Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Book Gush: Series Alert --- Amory Ames series by Ashley Weaver




This series is total Rachel Catnip!!! England in the 1930s, a glamorous playboy and his smart amateur detective wife, glittering scenes, a love story that is my favourite type full of misunderstandings and stolen gazes and two people who love each other deeply but JUST ARE NOT COMMUNICATING and it is all very Percy and Marguerite!



I am sorry I didn't gush about them one by one but time slips by! 


I really very much devoured the books in this series and I am so sorry it took me so long to get to talking about them with you.  They have all the deep characterization and POV remnant of Maisie Dobbs.  Amory is a very pragmatic character in her internal workings and I love seeing the world and the people she encounters first-hand.   I also don’t let myself fall into the trap of guessing the murderer because I am too busy in the moment: reveling in the sights and smells of a perfectly illustrated masquerade,  visiting the seaside in an Agatha Christie-esque getaway of murder and a myriad of well-developed suspects.  I want to fall into the world and see it slowly... ruminatively as Amory does. I want to see every interaction through her eyes and experience the slow build , the mysteries, the inevitable mayhem.   Inasmuch as a reader wants to slip into the world and setting --- it is integral that they have the most winsome guide through which to appropriate perspective. Amory is very much the type of first person protagonist I want to spend time with.  

As for Milo, playboy about town who has the scandalous habit of tripping into the flash of a photo lens at the wrong time, I spent the first few books trying to cast out ideas of him like a line to water--- wanting him to be more than he is in hopes to justify his behaviour.  Then, I realized that I didn’t need to impress my own ideas onto a character who is just enough with his mishaps. It doesn’t need to be toward a greater purpose on a larger stage of adventure.  Part of Amory’s development is in her understanding of Milo and the shifts in their relationship.  While the obvious Nick and Nora Charles comparison is inevitable, I liken Amory and Milo more to Harriet and Peter in ways--- for Weaver takes more time to examine the heart of their relationship beyond the (and it is delightful!) banter. 


So what we have here to stir in our pot is every ingredient of the golden age of mystery: dazzling setting, continental adventure, clothes and capers and suspects and murders-to-solve – but what differentiates it is (something I often find when reading contemporary published books set in the golden age) keen, beguiling characterization.  Each character---forefront and in periphery--- are carefully developed.   And Amory and Milo –from flirting around their passion and love for each other, to playing at amateur sleuths, to trying to figure out the best way to hold onto what makes them complete as a couple is the deftest, most lovely study ever.   I root for this couple --- as a reader I love the happy sigh when they cross a hurdle large or small – as much as I love the excruciatingly slow moments ticking through their latest misunderstanding.





If you like Rhys Bowen or Vivian Conroy, Sayers or Christie, or Deanna Raybourn, then this is the series for you. 






Tuesday, October 10, 2017

What's Your Favourite Herringford and Watts story?



I was in Grand Rapids on the weekend and met a bunch of fun readers and signed some books and a question I often get asked is “What is your favourite of the Herringford and Watts books?”

All authors know this is a tough question--- as there is a lot of me in each of the three novels and three novellas and there are reasons I love each and every one of them.  But, when it comes to a personal favourite, I have to say Lesson in Love and Murder.  I really enjoyed writing the book and researching it ( what is more fun than spending some time in historic Chicago?).  Chicago is a city in which I have had some amazing times with friends, seen some amazing theatre ( Hamilton!) and stumbled upon amazing moments of history.   As a stand in for the usual character of Toronto, it was so much fun to play with Edwardian Chicago …. A city that is probably most like Toronto.  


I loved the history and weaving in historical figures like Emma Goldman and Theodore Roosevelt.  Spending hours reading the transcripts of Roosevelt’s words to the convention at the Coliseum as well as learning the ins and outs of this long ago building were just so exciting to me.  I loved having the idea of anarchy and submission underscore the mystery and adventure Jem, Merinda, Jasper and Ray find themselves in.


