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Secret of a Thousand Beauties

3.57  ·  Rating details ·  650 ratings  ·  89 reviews
Set against the vibrant and intrigue-laden backdrop of 1930s China, Mingmei Yip's enthralling novel explores one woman's defiant pursuit of independence.

Spring Swallow was promised in marriage while still in her mother's belly. When the groom dies before a wedding can take place, seventeen-year-old Spring Swallow is ordered to become a ghost bride to appease his spirit. Un
Paperback, 320 pages
Published November 25th 2014 by Kensington
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Average rating 3.57  · 
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Angela M
Oct 08, 2014 rated it really liked it
3.5 stars if I could.

The simplistic writing style at first put me off. I was about to give it up about a third of the way through but the story really held my interest so I continued and then I became more intrigued as it unfolded and I'm glad I stuck with it. The writing seemed less simplistic and more descriptive as it went on and we see China of the 1930's on the cusp of change. We see the old traditions, especially arranged marriages but the ghost marriage was one I had not heard of.

Spring S
Dec 11, 2014 rated it liked it
Where I got the book: review copy provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.

This novel follows the fortunes of Spring Swallow, whom we first see as a 17-year-old in her home village, forced to go through a marriage ceremony with a boy to whom she was promised when they were both in the womb. Unfortunately her putative fiancé was stillborn, so Spring Swallow gets to marry a cockerel instead to appease the dead boy’s ghost, thus satisfying superstition and providing a convenient alli
Secret of a Thousand Beauties by Mingmei Yip
Genre: Historical Fiction/Women's Literature

Secret of a Thousand Beauties tells the story of Spring Swallow, a young girl trapped in a promise to marry a man who died in his mother's womb. An orphan, she will serve her husband's family until her death. Spring Swallow runs away from her marriage ceremony to a village outside of Soochow and ends up as an apprentice embroiderer to a cold woman with a secret past, Aunty Peony. Living with several other gi
Nov 10, 2014 rated it did not like it
Well, this book...I really struggled to read it, to like it, but I kept wanting to read something else instead. For one thing,the writer has this incessant need to exclaim so many sentences that I felt like she was shouting! Instead of writing! My goodness! So many, many exclamation points!

Also, the writing was tedious, lots of 'tell the reader,' instead of showing. An aunt is mean, okay let's see her meanness. A girl is curvaceous, so that must mean she's devious. Well, okay, but I am sure ther
**Thank you Kingston Books and Netgalley for providing this in exchange for an honest review**

3.5 Stars

Set in 1930s China, Secret of a Thousand Beauties tells the story of Spring Swallow. An unfortunate girl who is betrothed to a ghost before she is even born. Spring Swallow has been more or less nothing but a maid to the Mean Aunt who raised her. She knows after the official wedding to her Ghost husband, she'll be shipped off to her new mother in law's house to play the same role. But Spring Sw
Meg - A Bookish Affair
Dec 14, 2014 rated it really liked it
"Secret of a Thousand Beauties" begins when Spring Swallow, a young woman living in China during the 1930s. She was promised to her mother's friend's son before she was born. He died at birth and now that Spring Swallow is of age, she must become a ghost bride where she will still be married to the son even though he is dead. Instead of a life with her in-laws that she barely knows, she decides to run away and is able to find shelter with a woman that she calls Aunt Peony who teaches her the ski ...more
Aug 22, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2017-challenge
It occurred to me as I read along in this book that I was having trouble discerning the time/era this book was set. I vaguely remember seeing something in the opening pages about the 1930's but certainly I couldn't tell it from the story. I admit I'm not a Chinese cultural scholar but it felt off somehow to me. But then again, I suppose the author could have nailed the nuances of the era at the end of Feudalism, beginning of Modernization, I simply don't know. I also felt the timeline was odd in ...more
WTF Are You Reading?
The Secret of a Thousand Beauties is one of those reads that you just have to experience. Meaning that if you try going into the read with preconceived notions, hopes, and/or plans for the characters' lives,
you will spend a great deal of your reading time very angry.

The story found here, as with most stories involving Asian women of it's period, is one of seeming unending struggle, loss, grief, and suffering. Often centering around the pursuit of, loss of, search for, love of, (and in one case)
Mar 18, 2016 rated it really liked it
Much of the fascination with this book for me came because of the setting: 1930’s China. I love historical fiction, and add to that the sense of ‘foreignness’ of the narrative voice and setting, and I was hooked.

