Tuesday, June 30, 2015


For the second time in a year, I  was back satiating my passion for BOSTON!  My goodness, by far my favourite US city!

I spent six days wandering the city as well as taking advantage of the amazing and quick commuter rail to head out to Concord to visit Orchard House (Louisa May Alcott's often homebase and the inspiration for Little Women)  and to visit Walden Pond, Thoreau's homestead and Ralph Waldo Emerson's house.

I love Boston.

Some of the reasons I love it:

Boston proper is a relatively small city (especially compared to Toronto) so it is so easy to walk around in.

The Common: Reading in the Common with an iced coffee while watching those Swan boats?  Love

The cobblestoned Freedom Trail.

Quincy Market and Faneuil Hall

The accents! To Canadian Rachel, most Americans have accents: but the Boston dialect is so distinctive and regionally specific----

THE NORTH END! Oh my goodness, I love the North End: site of Paul Revere's house and the Old North Church but also Boston's Little Italy---home to amazon cannoli and all manner of delicious Italian food at restaurants people line up for hours to get in.

Back Bay and Beacon Hill: the rows of red-bricked ornate architecture, the public alleys and Boulevards

THE PEOPLE: the people in Boston are so friendly. When I was there last autumn, stepping out of the airport, a woman used her Charlie Card to get me on the subway and rode past her stop to make sure I found the Back Bay station

The Green Dragon Tavern: I love the ambience and the ghosts of the rebel Sons of Liberty plotting their revolution

The Harbour: gorgeous! I mean, one moment you are remembering a ton of darjeeling was tipped over the side, the next you are gazing over at New England lighthouses

The people ( I think I mentioned this )

The Old State House and the Old South Meeting House: just walking Boston gives you a sense that you have peeled back a few hundred years


pictures! ( ever so craftily stolen from instagram)

I read great books in Boston

Finally finished Mad Miss Mimic by Sarah Henstra

American Eve: Evelyn Nesbit, Stanford White, the Birth of the 'It' Girl and the Crime of the Century by Paula Uruburu ( note: this non-fiction is UNPUTFRIGGINDOWNABLE )

Popular by Maya van Wagenen 

The Daring Exploits of a Runaway Heiress which was adorable and snarky 

I was at opening night of Newsies on its Boston tour stop and it was my first time seeing the highly anticipated Broadway show ( I have been stoked about it ).  Ironically, I am seeing it opening night here in Toronto.  Lots of Newsies for me!

Friday, June 19, 2015

'Caroline in the City' is on youtube and I am very ranty about it......

I was amused to find all episodes of Caroline in the City on youtube. I wasn’t a diehard follower but I had seen several episodes esp of the first season in high school and I liked the sarcastic bite of the humour mostly between Caroline’s cartoonist Richard ( who, clad in black and obsessed with existential poetry was a complete anomaly in 90s heroic standards) and Annie (the best character on the show, Caroline’s best friend and a dancer in Cats).

So, when I discovered it ( probably after thinking about it while talking to Allison)  I watched a few eps here and there on youtube, recorded from syndication on some British station as evident through the v.o. on the credits and enjoyed revisiting the 90s clothes, the 90s hairstyles, Lea Thompson’s dimples and the broadway references.   Note: there is a fab epwith David Hyde Pierce playing an accountant who wants to be in Cats. You should find it.

But then, the show takes a nosedive.  A nosedive.   I don’t know (and I have a barely working knowledge of this ) if it was taking cues from relationship triangles and disasters in Friends but it goes so way off the deep end and I GOT VERBALLY ANGRY last night.

ANGRY at a sitcom.  Why? Because I am an adult and I can.

Let’s recap the relationships in Ye Olde C in the C.  You may need wine 

Richard ---- morose, bitter artist turned colourist who has a thing for sunny Caroline but doesn’t realize it til Caroline almost marries Del---her poofy haired greeting card mogul.  Caroline doesn’t recognize this.  (note: my teenage self never realized that Richard is basically gay.  Now, it is blatantly obvious.  Regardless, Richard shoulda ended up with Annie or with Del.  Whomever.).

