Book Chat

This month’s book reviews (post contains affiliate links):

hotel on the corner of bitter and sweet

I loved Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet before even opening it. The title and the cover — how could you not be entranced by this book? It’s the story of Henry, a Chinese man in his late ’50s who has recently become a widower. He is searching through the Panama Hotel, where belongings of several Japanese families have been stored since those families were sent to internment camps during WWII. The story goes back and forth between the ’80s and WWII, when Henry was growing up and met a Japanese girl, Keiko, who he becomes quite attached to.

The story is sweet, but somehow I didn’t love it as much as I thought I would. I liked the storyline okay, and the writing flowed easily — most of the time. There were a few jarring lines, for instance: The sum total of Henry’s Japanese friends happened to be a number that rhymed with hero. Really? The book does have its moments, and I think many people might love it.  I didn’t really connect to the characters as much as I like to, and it just didn’t quite work for me. I preferred Thin Wood Walls, about the same topic (WWII Japanese internment camps).

Welcome Home Tiner
Welcome Home is the sweet story of Jake, a black lab who begins life in a terrible way and decides to run away. This is the story of his journey to the man whose voice he has heard over and over in his dreams. Along the way, Jake has many adventures and is joined by other dog friends, and even a cat! This book isn’t rocket science, but it’s sweet and heart-warming and I enjoyed it. I think it would be ideal for an elementary or middle school-age child who loves animals. It would make a great read-aloud to your kids as well. Billi Tiner is a vet, which adds to the book’s appeal, to me at least.


Thanks to the wonders of the internet, I’ve been in touch with Billi. She’s really friendly, and you can feel free to get in touch as well:


Flight of Gemma HardyI was excited to read The Flight of Gemma Hardy, since it was billed as a modern-day retelling of “Jane Eyre” — my favorite book of all time. I discovered JE as a teen, and the angst of that age no doubt helped heighten the book’s already-intense emotions. Poor, plain Jane — living such a pitiful life, and then chosen by the tall, dark, brooding and handsome Mr. Rochester! Then the trauma of the crazy wife in the attic and Jane fleeing because she was so good, before finally returning to find a broken Mr. Rochester, among the ashes of his former mansion, and of course it all ends happily.
So. Gemma Hardy is our Jane, although she lives in 1960s Scotland. I had to keep reminding myself that the story was set in the 1960s, because it kept seeming much earlier/older than that to me. Then there would be odd moments where characters would get on a plane and I’d remember the actual time setting. Gemma does begin life similarly to Jane, being mistreated by mean girls at a bleak school. Like Jane, she finds a true friend, only to have the friend die.

This part of the book is really great — wonderful writing, and I didn’t want to put it down. For me, the book went downhill after that. Gemma/Jane is hired as a nanny to a little girl, and the lord of the manor is Mr. Sinclair/Rochester. To me, the connection between Gemma and Sinclair wasn’t developed enough to make me care much. There wasn’t the angst that the Jane/Rochester relationship had. Then, when the two are minutes from getting married, stable guy Seamus shows up. No, there’s no crazy wife in the attic (although I kinda think there needed to be). Seamus has some vague tale about how he and Sinclair traded identities years back to avoid Sinclair serving in the military. In the meantime, Seamus has loved and his lover died — so he doesn’t think it’s right that Sinclair and Gemma find happiness! I’m not sure about his reasoning, but okay, then.

Gemma takes off and lives with some really nice folks who rescue her from the side of the road. She tutors a little boy. But she keeps wanting to learn more about her dead parents’ roots in Iceland, and one day she steals money from one of these nice people and flies to Iceland. This was the part of the book that I really didn’t enjoy. I just didn’t care about all the Iceland stuff, didn’t feel like I learned much that was worth knowing, and I was really disliking Gemma for stealing and being a pretty icky human. I mean, in JE Jane leaves Rochester and lives with the St. Johns and I remember being so impressed by how good she was. She sacrificed a lot for the sake of doing what was right. No such qualms with Gemma.

