Parker’s Picks, April/May 2010

Alice I Have Been – by Melanie Benjamin

Alice I Have Been (Hardcover) by Melanie Benjamin 

  As I child I loved watching Disney’s, “Alice in Wonderland.” I was quite fascinated by the characters Alice meets on her journey. Eventually I read, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll. Little did I realize as I read this delightful tale there actually had been a real life Alice whom Lewis Carroll (Charles Dodgson) based his story on.
Recently I was fortunate enough to attend Melanie Benjamin’s book signing and launch party in January at Anderson’s Book Shop, in Naperville, IL. Her new novel, Alice I Have Been, is the fictional account of Alice Liddell Hargreaves’s life and her encounter with Charles Dodgson – aka – Lewis Carroll. At Oxford, Alice’s father was the Dean of Christ Church. Alice and her family were friends of Charles Dodgson who was a professor there. Dodgson spent time with Alice and her two sisters and told them many stories. One in particular, Alice asked him to write about. It was of a young girl falling down a rabbit hole. For unknown reasons, the Liddell family abruptly broke off their association with Dodgson. There is no available information concerning what happened. For Benjamin, this was her chance to write what she thinks happened, as she says, Alice I Have Been, is Alice’s story.
Benjamin’s words transported me back in time to Alice’s world. She has spun a superb tale. Alice, at the age of 11, wanted Dodgson to write the Alice story because she would then be forever young. Do we all secretly wish the same – our youth? I was brought to tears as Alice, as an older woman, reflected on her life. It made me stop to reflect as well. Alice I Have Been is a treasure waiting to be open and enjoyed! I now am re-reading, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland to discover a bit of Alice!

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet – by Jamie Ford

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet (Hardcover) by Jamie Ford 

Oai deki te ureshii desu” (How are you today, beautiful?)
“The Best Book Club Ever” February read was, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, by Jamie Ford. Our group met for dinner last night and had a first-rate discussion of the novel. This month since it was my book choice, I was compelled to research the subject of the Japanese Internment Camps since it played a main factor in the book. I felt it was important to discuss the fear which gripped the country after the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the United States entrance into World War II. I also brought along two books of interest, Farewell to Manzanar, by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston & James D. Houston. It is the true story of a Japanese American family interred at the Manzanar camp. The other book is a children’s book which I read to students, Baseball Saved Us, by Ken Mochizuki. This is a fictional account of how a young boy finds something to look forward to during his time at an internment camp. Interestingly enough I found out the author’s parents were at the Minidoka internment camp in Idaho which is the same camp that one of the main characters, Keiko Okabe, and her family were sent to live.

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet contains many elements which make it an excellent choice for book clubs to talk about. We were of the same opinion that cultural diversity and prejudices and loyalties were at the heart of Ford’s book. The story is told from the past and the present. It alternates from Henry as a 56-year-old to Henry as a 12-year-old boy living in Seattle at the time of World War II. It revolves around Henry Lee, who is Chinese and his friendship with a Japanese girl, Keiko Okabe. It’s a story of young love and the lengths one will go for it.
It was informative as to the pride of the Chinese and how it played an important role in the book. Henry’s relationship with his father was a component of the novel we probably addressed throughout the evening because as the book proceeds to the present, the reader learns of Henry’s relationship with his own son, Marty.
Music, in particular, jazz, plays an integral ingredient as well. Henry becomes friends with jazz musician, Sheldon Thomas, which in turn introduces Henry as well as Keiko, to the music of Oscar Holden and the song, “The Alley Cat Strut.” The 78” record of this song we all felt was very symbolic also.
The Panama Hotel seemed to be a character in itself throughout the book. Our group felt this is where “the bitter and the sweet” converged from beginning to the end.
We all agreed our favorite quote from the book, referring to Henry’s father, was, “His father had said once that the hardest choices in life aren’t between what’s right and wrong but between what’s right and what’s best.” (p. 204) Without giving anything away, we liked it because, to many of us, it was the heart of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet.
It’s my hope you will also find this story as moving as I did. Domo! (Thank you!)

