Searching for Sylvie Lee by Jean Kwok

Searching for Sylvie Lee

John Murray|17 October 2019|341 pages|e-book via NetGalley|Review copy|4*

Description extracted from the publishers’ 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. 

My thoughts:

I loved Searching For Sylvie Lee by Jean Kwok.  I enjoyed reading its beautiful descriptive language and the mystery of what had happened to Sylvie. I think the characterisation is very good, the three main characters, Sylvie, her younger sister Amy and their mother Ma are each clearly recognisable by the way they speak. The story alternates between the two sisters and their mother’s perspectives, as the details of what happened to Sylvie are revealed.

Sylvie had left her home in the USA to visit her dying grandmother in the Netherlands where she had lived until she was nine. After the funeral she was supposed to return home, but she never arrived. Amy and her parents are distraught and she flies to the Netherlands to find out what had happened to her.

This is a mystery full of suspense and it is also a story about family relationships, about secrets and the barriers that language can raise – Amy’s dominant language is English, whereas her mother and father, Chinese immigrants living in America, have just a basic grasp of English and still speak Chinese. Sylvie also speaks Dutch as until the age of nine she had lived with the Tan family, Chinese immigrants living in the Netherlands. It’s not just the language but also the different cultures and the racism they experienced that separated the characters.

I had realised quite early on what the family secret was and what had happened to Sylvie, but that didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the book. My only criticism is that in the latter part of the book, particularly as Sylvie describes her visit to Venice I thought that the book veered offline. Although the episode is essential to the plot the detailed description took away the momentum of the mystery and my attention wandered a bit. But the ending made up for that!

The Author:

I would like to read more of Jean Kwok’s books. She is trilingual, fluent in Dutch, Chinese, and English, and studied Latin for seven years. Jean immigrated from Hong Kong to Brooklyn when she was five and worked in a Chinatown clothing factory for much of her childhood. She received her bachelor’s degree from Harvard and completed an MFA in fiction at Columbia University. She currently lives in the Netherlands. Her work has been published in twenty countries and taught in universities, colleges, and high schools across the world.  

My thanks to the publishers for my review copy via NetGalley.

Six Degrees of Separation: from Daisy Jones and The Six to Thirteen

I love doing Six Degrees of Separation, a monthly link-up hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best. Each month a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six other books to form a chain. A book doesn’t need to be connected to all the other books on the list, only to the one next to it in the chain.

Daisy Jones

This month the chain begins with Daisy Jones and The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid,  a novel about the rise and fall of a fictional 70s rock band inspired by Fleetwood Mac.

There are always several ways to go when compiling these Six Degree chains and at first my mind went blank  but looking at the books we got for Christmas I decided that Face It: a Memoir by Debbie Harry was just the right book for my first link, a book about a real rock band. Debbie Harry is the best known face of Blondie; she and the band forged a new sound that brought together the worlds of rock, punk, disco, reggae and hip-hop to create some of the most beloved pop songs of all time.

The Ballad of Jethro Tull: The official illustrated oral history is another book we got for Christmas. It’s Jethro Tull’s story told by Ian Anderson, band members past and present and the people who helped Tull become one of the most successful bands in rock history.

And then I thought my chain needed a change of genre, but sticking with the word ‘ballad’ I thought of Dreamwalker: The Ballad of Sir Benfro: Book 1 by James Oswald, a magical tale of the young dragon, Benfro, inspired by the language and folklore of Wales. It follows the adventures of a young dragon, Sir Benfro, in a land where his kind have been hunted near to extinction by men.

For the next link I turned to crime fiction and to one of James Oswald’s Inspector McLean novels, set in Edinburgh – The Hangman’s Song. It’s a dark, tense novel with elements of the supernatural  and parapsychology thrown in. It’s not a book for the faint-hearted or the squeamish as there are details of some gruesome deaths, murders and beatings that the characters go through. 

