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    If you have information on author appearances or other book-related special events, email it to at least two weeks before the event. To read the online calendar, go to Questions? Call The Bee’s Allen Pierleoni, (916) 321-1128.

Between the Lines: Jamie Ford follows ‘Hotel’ with ‘Willow Frost’

Published: Saturday, Aug. 17, 2013 - 12:00 am

If a debut novel sells 5,000 to 7,000 copies, it’s considered a success. Jamie Ford’s 2009 debut “Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet” was a global mega-hit, spending more than two years on the New York Times best-seller list, selling 1.3 million copies and capturing a long list of awards, including the Asian Pacific American Award for Literature.

It’s what Ford calls “a love-lost-and-then-found story,” the moving tale of a Chinese boy and a Japanese girl, set in the 1940s against the backdrop of the Japanese internment of World War II.

Now coming up is Ford’s long-awaited second novel, “Songs of Willow Frost.” It’s the Bee Book Club’s choice for September.

Set in Seattle in the 1920s and during the 1930s Depression, “Willow Frost” follows the journey of orphans William and Charlotte. On an orphanage-sponsored field trip to a movie theater, William becomes convinced that one of the actresses on the screen is his supposedly deceased mother, Liu Song. The two children run away from the Sacred Heart Orphanage to find the woman — and the truth. Ultimately, it’s a story of love, loss, secrets and second chances. Critics have described it as “tender and endearing,” “deeply felt” and “enchanting.”

“I explored some father-son issues in ‘Hotel,’” said Ford, who is half Chinese and half Anglo. “In this book, I explore some mother-son issues. That wasn’t my intention from the get-go. I was intending to tell a different kind of story, but once that stuff elbows itself onto the stage, I just embrace it.”

Ford will appear for the Bee Book Club at 6 p.m. Sept. 26 at the Tsakopoulos Library Galleria, 828 I St., Sacramento. His presentation is a free event, but tickets are required. To get them, go to and click on “Bee Events.”

Barnes & Noble will be on hand to sell “Willow Frost” for 30 percent off the retail price (Ballantine, $26, 352 pages).

“Willow Frost” goes on sale Sept. 10. Through Sept. 26, these stores will offer a 30 percent discount on the title: in Sacramento, Barnes & Noble, Avid Reader at the Tower, Time Tested Books, Underground Books, Carol’s Books and the Hornet Bookstore at CSU Sacramento; in Davis, Avid Reader and the UC Davis Bookstore; Face in a Book in El Dorado Hills, and the Bookseller in Grass Valley.

For information: (916) 321-1128.

Pages of quirkiness

Depression-era New York Globe sports cartoonist Leroy Robert Ripley was an odd character who turned his love of the weird into the phenomenally successful “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” brand. His syndicated cartoon strip in 300 newspapers was followed by books, a radio program, TV shows and museums. A fascinating biography was recently published – “A Curious Man: The Strange and Brilliant Life of Robert Ripley” by Neal Thompson (Crown, $26, 432 pages).

Now segue to the 10th title in the annual “Ripley’s Believe It or Not!,” subtitled “Dare to Look!,” compiled by James Proud (Ripley Publishing, $28.95, 256 pages; on sale Sept. 10). A free 3-D interactive book app is part of the package (download directions are on page 10).

For shudders and laughs, no other photo-text books are as quirky and educational as this series. The hundreds of bizarre photographs from around the world can be shocking, but the text is well-written and straightforward.

Randomly thumbing through it, we saw a see-through frog, a cow race, a python living in a car, the world’s longest beard (12 feet 9 inches), the world’s largest collection of ventriloquists’ dummies (800 of them) and more.

For a livelier experience, visit the Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum at 175 Jefferson St. on San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf. (415-202-9850,

Streep as narrator

Audiobooks are a fast-growing segment of the literary world, and publishers know the story narrator can make or break an audio title. For instance, Lorelei King is the definitive voice of Stephanie Plum in the series by Janet Evanovich, and no one but actor Rene Auberjonois could voice FBI special agent Aloysius Pendergast in the series by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child.

Simon & Schuster Audio scored big with the narrator of the upcoming “The Testament of Mary” by Colm Toibin, to be released Sept. 10. Academy Award-winning actress Meryl Streep will read the title role of the story, which imagines the life of Mary after the death of her son, Jesus.

“What Meryl Streep manages is a calm force,” said an S&S spokesman. “Then something sorrowful emerges, like an undertone with real power. Anyone who hears it will be astonished.”

Book on dating

How about a date? This pair of online-oriented titles can get you started on the road to romance, but there may be too much overthinking going on.

“Modern Dating: A Field Guide,” by Chiara Atikthe and the staff at the online dating site (Harlequin, $19.95, 224 pages): Starting with practical advice on how to actually get dates, the experts explore nuances such as good grooming (“Stand up straight”) guys to beware of (“The guy who hates his job”), the “art of the Skype date” and more.

“The Geek’s Guide to Dating” by Eric Smith (Quirk, $15.99, 205 pages): This one seems aimed at the dating-challenged who are more comfortable in front of their computers than they are holding hands at the movies. A basic step-by-step for the techno-savvy offer such advice as “Compile your data” and “Plan an escape route.”

Posthumous publication

Swedish journalist-turned-novelist Stieg Larsson became a cult figure after the posthumous publication of his “Millennium Trilogy” of crime thrillers. He died in 2004 at age 50. Now comes word that Mysterious Press will include a story he wrote as a teenager in its “A Darker Shade of Sweden.” The anthology contains short stories by Sweden’s best-known crime writers, and is scheduled to publish in February 2014.

Call The Bee’s Allen Pierleoni, (916) 321-1128. Follow him on Twitter @apierleonisacbe

Read more articles by Allen Pierleoni

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