I was able to draw on a lot of my family history for this book.  My dad is a chaplain with the RCMP (then, the Royal Northwest Mounted Police) and mounties—thanks to my dad – and his cousin Jonathan (Johnny) who died in the line of duty --- were a major influence on the story. As was dad’s stories from the Icelandic settlement in Riverton, spending time with his grandmother and grandpa at the farm.  Tying in my Icelandic heritage was a lot of fun----

The epigraphs:  I wrote all of the epigraphs and footnotes for the Herringford and Watts series and while I loved creating the guidebooks penned by fictional M C Wheaton and Flora Merriweather, etc.,. there was something about creating Benny and Jonathan’s Guide to the Canadian Wilderness which made me laugh and was a cross between Due South, an actual Mountie handbook from 1909, memoirs from a new Mountie recruit and Robert Service.   I had a lot of fun penning these.

The characters:  Jem, Merinda, Jasper and Ray remain some of my dearest friends even as I take a break from their world to pursue Hamish DeLuca’s story in 1930s Boston.  I loved the interaction between all of them here--- and throwing Benny Citrone in the mix as the perfect counterpart to Merinda—and to keep Jasper on his toes.   The main quartet is faced with trauma and uncertainty that ripples for years and years after  and each deepens a little.   I love the look at the early days of Jem and Ray’s marriage--- after their whirlwind courtship and their reckless idea to get married so soon.   There is a lot of romance in their story and as a hopeless romantic, I love any scenes with Jem and Ray.    It is the time when we see Jem’s role changing most pronouncedly:  learning she is to become a mother, losing her one strand of independence as a shopgirl at Spenser’s --- she is once and for all transposed into the domestic sphere no matter how she wants to break away and run off from Merinda.  At one moment, she runs off from Merinda for Ray and that was a challenging shift in their central relationship.

Image result for lesson in love and murderJasper and Merinda also experience some friction. They quarrel and Merinda is forced to –more than before—decide what her relationship with Jasper is meant to be.

Benny Citrone—first off, I love the close brotherly relationship between Benny and Jonathan --- it is a story of sacrifice and loyalty and I really enjoyed working it out---   But then Benny and Merinda! They’re perfect for each other in one way but from two totally different worlds. You can love something and let it go…


Finally, Ray and Viola.  Viola is Ray’s homeland--- the DeLuca siblings stayed so close together due to the loss they experienced re-routing their lives from Italy to Canada and Viola is very much Ray’s north star.   A tragedy at the end of Lesson in Love and Murder not only shifts the relationship between the two siblings but has a long after-effect--- an effect so long cast out that it influences the generation after --- Luca Valari ( Ray’s nephew ) and Hamish (Ray and Jem’s son) still feel the brunt of this action and tragedy in their stories decades later.





 There are a million and one reasons why I loved writing the Herringford and Watts series--- some of the most fun I have  ever had--- but Lesson in Love is just that extra special mélange of every ingredient that I so loved about playing in this world. 

Monday, October 09, 2017

We need to talk about "The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck" by Bethany Turner



I LOVE THIS AUTHOR and I WILL READ ANYTHING SHE WRITES FOREVER --- fyi. And she deserves a space in the Inspy writing and publishing world and she will continue to teach us about ourselves and encourage us to hold up a lens and look inside...

I read this book basically in one sitting (well two sittings on two different flights and over a layover) en route to Michigan to speak and sign and speak.   ( best weekend ever).


And I should preface by saying this is not Rachel catnip material --- at least when it comes to love story--- but it IS Rachel catnip material in that the author is a brilliantly competent one I can learn things from.  Reading as a writer is essential and there was so much that Turner can teach writers in any genre on plotting, pacing and interweaving backstory.


But, it wasn't a Rachel catnip book and isn't that wonderful and awesome!?? Because what may not be my cup of tea is EXACTLY WHAT YOU LOOK FOR IN STORIES AND ROMANTIC TROPES and that is why I think it is important for me to write about---- what I spell out may be your very favourite devices starring your very favourite kinds of romances and that is wonderful and that is why reading is diverse and taste is diverse and preference is diverse and that is the way it should be.

Also, I am being critical of these aspects from MY PERSONAL TASTE PROFILE --- so I cannot really say anything negative about them OTHER than from my personal preference.  The joy of individuality.

I am not at a position of any type of expertise --other than a long time reader. And what I find might be limiting in the book for non Christian readers; you might think could act as a gateway.  So we need to talk about this book.  It is a great stepping point for a lot of dialogue --especially for readers of inspirational fiction. And it is the best type of book to talk about because it was penned by a dizzyingly talented writer.


