Tag Archives: Seattle

Spotlight on Songs of Willow Frost by Jamie Ford

Jamie Ford’s debut Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet ranks in my top 10 favorite novels of all time.  I was so excited to get my hands on his newest work of fiction, Songs of Willow Frost, out today from Ballantine.

About the Book:

songs of willow frost

Twelve-year-old William Eng, a Chinese-American boy, has lived at Seattle’s Sacred Heart Orphanage ever since his mother’s listless body was carried away from their small apartment five years ago. On his birthday—or rather, the day the nuns designate as his birthday—William and the other orphans are taken to the historical Moore Theatre, where William glimpses an actress on the silver screen who goes by the name of Willow Frost. Struck by her features, William is convinced that the movie star is his mother, Liu Song.
Determined to find Willow, and prove his mother is still alive, William escapes from Sacred Heart with his friend Charlotte. The pair navigates the streets of Seattle, where they must not only survive, but confront the mysteries of William’s past and his connection to the exotic film star. The story of Willow Frost, however, is far more complicated than the Hollywood fantasy William sees onscreen.

Shifting between the Great Depression and the 1920s, Songs of Willow Frost takes readers on an emotional journey of discovery. Jamie Ford’s sweeping book will resonate with anyone who has ever longed for the comforts of family and a place to call home.

About The Author:

My name is James. Yes, I’m a dude.

I’m also the New York Times bestselling author of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet—which was, in no particular order, an IndieBound NEXT List Selection, a Borders Original Voices Selection, a Barnes & Noble Book Club Selection, Pennie’s Pick at Costco, a Target Bookmarked Club Pick, and a National Bestseller. It was also named the #1 Book Club Pick for Fall 2009/Winter 2010 by the American Booksellers Association.

In addition, Hotel has been translated into 34 languages. I’m still holding out for Klingon (that’s when you know you’ve made it).

I’m an alumnus of the Squaw Valley Community of Writers and a survivor of Orson Scott Card’s Literary Bootcamp.

My next novel, SONGS OF WILLOW FROST, should be hitting shelves September 10, 2013! And I’m also working on a YA (Young Adult) series that even my agent doesn’t know about…yet.

Bookmagnet Says:

Four words: Wow.  My God.  Wow.  I guess that’s technically three, but you’ll probably share my sentiment once you read Ford’s story.

This book has everything.  It’s steeped in rich history, placed during a time of great suffering yet also a period in which modern cinema was born.  The characters leap off the page right into your heart.  The well-paced plot means you will not be able to put Songs of Willow Frost down until you finish the book.    A quest for identity, for forgiveness, for understanding, for reunion, Songs of Willow Frost proves you sometimes have to suffer to recognize and seize true happiness.  I loved Songs of Willow Frost every bit as much as Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet.  Jamie Ford is no one-hit wonder.  No one writes a boy’s coming-of-age like he can.  



Filed under Bookmagnet's Best Books of the Month, books, fiction, historical fiction, literary fiction, Spotlight Books, Summer Reading

Book Review: Blackberry Winter by Sarah Jio

Blackberry Winter by Sarah Jio (Plume; 320 pages; $15).

                Blackberry Winter, the new novel from Sarah Jio, author of The Violets of March and The Bungalow, is the October She Reads Book Club Selection.  You can discuss the book, comment on reviews, meet Jio, and find out how she came up with the premise of the story by going to the She Reads web site.  There are some yummy giveaways you don’t want to miss either!

Click here for discussion and giveaways!

Jio is a novelist who knows how to pull at her readers’ heartstrings.  She draws you into a story, and, suddenly, you forget everything else around you.  The rest of the world falls away; you are immersed in Jio’s world.  That is how it was for me when I read her two previous novels.  Jio is back, and she has not lost her gift.  In fact, Blackberry Winter is now my favorite of her works.  Blackberry Winter is a mystery/love story with appealing characters, a strong plot, and a setting Jio knows well: Seattle, her home.

