Tag Archives: Lisa See

Book Review: Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See (4/5)

27 Apr

At my former job, a coworker of mine was floored that I’d never read this book. I found a copy at a used book sale and it sat on my shelf for a few years. Then I heard that Lisa See was coming to town for a signing! I read her other book, Shanghai Girls, and got a copy of this one signed. I grabbed the audiobook before I had time to pick up the physical one and I wish I’d grabbed it sooner. This was a great story.

Cover image via Goodreads

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See

Other books by Lisa See reviewed on this blog:

Shanghai Girls (with two book club reflections and meeting the author)

Summary from Goodreads:

In nineteenth-century China, in a remote Hunan county, a girl named Lily, at the tender age of seven, is paired with a laotong, “old same,” in an emotional match that will last a lifetime. The laotong, Snow Flower, introduces herself by sending Lily a silk fan on which she’s painted a poem in nu shu, a unique language that Chinese women created in order to communicate in secret, away from the influence of men.

As the years pass, Lily and Snow Flower send messages on fans, compose stories on handkerchiefs, reaching out of isolation to share their hopes, dreams, and accomplishments. Together, they endure the agony of foot-binding, and reflect upon their arranged marriages, shared loneliness, and the joys and tragedies of motherhood. The two find solace, developing a bond that keeps their spirits alive. But when a misunderstanding arises, their deep friendship suddenly threatens to tear.

However See did her research for this book, she did it right. It was very easy to picture life in early 1800s China. Their culture, so different from mine, seemed natural after listening to the book for a little while. The foot binding scene caused me to gag in the middle of a run. My husband had to stop and ask me if I was okay. It was so vivid that it was terrifying. The time in the mountains was frighteningly vivid, too. There were a lot of good moments in this book that go back to how talented a writer See is.

I think the mark of good writing is seeing a story through one character’s point of view and not realizing how slanted or biased that view is until it’s pointed out. See did a great job of this. Lily’s views seemed natural to me as the reader and I never questioned her interpretation or views until Snow Flower or the Sworn Sisters pointed out how she was wrong. Lily was more complicated than she at first appeared and Snow Flower’s many layers are evident in the story. Both are wonderful characters.

I liked Snow Flower best because she was easier to analyze and feel sympathy for in the book. When Lily’s flaws were pointed out, I almost took it personally because I felt I knew was her. Snow Flower’s bad fate and hardships were sympathetic and I could see her struggles and feel for her.

I’m very much like Lily. When things are going badly, I persist. I tend to think that something that’s gone wrong must be because I didn’t follow a rule or instruction and I try to get others to conform to this as well. I’m not a great listener much of the time and Snow Flower and Lily’s adult relationship reminded me of many of my own.

Lisa See and me

The months in the mountains were very emotional in my mind. I felt bad for Snow Flower and Lily and got a sense of the desperate situation they were in from See’s writing. Snow Flower’s mother-in-law was quite wicked and the preference given to her second son was really shocking. Snow Flower’s husband confused me because he seemed angry and soft moments apart but that could easily stem from the difficult situation he was in up in the mountains.

Spoiler alert! Skip this paragraph to avoid it. Lily’s realization that Snow Flower had not abandoned her after Snow Flower’s death was almost impossible to listen to. It was so heartbreaking to hear the Sworn Sisters be so cruel to Lily and to hear about Snow Flower’s suffering for the many years they were apart. Lily’s realization that she’d never apologized to Snow Flower was crushing! It was a really sad end to a story that was very sad and while it was fitting, it didn’t make it easy to get through!

Janet Song narrated the audiobook I listened to and I thought she did a great job. She used voices for the characters that were just different enough to tell them apart without any sounding like a mockery. I thought her pacing and intonation were good and it was to a point where I didn’t notice her, which to me means she’s doing a great job.

Lily wanted forgiveness and had trouble giving it herself. The message I got from this book was that friends can be closer than blood but we have to work on those relationships as much as we work on marriages and family relationships. There was a communication breakdown between Snow Flower and Lily that neither was able to correct and it created a rift between them that was never healed. They both needed forgiveness and neither was forthcoming with it. In the end, it poisoned their beautiful friendship.

