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Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet
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Showing 1-10 of 48 reviews (1 star)show all reviews
61 of 72 people found the following review helpful
on June 27, 2011
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
I get annoyed when a poorly-written book like this becomes so well known and successful. The premise is intriguing and I expected to like it, but the writing is painfully slow and repetitive. Most of the story repeats the same actions, thoughts, and emotions over and over again. He walks to school, serves lunch, talks to Sheldon, gets chased by bullies, can't communicate with his father. Again and again and again. And the modern side of the story is just as repetitive -- the same emotions, the same facts, the same scenes repeated again and again. I thought I'd scream if I had to hear about Ethel's lingering illness one more time. Also very predictable. You know exactly where the story is going long before it gets there. And the dialogue is extremely wooden. There are no interesting conversationalists in this book. They make short, simple statements that reveal nothing. I didn't even learn anything new about the Japanese internment. The book has a great cover and idea, but amateurishly written.
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23 of 27 people found the following review helpful
on May 20, 2013
Format: Paperback
I was excited to pick up this book, as a Seattleite and a historian. Sadly, this book is so full of historical inaccuracies as to be almost unreadable. The protagonist, Henry, describes Keiko's hair as being turned to curls by the aid of "hot rollers", unavailable until the 1970s. The scenes describing Seattle in total blackout EXCEPT the garish lights of Chinatown are laughable...it was prohibited to have ANY lights on, let alone neon signs.

The entire book is baseed on propositions of racial injustice that (while they are were fact, many and varied at the time) are just not true. Henry and Keiko would NOT have been the ONLY Asian children at their school; it was a legal imperative to send your children to school. (he even mentions truant officers.) Franklin HS would have been full of Asian children; even Ballard, that bastion of Scandinavians had a few during the war years. As for being on a "scholarship", once again, the school they attended was a PUBLIC school; no such thing existed. In fact, even in the Seattle schools in my childhood (1960s) and my parents (1930s-1940s) children were on a rota to help out in the lunchrooms. No such indentured servitude of students existed.

As for burning of kimonos, photos and artwork; the mere fact that burn barrels of any kind would never have been allowed in a blackout is only the tip of the iceburg as far as this chapter goes. The mere fact that these items exist today in Seattle (and would have been packed away in the trunks at the Panama Hotel) belies this story.

Ir seems that Mr. Ford, who did not grow up in Seattle, picked one historical tidbit (the Panama Hotel)and built a racially inflammatory book around it. Yes, there was prejudice, yes,the internments did happen. But for a book that actually is based on history and not conjecture, I suggest "Snow Falling on Cedars" with an almost identical plotline, written by Seattle author David Guterson. I am astonished that no editor bothered to question these inaccuracies, among dozens of others.
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73 of 96 people found the following review helpful
on February 16, 2010
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
This is a boring, predictable, wallowing tale that we have all heard and read many times before. Every stereotype is included, from racist bully to sly Caucasian businessman taking advantage of the relocating heroic Japanese-Americans, from earnest first generation immigrant caught between two cultures to fully assimilated descendants. Every interaction is fraught with emotion, almost to the level of comic melodrama. We even have the sermonizing narrative tone for this shameful part of our history. There are distracting factual errors other reviewers have reported. I also agree that this might be re-categorized as young adult. Halfway through the plot lumbers along, with not so much as a twist or turn. Nor is there a single character to care about. I can't muster the interest to turn another page. I'm sure there are riveting accounts of the same subject matter -- this one is dull and disappointing.
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23 of 29 people found the following review helpful
on August 1, 2012
Format: Paperback
I so very much wanted to like this book. I really thought I would -- I read the interviews in the back with the author, I was intrigued by the premise, the author appears to be a serious author, and I was interested in how he thought of the story and had originally written it as a short story. I was pleased when my book club selected it. When it started out a bit slow, and the dialogue was not believable, I kept thinking it would improve. The sections taking place in 1986 seemed generally forced, and the relationship with the son seemed unnatural, but I thought the most important part was from 1942, so maybe that would carry the book. I was wrong. The dialogue was just as unbelievable and unnatural in 1942. The relationships were just as odd and underdeveloped. And instead of getting better, the story got worse. It kept repeating phrases and ideas. The relationship between Henry and Keiko was pretty light. I guess since they were both twelve, I shouldn't expect to to be too deep, although I've read accounts of deep childhood friendships before. I kept looking through the book to see if it was categorized as Young Adult, because I kept thinking that the book is perfect for a twelve year old to read. There was nothing in the book that showed or explained why these two had a connection, beyond the fact that they were the only two Asians in an all-white school, which of course would provide a basis for a friendship, but it never really explored this. I didn't feel anything really special between them, but again this is a story about a friendship between two twelve year olds. I suppose I can't expect it to be as deep as a relationship between older people. The story would have been much better had they been older and this could have been a true 'first love' type of story. We're continually told that this was a special relationship -- it's implied she should have been the love of his life, but we never really feel it. And the way their relationship is resolved and he ends up with the woman he does marry is just ridiculous and makes no sense. And the ending is just completely unsatisfying.

