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China Blues

4.14  ·  Rating details ·  1,449 ratings  ·  103 reviews
The Roaring Twenties, Chinatown, San Francisco: back-street blues and bathtub gin… hardball mobsters and hardheaded cops… seductive speakeasies and sizzling scandals. As the young Louis Armstrong blows his horn in the infamous Blue Canary, impetuous Nob Hill Socialite Elizabeth Stafford Hamilton plunges into a reckless affair with mysterious Li Kwan Won. Unknown to Lizzie, ...more
Paperback, Second, 456 pages
Published January 24th 2012 by Eio Books (first published 1989)
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Average rating 4.14  · 
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 ·  1,449 ratings  ·  103 reviews

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I can't understand why this book wasn't a bestseller when it first came out. It has what any bestseller needs, and a lot more. Great characters, exciting plot, terrific writing. Perhaps it was just too close to literature? Longfellow can write anything. ...more
Julia Lyon
Sep 14, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Like Longfellow's other work, China Blues is fraught with stunning visual imagery that delicately builds a clear and conscious tableau at every page turn. The beautiful and tragic juxtaposition of Lizzie and Li only mirrors the clash of cultures happening all over San Francisco in the '20s. Longfellow makes every moment of even ordinary events she details, provocative and intense. She makes every instance of emotional intensity poignant and thoughtful. This book's hidden power to evoke and intri ...more
Eli Flechter
I now read anything Longfellow writes. This seems to be her first published book. For a first book, it's highly polished.

China Blues is a witty, fast-paced, fascinating delight of a read, a close and colorful look at San Francisco in the early Jazz Age. But it's also a study of a young woman very much like Austen's Emma. Longfellow's heroine is rich, vain, and foolish, yet basically good-hearted in her headlong plunge into tragedy. To punish a distant husband, she seduces a Chinese tong leader.
I read this quite awhile ago and then I gave someone my copy. I've always wished I hadn't because I couldn't find it again. This is reissue, much more beautiful to look at than the originals.