Writer’s Takeaway: I believe the best historical fiction is when you don’t even realize that it’s historical. The setting felt so natural that I would forget this was 1850s China. It can be really hard to work historical context into a story in a way that will not shock the reader and See did an amazing job with this.

A great book that I’m glad I finally read. Four out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Related Posts:
Book Review: Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See (Audiobook) | Stargazerpuj’s Book Blog
Review: Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See | lisasliterarylife

WWW Wednesday, 26-April-2017

26 Apr

Welcome to WWW Wednesday! This meme was formerly hosted by MizB at A Daily Rhythm and revived here on Taking on a World of Words. Just answer the three questions below and leave a link to your post in the comments for others to look at. No blog? No problem! Just leave a comment with your responses. Please, take some time to visit the other participants and see what others are reading. So, let’s get to it!

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The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Note: For users of Blogspot blogs, I’m unable to comment on your posts as a WordPress blogger unless you’ve enabled Name/URL comments. This is a known WordPress/Blogspot issue. Please consider enabling this to participate more fully in the community.


Currently reading: I’m getting so close to the end of The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler! I had to wait 40 minutes to see the eye doctor last Thursday and I got completely sucked in. Without studying to do during my lunch breaks, I think I’ll finish this one very soon!
A Son of the Circus by John Irving is not really picking up. I really hoped it would, but I’m plodding along still. With a week I’ll be without my husband, maybe I’ll find some time?
I started Terra Incognita by Ruth Downie on Saturday. Time will tell how well I remember the plot of the first one I really think it’s been maybe ten years since I read it because I’m thinking it was in high school!

Recently finished: I finished Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See on Friday while driving around for work. I thought the ending was really well done. I got to listen to the end of the story in pretty rapid succession over the last few days which was a really great experience. I adore getting to binge on books, especially ones that are this moving. The story was beautiful and I understand there’s a movie I can watch soon! It will be fun to compare them. When I heard See speak, she said it was very different from the book! I was sad to realize this book wouldn’t count for a new time period in the When Are You Reading? Challenge, but it’s a very new time and culture for me! My review will be up tomorrow so please check that out!

Reading Next: My plan is still The Circle by Dave Eggers. I may have to find an ebook before I get to that, but I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. I’m getting more and more excited for this book each week when you all tell me how excited you are as well, haha.


Leave a comment with your link and a comment (if you’re so inclined). Take a look at the other participant links in the comments and look at what others are reading.

Have any opinions on these choices?

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

WWW Wednesday, 19-April-2017

19 Apr

Welcome to WWW Wednesday! This meme was formerly hosted by MizB at A Daily Rhythm and revived here on Taking on a World of Words. Just answer the three questions below and leave a link to your post in the comments for others to look at. No blog? No problem! Just leave a comment with your responses. Please, take some time to visit the other participants and see what others are reading. So, let’s get to it!

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The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Note: For users of Blogspot blogs, I’m unable to comment on your posts as a WordPress blogger unless you’ve enabled Name/URL comments. This is a known WordPress/Blogspot issue. Please consider enabling this to participate more fully in the community.


Currently reading: I didn’t have a chapter to read for school this week so I got through some of The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler during my lunch breaks. The plot is really picking up and I’m considering devoting myself to this one when In finish Circus.
A Son of the Circus by John Irving is still a slow go. I’m not completely surprised, but I wish there as a bit more keeping me engaged by now. I’m about 100 pages in and it’s still dragging a bit.
I’m in love with Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See. I really hope to put this on my ‘finished’ list next week because I’m listening to it at every opportunity and loving the story. I heard See say that there’s a movie based on the plot that doesn’t follow much at all but I’m curious to see it still.

Recently finished: After such a great showing last week, I’m empty this week! I hope to have Snow Flower here next week. Boo.

Reading Next:  Terra Incognita by Ruth Downie is still next for audiobooks. I’ll pick it up as soon as Snow Flower is over.
For physical books, I’m going to pick up The Circle by Dave Eggers. I’ve been seeing all of the trailers for the movie and my love for Emma Watson is running over now that it’s combined with Eggers. I have yet to read a book of his I didn’t love.


Leave a comment with your link and a comment (if you’re so inclined). Take a look at the other participant links in the comments and look at what others are reading.

Have any opinions on these choices?