In Blackberry Winter, Jio focuses her narrative lens on two women, born decades apart, who have experienced deep loss and heartache.  Vera Ray trudges home to her three-year-old beloved son, Daniel, early one May morning in 1933.  Vera is struggling to make ends meet in the midst of the Great Depression.  Fresh from her shift at Seattle’s Olympic Hotel, she steps out the door to a late-season snowstorm, or “blackberry winter” as it was once referred to.  To her horror, Daniel is nowhere to be found.  More horrible still: no one seems to want to help her find her son.

Fast-forward to present-day Seattle and to Claire Aldridge, a reporter for the Seattle Herald.  Her boss assigns Claire to cover their own blackberry winter.  Like Vera, Claire is struggling.  She recently suffered a terrible accident and endured the death of her baby.  Her marriage is falling apart.  She is unhappy to be given such a fluff piece and searches for an angle.  When she discovers Daniel’s disappearance, Claire is intrigued; she has her story.

In alternating chapters Jio tells the story chiefly from the first-person perspectives of Vera and Claire.  The “I” definitely made the novel more intimate.  I do not think Blackberry Winter would have had as much of an effect on me if Jio had told the story in the third person.

Initially, I was no fan of Vera’s.  I detested her inaction.  She is a woman who does not act; rather, she waits for other people, namely men, to act.  I wanted to shake her.  The more Jio delved into Vera’s character, though, the more I came to understand her.  Vera lived in the 1930s, during a time of economic crisis much worse than our own.  As a single mother, she had to work; she had no other choice.  Yet, many scorned her for working.  Upper-class women looked at her with contempt.  But they didn’t have to walk in Vera’s shoes, riddled with holes.  Vera’s story is truly a tragic tale and reminded me of the 2008 movie The Changeling, based on actual events.  In 1928 Los Angeles, a woman was reunited with her son who had been missing.  When she adamantly told the authorities that the boy was not her son, they vilified her and deemed her an unfit mother.

Claire, for me, was the star of this story.  I loved her spunk and her drive.  She really is Jio’s most likeable, relatable character.

Jio brings her dual time narratives together in the end for a very satisfying conclusion.  What she writes is unexpected, yet always plausible.  Once you start reading, you will want to finish this in one sitting.  The story is engaging; the characters are compelling; the setting is timely.  Jio’s themes of maternal love, loss, jealousy, redemption, hope, and healing will resonate with readers.

Blackberry Winter is a well-timed, beautifully told story from one of the masters of the dual time narrative.  I highly recommend it for fans of Sarah McCoy, Lucinda Riley, Kate Morton, Jenna Blum, and Tatiana de Rosnay.



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Book Review: Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple (Little, Brown and Company; 336 pages; $25.99)


Reading Maria Semple’s wickedly hilarious novel Where’d You Go, Bernadette, I couldn’t help but wonder is this the end of the traditional narrative?  Semple uses only emails, letters, journal articles, memos, receipts, TED talks, emergency room bills, FBI correspondence, and press releases to tell the bold story of a Seattle wife and mother, Bernadette, who disappears.  The ways in which Semple ties all these unusual forms together makes for highly entertaining and surprisingly compelling reading.  Semple does not need conventional narrative at all in Where’d You 

The hilarity begins when Bernadette’s daughter, Bee, an eighth-grader, receives her report card from the Galer Street School, “a place where compassion, academics, and global connectitude join together to create civic-minded citizens of a sustainable and diverse planet.”  The school wants to build the self-esteems of its over-privileged students, meaning no numerical grades are given.  An “S” means the student “surpasses excellence.”  “A” denotes the child “achieves excellence.”  Finally, “W” tells parents the student is “working towards excellence.”   Bee scores straight-S’s.

