The hardships of poverty and displacement are tempered with hope, determination and the will to survive in this well-researched debut historical novel. Fifteen-year-old Mina is still resilient despite great suffering, having lost her sister and parents during Ireland's potato famine. In 1848, she and her only living relative, brother Daniel, begin a treacherous journey to America, but soon become separated. Mina outruns further peril by escaping to a grand estate in the English countryside, where she finds work as a kitchen assistant. Forced to hide her flaming red hair (" 'the devil's gift' "), dress as a boy and answer to Paddy, she is unable to trust anyone with her secret exceptperhapsthe chef, Mr. Serle, a dark-skinned, mysterious man, who "like a god in an old story... happens when and where he is wanted." The unlikely pair prepare food by dayCeely's descriptions of a Victorian kitchen are deliciously vividand share their painful memories by night. The relationship between the two foreigners blossoms, but can they fully trust each other? Ceely's prose is graceful, but the pacing slows markedly as the protagonists' stories unfold, keeping readers at arm's length. A final burst of energy and suspense livens the conclusion, and fans of the genre will appreciate Ceely's light touch and historical consistency.
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Ceely's novel is the tale of the friendship between a young Irish girl who disguises herself as a boy to work on an estate and the estate's mysterious chef. As far as anyone knows, 15-year-old Mina Pigot is really a scrappy Irish lad who goes by the name of Paddy. When a startled horse steps on Mina's foot and breaks it, Mr. Serle, the quiet, reserved chef, offers to let her work in his kitchen. Although the other kitchen boy, Tom, torments her, Mina enjoys the work. When Mr. Serle falls ill from a fever, she cares for him, becoming curious about his feverish ramblings. It isn't long before he discovers she isn't a boy, and over a series of quiet evenings, she shares with him the sad story of her flight from Ireland. Mr. Serle has a secret, too, but Mina will have to overcome her prejudices to sympathize with him. Although the novel is somewhat slow moving and the plot is thin, Ceely captures the period perfectly with vivid description and minute historical detail. Kristine Huntley
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.