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.

Mailbox Monday #190

Mailbox Mondays (click the icon to check out the new blog) has gone on tour since Marcia at A Girl and Her Books, formerly The Printed Page passed the torch. This month’s host is 5 Minutes for Books.

The meme allows bloggers to share what books they receive in the mail or through other means over the past week.

Just be warned that these posts can increase your TBR piles and wish lists.

Here’s what I received:

1.  Skeleton Women by Mingmei Yip, for a TLC Book Tour in September.

2.  The Vampire Diaries Stefan’s Diaries Vol. 5 The Asylum, which I ordered with a gift certificate I had for my birthday from Barnes & Noble, though two other books I ordered have not arrive yet.

3.  I’m Just Sayin! by Kim Zimmer (Guiding Light’s Reva Shayne!) and Laura Morton for review from Penguin.

4. A Walk in the Park by Jill Mansell for review in November.

5. Ladybug Girl book and doll set by Jacky Davis and David Soman, which I ordered with my giftcard.

What did you receive?