James Oswald is a Scottish author and so my last link is to another Scottish author – Chris Brookmyre, who has written The Way of all Flesh, under the pseudonym of Ambrose Parry with his wife, Dr Marisa Haetzman a consultant anaesthetist. It is set in Edinburgh in 1847 as Dr James Young Simpson, a professor of midwifery, discovered the anaesthetic properties of chloroform. It combines fact and fiction most successfully, the social scene, historical and medical facts slotting perfectly into the plot. It was on the Longlist for the 2019 Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year.

But the winner was Thirteen by Steve Cavannagh, an Irish author. It’s the fifth book in the Eddie Flynn series of crime thrillers, ‘serving up a delicious twist to the traditional courtroom thriller, where in this instance the real killer is not the one on trial, but a member of the jury!’ I have a copy but haven’t read it yet. And quite by chance I see that it also links back to Daisy Jones and the Six as it has a number in the title.

From a fictional rock band to two real rock bands my chain also links up books of ballads and three crime fiction novels.

Next month (1 February 2020), we’ll begin with Fleishman is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner.

My Friday Post: The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce

Book Beginnings Button

Every Friday Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Gillion at Rose City Reader where you can share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.

There are so many books I want to read right now and The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce is just one of them.

The Music Shop


There was once a music shop.

From the outside it looked like any shop, in any backstreet. It had no name above the door. No record display in the window. There was a homemade poster stuck to the glass. For the music you need!! Everyone welcome!! We only sell VINYL!

Also every Friday there is The Friday 56, hosted by Freda at Freda’s Voice.

30879-friday2b56These are the rules:

  1. Grab a book, any book.
  2. Turn to page 56, or 56% on your eReader. If you have to improvise, that is okay.
  3. Find any sentence (or a few, just don’t spoil it) that grabs you.
  4. Post it.
  5. Add the URL to your post in the link on Freda’s most recent Friday 56 post.

Page 56:

Vivaldi was so famous he was like a film star. There was a time everyone wanted to hear Vivaldi, but when he died, they’d all moved on. He had nothing at the end. Do you know the saddest thing?

No, Peg.

No one went to his funeral. There was no music for Vivaldi at the end.


1988. Frank owns a music shop. It is jam-packed with records of every speed, size and genre. Classical, jazz, punk – as long as it’s vinyl he sells it. Day after day Frank finds his customers the music they need.

Then into his life walks Ilse Brauchmann.

Ilse asks Frank to teach her about music. His instinct is to turn and run. And yet he is drawn to this strangely still, mysterious woman with her pea-green coat and her eyes as black as vinyl. But Ilse is not what she seems. And Frank has old wounds that threaten to re-open and a past he will never leave behind …


One of the quotes on the back cover says that this is ‘a beautiful novel, a tonic for the soul and a complete joy to read.’ I really hope it will be just that.

Have you read this book? What did you think?

Calendar of Crime Wrap-Up Post

The Calendar of Crime is a reading challenge hosted by Bev at My Reader’s Block. It allows mystery readers to include any mystery regardless of publication date. If it falls in a mystery category (crime fiction/detective novel/police procedural/suspense/thriller/spy & espionage/hard-boiled/cozy etc.), then it counts and it does not matter if it was published in 1892 or 2019.

The Challenge ran from January 1, 2019 to December 31, 2019. I really enjoyed doing this and completed 42 of the 108 categories as shown in the chart and listed below:

Calendar of C 2019 2






  • The Lying Room by Nicci French author’s birth month (Sean French)
  • The Seeker by S G Maclean – original publication month
  • Who Killed Ruby? by Camilla Way – mother has a major role
  • Wild Fire by Ann Cleeves – action takes place this month







  • The Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths – primary action takes place in this month
  • The Lost Man by Jane Harper – Family relationships play major role
  • Not Dead Enough by Peter James – book title has word beginning with ‘N’


And now I’m looking forward to taking part in this year’s challenge – you can sign up too on Bev’s blog My Readers Block.

