Sunday, January 3, 2010

Shanghai Girls: Review and Giveaway

When was the last time a book made you cry? I mean really cry, so much that you worried about your tears wetting and ruining the pages? Shanghai Girls, a well-researched historical novel by bestselling author Lisa See, did that to me. There is one chapter fairly early in the book that's so heartwrenching I cried and gasped and felt sickened. I thought about this chapter for days. While I won't reveal what happens in that chapter, I will say that it has to do with life during wartime, which is brutal and atrocious and shocking, but also, I imagine, very true to life, because war is more awful than anything imaginable. But I don't want to discourage others from reading this book (although I think it's for mature readers only), because it's a brilliant novel. Just be prepared to experience some heavy emotion.

Published in 2009, Shanghai Girls takes place between 1937 and 1957. The book begins in Shanghai, and is the story of the Chin sisters, May, age 18, the little sister or moy moy, and Pearl, age 21, the elder sister or jie jie. They are "beautiful girls", which means they are models.
"We are young, we are beautiful, and we live in the Paris of Asia."
~Shanghai Girls, Lisa See
They pose for an artist, Z.G. Li, who paints them on omnipresent calendars, posters, and advertisements. (They also adorn the stunning cover of this book.) May is considered the more beautiful of the two because of her porcelain complexion, at least by her father, Baba, whereas Pearl, the more educated of the two, blushes easily and has "cheeks which capture the sun".
"Am I jealous of my sister? How can I be jealous even when I adore her? We share Long--Dragon--as our generational name. I am Pearl Dragon and May is Beautiful Dragon. She's taken the Western spelling of her name, but in Mandarin mei is one of the words for beautiful, and she is that."
~Shanghai Girls, Lisa See
Privileged in many ways, the Chin sisters earn money to spend on themselves, and live a life of relative luxury. Their father owns a rickshaw business, and the family is prosperous enough to employ seven servants. Beautiful, young, and idealistic, Pearl and May live in the present, and think things will always remain the same. Thoroughly modern girls who've escaped many of the old traditions, such as foot-binding, which has crippled their mother, they expect to marry for love. But their circumstances change suddenly and drastically, and with the onset of World War II, they must become survivors--rather than beautiful girls. In the book, which is told in the present tense by Pearl, the girls undergo many hardships, including a loss of financial status, the threat of arranged marriages, the Japanese occupation of China, and the need to leave their beloved Shanghai. Although their natures may be "set" by the Chinese zodiac--Pearl is a Dragon, strong and stubborn, while May is a Sheep, peaceful and adorable--throughout the book the sisters change and develop and mature. While May's great beauty continues to open doors, she also shows that she has intelligence and ambition, while Pearl displays her ability to adapt, and her softer side emerges. What doesn't change, though, is their love and support for each other, although there are the rivalries which may always exist between sisters.

Shanghai Girls
has an intimate feel to it which drew me in from the very first page of the book (to determine if you'd also be drawn in, you can read an excerpt). I felt as if I were reading Pearl's diary. Lisa See's exquisite attention to detail cast me back in time to the exotic, international city of Shanghai (and later to other locales). I imagined myself pulled in a rickshaw, tasting savory dishes of shrimp with water chestnuts and dumplings or chia-tzu. In this novel, I learned about World War II from a Chinese perspective, and also about China's civil war, and deepened my appreciation for historical fiction. I discovered many things about Chinese culture and thought, such as that the Cantonese word for wife is fu yen, which means woman and broom--which should scare off even the most marriage-minded Chinese girl! There are a few surprises sprinkled throughout the novel, which made for an even more compelling read. Thankfully, there will be a sequel, because I'm quite eager to know what happens next.

Exciting news! The publisher is generously offering two copies of Shanghai Girls (the trade paperback version) as giveaways (US/Canada only).
  • To enter this giveaway, simply leave a comment.
  • For an extra chance at winning, become a follower of this blog, or let me know that you're already a follower.
  • For another additional chance, post about this contest on your blog, Facebook, or Twitter.
Enter by 5 PM PST on Thursday, January 28. Two lucky winners will be selected randomly, and announced on Friday, January 29. Good luck!

Special thanks to Lisa from TLC for including me on this book tour, and to Kathleen from Random House for sending me the book. Having read Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, which I adored and shared with my daughter, Jasmine, I was determined to read another Chinese-themed novel by Lisa See. For more reviews and other giveaways of this novel, please visit the other stops on the Shanghai Girls book tour.

Shanghai Girls counts toward Jennie's China Challenge, and the Women Unbound Reading Challenge, hosted by Aarti, Care, and Eva.

