Thursday, August 4, 2011

Dreams of Joy by Lisa See

In this sequel to Shanghai Girls, Lisa See tells the story of Joy, a 19 year old girl of Chinese heritage living in 1950's Los Angeles.  (If you have not read Shanghai Girls, I strongly suggest that you do before reading this review.  There will be spoilers!)
Joy, upset and furious with Pearl and May after learning the truth about her parentage and blaming herself for Sam's death, decides to go to China to find her birth father.  She became enamoured of Communism and the New China while in college and feels that her place is there with her father.  She impulsively leaves for China, leaving behind only a letter to let anyone know what she has done.  Pearl decides to follow her in order to talk her into returning with her to California.  The problem is that getting in to China is not especially difficult, getting out is nearly impossible.
Joy ends up on a commune in the country and learns that communism is not the ideal she thought it was.  Pearl returns to her home city of Shanghai, to her old home, and finds that the city has changed drastically in the 20 years she has been gone.  Pearl says: 
 Old Shanghai, my Shanghai, had plenty of sin on the surface but was shored up by the respectability of banking and mercantile wealth underneath.  Now I see the so-called respectability of communism on the surface and decay underneath.  They can sweep, strip, and cart away all they want, but there's no changing the fact that my home city is decomposing, rotting away, and turning into a skeleton.
Pearl tries to persuade Joy to return home but Joy is caught up in her new life.  It isn't until a nationwide disaster occurs, a famine brought on by the ill-conceived policies of the communist regime, that Joy finally sees the reality of the New China.

What I like about the book:  Too much to write about here!  Mostly I loved the descriptions of China, especially the Chinese country life, as experienced by the peasants.  Naturally, those who had the least control over their lives suffered the most for the idiocies of those in charge. 

What I didn't like:  I liked pretty much everything but I would have like to have more about the changing relationships- especially between Joy and Pearl, and Joy and Tao.

Was is clean?  That depends.  For adults, yes it was pretty clean however there were definitely some things that would not be appropriate for children or even younger teens.  There is not any profanity, but some sex, and then just some situations that would be disturbing to most people, especially during the famine.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Folly Beach by Dorothea Benton Frank

I have enjoyed reading Frank's books in the past due to her interesting characters and family dramas but I felt that this book didn't quite live up to my expectations.
Cate Cooper is living in New Jersey with her successful but distant husband when her life turns upside-down.  Her husband commits suicide and she discovers almost immediately that he has been deceiving her.  He has been having affairs, has apparently fathered a child, and has run his business into the ground.  She is forced out of her home and, left with virtually nothing, returns to Folly Beach, South Carolina, to live with her eccentric Aunt Daisy and her live-in companion.  She manages to put her life back together and finds love along the way.
Frank adds a little extra to this novel:  a play about Dorothy and DuBose Heyward, who, with George Gershwin, wrote "Porgy and Bess".  Cate ends up living in their cottage and "feels" the spirit of Dorothy there. 
I can handle the supernatural parts of the novel because that's kind of fun (it is fiction after all) but I do want my characters to have realistic emotions.  My biggest beef with this book is that Cate heals emotionally so quickly from what would have been a completely devasting and overwhelming experience.  Her life has changes completely yet she blithely goes off and falls in love almost immediately.  There is very little indication that she is suffering emotionally.  It's just not realistic.
Other than that, the book was pleasing although I found the sections about the Heywards to be boring and tended to skim through them.  Also, I have to wonder if Frank has had a hard time with a daughter-in-law.  I thought that she was rather hard on Alice and felt sorry for her.

What I liked about the book:  I thought that the best part was Aunt Daisy and her "companion" Ella.  Frank shines when it comes to quirky characters.

What I didn't like:  I didn't like the play.  The concept was good but it needed to be better written.

Was it clean?  No, not really due to some language and some sex, not a ton of either but enough.