 Caroline----perky Wisconsin native with dimples who has her own single girl in the city comic strip. In the second season ---after a few mixed paths and almost-happens realizes that she loves Richard.  This is not done well. This is not done subtly. Culminating in her leaving Richard a message on his 
( hello 90s!) answering machine which his returned-from-Italy old girlfriend Julia erases.
sometimes Richard dates Lorelai Gilmore

Then Richard marries Julia!!!  After pretending to be married to Caroline.  This isn’t even some charming screwball comedy move from the 30s….

Then we get season three which, I swear, I may  not actually make it through:
Julia---- I HATE IT WHEN writers resort to a Julia.  The Men love B**ches Trope. I HATE IT!   The same guy who would fall for Caroline would not end up marrying ( and yet he does) the woman who albeit gorgeous, he left in Italy with his memories of backpacking.  It is  awful.  The two have no onscreen chemistry and the love triangle is so very sickening.  Julia is a horrible woman and she does dastardly things and we’re supposed to hate her but root for good girl Caroline to win Richard. But, who WANTS Richard now that he has proven terrible decision making skills? Who wants Richard to be the hero when he knows that he is susceptible to a gorgeous but horrible woman with a trust fund?

Not me.  Anything that was endearing and black and artistic and nerdy about him before is now just annoying.  And Caroline is annoying because she gives into Julia and I want them all ( except for Annie ) to fall off a cliff.

But the  show decides (cue from Friends?) to finally get Richard and Caroline together.    In the stupidest way possible.  The absolute worst writing of any “love” story ever.   And they keep poking at it with episodes soapily linked to each other in To Be Continued. It is so genuinely awful.

First, they have the entire ensemble in an unrealistic flashback bottle episode where they are all tied up by a marriage counselor.

Then they release Julia’s trust fund so Richard is no longer a starving artist and can paint in a penthouse.  This is disingenuous to the character who has spent seasons ALMOST getting his big break (in a funny and clever way). They just cash in their bored chips and GIVE him money. All that clever writing work. UGH!

He also doesn’t have to work for Caroline anymore which means they can’t have their daily domestic spats; nor can Annie show up from across the hall and engage him in a battle of sardonic quips.

They paint themselves into the worst corner ever and do you know how they get out of it?  ( I am rolling my eyes here): by having Caroline and Annie think that Julia has cheated Richard prompting Richard to follow his wife to Spain to confront her. Thereafter, Annie and Caroline also go to Spain and Richard almost gets trampled BY A BULL RUN ( oh how I wish he had).

And this was the episode I watched last night after a few pints with a friend and I WAS SO LIVID that someone ( a many someones, to be exact) made actual real live money and lots of it for writing this awful nonsense.  Like give me the money and make Richard get trampled by the bulls….

And it gets even worse…

Caroline and Annie  have apologized for their mistake and gone back to New York.  Richard follows Caroline because on his deathbed from bull trample ( he’s not even scraped) he re-evaluated his life and wanted to be with Caroline.

You two shouldn't be together. The cat deserves more happiness
And I didn’t get past this moment so I cannot tell you what happens next because I was yelling at my computer and because I love my MacBook Air so much didn’t want to  be inspired to throw it across my room in frustration.

So what have we learned?  A.) people who write throaway bull running episodes owe me money B.) I hate it when writers create a “love triangle” by having their heroine or hero end up with a jerky mean and evil person. WHY WILL WE LIKE THEM IF THEY MAKE POOR LIFE CHOICES AND FALL FOR HORRIBLE people?  C.) the 90s. oh the 90s 

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

book gush! Tiffany Girl by Deeanne Gist

Rambly Rambly Book Gush

I am going to go straight out and say that Deeanne Gist hasn’t always been a favourite read of mine. Not her writing ability, so much as her heroines and the conventional wrap-up and message of her stories.  But,I read them all. I guess because I saw some spark I knew might be one day fully realized.

I followed her from her Bethany House days to Howard and found that I enjoyed the Fair books more than I had her previous books. We are, thought I, on the right track. Maybe because she had moved away from ( there's nothing wrong with this ) a more conservative inspirational publisher and had a little more wiggle room.

