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The BookBrowse Review

Published May 21, 2014

ISSN: 1930-0018

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The BookBrowse Review

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Editor's Introduction
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First Impressions
Recommended for Book Clubs
Publishing Soon


Historical Fiction

Short Stories/Essays



Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Alternate History


History, Science & Current Affairs

Young Adults



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Book Jacket

China Dolls
by Lisa See
3 Jun 2014
400 pages
Publisher: Random House
ISBN-13: 9780812992892
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The New York Times bestselling author of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, Peony in Love, and Shanghai Girls has garnered international acclaim for her great skill at rendering the intricate relationships of women and the complex meeting of history and fate. Now comes Lisa See's highly anticipated new novel, China Dolls.
It's 1938 in San Francisco: a world's fair is preparing to open on Treasure Island, a war is brewing overseas, and the city is alive with possibilities. Grace, Helen, and Ruby, three young women from very different backgrounds, meet by chance at the exclusive and glamorous Forbidden City nightclub. Grace Lee, an American-born Chinese girl, has fled the Midwest with nothing but heartache, talent, and a pair of dancing shoes. Helen Fong lives with her extended family in Chinatown, where her traditional parents insist that she guard her reputation like a piece of jade. The stunning Ruby Tom challenges the boundaries of convention at every turn with her defiant attitude and no-holds-barred ambition.
The girls become fast friends, relying on one another through unexpected challenges and shifting fortunes. When their dark secrets are exposed and the invisible thread of fate binds them even tighter, they find the strength and resilience to reach for their dreams. But after the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor, paranoia and suspicion threaten to destroy their lives, and a shocking act of betrayal changes everything.

"Starred Review. The depth of See's characters and her winning prose makes this book a wonderful journey through love and loss." - Publishers Weekly

"While this novel is definitely slower paced than the author's prior works, See's many fans will still enjoy watching each protagonist's true story unfold; they will also be intrigued by the vivacity of the 'Chop Suey Circuit.'" - LIbrary Journal

"The episodic and creaky plot staggers under the weight of See's considerable research into the careers and lifestyles of the actual stars of the all-Asian revue craze of the 1930s and '40s. Still, a welcome spotlight on an overlooked segment of showbiz history." - Kirkus

"China Dolls mines a fascinating part of our cultural history through the story of a trio of women who become a complex constant in one another's lives even as the world serves up painful transformation. Lisa See gets so much just right here. You'll want to dive right in." - Paula McLain, New York Times bestselling author of The Paris Wife

"This is one of those stories I've always wanted to tell, but Lisa See beat me to it, and she did it better than I ever could. Bravo! Here's a roaring standing ovation for this heartwarming journey into the glittering golden age of Chinese nightclubs." - Jamie Ford, New York Times bestselling author of Songs of Willow Frost

Lisa See was born in Paris in 1955 but grew up in Los Angeles, spending much of her time in Chinatown. Her first book, On Gold Mountain: The One Hundred Year Odyssey of My Chinese-American Family, was a national bestseller and a New York Times Notable Book of 1995. The book traces the journey of Lisa's great-grandfather, Fong See, who overcame obstacles at every step to become the 100-year-old godfather of Los Angeles's Chinatown and the patriarch of a sprawling family.

It was while collecting the details of her family history for On Gold Mountain that she developed the idea for her first novel, Flower Net, which was published in 1997. Paramount Pictures bought the films right to this riveting story of a murder investigation in today's China, and foreign rights were sold to fourteen countries. Flower Net was a national bestseller, a New York Times Notable Book of 1997, on the Los Angeles Times Best Books List for 1997, and was rated the top thriller of the year by Flower Net was also nominated for an Edgar award for best first novel.

In The Interior (published in 2000), Liu Hulan and David Stark, characters first introduced in Flower Net, ferret out a killer (or killers) responsible for a series of murders in China and in the United States, as well as unravel a multi-million dollar international financial scheme with links to the Chinese countryside. At its heart, The Interior is a story about the sometimes blind love between a mother and daughter, the clash of global financial empires, and how the past can sometimes come back to haunt us.

Dragon Bones (Random House, 2003), the third in the Liu Hulan and David Stark series, is set against the building of the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangzi River. The novel combines ancient myth and contemporary fears of religious fanaticism and terrorism to tell a story of love, betrayal, history, ecology, and gory murders. Author Ha Jin has said of the book: "Mixing history, myths, and current events, Dragon Bones is an extraordinarily rich novel. It reveals the emotional and economical entanglement of China with the West, and tells a story of violence, lust, greed, fear and desperation. The novel is not only a page turner but is also timely."

In addition to writing books, Ms. See was the Publishers Weekly West Coast Correspondent for thirteen years. As a freelance journalist, her articles have appeared in Vogue, Self, The New York Times Book Review, The Los Angeles Times Magazine, The Washington Post Book World, and TV Guide.

She wrote the libretto for Los Angeles Opera based on On Gold Mountain, which premiered in June 2000 at the Japan American Theatre followed by the Irvine Barclay Theatre. She also served as guest curator for an exhibit on the Chinese American experience for the Autry Museum of Western Heritage, which then traveled to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., in 2001. See then helped develop and curate the Family Discovery Gallery at the Autry Museum, an interactive space for children and their families that focuses on Lisa's bi-racial, bi-cultural family as seen through the eyes of her father as a seven-year-old boy living in 1930's Los Angeles.

She designed a walking tour of Los Angeles Chinatown and wrote the companion guidebook for Angels Walk L.A. to celebrate the opening of the MTA's new Chinatown metro station. She also curated the inaugural exhibition – a retrospective of artist Tyrus Wong – for the grand opening of the Chinese American Museum in Los Angeles in the winter of 2003. Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, a novel about "nu shu," the secret writing developed and used by women in a small county in China for over a thousand years, was published in 2005, and Peony in Love in 2006.

See serves as a Los Angeles City Commissioner on the El Pueblo de Los Angeles Monument Authority. She was honored as National Woman of the Year by the Organization of Chinese American Women in 2001 and was also the recipient of the Chinese American Museum's History Makers Award in Fall 2003.



  • On Gold Mountain: The 100 Year Odyssey of My Chinese-American Family (1995)
  • 365 Days in China (2007)

The Red Princess Mysteries

  • The Flower Net (1997)
  • The Interior (1999)
  • Dragon Bones (2003)


  • Snow Flower and the Secret Fan (2005)
  • Peony in Love (2007)
  • Shanghai Girls (2009)

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