I also could not understand why the later events took place in 1986. Throughout the story (and in all of the 1986) part, the characters seemed like they should have been about 20 years older than they were. (Henry is only 56, but he acts more like 76. Another character is 74 but acts more like 94.) And it would have worked perfectly to place the story in 2006. I was puzzled the whole time about why 1986 is so special. This is never explained. Some other reviewers have mentioned that the son was in an online support group and pointed out that this was not possible in 1986. This point must have been fixed in the paperback version, because it only mentions a support group -- nothing about 'online.' (Although the mention of the support group seems odd and I remember reading the sentence about it a few times wondering what he meant. It makes sense if it was originally an online group but that was subsequently edited out.) But again, since the author probably wanted an online support group for the son, why not make it 2006? Yes, the son would have been older, but that probably would have worked better.

The relationship between Henry and his son is odd. The son's fiance is a caricature, and the way the son introduces Henry to her is just bizarre. The Sheldon character, who is in both time periods is a cliche and the relationship between him and Henry is not believable. And the dialogue throughout -- oh, it's just so bad. Anytime any of the characters opened his or her mouth, I couldn't believe anything they were saying, because I kept thinking about how no one talks that way.

In short, I expected so much more. I don't see how anyone over the age of sixteen would be at all enlightened by this book. The story of the Japanese internment is presented, but I didn't get a true sense of what it was really like in the camps. Some of the scenes when the Japanese were leaving were not bad. But the interpersonal relationships were all forced and unnatural, even the main one between Keiko and Henry.

I seriously think this book should be reclassified and marketed as YA. The author should write in that genre.
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15 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on May 27, 2013
Format: Paperback
I picked up this book at the library because the description seemed interesting. The concept sounded great: a Chinese-American and a Japanese-American student meet in an all-white prep school and become fast friends because they are outcasts during the "war years." The story was supposed to interweave both the longing love story from the perspective of a nostalgic widow who doesn't forget his first love and the actual development of childhood friendship separated by Japanese internment. I really wanted to like this novel, especially since my focus for my literature minor was Asian/Asian-American studies.

Where to begin: yes there are many anachronisms, but I can forgive such mistakes if the plot and characters could carry through. Unfortunately, this book is very poorly written, the dialogue between all the characters are either cheesy or flat(who really talks like that?? Is that how the author really speaks?), and the characters are all stiff, one-dimensional caricatures of their race (even though this novel is supposed to transcend racism, the dialogue, the descriptions, their actions all ended up seemingly a projection of stereotypes). The nostalgic tone sounds forced and the conflicts are unbelievably cliche. This novel reads as if it is from a high school student writing a fictional narrative for a class assignment--And I have read better writing from high school kids. The voice and the perspective of this novel is very amateurish.

