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REVIEW: White Tigress by Jade Lee

Dear Ms. Lee—

When I saw you’d released your Tigress series digitally and the first one, originally published in 2005, White Tigress was free at Amazon, I downloaded it immediately. I’m always thrilled to find a historical romance not set in Regency England and I’m fascinated by China and its complex history. I cannot say I was fascinated by this book. I was actually rather repulsed by it and found it to be so bizarre I wondered perhaps, in order to make sense of the story, I needed some sort of cultural Rosetta stone. I questioned if I was too Western or too humdrum for your book for not only did much of the novel baffle me, much of it made me cringe.

White Tigress by Jade LeeThe book is set in Shanghai in 1897 and, from the first chapter, the heroine, Lydia Smith behaves inexplicably. She’s arrived in Shanghai two weeks earlier than her fiancé Max (Maxwell Slade) is expecting her—she got better rate on an earlier boat. As she steps down the gangplank, she’s oddly sure everything will be JUST FINE even though she doesn’t speak the language, she’s a beautiful blonde woman traveling alone in Asia in the 19th century, her fiancé has no idea she’s in town, and everyone around her is a total stranger. The only person she knows is the captain of her ship, whose looks she hasn’t liked from the moment she met him. He promises he will take her to the address she has for Max, bundles her onto his rickshaw, and promptly delivers her to a brothel, the Garden of Perfumed Flowers, where she is drugged with opium tea and abandoned to her fate.

Normally this fate would be a life where she was forced to become addicted to opium, used over and over again by men, and then, when her beauty and youth had faded, she’d be thrown out on the streets of Shanghai where she’d ultimately die of opium addiction and/or the damage from of life of prostitution. But, Lydia gets, comparatively, lucky. A very bizarre woman, Shi Po, who is considered “senior in these teachings, a tigress far ahead… on the path to immortality,” (she’s an expert practitioner in the certain Taoist tantric sex practices that can make one, while still living, an Immortal) has found out about the now captive Lydia and believes her primary student, Ru Shan, needs to buy Lydia immediately—while she’s still unsullied—in order to restore him to his place on the path to Immortality. This didn’t make a lick of sense to me. Maybe it will to others. In case it’s just me who is clueless, here’s Shi Po’s reasoning:

“Look again at the girl,” she ordered. “See how much water she has in her? See her breasts, how full and round they are? They will give much sustenance to a man with too much yang.”

Ru Shan grimaced, knowing she referred to him. Indeed that was the source of his problem, according to her: too much male yang. Too little female yin.

….”You will have to buy her.”

“What?”

….”No!” The very idea revolted him.

“Then you have abandoned the Tao and all the gains you have made these last nine years. You will never become an Immortal. Even your status as a jade dragon will disappear.”

He felt his jaw tighten at the thought, the heat in his belly rising with his temper. Nearly a decade of study, of diligent effort and constant attention, all would disappear? Because he would not sacrifice his family to his goals? Not possible!

“Then you must buy the white girl. You must establish her in an apartment close enough to see her every day. You must partake of her essence every moment that you can.” Shi Po stepped even closer, pressing her point. “And as her water flows into you, your family’s fortunes will recover and your pathway back to the Tao will be revealed.” She lowered her voice into a seductive murmur. “Your mind will find peace, your body rest. You will return to the middle path with new energy, and as her yin mixes with your yang, the spiritual embryo will be born. You will become an Immortal. You can, Ru Shan, if only you will do what is necessary.”

So, Ru Shan, whose life has sucked for the past two years, goes deeply into debt and buys Lydia, a ghost woman, whom he sees a little more than a pet. He installs her in an apartment and plans to use her yin to balance his yang and thus make it back to the Chamber of a Thousand Swinging Lanterns, the antechamber to the Realm of the Immortals, where he’s been three times before his life fell apart. Lydia, still heavily drugged from her doctored tea, has no idea what has happened to her and, when she finally comes out of her opiate induced coma, she finds herself lying on a bed in a small room, completely shaved, and being cared for by a nice young Chinese houseboy named Fu De. When she first awakes, she believes, for no reason I could fathom, somehow her situation is due to Max, her fiancé, whom she demands to see.

