorist. He crosses in front of her as she is snapping a picture. Around the world, he is wanted for organizing a series of bomb attacks. Determined, Maggie continues her trip, blending it with seeking out her two brothers who were “given up” at birth. The intricacies of her family relations come to light as she meets each member of her newly discovered family.

The terrorist plot moves closer to home and Maggie finds that she is carrying a piece of information that could either save several major cities . . . or destroy them. But the trouble doesn’t end there as she realizes that someone in her family might be the head culprit.

Because I haven't read Gardner's previous books, I don't know if the constant shifts of point of view within scenes is part of her style or book-specific to Pursued. Yet I did find it distracting, as I did her tendency for a character to ask several questions in a row without letting the other character get a breath in. But all of this is fixable through editorial.

Overall, I think Gardner has built herself some nice credentials.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Wings by Aprilynne Pike

Review by Heather Moore

Wings, debut novel by Aprilynne Pike, should be well-received by the YA market. Of course, it has the usual storyline of new girl at school, who is found attractive by hot guy (but isn't this what all teenagers want to read about anyway, right?). Although this book is clever in its own right. The main character is a faerie, although she doesn't know it at first, and her faerie-ness is unique from other YA books with fey characters. I really enjoyed the biology explanations and the world which Pike created to accomodate fey and human alike.

I liked Laurel's character for the most part, but wished David contained a deeper persona. Yet for a first book, I certainly have to give kudos to the author. The writing style is nice--not overly gushy and not overly descriptive--which give the story a decent flow. I'm looking forward to the next installment and seeing the author's literary development.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Brandon Sanderson comes to Zeman Elementary School

Brandon Sanderson came to my son's school last Friday. And it just so happens that it was where Brandon attended elementary school. David was so excited as he had recently read both Alcatraz books. It was a great presentation and all the kids and staff really enjoyed it.

Friday, May 1, 2009

When Hearts Conjoin by Erin Herrin & Lu Ann Staheli

When Hearts Conjoin

By Erin Marie Herrin with Lu Ann Brobst Staheli

RPE Publishing, May 2009

“Some people believe angels are real. Some believe they walk among us. On August 7, 2006, on the fourth floor of Primary Children’s Hospital, angels were there to comfort me on the scariest day of my life.”—begins the remarkable true story of the conjoined Herrin twins in the long-awaited memoir, When Hearts Conjoin. The account of Kendra and Maliyah’s birth and subsequent separation has appeared in magazine articles and newspaper articles around the world. So it was with eager anticipation that I read an advance copy of When Hearts Conjoin—the real story, as told by their mother, Erin Herrin.

From the first page, I was swept into the life of Erin and found myself reading the entire book in one day. The rollercoaster of emotions that she and her husband experienced left me breathless and in tears many times. Her pain was my pain, and her joy became my joy. At times, the reality of what Erin underwent in a physical sense and what she and her husband experienced emotionally and spiritually were overwhelming. I could barely comprehend experiencing one of their trials—let alone the combination of a miscarriage, the pending divorce with Jake, a father with stage four cancer, a father-in-law rapidly deteriorating from Parkinson’s, making the decision between the life and death of two children, a series of critical surgeries, a kidney donation, and finally the decision to separate the conjoined girls.

How could Erin and her husband endure all this and still keep their family together? The answer may seem inexplicable: Faith. Yet it was the only way. Their faith, combined with prayers from every corner of the world sustained them through the deepest valleys of despair.

In order to tell her story, Erin Herrin had to revisit the past, oftentimes painful memories, some of which she kept tightly locked in her heart. In a recent interview, co-author, Lu Ann Staheli said, “Probably the most difficult thing about [writing] this book was that Erin had tried so hard to shut out all the fears and bad memories from the past that she had almost blocked out some of the very details we needed to make this story alive enough to touch the hearts of the readers.”

I must wholeheartedly agree with the foreword penned by Richard Paul Evans, “I’m honored to introduce this amazing experience of sacrifice, faith and tender moments of quiet determination that can only come through the purest love. A mother’s love. A mother’s story. This is Erin Herrin’s journey to claim her family and keep them close to her heart.”

You will not be the same person after reading this book. It will change you. It has changed me. For continual updates and photos, or to order a copy of the book, visit the Herrin Family website: