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China Dolls: A Novel | [Lisa See]

China Dolls: A Novel

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.
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Publisher's Summary

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.

©2014 Lisa See (P)2014 Random House Audio

What the Critics Say

"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 best-selling 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 best-selling author of Songs of Willow Frost)

"In the beginning of See's stellar ninth book, three young women, Grace, Helen, and Ruby, meet and form an unlikely but strong bond in San Francisco in 1938. . . . The story alternates between their viewpoints, with each woman's voice strong and dynamic, developing a multilayered richness as it progresses. The depth of See's characters and her winning prose make this book a wonderful journey through love and loss." (Publishers Weekly)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

3.6 (90 )
5 star
 (20)
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 (32)
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 (26)
2 star
 (9)
1 star
 (3)
Overall
3.6 (84 )
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Story
3.4 (85 )
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3 star
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2 star
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1 star
 (9)
Performance
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  •  
    Susan J. Macaulay River Forest, IL USA 06-09-14
    Susan J. Macaulay River Forest, IL USA 06-09-14
    HELPFUL VOTES
    4
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    "Narrator Spoiled It For Me"
    What other book might you compare China Dolls to and why?

    This is not unlike some of Lisa See's other books - long Chinese girls making their way in the world, this time beginning in 1938 and moving through their lives together. Well written and enjoyable, as always.


    How could the performance have been better?

    I normally enjoy Jodi Long as a narrator, but this was not the book for her. I don't know her background, but she sounds like she's from the New York City area (which I am as well). Her accent, although not pronounced, is nonetheless still there. This, combined with the fact that she sounds older than her late teens or early twenties, made it really hard for me to imagine that her words were the thoughts and words of three young Chinese-American girls from Ohio and California. I know it sounds picky, but it was very distracting to me.


    4 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Mary United States 06-27-14
    Mary United States 06-27-14 Member Since 2009
    HELPFUL VOTES
    1
    ratings
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    30
    2
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    "Need a different reader!! Where is Janet Song??"
    Would you say that listening to this book was time well-spent? Why or why not?

    I couldn't listen to this book. I found the reader totally annoying and hard to listen to. I started this book three times but each time gave up. I love Lisa See books and have listened to all of Janet Song's recordings so was looking forward to this one. What a disappointment.


    If you’ve listened to books by Lisa See before, how does this one compare?

    The reader makes the audiobook and this reader was not the best choice


    Who would you have cast as narrator instead of Jodi Long?

    Janet Song


    Could you see China Dolls being made into a movie or a TV series? Who should the stars be?

    Never could get into the book so can't say.


    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Barbara 06-25-14
    Barbara 06-25-14 Member Since 2010
    HELPFUL VOTES
    1
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    "New Narrator needed!"
    What did you like best about China Dolls? What did you like least?

    I enjoyed the story, but felt the performance had more potential. The narrator's interpretation and tone were inconsistent with what I feel the author was trying to share. She often sounded annoyed and had sarcastic edge to her voice, which took away from attaching to the characters.


    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Michal Scotsdale, AZ, United States 06-21-14
    Michal Scotsdale, AZ, United States 06-21-14 Member Since 2009

    I live in Scottsdale, Arizona. I have 5 grown children, play ukuele exercise, and read.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    41
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    "Needed a different reader"
    Would you say that listening to this book was time well-spent? Why or why not?

    No. The reader read too slow, and I found my mind wandering at numerous places during the story. I've loved all the books by Lisa See, and I was so eager for this book to come out that I had it on my Outlook. But this story just seemed to lack something.


    Would you be willing to try another book from Lisa See? Why or why not?

    Maybe, but not from this reader.


    Who would you have cast as narrator instead of Jodi Long?

    janet Song did a great job on the previous books, but I really think the pace of the reading was the problem.


    Was China Dolls worth the listening time?

    Not really. I should have waited for some of the other reviews to post.


    Any additional comments?

    I truly believe that Lisa See was trying to portray an important time in our history, and I did find that interesting. I can't really comment on how I would have felt if I had actually READ the book instead of listening to this reader. I'll have to check Amazon for other's opinions on the book. For me, it was the reader that ruined this book.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Carol Anacortes, WA, United States 06-20-14
    Carol Anacortes, WA, United States 06-20-14 Member Since 2010
    HELPFUL VOTES
    8
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    17
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    "A Difficult Listen"
    Would you try another book from Lisa See and/or Jodi Long?