Instead, Ru Shan walks through the bedroom door and tells her she is now his slave. (He speaks English.) He explains to her,

“I have extended myself greatly to purchase you. You were most expensive.” His tone indicated disapproval, almost anger. “But it is done now, and you will perform such tasks as I require when I require.”

Lydia has a complete conniption at this idea and spends the next several days rebelling by struggling, refusing to eat, and fouling the sheets of her bed. Neither Fu De nor Ru Shan pay any attention to her actions. After a week of such behavior, Ru Shan comes to her and tells her to get a grip or he will send her back to the brothel where her future—opium, sex with violent strangers, the streets, painful death—will be far worse than what he will ask of her as his slave. He promises she will remain a virgin, that all he wants is her yin—her feminine water. She is confused by what he is asking for. He tells her,

“What I require is your yin. Your water.”

She shook her head, frustration making her surly. “I don’t know what that means.”

“It means that I require your feminine fluids. But not your virginity.”

She blinked, sure she could not have heard him correctly. “You do not intend to ravish me?”

He shuddered—he actually shuddered—at the thought. “I am working to become an Immortal. Ravishment, as you put it, would require a release of my yang power—my manly fluids and energy—into you. That would decrease my ability to attain Immortality.”

She frowned, trying to understand. “But you need my female energy, my—”

“Yin.”

“My yin to…”

“To mix with my yang energy and create the power that will take me to the Immortal Realm.”

“You’ll die?” she gasped.

She thought perhaps his expression lightened at her dramatic statement, but his tone remained level. “No. I will become an Immortal. Any man or woman can visit Heaven, but only if they have sufficient spirit to take them there.”

“Spirit? You mean a mixture of your yang and my yin.”

I considered putting the book down and giving up at this point. I was less than a quarter of a way through the novel and the thought of wading through 250 more pages was tiresome. But, wade I did. It wasn’t fun. Lydia stays in the apartment, starts taking off her clothes, and letting Ru Chan draw her yin out of her breasts through regular and, soon enough, arousing caresses. Ru Chan teaches her to stimulate his jade dragon in a way that stirs his yang but doesn’t release his seed. He plays with her cinnabar cave. The two, when not involved in six million acts of non penetrative tantric sex—at least I think it’s tantric sex—argue about whether or not Lydia is an actual person as opposed to a dog or some other sort of lesser being—Ru Chan has been raised to believe Lydia, like all white people, especially ghost women, are

“not completely stupid. But you are still a woman, and nine virtuous Chinese women are not the equal of even one lame boy. You, ghost woman, are worth even less than a Chinese woman.”

They also explore why Ru Chan’s path to Immortality is blocked—it has, disturbingly, to do with his mother’s death. (His mother’s story is told is a series of letters, interspersed in the novel. I found this device jarring and it never explained, to my satisfaction, why Ru Chan’s life was in such shambles.)

Halfway through the novel, Lydia escapes and the relationship between her and Ru Chan changes. I’m not going to explain the rest of the plot—I’ve already given up too much of my life to this book–except to say it was  unlikely on so many levels—the only exceptions being that 1) Maxwell, utterly unsurprisingly, turns out to be an ass and 2) Li Po is a devious, bitchy woman.

By the time Lydia and Ru Chan attained their Happily Ever After, I was bewildered about so many things, I again wondered about that Rosetta Stone concept. I never understood why Ru Chan was blocked, why expending his yang was acceptable at some times and not at others, why the two fell in love, why Ru Chan kept a fairly huge secret unrelated to his yang problems from Lydia, or what all the sorta sex they kept having had to do with becoming Immortal. I’m not clear on the difference between a jade dragon and a green dragon. I think the former is a penis and the latter a youthful Taoist male but I wouldn’t swear to it. I have no idea how much of what is in the book is factually accurate—so much of it seemed right out of the empire of crazy made-up crap—but whether the book is historically authentic or not wouldn’t change the fact it’s an awkward, confusing, non-erotic read. I give it a D.

