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


Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet
by Jamie Ford
285 pages
Published January 27, 2009

I really wanted to like Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. I went into it thinking this would be a new favorite book, that I’d rave about it to my friends, and that I’d be Jamie Ford’s newest fan and stalker. I even moved it up in the TBR pile based on this guest post! Unfortunately, the book wasn’t really to my taste.

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford is about Henry Lee, a Chinese American. It is 1986, his wife has passed away six months ago, and one day while he’s out walking, he passes a local landmark, the Panama Hotel, where he sees a crowd and finds out that the new owner of the hotel has found over 30 suitcases and personal belongings left by Japanese families in the basement when they were interned in the 1940s. A parasol with koi fish painted on it reminds him of a Japanese American girl he knew in 1942, a girl that he loved very much.

The narration alternates between Henry in 1986 and Henry in 1942.

Henry in 1942 is 12 years old and going to an exlusive school. The kids tease and torment him, but he’s learned to deal with it. It’s at this point that he meets a Japanese American girl, Keiko, about his age at school, who he becomes good friends with. Not long into their friendship, anti-Japanese sentiment comes to the point of rounding all the Japanese up and sending them to internment camps.

Henry in 1986 is getting over his wife’s death and trying to deal with a son with whom he’s never been close. When the Panama Hotel finds the personal belongings that had been left by some Japanese families, Henry starts wondering what happened to Keiko and goes to the hotel to see if her family left some of their belongings there. When he finds what he’s looking for, he’s torn between looking for her and leaving well enough alone.

I liked the idea of the story, though I found the execution to be clunky. Take, for example, the author’s writing. I felt that the author overused italics, as if he didn’t have enough confidence in his own writing to get the point across. Yes, I know that I use italics AND ALL CAPS, but I think there’s a difference between formal (i.e., novels) and informal (i.e., blog posts) writing, and when I write stories, I don’t use italics or all caps. I’m not saying italics or all caps can’t be used, just that if they are, they should be used sparingly and appropriately. Here’s a few examples:

Since when did special become such a burden? A curse even. There was nothing special about scholarshipping at Ranier. Nothing at all. Then again, he was here looking for someone. May she was special.

This is all from one page:

They found a lot of old things in the basement. Things from the war years.

“I’m looking for something,” Henry said.

Henry took a bite out of an egg custard tart, set it down, and pushed his plate away. “If I find something worth sharing, I’ll let you know.” Who knows, I might even surprise you. Wait and see. Wait, and see.

Marty seemed unconvinced.

“Something bothering you? You’re the one who looks like he has something on his mind – aside from studying and grade.”

“He’ll deal with it in his own way, and in his own time,” Ethel had said, shortly after she learned she had cancer. “He’s your son, but he’s not a product of your childhood, it doesn’t have to be the same.”

I just found it distracting. Or better yet, I just found it distracting.

The other thing that didn’t ring true for me is that the author had Henry and Keiko falling in love within one year. They’re only 12 years old, though somewhere in that year they both had a birthday, so at best they’re 13 years old. I just don’t think that being 12 years old and knowing someone for one year, even in the circumstances of World War II, means they can fall in love. But could they be good friends who remember each other for the rest of their lives? Absolutely.

Henry even starts courting Keiko, noting that at his age, his father was bound for America all alone. But just because his father was a “man” at 13, doesn’t mean that Henry was a man who was ready to court a girl. I know that even today kids have sex at that young age, but it still doesn’t make them ready. I understand that Henry’s father was married at a young age, but you can’t compare different generations because times are different and children grow up in different circumstances. With what the author presented to me, I didn’t think Henry was of courting age. Even though I can believe that was something that happened at that time, it wasn’t something that I found to be “romantic”.

So while I’ve outlined why I didn’t like the book, I’m in the minority. This book has been hugely successful as it was already into its SIXTH printing on March 18, 2009, which the author reported via Twitter. Please go check out the other reviews I’ve listed below, ALL of whom had nothing but nice things to say about Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet.

