Linda S. (Oceanside, NY)
In 1934 William Eng has been in a Seattle orphanage since his mother died 5 years earlier. When William sees a movie starring Willow Frost he is convinced that the actress is his mother, so he sets out to find her.
The premise of the story is good the execution is not. The book is filled with stereotypical villains; a cruel nun, a vicious stepfather, uncaring stepmother and more. The story was melodramatic and it was so bleak it was hard to read and then after a time I became inured to all the terrible things that happened to Willow.
William is supposed to be 12 years old, but he often thought and spoke as an adult and that was off-putting. I also found it hard to believe that a young boy and his blind companion could roam the streets of Seattle without attracting attention.
It's clear that a lot of research went into this book and a lot of the information about the movie business at that time was very interesting, but overall the book fell flat for me.
Dianne S. (Green Valley, AZ)
Haunting by Old Seattle
It seems I have been waiting a very long time for Jamie Ford's next novel and it is finally here! I knew that it was going to be tough to follow up the wonder that was his debut novel Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. In my opinion he has met this challenge with success.
Songs of Willow Frost is haunting. The story of young Liu Song and William is one I won't soon forget. It proves that the bond between mother and son is indeed unbreakable. The extreme lengths in which Liu Song goes to in order to insure her survival and that of her son is heartbreaking and a true testament to this.
Jamie has once again brought to life the historical background of Seattle and the Chinatown culture. Again I am transported to an earlier Seattle. I could truly feel the struggle and desperation during this period prior to and during the great depression. There is a mix of old and new traditions colliding. The theaters and actors of this time period are brought to life just as the jazz culture was in "Hotel". The historical background and the changing from theater to movies and of piano and song to radio is deftly captured.
In addition to Liu Song and William, the other characters, including the inhabits of the Sacred Heart orphanage, really come alive. You feel the true evil of Uncle Leo and the true sorrow and desperation of the orphans. The characters of Sister Briganti's, head of the the orphanage, evolves as the cruelties of life and the times exposed themselves and old thoughts and ways are questioned. I will long remember these characters and this setting. I guess you can say they'll be haunting me.
Carole V. (West Linn, OR)
This is a tender compelling book about an abandoned boy and his Chinese American mother. It also is about prejudice and discrimination during the early 1930's. A book that you won't want to put down!
Jean N. (New Richmond, OH)
A Sad Song
I thought this was a good book, however for me it was so melodramatic in parts that it was distracting. I think the melodrama and some unbelievable parts in the book took away from the story.
Still, I really cared for William, Charlotte and the other children. I felt for Willow, and I thought a lot about the choices that she made for her son. How could she? Then, on the other hand ,what could she do?
This would me a good book for a group discussion.
Deborah M. (Chambersburg, PA)
I'm sure that many readers will adore this book, and I had hoped that I would, too. The story sounded intriguing: a Chinese-American boy, orphaned at the age of seven, sets out to find a movie actress that he believes is the mother he thought was dead, accompanied by his best friend, a beautiful blind girl. Unfortunately, for me, the book was bogged down by several flaws. First, I found it overly melodramatic and unrealistic, full of annoyingly stereotypical, one-dimensional characters (the mean, tippling nun; the bully; the brutal stepfather; etc.). The setting - San Francisco in the 1930s - was intriguing, and the author clearly did a lot of research on the time period. The problem is that it stuck out like a sore thumb rather than being subtly integrated into the story. I want to be drawn into a novel's world without stopping to think, "Oh, here's another clever pop culture reference from the 1930s." In addition, I found much of the dialogue to be stilted and artificial. Perhaps I would have been more kindly inclined towards the book had I not just read a string of superb novels...but I doubt it.
Florence K. (Encino, CA)
Songs of Willow Frost
I read this book as part of the First Impressions group. Jamie Ford averted the sophomore jinx that besets so many writers. It is a good book but falls short of being a great one. The author does capture the deprivations of the Great Depression and the mood of the country at that time. The Dickensian orphanage where much of the story takes place had a chilling effect on me. I felt that some of the characters verged on stereotypes. Nonetheless it is a good read and would make a good selection for a book club.
Celia A. (Takoma Park, MD)
Songs of Willow Frost
I read and enjoyed Jamie Ford's first novel, The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, so I was set to enjoy his second one as well. He did not disappoint. He drew me into the world of immigrant and native-born Chinese Americans in the 1920s and 1930s. I found myself getting angry at and for characters. When events unfolded in ways that went against my modern sensibilities, I had to remind myself that things were a lot different then, especially for women. And if you were a Chinese woman... Ford does a great job of evoking the boom times of the 20s and the early days of the Depression. I defy folks who read this book to not be moved.