Wednesday, September 27, 2017

China Dolls by Lisa See

China DollsChina Dolls by Lisa See
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

China Dolls is the story of San Francisco's Chinatown in the mid twentieth century. As the story begins, America is in the midst of the depression. The plot continues through World War II. What makes this novel fascinating is Lisa See's decision to cover this subject from the points of view of three showgirls.

Grace, Helen, and Ruby, meet at auditions for a new nightclub, Forbidden City, which is located just outside of Chinatown. The idea is to feature “oriental” performers for an “occidental” audience. (Both of those terms were used during that period.) Grace Lee has come to San Francisco from the mid west with the hope of winning a role at the world's fair on Treasure Island, but she didn't succeed. She's on her way to her next option. Helen Fong, who is from a wealthy, local, very traditional, family, hears Grace asking for directions and offers to lead her there. Once there, they meet Ruby Tom, another dancer. All three audition and all win roles.

The three young women become close friends. This friendship is the novel's greatest strength. They help each other through tough times, but also compete with each other, hold secrets from each other, and betray each other along the way.

Steve Lindahl author of Hopatcong Vision Quest, White Horse Regressions, and Motherless Soul

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Saturday, September 16, 2017

The Other Side of Him by Alice Rene

The Other Side of HimThe Other Side of Him by Alice Rene
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

After one of my novels won a 2017 CIPA Evvy award, I thought it might be fun to read the other winners in the historical fiction category. The Other Side of Him by Alice Rene won one of the two first place awards. I loved the book!

In the beginning Rene's writing felt a little rushed, as it jumped among short glimpses of Claire's younger life, living with her brother and her poor, single, immigrant mother in a Chicago housing project. But after Claire moved to San Francisco, the novel settled into a careful study of her life, a young woman working first on a bachelor's degree then a master's degree in social welfare.

The novel is set in the 1950's, a time that presented a number of problems for women trying to establish careers and dealing with limiting expectations from society. Claire also faces family issues common to second generation Americans.

Claire's brother, Tom, moved to the San Francisco area before she did. After she had lived on the west coast for some time, Tom set her up with Greg, a man he met at a gym. Greg had many wonderful qualities, but also, as the title states, another side. The slow, careful way Greg's personality is revealed through Claire's point of view is the greatest strength of this wonderful, intense story. I couldn't put it down.

Steve Lindahl – author of Hopatcong Vision Quest, White Horse Regressions, and Motherless Soul

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Tuesday, September 5, 2017

The Midwife's Confession by Diane Chamberlain

The Midwife's ConfessionThe Midwife's Confession by Diane Chamberlain
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Midwife's Confession is the second novel I've read by Diane Chamberlain. I criticized the first, Secrets She Left Behind, for covering too many topics. Confession also had many topics thrown at the reader, but this time they worked. The writing was tighter in this book and the topics connected. They are all directly or indirectly about relationships between parents and children. But the most important reason this book works so well is the powerful confession itself. No spoilers here. If you want to know what it is, you need to read the book.

Chamberlain's characters are strong. She seems to have a solid understanding of how thirteen year-old girls think and how they relate to their mothers. There are a few coincidences and events that occur at precisely the right time to advance the plot, but the overall story is a great one. It caught me and kept me reading.

Steve Lindahl – author of Hopatcong Vision Quest, White Horse Regressions, and Motherless Soul

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