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Skeleton Women Paperback – June 1, 2012

3.9 out of 5 stars 43 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Mingmei Yip began writing and painting during her childhood in Hong Kong. She received her Ph.D. from the University of Paris (Sorbonne) and has studied the traditional Chinese arts of Tai Chi, Qin music, Buddhist sacred chant and calligraphy. Mingmei has collaborated with Carnegie Hall and the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art. She is the author of four novels and of the popular "Chinese Children's Favorite Stories". She lives in New York City.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Kensington (June 1, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0758273533
  • ISBN-13: 978-0758273536
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 1 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (43 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,055,996 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author


Mingmei Yip grew up in Hong Kong, studied in Paris and now lives in New York City.

Mingmei is a highly regarded novelist whose work has been translated into nine languages and published in ten countries. Her most recent novel is Secret of a Thousand Beauties (Kensington Books), the story of a young woman forced into a 'marriage' with a dead man. She escapes and finds a home with a former imperial embroiderer who teaches her this art. Her students are to remain celibate, a requirement that forces them to keep their romantic life secret.

Reviews/praise for Secret of a Thousand Beauties

"Fans of Yip's previous novels and Anchee Min's latest memoir, The Cooked Seed will enjoy this emotionally poignant novel."

"The narrative has a certain cheeky, boundless energy that propels the reader to a gratifying conclusion. " - Kirkus Reviews

"The era provides an uncommon and intriguing backdrop of Yip's novel. The cadence of the first person narrative perfectly matches Yip's heroine's thoughts as she strives to find a safe life and love in a changing world."- RT Book Reviews, 4 Stars

Mingmei had her first essay published when she was fifteen. Her debut novel, Peach Blossom Pavilion, the story of the last in the Chinese tradition of poet-musician-courtesans, was published by Kensington in 2008 and became an instant bestseller.

Since then, Mingmei has written seven novels. Her other novels include Skeleton Women (Femmes fatales, singer/spy, magician and gossip columnist, all scheming to survive in lawless Shanghai); Nine Fold Heaven (journey of a singer/spy trying to re-unite with her long lost lover and baby son--despite the threats of gangs); Song of the Silk Road (an adventure on the famous ancient silk route with the lure of a three-million-dollar award) and Petals from the Sky, all published by Kensington Books.

Petals from the Sky is the story of a young Chinese woman who escapes her dysfunctional family to become a Buddhist nun - only to realize she had run away from her own heart. Petals was inspired by Mingmei's life since she befriended Buddhist nuns in her youth and was once groomed to be one.

Mingmei also writes and illustrates books for children. Her Chinese Children's Favorite Stories is a delightful selection of thirteen Chinese folktales. Inspired by her father's nightly story-telling when she was a child, Yip hopes that by retelling some of these thousand-year-old Chinese stories, she can pass along Chinese culture to many readers.

Children will also enjoy Mingmei Yip's other collection Grandma Panda's China Storybook - Legends, Traditions, and Fun, also published by Tuttle.

In Chinese Children's Favorite Stories, children will discover many delightful characters--from a monkey king and moon goddess, to frogs and ghosts in stories such as:

* The Mouse Bride
* Dream of the Butterfly
* The Ghost Catcher
* The Frog Who Lived in a Well
* How the Fox Tricked the Tiger
* The Monkey King Turns the Heavenly Palace Upside Down
In Grandma Panda's China Storybook, they will enjoy the many traditional Chinese stories retold by Yip:

● Yum Yum, We Love Dim Sum (story of Chinese food)
● Grandma Panda Teaches us Chinese Writing
● Dotting the Dragon's Eyes
● The Story of Mulan, the Brave Woman Warrior
● The Little Kungfu Warriors
● The Painted Faces of Chinese Opera
● Fun with Chinese Kites
● Grandma Panda Sings an Old Farewell Song

Mingmei has appeared on over 60 TV and radio programs in Hong Kong, Taiwan, China, and the United Sates, as well as many newspaper interviews. She has published five prior books in Chinese and wrote columns for seven major Hong Kong newspapers. Her song lyrics have been published and performed in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and the U. S.

Mingmei received her Ph. D. from the University of Paris, Sorbonne. In Hong Kong, she held faculty appointments at the Chinese University and Baptist University and has published two academic books and over fifty scholarly articles.

Reviews/ Praises for Mingmei's books:


"A unique and enthralling style. . .flawless." - The Nine Fold Heaven, Baltimore Books Examiner

"A guilty pleasure...This is a large box of chocolates..." Skeleton Women, RTBook, 4 starred review.

