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Skeleton Women by Mingmei Yip

Skeleton Women by Mingmei Yip is set in 1930s Shanghai when gang leaders are at odds over the foreign and domestic business, but in the shadows are skeleton women who can make men fall in love with them and be willing to risk everything for them, even their lives and fortunes.  Heavenly Songbird Camilla is tied to the Flying Dragons boss Mr. Lung, but her agenda is more secretive as she seeks to fulfill her duties to a rival gang, the Red Demons and Mr. Wang.  An orphan turned spy, she sings on stage and warms the bed of Mr. Lung at night when she meets his son, Jinying, who has fallen head over heels in love with her since first hearing her sing at the Bright Moon Nightclub.

“People admired or hated me as the ultimate femme fatale.  But I myself had no idea who I was.  I was nobody, literally.  An orphan, I was adopted by a man and his gang for their own purposes.  Later I learned that man was Big Brother Wang, his gang, the Red Demons.  Under their constant watching and fussing over me and their strict discipline, by fourteen I’d grown up to be a watermelon seed-faced, full-bosomed, slim-waisted, long-legged beauty, possessing everything desired by men and envied by women.”  (page 4)

Camilla puts on a confident air, but when she is surprised by the talents of the Shadow, a magician at a competing club, and bristled by the critiques of gossip columnist Rainbow Chang.  While she contrives scenarios in which to make herself seem superior and to maintain her place with Mr. Lung, the presence of his son is unsettling.  Readers are taken on a journey through Camilla’s time with the gangs and the adventures that leaves them in suspense about the success of her mission.

However, there are moments when devices such as lipstick cameras are mentioned that may or may not be historically accurate (I was unable to find a history on these objects), and the quickness with which Jinying falls for Camilla is a bit too abrupt.  The quickness of Jinying’s affections could be due to the narration’s point of view, which is Camilla’s as told from sometime in the future about the past.  And while she is uneasy in his presence, it is clearly more about lust than about true love.  The only other points in the book that could distract the reader are the repeated references to her repeated training as a spy and skeleton woman and Camilla’s continued references to Sun Tzu’s strategies and The Art of War.  On the other hand, there are great little historical tidbits from China’s past, including the overthrow of previous kings and legends from Chinese history, that are highlighted by Camilla’s story as an illustration of how even the best strategies do not always work.

More interesting are the parts about her actual training and her need to learn endurance to stave off the pain of torture, as well as her focus on becoming nothing or dead so that the enemy cannot torture her through others, thus depriving herself of emotion and connection to others.  Yip is adept at creating the sense of deception throughout the novel and the dangers around every turn, as she is at creating the illusion of emotion through Camilla and her interactions with others.  Skeleton Women by Mingmei Yip is a novel that is less about 1930s Shanghai and its troubles and more about the women who made it tick and set the stage for change, with or without consciously knowing they would.  Yip creates an allure in the prose that is reminiscent of the skeleton woman’s ability to manipulate the emotions and actions of others. The true test comes when one can coax a skeleton woman into feeling love and the sacrifice that sometimes follows.

About the Author:

Kensington author Mingmei Yip believes that one should, besides being entertained, also get something out of reading a novel. Her new novel is Skeleton Women is about survival, letting go, and finding love and compassion.

Her debut novel Peach Blossom Pavilion is the story about the last Chinese Geisha and also that of courage and the determination to succeed and attain happiness. Her second novel Petals from the Sky, a poignant Buddhist love story, is about wisdom, compassion, when to persist and when to let go. Her third novel Song of the Silk Road is an adventure love story between an older woman and a younger man with a three million award on China’s famous, dangerous route.

For more about the author and her books visit her Website, on Twitter, and on Facebook.

This is my 69th book for the New Authors Reading Challenge 2012.

  • I’m glad to see how much you enjoyed this one Serena!

    Thanks for the great review for the tour. I’m featuring it on TLC’s Facebook page today.

  • Pingback: Mingmei Yip, author of Skeleton Women, on tour September 2012 | TLC Book Tours()

  • Thanks for the great review, Serena! I’m so happy you enjoyed Skeleton Women!
    Lisa Munley´s last blog post ..TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS for September 24th – 29th

  • I think I’d be more interested in this book if 1930s Shanghai was focused on more. It was a fascinating place in a fascinating time.

  • Ti

    Reminds me of the movie Point of No Return.
    Ti´s last blog post ..Review: The Longest Way Home

  • I loved your review of this one but I’m still not sure if it’s for me or not.

  • This one wasn’t even on my radar but it sounds fascinating. I love books that feature other time periods and cultures.
    Julie P.´s last blog post ..Review: Love Anthony

  • This was an interesting hist fic — I liked Yip’s unusual story telling technique — Camilla’s brazen style of bragging/glamorizing her story — but it worked in this case. Lovely review!
    Audra´s last blog post ..The Gilded Lily by Deborah Swift

    • I liked the story telling….even if it was overblown. I think that’s the beauty of having it told from the POV of a character who thinks highly of herself.

  • So, the skeleton women are part of the gang? I would be interested in this one for the setting alone.
    bermudaonion(Kathy)´s last blog post ..Review: The Cost of Hope

    • In Camilla’s case yes…not necessarily all Skeleton Women are part of gangs. I really enjoyed this one.