Book Review: Hotel On The Corner Of Bitter And Sweet by Jamie Ford

Book: Hotel On The Corner Of Bitter And Sweet by Jamie Ford

Published January 2009 by Random House|317 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the e-book from the library

Series: None

Genre: Adult Historical Fiction

In 1986, Henry Lee joins a crowd outside the Panama Hotel, once the gateway to Seattle’s Japantown. It has been boarded up for decades, but now the new owner has discovered the belongings of Japanese families who were sent to internment camps during World War II. As the owner displays and unfurls a Japanese parasol, Henry, a Chinese American, remembers a young Japanese American girl from his childhood in the 1940s—Keiko Okabe, with whom he forged a bond of friendship and innocent love that transcended the prejudices of their Old World ancestors. After Keiko and her family were evacuated to the internment camps, she and Henry could only hope that their promise to each other would be kept. Now, forty years later, Henry explores the hotel’s basement for the Okabe family’s belongings and for a long-lost object whose value he cannot even begin to measure. His search will take him on a journey to revisit the sacrifices he has made for family, for love, for country.

I’m not going to lie, this was a book that I’ve had on my TBR for ages…and the only reason I read it was because it was required reading for my English class.  I actually really liked it, and who knows when I would have gotten to it, if it weren’t for school?

I really liked seeing Henry change over time- we see him as a child in the 1940’s and as an adult in 1986.  Eventually, the two timelines come together and we get a more complete picture of what happened to both Henry and Keiko.  Well, Henry more than Keiko.  What happened to her in the years after World War II is unknown, and we never find out what path her life took.  I wish we knew more about that, but it’s also fun to wonder what happened.

I really felt for Henry- in 1986, we see see him deal with resurfacing memories because of found objects at the Panama Hotel.  He has some great conversations with his son about what happened in the 1940’s, and his son eventually finds Keiko and gets Henry over to New York so he can see her again.  It was nice to see Henry have some sort of closure.

As for the 1940’s, I really liked seeing that part of Henry’s life.  He doesn’t have a great relationship with his dad, and by spending time with Keiko, his relationship with his father really changes.  And not for the better.  You could tell that Henry really cared for her, and it seemed like she really cared for him as well.  It couldn’t have been easy to see her go through so much, and you could tell that what was going on really bothered him.  As a 12-year-old, he knew that how Japanese-Americans were treated was wrong.

There was still a lot I didn’t know about the time- like how families who were sent to internment camps often didn’t return to their homes once they were released.  Families had little time to get rid of their belongings, and either sold them for really cheap or gave them to others to hold on to.  That’s how Henry made his way to the basement of the Panama Hotel, looking through belongings.  Another thing that I had no idea about was a conflict between China and Japan at the time.  It explains why Henry’s father hates those who are Japanese.  Which doesn’t mean it’s okay, but I can understand it.

It also explains why he has Henry wear a button that says “I am Chinese.”  I get being scared that they’ll be next, and that he was trying to protect his son in his own way.  It couldn’t have been an easy time to be an immigrant.

Glancing over this review, I’m surprised I talked so much about it!  Between the discussion posts and writing assignments I had to do for this book, I thought I had already gotten all of my thoughts and feelings out there!  Obviously not, but I am glad I read this book.  Then again, I think all of the assignments I did for this book are why I remember so many details, even though I’m writing this review nearly 3 weeks after finishing the book.

4 stars.  I didn’t love it, but I still really liked it.

Audio Book Review: Within These Lines by Stephanie Morrill, Narrated by Andrew Kanies And Morgan Fairbanks

Book: Within These Lines by Stephanie Morrill, Narrated by Andrew Kanies & Morgan Fairbanks

Published March 2019 by Blink|Run Time: 9 hours, 37 minutes

Where I Got It: I own the audio book

Series: None

Genre: YA Historical Fiction

Evalina Cassano’s life in an Italian-American family in 1941 is everything it “should be” until she falls in love with Taichi Hamasaki, the son of Japanese immigrants. Despite the scandal it would cause and that inter-racial marriage is illegal in California, Evalina and Taichi vow they will find a way to be together. But anti-Japanese feelings erupt across the country after the attack on Pearl Harbor, and Taichi and his family are forced to give up their farm and move to an internment camp.

Degrading treatment make life at Manzanar Relocation Center difficult. Taichi’s only connection to the outside world are treasured letters from Evalina. Feeling that the only action she can take to help Taichi is to speak out on behalf of all Japanese Americans, Evalina becomes increasingly vocal at school and at home. Meanwhile, inside Manzanar, fighting between different Japanese-American factions arises. Taichi begins to doubt he will ever leave the camp alive.

With tensions running high and their freedom on the line, Evalina and Taichi must hold true to their values and believe in their love to make a way back to each other against unbelievable odds.

I liked Within These Lines!  I didn’t love it but I did like it.

For me, Taichi’s story was so much more interesting than Evalina’s.  I really felt for Taichi, and everyone else who had to go to the internment camps.  It wasn’t until listening to this book that I realized how little I know about the internment camps.  I’ve heard of them, but all I knew was that they came about after Pearl Harbor.  I didn’t know anything else, and I was horrified by what Taichi went through at Manazanar.

No one should have to go through that, and the way people talked about Japanese-Americans was horrible.  But I was reminded of today, and how people are still treated because of where they come from.  It’s just hard to believe that it happened only 70 or so years ago.  It feels like it was a long time ago, and yet, it also feels so recent.