"Poignant and often heartbreaking story captivating mix of worldly and ethereal, mystery and drama." Skeleton Women, Bookclub.BarnesandNoble.com

"Yip's lively novel manages to be at once modern and traditional...surprising and often funny...part epic, part modern fairy tale." Song of the Silk Road, Publisher's Weekly

"A serious, engaging of faith, devotion, and the commingling of culture." Petals from the Sky, Booklist

"From a prodigiously talented Chinese author comes a marvelous novel about a woman who becomes China's most successful courtesan. Yip's work echoes "Memoirs of a Geisha," but with a sharper, more suspenseful pace." Peach Blossom Pavilion, Powell's Books

"Mingmei Yip has written an enchanting debut novel which tells the story of the last surviving Chinese courtesan....transporting us to another place and time where prostitutes were glamorous, elegant and cultured women that were well-versed in the arts..." Peach Blossom Pavilion, Asiance Magazine

"Yip's atmospheric tale is elevated above fantastical escape through its cunning, empowered narrator, a woman who refuses to be "but a captive, whose limbs could be twisted to adopt the most obsequious posture in life as well as in bed," and instead fights to improve her fate...." Peach Blossom Pavilion, Honolulu Advertiser

Praises for Mingmei's Children's Books:

"These 13 stories feature talking animals, a ghost catcher, a trickster fox, the Dragon King, and the mischievous Monkey King and many more. Some tales have morals, others explain customs or traditions. Children will be drawn by the abundant colorful illustrations and the short, straightforward retellings." Chinese Children's Favorite Stories, School Library Journal

"A delightful selection from the rich store of Chinese folklore and legend. Many delightful animal characters..... Retold for an international audience, the beautifully illustrated stories will give children a glimpse into both the tradition and culture of China." Chinese Children's Favorite Stories, Harvard Book Store

Interview with Mingmei Yip

Tell us about the novels you wrote

I've always been fascinated by women who use their beauty, talent, and especially intelligence to achieve impossible deeds. My novels are about such strong, diligent, unflinching women who worked against all odds and succeeded.
I like happy endings because life, as Buddhism says, is already full of suffering, so why add to it with an unhappy ending? How we can navigate our way across the sea of suffering to the other shore of happiness, is what I am interested to write about. I want my readers feel uplifted after they read my books, to know that in life, struggles are unavoidable but it is usually in our power to make them end well. There are happy outcomes in life, too, not just in fiction. Nevertheless, getting to the happy outcome requires that we use our judgment in deciding when to strive and when to just go with the flow.
In doing so, we can learn compassion and wisdom.

Will you talk about the style in which you write - do you have rules you follow, or is the story the form?

I don't think about rules when I write. I never outline but let the characters lead me along. Writing a novel, the first thing I need is an exciting situation. For my debut novel Peach Blossom Pavilion, I decided to write about the last Chinese geisha. My second novel Petals from the Sky I had this idea of a would-be nun who helplessly falls in love. My third novel Song of the Silk Road is the self-discovery journey of an aspiring writer turned adventurer.

When it is time to write my next book, ideas somehow pop into my head and I just plunge into writing. I had the benefit of growing up in Hong Kong where Chinese have been telling each other stories for more than 3,000 years and I heard many growing up. Often these inspire my novels.

What is your writing process?
I love to write in my own small room in our New York apartment. The windows face uptown and the East River - giving a perfect balance of yin and yang. Whenever I need to refresh myself after long hours of writing, I just look up from my computer screen and enjoy the view from my window. I am fortune to have read a lot and traveled a lot and so these experiences provide my inspiration. The great Chinese poet, Du Fu (712-770) said, "After you have read 10,000 books and traveled 10,000 miles, your writing will be aided by the gods." I have more than 10,000 frequent flyer miles, but I am still working on the 10,000 books.

You were a columnist in several newspapers, so can you tell us a little bit about those experiences.
When I was a professor in Hong Kong, I wrote columns and essays both in English and Chinese on art, music, and poetry. Over the years I wrote for a total of seven newspapers. Most were weekly but for two or three years I did daily columns as well. Writing a daily column is an invaluable experiences for a writer - no matter if you are sick or just not in the mood, you still have to churn out the words, day after day. You can't falter because one or two bad columns and you may lose your readers - and your place in the paper.

What is next for you?
My new novel is Secret of a Thousand Beauties, about one woman's defiant pursuit of independence during 1930s China. It is set in scenic Suzhou and cosmopolitan Beijing at a time when one's next door neighbor might have been an embroiderer for the last emperor.