When Are You Reading? Challenge 2019

The When Are You Reading? Challenge for 2019, hosted by Sam at Taking on a World of Words has now ended. It involved reading a book predominantly set in each of the twelve time periods. I didn’t manage to read a book for each time period, missing the earliest two, that is Pre 1300 and 1300 -1499.

For the period 1500 – 1699 I have divided it into 1500 – 1599 and 1600 – 1699 as I read books set in both centuries. And for some of the periods I have read several books but have chosen just one to include in my list:



1500-1599: The Man on a Donkey by H F M Prescott

1600-1699: The Seeker by S G Maclean

1700-1799: The Potter’s Hand by A N Wilson (a re-read my link takes to the review when I first read it in 2014)

1800-1899: The Doll Factory by Elizabeth Macneal

1900-1919: Greenmantle by John Buchan

1920-1939:  The Tea Planter’s Wife by Dinah Jefferies

1940-1959: Dear Mrs Bird by A J Pearce

1960-1979: Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane

1980-1999: The Lost Letter from Morocco by Adrienne Chinn

2000-Present: 2013 The Ruin by Dervla McTiernan

The Future: The Passengers by John Marrs

Links from the titles will take you to my reviews.

Mount TBR 2019 Final Checkpoint

Bev’s Mount TBR Challenge has come to an end. My aim was to get to the top of Mont Blanc, which was to read 24 of the books that I’d owned prior to January 1, 2019. I did that by June and continued climbing, conquering Mt Vancouver (36 books) and making strides up Mount Ararat with a total of 41 TBRs read, just 7 books short of the peak.

Bev has set an additional challenge – to complete this list of Words to the Wise According to Mount TBR of familiar proverbs and sayings by using the titles of the books I’ve read this year on my journey up the Mountain. 

A stitch in time…[saves] The Shadow Puppet

Don’t count your chickens… [under] The Wych Elm

A penny saved is…. An Advancement of Learning

All good things must come.. (to) The Seven Sisters

When in Rome…  [beware of the] Blood on the Tracks

All that glitters is not… Wild Fire

A picture is worth… Cold Earth 

When the going gets tough, the tough get … Mary Barton

Two wrongs don’t make … Bitter Lemons of Cyprus

The pen is mightier than …  The Seagull

The squeaky wheel gets…  Life After Life

Hope for the best, but prepare for… The Rúin

Birds of a feather flock… [to] The Man on a Donkey


Happy New Year 2020!

Wishing everyone a happy, healthy and peaceful 2020!

Happy New Year

For my first post of the new year I’m looking back at books I read in 2019 using a Reading Bingo Card


This is my  fourth year of playing the Reading Bingo Card.  I like it because during the year I don’t look for books to fill in the card – I just read what I want to read and then see whether the books I’ve read will match the squares. I also like it because it is an excellent way of looking back at the books I’ve read and reminding me of how much I enjoyed them.

Here is my completed card for 2019:

A Book With More Than 500 pages.

The Butterfly Room

The Butterfly Room by Lucinda Riley – 640 pages. The story revolves around Posy Montague and her family home, Admiral House in the Suffolk countryside, a house that had been in her family for generations. The narrative alternates between the different periods of her life from her childhood in the 1940s to the present day in 2006

A Forgotten Classic 

Man on a donkey

The Man on a Donkey by H F M Prescott, published in 1952. A classic of historical fiction, written by Hilda Prescott, a historian, this is the story of ordinary people caught up in great events in the year 1536, when Henry VIII’s kingdom was split apart by rebellion.

A Book That Became a Movie 

Breakfast at tiffany's

Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote. Audrey Hepburn’s sparkling performance in the 1961 film of the same name, Breakfast at Tiffany’s is Truman Capote’s timeless portrait of tragicomic cultural icon Holly Golightly.

A Book Published This Year

Fallen Angel Brookmyre

Fallen Angel by Chris Brookmyre was published in April this year. It’s a novel about a family in crisis, about toxic relationships and about the psychology of conspiracy theories.

