Cover Image: Off the Books

Off the Books

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Member Reviews

This book was definitely a sort of stream of consciousness rather than a book with a clear flashback/flash forward structure. I can see why some people might struggle with this style but it didn’t really bother me.
Some of critique of this book is mostly a personal distaste rather than a critique on the story itself so take it with a grain of salt. My jaw dropped when I learned what was in the suitcase but that was the extent of the excitement for me.
I love road trip books but this road trip was absolutely pointless. They literally get to their destination to turn right back around and go to the starting point when the entire trip could’ve been a phone call.
The most minor thing that bothered me a lot was that Henry absolutely will not stick around when things get hard. He proved that several times throughout the book. Hurling insults to make Mei feel small when he knew he was wrong was so telling. If you can’t treat people well during times of stress, you have work to do.
The last thing and the part that’s fully just my personal preference is that I felt like Mei was playing house and romanticizing having a child based on her experience with one precocious kid and the fact that her friend told her that she won’t know love until she’s a mother. I have so many problems with that mentality that I don’t have enough space or bandwidth to discuss here but it felt like Mei was trying to convince herself that motherhood was for her just to prove her friend wrong.

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This book was a little difficult for me to get through. I learned from the story, as I wanted to research the Uyghur community and it’s tribulations. The story line was intriguing so I finished because I wanted the satisfaction of finding out what happened. I enjoyed the grandfather’s character the most. He is wise, caring, and funny.
The story begins with Mei, who drives a stranger with an odd suitcase from San Francisco to Syracuse. She is paid under the table so she has a policy of don’t ask, don’t tell. Her inquisitiveness gets the better of her and she discovers the contents of the suitcase,which, in turn, unravels a mystery. She, also, develops a trust and relationship with the handsome stranger she is transporting.
I did not enjoy this as much as an thought I would. I couldn’t quite identify or connect with the characters. It was a strange dynamic and I was not completely satisfied with their development. I often had a difficult time following the train of thought, Mei had. Her thoughts wandered too much and I didn’t always feel it was relevant when I was pulled back to the present situation.
#NetGalley
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This was a terrific and very enjoyable book! I would recommend to others. I was engaged and interested the whole time.

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DNF.
This one had an interesting premise, but took a while to grab my attention. The initial few chapters were overly descriptive without telling us much. Don't think this writing style is for me.

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I really liked this book, and I think the world-building and character creation worked great together. I found them to be dynamic and very entertaining to read. I was looking forward to this book and it did not disappoint. It was a great coming of age story and I enjoyed it greatly

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Off the Books was a wonderful read. It's such a fresh coming-of-age story with a ton of resonance for college-aged readers, especially. I enjoyed the themes of identity and journeying, and it's a much needed reminder that those two things are deeply connected.

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Yes, Měi is driving handsome Henry Lee across the country without reporting it on her taxes or anywhere else or delving very deeply into the specifics. “My motto … is ’My clients’ business is none of my business,’” Měi notes in Chapter 3. But the title also refers to Měi’s quandary in life. She struggled to get herself into Brown University, only to adopt hipster ways and drop out. Who is Měi anyway? And who does she want to be?

Meanwhile, Henry Lee has some sort of secret. He has an enormous suitcase that he keeps with himself at all times. Something shady? Měi starts thinking about it more and more. How much should be kept off the books and ignored?

Off the Books begins as a carefree road trip novel, but it metamorphoses in an instant about a fourth of the way through. I don’t want to spoil this lyrical novel, but let’s say that readers will watch as Měi tackles some pressing questions of empathy, morality and humanity. A most unique novel, with so many surprises, making it hard to believe that this is author Soma Mei Sheng Frazier’s first novel.

In the interest of full disclosure, I received this book from NetGalley and Henry Holt & Co. in exchange for an honest review.

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I loved this book! Soma Mei Sheng Frazier has created compelling characters and an original plot that draw our attention to an important topic. I'll be recommending this book to others.

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Certainly unique! As someone who tries to read novels from writers of all different backgrounds, I enjoyed learning about the Uyghurs as I previously knew nothing,

The characters are lovely, particularly the grandfather who is a welcome dose of levity and comedic relief. While I didn't quite understand the gravity of Mei & Henry's situation (smuggling/kidnapping/whatever you'd like to call it) with the government, it was still a sweet story of survival, love, and family.

I wouldn't go out of my way to recommend this, but it was a nice read to stumble upon.

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Unfortunately I didn't realize the deadline was so short on this book.
"Expired" at 15%

The premise was initially interesting. I think there's probably so more work that could be done in the first few chapters to grab the reader.

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The moral of this story might be not to take career advice from a morally quirky old-country grandfather who seems to think that things work the same in the Bay Area as they do in China. Mei drops out of Dartmouth in her last semester because of a family tragedy. Her grandpa sets her up as a limo driver, which she used to do to earn money on her college vacations. He ups the earning power by telling her to transport people off the books, which opens her up to a lot of shady business. Much of her business comes from ferrying sex workers, mostly Chinese from one date to the next. If your Spidey-sense is screaming "trafficked women," so is Mei's. She accepts a cross-country trip with a handsome guy who is toting a strange black suitcase, a suitcase you just know Mei is going to poke. Is Henry a human trafficker or a kidnapper?

"Off the Books" is a fun, different kind of road trip that entertains from start to finish. All the characters in this book are intriguing and appealing, and I see a bright future for Soma Mei Sheng Frazier. I would certainly read anything by her and look forward to. being an avid follower of her career. Her combo of world issues, mystery, and a touch of romance are winners.

