28 February 2014

Friday's Review: Songs of Willow Frost by Jamie Ford

This book was provided by the publisher through Netgalley in exchange for my review

Genre:  Historical Fiction
Page Count:  352 pages
List Price:  $26.00 Hardback
                $15.00 Paperback
                $12.99 Digital                
Publication Date:  September 10, 2013
Publisher:  Ballantine Books

My Rating:  4 out of 5 stars

Early in my reading career, I read two books which started my fascination with other cultures, Hawaii by James Michener, and  James Clavell's Shogun.  My first real book about Asian culture in the US was Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club and since then I have been fascinated by Asian culture reading several books by Gail Tsukiyama, Lisa See, Amy Tan, and others.  I am happy to say that Jamie Ford's second novel, Songs of Willow Frost is another book that I can add to the list.

Songs of Willow Frost is the poignant story of 12 year-old orphan William Eng and the beautiful Asian actress, Willow Frost.  While on a field trip to the theater from the orphanage where he lives, William is surprised to recognize the famous actress.  You see, William knew her when she was just an Asian beauty living in Seattle's Chinatown and going by the name of Lui Song.  William becomes convinced that he has to meet Willow, to see if she still recognizes him.  When she does, both Willow and William are thrust back into the stories of their past.

This book worked for me on several levels.  The story flowed well, keeping me interested in the pages to come.  Although I liked the part when William was in the orphanage, and I liked this relationship with Charlotte, by far my favorite part of the book was when Willow was telling the story about her life as Lui Song.  I thought that her story painted a really good picture of what life would have been like for someone in her position, containing just the right amount of sorrow and depression without being too negative.  In addition, I liked the way that her story highlighted the prejudices of the time period, and the strictness of the Asian culture.

One of the things that especially spoke to me was the way that William ended up in the orphanage.  This book takes place during a time period when many families could not support themselves and resorted to leaving their children in an orphanage.  My own grandmother and her brothers and sisters were dropped at an orphanage for that reason.  Things were different then, and for some families, this is the only way that they could cope.  For that reason, I really appreciated the way that the orphanage in this book was portrayed, and the decisions that Willow had to make regarding William and what was best for both of them.  Although the ending of the book was a bit ambiguous, given the history of the time and the culture that William and Willow belonged to, I thought that it fit the story.

A lot of people have said that, although they liked this book, it was not as good and Jamie Ford's debut novel, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet.  I, myself, have not read that book, so I cannot speak to how this one stacks up, but for me, this book was a beautifully written and wonderful trip into a time and culture that I can only read about.  For that reason, I give it 4 stars and would recommend it as a must read book.


25 February 2014

Monday's Review: The House on the Cliff by Charlotte Williams

This book was provided by the author in exchange for my review

Genre: Mystery/Thriller
Page Count: 352 Pages
List Price:  $14.99 Print          
                $10.99 Digital
Publication Date: January 7, 2014
Publisher:  Bourbon Street Books

My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Some of the best mystery/thrillers that I have read have belonged to the genre of "psychological thriller", so when I read the synopsis for Charlotte Williams' debut novel, The House on the Cliff,  I was immediately intrigued.  Therapist Jessica Mayhew has just met her new client, the brooding Gwydion Morgan.  As an aspiring actor, Gwydion has just been offered the role of a lifetime, but he suffers from an unlikely phobia that could end his ability to handle the part.  As Jessica tries to help him overcome the phobia, she becomes aware of another problem that threatens not only Gwydion, but her life as well.

If I had to categorize The House on the Cliff, I would have a hard time choosing the type of thriller it is. There were definitely elements of the psychological thriller in the book, but at times it almost had a "Gothic" feel to it.  You have a young women hired to help a brooding, dark man under whose spell she increasingly falls, a domineering mother, a forbidding house on windswept cliff above the sea, and a decades old unsolved death.  At times it reminded me of the books of either Victoria Holt or Georgette Heyer, only this one was set in the current time period.  In fact, I thought the book worked much more as a Gothic than as a psychological thriller.  I loved that the author included the uniquely Welsh spelling of the names, also.  It gave the book a more real feel to me.  And although I was able to figure out the ultimate resolution to the murder early on, in a Gothic story that is not necessarily a drawback.

There were a few things, though, that kept the book from being a 4 or 5 star read for me.  For one thing, the original phobia that Gwydion is trying to overcome has really nothing to do with the rest of the book.  After using it to introduce the main two characters, the author lets it fall in the cracks.   Unfortunately for me, I found myself wondering why the phobia developed and whether it could have played a more integral part of the story.  There were a couple of other plot disconnects similar to that that I found myself wondering about and wishing were either left out of the story altogether, or were integrated in the story more successfully.

All in all, I enjoyed this debut novel.  I believe Charlotte Williams definitely has a future as an author of thrillers, and look forward to reading more from her in the future.