Review: Shanghai Girls — A Novel

51l6-ppyntl_sl160_There’s a phrase in Chinese, chi ku (eat bitterness), which Lisa See’s Shanghai Girls exemplifies perfectly. From one end of the book to the other, there’s nothing but hardships and heartaches.

The first hardship I found is not actually in the story in the novel, but comes from the novel itself.  See writes in the first person through the voice of Pearl, a girl growing up in Shanghai during the volatile Sino-Japanese war. Unfortunately, Pearl seems too self-aware of other people’s thoughts, motives, and the world in general. Writing in the first person voice, but with an omniscient view of the environment makes Pearl’s thoughts feel artificial and awkward.

Another thing I found difficult to overcome in the novel were the inconsistent choice of Chinese words.  The author insists on using the Cantonese word cheongsam for the traditional dresses worn by women at that time, trying to give Pearl a continental and modern flair, yet uses the traditional and scholarly term ‘wu dialect’ instead of the modern ‘Shanghainese.’ I still think that if Pearl were a Shanghai girl, she would have said qi pao, the Mandarin word for cheongsam.

If one can get over the technical problems of the novel, it’s easy to get sucked into the twists and turns of the two Shanghainese girls.  But be warned, the book really is like vicariously eating bitterness. There are several graphic scenes that I found difficult to read as well as parts where I was just waiting for the other shoe to drop.  See does a decent job of illuminating the difficulties women and the Chinese in general faced during that time.

At the end of Shanghai Girls, I literally sighed.  The story has so much potential to be epic, yet falls slightly short of that because of technical difficulties I couldn’t overlook.  Maybe I’m just being snobbish because my hometown is Shanghai, but the novel could have been so much better.

Review: Tell Me Where It Hurts

417dqdsfktl_sl160_Dr. Nick Trout is the animal surgeon turned author who wrote Tell Me Where It Hurts. I heard of him through NPR when he was promoting his book a few months ago.Tell Me Where It Hurts follows him through a hectic but not atypical day in his clinic.

Trout is a talented storyteller who balances cold, hard facts like those found in a college biology textbook with rich, florid descriptions of patients and their parents.  Sometimes this flows beautifully, but other times it can be quite jarring to just finish reading an anecdote and be thrown into the technical jargon of a complicated surgery.

At the beginning of the book, I dreaded the thought of reading some sad tale of an animal that didn’t make it, but Trout manages not to go down that route — or at least spares us the dramatics.   Most stories are not so much about the animals, but more about the owners/parents of the animals and how they see their pets.

The book is also a well-crafted glance into the professional life someone in that field with a few tips of how to deal with difficult humans.  I’d recommend it to anyone thinking of heading down the path to becoming a doctor of four-legged friends.

Review: Southern Vampire Mysteries 5 & 6

Dead as a Doornail (Southern Vampire Mysteries, Book 5): I actually don’t remember anything outstanding about this one. Maybe it’s because I just speed-read through this one. Maybe it’s because I’m not as interested in the were-animal storyline. The whole sniper who’s out to get all the shape-shifters was yawn-worthy, and the pirate bar-tender was just too far-fetched. This was one of the weaker books of the series.

Definitely Dead (Southern Vampire Mysteries, Book 6) introduces readers to Quinn, the were-tiger and probably my least favorite character in the Southern Vampire Mysteries universe. Harris’ description of him doesn’t make him sound attractive at all, so what use is he to readers, right? I’m not a bra-burning feminist by any means, but even I couldn’t help cringing and feeling icky every single time he said “babe.” It wasn’t endearing at all.

Definitely Dead also goes into detail about vampire politics, which while intriguing while reading, only sounds ridiculous in hindsight. Yes, there is a Queen of Louisiana in this book. Starting from this book, I began to feel like there are just too many minor characters to keep track of and it’s unrealistic (yes, even for vampire romance novels) for everyone to be tied through Sookie Stackhouse.