Book Review: Red Thread of Fate by Lyn Liao Butler

book review red thread of fate lyn liao butler

Title: Red Thread of Fate

Author: Lyn Liao Butler

Publisher: Berkley

Publication date: February 8, 2021

Genre: Women’s Fiction

One Sentence Summary: Just before Tam and Tony hear from their caseworker about the little boy they’re adopting from China, Tony and his estranged cousin Mia are killed and Tam suddenly becomes mother to Mia’s little girl, and left wondering when her husband and his cousin reconciled.


Red Thread of Fate is an incredible novel of motherhood, culture, marriage, adoption, secrets, and most of all, family. There’s a lot packed into it, but it all works really well together to offer a beautiful story of recently widowed Tam who also suddenly finds herself about to become the mother of two. I loved this for the Asian American experience and for the strength of the motherhood story lines. But there’s so much more and none of it ever overwhelms or overtakes anything else. Red Thread of Fate almost perfectly balanced everything. I did find the two parts this book is divided into a little uneven and the end a little sudden, but, beyond that, I loved everything about this book.

Extended Thoughts

Tam and Tony Kwan have been waiting to hear from their caseworker about the little boy they’re planning on adopting from China, from an orphanage Tony has ties to. But, just before they do, Tony is killed in a horrific accident with his cousin Mia. Years before, Mia had lived with Tam and Tony, had become close friends with Tam, but certain circumstances broke the tie between cousins. Now, as a widow, Tam discovers that not only will she be adopting her little boy, but Mia’s young daughter, Angela, has been left in her care.

Dealing with grief and confusion as to why her husband was with his cousin when they had been estranged for years, especially with secrets haunting the trio, Tam must learn to become a single mother. With help coming from unexpected places, secrets from the past begin to unravel.

Red Thread of Fate is a beautiful story of family, motherhood, culture, secrets, adoption, and marriage. There’s so much tied up into the story, but all of it worked well together to craft a story that grabbed my heart and struck closer to home than expected. There’s a complicated family situation and a sweet romance and a woman just trying to hold on. I loved that there was so much in this book, but it was well-balanced, even if I felt the end was a little too sudden.

Being Chinese American, I loved that the Asian American experience was a big focal point. In particular, I was able to identify with it through Tam, who shuns her Asian heritage in favor of being more American. She felt very American to me, but there’s still that delicate balance of being Asian, of understanding what it is to be Asian even when it doesn’t fit what she wants. I really loved everything about her, not just how she gave me someone I could identify with, especially with her shyness and insecurities. Her character was one that felt real to me, so I loved going on her journey with her.

My favorite part of Red Thread of Fate was the focus on motherhood. Of course Tam expected it to happen as she and her husband planned on welcoming a little boy in the coming months, but she never signed up to be a single mother to two children. This book is split into two uneven parts, the first focused on setting up the story and Tam’s journey into becoming a mother to Mia’s daughter, Angela, and the second to unraveling the secrets and becoming a mother to two young children. I really enjoyed how she learned to be a mother to Angela, how difficult and stressful and exhausting it was. Unlike many novels with young children who usually get pushed far to the side, Angela is a huge part of this book. I loved how she seemed wise beyond her years, but also was just a child who wanted things and wanted to be loved and wanted. Reading Tam and Angela together was beautiful and so wonderful that I almost felt disappointed when the little boy, Charlie, was introduced. Tam and Angela’s relationship was such a special one, but I also really appreciated what Charlie’s story line added to the story.

I loved that Red Thread of Fate didn’t shy away from what orphanages in China are like and what the children who are adopted out are like. It’s almost unbelievable, but, due to personal reasons, I also know how accurate it was. It was heartbreaking, yet I enjoyed reading about it. There’s a bit of fun injected into the adoption, which really helped to lighten things, and I really loved how it ended up tying together so many of the characters. It’s shorter than the part where Tam and Angela learn to live together, but it really highlights the changes the characters were undergoing throughout the story. As little as Charlie was able to add to the story, he and the story around his orphanage really helped bring the story together in a beautiful way.

Red Thread of Fate has so much in it. It touches on so many things, but never pushes any of them to the side in favor of focusing on one. Instead, I can’t see how they could possible operate without the others. The mother-child relationships were wonderful, especially that between Tam and her mother, and really helped carry the story through all of it, the marriage between Tam and Tony, the cultural clashes, the adoption process, and all the secrets some of the characters carried. There are also several secondary characters that all played their roles to perfection no matter how large or small it was and they just added wonderfully to the story.

As packed as Red Thread of Fate is, it does offer a balanced, nuanced story with a consistent pace that kept the story going while also providing time to digest the information. Tam was a wonderful character to go on this journey with as she neatly bridges the divide between American and Taiwanese/Chinese and finds her feet as a mother and a daughter who understands her mother once had a life she didn’t know about. There were times when I felt so horrible for Tam, for everything she had to go through, but she has a quiet strength that really served her well, and conviction in her heart that was just beautiful to witness.

Red Thread of Fate is one I’m likely a little more biased about than usual since it hit so close to home for me. But I did find it to be a beautiful story with so much in it that I never had a moment where I was bored with the story. Instead, I couldn’t stop reading and just wanted more. I didn’t want the story to end, but, while I felt it was a little sudden, it was a really nice note to end on. Overall, I found this to be a captivating read and really appreciated everything it has to offer.

How many cups of tea will you need?

5 cups

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Thank you to Grace Fell from Spark Point Studio for a review copy. All opinions expressed are my own.

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red thread of fate lyn liao butler book review

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