A Book with a Number in the Title

seven sisters ebook

The Seven Sisters by Lucinda Riley. Maia D’Aplièse and her five sisters gather together at their childhood home, ‘Atlantis’ – a fabulous, secluded castle situated on the shores of Lake Geneva – having been told that their beloved father, the elusive billionaire they call Pa Salt, has died.

A Book Written by Someone Under Thirty

The Shadow Puppet

The Shadow Puppet by Georges Simenon is one of the early Maigret books written in 1931 when Simenon was 29. A man is shot dead in his office in the Place des Vosges in Paris and Maigret uncovers a tragedy involving desperate lives, unhappy people, addiction and an all-consuming greed.

A Book With Non-Human Characters 

Rivers of London

Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch –  a novel centred around the adventures of Peter Grant, a young officer in the Metropolitan Police, who, following an unexpected encounter with a ghost, is recruited into the small branch of the Met that deals with magic and the supernatural. Featuring gods and goddesses and vampires.

A Funny Book

Murder of my aunt

The Murder of My Aunt by Richard Hull. An original and funny murder mystery and, whilst not laugh-out-loud funny, I thought it was brilliant. It’s witty and ironic from the start.  It makes very entertaining reading and I loved the ending, which took me by surprise and I thought was so clever.

A Book By A Female Author 

a beautiful corpse

I have plenty of choice for this and have chosen a book by a new-to-me author, Christi Daugherty and her book, A Beautiful Corpse. It’s a murder mystery set in Savannah, with its historic buildings, parks and ancient oak trees covered in Spanish moss. Harper McLain, a crime reporter with the Savannah Daily News investigates a murder on downtown River Street, a narrow cobblestoned lane between the old wharves and warehouses and the Savannah River.

A Book With A Mystery


The Rúin by Dervla McTiernan, the first in the detective Cormac Reilly series set in Ireland. In Irish, Rúin means something hidden, a mystery, or a secret, but the word also has a long history as a term of endearment. It has a powerful opening in 1993 in Galway when Garda Cormac Reilly, new to the job, finds 15-year-old Maude and her little brother, Jack, who’s only five, alone in an old, decaying Georgian house, whilst their mother Hilaria Blake lies dead of an overdose.

A Book With A One Word Title


Dolly by Susan Hill is a small book – in size and in length and I read it very quickly. It’s a supernatural tale with an uneasy foreboding and melancholic atmosphere, mainly set in a mysterious isolated country house in the Fens.

A Book of Short Stories

Blood on the tracks

Blood on the Tracks edited by Martin Edwards. A collection of fifteen railway themed stories presented in roughly chronological order from 1898 up to  the 1950s. The ones I enjoyed the most are by R Austin Freeman, Roy Vickers, Dorothy L Sayers, F Tennyson Jesse and Freeman Crofts Willis

Free Square

The island Jonasson

For this square I’ve chosen a book in translation. It’s The Island by Ragnar Jónasson, translated from Icelandic by Victoria Cribb. Detective Inspector Hulda Hermannsdóttir is sent to the isolated island of Elliðaey to investigate a disappearance. But she finds haunting similarities to an old case – the murder of a young woman ten years ago.  A novel full of suspense and foreboding, set against the beautiful and dramatic Icelandic landscape.

A Book Set On A Different Continent

Good Son

The Good Son by by You-jeong Jeong, a South Korean writer of psychological crime and thriller fiction. When Yu-jin wakes up covered in blood, and finds the body of his mother downstairs, he decides to hide the evidence and pursue the killer himself. It is set in South Korea, mainly in Incheon, a city south of Seoul but the main focus is on Yu-jin’s dysfunctional family and their relationships.

A Book of Non Fiction

Henrietta Lacks

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot – a wonderful book, fascinating, but harrowing to read in parts, from all the details of Henrietta’s life, how she was treated for cervical cancer in 1951, when she was just 30, to her death nine months later.