Starting with a very simplistic style that may be off-putting to some, Mingmei Yip’s word use and descriptions seem to grow as Spring Swallow, the protagonist grows and takes steps to achieve some sense of independence in a culture that is so not prepared or accepting.

Spring Swallow na
Nov 29, 2014 rated it it was amazing

This book is beautiful. It lingers with you even after you've finished, set it down, and walked away. In part this is because of the plot, in which the main character Spring Swallow escapes her fate as a ghost bride after her arranged-to-be-husband's demise. This sadness, this ghost haunts the overall tone of the book, giving each layer of beautiful prose a melancholy undertone. But this book also stays with you because of the rich detail that's put into the writing. Like Yip's other books,
Nov 04, 2014 rated it it was ok
Thank you to Kensington Books and Netgally for the ARC!

There are a lot of elements here that I typically enjoy -- history, interpersonal drama, intrigue -- but sadly, the story never really came together for me. From the beginning I felt uncertain of the story goal, and I never really connected with the central characters. As a result, the whole book just felt like a list of all the things that happened to Spring Swallow. I really wanted to enjoy this book more than I did. I'm not sorry that I
Nov 30, 2014 rated it it was ok
This the story of Spring Swallow, a woman who was married off by her family to a ghost, and managed to escape to find work in an embroidery studio.

The best thing I can say about this book is it was fairly short. It had promise - the story sounded interesting to me - but the writing was just so choppy that it was really hard to get in to it. Nothing flowed.

Not recommended.
Apr 30, 2018 rated it it was ok
I haven't been this upset with a book for quite a while.

I had just come off from reading a rather heady book and was looking for something lighter. As I love historical fiction, I picked up this title.

Immediately I found the writing style sophomoric. Excessive use of exclamation marks where they really weren't necessary and modern colloquialisms in a period book should have tipped me off early on that this title would eventually get on my nerves, but I was curious where this book was going, so
Jessica Wimberly
I enjoyed this story. It was sad at times. Spring Swallow been though so much. She married first to a ghost then to a man who she loved but couldn't be with then to a man she never meet before who turned out to be a gambler and cheater she loses her first child from her second husband and then after running away from her second husband and his family to find out she was pregnant with his child. Then she marries for the fourth and last time.

I was hoping for a scene where Spring Swallow runs into
Review to come in March at ALBTALBS:

“Secret of a Thousand Beauties” by Mingmei Yip is the story of Spring Swallow a young Chinese woman who comes of age in the tumultuous 1930’s in and around Peking. Chinese culture is in flux, Western missionaries are ever more present, revolutionaries are stirring in the mountains and universities but old cultural traditions and social norms are not yet forgotten. I requested this historical novel (it is not a historical romance) because I was intrigued by the
Cindy Matthews
Nov 29, 2014 rated it liked it
Scarlett O’Hara has nothing on Spring Swallow! This young heroine in 1930s China has to endure many tragedies, lost husbands, poverty, and hard work in order to survive. At the age of seventeen, she is forced into a ghost marriage—a marriage to a dead man she was promised to before both of them were born. She bravely runs away, but the choice she makes to leave her village is more than daring—it is dangerous. How will she fend for herself?

Spring Swallow meets another lost soul who takes her to a
Dec 02, 2014 rated it it was ok
I wish the story would had stayed with the stories of the women of the house and their interactions with each other. I was thinking the book would be like the women of silk but the writer is not as skilled in character development to write an intriging story as Tsukiyama accomplish with the women of silk. the story didnt have a nice flow to it everything happen in a rush. U were told to not like characters not by getting to know them but because Swallow basically said leilei is evil, the second ...more
Oct 16, 2014 rated it really liked it
I received this book as a Goodreads Give-Away!!
Initially I found it hard to get into as it just didn't really grab at me & I put it down for awhile a few times. This was until about a quarter of the way through the book. Then last night I begrudgingly picked it up again & couldn't put it down until I was done!!!! Lovely lovely !!
Feb 22, 2015 rated it did not like it
I got about half way through this book and gave up! It's is so badly written I couldn't take it anymore. I think there could've been a good story in here but the dialogue was so terrible I didn't care to try anymore!
Apr 12, 2015 rated it did not like it
I honestly don't even want to review this. Another reviewer put it very fittingly. It's rather like a Chinese Harlequin soap, and I tend to agree. Unappealing, immature, bordering on racist characters with an overwhelming sense of melodrama. Just no.
May 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: chinese-fiction
This is a fascinating story of a young Chinese woman living in Suzhou during the 1930's. It is a story full of tragedy, yet a story of resilient courage on the part of the young woman in overcoming the many bad things that happen to her. And the story only covers about two or three years of her life.