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

WWW Wednesday, 12-April-2017

12 Apr

Welcome to WWW Wednesday! This meme was formerly hosted by MizB at A Daily Rhythm and revived here on Taking on a World of Words. Just answer the three questions below and leave a link to your post in the comments for others to look at. No blog? No problem! Just leave a comment with your responses. Please, take some time to visit the other participants and see what others are reading. So, let’s get to it!

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The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Note: For users of Blogspot blogs, I’m unable to comment on your posts as a WordPress blogger unless you’ve enabled Name/URL comments. This is a known WordPress/Blogspot issue. Please consider enabling this to participate more fully in the community.


Currently reading: I was an hour early for a conference on Friday so I spent the time reading The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler at Starbucks. I got through a few chapters and I’m about halfway through the book now. Slow and steady but really enjoying this one.
A Son of the Circus has been a slow start. I’m hoping it picks up because this brick is over 600 pages long! I love Irving but this is very different from his earlier books. I hope I can still enjoy it.
I started listening to Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See on Saturday for a two-hour workout so I made great progress in it already. It’s not too long so I’m hoping I can get through this one quickly.

Recently finished: I finally finished Library of Souls by Ransom Riggs! Hubby and I split up to finish it and I came through on Friday, him on Saturday. My review of it went up yesterday and I warn you, it is not glowing. I gave it 2 out of 5 Stars. We watched the movie as well and I’ll post about that tomorrow.
I also got through Once In a Great City by David Maraniss. This was really fun to listen to and for anyone based in Detroit, I think it’s worth reading. It gives a great image of what our city was and what it could be again. I gave it 4 out of 5 Stars. I’ll be posting about this book again as Maraniss visits Detroit to talk about the book.

Reading Next: I think I’ll need another audiobook next, which seems crazy after finishing two this week! Next on my list is Terra Incognita by Ruth Downie. It’s been years since I read the first in this series so I may have to read some summaries to refresh myself. The subsequent books are also available on audio so I hope to move through some of them soon.


Leave a comment with your link and a comment (if you’re so inclined). Take a look at the other participant links in the comments and look at what others are reading.

Have any opinions on these choices?

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

WWW Wednesday, 5-April-2017

5 Apr

Welcome to WWW Wednesday! This meme was formerly hosted by MizB at A Daily Rhythm and revived here on Taking on a World of Words. Just answer the three questions below and leave a link to your post in the comments for others to look at. No blog? No problem! Just leave a comment with your responses. Please, take some time to visit the other participants and see what others are reading. So, let’s get to it!

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The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Note: For users of Blogspot blogs, I’m unable to comment on your posts as a WordPress blogger unless you’ve enabled Name/URL comments. This is a known WordPress/Blogspot issue. Please consider enabling this to participate more fully in the community.


Currently reading: My husband and I made some major progress on Library of Souls by Ransom Riggs this weekend! We have about 2:30 left on it and we might just finish it separately because we don’t have another road trip coming up soon. Yay for progress!
I read a few pages of The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler when I forgot my textbook for lunch reading. I’m still really enjoying this book, but it’s slow going for sure.
I think I’ll finish Once In a Great City by David Maraniss  this week. It’s a good one to listen to during my long runs and it’s fun listening to it while I drive because more than once, I’ve been on the freeways or in sight of the buildings he mentions and it’s really exhilarating.
I started a new physical book, A Son of the Circus by John Irving. Many of you know how much I love Irving and I’m also a big fan of circus books so this is one I’m really looking forward to! It’s a long one so I expect it to be here a while.

Recently finished: I finished Lotería by Mario Alberto Zambrano Saturday night. It was a lot faster of a read than I thought and I was glad to get through it. The images in it were beautiful and the story was a big puzzle to solve which was a cool structure. My review is already up so please go check it out. I gave it 4 out of 5 Stars.

Reading Next: The plan is still to listen to Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See on audio, though I may power through Library of Souls before I pick it up, just depending on what the hubby and I decide to do with that one. I’m looking forward to See’s book, though!


Leave a comment with your link and a comment (if you’re so inclined). Take a look at the other participant links in the comments and look at what others are reading.

Have any opinions on these choices?

