Review: Mr Chen’s Emporium by Deborah O’Brien

Review: Mr Chen’s Emporium

Author: Deborah O’Brien

Published: Bantam September 2012

Synopsis: Mr Chen’s Emporium is an enchanting tale of forbidden love and following one’s heart… In 1872, seventeen-year-old Amy Duncan arrives in the Gold Rush town of Millbrooke, having spent the coach journey daydreaming about glittering pavilions and gilded steeples. What she finds is a dusty main street lined with ramshackle buildings. That is until she walks through the doors of Mr Chen’s Emporium, a veritable Aladdin’s cave, and her life changes forever. Though banned from the store by her dour clergyman father, Amy is entranced by its handsome owner, Charles Chen …In present-day Millbrooke, recently widowed artist Angie Wallace has rented the Old Manse where Amy once lived. When her landlord produces an antique trunk containing Amy’s intriguingly diverse keepsakes – both Oriental and European – Angie resolves to learn more about this mysterious girl from the past. And it’s not long before the lives of two very different women, born a century apart, become connected in the most poignant and timeless ways.

Read the first chapter HERE at Book’d Out

Status: Read from September 16 to 17, 2012 — I own a copy {Courtesy Random House}

My Thoughts:

In the present day, newly widowed Angela makes an impulsive decision to escape the city and move to Millbrooke during a weekend trip to the country. Intrigued by the history of her new home, the ‘Old Manse’, Angie is thrilled to discover a cache of keepsakes that likely belonged to the young woman that once lived there.
More than a century before, eighteen year old Amy Duncan locked away her most treasured possessions before eloping from her family home with the man she loved. A ‘chinaman’ raised by a local wealthy white family, Mr Charles Chen won her heart on her first visit to his Emporium in Millbrooke’s main street.
In Deborah O’Brien’s debut novel, Mr Chen’s Emporium, Angie’s and Amy’s parallel stories of loss, heartbreak, passion and love unfold.

It is the story of Amy, a bright young woman coming of age in 1872, that I found the most appealing in Mr Chen’s Emporium. The daughter of a clergyman, Amy returns to her family, living in the small Gold Rush town of Millbrooke, after several years spent with her aunt, in order to help her ailing mother. I liked Amy’s mix of spirit and innocence, naive and dutiful she had an unexpected core of strength and passion that is appealing. Though her father demands plain modesty and piety, Amy is delighted by the exotic wares she discovers in Mr Chen’s Emporium, and is as equally as fascinated by it’s owner. Despite the prejudices of both her father and many in the wider community, Amy falls in love with Charles Chen, and he with her. I would have liked to have learnt more about Amy and her relationship with Charles immediately following their marriage, and the repercussions of her choice which are glossed over in favour of a summary of sorts.

As a new widow, Angie is still grieving the sudden loss of her husband when she decides a change of scenery could offer her peace of mind. She rents the Old Manse with a view to buy, and begins to renovate it as well as teach art classes in the dining room. I was sympathetic to Angie’s need to fill her days, and even understood her deciding to take on a boarder, Jack, for both practical and emotional reasons. Unfortunately it was Angie’s relationship with Jack that soured me on her character. While I can see how the author perhaps felt the societal disapproval between Amy’s love for Charles and Angie’s dalliance with Jack could compare, I didn’t find it an appropriate parallel. Angie’s behaviour crosses a line for me, even though she may be able to wield the excuse of her grief and his wife’s distance.

Though there are broad points of synchronicity within the dual narratives of Angie and Amy the links are mainly conceptual rather than concrete. I would have liked to have seen the author create a stronger connection between the two women, for example Amy could have been a budding painter, or Angie’s deceased husband could have had Chinese heritage. I did appreciate the structure of the story, framed by the seasons and moving clearly between Now and Then, though again I felt the opportunity to draw more obvious parallels between the lives of the women were missed.
However the novel does have its charms, the modern day Millbrooke comes alive and the historical period of the late 1800’s on the goldfields, though only briefly sketched, is fascinating. The supporting characters in both eras are well drawn, I especially liked the ambitious Eliza, determined to study medicine in a time when such a thing was thought unbecoming, and Richard even though his reclusive manner branded him a little odd. I also enjoyed the idle chatter of Angie’s painting class ladies, and I love platypi, such interesting creatures!

I find it interesting that O’Brien plans a sequel to Mr Chen’s Emporium and I am curious to see what happens next in Millbrooke. Mr Chen’s Emporium, is a light, engaging novel which I think would particularly appeal to readers of historical and romantic fiction.

Available To Purchase

@Random House Australia I @BoomerangBooks I @Booktopia I @Amazon Kindle

Via Booko

9 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Marg
    Sep 18, 2012 @ 20:35:02

    Yep! My own thoughts touch on many of the issues you have raised here.



  2. Margaret Lynette Sharp
    Sep 18, 2012 @ 21:07:57

    A very revealing review of what sounds to be a historically and intrinsically interesting book.



  3. Sue G (@luv2read66)
    Sep 18, 2012 @ 22:07:38

    That book sounds really good! Thanks for the review 🙂



  4. Burgandy Ice
    Sep 18, 2012 @ 23:29:49

    Thoughtful review!! I like historical romances. This one looks interesting. Thx for sharing!!



  5. Heidi'sbooks
    Sep 19, 2012 @ 06:13:29

    This book definitely looks intriguing. I’m going to track it down. Thanks for the review.



  6. Trackback: Mr Chen’s Emporium | Funken Wagnel
  7. Sharon Alger (@Funken_Wagnel)
    Sep 30, 2012 @ 16:32:31

    It’s interesting what you said about giving both characters from different times a more solid connection. I kept expecting to find out they were somehow related!



  8. Trackback: Review: The Jade Widow by Deborah O’Brien | book'd out

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