Reviews | The Dancing Girl and the Turtle

When you publish your first novel, every review that comes in feels like torture. If it’s positive, you can hardly believe it’s true and if it’s negative, well, that’s a whole other can of beans.

I was most worried about the Asian critics and experts. Maybe I had gotten my history wrong. Or, even worse, I had exoticized life in Shanghai. Thankfully, none of the critics called me out on that particular score. 

Here are all the reviews of my debut novel, The Dancing Girl and the TurtleYou can also check out the ratings at Goodreads.

Cha Review of Books and Films

Cha Review of Books and Films comes to us from Hong Kong. The folks who run this review also publish Cha: An Asian Literary Magazine. Cha asks Canadian poet and Hong Kong resident Akin Jeje to review my novel. A double hurdle to master! Will my writing stand up to the standards of a poet who lives the Asian life?

What a relief to read what Jeje has to say:

for a novel with such harrowing subject matter, The Dancing Girl and the Turtle reads like young adult fiction due to its deceptive simplicity of language. Yet, it effectively evokes the vast contrasts of wealth and poverty, compassion and cruelty of prewar Shanghai through its effective use of vivid imagery and realistic dialogue.

Akin Jeje, [REVIEW] “Karen Kao’s The Dancing Girl and the Turtle”, Cha Review of Books and Films (June 2019)

What a thrill to be reviewed by John Grant Ross for none other than, a book review site dedicated to showcasing quality fiction and non-fiction works about Asia. It’s hard to get anyone to pay attention to a novel, let alone one that’s been out for more than a year now.  Ross calls my novel

an ambitious, striking addition to the novels showing the sleazy side of 1930s Shanghai.

Yay, sleaze! Review published 09.06.2018.

A book blog tour

Technically speaking, a book blog tour isn’t just reviews. There are also interviews and my own guest blog posts. But I’m including this blog tour here as most of the stops on this tour turned out to be reviews.

interview review blog
Book Blog Tour September 2017

18.09.2017: An interview with the Royal Polar Bear Reads
19.09.2017: An extract published by My Reading Corner
20.09.2017: A five star review from The Bibliophile Chronicles
21.09.2017: my guest post “Ghost Month” on A Lover of Books
23.09.2017: Another lovely review, this time by Fledgling Words
24.09.2017: Fine review by Addiction2Fiction
25.09.2017: An elegantly written review by Bookmarked Reviews
26.09.2017: Little Q&A session with Delightful Book Reviews
27.09.2017: My guest post “Shanghai Noir” on If In Doubt Read
29.09.2017: A surprisingly nice review from Sarah Louise Writes
30.09.2017: One more extract published by Book Inspector
01.10.2017: Last stop and it’s a winner by Baleigh’s Better Life


Not quite a review, more like an honorable mention with my beautiful cover prominently displayed in the Dutch daily newspaper Trouw. Dutch journalist Wim Boevink meanders from the pleasures of novel reading to the realities of internet to the long-awaited demise of the written word. If my novel can serve as inspiration, then I’m happy. Review published 23.09.2017.

Misha Herwin

This review was published as part of Misha Herwin‘s Friday Favourites series. Here’s her opening line:

From the intriguing title to the final, inevitable end, I was totally enthralled by this novel.

Pretty high praise coming from an established writer like Misha. She’s a regular contributor to Authors Electric, while I am a lowly guest blogger. Review published 22.09.2017.

Hong Kong Review of Books

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Another review out of Hong Kong! I’m so pleased that reviewer Beverly Ngai understood exactly what I was trying to do.

The cornerstone of the story centers around the fact that Anyi is unable to vocalize her pain or seek help.

There is an ongoing need to talk about violence against women, past and present. I’m glad to play my part.

the brutally authentic struggles that Kao delineates and the powerful message exposing the violent consequences of an oppressive and patriarchal society make this story vital.

Review published 23.07.2017.


review logo
review logo

This is my second review from my adopted hometown of Amsterdam. Reviewer Erin Russell hones in on the craft side of the writing, calling the prose exceptional.

The narrative technique is brilliantly employed, creating a chorus of tones that echoes the rush, ambition, diversity, and indeed much darker elements of 1930s Shanghai.

Review published 15.05.2017.

South China Morning Post 南華早報

A great review from a really tough audience: Hong Kong’s newspaper of record. They’ve read enough novels set in Old Shanghai to be leery of newcomers. And yet, there’s praise for my eccentric characters, the shocking violence and a great twist of an ending. But my favorite quote has to be the review’s headline:

The Dancing Girl & the Turtle makes Fifty Shades of Grey look like light bondage with its tale of Chinese prostitution.

Review published 12.05.2017.

Holland Times

Dutch book review
Dutch flag. Image source:

It’s raining reviews these days. This one just in from the Holland Times, an English-language monthly for the expat community in the Netherlands. This is my first review in actual print form so I’m giving you a PDF of this one. Review published 09.05.2017.

Historical Novel Society

UK / US book review
Historical Novel Society. Image source: Facebook

The HNR is an Anglo-American society whose mission is to promote the enjoyment of historical novels. Happy to be included in their collection! This is what the HNR had to say:

political events take a backseat in this very personal story of fatally flawed characters.

Review published in HNR Issue 80 (May 2017).

Los Angeles Review of Books

LA book review
Los Angeles Review of Books. Image source:

As a girl from LA, this is quite the coup for me. To land on the pages of the Los Angeles Review of Books. At least, in the digital form of the China Blog, which is devoted to the life, culture, politics and literature of China. Its reviewers clearly know their stuff. So I especially like this quote:

No Old Shanghai novel […] has gone into the devastating psychological after-effects of sexual assault as deeply as Karen Kao does in her debut novel.

Review published 26.04.2017.

The Contemporary Small Press

My favorite review is the one from The Contemporary Small Press for the beautiful way in which it weaves quotes from my novel into the fabric of the review. I’m particularly gratified by the observation that:

The human need for intimacy and understanding is apparent on every page

Review published 07.04.2017.

Rhiannon Jenkins Tsang

UK book review
The Woman Who Lost China. Image source:

Big thanks to fellow author and China fan, Rhiannon Jenkins Tsang, for her advance review of my novel. A scholar of Oriental languages, Tsang is familiar with the world of The Dancing Girl and the Turtle. She has this to say about my prose:

each word meticulously chosen and exquisitely placed in the manner of a poet

Review published 07.03.2017.