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

WWW Wednesday, 29-March-2017

29 Mar

Welcome to WWW Wednesday! This meme was formerly hosted by MizB at A Daily Rhythm and revived here on Taking on a World of Words. Just answer the three questions below and leave a link to your post in the comments for others to look at. No blog? No problem! Just leave a comment with your responses. Please, take some time to visit the other participants and see what others are reading. So, let’s get to it!

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The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Note: For users of Blogspot blogs, I’m unable to comment on your posts as a WordPress blogger unless you’ve enabled Name/URL comments. This is a known WordPress/Blogspot issue. Please consider enabling this to participate more fully in the community.


Currently reading: I decided not to take Library of Souls by Ransom Riggs off of this list. Hubby and I are going on a road trip for a friend’s baby shower this weekend so we’ll have six hours in the car and I hope we can make some decent progress on this book!
I’ve been picking up The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler as much as possible because I’m really enjoying the story and I don’t want to forget what I’ve read each time I pick it up. I think I’m getting close to some major action and I can’t wait!
I’ve made steady progress on Once In a Great City by David Maraniss because of long runs and time spent cooking so I’m happy with how this one is going. I think I’ll have it finished next week!
I started  Lotería by Mario Alberto Zambrano! I’m so excited to finally be reading this one. I bought it two years ago because I thought it was pretty, haha. I don’t normally pick books out by their covers so this was a fun treat for myself.

Recently finished: I finally finished Night Soldiers by Alan Furst! It was a mad scramble to finish it over the weekend before I had to return it on Tuesday but I managed and I’m so proud, woo! The review went up yesterday so go check it out!

Reading Next: I think I’ll need an audiobook next and at the top of my list is Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See. I have a signed copy of this one but I’m making an effort to knock down my TBR through audio whenever possible so I’ll go for it. Besides, then I don’t have to worry about my signed copy getting battered at all!


Leave a comment with your link and a comment (if you’re so inclined). Take a look at the other participant links in the comments and look at what others are reading.

Have any opinions on these choices?

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Meeting Author Lisa See

21 Apr

After a book review and two book club reflections, I’m finally able to post about meeting author Lisa See. She flew in from California to speak to us on April 11th and I went with my mom to hear what she had to say.

img_2945See was able to speak really well to her family’s history in California. Her great-great-grandfather was the first to come over from China though he went back and it was her great-grandfather who first stayed. She used him as the inspiration for Old Man Louie.

See said there were eight things she wanted to talk about when she wrote Shanghai Girls. Unfortunately, I only got down seven of them. I don’t know what I missed, but here they are.

  1. Shanghai. It was at the peak of its splendor right before the Japanese invasion and she wanted to talk about how it changed.
  2. Beautiful Girls. She loves the posters and collects the memorabilia.
  3. Arranged Marriages. In her family, one great-uncle took his nine sons back to China and all returned home with wives as part of an arranged marriage. She wanted to talk about how these marriages can end up.
  4. Angle Island. Immigrants were held there from anywhere between two weeks to two years. Most of the stories written about the island tell the story of men. See was able to find documentation of a female relative of hers that came through the island and took many of the questions from Pearl’s interrogation right from her relative’s interrogation transcript. When touring the island once, See was told there were no records of babies being born on the Island though many have personal stories. These babies, officially, did not exist.
  5. China City. See’s great-grandpa owned a shop at the beginning of China City, much like Old Man Louie. Growing up, See’s family still owned it but she was afraid China City would soon fade into history.
  6. The Confession Program. It wasn’t an amnesty program, but a confession program and See wanted to show why.
  7. Sisters. See has two half sisters and a former step-sister herself and wanted to talk about the relationship. One of her sisters reads her manuscripts and wants to be very clear that they are not Pearl and May from the book.

Continuing with lists, See told us about her three biggest inspirations to write. She said overall, she was encouraged by the 1,000s of female writers Yangzi Delta which showed her women could be successful writers. These three quotes and sayings inspired her as well.

  1. Art is the heartbeat of the artist.
  2. You have to cut to the bone to write.
  3. “Fooling around in the papers my grandparents, especially my grandmother, left behind, I get glimpses of lives close to mine, related to mine in ways I recognize but don’t completely comprehend. I’d like to live in their clothes a while, if only so I don’t have to live in my own.” – Wallace Stegner in his novel The Angle of Repose

I love Stegner so I was really excited that one of his quotes inspired her.

