The Surprise Sequel: Dreams of Joy

Sometimes you read a book and have no idea that it’s going to leave you hanging.

That’s what happened when I read Shanghai Girls by Lisa See recently. The story of Pearl and May Chin trying to build a new life in America while holding onto what happened back home, ended abruptly when Pearl’s daughter, Joy, decides she wants to return to China and help build the People’s Republic of China. She leaves in the middle of the night and when Pearl wakes up to find her gone, she knows exactly what she’s done and basically picks up her life and follows her.

So there’s me nearing the end of Shanghai Girls thinking that there sure is a lot that still needs resolving in these last 20 pages.

That’s because the story wasn’t finished and I wasn’t going to get any resolution from this book.

Thankfully the sequel, Dreams of Joy, already existed – I didn’t have to wait a couple of years for Lisa See to write it.

dreams of joy

Dreams of Joy splits the story between Joy, as she returns to China, optimistic about Chairman Mao’s plans to turn the People’s Republic of China into an egalitarian paradise, and Pearl as she follows Joy and does everything she can to try and convince her to come home with her. May, such a big part of Shanghai Girls, is relegated to a background character, her voice an occasional one through the letters and money she tries to send to Joy and Pearl.

I really liked Shanghai Girls (just like I enjoyed China Dolls). I’ve said this before, but Lisa See is extremely adept at creating a really vivid sense of place. And that’s very much true of Dreams of Joy as well – the commune where Joy finds herself is ably brought to life, contrasted by the altered reality of Shanghai where Pearl spends most of her time. But it took me a while to enjoy this story – Joy drove me insane for easily the first half of the book.

Hers is the typical first generation story – she has no idea how much her parents sacrificed in order for her to have the American life she took for granted. At the first opportunity, she runs off to China to throw herself into Communism, despite the warnings from her family about all the terrible things that are actually happening. She is incredibly naive about politics, the reality of the peasant lifestyle she admires so much, even relations between men and women. She digs herself into a hole and is then too proud to do admit she might have been wrong about everything.

I’m also not going to pretend like theme of mother love wasn’t fairly heavy handed through the whole thing. It was pretty clear that See wanted to make the point that there’s nothing a mother won’t do for her child. It’s not until Joy herself becomes a mother that she can see how much her mother gave up for her. That’s when she gets the strength she needs to fix things.

Despite these flaws, there was a point where I did become invested in the outcome. I was already so fond of Pearl from Shanghai Girls and I was glad to witness her finding her own strength. So redeeming was the rest of the book that I even shed some tears at it’s conclusion. At this stage in the game, I’d probably read anything Lisa See wrote and I would still totally recommend Dreams of Joy to other readers.


I Swear I’ve Been Reading

I have been suuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuch a slacker blogger this week. I kept meaning to put some posts together but I’ve been so busy and then so tired from being busy that when I do get some time I just really want to watch 10 episodes of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia because, I mean, it’s the best.

And to be totally honest, I’m still not 100% on my game. So instead of the quality reviews and posts that you’ve obviously come to expect, here are a couple of mini-reviews. Less effort but you know that I’m not dead so everyone wins.


Shanghai Girls by Lisa See. Pearl and May are a pair of beautiful sisters, daughters of a wealthy business man in Shanghai. It’s 1937 and they spend their evenings in the “Paris of Asia”, modelling for calendars and hobnobbing with all the right people in exclusive nightclubs. But when their father loses all their money, he arranges marriages for both of them with the sons of a man who has gone to California to find his fortune. Soon after, their entire world literally collapses as the Japanese fly in and bomb Shanghai. With nothing left, the girls travel to Los Angeles to join their husbands but nothing in their new life is what they expected.