This was an era of great creative ferment, but also great turmoil with modernizers, revolutionaries, and gangsters vying to determine China's future. Women were attaining more freedom, but the old oppressions, such as the ghost marriage described in the novel, persisted.
Spring Swallow, refusing to accept her fate as the bride of a ghost - a dead man -- flees on her wedding day. She later joins a community of supposedly celibate women embroiderers led by Aunty Peony, whose exquisite stitching once earned her the Emperor's love. Spring Swallow draws on the secret techniques learned from Aunty Peony to forge a life that is truly her own.
I enjoyed researching the lives of these talented but anonymous women and hope my readers will get as much enjoyment from reading about them.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
I was lucky enough to meet Mingmei Yip at the 2010 Romantic Times Convention in Columbus, Ohio. She was on a panel for multicultural creative writing along with L.A. Banks and Barry Eisler. From her very first description of her book, Peach Blossom Pavilion, I was hooked. Throughout the panel I learned many things about Mingmei Yip as a writer and a person. I learned that she is quite the Renaissance woman, having written adult and children's books as well as being a skill Qin player and artist.

I immediately purchased copies of her novels Peach Blossom Pavilion and Petals from the Sky and a grand love affair with her work began. Last summer I was overjoyed to pick up a copy of her book Song of the Silk Road and this year I was over the moon that she actually asked ME to review her latest novel, Skeleton Women. As a longtime fan you can imagine how exciting it was to be personally contacted by one of my favorite authors and to receive an advance copy of the book that I was eagerly awaiting. The works of Mingmei Yip have always captivated me and before I even read the first page I was certain that Skeleton Women would surely enthrall me from start to finish.

In 1930s China, the underworld of mafia was at its peak. Femme fatales (also known as skeleton women) were the secret weapons of gangs, so named because their charms and beauty often brought death upon their victims who became nothing more than skeletons.

Beautiful lounge singer Camilla wasn't always a rich and respected woman. Her humble beginnings were that of an orphan who was later adopted by Brother Wang (head of the Red Demons gang) for the sole purpose of luring Master Lung (head of the Flying Dragons gang) to his death.
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Format: Paperback
Camilla is an orphan plucked from obscurity by Big Brother Wang, head of one of the biggest crime families in 1930s Shanghai. He trains her as a singer, contortionist and ultimately as his deadliest weapon against his enemy - the head of the largest crime syndicate that he is determined to destroy. Camilla is taught to live without emotion; she becomes a Skeleton Woman. A femme fatale. A woman who can reduce a man to nothing.

As she ascends as the Heavenly Songbird and yes, lover of the evil Mr. Lung she confronts a new mysterious Skeleton Woman - Shadow, a magician and master of the most amazing illusions Shanghai has ever seen. She is vying to take away the affections of Mr. Lung but Camilla cannot allow that - her job is to keep him and at the right moment to kill him. Also in the mix, gossip columnist Rainbow Chang, the third of these mysterious women. She plays the other two against each other in an ever building war of talent and suspense. Who will be the ultimate Skeleton Woman? Who will survive?

This is my second of Mingmei Yip's novels. I reviewed Song of the Silk Road last year. What I can glean from the two novels is that Ms. Yip writes very unlikable female "heroines." Camilla is very hard to like. I recognize that she is meant to be cold but even as she starts to melt, even as she starts to feel some emotion for Mr. Lung's son, she is just not likable. At all. The other two Skeleton Women are not prominent enough in the book to really be well defined. The reader is left wanting more. There is to be a sequel and perhaps that more will be delivered then?

There is also a problem with repetition. By the fourth or fifth chapter I think I had read that Camilla was trained to be a spy more times than I care to count.
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I found it lacking - I found the heroine, I am sorry to put it like this, stupid, and it was extremely difficult to enjoy the book, once I realized I cannot sympathize with her. The plot is not very exciting either. For me getting through this book was really difficult, and after awhile it was a matter of - 'I will finish this book, because I purchased this....'. The only reason I gave this book 2 stars is because I found the Chinese sayings and customs portrayed in the book somewhat interesting.
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Format: Paperback
I received this book through Goodreads First Reads.

This book is mesmerizing. I can think of no better word for it.

Before even cracking it open, this book is beautiful. The cover is bright & striking, it would definitely catch my eye upon a shelf.

The novel itself is written beautifully. It's poetic & vivid, reading almost like a song. The use of Chinese sayings & proverbs, as well as quotes from other books, make frequent appearances. It adds a nice sprinkling of culture to the intriguing story. No sentence is superfluous- each & every word serves a purpose, making the story more engrossing. There is never a dull moment, & I found myself often exclaiming "What?!?" to myself, in the best of ways. I was kept on my toes until I ran out of pages, & even now I hunger for more of Camilla's story. This story is a perfect balance of sex, espionage, drama, & suspense. The characters are very relatable, & I adore the fact that this plot is headed by powerful women. It's a very welcome change from my usual reads. Plus, this edition comes with a reading group guide, perfect for those reader's looking to spark conversation at their book club.

In short, I found this book just as dazzling as Shadow's magic act. I recommend it to no particular audience, but to anyone who loves a wonderfully written story. I have never read the work of Mingmei Yip before, but now that I've gotten a taste, Skeleton Women will not be the last book of hers that I consume
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