Then, Tiffany Girl came along.   And this is the book that, I think, Gist was meant to write and it makes the statements I wish she had made throughout her entire fictional career.  You see, Gist’s previous romances hedged on the happy ending.  As was part and parcel of the demographic she was writing for and the convention she was writing in ( again, nothing wrong with this) but both present an odd paradox for a romantically inclined feminist.  I often find myself at a bit of a complicated odds in my reading life: for while I love romance, I am a bit of a complex contradiction, sad often that the heroine’s life really STARTS when she weds and the independence and spirit that saw her to that eventuality sometimes gets tucked under a carpet of domesticity.  Of course---and slightly tangential here---we have series like Thoene’s Zion Covenant where Elisa and Murphy are just as exciting to watch after marriage as before. Raybourn's City of Jasmine is another example of this trope working well. The same with the Scarlet Pimpernel, where the marriage off-sets a romance more dazzling than before. 
But, for the most part, the happily ever after sealed the deal with Gist’s heroines and I found myself thinking a bit of them had died.  The prose and story waltzed around the eventuality of marriage. Rightly so, as this was the focal point of so many women’s stories in historical periods.  But, I digress....

Here, Gist decides to invert the trope that she so long fictionally subscribed to and, in what I find a brilliant tongue-in-cheek colouring outside the lines ( brilliantly paired, here, with the artistry motif) she writes a treatise on the very thing that made her career: the romance ending in marriage.

Flossie is not your ordinary girl. Instead, she is believably complex. Like so many women she is torn between her desire for her husband and children as well as her passion for her art.  When she is offered the chance to be a Tiffany Girl: to work the stained glass for the grand exhibit at the Chicago World’s Fair, she grabs it at the reins.  (Note: this is brilliant because while so much fiction in the CBA market focuses on the actual fair, this is in the periphery ---art meant to be displayed there that gives us a bustling New York backdrop).    Despite the reservations of her parents, who have supported her interest in art and her artistic schooling to this point in hopes she would give it up for a husband and babies, she moves out to become a New Woman and takes up residence in a boarding house.

For the first half or so of the novel what we see realized is one of my favourite types of story:  an almost bildungsroman of a woman trying to fit into a mould that she is not meant for.  Flossie is certain that her intrinsic ideals are well-matched with the New Woman archetype and yet she is not a character who can be fit into a type. She immediately falls back on cordial hospitality: befriending the boarders and setting up little dinner parties and games.

Reeve Wilder ( note: by far Gist’s best hero and one of my favs of the year) is not under Flossie’s spell.  He thinks New Women are like to undermine and overhaul all that is sacred about motherhood, home life and family.  His dark and lonely past help realistically inform his distrust of this new model of women and he speaks out quite plainly against Flossie.  Yet, they are neighbours, and while he cannot advocate for her lifestyle, he is intrigued by the light that surrounds her, her artistic sensibility and the warmth that imbues every single person in the boarding house. 

There are charming scenes where Flossie pricks away at Reeve’s icy exterior just as there are scenes involving Reeve and an elderly widow --- where we get to see the true treasure behind the New Woman rant and spiels.

Both characters are --as I feel so often as a reader/ woman ---contradictions. Brilliant, befuddling contradictions as so many of us!  Real, fleshy human beings with hopes and flaws. Do they grow? Absolutely.
When Reeve begins writing a fictionalized serial about a New Woman, modeled on Flossie, of course, the book's ideologies slowly start to shift and its stern yet subtly woven statement begins to emerge.

Everyone wants a happy ending for the fictional heroine. And a happy ending for fictional serialized girl means giving up her photography business ( for what married woman can work!) and falling into marital bliss.  The editor basically tells Reeve he has set the story up for this moment. This trapping is the only seeming resolution for two characters of 1890s New York.    Of course, the readers expect the same.  But something has changed. Reeve has begun to understand why women want to make their own money, why women want to pursue their passions and leave their indelible marks outside of the expectations and industry of men.    Reeve has begun to see why Flossie wants what she wants.

The desire is not to overthrow him, the desire is for her to be herself—have her own passion and dreams.

In ingenious parallel, meta-fictional and fictional worlds collide and intertwine.