    I have enjoyed other books by Lisa See and would try another but not narrated by Jodi Long. Perhaps her next novel I will read instead. I read Snowflower and loved it. So perhaps this author's voice speaks better to me through reading it.


    Has China Dolls turned you off from other books in this genre?

    No, I loved the idea of this novel taking place in San Francisco and the whole idea of Asian performers of the time. It was just the dialogue and the narrator that did me in.


    How could the performance have been better?

    I found the narrators efforts to make each voice different very confusing and put on. The dialogue in this book is not stellar but with a narrator embellishing it even more, I think it made it worse.


    If you could play editor, what scene or scenes would you have cut from China Dolls?

    Not sure what scenes I would cut, although the novel moved so slowly most of the way through, it was an effort to finish it. But, who can stand to waste a credit!!


    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Wendy L. 06-18-14
    Wendy L. 06-18-14 Member Since 2014
    HELPFUL VOTES
    1
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    5
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    "Much Enjoy Book"
    What made the experience of listening to China Dolls the most enjoyable?

    Remind me of my family and experience thru stories of family members.


    What was one of the most memorable moments of China Dolls?

    The ending when everyone reunited for one last time.


    Which scene was your favorite?

    Each and every scene as the three come into their own.


    If you could take any character from China Dolls out to dinner, who would it be and why?

    Grace and Ruby


    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Robin new york, new york, United States 06-11-14
    Robin new york, new york, United States 06-11-14 Member Since 2010

    Hi all. I'm in my 50's (that's relevant, i think), and I favor fiction. I like the british sensibility, and was introduced to the Forsyte Saga through audible ... loved it! I happen to also like Chinese writers, but they are not well represented yet at audible. Looking to follow readers with similar tastes ...

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "A story that needed telling, but tough to read"

    Lisa See is, as always, an excellent storyteller. This book is well written and well paced. Chinese literature is rarely uplifting, and this book is no exception. That being said, the story is about an important time in U.S.history, and worth a listen.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    diane st pete beach, FL, United States 07-17-14
    diane st pete beach, FL, United States 07-17-14 Member Since 2005
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    2
    2
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    "China Dolls Fails to Enchant"
    Would you try another book from Lisa See and/or Jodi Long?

    I loved Shanghai Girls and Dreams of Joy but this book is not at that level. The characters have all the depth of paper cutouts. The slang gets old and makes it impossible to distinguish which doll is which in this 3 part narration.
    Jodi Long sounds like your New York grandmother reading a bedtime story, a strange and jarring contrast to this story of night club performers in San Francisco's Chinatown in the 1940s.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Gladys Degner 07-15-14 Member Since 2003
    ratings
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    291
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    "Horrible audible program"
    This book wasn’t for you, but who do you think might enjoy it more?

    No one unless there is a change in the staff reading the book.


    Would you ever listen to anything by Lisa See again?

    After this experience probably not, could not finish the book. I've enjoyed 2 of her other books but this is the end


    How did the narrator detract from the book?

    100% negatively


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Wendy Flagstaff, AZ, United States 07-08-14
    Wendy Flagstaff, AZ, United States 07-08-14 Member Since 2005

    aznurse

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Good travel book, but not much more"

    I loved Lisa See's books. "Snow Flower" was gripping, incredible, heart wrenching and joyful, a seminal work. "Peony" was beautiful and informative. But as her characters move to the US, I'm less enchanted with her work. "Shanghai Girls" and "Dreams of Joy" were OK. "China Dolls" has potential, however......
    The China Dolls: Grace, Ruby, and Helen begin a lifelong friendship in San Francisco where they all get jobs in a chorus line in a Chinatown nightclub just after the depression. Of course, there are love triangles, intrigue, back biting, secrets, lies, and positioning to be the biggest star. The years roll by through WW2 and its aftermath, until the conclusion in 1988.
    This could be a great multigenerational story, the characters are shallow but clear. The plot becomes predictable. The narrator could have done a lot more and given each doll her own voice, a missed opportunity. Janet Song would have been a much better choice to read this book.
    I listened to the whole thing while driving across two states. It worked for that, keeping me alert over my 1200 mile trip. But I was glad when it was over.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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