Friday, June 13, 2014

Jacqueline Winspear's The Care and Management of Lies: A Novel of the Great War

  • ISBN-10: 0062220500 - Hardcover $26.99
  • Publisher: Harper (July 1, 2014), 336 pages.
  • Review copy courtesy of the publisher and the Amazon Vine Program.

The blurb:
By July 1914, the ties between Kezia Marchant and Thea Brissenden, friends since girlhood, have become strained--by Thea's passionate embrace of women's suffrage, and by the imminent marriage of Kezia to Thea's brother, Tom, who runs the family farm.  When Kezia and Tom wed, just a month before Britain declares war on Germany.  Thea's gift to Kezia is a book on household management -- a veiled criticism of the bride's prosaic life to come.  Yet when Tom enlists to fight for his country and Thea is drawn reluctantly onto the battlefield, the farm becomes Kezia's responsibility.  Each woman must find a way to endure the ensuing cataclysm and turmoil.  But will well-intended lies and self-deception be of use when they come face to face with the enemy?

I very much enjoy Jacqueline Winspear's Maisie Dobbs novels, so I was excited to review her standalone The Care and Management of Lies which is set during WWI.

At the heart, we have a story about friendships and about love. Thea Brissenden grew up as a farmer's daughter and was a fellow scholarship student with Kezia Marchant. Kezia's family though equally unable to cover the school fees was a little more sophisticated/worldly and as a parson's daughter Kezia was better travelled, more introspective, and generally a kinder person. Keiza and Thea's younger brother Tom fall in love and marry. Instead of bringing the three of them closer together Thea pulls away, feels excluded, resents Kezia's closeness and good fortune.

Kezia's good natured and kind enough to ignore the petty rivalries and jealousies that rule Thea. Instead, Kezia, continues to try to hold the family together even as Tom enlists and Thea joins an ambulance brigade. Kezia, the town girl, is left to run the family farm which she does with her unique blend of spirit, optimism, and bravery.

The Care and Management of Lies does cover issues of class in a subtle way. It's clear that Captain Hawkes, the large landowner and neighbor of Tom Brissenden, experienced the war very differently from the enlisted men. We read about the dangers, the smells, the rats in the trenches. We also feel the camaraderie and closeness of the men as they fight together.

Kezia tries to keep her husband's spirits up with loving letters to the front where she describes unusual meals that she prepares for him. These letters bring Tom hope and love - and his fellow soldiers ask him to share the descriptions of his wife's dinners. Kezia brings comfort and hope to the men as well as the bitter envy of senior officers. In the end, it's envy and spite that are the real enemies here, not the Germans. The heroes of the piece are Kezia and Tom.

The Care and Management of Lies differs from the Maisie Dobbs novels in a number of ways: (1) it's a novel about love and WWi and not a detective mystery novel. This novel starts a bit slower, so you have to be patient; (2) though class issues are present in The Care and Management of Lies, class doesn't play as big a role; and (3) while Maisie is very likable, I found myself even more attached to Kezia.

About the Author:
Jacqueline Winspear is the author of the New York Times bestselling novels featuring Maisie Dobbs, a former World War I nurse turned investigator.  Originally from the United Kingdom, Winspear now lives in California.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Mambo in Chinatown by Jean Kwok

Mambo in Chinatown by Jean Kwok
  • ISBN-10: 1594632006 - Hardcover $27.95
  • Publisher: Riverhead Hardcover (June 24, 2014), 384 pages.
  • Review copy courtesy of the publisher and the Amazon Vine Program.

The blurb:
Twenty-two-year-old Charlie Wong grew up in New York’s Chinatown, the older daughter of a Beijing ballerina and a noodle maker. Though an ABC (America-born Chinese), Charlie’s entire world has been limited to this small area. Now grown, she lives in the same tiny apartment with her widower father and her eleven-year-old sister, and works—miserably—as a dishwasher.

But when she lands a job as a receptionist at a ballroom dance studio, Charlie gains access to a world she hardly knew existed, and everything she once took to be certain turns upside down. Gradually, at the dance studio, awkward Charlie’s natural talents begin to emerge. With them, her perspective, expectations, and sense of self are transformed—something she must take great pains to hide from her father and his suspicion of all things Western. As Charlie blossoms, though, her sister becomes chronically ill. As Pa insists on treating his ailing child exclusively with Eastern practices to no avail, Charlie is forced to try to reconcile her two selves and her two worlds—Eastern and Western, old world and new—to rescue her little sister without sacrificing her newfound confidence and identity.

To be honest, I loved Jean Kwok's debut novel and was both looking forward to her second novel and a little worried that I'd be disappointed. But I loved Mambo in Chinatown!