I also have faith based and non faith based readers and 60 % of my life is in a non-faith-based world, so I have to point a few things about this book as a general heads' up.  I personally feel this book is best enjoyed by people within a church setting or background because of its intense peer into Christian culture and the rules and restrictions therein.   Without ill-intention, I can see how the rules meted out by the heroine's friend Piper and Sarah's new church community might be seen as a point of judgment to readers though my personal opinion is that the author did not intend this.  This story, its publisher, its author are products of an environment where this is the norm.   I also point out that the word "butch" is used in a derogatory way and I was surprised that the editors of the novel didn't catch and edit that word which is becoming (thank heavens) quickly obsolete.  In the spirit of full disclosure, I also have to mention that in Sarah's journey, the conversion to Christianity finds her on the receiving end of advice that motivates her to reassess her writing in the secular romance world.   While reading, I thought of my many many many romance writing friends on the other side of the Christianese fence and the many romance books I love and the many authors I follow and found this could be read as polarizing.  The usual abstinence talks and alcohol free living talks followed and poor Piper almost made me roll my eyes with her initial holier than thou moments ushering the searching Sarah into the fold.  But Piper is a plot device and a portal and so I cannot quite fault her for being the mouthpiece for the more conservative sect of Christian culture in which this book dwells.  I also found that some of the issues in the novel might ostracize non-Christian readers beyond some of the rules and metrics laid out (and very very prevalent in many churches--- ). One ostracizing moment comes in the vernacular of tithing.  It is cute and funny and winsome that Turner explores the smutty novelist tithing her smutty novel's royalties; and beyond Ben's judgmental response ( throw something at him, women), I thought this was one instance of the rhetoric of one world that might not be accessible to all readers.


All right, disclosure time over, let's dive in!

To begin, I loved the heroine ---- I really didn't like the romance. It isn't my type at all.  But, as I mention later, it is integral to the construct of Turner's larger perspective and it works really well for the story she is trying to tell.  And while I didn't like the romance, I loved the romantic world and construct--- I loved the clash of secular and Christian romance and the open-eyed Sarah choosing to read CBA romance and pen her own.  This is the world so many of us read in and publish in and it is a safe space for me and I loved reading about it ( But, I also love chugging cab sauv and reading Tessa Dare and Elizabeth Hoyt so ...SO not the target reader of this book )

I hate insta love tropes and I never felt once I got to know Ben DeLaney--- but I did through his appearance get to know Sarah and  sacrificing his dimension gave me more time with her---she was my love of this book. Her voice, her perspective, her passion to find a way to patch up her life. Her terrible poetry. Her stream of consciousness. Even though we view the world differently. Another non-Rachel-catnip thing (and yes I know it is scriptural, bring it up to me as the Marriage Supper of the Lamb), is the obsession of a wedding and children.   Ben and Sarah just want insta family like their instalove.  In what is the first ever usage of this term I have ever seen in a lifetime of reading Inspy romances he wants to "knock her up" and they'll have a ton of kids..... For a lot of readers, that is going to be the happy ever after, and of course, it is an easy and safe way for an inspy romance writer to bring sex into the conversation. For a reader like me it is all: WHAT? but you have money and live in Chicago and are a great writer and .... ugh! you can still have sex without kids! Again, PERSONAL PREFERENCE--- my feminism radar was tingling. .... but then it was just MY radar that was tingling. I don't want to spend my life cleaning up after eight rug rats ---  But isn't feminism about choice? And shouldn't  a woman decide that this is her preference? Reader and Sarah alike? She wants a passel of rugrats and to ascribe to the more traditional approach to life with Ben and I am all for that because she wants it!  Choice, people. Choice!