Spring Swallow was promised in marriage while still in her mother's womb to the unborn child of another woman in the small village where they lived. Although the baby boy died in childbirth, Spring S
Pam S
Jun 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is the second novel that I’ve read by Mingmei Yip, and I’m officially a fan. While the subject matter of her stories can be somewhat predictable, I find that the inclusion of so many interesting historical facts and details about the different eras in China’s history add to the overall reader experience. The way that Yip illustrates many Chinese cultural customs through her characters’ lives and actions also speaks to me. As a Eurasian person myself, I think I enjoy Yip’s books more because ...more
Mar 08, 2018 rated it liked it
I’m not sure if I want to rate this novel of 1930s China a 3 or a 4. Maybe 3.5? I enjoyed Spring Swallow’s story, but I don’t know about the writing style. Written in the first person, this novel is either very brilliantly Chinese or very immature writing. I’m not implying the Chinese writing is immature, rather that there is a certain simplicity to Yip’s writing.

Much of the plot was predictable, but still enjoyable. In short, the novel tells the story of a talented and courageous young Chinese
Jul 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I really enjoyed this novel. I had a hard time putting it down once I finally sat down to read it. The characters were intriguing and I'm glad Spring Swallow's bad luck turned around. I really loved Little Doll and the simple things that made her happy and love her life. Maybe if the other sisters had been more like her they wouldn't have met such ill fates. Aunt Peony's story was sad but she could never move on from her old life so she always thought she was better than everyone and would never ...more
Jul 05, 2017 rated it liked it
I really wanted to like this book more than what I did. This was a gift, and I was excited because it was about a group of female embroiderers in the 1930s in China. This was for me! However, there was very little information on the embroidery that was done. I wanted more colors, more stitches, more technique, but the art was just glossed over. The story of the women was more told than shone. There was much discussion of angst, then suddenly something happened or there was a ridiculous coinciden ...more
Lauren Lieberman
Jul 27, 2020 rated it really liked it
I know that the description of this book was a novel. It was very descriptive and at times gripping. It began as a believable story, but became just a fantasy that was strange and then became stranger. There were several contradictions with the characters that were hard to resolve and the stories were 90% sad and heartbreaking.

This book was a gripping story if you can ignore the inconsistencies with the characters. The turns and twists with the vivid description can keep you captivated. I would
Andrea Ahn
Jun 20, 2018 rated it liked it
The time period this book took place in was a little confusing as it felt more modern, with hints of old fashioned traditions in it, even though it said 1930's it didn't have that feel. The book was also a tad bit boring I thought, at every chance it could there was another piece of bad luck for Spring Swallow.

The ending was cute, as it finally gave a happily every after, as well as giving us insight to other characters as well and what their fates became. It was an "okay" book overall.
Laurean Wilson Reynolds
A good story

Chinese historical fiction reveals the brutality of women's lives in China, where their existence is treacherous without a family of husband for protection. Spring Swallow, the heroine of this story, is no exception. Her many perils lead her to happiness in the end. The theme of embroidery, depicting the lives of skilled artists, is fascinating. The characters are well developed. I'm a fan of Ms. Yip.
Elaine fallis

The more I read of this book the more I thought it was a translation from Chinese to English. Some parts used very unpalatable words which did not gel with the rest of the writing. Perhaps they were used to help sell to western readers - but I would have preferred the writing to have been more modest as in keeping with the rest of the book.
Amanda Mantonya
Nov 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Most books have a distinct arc within the storytelling- a buildup, climax, then wrap up

This book did not: the plot kept throwing out twists and turns- much like real life. The history was fascinating, the characters slightly larger than life but still believable.

Very refreshing read despite the incessant sorrows and troubles each girl faced.
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Mingmei Yip was born in China, received her Ph.D. from the University of Paris, Sorbonne, and held faculty appointments at the Chinese University and Baptist University in Hong Kong. She's published five books in Chinese, written several columns for seven major Hong Kong newspapers, and has appeared on over forty TV and radio programs in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Mainland China, and the U.S. She immigrat ...more

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