I will end this review with a spoiler. The rather long scene that follows is taken from the end of the book when Lydia and Ru Chan have finally mixed their yin and their yang perfectly. If this scene works for you, ignore my review. I read it and thought, “Really? A perfect paroxysm can toss one into the firmament…. Hmmmm, I must not be doing it right.”

[spoiler]

She cried out something as well. Perhaps it was his name, perhaps it was simply a joyous eruption of love and power. But as his jade dragon continued to convulse—fiery explosions of yang with every thrust—her yin tide began to surge. Higher and higher it rose, her body moving with his, her yin fusing with his yang.

On and on they went.

Together.

As one.

Until a beauty of light shimmered, surrounding them. It was both an explosion of magnificence and a quiet unfolding of wonder.

The veil parted, and hand in hand with Ru Shan, Lydia stepped into immortality.

********************************************************************

….Ru Shan felt the veil lift, stunned amazement filling him even as he walked the familiar path. This walk had been for Lydia, not for him. He had given everything he had—all his yang, all his experience, every moment of study and skill he had within him—to her. So that she would walk here, where she belonged, in Heaven with the Immortals. He had not expected to enter the antechamber instead of her.

But here he was, standing in the Chamber of a Thousand Swinging Lanterns, the antechamber to the Realm of the Immortals. As had happened three times before, he stood lost in awe as pinpoints of light danced before him, filling him with an indescribable joy. This was the farthest he had ever come, the journey a struggle and his greatest achievement. Never had he thought he could come here so easily and with a partner, as well.

He looked to his side, surprised to see Lydia beside him. And not surprised. After all, she had been the reason for this journey. Without her, he would never have found love. Never would have known that it was the true catalyst for immortality.

He turned to her, the thought creating the action since they had neither muscle nor bone here. This was the realm of the spirit, and so the merest thought would take him where he wished to be: beside her, looking at her, in love with her.

He expected to see ecstasy on her face. Instead, he saw peace and was enveloped in her joy, surrounded in her love—just as she was surrounded in his. Never could he have imagined a more perfect moment.

Until it became more.

The second veil lifted and, together, they stepped into Heaven—the realm of the Immortals. A golden palace surrounded him, and yet not of wood or stone. It was merely a shimmering of incredible light that filled his heart with awe. All about him walked the Immortals—male and female angels of such beauty that he could do little more than laugh.

Was he laughing?

He meant no disrespect, and yet he could not stop. And beside him, Lydia bubbled over with her own happiness, giggles of sound, melodic vibrations of gladness that mixed with his own to become a beautiful sound that fit this glorious place.

The music softened and another sound joined with theirs—an angel’s music coming from a beautiful goddess. She simply appeared before them, her brow radiant, her robes not cloth but tendrils of light that emanated from within her. She smiled at them, and he heard her music shift, becoming deeper, clearer, and even more resplendent; but no more or less beautiful than Ru Shan’s and Lydia’s.

“Welcome, Ru Shan. Welcome, Lydia. I am so pleased you have come to join us,” she said. Then around her he felt an echoing chord, a single vibration that set the entire palace to shimmering with welcome.

Ru Shan wanted to answer, wanted to speak poetry or song, wanted to find some excellent way to convey his gratitude. But he had no words, and yet as the thought entered his mind, his entire soul fit the emotion to sound. Together, he and Lydia made their own music, a vibration of thanks that fitted perfectly with this place.

[/spoiler]

 

Sincerely and probably limited by my Western cultural background,

Dabney

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I loved romances when, back in the mid 70's, in junior high, I read every Barbara Cartland novel I could check out from the library. Then, thanks to a savvy babysitter, I got my hands on the hot stuff. To this day I can remember how astonishingly steamy I found Rosemary Rogers' Sweet Savage Love. I abandoned romance when I went to college and didn't pick one up again until 2007 when I got my first Kindle. Since then, I’ve read countless romances; loved many, liked more, hated some. Most of what I read is historical and contemporary romance, but I’m open to almost any genre. I like my books to have sizzle, wit, and plots that make sense. I’d take sexy over sweet any day. I’m a sucker for smart heroes and smart-mouthed heroines. When not reading or writing about reading, or wishing I could rule the world, I'm meddling in the lives of my kids--I have four, ages 17 to 21--, managing my husband's practice, doing bossy volunteer work, and hanging out with Dr. Feelgood.

