Snow Flower and the Secret Fan Written by: Lisa See Paperback: 288 pages Publisher: Random House Language: English February 2006, $14.99 Genre: Historical Fiction
In nineteenth-century China, in a remote Hunan county, a girl named Lily, at the tender age of seven, is paired with a laotong, “old same,” in an emotional match that will last a lifetime. The laotong, Snow Flower, introduces herself by sending Lily a silk fan on which she’s painted a poem in nu shu, a unique language that Chinese women created in order to communicate in secret, away from the influence of men. As the years pass, Lily and Snow Flower send messages on fans, compose stories on handkerchiefs, reaching out of isolation to share their hopes, dreams, and accomplishments. Together, they endure the agony of foot-binding, and reflect upon their arranged marriages, shared loneliness, and the joys and tragedies of motherhood. The two find solace, developing a bond that keeps their spirits alive. But when a misunderstanding arises, their deep friendship suddenly threatens to tear apart.
I have always loved books like Memoirs of a Geisha, anything by Amy Tan and historical fiction set in Japan and China. It was one of the books I bought at the library sale after Aly recommended it. Since I spent a good portion of this month in a cast (I broke my wrist at the end of December which required a brand new plate and some pins...part of the way to becoming a Cylon) and not being able to do a whole lot, I decided I should pick it up. Plus I have been a little bored with the urban fantasy genre of late and needed to try something new. Plus Foot binding = painful. So does breaking your wrist. It was ninjas by the way. Ice-skating ninjas.
Snow Flower and the Secret fan begins melodramatically with an aged Lily telling not only her story, but that of her ‘laotong’ Snow Flower. Set in the early 1800’s Lily grew up without many things, but like all young girls she is destined for an arranged marriage which her family can only hope will be advantageous to all. It is a world where daughters are seen as a burden, where a Chinese woman must be subservient to any man in her life, and where the brutal practice of foot binding was one way to improve your standing. Lily has a brutally ambitious figure in her mother, as one fellow book blogger put it, the equivalent of a stage mother from Toddlers and Tiaras. When a matchmaker suggests that Lily will have golden lilies for her feet (something you tried to aspire to) Lily’s mother sees an opportunity. At such a young age Lily’s feet are brutally broken, tied and stunted. But there is a sparkle of sunshine during these years. The Matchmaker also forms an arranged friendship called a laotong with a young girl of higher social standing. This special friendship of ‘old sames’ means that Lily and Snow Flower are formally committed to being best friends for life. Lily and Snow Flower grow up, using an embroidered fan to tell about their losses and triumphs, of marriage, childbirth and war. The story unfolds into a beautiful tale of love, loss, friendship, betrayal and atonement.
Things I loved: I did enjoy this book. It was a quick enjoyable read. See recounts the foot binding process in a horrific way which forced me to wiki it much to my horror later. I loved and dreaded and cringed as I read about the foot binding process. How it was once considered a most favorable trait despite that the women could hardly walk still astounds me. It is a horrible practice, one that still continues though I cannot fathom why. See holds no punches here and for that I am grateful actually. I learned something new as I had only known a peripheral view of foot-binding and the novel discusses it with many details.
As I think about the novel, I cannot imagine growing up in a world where women were viewed with such disregard and servitude was their life. And yet as women we wear high heels, bind ourselves in a variety of lingerie and hold ourselves to such strong and sometimes impossible standards when it comes to beauty that I can relate and sympathize to some degree. What society finds beautiful can deeply influence a person’s life. This theme is something that we can all relate to. Just as we can the importance of a friendship between two women. These women were denied so many things and were so isolated that they clung to each other just to stay sane. They rebelled social mores with their secret language, with their wit and with their closeness to one another.
Once I had read the last page I knew I wanted to learn embroidery and perhaps teach my future daughter, hypothetical as she may be at this point, how to do it as well. I longed for a nice visualization of the fan that Lily and Snow Flower shared.