Rating: 75 out of 100

Author’s website | Powell’s | Amazon

Other reviews:

A Comfy Chair and a Good Book

Devourer of Books

Stone SouP

Educating Petunia

The Book Lady’s Blog

Lesley’s Book Nook

Bookworm’s Dinner

The Biblio Brat

| Tags: , , , , , 37 comments »

37 Responses to “Review – Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford”

  1. Kathy

    I’m sorry you didn’t love this one, but a 75 is still a passing grade, so it wasn’t completely worthless.


    trish Reply:

    No, it wasn’t completely worthless. Sounds like a back-handed compliment to me. 🙂


  2. Vasilly

    Great review, Trish! I did read a blog post somewhere that said the reviewer didn’t like the book that much either.


    trish Reply:

    If you remember who that is, let me know and I’ll add it to my list. And I can get validation that I’m not the only person on the planet who didn’t find it to my taste. 🙂


  3. Literate Housewife

    You can’t like everything. Sometimes hype and anticipation can backfire, too. I have a signed ARC copy that I’m going to read soon for War Through the Ages Reading Challenge. I’m curious to see what category I will fall in.


    trish Reply:

    I know you can’t like everything. But I don’t like *not* liking an author’s first book…though I don’t feel too bad, as the author seems to be doing just fine without me.

    I’m really curious to see whether I like The Time Traveler’s Wife for that very reason: there’s been a ton of hype surrounding it! And most people seem to fall into the love it or don’t bother with it category. Very few people seem to waffle about that book.


  4. Monica

    I definitely agree with you about italics and all caps. It does sound like an interesting book… and about that “love”: kids love easily, perhaps the author meant it began as a child-like love and developed over time? You never know.


  5. J.C. Montgomery

    Not everyone is going to like every thng they read. I know, and appreciate the fact that whenever I read one of your posts or reviews it is being written from the heart and not atop a bandwagon. Thank you for remaining true to yourself and honest toward others.


  6. Pam

    Thanks for your insightful and truthful review, not very often that happens in book review land. I appreciate reading some excerpts and hearing what you did and didn’t like from the story.


  7. Nari

    I really liked the story, and I thought it was a very gripping tale. I do agree with you that the italics was incredibly distracting, and I wasn’t expecting there to be as many happy endings and the neatly wrapped up ending, given the nature of the story. Overall, it was a good read, but not w/o its faults.


  8. Natasha @ Maw Books

    I just barely read a review for this like two seconds ago and thought it sounded really good. The italics do sound distracting though.


  9. Tricia

    I’ve heard such great things about this. But, I’m sorry it just wasn’t quite right for you. I know what it is like to not be totally enamored with something most others think is terrific though. So, I appreciate your honesty.


  10. Ti

    I’ve read a lot of reviews on this one but I never added it to my TBR list. Not sure why. Maybe because I don’t like to read stuff when everyone else is gushing over it. You make a good point about the italics. That’s a lot use for one page.


  11. Christina

    That’s okay. I just finished Never Let Me Go — a book everyone seemed to enjoy that I just didn’t like at all.


  12. Bookfool, aka Nancy

    I’m still dying to read this one. You can send me your ARC if that’s what you’ve got. 😉 I’m with Christina — some books that everyone loves just don’t do a thing for me. Never Let Me Go is a fine example of that. I couldn’t get anywhere in that book and everyone seems to rave about it. Except Christina. And me.


  13. Cathy

    I seem to be in the minority with Drood. Oh well…some of us have to be an opposing voice from time to time.


  14. Petunia

    I didn’t notice the italics. I kind of like knowing where the emphasis is supposed to be in a sentence but you make a good point about formal and informal writing. The one thing I thought might be a problem for readers you didn’t even touch on. The story seemed a little TOO balanced at times. When something bad would happen, something good would happen immediately. When something good would happen, something bad happened immediately. Each day had an equal number of good and bad things. This didn’t bother me at all but I have been waiting for someone to complain about it but so far I’ve seen no mention of it. Sorry the book didn’t do it for you.


  15. Amy @ My Friend Amy

    I enjoyed this one. While it wasn’t a masterpiece, I thought it was a nice story with fairly decent writing.


  16. Jessica

    So weird! I just read three reviews yesterday. Before that, I had never even heard of it!


