Monday, December 30, 2013

Fictional Book Reviews to look forward to in 2014

A Thousand Splendid Suns-Khaled Hosseini

A moving story about two women set in Afghanistan. The book's story illustrates both the second class, serf-like treatment of two women and their subjection to physical and emotional brutality that was allowed, enabled and endorsed. We also get to see the bravery, kindness and self-resilience of these same two women. Despite the harsh reality of the story, the humanness and compassion shown by both women while trying to survive in such a brutal and oppressive environment is very uplifting.


Bel Canto- Ann Patchett

In an unnamed South American country, a world-renowned soprano sings at a birthday party in honor of a visiting Japanese industrial titan. His hosts hope that Mr. Hosokawa can be persuaded to build a factory in their Third World backwater. Alas, in the opening sequence, just as the accompanist kisses the soprano, a ragtag band of 18 terrorists enters the vice-presidential mansion through the air conditioning ducts. Their quarry is the president, who has unfortunately stayed home to watch a favorite soap opera. And thus, from the beginning, things go awry.

Among the hostages are not only Hosokawa and Roxane Coss, the American soprano, but an assortment of Russian, Italian, and French diplomatic types. Reuben Iglesias, the diminutive and gracious vice president, quickly gets sideways of the kidnappers, who have no interest in him whatsoever. Meanwhile, a Swiss Red Cross negotiator named Joachim Messner is roped into service while vacationing. He comes and goes, wrangling over terms and demands, and the days stretch into weeks, the weeks into months.

With the omniscience of magic realism, Ann Patchett flits in and out of the hearts and psyches of hostage and terrorist alike, and in doing so reveals a profound, shared humanity. Her voice is suitably lyrical, melodic, full of warmth and compassion. Hearing opera sung live for the first time, a young priest reflects:
Never had he thought, never once, that such a woman existed, one who stood so close to God that God's own voice poured from her. How far she must have gone inside herself to call up that voice. It was as if the voice came from the center part of the earth and by the sheer effort and diligence of her will she had pulled it up through the dirt and rock and through the floorboards of the house, up into her feet, where it pulled through her, reaching, lifting, warmed by her, and then out of the white lily of her throat and straight to God in heaven.

Joined by no common language except music, the 58 international hostages and their captors forge unexpected bonds. Time stands still, priorities rearrange themselves. Ultimately, of course, something has to give, even in a novel so imbued with the rich imaginative potential of magic realism. But in a fractious world, Bel Canto remains a gentle reminder of the transcendence of beauty and love.


China Boy- Gus Lee

Kai Ting is the only American-born son of an aristocratic Mandarin family that has fled China in the wake of Mao's revolution. Woefully unprepared for life on the streets of San Francisco and speaking a patchwork of Chinese and English that no one but his relatives comprehends, Kai spends a blissful early childhood with his sophisticated older sister and his wonderfully eccentric mother. But Kai's idyl comes to an abrupt end with his mother's death. Suddenly plunged into American culture by his new stepmother, a Philadephia society woman who tried to erase every vestige of China from the household, young Kai desperately searches for somewhere to belong. Warm, funny, and deeply moving, China Boy is a brilliantly rendered novel of family relationships, culture shock, and the perils of growing up in am American of sharp differences and shared humanity.


Coming Up for Air- Karen Foley

Subject: Army Major Chance Rawlins, Helicopter Pilot.Current Status: Soon-to-be-deployed to Afghanistan.

Mission: Report to Captain Jenna Larson for a sexy, one-night inspection.

Obstacle: She's mistaken him for another man!

Major Chance Rawlins has a bit of a reputation, both in and outside of the helicopter cockpit. He's a hotshot, and he knows it. But when he enjoys a spontaneously naughty night with Captain Jenna Larson, Chance realizes Jenna has no idea who he is …and that she's mistaken him for his twin brother!

Since it was just a one-nighter, Chance decides not to give the game away. But when their paths cross again in the dry heat of Afghanistan, Chance sees an opportunity to show Jenna exactly who he is—and what he can do to her. After all, the best pilots know when to hold back…and when to engage in a little sexy fire!


Forever Amber- Kathleen Winsor

Abandoned pregnant and penniless on the teeming streets of London, 16-year-old Amber St. Clare manages, by using her wits, beauty, and courage, to climb to the highest position a woman could achieve in Restoration England-that of favorite mistress of the Merry Monarch, Charles II. From whores and highwaymen to courtiers and noblemen, from events such as the Great Plague and the Fire of London to the intimate passions of ordinary-and extraordinary-men and women, Amber experiences it all. But throughout her trials and escapades, she remains, in her heart, true to the one man she really loves, the one man she can never have. Frequently compared to Gone with the Wind, Forever Amber is the other great historical romance, outselling every other American novel of the 1940s-despite being banned in Boston for its sheer sexiness. A book to read and reread, this edition brings back to print an unforgettable romance and a timeless masterpiece.


Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet-Jamie Ford

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.



In the Prince's Bed-Sabrina Jeffries

From bestselling author Sabrina Jeffries comes the first dazzling novel in a sexy new series featuring three half brothers. Bound together by the royal father who denied them, they've formed a pact to help each other achieve their every desire...including the women of their dreams.
Miss Katherine Merivale is desperate to make a respectable match -- if only her childhood sweetheart would propose! Until he does, she can't touch the fortune she's inherited. So the last thing she needs is notorious rogue Alec Black putting her proposed marriage at risk with his distracting, smoldering gaze and moonlit kisses.

Alec, the Earl of Iversley -- and one of three bastard sons of the Prince of Wales -- is secretly searching for an heiress bride to pay his debts. Fiery Katherine seems the answer to his prayers, and her passionate response to his practiced seduction soon assures him that she is his. But Alec knows Katherine is looking for a love-match, and he wonders...what will happen when she discovers his deception?


Just One kiss- Isabel Sharpe

Nestled in the heart of Seattle, A Taste for All Pleasures is a warm hub of decadent baking delights. Sweet buttery cookies with melted chocolate, yummy cupcakes with creamy soft icing…and the owner, Angela Loukas, is about to meet a mouthwatering morsel of a man—one she can't resist!

Unfortunately, Daniel Flynn is officially celibate. No sex. No dating. It's criminal, really. But once he steps into Angela's shop, he remembers what temptation—in the form of chocolate icing and a mischievous set of chocolate-brown eyes—feels like.

Now he wants to have his cupcakes…and Angela, too!



Kite Runner- Khaled Hosseini

Scheduled for theatre release in November 2007, “The Kite Runner” has a stellar team behind it: Golden Globe-nominated director Marc Forster (“Stranger Than Fiction,” “Finding Neverland,” “Monster’s Ball”) and screenplay writer David Benioff (“Troy”).

The Kite Runner is an unforgettable story of honour, courage and betrayal set in war-torn Afghanistan as two small boys test their friendship to its limits. Compelling, heartrending, and etched with details of a history never before told in fiction, The Kite Runner explores the ways in which we’re damned by our moral failures, and of the extravagant cost of redemption.


Oliver Wiswell-Kenneth Roberts

In Oliver Wiswell, Kenneth Roberts portrays the view of the Loyalists (those colonists who supported the British monarchy) in the American Revolution. Though branded by U.S. history as cowardly traitors, many of them were people of strong convictions and fierce bravery.


Sarah's Key-Tatiana de Rosnay

Paris, July 1942: Sarah, a ten year-old girl, is brutally arrested with her family by the French police in the Vel' d'Hiv' roundup, but not before she locks her younger brother in a cupboard in the family's apartment, thinking that she will be back within a few hours.
Paris, May 2002: On Vel' d'Hiv's 60th anniversary, journalist Julia Jarmond is asked to write an article about this black day in France's past. Through her contemporary investigation, she stumbles onto a trail of long-hidden family secrets that connect her to Sarah. Julia finds herself compelled to retrace the girl's ordeal, from that terrible term in the Vel d'Hiv', to the camps, and beyond. As she probes into Sarah's past, she begins to question her own place in France, and to reevaluate her marriage and her life.
Tatiana de Rosnay offers us a brilliantly subtle, compelling portrait of France under occupation and reveals the taboos and silence that surround this painful episode.



Songs of Willow Frost- Jamie Ford

Twelve-year-old William Eng, a Chinese-American boy, has lived at Seattle’s Sacred Heart Orphanage ever since his mother’s listless body was carried away from their small apartment five years ago. On his birthday—or rather, the day the nuns designate as his birthday—William and the other orphans are taken to the historical Moore Theatre, where William glimpses an actress on the silver screen who goes by the name of Willow Frost. Struck by her features, William is convinced that the movie star is his mother, Liu Song.

Determined to find Willow, and prove his mother is still alive, William escapes from Sacred Heart with his friend Charlotte. The pair navigates the streets of Seattle, where they must not only survive, but confront the mysteries of William’s past and his connection to the exotic film star. The story of Willow Frost, however, is far more complicated than the Hollywood fantasy William sees onscreen.

Shifting between the Great Depression and the 1920s, Songs of Willow Frost takes readers on an emotional journey of discovery. Jamie Ford’s sweeping book will resonate with anyone who has ever longed for the comforts of family and a place to call home.


