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DNF Reviews

REVIEW:  Shanghai Love by Layne Wong

REVIEW: Shanghai Love by Layne Wong

“Peilin is betrothed to Kwan Yao, the only son of a wealthy pearl farmer. However months before their wedding, Yao is killed by the Japanese in the Nanjing Massacre. The Kwans insist on proceeding with the wedding and the beautiful Peilin is married to a ghost husband. When an uncle passes away, Peilin is sent to Shanghai to manage the Kwan family herbal shop.

Meanwhile in Berlin, Henri graduates from medical school just as Hitler rises to power and unleashes prejudice and violence against the Jewish population. He flees to Shanghai where he’s befriended by Ping, a young disfigured rickshaw driver. Ping introduces Henri to his sister Peilin. Through her kindness, Henri becomes fascinated with Chinese herbs as well as the exotic culture surrounding him.”

Dear Ms. Wong,

I was excited to get the chance to review this book because it has such an unusual setting – late 1930s Shanghai – and features a multicultural romance. For various reasons, unfortunately it didn’t work for me.

shanghai-loveThe story begins with separate locations for the two main characters. Peilin’s early life as she learns the science of Chinese herbal medicine from her grandfather is followed by scenes of her being matched with the son of a business associate who supplies her grandfather with pearl powder after which comes the wedding. This was actually fairly interesting and I read it closely.

Meanwhile around the world, Henri is a doctor in Berlin suffering under the increasingly restrictive laws against Jews. His escape is into the world of jazz and there he meets and falls in love with blonde, sultry singer Sophie. Their sexual affair is torrid and Henri makes the mistake of thinking this will overcome Sophie’s family’s objections to his religion. When his family is attacked on Kristallnacht by the gestapo lead by Sophie’s brother, Henri flees into the night with a hastily packed bag and a ticket to Shanghai given to him by his uncle – a place he’s been told will allow Jews without a visa to stay. While a little melodramatic in places, most of this was interesting too.

But while I found I was enjoying learning aspects of Chinese life I didn’t know and the ways Henri was getting around the anti-Jewish laws, it dawned on me that there’s a lot of telling going on here and that this is continued for most of the book. Too much telling – pages and pages and pages of telling – usually make me feel at arms length from a story. Personally, I find it very difficult to get caught up in the characters or feel much emotion for their issues or be interested in their HEA.

Yet this isn’t what started me skimming the book. Not even the fact that Henri and Peilin don’t actually meet until just before the halfway mark of the book did that. Two things happened that did this book in for me. Peilin’s family was murdered by the invading Japanese. Her brother witnessed it. At one point he erupts in pent up anger at what happened and Peilin seems amazed that he’s so angry. My jaw dropped. I know it’s the main responsibility of the son of the family to avenge anything done to the parents but to not understand why her brother is still enraged at what occurred seemed totally bizarre to me.

The second thing that flabbergasted me was Henri’s actions – or maybe I should say lack of actions – once he arrived in China. Here is a man whose father and brother were hauled off by the gestapo, whose uncle was left wounded by the same attack, who fled his homeland with little more than the clothes on his back and who is living among a flood of Jewish refugees who have also fled Nazi oppression and he seems remarkably calm about what might be the fate of his family. He’s sent a few unanswered letters but that’s all that is mentioned. He’s not shown to be scanning newspaper headlines or watching news reels – regardless of how old they might be by the time they get to Shanghai – or even questioning the new arrivals to the refuge center much less making any effort to get his family out of Germany. Nope, after 9 months, he’s just hoping all is well. Henri seems far more interested in Chinese herbal medicine than if his family is all right.

I. Was. Stunned.

To be fair, these issues do come up more in the second half of the book but by this time I was in full skim mode. The story had lost me after the actions of both Henri and Peilin in regard to these major issues didn’t seem realistic. I was not engaged in the telling romance and I had little interest in finding out how they would finally get together. Since I didn’t actually pay full attention to the second part of the book, I guess my grade should be DNF.

~Jayne

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REVIEW:  Jack Absolute by CC Humpreys

REVIEW: Jack Absolute by CC Humpreys

“It’s 1777 when Captain Jack Absolute becomes a sensation throughout London. This news comes as a shock to the real Jack Absolute when he arrives in England after four months at sea. But there’s little time for outrage before he finds himself dueling for his life. Right when he thinks he’s finally won, he is forced to flee London by the quickest means possible, becoming a spy in the American Revolution. From the streets of London, to the pivotal battle of Saratoga, to a hunt for a double agent in Philadelphia, this novel marks the exhilarating beginning of an epic historical series and a character you won’t soon forget.”

Dear Mr. Humphreys,

When I initially saw first the cover of this book and then read the blurb for it, I immediately requested the arc from Netgalley. I adore books set in the 18th century and especially those set in the American Revolution – which seems to have fallen from favor over the past 10-15 years – or those that look as if they will be swashbuckler-ish. This book should have rung my bell in all the best ways. Unfortunately I find myself willing to put it aside for a number of reasons, many of which I acknowledge are personal and not the fault of the book.

Jack-AbsoluteI must have been scanning the blurb through rose colored glasses and reading into it what I wanted to find. What I was expecting of a hero described elsewhere as the “007 of the 1770s” was more romantic town-centered daring do-ish romp than what I found 1/3 of the way into the story. I thought the setting would be more in London and Philadelphia instead of on board ship and in the wilds of upstate New York. Jack is forced to flee London after a duel with a character who strikes me as one of these types who will dog Jack through the story. I use the verb “dog” for a reason as the man also comes off as a rabid OTT villain – a type I dislike and try to avoid in my reading. The fact that Jack has strong ties to the Mohawk tribe and can rough it better than some of the warriors of the tribe came as a surprise. It also brings into the story the tragic effect the War had on the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Confederacy. The rents in the fabric that would eventually split the Confederacy apart are mentioned early on and I just wasn’t up to watching this happen as I find it too depressing. I also wasn’t excited at the prospect of seeing the terrible way the war played out on the frontier. Though I have read books featuring it
( Independent Heart ) the tone here was feeling especially grim.

Another thing bothered me that I wasn’t expecting. Jack is obviously a British hero working on the side of the Crown. I knew that and was actually looking forward to seeing his side and POV on the war. Jack is intelligent, competent and has a high respect for the Colonials beside whom he fought in the French and Indian War. He wants to bring the Colonies back in the fold as brothers rather than scolded children. But he’s dismayed and handicapped by his fellow British officers and the Loyalists surrounding him. Despite being a patriotic American, I actually found myself sympathizing with the poor man as he was driven towards banging his head against a brick wall and tearing his hair out due to the incompetent and or drunken knobs with whom he was working. This aspect of the story seemed like it was going to do a number on my blood pressure.

The final nail in the coffin is a subplot dealing with a secret society. I hate secret societies. No, let me go further and say I loathe them as plot devices and avoid them if possible. It’s one reason I seldom read romantic suspense novels as they are often chock full of uber black ops groups. I did keep reading far past the point when the Illuminati are first mentioned but it gnawed at me each time they came up and finally I tossed in the towel.

At some future date, I might very well go back and attempt to finish this book. The writing is well done and the plot seems to be solid even if not to my taste. Some things would always bother me but perhaps the grimness might not be such a factor to me as it is now. Some personal issues in my life right now are leading me to put aside darker books for the time being – something that is certainly not the fault of this book. Readers interested in an intelligent and flawed anti-hero in a book set on the brutal frontier during the American Revolution need look no further.

~Jayne

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