See was able to answer a few questions during a Q&A after she was done talking. It was mentioned that her new book will be called ‘The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane.’ It’s ready to publish, but with the election year going on, they wanted to wait until next June to put it out so there would be time for her on radio and TV to publicize it. She’s about to start research on the next book and will be traveling to Korea to start researching it. She said it takes her 2-3 years to write a book because of the research involved in the process.

When she first wrote Shanghai Girls, she did not intend to write a sequel. She felt the end was a new beginning and it was a good way to leave our main characters. If you’ve read my review, you’d know how much I’m not OK with this. See’s editor pushed her to write the sequel and I’m told it ends on a bit of a cliffhanger as well. She has no intention of writing a third.

See’s book Snow Flower and the Secret Fan was made into a movie. Asking her how she felt about the movie was great. See said they asked for her opinion on the changes they were making and she told them what she thought and they made the changes anyway. She looks at it in a great light, though. She said her story is filtered through her, but when it becomes a movie, the story is filtered through the director as well and his artistic ideas change what she’s already seen. I thought that was really positive.

img_2954I was able to meet See and have my three books signed. I asked her the question I ask every author when I meet them. What advice would you give me to be as successful as you? She said to get into the habit of writing 1,000 words a day. Also to be passionate about what you’re writing. It doesn’t matter if only 5,000 people read what you wrote as long as it’s the right 5,000 people. Don’t worry about writing a best seller.

I’m really glad the libraries worked to bring See in to speak to us. I’m looking forward to my next author appearance, Emily St. John Mandel in May.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Book Club Discussion (Round 2): Shanghai Girls by Lisa See

11 Apr

Because Lisa See is coming to my area to speak this week, both of my book clubs decided to read her title Shanghai Girls. You can read my review and previous book club discussion for some of my other opinions on the book.

Most of the group liked this title. See made us care about the characters, especially the sisters, and they were well-developed. I don’t have sisters, but those who did said the fighting between the characters reminded them of growing up with their siblings. It felt like See knew Pearl and May well and we wondered if they might be based on members of See’s family.

The first thing we had to talk about was May turning Sam in. None of us could believe she’d do something so stupid. It was hard to believe that she honestly thought she was helping. If she did, then she would have told Pearl and Sam. By keeping it a secret, it’s very evident that she’s trying to hide what she did. May is too modern and open in the American style to keep her mouth shut. If Pearl had done something similar, she never would have told. She would have died with the secret. The fight the two had at the end was a very central part of the plot and adds to my frustration of the book seeming unfinished. We were really shocked that it took 19 years for May to throw in her sister’s face who Joy’s real mother was. It seemed like something May would have resorted to it much sooner. A lot of us hadn’t realized how much Pearl was martyring herself until May brought it up. It wasn’t something that Pearl ever complained about. She almost seemed to enjoy her life and felt safe being a martyr. It was unlike Pearl to erupt at May the way she did and we wondered if some of her anger were misplaced and was really anger at Sam more than it was at her sister. We asked ourselves if May and Pearl could have repaired their relationship if Joy hadn’t run off. Would they have cut each other out of their lives if they didn’t have Joy to pull them back together? Pearl is always upset that their father preferred May though we felt that their mother preferred Pearl. The way their mother acts toward Pearl before she dies felt that way.

A lot of us hated May for what she did to Pearl in having an affair with ZG. I was alone in being blindsided by this twist. Everyone else saw it coming! I guess I’m blind to it all.

Several times, it was pointed out that May wasn’t as smart as Pearl. We didn’t really agree with that. On Angle Island, May shows us how smart she is and how she kept them there long enough for the baby to be an American. She didn’t let on when she was doing something smart. Only when it benefited her did she let on. May was good with money and found ways to keep the family going. She hid money away for an emergency the same way their mother had. She was resourceful, even if she wasn’t as book smart as Pearl.

One of the things that seemed inconsistent to us when it came to the girls was being Beautiful Girls at the beginning. We couldn’t believe that their parents would allow them to do that in Shanghai. The money must have been good for their parents to allow it. It seemed to be very against the cultural expectations they had for the girls.

In my last book club discussion, we focused on the Zodiac signs of Pearl and May. This time, we focused on Sam. He was the Ox, one who would plod along and be reliable, working for the family and doing what was needed of him. His suicide fits into this role, in a way, because it was a selfless thing for him to do in order to protect his family. We questioned if the Zodiac sign of a person morphed him or her into what they were instead of being a prediction of their personality type.