Why did no one tell me that this isn’t a complete story?! I read the whole thing and then it ends and I was like “WHAT’S THE REST OF THE STORY!?”Apparently there’s a sequel (Dreams of Joy) that needs reading? But I don’t even mind because it just means I get to spend more time in Lisa See’s world. I find that See does an incredible job creating a real sense of place. Ultimately this is a classic sister story, where two very different women have to live together because of their sisterhood and it was wonderful.

ronson_coverSo You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson. I’ve been meaning to read this book all year. Every time I saw it at a bookstore, I would stop and read a few pages. Turns out I’d read a lot more of it than I realized because almost the entire time I was actually reading it, I had an intense déjà vu feeling. I expected it for the first chapter, and I knew I had read the Justine Sacco (the woman who sent that tweet about how she wouldn’t get AIDS in South Africa because she’s white?) chapter online but I had definitely already read about 60% of the book and I have no idea how that happened. Still this is the kind of book that I want to highlight and underline. Ronson’s look at shame in this social media age, where we share everything about ourselves, good and bad, so publicly was amazing.

But there were also parts of it that I read that made me so angry. Not because of anything he wrote but because of what he realized. Namely that if you are a woman and you f*ck up publicly, be prepared for your life to be over. Whether you’ve sent an ill advised tweet, become involved in a sex scandal or even called out men for sexist jokes, you will be hooped. But if you’re a man, it will probably blow over. I’d definitely recommend it, especially if you work with media in any capacity.

murder-after-hoursMurder After Hours by Agatha Christie. Do you ever think that I will read an Agatha Christie novel and come away going “that was terrible”? Me neither. A whole bunch of people are invited up to an English country house. Unusually for Christie’s novels, a lot of the story takes place before anyone ever gets murdered. You meet the victim and get an idea of how they are related to all the other people invited for the weekend. When the murder occurs, Hercule Poirot has just shown up for lunch. I will never know how Christie constantly manages to trick me. Every time I’m like “I got it this time, I’ve finally figured these out!” and every time I end up like “WHAT?! HOW?!” Agatha Christie, I will always bow down to you, you are superior to all of us.

How about you? What have you read recently?


Book Gluttony: The Library Trip

I did it again. I ignored the piles of unread books in my own house to take a trip to the library and bring home another pile of books to read.

I could take the time to unpack what is wrong with me that I can’t seem to be happy with the riches already in my home and insist on making my reading life that much more chaotic (to say nothing of the physical piles of chaos I’ve created in our home…) but who wants to do that?

Want to hear about the bookish treasure I took home instead?

That’s what I thought. Read on, book lovers!

So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson. I’ve been wanting and meaning to read this book ever since it came out but for whatever reason, every time I pick it up in a bookstore, I’ve put it down again. But hey, I work in communications, it might not be a bad idea to finally read this book about the “renaissance of public shaming” via social media.

Girl at War by Sara Novic. I keep seeing this book and reading about it and it kind of jumped out at me at the library so I brought it home. This book about the war in Yugoslavia and it’s aftermath on our heroine, Ana Juric holds a personal connection for me: my father was a peacekeeper in that conflict. I’m not sure that I’ve ever read any fiction about this area and I’m glad for the opportunity to remedy that.

Friends, Lovers, Chocolate by Alexander McCall Smith. I can’t seem to quit him. And after reading the most recent Isabel Dalhousie novel (The Novel Habits of Happiness) I decided that I’d been harsh on this series based on the first book. This is the second book in the series and I’m excited to potentially have another mystery series to love.

The Woman Who Stole My Life by Marian Keyes. I LOVE Marian Keyes. I’m pretty sure I own all of her books. I meant to buy this one. But every time I almost did it, I stopped myself. When I saw it at the library, I thought to myself why do I need to own this book? Why not just take it home now? So that’s exactly what I did.

Shanghai Girls by Lisa See. Earlier this year I read and LOVED China Dolls. I’m hoping that Shanghai Girls is more of the same. Shanghai in the 1930s always seems like the most elegant place, until it all falls to sh*t of course.

Well there you have it. Are you marvelling at my self restraint? I only brought home FIVE books, guys. I can totally get through a pile of five books. I was actually incredibly selective when I went this time. I spent a lot of time in non-fiction but there was nothing there that I had to read immediately. Actually it just made me feel bad that I had books by A.N. Wilson and Judith Flanders already sitting at home since I glanced at some of their other work and almost brought them home too…

Also. There’s a teachers weekend at one of the big bookstores up here, the weekend of the 26th and I’ve already had one of the teachers in my book club offer to take advantage of that on my behalf so the book gluttony isn’t slowing down any time soon…