60 Books In 2019 #51: Hotel On the Corner Of Bitter And Sweet By Jamie Ford

This is a book that I remembered seeing in Barnes and Noble and Borders a lot when it first came out. I never quite knew why we never picked it up. I think it was on the “I’ll get around to it,” list for a while.

Anyway, I’m glad I got around to it. Much like The Stationary Shop last weekend, this is another story of first love disrupted by reality intruding on the sweet bubble of teenagerdom, and the way life goes it’s own way, growing in around those cracks.

As I said last week. This is a theme that I’m very very fond of. This time, the world that’s disrupted is the Asian community of Seattle, Washington in the 1940s.

Henry Lee is the child of Chinese immigrants, who are strongly nationalist Chinese, but they want their son to be as American as possible, without forgetting who he is and where he came from. Such a delicate balance for immigrants. Henry is the only Asian kid at his school, until one day, Keiko Okanabe, a seceond generation Japanese American girl joins his class.

Keiko and Henry bond over art, and their outsider status and jazz. It’s touching and innocent and lovely and then of course everything falls apart. Henry’s father doesn’t approve of his friendship with a Japanese girl. And then of course, Keiko and her family are interred.

If you don’t know about Japanese internment, I really don’t know what to say to you. I’ve been darkly fascinated by this very dark chapter of our national history since I was twelve and it’s well worth researching if only so you can know how easy it is for people to turn against their neighbors. (BTW, Disband ICE, close the camps, ETC.)

In the 80’s the Panama Hotel, where Keiko and her family stored their valuables during internment is reopened and Henry goes looking for a gift, a secret, and in turn comes to understand himself, his past and his son.

Seriously, I love this sort of book and this was a very good version of it. I suggest picking it up.

Up next is Cavedon Hall by Barbara Taylor Bradford, I picked this up before Downton Abbey was a dud, but I’ll still disappear into the fading glamour of the between wars era in Britain. I’ll always go there. Every time.

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60 Books in 2019: #50 This One Summer by Jillian and Mariko Tamaki

Being twelve is weird. It’s always weird, but what I’m so glad for lately, is that I’m starting to find fiction that documents how weird that times is specifically when you’re a girl. (For boys it is territory well covered.)

This One Summer captures the sort of impressionistic memories of a preteen summer in a magical blue haze of art that fully captivated me. It never takes me particularly long to read graphic novels, but this one I breezed right through in just over an hour, even sleepy after working at the day job all day.

It follows the summer that protagonist Rose spends at a beach house with her parents, the same house they’ve always rented. Rose and her friend Windy, who’s a little younger than Rose spend every year together. And this year, Rose is dealing with a rough patch in her parent’s marriage, so she’s feeling a little sensitive.

There’s so many  of the things that felt real to me. The obsessions with death and sex, but not quite understanding either. Renting rated R movies and holding your breath that the clerk doesn’t make you get your parents’s permission. A crush on an older boy that you don’t quite understand.

I melted into this book. I’ve made some good choices off my TBR in the past week. (Karamo excepted. Sorry Karamo!) I kind of wish that I’d read this one a few weeks ago, when summer was in it’s twilight.

Anyway, I really enjoyed this book and I’m glad that I’m mixing more graphic work back in.

Up next is Hotel On The Corner of Bitter And Sweet by Jamie Ford.

60 Books in 2019 #49: The Stationary Shop By Marjan Kamali

The Stationary Shop is the kind of book that is exactly what I would describe as my favorite kind. A historical fiction novel about a culture different from my own, about young people and lost love, and the way lives curve turn and intersect.

The Stationary Shop is the story of Roya, a sixteen year old high school student in Tehran in 1953, who falls in love with Bahman, a politically minded 18 year old of a slightly higher social class. They get engaged, the difficult politics of Iran and his mother’s disapproval eventually split them apart and Roya goes to America, lives a full life, always haunted by the lost love of her youth.

It’s a beautiful book and quick to read and consume, which is for the best with this kind of thing. It needs to either be fully epic, or readable in an afternoon. Also, Iran before the Islamic revolution is one of my favorite topics for explorations. (Thanks, Reading Lolita In Tehran!) Marjan Kamali invokes her Tehran beautifully, and Roya is a wonderful lead.

Like all of these kinds of books, there are generational secrets and abuse at play, manipulation and tragedy and life lived unfulfilled, but still lived. I don’t quite know what it is about these kinds of stories that really entrance me, but I do love them. The stories of those shining, glorious romantic moments that just can’t last, for what ever reason. (If you want a pure American example, I suggest Divine Secrets Of The Ya-Ya Sisterhood and Little Altars Everywhere) so I heartily recommend The Stationary Shop.

Up next is This One Summer by Jillian & Mariko Tamaki. It’s Comic Con week, so y’all are going to start seeing more and more graphic work creeping into things.

60 Books in 2019 #48: Karamo: My Story of Embracing Purpose, Healing, and Hope By Karamo Brown

Man I flew through this book, and man is it garbage.

I’ve read a lot of memoirs and many of them by “celebrities.” Some are better than others, but when you find a true turd, like Karamo it’s worth celebrating. I was expecting to at least enjoy reading the book, since I’d liked Karamo since his Real World stint and love what he does on Queer Eye. 

But Karamo is a third memoir, a third essay collection and a third self help book and it all kind of sucks. Which is too bad. Karamo has an interesting story to tell. He’s a gay black man in America, for one thing. He’s a father, husband and television personality. He was a reality TV pioneer. But there’s a weird sort of self sanctifying at work here, Karamo believes he was born to save the world with feelings or whatever and it’s kind of a lot.