Graduation is not far off.  Bee reminds her parents, Bernadette and Elgin, that they promised that, if she got straight-S’s the whole way through, she could have whatever she wanted.  Bee has decided she wants the family to take a trip to Antarctica.  Her parents say yes.

Taking this trip will be very difficult for Bernadette, as she suffers from agoraphobia.  She enlists the help of Manjula, an employee of Delhi Virtual Assistants International and Bernadette’s out-sourced personal assistant.  Bernadette often sees Manjula as more than just a business acquaintance, however; Bernadette thinks Manjula is her friend.  She even pours her heart out to Manjula in emails.  Manjula, though, prefers an arms-length approach.  In response to a long email from Bernadette, Manjula is polite but terse.

“It would be my pleasure to assist you with your family travel plans to Antarctica.  Attached please find the contract for moving forward on a full-time basis.  Where indicated, please include your bank routing number.  I look forward to our continued collaboration,” Manjula writes.  It is abundantly clear that Bernadette has never had her identity or credit card stolen.  Bernadette cares only that she is getting a deal.  Manjula costs seventy-five cents an hour; that is thirty dollars per week.  Bernadette will let her “friend” Manjula plan everything.

The truth is that Bernadette just doesn’t have any friends.  Because she does not like to be around people, Bernadette does not venture out much, if at all.  Furthermore, she feels so out of place in Seattle.  She previously lived in Los Angeles and felt more at home there.  Bernadette was not always damaged emotionally.  Slowly, Semple reveals what happened to Bernadette to affect her so much.  Bit by bit, the reader understands Bernadette more clearly.

Bernadette was a successful and much-lauded architect in LA: “Saint Bernadette: The Most Influential Architect You’ve Never Heard Of.”  She received a prestigious MacArthur grant and was achieving great success until she and Elgin had to leave LA very suddenly.

In Seattle, she is like a fish out of water.  Bernadette is just out of her element.  The moms at the Galer Street School, an institution built on community, compassion, and volunteerism, despise her.  Bernadette never helps with anything.  Except once.  And who can blame Bernadette for never helping again?

“Five years ago, there was an auction item listed in a brochure for the Galer Street School…It read, “CUSTOM TREE HOUSE: Third-grade parent Bernadette Fox will design a tree house for your child, supply all materials, and build it herself.”  No one placed a bid.  Have these parents never heard of Google?

Bernadette hates the other Galer Street moms so much that she refers to them as “gnats,” because “they’re annoying, but not so annoying that you actually want to spend valuable energy on them.”  Bernadette’s rants against them are utterly laugh-out-loud funny.

Then again, Bernadette is not that fond of her husband, Elgin, who works for Microsoft.  He is so beloved at the company that he is second only to Bill Gates himself.  Elgin is famous for giving the fourth most-watched TED (Technology, Entertainment, and Design) talk, his colleagues treat him like a rock star.  He is less than a rock star at home, that is for sure, as he is hardly ever there.

Bernadette and Bee are left alone together much of the time.  Their mother-daughter bond is strong.  That’s why, after Bernadette goes missing, that Bee takes it upon herself to solve the mystery of her mother’s disappearance.  Bee sorts through all the emails, receipts, bills, invoices, articles, and the other mixed-media Semple provides to find her mother and takes us with her on an incredible, unexpected journey.

I will go so far as to say Where’d You Go, Bernadette surprised me.  Semple constructs a convincing plot, creates fully-imagined characters, and satirizes Seattle culture.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette is perfect for our times.  We live in a world of truncated communication: tweets, status updates, emails, and text messages.  The way we correspond is changing.  Should fiction reflect this transformation?  Sometimes.  Is this the future of fiction?  No, but every once in a while, mixing it up is nice.  The art of the traditional narrative will never die, but I predict a growing niche for mixed-media (much like the growth of flash fiction in recent years).  It’s not for everybody, but I thoroughly enjoyed Where’d You Go, Bernadette for its boldness and uniqueness.

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