Monday, March 20, 2017

What I Read in September 2016 Part II. . .

What I Read in September 2016 Part II. . .

Outrun the MoonOutrun the Moon by Stacey Lee--Young Adult Historical Fiction

Mercy Wong has finished her education at the Oriental Public School in San Francisco, the one school she and her fellow Chinese-American youth are allowed to attend. Mercy has big dreams, however, and a plan to lift her family out of poverty. She plans to become an herbal tea merchant and marry her best friend Tom, who is supposed to succeed his father as a Chinese medicine doctor. She especially wants to ensure her frail younger brother doesn't have to take over their Ba's laundry business. Armed with her bible, The Book for Business-Minded Women by a Mrs. Evelyn Lowry, Mercy sets out to launch her grand plan. The first step is to get in to St. Clare's, a respected girls' school on par with the Wilkes school for boys. Mercy knows it will be difficult to convince the board to allow her in because of her race and her family's economic situation, but Mercy has a few tricks up her sleeve. Upon starting at the school, Mercy must pretend to be a Chinese heiress, deal with a mean girl, avoid a caning from Headmistress and practice comportment. St. Clare's is not an academic school but a finishing school. Even though it's not what Mercy expected, she's determined to succeed at any cost. When tragedy strikes on April 18, 1906, Mercy's world is upended. It would be easy to give in to despair like everyone else she knows, but that's not Mercy's way. She uses her very un-ladylike, un-Chinese "bossy cheeks" to find a way to save herself and her friends.

This is a pretty good book for young adults. I liked the multi-culturalism in the novel and learning something about Chinese-American life in the early 20th century. I was hoping for a link to Samantha from Under the Painted Sky, to discover if she made it to San Francisco and had descendants. This is a stand-alone novel though. The plot is interesting and it did really capture my attention at times. I knew about the earthquake and have read other novels about it but by the time the earthquake happens in this story, I was invested in Mercy's story and needed to know what happened. What does happen is a bit surprising and very interesting though not exactly realistic. I wasn't thrilled with the homage to A Little Princess. That was unnecessary and been done too many times as was Melody's struggle with Elodie. My biggest quibble was that Francesca wouldn't use the word pasta but macaroni. I'm not sure if there was a sizable enough Italian population in San Francisco in 1906 to even warrant an Italian restaurant. The food would be foreign and unfamiliar to anyone else. [OK apparently there were 15,000 of them in San Francisco alone... thanks Google]. I also wasn't completely thrilled with the little bit of preachiness at the end. There's a slight religious element to the book: Mercy's Ba is Christian, Ma practices a blend of Eastern religions and St. Clare's is a Catholic school.

I loved Mercy and her "bossy cheeks." Sometimes I thought she was crazy but she is 15 and I remember being very silly at that age. Rules were meant to be tested at that age. Mercy is caring and compassionate when it comes to her family. She's a bit tough to befriend though because she's so brazen, devil-may-care. I liked how much she loved her family and how all she did was for them. She was the best big sister. Her relationship with Tom felt a little forced. I liked how she never gives up and finds a way to accomplish her goals.

My favorite secondary character was Francesca, an Italian girl who loves to feed people. That's kind of the norm for Italians though. Francesca's family's restaraunt. It doesn't make Francesca unique. I quibble a bit at her attending a white, exclusive girls' school. Italian girls were expected to help their mothers and take care of their parents. I am not sure she would be engaged already in her teens. Marcus is a complete donkey's behind and I can't imagine her parents would want her to marry him if they knew what he was like. Headmistress won't let that happen!

Mercy's other school friends are difficult to distinguish. They each have distinct personalities and backgrounds but I kept getting confused as to which was which. An audiobook with a full cast or different voices would help with this confusion, especially since there are a lot of characters in this book. I liked the girls, especially the Texan. Elodie is a typical mean girl with the typical story. She gets more unique and interesting after the earthquake. The same is true for Headmistress.

I wasn't thrilled with Tom. I could have done without the romance. It didn't really add anything to the story. I admire Tom for his ambition and going for his dream, but the way he did it was not great. He's absent for most of the book so the relationship feels tacked on afterwards. He serves to give Mercy a dream and someone else to care about.

The most vibrant minor characters are Mercy's family. I liked them a lot. They're very colorful and interesting. Her mother is a bit too dramatic with her fortune telling business, and doom and gloom predictions. Ba is sometimes hard on Mercy but he loves her and teaches her to be the young woman she is. Mercy's little brother, Jack, is very sweet.

I liked this book with it's tough main character. It's not quite as compelling as Under the Painted Sky but parts are interesting and I was eager to find out what happened to Mercy next. I especially liked the feeling towards the end when 

The girls start Mercy's Kitchen and feed 100+ people. The coming together the author described in her note sounded like the feeling after 9/11. The outcome after rebuilding is the same too.


