So excited, because today is my stop during the book blitz for Love and Other Moods by Crystal Z. Lee! Love and Other Moods is a standalone coming-of-age “own voices” story set in contemporary Shanghai, about falling in love, learning to adult and discovering one’s place in the world. In this post you’ll discover what I thought of this book. And don’t miss the tour wide giveaway for a chance to win a Love and Other Moods gift basket at the bottom of this post!
What is Love and Other Moods about?
Love and Other Moods is a coming-of-age story set in contemporary China, about falling in love, learning to adult, finding strength, and discovering one’s place in the world.
Naomi Kita-Fan uproots her life from New York to China when her fiancé’s company transfers him to Shanghai. After a disastrous turn of events, Naomi finds herself with no job, no boyfriend, and nowhere to live in a foreign country.
Amidst the backdrop of Shanghai welcoming millions of workers and visitors to the 2010 World Expo, we meet a tapestry of characters through Naomi: Joss Kong, a Shanghai socialite who leads an enviable life, but must harbor the secrets of her husband, Tay Kai Tang. Logan Hayden, a womanizing restaurateur looking for love in all the wrong places. Pan Jinsung and Ouyang Zhangjie, a silver-aged couple struggling with adapting to the ever-changing faces of their city. Dante Ouyang, who had just returned to China after spending years overseas, must choose between being filial and being in love. All their dreams and aspirations interweave within the sprawling web of Shanghai.
This multilayered novel explores a kaleidoscope of shifting relationships—familial friction, amorous entanglements, volatile friendships—in one of the most dynamic metropolises of the twenty-first century.
What did I think of Love and Other Moods?
I love that Love and Other Moods really is a portrait of Shangai. By reading Love and Other Moods, I learned a lot of the Chinese culture and history. It was one of those books I couldn’t fly through, because I wanted to take my time to explore the culture and history and really take it in.
Every character in this book has a very interesting background. I loved Naomi’s background, I loved Dante’s background, I loved Joss’s background, and so on! Everyone had a totally different story and they were all equally interesting to discover. Some stories were more heartbreaking than others, though.
“For Naomi, existing on the hyphen – balancing her Japanese, Taiwanese, American identities – feeling neither here nor there, a drifter among homes and countries, was a perpetual state of mind.”
Crystal Z. Lee also doesn’t hesitate to touch upon the subject of the patriarchy in China, the corruption in China, and that was very interesting to read. At times I was shocked that such things can still happen today, in 2021. Of course, also the good sides of living in Shangai are mentioned which was amazing to discover.
“Sometimes in life we just needed to sui yuan, let the fates guide.”
This book also tackles the subject of cultural tensions, immigrants, expatriates,… which is something I hadn’t really read about before.
“But I do know this – We’re right for each other, we make sense. Even if we’re the only ones that believe it.”
The book is divided into four chapters, each representing a season. The beginning of each part contains a beautiful picture, which I think really added to the experience.
The reason why I didn’t give this book 5 stars, is because at times there were pretty big jumps in time in the middle of some chapters. It was mostly easy to recognize these time jumps, but sometimes I thought they were a bit abrupt.
“But love, Reina had said, can be a language in and of itself.
I think Love and Other Moods was worked out really really well. I loved discovering Naomi’s, Dante’s, Joss’,… life.
Click here to see the trigger warnings:
rape, abuse, death of a parent, infidelity and infertility.
Who is the author behind Love and Other Moods?
Crystal Z. Lee is a Taiwanese American bilingual writer. She has called many places home, including Taipei, New York, Shanghai, and the San Francisco Bay Area. She was formerly a public relations executive who had worked with brands in the fashion, beauty, technology, and automotive industries. Love and Other Moods is her debut novel. She’s already hard at work on her next novel and a children’s book.
You can follow the author on Instagram.
Interview with the author
Here you can read my interview with the author about the setting and culture in Love and Other Moods.
Love and Other Moods is based in Shanghai, a city you had once lived and worked at. What’s your favorite thing about Shanghai?
I love that Shanghai is a city of contrasts. You can see its history and modernity coexisting everywhere in that metropolis. There are ancient temples right alongside skyscrapers, traditional food stalls outside of fancy restaurants. It’s a city that attracts people from every walk of life, from all corners of the globe.
There are many, many delicious Chinese dishes mentioned in your novel. Do you have a favorite?
In Love and Other Moods, one of the characters is a magazine food editor, one is a restaurant and bar owner, and one cooks as a hobby. Naturally there are many gourmet meal scenes in the book! Here is a sampling of some of the dishes that appear in the novel: Shanghainese truffle-flavored xiao long bao dumplings, Chongqing style liangfen spicy noodles, glutinous zongzi rice stuffed in bamboo leaves, lotus root pork bone broth, sticky niangao rice, Taiwanese oyster pancake, Peking duck and hairy crab. My favorite would be xiao long bao dumplings!
Could you explain the Chinese characters on your book cover and on the photos inside of the book?