  17. Rebecca @ The Book Lady's Blog

    I definitely liked this one more than you did, but I don’t think it’s life-changingly or all-time-favorites-list good. Along the lines of your complaint about Henry & Keiko falling in love in just one year (and a year when they’re so young, at that), the only thing that really irritated me about the book was that I felt Ford often gave Henry much more mature thoughts and insights than was realistic. But I enjoyed the story.

    And the italics didn’t bother me 🙂


  18. Beth F

    I’ve been on the fence about reading this one. I appreciate this review. I’m still on the fence. Great review; the italics thing may have bothered me too — but I’d have to read it to say for sure.


  19. Ramya

    Hey! I just finished reading this book this month as well and I liked it.. I did think that calling the relationship between the two 12 year olds “love” was over-dramatizing it.. but in spite of that, I enjoyed the fast pace of the book and the writing.


  20. Karen H.

    Thanks for your thoughts on this book. I, too, have this book and I’m looking foward to reading it. You make some interesting points. 🙂


  21. Jen - Devourer of Books

    Hey, if the italics bother you, they bother you. That’s one of those stylistic things that won’t bother most people but if they bother you, they’re so hard to get past. I think that two twelve year olds can THING they’re in love, although I agree they couldn’t really BE in love. Since they never really had the opportunity to get over it being together, the relationship is something they both idealized the rest of their lives, it is probably remembered as even more loving than it was then. And no, he’s not old enough to actually court a girl, but he’s old enough to get silly ideas into his head, like the idea that he is old enough to court a girl. I think her parents just humored him because they liked him.
    I think you wrote a good review, were very fair, and that not every book works for every reader.


  22. Smash

    Ohhh, the italics would be annoying! I sometimes have to think sentences aloud when they have italics, and that would just drive me crazy! Sorry it wasn’t a hit. :o/

    I gave you an award on my blog. Check it out! :o)


  23. chartroose

    I was looking forward to this, but after your well-executed review, I think I’ll skip it. That italics/caps problem is enough to make me lose all desire to read it.


  24. Jessica

    How in the world did you accomplish FIVE posts in one day?!


  25. debbie

    I have read so many great reviews about this book. I think I need to put it on my TBR list.


  26. Nit

    The storyline does sound interesting. Thanks for the review! 🙂


  27. Becky Workman

    Sending an award your way! You can check it out here!


  28. lisamm

    The italics/caps thing would grate on my nerves, no doubt, although I do that quite a lot myself. Like you said, though, there is a difference between the formal and the informal.


  29. Serena (Savvy Verse & Wit)

    those italics would probably fade away for me after a while, but the use of CAPS would bug me. I’m sorry to hear that you didn’t like this one as much as others did.

    I think I’ll place this one on the back burner for now because I’m not sure how I feel about the issues you raised. I have to let them stew a bit.


  30. zibilee

    Thanks for the honest review. Most of the reviews I have read of this book raved about it, but I think that some of the things that you didn’t like would have been bothersome to me as well. Glad I didn’t rush out and buy this one!


  31. Bonnie

    I liked this book a lot and never even noticed the italics! For me, I’m annoyed by long run on sentences in books without correct grammer. So, I can understand being distracted by that! I read an ARC copy, did you read the ARC or final copy? I found the relationship to be young love in an adult like situation. They experienced life much differently than most 12-13 year olds and were forced into more adult like circumstances due to the life events going on around them. I found the attention this story brought to the historical events of Japanese Internment camps to be very well done.


  32. Anna

    I’m sorry it was a bit disappointing for you. I’m looking forward to reading it for the January TLC tour. I hope it’s okay that I linked to your review on War Through the Generations.


  33. Review and Giveaway: Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford « Word Lily

    […] Blog Booking Mama Literate Housewife The Bluestocking Society Musings of a Bookish Kitty Hey Lady! Rhapsody in Books Amy at The Friendly Book Nook B&b ex […]

  34. Don Meyer

    Hi –
    I’m new to your blog, and I was curious about ‘Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet’ by Jamie Ford, which was recommended by a friend. I agree with you about the overuse of italics and ALL CAPS, but at least that’s better than the old underlining.

    At 80 and handicapped, I spend a lot of time either in front of my computer or reading. Feel free to have a look at my blog. Right now I’m having trouble loading jpeg’s.


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