Most infuriating of this tendency is his rant about Tan France and his name. Karamo starts the book with the story of his own name, and the power he’s derived from it (His full name is Karama Kerego which means “Educated Rebel” in Swahili which is AWESOME.) which is a great and valid story to tell. Names are powerful signifierers of identity. He then talks about how he and Tan discussed Tan using a shortened Anglicized version of his Pakistani name. Karamo disapproves of this.

BUT IT’S NOT HIS FUCKING NAME OR HIS FUCKING CALL. This is one example of just an overall sense of the book’s preachy tones. I do like his exploration of being a queer Christian though. It’s something I’m still negotiating myself, so I’m open to reading ALL THOSE STORIES I can get my hands on.

Anyway, this one was not what I wanted it to be. Too bad.

Up next is The Stationary Shop by Marjan Kamali. This was literally a “judge a book by it’s cover” situation. It has a very pretty cover.

60 Books In 2019 #47: The Kitchen by Ollie Masters and Ming Doyle

Oh boy, I was disappointed when the reviews for the film, The Kitchen were tepid. But now that I’ve read the graphic novel that the movie is based on, I completely understand why.

The Kitchen has a hell of a hook, a trio of wives of mid level mob guys who head to prison decide to take over their husband’s territory. It goes well until it doesn’t.

The art in the book is good, I want to make that clear. I like Ming Doyle, and kind of always have. It really sells the Scorcese-esque 70’s New York world of the book, it’s gritty and angular and never overly sexy (which is a nice change for this kind of story). I wish it were in service to something more interesting than this book. The characters are shallow and everything’s a little bit too scattered in the story, I kept feeling like I missed something, some point of convergence.

I hadn’t, it’s just not a particularly well written book. I’ve read some only OK comics, that’s kind of the deal when you get into it, but I’m stunned  by how just meh, this one was, when it’s got such a juicy premise to go off from, but it’s just not particularly well executed.

Bummer.

Up next is Karamo: My Story of Embracing Purpose, Healing And Hope by Karamo Brown, because I haven’t read many fluffy D-list Celeb Memoirs lately (Although I guess Queer Eye And Dancing With The Stars pushes him to C, but still.)

60 Books In 2019 #46: Alex, Approximately by Jenn Bennett

I don’t know what I liked best about Alex, Approximately, the way it played out like the kind of mid 90’s indie film, which I love, or if it’s about kids who love movies and vintage crap, like I did, or if it used The Shop Around The Corner as it’s rom-com pattern, which I think can be used infinitely (and largely has)

As for plot, teenager Bailey Rydell has just moved to Northern California to live with her dad, after her mother’s second marriage hits the rocks. There’s hints here and there that something really traumatic happened to Bailey early on and the reveal is definitely worth it, so I won’t spoil it. Also, somewhat coincidentally, she has an internet pen pal, a boy named Alex., a fellow film buff who lives in the same beach town as her dad. Bailey hasn’t told him she moved but has decided she’s going to find him, based on their vague conversations.

Once she starts her summer job at a local curiosity museum, Bailey immediately finds herself on the wrong side of hottie surfer dude/security guard Porter Roth. OF COURSE once they get to know one another, Bailey and Porter fall in love their odd mix of teen nerdiness and traumatic background fitting together.

Since I mentioned The Shop Around The Corner (and You’ve Got Mail coming right from there…) you can probably guess that Porter is Alex. It’s all terribly sweet.

It took a little while for me to get into the headspace for this book, coming off of IT afterall…I even took a brief break and reread some Percy Jackson books, which needed to be done anyway, with the fourth Trials Of Apollo out this week. (I have to get to 50 before I’m letting myself read it. I do make the rules on this one. It’s arbitrary, but still…)

Up next is The Kitchen by Ollie Masters and Ming Doyle. I was hoping to read this before seeing the movie, and I did, but the movie is also now long gone from theaters…so…yeah…

60 Books In 2019 #45: It By Stephen King

Bill Denbrough is a gunslinger. I thought quietly as the Loser’s Club came together in two timelines throughout the first 500 pages of the epic It. Maybe Beverly Marsh and Mike Hanlon too. Maybe all of them, but definitely, definitely Bill. 

It is a funny book. Even for King, it rambles and fails to cohere in places. It’s brilliant and beautiful and odd and unfathomably strange. It’s  both obsessed with sex and chaste as a nun. It’s about memory and childhood and forgetting and magic and fear, and somehow, not very scary at all?

I can tell you one thing, as all things serve the beam (which gets a shout out as King describes one of the Losers Club’s better summer afternoons), I hate that fucking Turtle a whole lot.

What a godamned useless cosmic entity it is. Spitting up universes with terrible monsters, that infect small Maine towns and eat children my manifesting evil murder clowns and giant birds and what not.

But I love Bill Denbrough. I’ve fallen in love with one character in each of King’s stories that I’ve hit, that I never wanted to let go of, and for It, it’s Bill. (One would think Richie, given my allegiance to second Bananas, but no.) What a great kid! And grownup. And leader. Seriously. I love this character.

The book’s playing with memory is outstanding writing and It, and Pennywise The Dancing Clown are scary monsters. (Though, having read it practically back to back with The Shining, I find the Overlook’s ghosts much creepier.) The Losers Club are a tight band of heroes, a ka-tet worthy of the name.

But man, fuck that fucking Turtle.

Up next is Alex, Approximately by Jenn Bennett.