A lot of us learned a lot of history from the book. We weren’t aware of the Paper Son phenomenon and were a little blown away with how meticulous and thought-out the process was. We were equally shocked at the number of people claiming citizenship after the San Francisco Fire. I’d never heard of that! Most of us were familiar with Ellis Island immigration stories but Angel Island was something new. The holding and treatment of the women described sound terrible and we were shocked it hadn’t come to our attention prior.

Lisa See is 1/8 Chinese. She had writers in her family but never wanted to be a writer. She was told that you had to have sadness in your life to be a writer and didn’t want to be sad. I think it worked out for her anyway.

It was a really good discussion for us and we had a big turnout. Our next book is Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith. We’ll see how the discussion goes, soon.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Book Club Reflections: Shanghai Girls by Lisa See

22 Mar

As part of the local library coalition’s Everyone’s Reading program, I had my first book club discussion about Lisa See’s Shanghai Girls. The second one will be in mid-April and I’m excited to meet her soon after!

A lot of the people in my club had mediocre reactions to the book. They liked it but weren’t blown away. I think the ending ruined a lot of people’s opinions of it like it did to me. Several others brought up being disappointed with it. I’ve heard that the sequel makes you like Shanghai Girls better and that her solo book, Sun Flower and the Secret Fan, is enjoyable as well. I have both, but I’m not sure when I’ll have the time to read them!

See herself has a unique background. She was born in Paris but raised in LA Chinatown. If you look at her, you wouldn’t guess that she’s Chinese but she says a lot of the family she was raised with don’t look like her. We felt that she felt the need to teach the reader a lot about Chinese culture and wondered if feeling disconnected from her heritage had something to do with it. At times, it was a bit preachy instead of feeling like a fiction novel.

No one in our group knew much about Chinese history in the early 20th century. We felt that See created a really good image of what life was like, depicting the clash between tradition and modern. It was clear Pearl loved her city though as time went on, it lost its shine in her memories and she remembered the death on the street and the unfair ways rickshaw pullers had to live and the smell of too many people crammed into the city. We got to see the good and bad of the city through Pearl.

Vern was a unique character in the book and we wondered if he’d come into play more in the second book. He didn’t have an effect on the plot other than giving May a sure claim to citizenship. He didn’t further the plot in any other way and took a lot of time in the book. He wasn’t well fleshed out as a character and it felt like he could easily have been dropped. Oh well.

Because Pearl told the story and was a very strong character, our group thought the story was unfair to May. When they had their blow-up at the end, it was easy to see how Pearl was focused in her own world and didn’t notice the world the way May saw it. It’s true that Pearl had stopped living and was in survival mode. They represented two very different paths of life, Pearl having the traditional loving husband and a daughter while May had freedom but no husband or child to love her. We suspect that each was jealous of the other. There was a lot of contrast between the two in their zodiac signs, as well. May the sheep was very sheepish at the beginning, following what had to be done while Pearl dragon fought tooth and nail for what she wanted. Once they arrived in America, they acted like the other. Pearl didn’t fight May when things between them were strained. We would have expected so much more tension between sisters considering what they went through.

We were all surprised by the suicides associated with verifying citizenship status. It seemed a very sudden thing but our leader did some research and found that it was a common practice at the time. If there wasn’t someone to tell the truth, if they were dead, then everyone else was safer. Sadly, it was a sacrifice to make things better for the rest of the family.

I’ll have another discussion in a few weeks. It will be interesting to see if there are different opinions from that group.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Book Review: Shanghai Girls by Lisa See (4/5)

7 Mar

I’ve been meaning to read Lisa See for a while. I’ve had Snow Flower and the Secret Fan on my shelf for a year but when I heard she would be speaking in my area in April, I rushed out to buy her two-book series, Shanghai Girls and Dreams of Joy. While I’ve put off the second one, the first became my book club selection for March and I snatched it up.

