Tuesday, December 20, 2011

All the Flowers in Shanghai by Duncan Jepson

Title: All the Flowers in Shanghai
Author: Duncan Jepson

Genre: Fiction (Historical / China / 1930s / Mothers and Daughters / Arranged Marriage / Coming of Age)
Publisher/Publication Date: William Morrow Paperbacks (12/20/2011)
Source: TLC Book Tours

Rating: Okay.
Did I finish?: I did -- this reads very quickly.
One-sentence summary: A young woman in 1930s Shanghai is transformed by her marriage and the changing political landscape of China.
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction

Do I like the cover?: I'm not wild about the cartoon-y Chinese woman, even though it has a vintage-y look. However, the physical cover is gorgeous -- the paper is heavily textured, with embossing of the border and lettering. Plus French flaps and deckle edges, yum!

I'm reminded of...: Philippa Gregory, Sidney Sheldon

First line: I still know your face.

Do... I hate the use of Papyrus font for the chapter headings?: YES. Not only is it a bit cheesy, but it doesn't fit the story, the era, or the locale. There's no reason for it. I'm glad, I guess, that they didn't use a 'Chinese'-inspired font.

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow if you're in the mood for some tawdry escapism.

Why did I get this book?: Having so enjoyed A Different Sky, which was set in 1930s Singapore, I was immediately drawn to this story.

Review: I'm sort of baffled about this book. A historical novel set in 1930s Shanghai, the story follows Feng, a naive and excessively innocent woman forced into an arranged marriage with a powerful family. The resulting marriage twists her in to a different kind of woman, and we follow her transformation through the '40s and the Chinese Revolution.

This rich historical setting felt like a total waste as the novel is really about Feng's sexual education and the way her marriage warps her, causing her to become as cruel as those around her. I went through this spate of reading in middle school and high school, Lifetime Movie-esque novels featuring wronged women who wrought their revenge with sex, usually. Anti-romances, they featured lots of tawdriness and little love, and they were delicious, warped garbage. This reminds me of those kinds of books -- Sidney Sheldon, Wideacre-ish Philippa Gregory, Danielle Steele -- and if you're in the mood for that kind of novel, this will satisfy.

Unfortunately, I wasn't expecting it, so I was a bit disappointed -- I was thinking I'd get something meatier. It's not Jepson's fault I had something different in mind, though. His writing style is very easy, fast (I read this book in a few hours), and the characters fairly easy to know -- nothing super nuanced -- but a good old-fashioned salacious family saga. If the holidays are killing you, and you want some fiction that has the same nutritional value as eggnog, but tastes just as good, then this is the book for you!

*** *** ***


I'm thrilled to give away a copy of All the Flowers in Shanghai to one lucky reader! To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US/CA readers, closes 1/8.


  1. Hmm...I thought this was going to be a meatier historical as well. Think I'm going to skip it then. Great review, as always!

  2. The cover reminds me of the style used for Lisa See's books. It always annoys me when another publisher tries to glom onto the popularity of another book by copying the cover art. So I'm glad it wasn't that great so I can continue to feel justified in this annoyance.

  3. Oh I'm sad that this didn't end up exceeding your (and my own) expectations.
    I do love the sound of the detailing on the cover and I am always a sucker for deckle edges!
    And any comparison to Danielle Steel is enough to send me heading for the hills.
    Thanks for the great review, Audra!

  4. I am reading this one next, and am sad to hear that it's tawdry and not very well developed stylistically. The story in this book reminds me a little bit of another book I read a few years ago that I can't remember the title of, but I remember being a little turned off by it. I'm not really all that into sexy historical fiction, so it will be interesting to see what I think of this one. It will be a fast read for me, I'm sure, and for that I am grateful!

  5. That's unfortunate that it seems to waste the rich setting/time. I haven't read anything set in Asia and I would really want it to be something meaty - not tawdry. Thanks for the review but I think I will be passing on this one.

  6. @Anna: I'm not sure why I thought it'd be meatier -- I guess because the era is so rich, politically and socially -- but it's more like a bodice-ripper, in some ways, just set in China. So, if you're in the mood for that, there you go, but if not...

    @Rambo: Yes -- I hadn't thought of that but you've nailed it exactly. In this case, the vintage/retro/kitsch thing just does not fit the story nor the feel of the narrative.

    @Jessie: Like I told Anna, if you're in the mood for something super sweet and trashy, with a slightly exotic fringe, than this is a great book -- but sadly, I went in to it expecting something else.

    @Heather: I'm looking forward to your thoughts on it. There's an essay at the end from the author about his mother, which I think is somehow supposed to tie in to the story -- I found it a baffling connection since the story is so sexualized, I'm not sure how his mother relates to it...

  7. @Heather (dolleygurl): Yeah -- it felt like it could have been set in any ambigu-foreign era, really, which was disappointing. And I love me some tawdry historicals now and then, but I think this one is being marketed as something else.

  8. I was not expecting this to be a Gregory kind of book. Yes I like her books, but this one looked differnt

  9. I'm glad I passed on this one. The time and setting so intrigued me, but I think I would have shared some of your disappointments. Great review!

  10. Uh-oh. A comparison with Philippa Gregory is not a good thing with me anymore!

  11. well now that my preconceptions of this novel have been dashed...maybe I will still enjoy it. Thanks for the honest review.

  12. Thanks for the review and giveaway.

  13. This is a great review. I feel like I know exactly what the feel of the book is and what I'd like and what I wouldn't. I think I was afraid with this one that it would be the way you described, and that wasn't something I was really in the mood for. But sometimes we all need sort of an easy escape read!

  14. This doesn't sound quite like I'd thought it would be either, but I'd still like to give it a shot. Thanks for hosting the giveaway!

  15. @Blodeuedd: Exactly -- I think it needs a different cover design so it can reach the right audience.

    @Carrie: I was *so* keen on the time/setting and it felt really unnecessary to the story -- could have been now, really. :/

    @Marg: Yeah, I don't mind her now and then but I have to be in the mood for her -- and I think this book isn't being marketed quite right...

    @Serena: I'm looking forward to your thoughts -- did you read any M.L. Malcolm? I was also sort of reminded of her, so if you like her, you might like this one...

  16. It's hard when you approach a book expecting one thing but get another. Even so, I'm glad you enjoyed the author's writing.

    Thanks for being on the tour!

  17. Sorry to hear that the book was a bit disappointing! It still sounds like something I'd enjoy. Thanks for the giveaway!

  18. I have not read Malcolm, and sadly, the review is up and I didn't really like this one. It was just Ok for me.

  19. It's interesting to read your review and see what you didn't like about the book. As you know I did enjoy it but after reading your thoughts I remember how irritated I was with the whole sexual aspect of the story. Funny I didn't think about it when I was writing my review. Oh well, that's what makes reading and talking about books fun - all of our different opinions.

  20. @Darlene: Exactly -- positive reviews of books I dislike often remind me of what was good which is why I so enjoy reading book reviews by bloggers I like -- it makes the book reading experience so much richer!