Book Review: Mambo in Chinatown by Jean Kwok

Mambo in Chinatown by Jean KwokMambo in Chinatown: What it is about

From the publishers: “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.”

Mambo in Chinatown: What I thought

A really nice book. It’s such fun to read, that after the story was finished, I wanted to read much, much more about Charlie and her family and friends.

This is an interesting story about a young woman without many chances in life, from a very poor family. Eventually she does get a chance to get a better life and she becomes a very good Latin dancer. But her father doesn’t approve of things like that. She isn’t even allowed to be in close contact to men, let alone dance in a sexy way with them! And she can’t have an affair with her lovely dancing partner because of the rules at the school she works at. The her sister gets ill. So, while she now has a good job, there are all kinds of problems.

Eventually, all ends up well, of course. There is no other possible outcome with a book like this. But it’s not predictable – except the story line about her sister, which I saw coming from a great distance.

In any case, a fantastic book for the holidays or in order to forget your busy life for a while.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars (good to very good)

Number of pages: 384

First published: 2014

I got this: for review from the Dutch publishers (Dutch translation: Dans met mij)

Genre: contemporary fiction


Book Review: Tantric Coconuts by Greg Kincaid

Tantric Coconuts by Greg KincaidTantric Coconuts: What it is about

From the publishers: “Free spirit Angel Two Sparrow—artist and musician extraordinaire—is having trouble making ends meet.  On the verge of desperation, she inherits her crazy Aunt Lilly’s bookmobile and half-wolf named No Barks, and dreams up yet another life plan. Painting her business card on the side of the van, Angel and her trusty companion set off on a pilgrimage across America hoping to jump-start her new profession: Native American Spiritual Consultant.

Traveling in the other direction, Ted Day and his trusty Irish Terrier-mix Argo are on a much needed vacation (and in need of spiritual nourishment). When he leaves Kansas, Ted can’t image how far from his sleepy law office that old silver and black Winnebago 32RQ Chieftain will take him.

Two lives (four if you count the canines) collide (literally). Once the dust settles, Ted and Angel find themselves enamored.  Sensing that something bigger and more profound has been set in motion, the couple embarks on a wild road trip, detouring into some rarely traveled corridors of the human soul. Very soon, it becomes clear that nothing will ever be the same for these travelers, their dogs, and, heck, the world at large, too. “

Tantric Coconuts: What I thought

This book was more spiritual/religious than I had anticipated. I may not have read it if I’d realized. And that would have been a pity.

This was such a fun book! I loved the main characters, the slightly chaotic Angel who only wants the best for other people, and Ted, the very stern lawyer, who wasn’t in the mood for a holiday at all, but still.

It takes a bit of time for Ted to defrost, but when he does, he becomes a pleasant person who is willing to learn whatever Angel is happy to teach him. And that is a lot. In two weeks’ time, he learns all about the different levels of religion, on a kind of maturity scale. Most people get stuck at a low level and believe things quite differently from people at the highest levels (who are mainly enlightened people). Ted is a quick student and soon understands most of what he’s being taught. Angel gets help from a catholic priest, a Buddhist, and a Muslim.

For all that I care about religion (not at all), I loved reading about the different levels (it was a concept I had not heard of before), and more generally, about Angel and Ted’s travels. The writing is very easy going with some of the explanations about the levels being a little harder to follow. It’s a very accessible, friendly book.


Rating: 4 out of 5 stars (good)

Number of pages: 296

First published: 2014

I got this: for review from my Dutch Random House rep

Genre: contemporary fiction, spirituality, religion


Book Review: The Home Place by Carrie La Seur

The Home Place by Carrie la SeurThe Home Place: What it is about

From the publishers: “The only Terrebonne who made it out, Alma thought she was done with Montana, with its bleak winters and stifling ways. But an unexpected call from the local police takes the successful lawyer back to her provincial hometown and pulls her into the family trouble she thought she’d left far behind: Her lying, party-loving sister, Vicky, is dead. Alma is told that a very drunk Vicky had wandered away from a party and died of exposure after a night in the brutal cold. But when Alma returns home to bury Vicky and see to her orphaned niece, she discovers that the death may not have been an accident.

The Home Place is a story of secrets that will not lie still, human bonds that will not break, and crippling memories that will not be silenced. It is a story of rural towns and runaways, of tensions corporate and racial, of childhood trauma and adolescent betrayal, and of the guilt that even forgiveness cannot ease. Most of all, this is a story of the place we carry in us always: home.”

The Home Place: What I thought

The publisher compares this book with A Land More Kind Than Home by Wiley Cash and The House Girl by Tara Conklin, which I enjoyed both, so I was keen to read this book. While I’m not quite sure about the comparison with the latter, I enjoyed The Home Place a lot.

Alma comes back “home” after her sister has died. Is it an accident? Really, Alma wants to go back to her busy life in the big city but there’s also her sister’s daughter. There isn’t really anyone suitable around who can take care of her. They spend some time on the Home Place, the old farm house where no one of the family have lived for a while.  But are they safe there?

Alma finds herself looking into her sister’s death and discovering things she’d rather not know. It’s an almost-thriller (I wasn’t on the edge of my seat at any time) that gently evolves. It was enjoyable but it finished too fast for me. I guess that’s a good sign.


Rating: 4 out of 5 stars (good)

Number of pages: 261 (ebook)

First published: 2014

I got this: for review from Netgalley/HarperCollins

Genre: contemporary fiction


Two-weekly Reading Roundup

The last two weeks

Not much reading done! I’ve been to a 2-Day business course (given by the famous Brian Tracy) and learned to FOCUS on what’s important. And reading is becoming that less and less. And… no reading, not much blogging!


Books I finished in the last TWO weeks: 3

The Home Place by Carrie la SeurSnow White by Donald BarthelmeHaal meer uit je dip [Get More Out of Your Bad Turn] by Marisa Garau


The Home Place by Carrie La Seur. A woman’s never-do-well sister has died. Was it really an accident? A book full of family secrets. 4 stars

Snow White by Donald Barthelme [review in Dutch]. A crazy book about a modern-day Snow White who lives with seven men but is waiting for her prince. 4 stars

Haal meer uit je dip [Get More from Your Dip] by Marisa Garau [review in Dutch]. About how mindfulness can help you when you’re in a dip. I’m not, but I found it useful anyway. 4 stars


Other books I reviewed

Longbourn by Jo BakerWhere'd You Go, Bernadette? by Maria SempleHet Boschhuis [The Bosch House]  by Pauline Broekema


Longbourn by Jo Baker. Behind the scenes at Pride and Prejudice: the servants’ tale. 4.5 stars

Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple. A fun read about the disappearance of a mother. 4.5 stars

Het Boschhuis [The Bosch House] by Pauline Broekema [review in Dutch]. A fictionalised family history. Too detailed, too disconnected. DNF.


Planning to read next

Alles hiervoor by Andre PlatteelTantric Coconuts by Greg KincaidMr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Book Store by Robin SloanDark Eden by Chris BeckettMambo in Chinatown by Jean Kwok


What are YOU reading this week?



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