29 Comments

  1. DS
    May 22, 2012 @ 10:23:16

    I had pretty much the same reaction to this book when I read it in 2005. I kept reading sections over and over to see if I missed something then gave up on book (and author actually).

    I can throw out Chelsea Quinn Yarbro’s To the High Dedoubt as a non regency set title which involves a tantric adept. However, it’s not explicitly a genre romance. More a romantic historical fantasy set in the 16th century in which a Hungarian soldier of fortune, Akady, buys a blind female slave and then takes off on a quest with her.

    It’s available on Kindle after being oop for years. I last read it a decade or so before the Lee book and still remember it with pleasure.

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  2. Darlynne
    May 22, 2012 @ 10:26:15

    At least it was free. When I saw the link, maybe from Jane, on twitter, I downloaded the book, figuring I’d read the review. Hopes = dashed.

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  3. Jeannie Lin
    May 22, 2012 @ 10:26:46

    I was so happy to see Jade Lee re-releasing her Tigress series! These books are what made me believe it was possible to write historical romances set in China and get them published. This first one was a tough one for me because human trafficking is one of my buttons and so it was hard for me to get into the romance. The subsequent ones were much more interesting and romantic for me. The Taoist sex rituals seemed so exotic and interesting back when I was reading these.

    This review made me realize something else — I unintentionally named a character with the same name as the hero of this book. Crap. It was subconscious, I swear.

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  4. Dabney
    May 22, 2012 @ 10:29:04

    @Jeannie Lin: I have had heard good things about the second one, but found this one such tough going, I’m ambivalent about checking it out.

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  5. Jeannie Lin
    May 22, 2012 @ 10:34:10

    @Dabney:

    I think the second one, Hungry Tigress, was the first one I read. I had always assumed until this re-release that it was the first book in the series because I think it serves as a better introduction. The heroine is saved by the hero from rebels and sent to the temple where she trains in the ways of the Tigress. :)

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  6. Ferishia
    May 22, 2012 @ 10:37:50

    I too dl because it was free. I want to THANK YOU for saving me from reading this. I’m not big on historicals, but I do read them now and again. I will gladly pass this by.

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  7. Ani
    May 22, 2012 @ 11:26:55

    Good review. Thanks for posting the excerpt. I’m intrigued. I won’t buy it because of the human trafficking, but I may “Hungry Tigress.”

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  8. ReadingPenguin
    May 22, 2012 @ 11:38:58

    Great review. This book bored me to tears. Honestly, I just didn’t get it. But to each her own.

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  9. LauraB
    May 22, 2012 @ 13:15:48

    What I find disturbing is the thread of uncritical fetishizing of the Far East that this book appears to employ: white slavery, mysterious sexual practices, etc… I haven’t read the book, nor at this point do I plan to; like Jeannie Lin, whose books I have read and enjoyed, I find the whole sex trafficking element very off-putting. This also makes me sad because Jade Lee has written some great books and ones that aren’t nearly so “orientalizing” as this one.

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  10. hapax
    May 22, 2012 @ 13:37:02

    I don’t think it’s a “limited Western cultural background” that would be my problem with this book.

    Honestly, my reaction to the spoiler scene is EXACTLY the same as I had to the last scene in every Barbara Cartland book, in which the couple realizes that sex “brings them in touch with the Divine” — a combination of uncontrollable giggling and a sadness that yep, I must be Doin It Rong.

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  11. Danielle
    May 22, 2012 @ 14:50:36

    So far, the only book by Jade Lee that I have read is Tempted Tigress and that one impressed me as being an intense, character-driven read with a solid historical feel. Despite my initial displeasure at discovering it was an erotic romance the story developed into a keeper. Based on your review I am glad I didn’t stumble on White Tigress first!