There is some confusion, some dancing, some spats, some cute moments and a few kisses ( much hotter, with innuendo-ed language that far outweighs any further descriptive) and the metaphor of doors being open and closed.

There are ups and downs as Flossie learns that her passion for her art and her natural skills are at odds with each other. She recognizes that she is average. Quite remarkable for a woman in a historical fiction novel, where we pride ourselves on women who break boundaries and excel. She does these things, yes, but on a small scale.

And Reeve....well Reeve.... learns what it is to let his guard down.  And he writes some more and she finds herself in his words – and not in words crafted around her caricature, where her flaws and contradictions are paraded, but in soft, dulcet tones.

And romance ensues.

Real, toe-tingly romance.

And we whirl and twirl and Blue Danube our way into a pattern that is so familiar and that is exhumed so expertly into marital and domestic certainty…..and yet….


This book may have lost me if it had not been able to maintain its equilibrium between the two characters.  This book is romantic feminism at its best when it works with the often explored theme of shared marital finances.

Reeve and Flossie are not of a time period where they can shake the world to such extent it turns on its ear.  Reeve and Flossie are not of a time where women can work and still be married.  But, Gist is brilliant enough to assuage convention by carefully threading what true independence and collaboration mean.  And, for her, and for her characters, this is deftly interwoven in terms of money, earnings and how married couples divide property.    There are limitations, but these are not the days of pin money and rescinded property.

So she makes her statement and it is better still because it is historically plausible.   We know that Reeve and Flossie are part of a chugging motion that will echo into the future and bring us to the point where we are at today: a point where women with independent passions and means outside of familial life are advocated for as much as those who choose marriage and families.

I suppose ( and I thought of this continually while writing) , part of the reason I always read Gist’s books is because the historical accuracy and research is resplendent. From basketball to trolley assaults, she outdoes herself here. 

I also want to make note of the inspirational content.  Gist was indeed an inspirational author.  This is very much a general market book. There is nothing christian about this story. Save in its subtle themes ( i.e., Reeve pays Flossie’s debt at one point, anonymously and without wanting payment).   However, she keeps all *ahem* action behind closed doors.  That doesn’t detract from the sexual tension, though. It is palpable.   (okay, so there’s this hot scene where Flossie arrives in the middle of the night chilled to the bone from wandering in a blizzard and boarding house mate Reeve has waited up for her and he rubs her feet so they don’t get frostbite. And this is, like, the sexiest thing since Willoughby helped Marianne Dashwood with a sprained ankle or since Dick Dewy and Fancy Day washed their hands together in Under the Greenwood Tree)


 "She did want that, there was no denying it. For years, all she'd ever dreamed of was growing up and becoming a wife and mother, but that was before women had any choices. Now they were earning degrees. They were asking for the vote. They were even securing jobs in professions never before accessible to them."

"Managing comes naturally to a woman. She has been managing homes since the beginning of time. But the quality we, of the stronger sex, assume she lacks is business ability. Yet this writer had an opportunity to sit with the head of the only shop of woman glasscutters in the world. She and the dozen young women who work under her direction made--without any assistance from men---the award-winning windows of the Tiffany's chapel.

"Their eggs are all in one basket, and when you've only one basket, it stands to reason that it had better be a good one."

"Instead, he found her mouth again and wrapped his arms clear around her. "Open your mouth, magpie."
He kissed her, really kissed her. She made mewling sounds. She raked her fingers through his hair. She twisted against him. Bracketing his ears, she pushed his mouth away.  "I thought I was going to die during the photos!" 

"That's the whole point of being a New Woman. They don't want to be reduced to housewifery. They feel it would take away everything that is special about them."

"Well, now she really was a New Woman and also in love. Neither looked even remotely like her fantasies."

Monday, June 15, 2015

Happy Book Birthday: The Sound of Diamonds

Full Disclosure: I haven't finished this book yet; but I wanted to make sure I was drawing your attention to it.

I love featuring debut novelists and Rachelle Rea's passion for excavating the Reformation period in a genre and market that often fails to delve into this part of history is very exciting indeed.