Cover image via Goodreads.com

Cover image via Goodreads.com

Shanghai Girls by Lisa See (Shanghai Girls #1)

Summary from Goodreads:

May and Pearl, two sisters living in Shanghai in the mid-1930s, are beautiful, sophisticated, and well-educated, but their family is on the verge of bankruptcy. Hoping to improve their social standing, May and Pearl’s parents arrange for their daughters to marry “Gold Mountain men” who have come from Los Angeles to find brides.

But when the sisters leave China and arrive at Angel’s Island (the Ellis Island of the West)—where they are detained, interrogated, and humiliated for months—they feel the harsh reality of leaving home. And when May discovers she’s pregnant the situation becomes even more desperate. The sisters make a pact that no one can ever know.

This book was easy to binge-read on an airplane. Pearl and May are great characters to fall in love with. See did a great job of describing Shanghai and Angle Island which were my favorite parts of the book. It was easy to see the world through Pearl’s eyes and understand her frustrations with May and when May spoke her mind, it was easy to see why she thought Pearl was wrong or difficult. The cultural differences were easy to understand the way See described them and I could see the beauty and terror in the interactions between Chinese and American ways. I’m looking forward to more from this author.

May and Pearly were great characters to me. Both were self-absorbed and shallow enough to be believable as spoiled rich girls, but smart and quick enough to be heroines in their own story. The part at Angle Island defined the relationship to me and I really loved what it said about their sisterhood. Sam was a great character (and this is not a name bias) and I wanted to get more out of him than we did. When he revealed his origins, I thought Pearl would let him into her life more, but their relationship seems to remain superficial. I felt she never loved Sam in the way he deserved to be loved. Their relationship started off on a bad foot but Pearl didn’t seem to do anything to fix it.

I’m not sure I had a favorite character in this book. The easy answer would be Pearl, but I thought she was rather selfish a lot of the time. She was very focused on her own problems and only slightly opened herself to her sister’s concerns and woes. Old Man Louie was a little likable but our introduction to him was so negative that I could never say he was my favorite. I found Sam underdeveloped. Maybe their mother was my favorite character but we knew her for such a short time that it seems unfair to the book to say she was my favorite. I’m torn and I think for the first time I’m going to stand neutral on this one.

I related to Pearl’s frustration with her sister. I have no sisters, but I’ve had a similar frustration with friends. I’ve thought another woman was being shallow and selfish and shouldering duties onto me. I felt burdened and that my actions were unappreciated. I had similar moments to Pearl and realized that I was looking at things very differently than they were, that things seeming like a slight to me were not intended that way. I tend to be overly sensitive about everything so as much as I wish I could say this is not common, it happens a lot more than I’d like to admit.

Lisa See Image via Goodreads.com

Lisa See
Image via Goodreads.com

I liked Joy’s youth. It was fun to see her growing with her mother and aunt and see how precious she was, how she was able to change the family dynamic even if she wasn’t the son everyone was hoping for. She really was the joy in their lives.

I was really frustrated with the ending. I like when books in a series wrap up, each book having a completed story that doesn’t leave me with a cliffhanger for the next one. This book did not do that. There’s a major plotline just beginning when the book ends. I have the sequel on my shelf, but I have other books I’d like to read next. With book clubs and other commitments, I’m unable to jump into it right now so I’m left frustrated.

Pearl’s definition of family changed a lot through the book. Her father was dead to her before his assumed death, she watched her mother die, and her daughter was not her own. She did not accept her in-laws as family and even her husband was estranged to her for a long time. Though her relationships with the in-laws changed over time, no one could ever touch the relationship between Pearl and May. At the end, we see that relationship strained but it won’t break. The two girls have been through so much together that when the toughest challenge comes, they will face it together.

Writer’s Takeaway: I keep going back to this, but the ending really bothered me. I like series that are made of defined shorter books. Each Harry Potter book covered one school year and had a resolution. Each of Steig Larsson’s books had a conclusion to the plotline. The Hunger Games each covered an arc of the story. But I didn’t feel that this book did. Joy’s identity crisis started toward the end of the book and led to an unspeakable loss and never came to a close. The book ended with a long journey just about to begin and a feeling that something bad was coming. I’m not reading the second book immediately and I’m really disappointed in how this left off. To me, the two should be one book with a complete arc instead of two books cutting one story in half.

If it weren’t for the ending, it would have been great. Four out of Five stars.

This book fulfills 1920-1939 in my When Are You Reading? Challenge.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

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