I recently read Outrun the Moon, by Stacey Lee. I'd previously read her debut novel, Under a Painted Sky, which I enjoyed, so I thought I'd give this one a go too.
Outrun the Moon is about Mercy Wong, a Chinese girl in 1906 San Francisco who wants an education. After eighth grade, education for Chinese girls is no longer offered, so she bribes her way into a high school for white girls. The deal is she gets to be a student tuition-free if she can get the headmaster approval to expand his chocolate shop to Chinatown. To cover the bribe, she poses as a nobleman's daughter from China. Unsurprisingly she meets opposition from almost everyone at the school, but she's determined to prove herself. "I will sell that chocolate, and show her that I have the staying power of a wine stain."
A few weeks into the term, the 1906 earthquake hits San Francisco. The school, and most of the city, is ruined, and a lot of people camp out in Golden Gate Park. Mercy and her fellow students learn to rely on each other and work together to not only survive, but do what they can to serve the other survivors around them.
I gave this book 4 of 5 stars on Goodreads.
The first few chapters are intriguing. You see Mercy in crammed Chinatown with her little brother, who has weak lungs after being forcibly vaccinated by the white government. You see her in the white areas being robbed and distrusted because she doesn't look like them. "You'll understand if I don't trust you." But you also see her internalizing the wisdom of a book for business women, and bribing her way into school, so she can give her brother a better life than the harsh conditions her father works in. And you see her never step down. "You'll understand if I don't trust you."
Once she gets to the school, the story is a little disjointed. She attends classes, some girls are nice to her, she has one main rival, she has one business meeting in her attempt to get the chocolate shop approved in Chinatown. The dust jacket made it sound like the earthquake's aftermath was the main plot, but it doesn't happen until the middle of the book. Knowing ahead of time about the earthquake, everything before it seemed like it was going nowhere. I doubted anyone would care about a chocolate shop after the earthquake, and the arguments with Mercy's main rival Elodie (the chocolatier/headmaster's daughter) seemed like little episodes rather than a line of plot dominoes. The first half of the book felt like setup, something that had to be there to put rivalries in place so the girls could overcome them later.
What did I like, then? Well, everything else. Mercy is a strong heroine, not aggressive or overbearing, but determined. She doesn't cower before higher society, and does what she can to better her life and her brother's.
Mercy has a great narrator voice, too. I've read a few books narrated in first person, present tense, and it seems that style has a higher risk of either A) the narration relying too heavily on the "I" inner world, and thus the action feeling airy like a dream, or B) the main character having no personality. This author falls into neither trap. The writing is evocative, and just plain interesting to read. "If someone had told me I would one day be defending Elodie's mole, I would've told them to go push a cow up a tree."
What I noticed about Mercy in this book (and Sammy in Under a Painted Sky) is that, concerning Chinese vs western, Stacey Lee knows her stuff. Mercy's home life, her whole being, is a good mix of eastern and Catholic. Mercy doesn't put much stock in her mother's fortunetelling, yet she describes people in terms of physiognomy. She doesn't put a lot of emphasis on her father's Catholic faith, but she's familiar with the confession box and prays to the Christian God a few times. She thinks of herself as Chinese, and she thinks of herself as an American. The author never throws in something Chinesey to be like, "Look! Now you can tell the character is Chinese." She never throws in something churchy to be like, "Now you can tell they're also western." Everything that's there is a part of who Mercy is.
Which brings me to this: How different are we, really? If I can read a book and identify with a made-up person who fears the number four, why can't people identify with other people in real life?
What great books have you read recently?
Yes and no.
A coworker introduced me to Audible last year. We're housekeepers who clean lodging units between guests, so we can listen to music or books while we work. I looked up some of the books I was interested in, which ranged from 9 to 12 hours. I thought it was a great idea. How convenient to keep work more interesting, finish books in 2-3 days, and not feel guilty spending all those hours reading in bed.
I've listened to some great ones. The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates by Caroline Carlson is a fantastic series - swashbuckling, hilarious, and piratical, yet still child-appropriate. And the narrator, Katherine Kellgren only improves it.
I've also listened to others ranging from pretty good to decent. Sometimes the narrators are straightforward and a bit bland, but the stories usually keep me interested. So, to start on something positive, here's what I do like about audiobooks:
Plenty of people like audiobooks. If you're interested, give it a try. It could help you get to all the books you haven't had time for. It could help you enjoy reading again. Or for the first time. As a writer, I hope my future books have audio versions.
But 7 months after joining Audible, I still can't get into it. I can enjoy listening to a book, but it can take me weeks to get through one when it's digital rather than live. At first I thought I just needed to get used to a new format, but for fiction it still feels like a chore. Here are my reasons and speculations why:
I like the idea of audiobooks. I like their convenience. But sadly I don't enjoy them as much as I'd like.
This is the first post for this website.
I'm a writer with one (not yet published) fantasy novel.
Around 2009 I read Shannon Hale's The Goose Girl. Despite being the typical princess-in-medieval-based-fantasy-setting, and despite being a rewrite of an old fairy tale, it felt original and real to me. The settings, the traditions, even an endless pine forest and a goose pasture came alive.
I thought, I want to do that.
The rest of the series, and her Princess Academy series, are like this too. She writes in beautiful language, not stuffy or flowery, but imaginative and evocative and succinct all at once. The "magic" system--while definitely fantastical--is subtle, and actually kind of plausible, like it's just another aspect of the natural world. (And a definite plus, the romance is clean.)
I currently have one book. No magic, but of course I hope it's a magical read. It's written and mostly edited, with the working title Beyond the Mountain. I began writing it about two years ago, around the winter of 2014-15, and it's still in editing and beta-reading now. That's a long time, but I've learned a lot about the writing process and about my personal process, so next time I'll have an idea what I'm doing!
I had the story in my head for a long time, exploring possible directions the plot could take and performing scenes repeatedly in my head for my own entertainment at night instead of going to sleep, until finally I decided I may as well write it down. I used no written outline, and took my time to write well (or so I believed), thinking the editing would therefore be pretty easy.
Turns out, I way overestimated word and scenes requirements. And the writing was bad. Not to mention my world-building evolved quite a bit. The result was: a lot of story to fix, a lot of scenes to cut, and a lot of wordiness to weed.
I doubt prewriting and outlining would have helped me a lot back then. I didn't have a firm enough grasp of story structure. But now, two years later, I have a far better grasp of that, and of all that happens during the writing process, and of all the things I should know about the story from the beginning.
I hope to start a new project soon, but for now it's Beyond the Mountain.