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Review: China Dolls

September 23, 2014

China Dolls

In Lisa See‘s latest novel, China Dolls, three young Asian women meet when they become dancers at the Forbidden City nightclub in San Francisco in the 1930s – they hit it off immediately even though they come from very different backgrounds.  The book follows their friendship and explores the attitudes of the times.

The point of view shifts between Grace, Ruby, and Helen.  Grace and Helen are of Chinese descent and Ruby’s family is from Japan.  As you would expect, they have different upbringings and attitudes but their personalities click and they vow eternal friendship.

I went into China Dolls with high expectations but was sadly disappointed. I did enjoy the historical detail of the time period but the storyline wasn’t compelling for me.

I listened to the audio version of the book and think I might have enjoyed it more in print.  I had trouble telling the characters apart for the first half of the book and struggled to follow the plot.  Once things came together for me, I wasn’t invested enough in the story to care.  If your a fan of See’s work, you still might want to try China Dolls because most people have enjoyed it more than I did.

Jodi Long narrates this 15 hour audio book and she does an okay job.  I think I would have enjoyed the audio more if they’d used different narrators for each character.

Listen to a sample:

Review copy provided by Random House.  I am an Indiebound Affliate.




29 Comments leave one →
  1. September 23, 2014 4:35 am

    I love Lisa See. It’s a shame you didn’t enjoy this one as much as you hoped, although the setting sounds similar to that of Shanghai Girls, which I enjoyed more than Snow Flower.

  2. September 23, 2014 4:45 am

    I am sorry it did not work out to your expectations. It’s always sad when that happens.

  3. September 23, 2014 6:50 am

    I’m not a big fan of See’s books. Sorry this one didn’t work for you.

  4. September 23, 2014 7:22 am

    I’ve enjoyed a few of her earlier books. Sorry to hear this wasn’t a winner for you.

  5. September 23, 2014 7:30 am

    I saw Lisa See in conversation with Adriana Trigiani about China Dolls. It was fascinating to hear about her research for this book.

  6. September 23, 2014 8:00 am

    I have this in print – my mom read my copy and liked it, but I haven’t felt compelled to pick it up yet. Too bad they didn’t use multiple narrators for the audio… seems like it would have added a lot.

  7. Beth F permalink
    September 23, 2014 9:17 am

    I’m sorry to hear this didn’t work for you. I will be reading it at some point — perhaps in print.

  8. September 23, 2014 9:26 am

    I liked her first book but somehow was never inspired to get back to her!

  9. September 23, 2014 9:28 am

    I’ll take your suggestion to heart as I dislike audios. The period details sounds interesting enough for me to try it so let’s see if the local library can oblige with a print copy.
    Happy Autumn,

  10. September 23, 2014 9:31 am

    I liked this story but it it did take me an hour or so to get comfortable with the narrator’s style. I felt the same way – an ensemble cast would have been better for the listener. Helen and Grace sounded too similar.

  11. September 23, 2014 9:34 am

    I read one Lisa See book a few years back – Peony in Love. I didn’t much like it. That was my 1st, and last, attempt.

  12. September 23, 2014 11:14 am

    When an author writes so many books with similar themes I think it’s inevitable that there are going to be a few that don’t strike a chord with various readers. I’ve only read a couple of her books, and I have to admit that my favorite was On Gold Mountain, the nonfiction account of her family’s history.

  13. September 23, 2014 11:30 am

    I love how you include a clip of the audio! It’s WAY too slow for me–I’d have to bump up the speed.

  14. September 23, 2014 11:39 am

    One day I will try See 🙂

  15. September 23, 2014 11:40 am

    The audio sounds like a real snooze fest. LOL. I love that you give us a sample though. Lisa See and I do not jive all that well. I’ve read a couple of her books and I didn’t care for them one way or the other. She is very interesting to listen too in person though. I saw her at the Festival of Books once which made me want to like her books but I give up.

  16. September 23, 2014 12:06 pm

    I have trouble keeping characters straight with some audio books too. I haven’t read any of See’s books. Sounds like this is not the one to start with!

  17. September 23, 2014 12:13 pm

    That’s a missed opportunity that the audio doesn’t have full cast narration, bummer. If I read this one I’ll take your advice and read it in print.

  18. September 23, 2014 1:26 pm

    I’m sorry you didn’t like this one more, Kathy. I really enjoy Lisa See’s books–at least the ones I have read. I hope to read this one at some point. I doubt I will listen to the audio version.

  19. Patty permalink
    September 23, 2014 1:48 pm

    I have not really wanted to read this one…it just does not call me to it…lol…

  20. stupendoushillary permalink
    September 23, 2014 1:50 pm

    This looks enjoyable, but I’m thinking I wont get it in audiobook form. I tend to prefer books if I can read rather than listen. I am absolutely in love with different asian customs and traditions so this may be something that I like just for that fact. Thanks for the review!

  21. September 23, 2014 1:54 pm

    Kathy, thank you for your honest review. Maybe this would have been better for you in print, as you say. I am a fan of this author’s work.

  22. Barbara permalink
    September 23, 2014 4:22 pm

    I also love Lisa See’s books, but like you, I really didn’t care for China Dolls. I was so anxious to read it but it was a chore to finish it. I hope her next one is better.

  23. September 23, 2014 4:52 pm

    Sorry this wasn’t a hit for you! I haven’t read one of her books yet.

  24. September 23, 2014 6:46 pm

    I used to enjoy Lisa See’s books but I worry that they may not impress me much now. I’ll have to give this one a try.

  25. September 24, 2014 12:06 pm

    I’ve seen this one around a lot – thank you for your honesty! It won’t be going on the TBR list.

  26. September 24, 2014 12:14 pm

    Sorry to hear you didn’t enjoy this one. I really liked this one in print.

  27. jilllora permalink
    September 24, 2014 10:34 pm

    Good to know I’m not missing something great…I burned out on Lisa See with Shanghai Girls.

  28. September 25, 2014 10:02 pm

    I’ve found that there are some books that just don’t work for me in audio. Looks like this was one of those for you.

  29. bookingmama permalink
    September 26, 2014 7:50 am

    I am so sad about this one. I always love Ms. See’s novels.

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