Friday, May 31, 2019

Searching for Sylvie Lee by Jean Kwok

Searching for Sylvie Lee by Jean Kwok
  • ISBN-10: 0062834304 - Hardcover $30
  • Publisher: William Morrow (June 4, 2019), 336 pages.
  • Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss.

 The blurb:
It begins with a mystery. Sylvie, the beautiful, brilliant, successful older daughter of the Lee family, flies to the Netherlands for one final visit with her dying grandmother - and then vanishes. 

Amy, the sheltered baby of the Lee family, is too young to remember a time when her parents were newly immigrated and too poor to keep Sylvie. Seven years older, Sylvie was raised by a distant relative in a faraway, foreign place, and didn't rejoin her family in America until age nine.  Timid and shy, Amy has always looked up to her sister, the fierce and fearless protector who showered her with unconditional love.

But what happened to Sylvie? Amy and her parents are distraught and desperate for answers, Sylvie has always looked out for them. Now, it's Amy's turn to help. Terrified yet determined, Amy retraces her sister's movements, flying to the last place Sylvie was seen.  But instead of simple answers, she discovers something much more valuable: the truth.  Sylvie, the golden girl, kept painful secrets. . . secrets that will reveal more about Amy's complicated family - and herself - than she ever could have imagined.

I'd loved Jean Kwok's earlier novels and was not sure how different Searching for Sylvie Lee would be.  I thoroughly enjoyed Searching for Sylvie Lee. It was unexpected and drew me in.  Kwok's earlier stories had focused on a young Asian American woman's coming of age story.  While Searching for Sylvie Lee  delivers this depth and drama as we learn about Sylvie and her sister Amy and their family's sacrifices, this latest work also incorporates a mystery.

When Sylvie Lee disappears while visiting her dying grandmother in the Netherlands, her younger sister Amy takes her first big trip overseas to find out what happened to her big sister.  Sylvie had always seemed so successful with her top grades, her Princeton degree, her old money WASP husband and her job as a management consultant.  Amy only starts to see the cracks in her sister's life when she is led to search for her sister.  

Searching for Sylvie Lee still has the sympathy and sensitivity towards the Lee family's difficult move to the USA but this is only one part of the family story.  As we learn about what her grandmother, her mother and father gave up, we grow to care about the Lee and Tan families.  Jean Kwok has delivered another heartbreaking, beautiful read. 

About the Author:
Jean Kwok is the New York Times and international bestselling author of Girl in Translation and Mambo in Chinatown. Her work has been published in eighteen countries and is taught in universities, colleges, and high schools across the world.  She has been selected for numerous honors, including the American Library Association Alex Award, the Chinese American Librarian Association Best Book Award, the Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award international shortlist.  She received her bachelor's degree from Harvard University and earned an MFA from Columbia University. She is fluent in Chinese, Dutch, and English, and currently lives in the Netherlands.

Monday, May 27, 2019

Eiffel's Tower by Jill Jonnes as adapted by Rebecca Stefoff

Eiffel's Tower by Jill Jonnes (adapted by Rebecca Stefoff)
  • ISBN-10: 1609809173 - Paperback $17.95
  • Publisher: Triangle Square (May 28, 2019), 368 pages. 
  • Grade Level: 7 - 9, Ages 12 and up
  • Review copy courtesy of the publisher and the Amazon Vine Reviewer's Program.

The blurb:
Weaving together the behind-the-scenes history of the Eiffel Tower with an account of the 1889 World's Fair in Paris for which the tower was built, Jonnes and Stefoff create a vibrant tableau of people and cultures meeting -- and competing.

Art, science, business, entertainment, gossip, royalty, and national pride mingle in an unforgettable portrait of a unique moment in history, when Buffalo Bill and Annie Oakley became the toasts of Paris and Gustave Eiffel, builder of the tower, rose to the pinnacle of fame, only to suffer a tragic fall from grace.

Above all, the 1889 World's Fair revolved around two nations, whose potent symbols were the twin poles of the fair.  France, with its long history of sophistication and cultivation, and with a new republican government eager for the country to take its place at the forefront of the modern world, presented the Eiffel Tower - the world's tallest structure - as a symbol of national pride and engineering superiority.  The United States, with its brash, can-do spirit, full of pride in its frontier and its ingenuity, presented the rollicking Wild West show of Buffalo Bill Cody and the marvelous phonograph of Thomas Edison.

Eiffel, Cody, Oakley and Edison are just a few of the characters in Jonnes and Stefoff's dramatic history. There are also squabbling artists, a notorious newspaperman, and a generous sprinkling of royalty from around the world.  Some of them emerge at the close of the World's Fair of 1889 winners, some losers, but neither they nor any among the vast crowds attending the fair ever forgot what they saw there. The drama, colors, crowds and personalities that made Jonnes's bestselling adult book so fascinating and acclaimed, are all here in spades as adapted for middle grade and above by Steffof.

I ordered Eiffel's Tower in part for my niece and partly for myself.  The current Jeopardy champion James H. mentioned that he prepared for the championship by reading Young People's versions of nonfiction books because they convey the information in an engrossing manner.  Eiffel's Tower is an example of effective writing for young people.

Eiffel's Tower tells the story of the World's Fair in Paris, France in 1889, the anniversary of the French Revolution.  The French government holds a contest for a monument that will reflect France's progress and enlightenment.  Most European countries are still monarchies and most refuse to participate in the World's Fair.  The USA and France do compete and France is eager to prove its scientific prowess.