The Barbarians are coming-David Wong Louie

Sterling Lung grew up in the back of his parent's laundry dreaming about being a real American while speaking Chinese to his mother, English to his friends, and very little to the father he seemed always to disappoint. Now twenty-six and a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, Sterling cooks French food for the WASP ladies of a private club in Connecticut and conducts an arm's-length affair with an old Swarthmore classmate, a Jewish-American Princess from New Canaan, thereby frustrating his father's dream of a doctor son and his mother's scheme for a Chinese bride. For Sterling's parents, the barbarians are not coming: they are here now.In a tale that alternates between black comedy and out-and-out slapstick, between the pain of a son alienated from his father and a father an alien in his son's native land, The Barbarians Are Coming reveals the deep psychic wounds each man has suffered even as it ultimately leads to a reconciliation that is as moving as it is necessary. Here is a tale of the immigrant experience -- indeed, of the American experience: of the deracination of the second generation and the wrenching losses of the first.


The Good Woman-Jane Porter

Is it possible to leave it all behind?

The firstborn of a large Irish-American family, Meg Brennan Roberts is a successful publicist, faithful wife, and doting mother who prides herself on always making the right decisions. But years of being “the good woman” have taken a toll and though her winery career thrives, Meg feels burned out and empty, and more disconnected than ever from her increasingly distant husband. Lonely and disheartened, she attends the London Wine Fair with her boss, ruggedly handsome vintner, Chad Hallahan. It’s here, alone together in an exotic city, far from “real” life, that Chad confesses his long-standing desire for Meg.

Overwhelmed, flattered, and desperately confused, Meg returns home, only to suddenly question every choice she’s ever made, especially that of her marriage. For Meg, something’s got to give, and for once in her life she flees her responsibilities—but with consequences as reckless and irreversible as they are liberating. Now she must decide whether being the person everyone needs is worth losing the woman she was meant to be.


The Scent of Sake- Joyce Chapman Lebra

She was taught to submit, to obey . . . but she dreamed of an empire.

The sole heir to the House of Omura, a venerable family of Kobe sake brewers, nineteen-year-old Rie hears but cannot heed her mother's advice: that in nineteenth-century Japan, a woman must "kill the self" or her life will be too difficult to bear. In this strict, male-dominated society, women may not even enter the brewery—and repressive tradition demands that Rie turn over her family's business to the inept philanderer she's been forced to marry. She is even expected to raise her husband's children by another woman—a geisha—so that they can eventually run the Omura enterprise.

But Rie's pride will not allow her to relinquish what is rightfully hers. With courage, cunning, brilliance, and skill, she is ready to confront every threat that arises before her—from prejudice to treachery to shipwrecks to the insidious schemes of relentless rivals—in her bold determination to forge a magnificent dynasty...and to, impossibly, succeed.

An epic and breathtaking saga that spans generations as it sweeps through the heart of a century, Joyce Lebra's The Scent of Sake is a vivid and powerful entry into another world...and an unforgettable portrait of a woman who would not let that world defeat her.


The Street of a Thousand Blossoms-Gail Tsukiyama

"Just remember," Yoshio said quietly to his grandsons. "Every day of your lives, you must always be sure what you're fighting for."

It is Tokyo in 1939. On the Street of a Thousand Blossoms, two orphaned brothers are growing up with their loving grandparents, who inspire them to dream of a future firmly rooted in tradition. The older boy, Hiroshi, shows unusual skill at the national obsession of sumo wrestling, while Kenji is fascinated by the art of creating hard-carved masks for actors in the Noh theater.

Across town, a renowned sumo master, Sho Tanaka, lives with his wife and their two young daughters: the delicate, daydreaming Aki and her independent sister, Haru. Life seems full of promise as Kenji begins an informal apprenticeship with the most famous mask-maker in Japan and Hiroshi receives a coveted invitation to train with Tanaka. But then Pearl Harbor changes everything. As the ripples of war spread to both families' quiet neighborhoods, all of the generations must put their dreams on hold---and then find their way in a new Japan.

In an exquisitely moving story that spans almost thirty years, Gail Tsukiyama draws us irresistibly into the world of the brothers and the women who love them. It is a world of tradition and change, of heartbreaking loss and surprising hope, and of the impact of events beyond their control on ordinary, decent men and women. Above all, The Street of a Thousand Blossoms is a masterpiece about love and family from a glorious storyteller at the height of her powers.


I am already reading Songs of Willow Frost by Jamie Ford. Which book after Songs of Willow Frost should I read next? Please comment and thanks!

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