I didn't ever feel like I got to know Ben at all: beyond "hot pastor who likes to kiss in the parking lot" (Which, FYI, is tantamount to scandal in the Christian sphere). And I sure as heck don't want a wedding where Song of Solomon is the theme du jour but that is me having a strong reaction to the world I grew up in where this is part and parcel of the game.  What Turner does well is finally shine the spotlight on the woman.   In church culture, women are physically the stumbling blocks.  The tight shirts, the yoga pants (insert eye roll and cursing here), the purity culture holds the woman to such a high platform. If a man stumbles it is nature,  if a woman stumbles it is a reflection of her character.  Sarah slices through this prevalent double standard by having a healthy sexual appetite even as she tweaks its perimeters to fit into her new Christian world.  And yes, when Ben and Sarah write out a list of rules about kissing and dating and time together ( we Christians have a lot of rules-- some Biblical-- most just ours ), I was saddened but also understanding.  This is the culture. This is a look at a very real culture. Sarah's experience clashes with the instinctive norm of the culture because she very legitimately wants as many sexy times as he does ( of course post -marriage...let's not get too crazy here ;) )
 

What I found on a deeper level is that the Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck shows how susceptible a messed up person can be when looking for a quick fix.  Her insta conversion pairs with her insta love and her beguiled look at Christianity leaves room for the author to show that nothing is perfect on either side of the stained glass.   Indeed, by the end of the novel, a smart twist gives the reader a peek into the Secret Life of Ben Delaney: with its own secrets and fallacies, the first time we truly see him is human and imperfect and not just the hot pastor with the pretty eyes.

And the motif of platform and visibility and congregational judgment is one that will resonate with anyone who has been in the public eye: either at the front of the pulpit or as a writer. The double standards, the insta judgment .... how we hurt each other intentionally or not -- all in the name of Christ.

Its treatise on passion comes with a price as lust and sparks don't give us a chance to ever see Ben and Sarah falling on any deep or complex level. For a reader who loves the gradual build and friction of chemistry borne of something stronger than just physical heat, I felt I was deprived a beautiful love story.   By the end, I still never saw connection between them beyond their passion and desire for a Von Trapp passel of children.   But as a reader and lover of the inspirational market, I must point out how deeply I enjoyed a contemporary-set romance that really worked in the thesis of physical love within the meted restrictions of the church's purity culture.   And while we can easily cite Deanne Gist and Julie Lessman in the historical sphere for pursuing the metrics of physical passion as far as they would go within the context of the inspirational trope,  I enjoy that Turner broadened these lines.

I had  the best strong reactions to this book:  on one level it took me back into my formative years as a pastor's kid learning all of the rules and regulations of the evangelical world -- -"that sex leads to drinking" (I was Pentecostal, yo!)  that romance is a stumbling block and sets unrealistic expectations ( it might be a stumbling block for you---each reader has their own journey and I don't believe in one prescriptive for all believers in many of these ( get it?) hot (snicker) topics). And I had a strong reaction to Piper who reminded me so much of the girl we ALL tried to be --doling out scriptural advice as we tugged people into the fold.  Having a strong, visceral reaction ( she leaves the room) when someone we like is caught doing something we don't feel fits into our Christian world. Luckily for Sarah, she moves beyond the Piper and navigates Christianity on her own.   And one of the major draws to the church is a man-- Ben--- with all of the tingles and stolen looks.  This is real life and why wouldn't a woman whose heart has been broken by a man of the world not fall immediately for a man of the cloth? As mentioned earlier, Ben is a symbol for the road Sarah is trying to cross however imperfect it is on the other side.



To add, I love that she married two distinctive publishing spheres and how they clash.  For those in the Inspirational industry, a constant conversation is about blurring lines, crossing over, finding secular readers ---- this book made me step outside the world and traditions I know well and really think beyond the veil of my time in a stricter Evangelical setting.   What would my usual readers think? What might they perceive as judgmental? What am I feeling about connecting far more with the Sarah pre-conversion then nothing at all with the Sarah post-conversion?  Maybe that is the point of the book...this book with the fresh, surprising, one-of-a-kind voice, with a ton of awesome possum Thorn Birds references....


I loved thinking about this book. How irked I was by it.  How incensed I was by it. No...not it--- the world it reflects. How it forced me to take a step back and really revisit the world I tried to leave. For while I remain a Christian, I happily sneak into the back of an Anglican church and am nowhere near a service that sings bottomless Chris Tomlin songs. Where I recognize that I cannot be responsible for being a man's stumbling block, where a healthy curiousity about sex and intimacy should not force a woman to cringe and blush until she blends into her pew. 

