Tag: Jamie Ford

Fall 2017 Fiction Mini-Reviews

Hey there, stranger! Yes, I know, it’s been a while. After a busy summer of travel, at the beginning of September my husband and I started the process of buying our first home.  We took possession at the end of October, and moved in November 1. It was a big change that has pretty much consumed my life for the last several months! I didn’t read as much as usual, and my writing time was eaten up by packing, packing, and more packing. Then the packing become unpacking, and things are slowly starting to get back to normal. Here are a few mini-reviews of some of what I read while I was away.

Exit, Pursued by a Bear

Cover image for Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E. K. Johnston by E.K. Johnston

ISBN  9781101994580

This YA novel is a loose modern retelling of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale. Hermione Winters and her best friend Polly are newly elected co-captains of the Palermo Heights cheer leading team, heading into their senior year, and their final summer cheer camp at Camp Manitouwabing. But all of their plans for the summer are thrown off course when Herimione is drugged, raped, and left in the lake. The book is an interesting and deliberate divergence from the commonly experienced reality of many rape victims, in that Hermione enjoys a supportive family, and is helped by police and counselors. However, she faces controversy in the community, and the wrath of her ex-boyfriend, Leo, who blames her for what happened. Although the identity of Hermione’s assailant is unknown, this is not really a who-dunnit. Rather, it is an emotional chronicle of the consequences of rape, further magnified by the fact that anytime Hermione encounters a boy who was at camp, she must face the idea that he could be her rapist. The biggest standout of this book is the strong female friendship depicted between Hermione and Polly, who echoes Shakespeare’s Paulina.

Love and Other Consolation Prizes

Cover image for Love and Other Consolation Prizes by Jamie Ford by Jamie Ford

ISBN 9780525492580

This is Ford’s third historical novel, this time set in Seattle during the 1909 Alaska Yukon Pacific Exposition. Ford opens on the better remembered 1962 fair, and uses it to echo and reflect the main action of 1909. The plot was inspired by a fascinating newspaper clipping from the AYP Expo, advertising the fact that an orphan boy was one of the raffle prizes at the fair. The fate of the real boy is unknown, but in his novel, Ford imagines what might have become of a young half-Chinese boy named Ernest, whose winning ticket is sold to the madam of an infamous brothel. Raised in a Catholic orphanage, Ernest comes to the red light district as the temperance movement is surging in the city, and finds himself caught between the Japanese house girl, Fahn, and Madam Flora’s stubborn daughter, Maisie. As usual with Jamie Ford, I was most fascinated by the carefully incorporated local history. This seems to be his passion, and I often wonder what would happen if he tried his hand at non-fiction. (Disclaimer: I received access to an Advance Reader’s Copy of this book through the library where I work.)

The Turner House

Cover image for The Turner House by Angela Fluornoyby Angela Fluornoy

ISBN 9780544705166

Fluornoy’s debut novel is a complex family tale that follows how the thirteen Turner siblings must grapple with what to do with the house on Yarrow Street where they grew up after their mother is too old to live alone any longer. Fluornoy focuses on the oldest sibling, Charles, aka Cha-Cha, and the youngest, Lela, separated by more than twenty-three years in age, and eleven siblings. Cha-Cha is in therapy after having claimed to have seen a ghost, and Lela is struggling mightily to hide a gambling addiction. Flashbacks illuminate the history of their parents, Francis and Viola Turner, who came North to Detroit for the promise of a better life than the one the South offered its black citizens. Thematically, the book deals broadly with place, both the importance of the Turner family home, and the history that resides there, and also the city of Detroit. Fluornoy also addresses the legacy of addiction within and between generations of a family, and how families understand mental health and addiction more generally. The plot is slow moving, but the highlight is the complex family dynamic amongst the many siblings.


Q1 Challenge Report 2015

Happy April Fool’s Day! This post is not a joke. Rather, it is time to report in on how I’ve been doing with the reading goals I set myself all the way back in January.

2015 Goodreads Challenge

2015 Goodreads Reading Challenge LogoI set my reading meter to 116 books, and have gotten mildly ahead of schedule. I have read 40 books so far, putting me at 35% finished when I only need to be at 25%. The original idea was to slow down a bit and focus on my second goal, but I already had a bunch of books on hold at the library, so I plowed ahead and kept reading them as they came in. I did have to continue to keep my eye on what I was reading though, in order to stay on top of my second goal.