From the publisher: 

Her only chance of getting home is trusting the man she hates.
With the protestant Elizabeth on the throne of England and her family in shambles, Catholic maiden Gwyneth seeks refuge in the Low Countries of Holland, hoping to soothe her aching soul. But when the Iconoclastic Fury descends and bloodshed overtakes her haven, she has no choice but to trust the rogue who arrives, promising to see her safely home to her uncle's castle. She doesn't dare to trust him...and yet doesn't dare to refuse her one chance to preserve her own life and those of the nuns she rescues from the burning convent.
Dirk Godfrey is determined to restore his honor at whatever cost. Running from a tortured past, Dirk knows he has only one chance at redemption, and it lies with the lovely Gwyneth, who hates him for the crimes she thinks he committed. He must see her to safety, prove to the world that he is innocent, prove that her poor eyesight is not the only thing that has blinded her but what is he to do when those goals clash?
The home Gwyneth knew is not what she once thought. When a dark secret and a twisted plot for power collide in a castle masquerading as a haven, the saint and the sinner must either dare to hold to hope...or be overcome.

(pick up a copy at Amazon) 

Rea captures the gritty depth and dark religious fervour shading the Reformation period.  She sprinkles her prose with an imaginative tint and ensures that she infuses her words with the right amount of romance and intrigue. 

Her spirit and passion for grammar and the written word are evident ten-fold in the parts of Sound of Diamonds I have had the privilege to read thus far.

 Rachelle wrote her first historical romance novel the summer after her sophomore year of college. Two years later, only a few short months after graduation, she signed a three-book deal to release that novel--and its sequels. Times gone by snatch Rachelle close. So she reads and writes about years long ago. 

Monday, June 08, 2015

Signed Sealed Delivered: from Paris with Love

Oh guys,  if you want the television equivalent of gooey mac and cheese then that is what SSD is for.

When you want to believe that the world is a lovely place full of lovely people with lots of integrity who wear their hearts on their sleeves---- then that is also what SSD is for.

It is full of the most delightful quirky characters: all relics of a time past who are trying to fit into a changing world.  They are endearing and loveable for their obvious eccentricities.

The POstables have returned.   Shane and Oliver ( he is, as you know, my ideal man ) and Rita and Norman.

This time their dead letter office mystery involves divorce papers that never arrived for a marriage on the brink of a terrible mistake.    As is the usual, the dead letter mystery parallels a major life event for one of the POstables: this time Oliver and is horribly annoying wife Holly who left him at the Post Museum ( how could she. I will never forgive her. You suck, Holly. DID YOU SEE WHAT AN AMAZING GUY YOU HAD!!! stupid Holly).

Anyways, Holly is back and Shane is pining.   Rita is swept away as Miss Special Delivery and Norman thinks he has competition to his owl-loving gal.

It's all so sweet I wanna wrap it up and put a bow on it.

SSD believes in love. And in marriage. And in tradition.
c/o Hallmark Movies and Mysteries
 It is a throw back ---as Oliver O'Toole is--- to a time of words and chivalry. To a time when society wasn't tripping over itself to move faster.

It is just delectable. A delectable ode to the written word.  Here, we have a new motif constructed in Holly's new penchant for poetry.  Her poems and Oliver's reaction to them are one of the highlights of a well-crafted hour and a half.

Previously, Signed, Sealed, Delivered was a series with hour-long episodes featuring a small post office mystery. Hallmark, since, has opted to explore a different format with several little self-contained films a year.

This works for me.  Anything works for me! ....As long as I get to hang out with my lovely POstables.

Marry me, Oliver. Marry me now!

For those of you who enjoy Shane and Oliver, you will get some darling moments. For those of you who also enjoy Rita and Norman, your heart will end up in your throat. OH MY GOODNESS!

With thanks to our friends at Grace Hill Media for allowing this Canadian to watch a media screener of the new film.

Thursday, June 04, 2015

Theatre Review: 'Titanic'

Here’s the deal: if Kat likes something then you know it has something going for it.

Ever since I’ve known her, Kat has loved the musical Titanic.   So I knew when it came to Toronto that a.) we had to go that b.) it would have something amazing going for it.

Kat is one of the most intelligent people I have ever met. So, she has no time for dumb stuff. 