It's a story of a woman in 1920s San Francisco who is very much like Jane Austen's Emma. She's spoiled and selfish, rich and bored. Out of her own selfish interests she destroys all she loves. But she finds her own heart. It's a hard lesson and sad to watch, but so interesting and entertaining, you can't ta
Grabbed this when I learned it was published again. Already a fan after The Secret Magdalene and Flow Down Like Silver: Hypatia of Alexandria so I really wanted to read it. It was really worth it. A real snap crackle and pop through San Francisco's Chinatown. It's the Roaring Twenties. It's full of imported mobsters. And going behind the scenes of Chinese city life. Not to mention a terrific heroine whose character flaws are fascinating and ultimately a disaster for all. The writing is full of v ...more
Kendall Herreshauf
Jul 01, 2012 rated it really liked it
Even if I weren't already in love with this writer, who could resist this cover? I'm told that to be a success in the arts an artist has to make the same thing over and over. Longfellow makes a different thing each time. I read somewhere this was her first published book and she was trying to write the usual best seller. It's not the usual anything. It's smart and sassy and sad. The poor little rich girl messing with other people's lives in a rip roaring San Francisco of the 1920s. I have to say ...more
Sep 15, 2012 rated it really liked it
This was an absolute joy to read. I just raced through it. It's funny and fast and sad and colorful and just a heck of great read on a rainy day. Or any day, for that matter. Plus, you get to go behind the scenes in San Francisco's Chinatown back in the Roaring Twenties. The heroine is perfect. You want to shake her or hug her. Sometimes all at once. ...more
Geoff Cates
Sep 14, 2012 rated it really liked it
If I hadn't read Flow Down Like Silver: Hypatia of Alexandria and The Secret Magdalene I would have given this book 5 stars. It's everything you'd want in a novel. But it doesn't carry the immense weight of the other two. If I hadn't just read Houdini Heart I wouldn't know how innovative this writer is. China Blues is a first novel. I've read somewhere it was meant to fit into the mainstream. It does. It's a book anyone could read. I honestly believe that if Longfellow didn't write so damned wel ...more
Oct 03, 2012 rated it really liked it
Fast fun exciting funny sad read. Appropriate for any age, but especially (IMO) for those who like a wonderfully well written love story between the races set in fascinating places and times. Rich Lizzie Stafford, plotting to take down her ambitious philandering husband (San Francisco's DA and poster boy for high political office to come), sets her sights on a scandal that ought to destroy him. She woos the very mysterious head of Chinatown's biggest Tong. What comes next is a page turner, somet ...more
Declan Sydell
Oct 27, 2012 rated it really liked it
I was born in San Francisco. It's been a long time since I've seen it. But reading this roller-coaster of a book brought it back to me full blast. No, I'm not old enough to have known it in the Twenties, but it doesn't matter which San Francisco you know, Longfellow's San Francisco will sweep you up and carry you from the top of Nob Hill to South of the Slot. The Slot was the track running along the middle of Market Street once upon a time. South of it was a darker "Frisco." But it's Chinatown a ...more
A dizzy ride. You could say a dizzy dame except Lizzie Stafford Hamilton changes. Her character arc is a swooping adventure of the best kind. But at such cost to those around her. And did I love Li or what? And Kit. And Appetite Ike. Longfellow births the most amazing people. They're real. What they do is what they would do. And every scene follows the other at breathtaking pace, in perfect order. Loved this. You want a fast read that means something, that touches you? Here it is. Although why p ...more
A kick in the head of a story. Fast and colorful and full of life both hilarious and tragic. Longfellow has a gift of putting you wherever she wants you to go. In this case, first you're in the middle of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, and then you're in Chinatown, on top of Nob Hill, in newspaper offices, in dives and grand whorehouses. It's a great ride. Loved it! ...more
Robert Boatman
A terrific fast paced read. I think Longfellow meant it to be a racy throwaway, but accomplished instead actual literature anyone can read and love. How could you not love an affair between the head of a Chinese tong and a rich spoiled harebrained white girl? Or the coming-of-age of a great newspaper reporter who saw it all? Or the whole San Francisco earthquake described in page after thrilling page? And so much more.
Total joy!
Nov 03, 2012 rated it really liked it
Take a spoiled brat, throw her into a world she can't control, add wonderful writing, a wonderful setting, a host of colorful characters, a time in our history that fascinates (me, anyway), early jazz, early newspapers, an actual mystery in the to-this-day unexplained sudden death of the President of the United States, Warren G. Harding -- a doofus very like George W. Bush, mix it all up and you get this wonderful book. ...more
A wonderfully written romp through the San Francisco of 1923, after a great opener during the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. If you've ever hungered to wander through the real Chinatown of tongs and opium dens, or to know what goes on in those big houses on Nob Hill, this is your book. It's a humdinger and I loved every sassy word of it. ...more
Charlotte Pickering
Dec 08, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I'm with the reviewer who said "Loved it" and the one who said "what joy." It isn't funny all the through, and it isn't happy all the way (what is?) but the end result is a treat of a read that beats so much popular stuff all hollow. I guess it just doesn't get those big numbers because Longfellow forgot the vampires and just went with great writing and a thrilling story. ...more
I read this when it was first published. Just read it again in its new form. It's as fresh and punchy as I remembered it. Actually I liked it more this time. That's the funny thing about books. They're different each time you read them. A BIG RECOMMENDATION for those who'd like a great read about San Francisco and Chinatown and historical mysteries and brilliant color and characters. ...more
Brin Hoyle
Dec 06, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I've never been to San Francisco. But now I feel like I've made a thorough visit to early Twentieth Century San Francisco. In this wonderfully diverting story, I fell headlong into the plot and the setting. It was all a strange and exciting adventure for me in a whole world I never knew existed. What fun. ...more
Jc Linney
Nov 15, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Terrific read. Witty, fast-paced, San Francisco in its early glory, Chinatown in its mystery, the earthquake, gangsters, fast talking newspapermen, speakeasies, a confused rich girl messing with forces she doesn't understand - GREAT. ...more
A completely different book from this writer's other books. Lighter, frothier, funnier, faster - but just as well written and just as insightful. So colorful. So full of vivid scenes, times and characters. It takes place the year the president of the United States is paying a quick visit to San Francisco. Politics hasn't changed, crime hasn't changed, the nature of the rich hasn't changed. This is the solution (fanciful?) of what could have happened to Harding in Frisco told in the midst of wild ...more
Jack Minor
Feb 02, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Not sure what to say about this book except it is a fast moving good read that I really enjoyed (five stars!).
It's set during an interesting period in San Francisco history, so you learn so history just by reading the story (but it's not a history book!).