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  12. heidenkind
    May 22, 2012 @ 22:22:31

    I actually really enjoyed this book–and most of the books in the Tigress series–but I can see why other people wouldn’t. The whole cinnamon cave and jade stalk talk is definitely cringe-worthy. But I loved Ru Shan and thought the book did an excellent job of playing with Victorian pornography tropes.

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  13. Jayne
    May 23, 2012 @ 03:10:29

    @Danielle: I thought “Hungry Tigress” was okay but agree that “Tempted Tigress” is worth seeking out. http://dearauthor.com/book-reviews/tempted-tigress-by-jade-lee/

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  14. Kaetrin
    May 23, 2012 @ 06:48:39

    I think I read this one back in 2005 or so. Is this the one where he gives her exercises to train her hoo-ha with a stone dildo and she has to build up her muscles so she can hold it in? If I’m remembering it right the dildo might had been shaped like a man (?) and she had to be able to “suck it up” (without her hands) and let it go a bit without dropping it or something – so she had really good “kegel” control by the end. I remember thinking a lot of WTF? when I read it too but I did finish it. It was kind of like being unable to look away from a train wreck. I don’t think I ever tried anything else from this author though.

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  15. Dabney
    May 23, 2012 @ 07:59:55

    @Kaetrin: You remember correctly although the jade dildo is shaped like a dragon.

    He pulled out a dragon carved from milky white jade and laid it in her hand. Its weight was solid, though not overly cumbersome. The length from snout to coiled tail was perhaps a handspan at most, and the girth no more than three fingers pressed tightly together.
    She stared at it, disconnected thoughts swirling through her mind. The shape seemed somehow naughty to her, but she could not understand why. At least, not until she remembered the pictures of Greek statues she had once seen. She had been young, of course, and highly curious about the male anatomy. It was only when she compared the two images that she realized she held a carved male phallus.

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  16. Patrice
    May 23, 2012 @ 08:12:41

    Holy Moley! I had a vaguely remembered dislike of this book, but was tempted into DL by the lure of the freebie and the fact I do like historicals set in “different” countries and cultures. But after the comments I recall why this was a DNF for me back when it came out in PB only. Thanks for the timesaver! This is why I read book reviews. :)

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  17. Catherine
    May 23, 2012 @ 08:46:20

    Just finished this last night – and I had exactly the same reaction as Dabney! At least it was free. While I love the setting, I absolutely hated this book. If you’re looking for a historical novel with a romance set in China, I *highly* recommend “The Russian Concubine” by Kate Furnivall. It takes place a little later than this book (1920s) but is one of my absolute favorites.

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  18. Jeannie Lin
    May 23, 2012 @ 09:15:35

    Danielle & Jayne: I agree about Tempted Tigress! I remember thinking how bold it was and how it didn’t shy away from the difficult topics of that era, the opium addiction and the violent nature of justice in China. The characters were also so vividly drawn. An imperial enforcer and a Caucasian opium smuggler and addict? I had no idea at the beginning how Jade Lee would get them to an HEA by the end.

    I bought it again and am rereading it now. It’s definitely holding up to my memories.

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  19. Gennita Low
    May 23, 2012 @ 09:32:35

    @Dabney: Many of the references are straight from translations Chinese poetry and tantric sex poems. Jade dragon, cinnabar cave…I’ve read similar purple translations of ancient Asian tracts. And yeah, a lot about yin and yang energy, although not quite like Jade’s version.

    In Chinese story-telling, as in the tradition of wuxia serials, there is a lot of energy-transference themes. The most popular term for it is using the “chi,” of which there is the male and female halves. One could steal it, borrow it, use it for massive inhuman feats. It could be vampiric. It could be healing. I suppose it could bring immortality too.

    Also, there are always 1001 sects in wuxia-land. The traditional sects one always hear about are the male Shaolin and the female Oh Mei, and they look down on the non-trads for their “demonic” practices, meaning they use their chi/energy/power for purposes not approved by the Tao masters. I’ve always wanted to write a Chinese story with a vampiric sect stealing chi from the good guys, set in China, but alas, my historical Chinese voice sucks.