Content warning spoiler : 
Mild language. Mercy refers to a specific root as looking like a "man's energy pouch. 


[There's rumors the priest has a girlfriend and when searching for him after the earthquake, Mercy finds him in dead in bed, naked, with a married woman. Elodie's father has a mistress


Murder at Rough PointMurder at Rough Point by Alyssa Maxwell--Historical Mystery

September 1896- As the social season is coming to a close, Emma is excited at being requested to report on a Bohemian artists' retreat at her Uncle Frederick Vanderbilt's home, Rough Point. Emma is excited to test her journalistic skills and be recognized for her accomplishments but fears her well-meaning family made the request. She is surprised, and not all together pleased, to discover the request came from the former Edith Jones, now Mrs. Edward Wharton (not yet the famous novelist), the artist who inspired her parents to move to Paris, abandoning Emma to the sole care of Nanny. Emma is uneasy when she discovers undercurrents between many of the artists, including her own parents, who have come to surprise her. Everyone seems to be hiding something and no one seems happy. Emma is pleased when she is able to inspire wealthy patron Sir Randall Clifford, a sculptor who may buy Rough Point. Emma is shocked and saddened when Sir Randall never returns from a walk on the cliffs. Did he slip or was he pushed? Jesse Whyte isn't sure and he wants Emma's eyes and ears when she can observe for him. As a nor'easter rages outside, the guests are trapped inside with a murderer who is determined to see them all dead. Emma must enlist the aid of the one who knows the artists the best, even if it means facing her childhood nemesis, Mrs. Wharton.

I didn't find this story as engaging as the previous novels in the series. As a near-native of Rhode Island, the charm in the stories is watching Emma move around Newport and interact with the famous socialites of the day. I've been to The Breakers, Marble House and Beechwood (many many times) but never to Rough Point, where all of the action in this story takes place. Rough Point is currently decorated as the home of 20th century heiress Doris Duke. I'm more into the 19th century and the house no longer resembles the scene of the novel so I can not use this novel as a guidebook to 19th century Newport. All of the action takes place at a Rough Point that no longer exists.

Doris Duke's Rough Point- image from Newport Restoration Foundation

However, apparently there is still a kitchen garden, where a key scene takes place.

Doris Duke's Rough Point- image from Newport Restoration Foundation

The plot borrows from Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None (or so my mom told me when we JUST watched an episode of Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries with the same exact plot). This is not my favorite murder mystery convention. I'm squeamish and I prefer it when one singularly nasty person is murdered! I also felt the classic "dark and stormy night" plot was too much of a cliche, though it was a New England nor'easter instead of a snowstorm. The same plot was used nicely in Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas and The Twelve Clues of Christmas by Rhys Bowen. I probably would have liked this one more too if I wasn't a local. I figured who who the murderer was pretty early on but I wasn't sure because I just didn't see a motive for killing everyone. I had to keep reading very very late into the night/early morning to see who actually did it and why. I wasn't surprised at who but why was a bit of a surprise.

None of the artists are likable except Edith Wharton. Like Emma, I discovered things about each character that didn't appeal to her or me. I also picked up on possible undercurrents between two characters that were never fully addressed, perhaps because the story is told by Emma and she's an innocent maiden. Her parents have faults, mainly they're selfish, but they do love her as much as they can. I am not prejudiced against Edith Wharton the way Emma is, so I quite liked her. She proves to be the kind of friend Emma needs- one who can encourage her and help her on her literary path. I only really know Edith Wharton from her novels so I was excited to meet her early in her career in this novel. Her relationship with her husband was difficult but she sometimes made it worse with her own temper. They were a mismatched pair. Sir Randall seemed nice when he was with Emma but when things about him became known, he became more complicated. I think he was fundamentally a good person but made some mistakes that cost him dearly.

My favorite secondary character is Patch, Emma's spaniel mix. He plays a large role in the story. I'm a sucker for a good dog story, especially when the dog in the mystery is actually involved in the plot rather than a mere accessory. I can't wait to read more about Patch and Emma teaming up to solve mysteries.

Emma's character development was pretty good but without Derrick, the love triangle didn't work. Emma's sudden realization felt forced to me, to add an element of romance to the story. Emma's character is developing nicely. I really like her independence. She's still limited a bit by her relationship to the Vanderbilts and by gender norms, but with role models like Aunt Sadie and Edith Wharton, she is fast becoming a modern woman. She still has decisions to make and things to realize about what she wants out of life. I look forward to seeing her grow more.

This one is for hard core murder mystery fans, those who have walked past Rough Point and others who enjoy a classic murder mystery.

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