93 comments:

  1. This period of Chinese history is fascinating to me, ever since I read the partial memoir of an American journalist, Emily Hahn, China to Me, which describes Shanghai during the Japanese occupation. I'd love to win this book!

    harvee44 at yahoo dot com

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  2. I have wanted to read this book for a long time-I have been held back by my rule of not buying hard bound fiction-your review is pushing me toward violating that rule-great review-

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  3. I've heard such great things about this book, I'd love to win a copy.

    I'm already a follower.

    ravndahl at hotmail dot com

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  4. As with Mel, I've also been holding back from buying this until I find a trade paperback copy. But he's right, your review is truly convincing. I've also been curious about Lisa See ever since I've heard of her. And the fact that the story revolves around two beautiful young Chinese women makes it even harder to resist for me :)

    Somehow (as weird as it might sound) this reminds me of Natsuo Kirino's Grotesque. As if to me the story sounds like a more "positive" alternative to that story of two sisters.

    Anyway, thanks for the captivating review!

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  5. I loved reading Snow Flower and The Secret Fan, but wasn't sure about this one. I think you have just made up my mind for me, with this fabulous review.

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  6. I LOVED this book and am so glad others do as well! I forgot to count if for the Women Unbound Challenge...silly me

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  7. I love when a book makes you cry like that. I had one do that back in September.

    No need to enter me for the book - I'm not a big fan of historical fiction and I know I wouldn't get to it any time soon.

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  8. My book club got to speak with Lisa See regarding her books and we learned so much about her own Chinese family history. She even told us that some of the information in Angel Island chapters were taken directly from her family archives!

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  9. A friend of mine just read this and loved it. Thanks for the giveaway.

    s.mickelson at gmail dot com

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  10. Great review! I"m so glad you enjoyed the book. What an emotional reading experience it was for you! I loved this book too- one of the best books of 2009 for me.

    FYI to a couple of your commenters- the trade paperback comes out on Feb 2nd!

    Thanks so much for taking the time to read and review Shanghai Girls. It is really appreciated!

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  11. Oh, your review is fantastic! You've made me want to stop everything and read this book right now since I love books that I get emotionally involved with. No need to enter me.

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  12. I got both of the books by this author on my TBR list. Your review really made me want to read this one sooner rather than later. It sounds like an amazing read! I'm a follower btw :)

    samantha.1020@yahoo.com

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  13. Excellent review Suko. I loved this book as well.

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  14. Book Dilettante, China to Me sounds fascinating. I'll keep an eye out for it.

    Mel, as Lisa points out in the comments, the paperback version will be out in early Feb.. I think you really need to experience a book by Lisa See.

    Kerri, thanks for stopping by and letting me know you're a follower (my followers always get an extra chance at winning giveaways).

    Mark David, your comments are always a pleasure to read. Interesting how you draw a parallel between Shanghai Girls and Kirino's Grotesque (note to self- must read more Japanese lit soon, even though the challenge is officially over).

    Vivienne, this book is positively captivating. I hope you'll read it in the new year.

    Hcmurdoch, at first I only linked this to the China Challenge, but then realized it also fit the Women Unbound Challenge in a few ways. Of course, the author, Lisa See, is a woman,and the whole struggle of these young women in the book is one toward freedom and independence, and making the most of their "fates".

    Amanda, I didn't know I loved historical fiction (not ALL historical fiction) until fairly recently. Thanks for stopping by.

    Stephanie, thanks for sharing a bit of background info. Doesn't the fact that this stems from real events make it that much more intriguing?

    Sue, thanks for entering this giveaway.

    Lisamm, I appreciate the info. Thanks so much for stopping by!

    Bermudaonion, thanks very much for your kind words. Readers can't help but get emotionally involved with Shanghai Girls. I look forward to your review.

    Sam, thanks for stopping by and posting a comment.

    Diane, thanks as well for taking the time to post a comment.

    More comments welcomed.

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  15. Wonderful review, Suko! I am really curious about this book after reading your review and think that it sounds riveting and very emotional. I love books that pull you in, and this sounds like a great one. I am excited also that you are having a giveaway to win a copy, and would love to be entered. If I don't win, I will definitely be grabbing my own copy soon!

    zibilee(at)figearo(dot)net

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  16. Suko, I'm heartbroken that the giveaway is only for US/Canada residents! I hope to be able to read this book sometime this year somehow :). I have now more confidence on the author since I read Snow Flower.

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  17. This book sounds great! I am already a proud follower of this blog, so count me in!

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  18. I've heard great things about this book (also about Snow Flower); your review only makes me more curious--thanks!

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  19. Zibilee, I was "hooked" from the beginning by this book.

    Mee, thanks for your comment. I wish the giveaway was worldwide. :)

    Angie, thank you!

    ds, I hope you'll get a chance to read something by Lisa See in 2010. Peony in Love is another novel by this author (I haven't read it yet).