I was glad Evalina was so outspoken about what was going on.  I don’t think she realized or knew how bad it really was, but I was glad she spoke up about it.  It would have been really easy for her to not say anything, and just let it be.  She definitely did not let it be, and I thought it was really cool that she wanted to be a lawyer.  In the epilogue, we see she’s a civil rights lawyer, and that seems to fit her very well.  I wasn’t as interested in her story as Taichi’s, but I thought their stories together were important.  As a whole, the story was great because you see how it affected people, but on an individual level, Taichi’s story got my attention a lot more than Evalina’s.

The epilogue really got to me, and I was definitely crying because of how it still affected Taichi.  Even though the epilogue was years later, I was heartbroken for Taichi.  I don’t think it will ever be over for him, but I did think his story was really well done.  I hope he’s able to find peace after everything that happened.

I did like the narrators, Andrew Kanies and Morgan Fairbanks, though I did like Kanies a little bit more.  They both brought the characters to life, but Kanies really stood out, and really made Taichi someone worth caring about.  It’s not that I didn’t care about Evalina, because I did.  Just not as much as I cared about Taichi.  Still, Fairbanks did a great job at narrating Evalina’s part of the story.

3 stars.  I liked Within These Lines, and thought Taichi’s story was one worth reading.  His story really made this book worth reading.

Books I Couldn’t Finish: Masters Of The Air by Donald Miller

masters-of-the-air-coverBook: Masters Of The Air by Donald Miller

Published October 2006 by Simon & Schuster|671 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the hardcover from the library

Series: None

Genre: Adult Non-Fiction/History/World War 2/Military History

Blog Graphic-What It's About

Masters of the Air is the deeply personal story of the American bomber boys in World War II who brought the war to Hitler’s doorstep. With the narrative power of fiction, Donald Miller takes readers on a harrowing ride through the fire-filled skies over Berlin, Hanover, and Dresden and describes the terrible cost of bombing for the German people.

Fighting at 25,000 feet in thin, freezing air that no warriors had ever encountered before, bomber crews battled new kinds of assaults on body and mind. Air combat was deadly but intermittent: periods of inactivity and anxiety were followed by short bursts of fire and fear. Unlike infantrymen, bomber boys slept on clean sheets, drank beer in local pubs, and danced to the swing music of Glenn Miller’s Air Force band, which toured U.S. air bases in England. But they had a much greater chance of dying than ground soldiers. In 1943, an American bomber crewman stood only a one-in-five chance of surviving his tour of duty, twenty-five missions. The Eighth Air Force lost more men in the war than the U.S. Marine Corps.

The bomber crews were an elite group of warriors who were a microcosm of America — white America, anyway. (African-Americans could not serve in the Eighth Air Force except in a support capacity.) The actor Jimmy Stewart was a bomber boy, and so was the “King of Hollywood,” Clark Gable. And the air war was filmed by Oscar-winning director William Wyler and covered by reporters like Andy Rooney and Walter Cronkite, all of whom flew combat missions with the men. The Anglo-American bombing campaign against Nazi Germany was the longest military campaign of World War II, a war within a war. Until Allied soldiers crossed into Germany in the final months of the war, it was the only battle fought inside the German homeland.

Strategic bombing did not win the war, but the war could not have been won without it. American airpower destroyed the rail facilities and oil refineries that supplied the German war machine. The bombing campaign was a shared enterprise: the British flew under the cover of night while American bombers attacked by day, a technique that British commanders thought was suicidal.

Masters of the Air is a story, as well, of life in wartime England and in the German prison camps, where tens of thousands of airmen spent part of the war. It ends with a vivid description of the grisly hunger marches captured airmen were forced to make near the end of the war through the country their bombs destroyed.

Drawn from recent interviews, oral histories, and American, British, German, and other archives, Masters of the Air is an authoritative, deeply moving account of the world’s first and only bomber war.

Blog Graphic- What I Thought

I really love history, and thought Masters Of The Air looked really interesting.  It’s a book I’ve been reading off and on for a while, but I had a hard time getting through it.

I only got about 100 pages in before deciding that this book isn’t for me.  It’s not that it’s uninteresting, because I did think it was a pretty informative book.  Before I picked this book up, I never thought about the Air Force not being its own entity.  For me, it’s always been separate branch of the U.S. military.  But it seems like there were different incarnations under the Army- at least from what I could tell.  There’s this guy, William Mitchell, and he fought hard for an independent Air Force.

Another interesting thing was that a lot of the pilots experienced some form of oxygen deprivation- very few died from it, but something 50 to 60% experienced it.  A lot of it was because of poor planning- there was such a focus on getting the planes (and men) into the air that they didn’t think about little things.  There was a bigger focus on bombing strategy and not a lot on preparing the crews to survive in the conditions necessary to actually executing that strategy.

So why didn’t I finish it?  I had a really hard time getting through it.  It’s very detailed, and just from the 100 pages or so I read, it was clear to me that Miller put a lot of research and time into this book.  Even randomly picking up the book and reading a chapter didn’t help- I felt like I was struggling to get through it.  Since it also focuses more on military history, it’s more technical than what I’m used to reading, and that was a contributing factor in my inability to get through it.   It’s not for lack of trying, and as much as I wanted to get through it, I knew it was time to put it down and walk away.

Blog Graphic- My Rating

DNF.  I don’t feel like it’s fair to give a star rating for something I didn’t get very far into before deciding to not finish it.