Thanks! to NetGalley and the publisher for a DRC of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

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Mĕi, a Chinese-American college dropout from California, drives a limo ferrying people who want to stay off the books to their destinations. She's discrete and professional, but when she ferries handsome passenger Henry and his huge, mysterious black suitcase on a trip across the country, she finds herself intrigued by his mystery, his good looks, and his strange insistence that they take frequent stops. While at a stop in Wyoming, Henry takes a phone and steps away from his suitcase, which Mĕi helpfully pushes further into the backseat.

"And that's when the first thing happens."

I will not spoil any more than this, other than to say that this compelling, beautifully written book would not let me go once I began it. I read the second half in a fever-pitch one evening, my heart in my throat, then lay awake in bed, thinking about the ending over and over. It's a road trip novel mixed with a thriller, a romance, and a family saga about secrets, trauma, and finding hope and love in a sometimes terrifying, bleak world. I cannot recommend this book enough!!

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What an unexpected delightful read. I so enjoyed this book and its beautiful written, laid back approach to story telling. Character never felt forced into development and the story line seems natural to follow.

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Soma Mei Sheng Frazier’s Off the Books (Henry Holt & Co., available 30 July 2024) tells the story of Mei, a recent college dropout struggling to find her footing after a major family tragedy. Her robe-wearing, weed-smoking Grandfather helps her set up her own chauffeur company. Things get a little weird with her newest client, Henry, whose mysterious suitcase and tight-lipped manner arouse Mei’s suspicion. Things take a turn when Mei sees something moving in the suitcase?!

The big reveal raises more questions than it answers for Mei, but what unfolds is a fascinating, fast-paced story that was not at all what I was expecting, but I truly loved. It’s about family, love, and hard choices. Highly recommend pre-ordering it now!

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This novel had a super interesting and fun plot! I love novels centered around a road-trip so this was right up my alley. I found the book to be humorous and uplifting, I am looking forward to reading more books by this author in the future!

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I would like to thank NetGalley and the publisher for an ARC of this story in exchange for an honest review.

I read a few chapters. No critique truly. I’m just not interested in this type of writing. I could not continue. I’m sure a lot of people will enjoy this though. Just not for me.

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First and foremost, I would like to thank NetGalley and the publisher for an ARC of this story in exchange for an honest review.

Also, I feel as it is worth mentioning this book deals heavily with the ongoing genocide of the Uyghur population in Xinjiang, China. This topic gets very little coverage or exposure in mainstream media.

Off the Books follows Mei, a college drop-out who drives limos and takes "off the book" clients in order to make ends meet. When her grandfather refers her to a mysterious new client toting an equally mysterious suitcase, she embarks on a journey from San Francisco to Syracuse and gets roped into a scheme with global implications.

Really, the whole time, I kept asking, WHATS IN THE SUITCASE?!

My only complaint arises from the writing style which at times felt a bit winded or lacking, especially when the focus wavered and the narrative drifted off onto tangents that were sometimes interesting but also sometimes too abrupt – taking away from otherwise gripping or engrossing bits of the plot. Otherwise, the plot was intriguing and kept you invested.

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Wow, Off the Books was so much more than I expected in the best ways. I’d categorize this as general fiction with a subtle hint of romance that focuses on familial and platonic relationships during an emotionally charged roadtrip (my FAVORITE very specific genre!).

Mei learning more about her mother and accepting her complex family history felt so special, like a refreshing adult version of the typical coming of age story. This book also discusses the brutality and abuse of Chinese treatment towards Uyghur people - in an educational tone that doesn’t take you out of the story. What an important narrative.

Thanks a million to Henry Holt & Co and NetGalley for the e-arc in exchange for my honest opinion. What a great read!

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Mei Brown is Chinese-American and a native of the Bay Area -- Chinese mother and Anglo father, and it’s hinted that she married him to acquire citizenship -- and she’s very bright but she has issues. She was at Dartmouth on a scholarship, only a term away from graduation, when he father killed, an Army linguist at Monterey, himself, and Mei quit school and went back home. She hasn’t forgiven her mother, either, but she’s still very close to her hard-case widowed grandfather, who now lives in their renovated garage and who really raised her in all the important ways.

Mei made money during the summers driving a limo (a job Granddad got her), and then switched to working only for cash (“off the books”), mostly for Chinese sex workers (because Granddad knows everyone). Now she’s making good money ferrying sometimes sketchy people coast to coast and never declares a penny of it. And her latest client is Henry Lee and his big black suitcase, both of which she’s transporting to Syracuse, New York. Mei becomes rather obsessed by that suitcase, which he keeps at hand at all times. Finally, she listens with a water glass through the wall of their adjoining motel rooms . . . and hears another voice. Is Henry a kidnapper? A trafficker? So she confronts him and he tells her what’s going on. And the story takes off in a whole other direction.

The writing is of high quality and the author has a lot to say about the nature of families, and especially of Chinese families. Certain aspects of present-day ethnic politics in the PRC also play a large role. It’s the sort of story that will hold your attention strongly as you read it (you’re likely to miss your bus stop) and which you will continue to think about after you’ve put it down. She has earned numerous awards for her short fiction but this is (I think) her first novel. I have a strong feeling it won’t be her last.

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Creative and mysterious, I enjoyed this title. I think the concept of the book is great and to read about a resourceful young woman was interesting. Thanks to NetGalley for the ARC.

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