Things I didn't love so much: The characters are very stereotypical and superficial and while they are prominent in the story, there lacks any real character depth. Lily is bound by tradition, her view on sex kind of hilarious for a modern woman such as myself, and her views on the world or so narrow and naive I find them hard to believe. Plus how can you like a woman who does what she does in the latter part of the book. But I enjoy reading Lily and Snow Flower’s stories. In some ways I can see how Lily, a young woman who yearned for her mother’s love and approval, who gave her heart away so rarely turns into a hardened older woman and yet I wanted to see that overall journey and have it make sense. Because it didn't. Lily goes from a shy, caring and sensitive friend to a bitter and judgmental woman the higher her status gets. Why? She won. Even if she longed for atonement by the end of the story I didn't care. I just wasnt as emotionally invested as I wish I could have been with Lily.
I cant really say it was well written book. While an engaging story, this is a book where it is more about the journey than it is really about any character development. You learn about foot binding, of customs and rituals and an overall history: the research being quite on pointe. But the Joy Luck Club this is not for me. And yet I cannot fault it too much as I was entertained. It was a quick read that was both heartbreaking and beautiful.
I strongly suggest to all do not see the film. It bears little resemblance to the book other than the title.
Buy or Borrow: Buy. Despite a few flaws, the strength of this book is with the details and the history.
Part of: Standalone.
Also Recommended: I would recommend anything by Amy Tan my favorite being the Joy Luck Club.
Kill The Dead Written by: Richard Kadrey Hardcover: 448 pages Publisher: Harper Voyager Language: English October 2010, $22.99 Genre: Urban Fantasy
James Stark, a.k.a. Sandman Slim, crawled out of Hell, took bloody revenge for his girlfriend's murder, and saved the world along the way. After that, what do you do for an encore? You take a lousy job tracking down monsters for money. It's a depressing gig, but it pays for your beer and cigarettes. But in L.A., things can always get worse.
Like when Lucifer comes to town to supervise his movie biography and drafts Stark as his bodyguard. Sandman Slim has to swim with the human and inhuman sharks of L.A.'s underground power elite. That's before the murders start. And before he runs into the Czech porn star who isn't quite what she seems. Even before all those murdered people start coming back from the dead and join a zombie army that will change our world and Stark's forever.
Death bites. Life is worse. All things considered, Hell's not looking so bad.
"Hell is hilarious if you're the one in charge." ~ Lucifer
I first read Richard Kadrey a couple of years ago when I picked up Butcher Bird and loved it. It was snarky. It was dark. And it was a hell of a lot of fun. Now it wasn't that I didn't like the first of the Sandman Slim novels, but I didn’t enjoy it as much as Butcher Bird so it took me a while to pick up Kill the Dead. I will say that a genre that is so saturated with snarky heroines and a bit way too heavy on the romance, Kadrey’s anti-hero is a breath of fresh air the way that Harry Dresden, Felix Castor, Avery Cates, Matthew Swift and John Taylor are. He is not some dashing hunk of burning love and sometimes you want to hit him with a brick even while you are rooting for him. I like that he is so many shades of grey and while ultimately I think the Sandman Slim novels will appeal overall to a male audience (even though I am the kind of girl to enjoy mayhem and snark, you cannot help but feel some of the characters and subplots are right out of a fanboy’s wet dream. We girls have them, why cant the guys have theirs as well) I dig them and you might too. But maybe that is because I am Smirking and I am a bit on the wee bit odd side. And also I like foul mouthed anti-heros, acerbic wit and plots that give urban fantasy the dark gritty makeover I think its been needing for a while.
Kill the Dead begins a few months after the events of Sandman Slim. Stark is broke and to make ends meet he takes odd jobs and the occasional gig from the Golden Vigil (kind of like Homeland Security but with angels). He starts by tracking down a missing person who just happens to be a missing vampire. Of course in Stark’s world nothing is ever as easy as it appears to be and as per usual Stark finds himself being life’s bitch in one form or another. Now a bit of a celebrity after breaking out of Hell and doing a particular set of damage to the Sub Rosa community, Lucifer comes topside and hires Stark as his bodyguard while overseeing a new film about his life. Bodyguard, just for show - yeah right. Lucifer is not called the Prince of Lies for nothing and almost nothing about his motives are true. Then again what did you expect. Once again Stark Stark finds himself saving the day and not necessarily because he wants to, but what is a guy to do when you are fighting off zombies, trying to be charming to a beautiful Czech porn star named Bridget, and having a bit of an identity crisis as his scars heal and the Angel side of himself yearning to break free.