Set in present day Chinatown NY, Charlie Wong and her family live a life of invisible Chinese immigrants. She works night and day as a dishwasher in a small restaurant where her father makes very popular hand pulled noodles. Her mother had been a famous dancer in the Beijing ballet but when they moved to the US during the Cultural Revolution had to work as a cleaner. When Charlie's mother passed away, Charlie took over raising her little sister, Lisa.

Other reviewers have described it as a beautifully done Cinderella story of sorts, which it is - with all the humor and sympathy that a modern day immigrant NY story can have. I loved that part of it, but what makes Mambo in Chinatown  stand out for me is the added complexity and detail that Jean Kwok brings to her story. She takes us to parts of Chinatown that I'd passed and never known much about - Eastern medicine, the tai chi in the small park, people working the push carts and the tough jobs - and makes them come alive through her sympathetic eyes. Mambo in Chinatown is a story of hope, perseverance, tough odds, and the importance of friendship and family. It's heartwarming and lovely!

About the Author:
Jean Kwok  immigrated from Hong Kong to Brooklyn when she was five and worked in a Chinatown clothing factory for much of her childhood. She won early admission to Harvard, where she worked as many as four jobs at a time, and graduated with honors with a B.A. in English and American literature, before going on to earn an MFA in fiction in Columbia.  In between her degrees she worked for three years at the Fred Astaire Studios in New York City.

Her debut novel  Girl in Translation became a New York Times bestseller. It has been published in 17 countries and chosen as the winner of the American Library Association Alex Award, a Chinese American Librarians Association Best Book Award, an Orange New Writers Book, a National Blue Ribbon Book, a John Gardner Fiction Book Award finalist, a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Pick and an Indie Next Pick, among other honors.   It was featured in the New York Times, USA Today, Entertainment Weekly, Vogue, and O, The Oprah Magazine, among others.  

Jean lives in the Netherlands with her husband and her two sons.

Learn more about Jean here:

I can't resist - just wanted to share the beautiful cover on her debut novel, Girl in Translation
Learn more about Jean here:

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Trial by Fire (The Worldwalker Trilogy) by Josephine Angelini

Age Range: 12 - 18 years
  • Grade Level: 7 and up
  • Series: The Worldwalker Trilogy (Book 1)
  • ISBN-10: 125005088X - Hardcover $17.00
  • Publisher: Feiwel & Friends (September 2, 2014), 384 pages.
  • Review copy courtesy of the publisher and NetGalley.

Lilly Proctor is a young sixteen.  She's had life threatening allergies for much of her life; these allergies have kept her from living the life of a regular teenager.  Second hand cigarette smoke chokes her, a spiked drink can kill her, and her body is quick to fall into a fever.  Living in present day Salem, Massachusetts, her schoolmates often treat her like a freak.  But Tristan, the most popular and desired boy in school keeps Lilly sane.  He's her best friend and crush and it looks like things have changed for the better - Tristan has started seeing Lilly differently and they may be going out.  

But Lilly's first high school party is a social disaster and she nearly dies.  The disappointment, humiliation, and fear leaves Lilly wishing she could disappear.  Suddenly, she is transported to another Salem in an alternate universe.  In this new world, we find that Lilly's double is Lady Lillian, the Witch that rules.

Lilly finds that this new world is much different from hers.  In this new Salem Science is banned and people believe in magic.  The witches and crucibles are the most valued and highly ranked because of their ability to do and conduct magic.  Lilly finds that in this world, not only is she not sickly but she is one of the most physically powerful beings.  

But politics, intrigue and betrayal exist in this Salem as well and Lilly must find her way through the confusing mix of personalities, realities, and competing claims.

I found Trial by Fire to be reminiscent of Deborah Harkness's All Souls Trilogy and Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series in part because of the existence of alternate realities and the heroine's ability to move between worlds and in part because of the underlying love story that moves the plot forward.   Also, I loved Harkness's All Souls Trilogy and Gabaldon's Outlander series.  I'd read the books as fast as I could and pre-ordered the other books in the series as soon as they became available.  I feel the same urgency with Angelini's Worldwalker Trilogy - am so looking forward to the next in the series.  But as Trial by Fire doesn't come out until Sept. 2014 it'll likely be a long wait!

About the Author:
Josie was born in a tiny town in Massachusetts called Ashland. When she meets people from Massachusetts and tells them 'what part' she hails from, she usually gets one of two answers. The first is: "Isn't that in Oregon?" And the second is: "I drove by it once on Rt. 9, I think."

Her next stop was about as different from Ashland as it gets without leaving the country. As soon as Josie was legal, she packed a bag and moved to New York City to attend NYU. Somehow, she managed to squeeze in a little higher learning between bartending shifts and graduated with a BFA.