It's historical fiction, but that does not really matter. It's easy to get a feeling for the times and it does not seem like you've ended up in some foreign world.

Full of drama, humor, pathos, and fascinating characters.

I guess that is it. If yo
Aidan O'kelly
I would have given this 5 stars if I didn't have to compare it to the author's other books. Maybe that isn't fair. Maybe it should be judged solely on its own merit. I loved it. I'll go away and think about my choice. It really does deserve 5 stars. My opinion anyway. ...more
Nov 16, 2012 rated it really liked it
Great read. I'd recommend this to anyone. It was like cake. I wanted to eat it all at once, but I made myself slow down and savor it. Loved it. ...more
Patricia Stevens
A colorful novel, even vivid, taking you into a real life deep breathing San Francisco both during the 1906 earthquake, then later in 1923 when the President of the United States, the gormless Warren G. Harding, came to town to die. It's chock full of wild and wonderful characters on both sides of the law, all worthy of attention, but its leads are forever memorable. Li, the Chinese kid who grew up to be a kingpin of the Chinese Tongs. Kit Dowie, a wild eyed rascal who dreamed of writing like Da ...more
Alison Bredon
Jan 14, 2013 rated it it was amazing
A terrific read. Full of dash and color. San Francisco's one of my favorite cities in all the world. This story gets into places you could never see as a tourist, and barely see as a native. It has a fascinating heroine, a fascinating love triangle, the mysterious death of Harding, at the time the President of the United States with the Teapot Dome Scandal about to burst over his head. Best of all it has gangsters vs a Chinese Tong. The leader of the Tong is just about the sexiest man I've ever ...more
I don't think I've read a better portrayal of a black woman by a white woman than I found in this fast-paced very clever novel. Dido is not the central character but she acts like it. I loved the idea of a cold-hearted good time girl who could sing hot-blooded songs. I loved her honesty and her strength in a time when "colored folk" could sing in the Cotton Club but they couldn't get in the front door. Blacks, whites, Asians, the Irish, the mob...the racial mix in this book is a wonder and I ate ...more
The story arc in this one is "on the edge of your seat" fun. San Francisco in the Twenties, East Coast mobs moving on the Frisco tongs, the secrets of Chinatown revealed, politic intrigue, a real US President mysteriously dying, a spoiled rich girl using the head of the Chinese Tong to hurt her awful husband, and on and on. But the character arc of Lizzie, the little rich girl, lifts this one out of mere entertainment into a fascinating study of human growth and human sorrow. By the way, the wri ...more
Mrs. Moriarity
This was a terrific read. Every building, every character, every moment of action, was riveting. A colorful wonderfully written look at San Francisco in the 1920s with a fascinating heroine, a load of splendidly drawn supporting characters and a real look at the mysteries of Chinatown. In the center of it all stands a girl who becomes a woman at tremendous cost to everyone, including herself.
Devin Porter
I've now read four of this writer's books and essentially every one of them is a different genre written in a different perfectly crafted style. This one is a thoroughly engrossing tale of San Francisco and its mysterious Chinatown in the 1920s.

Off to sample Longfellow's foray in the noir murder mystery genre. I'll report back.
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Ki Longfellow, born on Staten Island, New York, to a French-Irish mother and an Iroquois father, grew up in Hawaii and Marin County, California, but ended up living in France and England for many years. She is the widow of a British national treasure, the complete artist Vivian Stanshall.

In England, she created and sailed the Thekla, a 180 foot Baltic Trader, to the port of Bristol where it became

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