The book ends with Gemma flying back from Iceland — and she looks up, only to find that Sinclair has come over and sat down next to her on the plane. They will be reunited! Although by now, I don’t really care.

I’m still giving this book 4 out of 5 stars because it began so well and it’s really well-written. It’s just too bad that the second half of the book didn’t live up to the promise of the first half. Anxious to hear what other JE fans thought of it …


America the Beautiful Carson

 I was excited to sign onto the library’s lengthy waiting list to read America the Beautiful: Rediscovering What Made This Nation Great after hearing Dr. Carson speak (on TV) at a recent prayer breakfast. This book combines vignettes from his life with his ideas on why America is great and how we can keep it that way.

At the risk of sounding political, my first thought just a few pages in was why couldn’t this guy have been our first black President? Carson was raised by a single mom with a third-grade education. He faced a life of poverty and challenges, but he ended up becoming a world-famous neurosurgeon. Throughout the book, his common sense and practicality shines through. He would seem to be a great candidate, because he often alludes to the idea that all voices need to be heard, etc. He also emphasizes that doctors and other professionals have been trained to think logically and to solve problems, so wouldn’t in make sense to elect them to office? If the US needs anything right now, it’s people in charge who can make wise decisions and implement them.

Carson shares his views on capitalism, socialism, morality, defense, healthcare, and more. With news of his upcoming retirement from medicine, this book could be a great campaign tool for him should he decide to run for office. I’d vote for him! Interesting book, recommended. It will make you feel good — or at least hopeful — about America again.

Check out more book reviews at 5 Minutes for Books.

12 thoughts on “Book Chat

  1. I’ve wanted to read Hotel for some time, though your review makes me wonder if I’ll like it. I love JE, too, but I’m not sure the reselling would do it for me. However, the Ben Carson book sounds great! 🙂

  2. The Seymour Library has my name on the waiting list for America the Beautiful. I love what I know about Dr. Ben Carson and read Gifted Hands. In Gifted Hands I enjoyed most the section about his growing up years. I guess I could relate more to that than information about his work as a neurosurgeon. It seems my reading in general has sort of hit a snag, for now. Too much more I need to be doing.

  3. I loved Ben Carson’s Gifted Hands. This new book sounds good as well.

    Too bad about the Gemma Hardy book — it sounded so promising at the beginning.

  4. I read Hotel on the Corner a month or so ago and enjoyed it. It is a sweet story. So I’d probably like Thin Wood Walls too.

    Maybe I need to add myself to the waiting list for America the Beautiful by Carson. Nice review. Thanks for sharing your books!

  5. Ditto on “The Flight of Gemma Hardy”. I so loved the beginning of the book (though I also got lost in the time warp). Your review sums up my experience with the book better than I could.

    I really did enjoy “Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet” though. Adding ‘America the Beautiful’ to my wish list.

  6. I am currently re-reading Jane Eyre, which I love, so I’ll probably try out the other book, but it’s hard to re-tell such a classic, I’m sure. As for Ben Carson, perhaps we’ll get a chance to see how he’d do as a President! (If you want to watch a great Jane Eyre movie, the BBC production with Ruth Wilson is superb! And Gifted Hands, the movie about Ben Carson, is really good, too).

  7. I enjoyed reading your thoughts on the books – especially the Jane Eyre remake. I loved Jane Eyre and I’m not sure I could read a disappointing remake of that great book.

  8. Having enjoyed the movie of Ben Carson, I think I’ll try for “America the Beautiful.”

  9. I really enjoyed The Hotel at the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. So much so that I’m going to have to nab a copy of Thin Wood Walls. Hadn’t heard of that one but thanks for the tip!

  10. Like all the rest, I enjoyed Hot at the Corner of Bitter and Sweet (although, yes, there was some awkward writing at times)–and I will have to pick up Thin Wood Walls. Good news is, my library has a copy!

Thanks for taking the time to comment. I enjoy hearing your thoughts.