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Mina Paperback – Mar 29 2005


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Delta; New title edition (March 29 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385336888
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385336888
  • Product Dimensions: 14.1 x 1.9 x 21.1 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 249 g
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #484,213 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

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 except—perhaps—the 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 day—Ceely's descriptions of a Victorian kitchen are deliciously vivid—and 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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

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.

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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
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Most helpful customer reviews

Format: Hardcover
I had a difficult time putting down this book. I loved the descriptions of the different methods of cooking for the time period, and the tales that the two main characters, Mina and Mr. Serle, tell are mesmerizing. The two have both suffered enormous losses in family and religious freedom, and continue to suffer under the ignorant comments of other servants of the "gentry." Mina is honestly written and totally believable as a 15 year old, innocent but very weathered and having suffered unimaginable pain.
I expected more of a love story to come of the relationship between Mina and Mr. Serle, but the ending was a bit more believable, the relationship a bit more complicated, without a love interest growing.
I hope to see more from Ms. Ceely.
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By A Customer on June 1 2004
Format: Hardcover
This carefully researched novel slowly engrosses the reader with resplendent details of life after hunger and great loss. As the story progresses, the characters cultivate relationships that could take place in any historical period or setting. In their alliances, the characters offer one another comfort in a harsh and often cruel environment.
The language in this novel is original and lovely. The descriptions of the food preparation and the daily lives of the servants are very rich.
Mina is a wonderful story that Ceely takes the time to tell in exquisite detail. She does not sell it short with a quick or predictable ending. The novel stayed with me long after I completed it.
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By A Customer on April 14 2004
Format: Hardcover
I enjoyed this book and would recommend it but why did the previous reviewers spoil it by telling the "secret" behind Mina's friend?
Just some advice: please concentrate on whether or not you liked the book and not give away any plot details to readers who might not have read the book yet.
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Format: Hardcover
I loved the descriptions of the work in the kitchen, but I found the plot to be extremely flimsy. A happenstance meeting with an unscrupulous character later in the book was particularly egregious.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 17 reviews
12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
Adeep historical tale March 30 2004
By Harriet Klausner - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
By 1848 her sister and her parents died due to the potato famine, but fifteen year old Mina still lives with her dream of making it to the United States though her one effort ended with the ship catching fire and sinking. To survive Mina changes her sex becoming Paddy so she can earn a living as a stable hand on a country estate. Over time, "Paddy" is promoted to work as an assistant to the Italian chef Mr. Serle, sharing a room with him. Mina reveals her true gender to her boss, but he keeps her revelation secret from their employer.
Serle informs Mina that he is a Jew who fled the poverty of the Rome ghetto. He too dreams of America where he hopes to one day open a restaurant and make his fortune. Both begin to wonder if they pool their resources, could they achieve what they failed to accomplish separately. That means trusting the other something neither is used to doing.
MINA is a deep historical tale that shines a powerful microscope on mid nineteenth century Ireland and England. The story line is incredibly descriptive as Jonatha Ceely fill MINA with historical data like the workings of a Victorian kitchen, but that also keeps the pace of the plot at a leisurely stroll. Still genre fans will take delight with this insightful picturesque look back at a bygone era through the eyes of two survivors that is ideal fill in reading over a few days.
Harriet Klausner
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Wonderful and touching Victorian novel... May 5 2006
By CoffeeGurl - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
The year is 1848. Fifteen-year-old Mina Pigot wants to flee to America with her brother Daniel after her whole family dies during the Irish Potato Famine. However, her plans to emigrate America are tarnished and she ends up working at the stables of an English country estate. Before landing at the English estate, she and her brother lose contact with each other when they are obligated to separate. Now she must disguise herself as a boy and hide her red hair with dirt. But when the manager finds the "boy" unfit for work after an incident with a horse, she starts working at the kitchens with the dark and mysterious Mr. Serle. None of the snooty servants at the estate knows she's Irish and she cannot tell them such a thing, but she finds a kindred spirit in Serle, especially after he tells her that he is a Jew who had fled the slums in Rome and has dreams of going to America. But will Mina trust him enough to share her secrets? There are various twists throughout the novel.