Diversify 2015

Reading 116 books in a year isn’t much of a challenge for me, but last year only 10% of the books I read were by authors who aren’t white. This isn’t surprising given the state of the publishing industry, but it was something I wanted to do better at. Knowing myself, I need to have a measurable goal in order to change, so I set the challenge that 25% of the books I read in 2015 would be by authors who are members of a visible minority.

Of the 26 books I have reviewed so far this year, 12 of them have been by diverse authors, putting my reviewed books at an amazing 46%. However, I’ve also read quite a few books that I haven’t reviewed. Of the 40 total books I’ve read this year, 14 of them were by diverse authors, so my actual total is more like 35%, still well ahead of my goal of 25%. You can find the qualifying reviews by checking out the posts in my Challenges category.

I’ve discovered that plenty of books by diverse authors are crossing my radar on a regular basis; it is just a matter of flagging those books and giving them a higher priority on my TBR pile. Even without pushing myself to read genres or topics that are outside my usual areas of interest, I have had no trouble finding plenty of diverse books for this challenge. I’ve got a stack of a dozen more qualifying books standing by, and still more on hold at the library. I finally read the truly excellent Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. I became utterly immersed in Aaliya’s strange literary rituals in An Unneccesary Woman by Rabih Alameddine, and next week I am leading a book group discussion of The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez. I didn’t love every book I read (looking at you Songs of Willow Frost) but so far, the challenge has been an overwhelmingly positive experience.

How are your 2015 reading challenges going? Do you have any diverse books you would like to recommend?

Songs of Willow Frost

 Cover image for Songs of Willow Frost by Jamie Fordby Jamie Ford

ISBN 978-0-345-52203-0

“You can’t expect children to sew their own gaping wounds without leaving a terrible scar.”

Five years ago, at the beginning of the Great Depression, twelve-year-old William Eng found his mother bleeding out in the bathtub of their apartment in the Bush Hotel in Seattle’s Chinatown. Since then, he has lived at Sacred Heart Orphanage under the watchful eye of Sister Briganti. Sometimes children are retrieved by their parents or adopted, but Chinese William, and his friends, Native American Sunny and blind Charlotte, have little hope of finding a new home. On a joint birthday outing for all the boys at the orphanage, William spots an Asian actress on screen who is a dead ringer for his mother, Liu Song. When he discovers that the actress, Willow Frost, will be coming through Seattle on tour, he sets out to meet her, determined to get the answers the nuns have so long denied him. Running away with Charlotte in tow, William learns the tragic and complicated story of how he came to live at Sacred Heart. The history he uncovers lays bare the plight of Chinese-Americans and Chinese immigrants in Depression-era Seattle.

Social injustice and oppression are rife in this story that begins in Seattle at the time of the Chinese Exclusion Act, and continues through the Great Depression. Even before the Depression, it was difficult for women to obtain legitimate employment, and the pay from the jobs that were available was meager. Non-white theatre-goers had to sit in a separate section, and coloured performers were relegated to the servants’ dining room of the venues that warmly receive their white counterparts. An American-born Chinese woman could not marry a white American, but risked losing her citizenship if she wed a man born in China. Poor women and members of minorities were subjected to involuntary sterilization at the hands of the state under the cover of medical aid. The list of atrocities is long, and historical remove turns the perpetrators of these injustices into flat, villainous caricatures.

With so many misfortunes in a single book, it is no surprise that most of the characters have more than one tragedy in their backstory. A tragic past is not the same thing as character development, but unfortunately Jamie Ford often treats it as such. While this certainly conveys the bleakness of the Depression, people who are little more than catalogues of tragedies make for unrealistic characters. William’s friend, and fellow runaway, Charlotte, is dealt with particularly unjustly. One of William’s few friends at Sacred Heart, she is the stereotype of a blind character, with acute hearing, and the ability to tell who has approached her without seeing them. Ford disposes of her quite callously when she is no longer useful to the story.

The main strengths of Songs of Willow Frost are historical colour and local interest strongly supported by Ford’s research (see the Author’s Note and Acknowledgements, particularly if you are local to Puget Sound and want to visit some of the museums and libraries that supported this project). William affects his escape from Sacred Heart in the back of the King County Library bookmobile, and the story stops at many recognizable Seattle landmarks, including Smith Tower’s Chinese Room. Ford neatly slips the developments in the film and music industries of the period, and other technological advances into the fabric of the story. Only occasionally does he get a little carried away, letting history overwhelm the narrative. Unfortunately, these real elements are frequently more interesting that the fiction that surrounds them.