Labor Day – by Joyce Maynard

Labor Day: A Novel 

This is a coming-of-age story about 13-year-old Henry, his depressed mother, Adele, and Frank, an escaped convict running from the law.  Living in Holton Mills, New Hampshire, Frank holds Henry and Adele hostage over the long Labor Day weekend. Henry is that type of person who doesn’t have any friends and doesn’t excel in anything special.  What Henry learns from Frank in only five days, he will take with him into his adult life. The characters are so well developed you seem to get to know the personally. I was captivated by Henry’s narrative as a man as he looks back at that mesmerizing moment in his life. I think you will be too.

Lips Touch: Three Times – by Laini Taylor

Lips Touch: Three Times 

Lips Touch: Three Times has been the recipient  of numerous awards,  National Book Award Nominee for Young People’s Literature (2009),  British Fantasy  for Top Ten (2010), and Cybils Award Nominee for Young Adult Fantasy and Science Fiction (2009).  This book was so captivating. It drew me quickly into the tales and held my interest.  There are three stories in the book. In each tale a different girl longs for kiss which in the end might be deadly. The first story, Goblin Fruit, was my favorite. It was reminiscent of Eve and the forbidden fruit.

“There is a certain kind of girl the goblins crave. You could walk across a high school campus and point them out: not her, not her, her. The pert, lovely ones with butterfly tattoos in secret places, sitting on their boyfriends’ laps? No, not them. The girls watching the lovely ones sitting on their boyfriends’ laps? Yes.
Them.
The goblins want girls who dream so hard about being pretty their yearning leaves a palpable trail, a scent goblins follow like sharks on a soft bloom of blood. The girls with hungry eyes who pray each night to wake up as someone else. Urgent, unkissed, wishful girls.
Like Kizzy…..”    Hope this sparks your interest to read it!

The Lonely Hearts Club – by Elizabeth Eulberg

The Lonely Hearts Club 

Penny Lane Bloom –her parents are Beatles fanatics-has had it with boys after her boyfriend cheats on her. What does she do? She creates her very own, “Lonely Hearts Club.”  Penny is weary of guys and the games they play. Her friend Dianne conveys how once a girl finds a boy – you forget about your girlfriends and sometimes alter who you are just to make your boyfriend happy.  Soon not only are her friends joining the club but other girls in her high school.  There are six simple rules to follow to be in the club – read the book to find out what they are!  I also took pleasure from all of the Beatle references throughout the book.  I found myself totally enjoying Eulberg’s debut novel! It took me back to my high school days!  Every girl can relate to the story and the message it conveys. This is a timeless message to all girls – be true to yourself.

Elizabeth Eulberg will be at Anderson’s Bookshop, in Naperville, Illinois, on Saturday, May 1, 2010, at 2:00 p.m.  Stop by and meet her – I’ll be there!

Love in Translation – by Wendy Tokunaga

Love in Translation: A Novel (Paperback) by Wendy Tokunaga 

I started reading, Love in Translation, right after I had finished, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, by Jamie Ford. It seemed like an appropriate segue since in the previous book I learned so much about Japanese families and their culture. The author, Wendy Tokunaga, sent me a copy to read. Not really knowing what to expect – I did do my research though on the book – I found I truly enjoyed the storyline, the characters, particularly Celeste’s journey, the mystery surrounding the search for her Aunt’s sister, and the possibility of finding the identity of her father.
How scary it would be to take off for unfamiliar parts in pursuit of one’s heritage but I thought Celeste grabbed the bull by the horns. She was eager to fit in and persevere what obstacles came her way. There were some funny incidents for Celeste in addition to moments which brought me to tears.
I would recommend this heartwarming story to readers who enjoy books that deal with relationships, cultures, and ultimately – finding yourself. Love in Translation should be a novel book clubs on the whole would embrace because of the discussions it would bring about.
Thank you to Wendy Tokunaga for sharing her wonderful story with me! I’ll be anxiously awaiting her next creation! 