    One last thing, just in case you didn’t know, the “ghost woman” part is a direct translation of what the Chinese called Caucasians. Even when I was growing, white man and white woman were referred to as gwailo (ghost man) and gwaipo (ghost woman) in conversation. And yes, racism is rampant both ways in historical China. Just as the Colonists called the Chinese “dogs” to their faces when they were in power, the Chinese called their historical enemies and half-breeds equally horrible names.

    For myself, Jade’s Tigress series works when I put away the traditional Western historical China and go with the flow of the ancient one, with the fantasy one with the sects and epic fight of one’s honor against the kingdom, etc. etc. In that world, it is possible to heal a dying hero with “virgin” blood and “yin (a favorite trope)” Or, the use of sexual energy to create good and bad power (Another trope usually involving the good hero chancing on a naked bad woman practicing the bad, bad art). Or, the giving of one’s yang to a woman’s yin and this involve nakedness (another very popular trope, usually involving hero and heroine in a life and death situation, which umm…ends with lots of shy looks, etc. etc.). Sorry about going a little off-topic. :)

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  20. Gennita Low
    May 23, 2012 @ 09:36:45

    Pardon some missing words and letters here and there. For some reason my cut and paste from Word didn’t capture all the text.

    ReplyReply

  21. Danielle
    May 23, 2012 @ 11:05:45

    @Jayne: Thank you for the review link, Jayne. I enjoyed the refresher :-)

    @Jeannie Lin: Ditto, especially regarding the ending!

    ReplyReply

  22. Sunita
    May 23, 2012 @ 12:13:03

    @Gennita Low: I really appreciate this comment. It made me think about stories and novels I’ve read in Hindi that involve Hindu tales and legends, or that have animals as the protagonists (a famous short story by Prem Chand comes to mind). Literally translated into English, they would have similar problems because the imagery and language could sound alternately purple or simplistic. Your way of approaching this novel sounds like a great recommendation, and it definitely makes me want to read it.

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  23. requireshate
    May 24, 2012 @ 03:57:01

    @LauraB:

    What I find disturbing is the thread of uncritical fetishizing of the Far East that this book appears to employ: white slavery, mysterious sexual practices, etc…

    My reaction exactly. The whole thing makes my skin crawl.

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  24. Janine
    May 24, 2012 @ 16:16:00

    Hmm, I read this back in 2005 and liked it a lot better than you did, Dabney. Not as a romance — it didn’t work for me on that level — but as some sort kind of odd non-con erotica, it was pretty hot. I didn’t finish the second book in the series because it repeated some of the same concepts in this one (although I think the romance was consensual there). And I haven’t read the rest of them.

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  25. lulz of interest « Requires Only That You Hate
    May 25, 2012 @ 04:38:42

    [...] 90% of the time racism is inevitable (not on the author’s part but the reviewer’s), and in this case we have… I’m fascinated by China and its complex history. I cannot say I was fascinated by [...]

  26. The Argopelter
    May 26, 2012 @ 04:51:51

    Dabney, you have some impressive staying power there. I got a quarter of the way through and gave up. Free or not, life is way too short for books this bad and ‘White Tigress’ seriously takes the cake.

    I’m usually pretty open minded with my books, but this was beyond the pale.

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  27. Dabney
    May 26, 2012 @ 08:35:52

    @The Argopelter: Well, I’m always trying to strike a blow for women’s/reviewer’s equality. We have staying power too!

    ReplyReply

  28. heterosexuality’s just a phase – the damage of romance « Requires Only That You Hate
    Jun 06, 2012 @ 01:38:34

    [...] we aren’t even getting started on the racist tropes. (Hi, Sex and the City 2. Hi, White Tigress. Hi, Tea and Spices. These are not exceptions; Sex and the City is as mainstream as you can get, [...]

  29. Loretta Webb
    Oct 20, 2013 @ 13:12:19

    I have never read Miss Lee but I like the story introduction. I will reserve judgment until after I have read her. Perhaps she has written her plot in keeping with the traditions of the Chinese culture.

    ReplyReply

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