Mina is quite a beautiful historical novel with attention to detail and a dark, compelling story that will keep you reading until its final pages. You get a glimpse of poverty in nineteenth century England and Ireland and the things the Irish had to go through to survive. The story is quite poignant, but with a touch of hopefulness that keeps you wanting the best things to happen to the main characters. Serle is a wonderful character who takes Mina under his wing and has nothing but her best interests at heart, even during the times when she expresses her prejudice toward Jews when she had no idea that he was Jewish. Mina is also a great heroine with flaws as well as virtues. She is exasperating when she isn't compelling and I enjoyed the parts in which she nurses Serle when he suffers from a bout of Malaria. Those were some very touching scenes. The best thing about this novel is the setting. I love this unique backdrop of Victorian's underbelly and life of poverty. I also liked the descriptions of the kitchen and the food. It made me hungry when reading those very descriptive parts. The first-person narrative (Mina's POV) isn't always likeable and I would have preferred the narrative to be in third person. I think it would have worked better that way. The story lags in the middle toward the end, but gains strength in the final chapters. All in all, as said before, Mina is a wonderful piece of historical fiction that, aside from a few flaws, is wonderful and readable and I cannot recommend this book enough.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1848 is not a time to be poor Sept. 21 2004
By Lynn Harnett - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Her family dead from the famine in Ireland, her dream of emigrating to America dashed, her brother and only living relative missing, Mina Pigot wakes in a stable loft from a dream of loaves turned to stones and rises to tend her new master's horses. It's 1848. A frightened fugitive as well as a refugee, she's disguised as a boy, her flame-red hair carefully blackened with soot.

Grateful for food and shelter, she feels lucky to have found a place on this English country estate, but it's a precarious place. The estate manager, suspicious of Paddy, as they call the Irish, startles a horse into injuring the `boy' and turns him off as unfit for work. But the shorthanded cook, Mr. Serle, a dark foreigner, takes him into the kitchen.

The back-stories of Serle and Mina unfold amid the daily life of the estate. Though the servants (except for Serle) aren't much more sympathetic than the gentry, Mina keeps her secrets and learns her work from sun-up to well after sundown. Ceely treats us to the aromas of baking bread and roasting meat, the skill of regulating the ovens and ranges, the plucking and peeling and beating and layering and timing of meals for a dozen, twenty or more.

Mina's narration, full of grief and hope and determination, but frightened of bullies like the senior kitchen boy, sometimes seems too timid, too ready to cry. Who wouldn't be with the life she's had, but it's not the tone of a hero. And while the reader knows that Serle is a Jew, Mina seems impervious to his disappointment every time she makes a remark about Jewish child killers and devil worshipers. Nonetheless, when Serle falls delirious with a bout of malaria, Mina nurses him. He's her only ally, true, but she has also grown to care for him.

Once he discovers her masquerade, her secrets begin to tumble out - her horrific experiences trying to emigrate, and after, losing everything and forced to run. This material might have worked better in flashback than in conversation (well, mostly monologue) as it is an exciting tale, which loses some of its immediacy in the telling. The same is true of Serle's story, when it comes.

But the workings of the estate, the venality of people's behavior toward one another, and the social realities of the time ring true. Mina's ignorance and timidity, while sometimes trying, feels authentic and her story is a touching, rousing tale. An absorbing and well-researched debut.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Delightful March 11 2005
By R. Boadway - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
A delightful and easy read. Actually, three stories in one as the two main characters tell their own life tales in the context of the book. A story about overcoming hardships and tragedy through friendship, love and most importantly, hope. I felt especially drawn to the character of Mr. Serle, portrayed as a kind and warm "father-figure" type whose wisdom was both powerful and inspirational. The gastronomically descriptive text always made me hungry and wishing I was sitting at the tables enjoying the delicious foods with characters. I recommend this book.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Thoughtful July 5 2006
By W. Zollo - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Set against the background of an English estate where Mina conceals her gender to hide the intricate secrets of her recent past. Quickly discovered she is set to work in the kitchen and forms a bond with Mr. Serle, the chief cook, who is also on the path of discovering how the hardships of the past affect the views one hold toward the world.

The road each has traveled to arrive and work in the same kitchen is an important one and holds many clues about the people they were and have become. Mina is fifteen and almost ignorantly Irish-Catholic; the victim of Ireland's famine. Mr. Serle, an Italian Jew, is the casualty of Christian hatred and more. Ceely, handles this with arresting, salient prose which keeps the story from drifting to a muffled dead narrative wherein a novel like this (the exchanging of two main characters stories) can so easily slip.

What is so laudable about MINA is how credibly the friction and tension is explored between Mina and Serle which springs up so appropriately, yet, not explosively. Cultural differences are explained, words exchanged and pondered, still for Mina things don't always make sense but Serle prods her to keep her mind open and their companionship is key and lovingly stroked by the author.

Though set during the famine, this novel carries with it many notions and ideals still pertinent to us today.

(Note -- Mina's change of gender is not a spoiler)


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