Eiffel's design is controversial and Eiffel's Tower goes into the difficulties that he faced with the engineering, the financing, and its execution. He dealt with labor strikes, with difficult weather, with vast engineering problems in the construction and even with the elevators.  Jill Jonnes and Rebecca Stefoff cover these issues clearly and without dumbing them down. Instead, she conveys information on competition, trademark, labor laws, partnership and distributorship agreements in a way that makes sense for ordinary people and for young people eager to learn.

Jill Jonnes and Rebecca Stefoff tell the story of the World's Fair through Eiffel, through Thomas Edison and his amazing technological inventions (and his disputes with his business partners) and his emphasis on self-promotion, through Annie Oakley and Buffalo Bill who further enhance their reputations with the demonstrations of their shooting prowess.  But in Eiffel's Tower,  Jill Jonnes and Rebecca Stefoff do not gloss over the plight of the Native Americans that accompanied Buffalo Bill during his shows or of the workers that continued under difficult conditions to complete the Eiffel Tower in time for the opening of the World's Fair.

This is a book that shares stories and conveys information and makes another place and time come vividly alive.

About the Authors:
Jill Jonnes, who holds a PhD in American History from Johns Hopkins University, is the author previously of Eiffel's Tower, Conquering Gotham, Empires of Light, and South Bronx Rising.  Founder of the nonprofit Baltimore Tree Trust, she is leading the Baltimore City Forestry Board's new initiative, Baltimore's Flowering Tree Trails.

As a staff member of the 2010 Presidential National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling, she wrote the first chapter of the report Deep Water: The Gulf Oil Disaster and the Future of Offshore Drilling.  In the fall of 2011, she was a scholar studying Trees as Green Infrastructure at teh Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC. Jonnes was also named a National Endowment for the Humanities scholar and has received several grants from the Ford Foundation.  She lives in the Baltimore area.

Rebecca Stefoff has devoted her career to writing nonfiction books for young readers.  Her publications include histories, literary biographies, an encyclopedia of maps, and  numerous books on science and environmental issues.  She has also adapted a number of landmark works in history and science, including Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States, Jared Diamond's The Third Chimpanzee, Charles C. Mann's bestselling 1493, and Ronald Takaki's A Different Mirror for Young People: A History of Multicultural America.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Tin Badges by Lorenzo Carcaterra

Tin Badges by Lorenzo Carcaterra
  • ISBN-10: 0345483928 - Hardcover $28.
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books (August 27, 2019), 304 pages.
  • Review copy courtesy of the publisher and NetGalley.

The blurb:
A top NYPD detective is pulled out of retirement to take down a notorious drug dealer. But will he risk the only family he’s ever had to crack the case?

As one of the NYPD’s most trusted “tin badges”—retired detectives brought in to solve cases that are beyond the reach of the everyday force—Tank Rizzo has faced off against some of the city’s toughest criminals without breaking a sweat. To tackle a case involving a dangerous kingpin known as Gonzo, Tank turns to his best friend and ex-partner, Pearl; a former mobster living out a seemingly quiet retirement as the owner of Tank’s favorite Italian restaurant; and a team of expert misfits he would trust with his life. But Gonzo will stop at nothing to defend the empire he's built, and won't hesitate to make it personal.

Then Tank gets a call telling him that his brother and sister-in-law, estranged from him for many years, have been killed in a horrific car accident. Tank is the only family left for his orphaned teenage nephew, Chris, although he knows his lifestyle is ill-suited to win him father of the year.

Chris moves in with Tank, and the two circle each other warily. It’s only when Chris reveals an interest in true crime and a genius-level skill with computers that they begin to bond. Chris’s skills may be exactly what Tank’s team needs to take Gonzo down—but getting him involved could put his life at risk.

I devoured Tin Badges in one day.  I hadn't realized that Lorenzo Carcaterra had also written one of my recent favorites, The Wolf, because the stories were very different.

Tin Badges is a detective thriller - set in today's New York with retired Tank Rizzo and his partner Pearl and their team of unorthodox crimefighters.  Tank and Pearl were forced into retirement after significant, debilitating injuries in the line of duty. While Tank and Pearl are unable to work as regular police, their Captain gives them cold cases to solve.

The latest cold case leads to an eruption of violence and a link to a dangerous drug ring. Just as Tank and Pearl undertake to solve this case, Tank's younger brother is killed and Tank takes in his teenage nephew, Chris. Chris has plenty of anger and resentment against the uncle that was absent his entire life.  But Tank and Chris share an interest in solving crimes/mysteries.  Chris is a tech wizard and wants to help the team solve the latest mystery.  When their investigation leads gun wielding criminals to attack those close to Tank, Tank and Pearl must decide how far to take the fight.

I loved the characters - beyond Pearl, Tank and Chris  we have Tank's girl friend, the daughter of a "connected" boss, the retired mafioso (old school and with principles), the unconventional crime fighting team and their close relationships.  Tin Badges introduces us to a team of unorthodox skills and players their adventure draws us in.  Tin Badges is an engrossing, fun read!

About the Author:
Lorenzo Carcaterra is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of A Safe PlaceSleepersApachesGangsterStreet BoysParadise CityChasersMidnight Angels, and The Wolf. He is a former writer/producer for Law & Order and has written for National Geographic TravelerThe New York Times Magazine, and Maxim. He lives in New York City and is at work on his next novel.