Before I go further, let us make a few things clear a.) Titanic: the Musical is not as terrible as Titanic: the Musical sounds like it could be b.) it is a predecessor of the crappy James Cameron film. It has nothing to do with the film other than the fact that they are set on the same boat.

So I went in with the expectation that Kat likes it so it will have something going for it.

It had a ton going for it including one of the best Broadway scores I have heard in my lifetime.  Maury Yeston (Nine, Grand Hotel ) doesn’t just jukebox the heck outta some nonsense content. He goes deep, he goes big and there is not a note of anachronism in his rendering of whatever musical period he is invested in.

For Titanic, a welcome marriage of Celtic influence, Edwardian popular pomp (think Sousa) and mournful melody ( think Vaughan Williams) as well as a reverent hymn and ragtime and dance hall: music of the period is knit together in a smorgasbord of perfectly suited style.

It's going to hades, Mr. Andrews, but you get a darned good song outta it

The music is so clever (the lyrics, too, but more on that in a moment ) that even its “happiest” melodies have a portentous note.  It is rapturous to listen to how intelligent this all is.  And when you add the lyrics and the marvelous way he knits the quilt of the story (Stoker and Telegraph operator have a duet,  the classes are distinguished with a triad  of couples--a third class Irish lass and her fellow, a social climbing American wannabe, Isador Strauss of Macy’s fame and his wife), as well as the captain, the builder and the owner  create a sequence of musical vignettes.  All, of course, are tied together in the metaphor of a floating city or world. The metaphor of Titanic as a representation of civilization is a recurring motif and embroidered throughout with references not only to class structure but to men speeding ahead of its time. For one, it notes the pyramids( as an example of many).

To add, musical tropes made slightly minor recur. At one moment a theme promenades the grand and opulent  launch of a great ship, when the theme is revisited it evokes the frantic and harried frenzy of passengers spilling into the lifeboats. 

And it goes even deeper.  Every lyric preludes what will happen.  For me, the most surprising and interestingly innovative duet is between Barrett, the Stoker, and Bride, the telegraph operator.  While Bride plunks out a message to Barrett’s love behind he sings of the loneliness made moot by Marconi’s world-bridging apparatus. The self same apparatus that will at once isolate and colonize the entire ship with hope and despair.  A lifeline when the Californian is near, a death-knell as it pats out the last SOS signal.     And yet this isolation juxtaposed with Barrett’s singing the imagery of heaven’s blanket foreshadows a starless, still night and the prayers of thousands facing the glass- shattered pricks of their icy deaths.

Another astonishing musical decision of Yeston’s was to forego the music history informs us was played on the voyage with his own similar composition.  The meters of his own hymn certainly reflect the hymns that would have been sung aboard ship while his version of the Autumn waltz( largely believed to be the last tune the band played as the ship sank ) has the same interesting measure and sequence as the original.

The musical is the best version of historical fiction: it creates its own world, populates it with actual personages and makes them more representation than individual character.  The characters here represent themes. Yeston doesn’t try to develop them---nor should he. They are already set in stone. Moreover, he rotates the carousel of the world so that stage and song-time is distributed in so many directions, it would do a disservice to funnel on one “lead” character.

This is a chorus piece. This is an ensemble dream.

The musical certainly captures the essence of the period and the event ( as mentioned, most pronouncedly in its musical setting) but from a deftly altered way.

The staging of the tour (late of Britain and now over in North America to make its rounds) is sparse.  You will use your imagination but the story, song sequences and sound make you feel as if your modern era has been peeled away.

There is a cacophony of eerie sounds and joyful robust resolutions. There is a layer of hope and dismal despair at once. The score, here, is a veritable feast. I cannot remember the last time I was this impressed by a Broadway score and surprised it took near 20 years from its debut for me to get my teeth into it.

It’s clever storytelling surrounded by majestic and magnificent music and, as it has nothing to do with effing James Cameron’s stupid film, you can go in satisfied and leave, as I did, with expectations exceeded.

 Also, everyone, the first 16 minutes of the show is brilliant storytelling. THIS is how you introduce character, theme and circumstance. It is how you establish action. Luckily, for musical theatre lovers, it is done in a brilliant and scrumptious way.