I am surprised there are so many five-star reviews on this book. I agree with many other reviewers, this should be re-categorized as young adult fiction or taken back and re-written, re-edited, and re-focused. There was a lot of potential, but it fell short with the poor writing and predictable plot direction.
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36 of 48 people found the following review helpful
on July 29, 2009
Format: Hardcover
I agree with other reviewers that this book might have succeeded in the Young Adult Fiction section of the library. The narrative is simplistic and spends far too much time giving us a tour of Seattle's architectural history to make either the flashbacks or the contemporary scenes feel immediate. The dialog is flat and tinny. At one point, the son says to his father: "I'm sorry you found your Holy Grail and it was all damaged like that." Wait, I take it back. Even young adults would ask themselves, "Who talks like that?" I can't believe this was the best the author could do with this material. This book verges on being an insult to the people who suffered through the internment camps.
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27 of 36 people found the following review helpful
on February 4, 2012
Format: Paperback
I just could not get over how badly written this novel was! I had heard good things about it and loved the concept, but I was immediately put off by the writing. I tried to push through and get into the story, but the writing was so juvenile, trite, and cliched and the dialogue so fake and unbelievable... I gave up. I am shocked that this book is so well-reviewed and so popular. It is dreck.

Some examples of the writing from the first few chapters:

A couple of gems about the main character's deceased wife:
"Her health had been bad - no, worse than bad. The cancer in her bones had been downright crippling, to both of us, he thought."

"When night fell, and it did, Henry chatted with his wife (at her grave), asking her how her day was. She never replied, of course."

And the line that put me over the edge:

"The sum total of Henry's Japanese friends happened to be a number that rhymed with HERO."
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31 of 44 people found the following review helpful
on June 26, 2010
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
The title is lovely and the concept fascinating, but the final product is SO disappointing! The characters are cut from cardboard, the plot is predictable, and the style is flat, pedantic and slow.

If it weren't for my keen interest in the place and period, I would have stopped reading at the 2nd sentence of the 2nd paragraph: First when he was only twelve years old, way back in 1942 - "the war years" he liked to call them. (Actually it's only a sentence fragment, but that is not what I'm carping about.)

To begin, "way back in 1942" is way too folksy. Sounds like a hayseed talking, and it is unlike the tone of the narrator's voice in the rest of the book. Secondly, "the war years" is the way virtually anyone who lived at that time would have referred to the early 1940s. The expression is not unusual, certainly would not have been unique to Henry, and does not require those silly quotation marks.

Although the book seems to be aimed at an audience of slightly backward adolescents, it was a mistake to make the two leading characters so young - In that time period, fourteen would have been more like it, not twelve.

I understand the author's desire to have them be young and innocent, and while it is true that today's teens are sexually informed, in the early 40s most young teens were much less sophisticated. The culture was still strait-laced; youngsters had only the rather chaste movies (actors fully clothed, kisses closed-mouthed and brief) to go on.

As a number of others have commented, the author plays fast and loose with historical truth, and that is inexcusable! Although in fiction it is understood that the plot and characters - and even the setting - can be totally invented, once an author has staked a claim to a real place in a real time, facts are facts! That has always been the case even when writers had to do "painstaking research" in newspapers, books, documents and libraries, but now that there is the Internet, research is a cakewalk. THERE IS NO EXCUSE not to present your tale of fiction surrounded and supported by truth!

Just wish Jamie Ford hadn't wasted that great title on this pitiful effort!
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13 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on November 20, 2013
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
Always get the free Kindle sample before purchasing a new book! This book was boring from the very beginning. I forced myself to read it every night for two weeks before I finally decided to just give up. There are too many wonderful books by talented authors to waste my time on this amateur attempt at literature. The author just told us everything. It felt like a forced diary entry of an uninspired middle school boy. I didn't care about the characters because I never really felt like I knew them. I love to read and I rarely find a book that I can't find at least one redeeming quality to admire. The only time I felt happy in relation to this book is when I deleted it from my Kindle. I do not understand all the 5 star reviews.
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12 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on September 19, 2012
Format: Paperback
Honestly, this book is so badly written I'm amazed a publisher took it on. Even more amazed that it has received any half decent reviews!
Not an original metaphor in sight, two dimensional characters, wooden dialogue, repetition after repetition, plodding plot....just awful. The title of the book has a nice ring to it, but please readers, do yourself a favour and look elsewhere if you love literature! It was a book I simply had to put down in more ways than one.
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