The four characters on the book cover literally translated, means “romantic journey in the neon city.” Inside the novel are four photos, which serve as dividers to the four parts of the book. So each Chinese character is represented in each part of the book: “romance,” “journey,” “neon,” “city.” Indeed Love and Other Moods is a romantic story about journeys and voyages, both literally and figuratively for the characters. Naomi crosses oceans and borders, and in the process, learns and grows as a person.
Were the romantic relationships in the book based on people you had known in Shanghai?
Somewhat. Almost every character or situation was inspired by something that had happened in real-life. For example, I had known people in China whose family were opposed to them dating a Japanese person because of what had happened during World War Two. I knew some Joss and Tay types, where the second generation was loosely connected to the government in some capacity yet decided to date outside of their circle. I also knew many Logans in China—western men who had moved to Shanghai and treated the city as their personal playground. Although many foreigners have left China recently ahead of the pandemic, there is still a sizable expatriate contingent in Shanghai. Many of my friends are still there, and have married or are dating somebody from China.
Who’s an author who has influenced your writing?
Chinese author Eileen Chang. Eileen Chang would’ve turned 100 years old in 2020. She is one of the most influential Chinese writers of the last century. Although her tales transport you to the 30s and 40s era of Shanghai and Hong Kong, her stories are still immensely relevant for every type of reader today. Maybe because aspects of her life are relatable for many: she was from a broken family, she came-of-age in a politically turbulent time, she suffered debilitating illnesses and was quarantined for awhile, and later, she was a refugee and immigrant. It’s fitting that one character in her Chinese name is “Love,” because she was a keen observer of romance. Under her pen, Shanghai and Hong Kong became an amorous playground, and at times a battlefield, for those searching for love, which is all of us. In Love and Other Moods, I included one of my favorite Eileen Chang quotes:
“You meet the one…amongst thousands and tens of thousands of people, amidst thousands and tens of thousands of years, in the boundless wilderness of time, not a step sooner, not a step later.”
Love and Other Moods is filled with Chinese expressions. Are there any Chinese idioms you particularly like?
“Nan de hu tu” is an expression first coined by a Qing dynasty magistrate. Loosely translated, it means “ignorance is bliss,” although this version doesn’t capture the depth of the original meaning. A friend in China explained it to me like this: rather than calculating every step, innocence—or naivety—is sometimes the wiser way. The beauty of Chinese idioms is that usually one interpretation doesn’t suffice, and the same expression can elicit varied understandings. Years ago, clueless and in my mid-twenties, I had moved to Shanghai with a broken heart. In that city I had stumbled, grieved, loved, healed. Personally, “nan de hu tu” meant wisdom could be found in seeing the bigger picture, and in letting it be. It’s a lesson in love I still carry with me today.
There are many cities and locations outside of China mentioned in Love and Other Moods. What are some of them, and do you have a favorite city?
The majority of the settings in my novel is in Shanghai. However my characters also travel to a wide range of destinations. Here are some of them:
- Albrecht Statue in Vienna
- Osaka Castle in Japan
- Paphos in Cyprus
- Houhai Lake in Beijing
- Broken Bridge in Hangzhou
- Legion of Honor in San Francisco
- Shifen and Pingxi in Taiwan
- East Village in New York
- Yebisu Garden Place in Tokyo, Japan
My favorite cities in the world besides Shanghai are Taipei, Venice, Singapore.
What are some tried-and-true writing techniques for transporting the reader?
I’m a firm believer in personally visiting any location or backdrop you’re writing about, or at least conducting very thorough research. When I travel to a new place, my routine is to take a massive amount of photographs and videos, buy local artisan crafts and memorabilia, and if possible, I try to visit the region’s bookstore to find unique reads sold only locally. When it comes to writing the scene, I gravitate towards setting the atmosphere with descriptions of the location’s five senses–sights, sounds, scents, touch and tastes. Sometimes I create a mood board which helps me to visualize a setting. And when in doubt, have someone that lives there or has been to that location read your work.
Which films do you think readers of Love and Other Moods would enjoy?
I’ve been told by some of my readers that the mood of my book evokes the following titles: The Farewell meets Lost In Translation meets Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong. Another reader said it was like an Asian version of Emily In Paris and The Devil Wears Prada, but set in Shanghai. I’m grateful for these comparisons because I’m a fan of all of these visual stories, especially the film Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong and Go Back To China.
What are some books set in China that you would recommend?
Here are some fiction and non-fiction books set in China that I had enjoyed!
- Remembering Shangai by Isabel Sun Chao and Claire Chao
- Spa Girl by Virginia Gray
- Shangai Style by Lynn Pan
- South China Morning Blues by Ray Hecht
- Foreign Babes in Beijing by Rachel Dewoskin
- Bury What We Cannot Take by Kirsten Chen
- Above sea: Contemporary art, urban culture, and the fashioning of global Shangai by Jenny Lin
There is a tour wide giveaway for the book blitz of Love and Other Moods. One winner will win a “Love and Other Moods” gift basket filled with items related to Love and Other Moods. Total value at $70. US Only.
For a chance to win, enter the rafflecopter here.
This book blitz is organized by Lola’s Blog Tours. The book blitz runs from 10 till 23 March. You can find the tour schedule here.