Monday, November 26, 2012

Thanksgiving Reads...

Over the Thanksgiving holiday I had an opportunity to read a couple of books. It was so nice to complete a book cover to cover without the hustle and bustle of my full-time job as a teacher. No papers to grade, no lessons to write; just me and the words on the page.

I have two book reviews for you today.

The first book I started over the Thanksgiving break was Reached by Allie Condie. This is the third book in the Matched series. I review both Matched and Crossed previously. You can find the reviews for each book by clicking their title.

If you read my previous reviews of this series, you will note that I absolutely LOVED both books. Which is why I'm having such a hard time writing about Reached. Unfortunately, it did not "reach" my expectations of a strong finale in the series. Much like The Hunger Games series that fizzled out with Mockingjay, Reached left me reaching for a better ending.

The characters did not grow. Who they were in book one was who they remained until the end. Given the circumstances and dystopian nature of the series, I felt like each major character should have experienced a significant change. The novel series, based on the concept of a corrupt government that is superseded by yet another corrupt government seemed to have little impact on their way of life. I wanted to see more strength from Cassia, more depth from Ky, more scheming from Xander.

The plot was too predictable and in the end, everything was tied up in a neat little bow. Based on the first two books, I wanted a war waged. Instead, I got a battle, and a minimal one at best. The language used was quite mediocre and more so in the final book than the others, I felt like the author wrote "down" for the sake of playing her words to a teen audience.  

It pains me to say these things, because I thought this series was really going somewhere great. I would give the book a 2 out of 5 stars though for minimal character development, simplistic sentence structure, and a predictable plot. While I can't recommend the novel, if you need to see how it all plays out, give it a read. However, my hunch is you probably already know.

I, however, hope this series isn't the last we'll see of Ally Condie. Her ideas are strong and in my experience with authors, once they've developed a writing dynamic, their work betters with age and time. I would like to see a solo work from her rather than a series. It seems the series concept is "all the rage" with young adult literature. Sometimes, it's just a single great story that needs to be told. 

For more information about Ally Condie, visit her at


My second read over the Thanksgiving break was Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford. This book has been on my Kindle for quite some time. I saw it listed as a "book club" read awhile back and purchased it. It sat, collecting dust on the proverbial shelf, for almost a year. I don't know why. I wanted to read the novel, but other things just kept coming along. It was shuffled to the back of my reading list and until the break, I hadn't had time to update my books. I'm glad I did.

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet was simply that, bitter and sweet. This novel chronicles the life of Henry Lee who has just lost his wife to cancer. Trying his best to find a rhythm to life again after caring for his wife in his home (against his son Marty's wishes), Lee find himself standing outside the Panama Hotel that used to be a grand place in Japantown. A crowd of people have gathered there and much to Lee's surprise, a wealth of items have been uncovered from the basement of the hotel belonging to Japanese Americans that were interred in prison camps during WWII.  Lee knew, in his mind, the items were there all along, but time has a way of befuddling a person's memory. Upon seeing a particular parasol on display, Lee is taken back to this time period where his father made him wear a button that read "I am Chinese" so their family wouldn't be confused with the Japanese seen as the enemy, and he made and lost his first true love. His journey as a child forced him to make decisions that cost him his friends and his family, but decisions that provided him with his future.  This novel is a solid coming of age story set in a time period where few people of Asian decent were allowed to reach their full potential in their own culture and rather, their parents wanted to "Americanize" them.  

The novel is beautifully written with excellent characterization and depth. The struggle between the Asian cultures and the American cultures are highlighted through the use of all races. The historical notes of a time period America likes to ignore (putting people in prison camps on our land while we fought the Germans for doing the same thing to Jews) accentuates the arrogance of our nation during a time of great unrest.  A fondness for Jazz music not only grounds Henry's relationship with his friend Keiko as a child, but draws a sharp contrast of his relationship with his family. This novel explores both the triumphs and downfalls of human relationships with a natural ebb and flow. In the end, this book reminded me, and I'm sure all those whom have read it, that time heals all wounds and it is truly never too late to live, to love, to lose, to forgive.

I would give this book a comfortable 4 out 5 of five stars. It spoke to me, and is a book I will continue to think about for years to come.

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is Jamie Ford's breakout novel.  (From Jamie is the great grandson of Nevada mining pioneer Min Chung, who emigrated from Kaiping, China, to San Francisco in 1865, where he adopted the western name "Ford," thus confusing countless generations. An award-winning short-story writer, Ford is an alumnus of the Squaw Valley Community of Writers and a survivor of Orson Scott Card's Literary Boot Camp. Having grown up near Seattle's Chinatown, he now lives in Montana (where he's on a never-ending quest to find decent dim sum).

Visit him at, where he can be found blogging about his next book, WHISPERS OF A THUNDER GOD, among other things.

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