Saving CeeCee Honeycutt – by Beth Hoffman

Saving Ceecee Honeycutt  (Hardcover) by Beth Hoffman 

I first heard of this book via Twitter. After reading a few reviews I knew this book was one I definitely had to read! Amazon compared it to “Steel Magnolias meets The Help!” That comment sold me as well. The author, Beth Hoffman, shares a CeeCee Honeycutt’s young life story with us and it’s one you won’t easily forget! You will laugh, cry, and be awestruck by what CeeCee has to endure as young girl of twelve.
CeeCee is caring for her mother, Camille, who is mentally unstable and the laughing stock of the town. Her father cannot handle the difficulties Camille’s illness so he is absent much of the time. Just when you think CeeCee can bear no more, her mother is killed by an oncoming truck as she crosses the street.
Enter, CeeCee’s great-aunt, Tootie Caldwell, to take her to live with her in Savannah, Georgia. During her summer in Savannah, CeeCee’s life is suddenly transformed for the good. There are many women who enter her life, for one, Tootie’s wise housekeeper, Oletta Jones, who becomes a friend and confidant to CeeCee. She decides early on which of Tootie’s unusual neighbors, Thelma Rae Goodpepper and Violene Hobbs, is trustworthy and enjoyable and which one is prejudicial and unpleasant. CeeCee has lost her mother, but through this loss, gains a wealth of love from some wonderful women! I must say, I laughed until I cried, while I read one particular episode in the book! I won’t give it away but it has to do with a camera and a brassiere –hilarious!!!
You will be touched and affected by CeeCee’s innermost thoughts, her favorite books, feelings, opinions, and most of all her, “Life Book!” My favorite quote from the book: “Life is full of change, honey. That’s how we learn and grow. When we’re born, the Good Lord gives each of us a Life Book. Chapter by chapter, we live and learn.” (Saving CeeCee Honeycutt, Beth Hoffman)
Thank you Beth Hoffman for sharing a part of CeeCee’s life with us! 

Still Alice – by Lisa Genova

Still Alice 

Alice is a Harvard professor. She has a loving husband and three adult children. She’s only 50 years old and discovers she has the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. There is so much she still wants to accomplish with her life.  As you read the book you know from Alice’s point of view her fear, dread, and horror of what is to become of her and her mind. Several have said this will scare you. I agree because Alzheimer’s is a terrifying disease. Book clubs would find much to discuss and examine. Read Alice’s story.

Viola in Reel Life – by Adriana Trigiani

Viola in Reel Life (Hardcover) by Adriana Trigiani 

This is a wonderful coming-of-age book by Trigiani in her first ever Young Adult book.  Fourteen-year-old Viola Chesterton loves making movies as much as her parents do.  They make film documentaries. Viola’s grandmother, “Grand,” is an actress, so it’s safe to say it’s in Viola’s blood.  Viola is sent to “The Prefect Academy for Young Women Since 1890” in South Bend, Indiana because her parents are off to Afghanistan to make a documentary about Afghan women. It’s a big change for the native Brooklyn, New York teen. She is a pretty independent girl and eventually develops a close bond with her roommates. What young adult story wouldn’t be complete with a boy! Viola begins to make a film diary of her stay at the Academy when she stumbles upon something in her film that she sees.  It’s an image or is it a ghost of a woman, “The Red Lady.”  Viola makes this the subject of her short film that she enters in a contest. This was the part of book I enjoyed the most. I don’t want to give too much away but I liked Viola’s methodical research she did on the woman once she discovers who she really was. One of my favorite scenes was when Viola explains to “Grand’s” friend, what she knows about “screwball comedies” – by the way I happen to love this film genre. Her favorite is, The Awful Truth, starring Cary Grant and Irene Dunne.  I’m anxiously awaiting Viola’s next adventure, Viola in the Spotlight, which will be published this August.

The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag (Flavia de Luce #2) – by Alan Bradley

The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag (Flavia de Luce, #2) by Alan Bradley 

Yes! Eleven-year-old sleuth and want-to-be chemist, Flavia is back and ready to solve another mystery! She also has some new revenge in store to bestow on her two older sisters! I featured Flavia’s first adventure, Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, this past fall. I was anxiously awaiting the next installment and wasn’t disappointed. As Flavia and her family watch the production of Jack and the Beanstalk at the area church a murder is committed. We are introduced to a new character, Flavia’s, Aunt Felicity. Flavia knows the death wasn’t from natural causes. The young sleuth is at it again trying to solve the murder and to discover who the killer is.  Is there a possible connection with this death and one that happened several years ago?   I don’t want to give too much away since it is a mystery. It is another successful tale about Flavia if I must say so myself!  You will be thoroughly entertained by Bradley’s work!

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