    Many thanks for the comments. More welcomed.

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  20. No need to enter me, Suko. I'm dropping in to say thanks for the e-mail. I've got this posted at Win a Book for you.

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  21. Please enter me!

    I'm following w/ Google Reader.

    Here's my tweet:

    http://twitter.com/bibliofreakblog/status/7413734557

    j.t.oldfield[at]gmail.com

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  22. Thank you for the review! I love reading historical novels.

    I'm a follower.

    vision.nguyen AT gmail DOT com

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  23. I would love a copy!
    baileythebookworm at gmail dot com

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  24. What a wonderful review! I read Snow Flower and the Secret Fan years ago and absolutely loved it, so I'm anxious to read Lisa's newest work!

    Thank you for the entry!

    I'm a follower!

    Tweeted here: http://twitter.com/FctionAddiction

    Wendy
    wendysfictionaddiction(at)gmail(dot)com

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  25. Hi,

    I'm new to your blog. I'm currently a follower. I would love to win a copy of Shanghai Girls. I read it but do not have a hard copy.

    quirion@me.com

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  26. I would love to win this book!
    amandarwest at gmaildotcom

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  27. I follow your blog.
    amandarwest at gmaildotcom

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  28. I tweeted. http://twitter.com/amandawk/status/7416697065

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  29. I've been wanting to read a book by Lisa See--this one sounds wonderful!

    I am now a follower!

    srfbluemama at gmail dot com

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  30. This sounds wonderful! I'd been looking at this book for a while but your review makes me want to read it right away.

    gaby317nyc at gmail.com

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  31. I'm a new follower

    gaby317nyc at gmail.com

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  32. I posted a link to your contest on my blog's sidebar

    http://startingfresh-gaby317.blogspot.com/

    gaby317nyc at gmail.com

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  33. This book is on my wish list! I've read a few of Lisa See's books and haven't yet been disappointed.

    melacan at hotmail dot com

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  34. need a good winter under the covers read,,thx for the contest,,,
    thehighflyer3(at)hotmail(dot)com

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  35. Oooo, I would love the chance to win this book. I read an excerpt back when it was first released and immediately put it on my wish list. Since then, it's been lost in the shuffle, especially since historical fiction is not my normal genre...I read urban fantasy. Heh. Something about the story just grabbed my interest, though, so I think it's time to move it back up the list. :0)

    Thanks!
    librarygrinch at gmail dot com

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  36. Heard such wonderful things about this book. Please enter me in the giveaway. Thanks.

    jessica(at)fan(dot)com

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  37. please count me in....thanks.

    karenk
    kmkuka(at)yahoo(dot)Com

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  38. WOW! This sounds like a wonderful read! Thank you for the review! I would love to win this! I'm an old follower!

    XOXO~ Renee
    steelergirl83(at)gmail(dot)com

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  39. this sounds like a great read thanks minsthins at optonline dot net

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  40. I loved Snow Flower and the Secret Fan and would love to read this one too! Count me in. Thanks. utgal2004[at]yahoo[dot]com

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  41. Following on google friend connect
    utgal2004[at]yahoo[dot]com

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  42. I tweeted for you: http://twitter.com/cherryontop22/status/7470604701

    utgal2004[at]yahoo[dot]com

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  43. Your review was great -- I want to read Shanghai Girls. Please include me.

    I'm a new follower.

    dlodden at frontiernet dot net

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  44. This sounds great -- please enter me.

    kimspam66(at)yahoo(dot)com

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  45. I've read other books by this author. Love her books. Would love to enter . Thank you!
    nataliew2(at)gmail(dot)com

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  46. I'm a follower too!
    nataliew2(at)gmail(dot)com

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  47. I tweeted !
    http://twitter.com/nataliew2/status/7498558312
    nataliew2(at)gmail(dot)com

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  48. oh i love reading books that made me cry...

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  49. No need to enter me, as I'm part of the tour. Just wanted to say that I'm reading this book now and I love it so far. And I hope it's okay that I linked to your review on War Through the Generations.

    --Anna
    Diary of an Eccentric

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  50. I think Lisa See is awesome, Snowflower and the Secret Fan had me crying.

    This book sounds great, wonderful review Suko!
    I've been wanting to read this one, please enter me in your giveaway, thanks.
    naidascrochetATyahoo.com
    http://thebookworm07.blogspot.com/

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  51. Anna, thanks for linking to my review on War Through the Generations. You're building quite an extensive collection of reviews!

    Thank you all for your comments. More welcomed.

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  52. I loved snow Flower and the Secret Fan and it sounds like this one is just as good. Thanks for the giveaway.