The First Book By a Favourite Author

Mary Barton Gaskell

Mary Barton: A Tale of Manchester Life a novel by Elizabeth Gaskell published in two volumes in 1848. It covers the years 1837 to 1842, telling the story of ordinary working people struggling with the rapid social change and terrible working and living conditions.

A Book You Heard About On Line

Gallows Court

Many of the books I read these days are books I’ve heard about on line. I’ve chosen Gallows Court by Martin Edwards because I first read about it on his blog Do You Write Under Your Own Name? It is set in 1930s London, a change of direction for Martin Edwards, born out of his fascination with that period in history and his love of Golden Age detective fiction. I loved this intricately plotted murder mystery with plenty of suspense and intrigue

A Best Selling Book

The Lost Man

The Lost Man by Jane Harper, her third novel. The story revolves around the death of Cameron Bright. There are three Bright brothers – Nathan the oldest, then Cameron and the youngest brother, Bub. They have a vast cattle ranch in the Queensland outback. Cameron’s body is found lying at the the base of the headstone of a stockman’s grave – a headstone standing alone, a metre high, facing west, towards the desert, in a land of mirages.

A Book Based On A True Story

Katharina fortitude

Katharina: Fortitude by Margaret Skea, historical fiction based on the life of Katharina von Bora from the beginning of her married  life with Martin Luther in 1525 to her death in 1552. It is the conclusion to Katharina: Deliverance, which covered the early years of her life from 1505 up to her wedding to Luther. Margaret Skea is a skilful storyteller and seamlessly blends historical fact into her fiction. I was totally immersed in this story, enhanced by the richly descriptive writing, which made it compulsively readable for me.

A Book At The Bottom of Your To Be Read Pile

Sweet thursday

Sweet Thursday by John Steinbeck –  a sequel to Cannery Row. I’ve had this book for five years. It’s set in Monterey on the California coast in the 1950s after the Second World War when the cannery had closed down. It has great dialogue, great sense of location, eccentric and funny characters, wit, humour, irony and a touch of farce and surrealism, along with plenty of philosophy. I loved it.

A Book Your Friend Loves

Bitter Lemons

Bitter Lemons of Cyprus by Lawrence Durrell is a book recommended by a friend. It’s Durrell’s account of his time in Cyprus, during the 1950s Enosis movement for freedom of the island from British colonial rule, set mainly in Kyrenia in Northern Cyprus, where he bought a house in the Greek village of Bellapaix.  

A Book that Scares You


Wakenhyrst by Michelle Paver. This is a dark and horrific tale of mystery and imagination laced with terror. It’s a story of disintegrating madness, set in a remote hamlet in the Suffolk Fens, an eerie waterlogged landscape.

A Book That Is More Then Ten Years Old

Operation Pax

Operation Pax by Michael Innes first published in 1951, about a petty thief, Alfred Routh, an unpleasant little man, who for much of the time is confused and bewildered by his own thoughts and fears, which plunge him into utter panic. It is pure escapism with an incredibly unbelievable plot and strange eccentric characters that wormed their way into my mind and made it a book I just had to finish.

The Second Book In A Series

An Advancement of learning

An Advancement of Learning by Reginald Hill, the second book in his Dalziel and Pascoe series.  Although not up to the standard of his later books the strength of this book is in the writing and the characterisation. It is a character-driven murder mystery, showing the early relationship between Chief Superintendent Dalziel, a rude, boorish character, and Pascoe, the university educated young DS.

A Book With A Blue Cover

Those who are loved

 Those who Are Loved by Victoria Hislop, is historical fiction in which Themis Koralis/Stravidis tells her grandchildren her life story, beginning from when she was a small child in the 1930s, through the German occupation of Greece during the Second World War, the civil war that followed, then the oppressive rule of the military junta and the abolition of the Greek monarchy, up to the present day.