"Let me make sure I have this straight. The cavalry just rode into town and it's a Czech Gypsy porn-star zombie killer. Have I got that right?"
"Forgive me. I didn't think my life would seem so strange to Lucifer's alcoholic cowboy assassin." ~ Stark, Brigitte
Things I loved: I really want to like Stark, but again in this novel Kadrey seems to make him an ass just for the sake of being an ass. He’s supposed to be some bad ass escapee from hell who fought in the colosseums of hell. Mostly he just complains about his life and his hometown, steals shit because he can (though always complains about his lack of money...hmm) and generally is a bit emo albeit a snarky, chain smoking, profanity ridden sort of emo type. And yet by the end of the book he is that badass he is supposed to be, the acerbic anti-hero who you end up rooting for. He tries to act like he doesn't care and yet he does. He has an amazing sort of identity crisis in this book which was great. His scars are healing not that the angelic side is a bit more active and that is terrifying for Stark because his scars remind him where he has been. And as I said I really like having a male voice and one that is a bit film noir, a bit hack and slash and a lot of snark in it. It is refreshing to read. And Kadrey does snark like no one else and the dialogue is great.
And I am a big fan of those peripheral characters like Candy, Allegra (Vidoq’s protegee and the girl who used to run Max Overload), Carlos (the Bamboo House bartender and owner) and my favorite Kasabian (who I didn't like the first time around, maybe its because is a head on a Wild Wild West sort of mechanical leg device who digs porn and burritos). And of course who doesn't love old Lucy himself. And I am a big fan of those peripheral characters like Candy, Allegra (Vidoq’s protegee and the girl who used to run Max Overload), Carlos (the Bamboo House bartender and owner) and my favorite Kasabian (who I didn't like the first time around, maybe its because is a head on a Wild Wild West sort of mechanical leg device who digs porn and burritos). And of course who doesn't love old Lucy himself.
Things I didn't love so much: This book feels a bit chaotic almost as if Kadrey couldn't decide what he wanted to do with his second run with Stark. Then again it is a bit of a filler book as we await the big massive showdown between Mason and Stark...again. Plus Hell may be up for grabs and Heaven may unfortunately see a coup happening. That is kind of awesome, but I will say if you have not read Sandman Slim I feel like you would be woefully lost as even I had a hard time remembering old characters and the new ones and trying to figure out the significance of each.
Its hard to really be angry with the book as the faults and the merits balance one another out. While I both hate and love Stark, I love that the Hell thing is being explored as is an angel wanting to overthrow God. I dig the grittiness of it all, the no apologies approach and yet I want more than fanboy porn. Then again can I really fault Kadrey for it. Nope.
Buy or Borrow: Borrow. Unless you own the first one, then buy.
Part of: A Series Book One: Sandman Slim Book Two: Kill the Dead Book Three: Aloha from Hell (Due October 2012)
Also Recommended: Butcher Bird also by Kadrey, the Avery Cates series by Jeff Somers, the Felix Castor novels by Mike Carey, and Already Dead by Charlie Huston.
30 something. female. gemini (which explains a lot). pop-culture junkie. voracious reader and girl gamer. addicted to music and podcasts. unabashed film junkie. fascinated by the arts, mythology, traveling, languages (speaks french, spanish and gaelic) and obsessed with anything even remotely Joss Whedon related. hearts kara 'starbuck' thrace, nathan fillion and cookies. die hard romantic. ravenclaw. browncoat. crafter. hates closed minds & closed hearts. sweet, quirky, loving, snarky Celt. loves to dance, hates being cold. sings in the shower and in the car. procrastinator. nice girl.