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  53. Please enter me. walkerd@primus.ca

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  54. this sounds so interesting to read

    tiramisu392 (at) yahoo.com

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  55. I have been wanting to read this book!

    rhoneygtn at yahoo dot com

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  56. I have almost only heard good about this book, and I really want to read it. I read Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, and loved it completely! I would love to enter the contest!

    infiniteshelf at gmail dot com

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  57. Oh, and I just added your blogs to those I follow on bloggers :)

    infiniteshelf at gmail dot com

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  58. A wish book for me, please include me.

    cenya2 at hotmail dot com

    I follow by google reader.

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  59. Sounds like a great book. Thanks for the giveaway.
    eswright18 at gmail dot com

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  60. I follow via Google.

    eswright18 at gmail dot com

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  61. i tweeted. http://twitter.com/eswright18/status/7611604275

    eswright18 at gmail dot com

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  62. I just became a follower. Enjoying your blog alot. I'd love to read Lisa See's book...please enter me in your giveaway. Thank you! I enjoy reading about Asian countries and the people, I enjoy Lisa's books as well as Gail Tsukiyama and a few others I've had the pleasure of reading.

    Sandee61

    Muzzley56[at]aol[dot]com

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  63. Thanks to all who commented, and special thanks to those who also posted or tweeted about this giveaway. Of course, I also appreciate my followers, too.

    More comments/entries welcomed of course.

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  64. I enjoyed the book last year, but not as much as Snowflower and the Secret Fan. My biggest problem was the ending or lack thereof. It just sorted ended and left me screaming! I had to go online and look to make sure there was a sequel coming out! I'm looking forward to it . . . although I wish the ending of the first would have been better.

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  65. I've read a couple of other books that discuss the experience of Chinese immigrants. I would love to add this!

    tatamagouche AT netbundle DOT ca

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  66. I've just become a follower of your blog, but I wish I could subscribe by e-mail too

    tatamagouche AT netbundle DOT ca

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  67. I like Lisa See's stories. Please enter me.

    linna.hsu at gmail dot com

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  68. Snow Flower and the Secret Fan (my review here: ) is a book I continue to think about. I would love to have a copy of Shanghai Girls. Thanks.

    emerging DOT paradigm AT yahoo DOT com

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  69. Hmm, it didn't take my review URL:
    http://bonniesbooks.blogspot.com/2009/11/snow-flower-and-secret-fan-by-lisa-see.html

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  70. I'd love to read this :) *Thanks* for the giveaway!
    theluckyladybug[at]gmail[dot]com

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  71. Following with Google Friend Connect
    theluckyladybug[at]gmail[dot]com

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  72. This is a book I need to add to my reading list.

    rhoneygtn at yahoo dot com

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  73. Please enter me in this giveaway!

    saemmerson at yahoo dot com

    Sarah E

    ReplyDelete
  74. I am a follower.

    saemmerson at yahoo dot com

    Sarah E

    ReplyDelete
  75. I tweeted:

    http://twitter.com/saemmerson/status/7992148837

    saemmerson at yahooo dot com

    Sarah E

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  76. Whoa! Look at all those comments. Guess I'm just another Lisa See fan. Please enter me in the give away. (I'll also be figuring out how to follow your blog -- a new function for me. So please enter me twice.)

    Thanks!

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  77. I've been wanting to read this ever since hearing about it on Goodreads. Thanks for the generous giveaway.

    wakeupangel at gmail dot com

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  78. I am a follower, name on there is Bani.

    wakeupangel at gmail dot com

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  79. I tweeted here- http://twitter.com/baniclips/status/8080750676

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  80. Thanks to everyone who commented, and extra thanks to those who became followers, or posted about this giveaway.

    On a different note, I can easily imagine Shanghai Girls as a movie. I think it would be spectacular!

    More comments welcomed.

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  81. This book sounds exceptionally interesting! I'd love to enter! Thanks!

    aikychien at yahoo dot com

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  82. I'm a follower.

    aikychien at yahoo dot com

    ReplyDelete
  83. I tweeted:

    http://twitter.com/aikchien/status/8274528297

    aikychien at yahoo dot com

    ReplyDelete
  84. I am so happy-I just saw for the first time this book in paperback in a Manila Mall-not a trade paperback just a lower priced but still good quality edition from Random House-I am up to section 3 now and it is compulsive reading-I will reread your review after I finish the book-I can already say I will be reading more of her books in 2010

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  85. Great review! This was my favorite book in 2009!

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  86. Mel, I'm so glad that you were able to get the book and thrilled that you're enjoying it. I look forward to reading your review.

    Thank you all for your comments, tweets, and postings. The winners of Shanghai Girls will be announced tomorrow.

    ReplyDelete

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