And it left me confused and riled and surged--- surged as a writer with the appreciation of voice and structure.  This story may not be my jam but the author IS--- isn't that the best experience?   And for those of you looking for this type of romantic comedy, you will just hit A + after A + across the board, because Turner has an inimitable voice.  Turner has a brilliant sense of humour and a knack at peeling back the layers of the world and peering at the vulnerable places therein in a poignant shroud of grace and talent. Turner does backstory and perspective and deep POV like a pro.  Turner should be used as an example of how to write first person that wraps around the reader and holds them close.  She is an expert. She is one of the strongest debut voices I have ever encountered and the strongest most original voice I have seen in the CBA (inspirational publishing world) in years.

And whether intentional or not, Secret Life exposes the fallacies, the contradictions, the parts of the inspirational world and culture we are still trying to patch up and sew.....

Maybe the confusion and the inability to find answers allows us to find ourselves in the mess with two imperfect people meeting in an imperfect world stretching for perfect---the church--what should be a hospital but is seen as a cloistered and often judgmental space. 

And maybe the confusion is in the funny.  There is nothing more Christian-y than a church wedding with a basement reception where Song of Solomon is quoted. Circle of hell for me, the dream for so many--- neither of us is wrong --- like Sarah, we just have to carve out a place to belong.

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Book Gush: A Dangerous Legacy by Elizabeth Camden

Honestly, Elizabeth Camden's books are just all the ingredients I love. I truly think she is writing for me! She has a masters in history, so her research is unparalleled, she has an easy, accessible writing style, characters and dialogue that leap off the page and a keen sense of time and verisimilitude. But, I think what I find most impressive, is the ease in which she excavates snippets of history not usually explored  onto which she shines the spotlight of her inimitable narrative style.

I also always identify with her heroines ( something that is hard to do in inspirational fiction ---even for an avid reader in the genre like myself).  Her heroines are smart, resourceful career women who balk at limitations and want to make their marks on the world.  Often in men's professions during times when women were to be angels of the hearth, her heroines are always just a few steps ahead of the world--- and the game.   Fiercely independent, they are not easily won, unless they are able to fit the inevitable romance end of the plot into their working world.


Image result for a dangerous fortune camdenThe overarching plot of this multi-layered story revolves around the Drake fortune and put me immediately in mind of the never-ending Jarndyce and Jarndyce case in Dickens' Bleak House.  Siblings Nick and Lucy Drake are at the center of the case trying to find justice for their family and their late father. Beyond any monetary gain or inheritance, the resolution of the case will hopefully mean the end of their torment by a wealthy rich relative, Thomas Drake, who lives as lord of the manor in nearby Saratoga while the Drake siblings are hard workers scraping by in their Greenwich Village apartment.  Court settlements, a lavish necklace and two brothers who fought over the invention of a brilliant valve during the Civil War times brushes Lucy and Nick's world with a burden to their father's memory as well as the social injustice they see around them.  A plumber, Nick wants to use the ease in which he can work this portal to his family's inheritance to equip tenement houses with running water for a fraction of the cost of the high city fees.

Another layer of this surprisingly intricate plot is the journalistic meeting of Reuters Agency, where Lucy continually runs into aristocrat Colin Beckwith, heir to a crumbling 18th Century estate across the Atlantic, while working as a telegraph operator for the Associate Press.  The history of morse code, telegraphy and homing pigeons is flourished here in exciting detail and I loved hearing about Colin and Lucy's world, the interception of Pacific telegraphs as well as reading cameos by Roosevelt and Taft.

An illegal wire tapped to her desk allows Lucy to transmit messages from her scheming uncle's lawyer and when she overhears a plot for murder, she runs to her uneasy ally ( and source of her burgeoning attraction), Colin, who uses his title and manners to expose the nefarious Drakes in Saratoga once and for all.


A Dangerous Legacy was so much more than an historical novel: it was a treatise on the class system, a look at how entitlement to fortune and revenge can strip one of happiness and a compelling study of New York on the brink of greatness.   Nick's work with valves for fresh water in tenement houses opens up a world underground and the labyrinth of the New York sewer system is painted with the same deft ease in which Camden worked with the Boston subway in From This Moment.  Colin Beckwith's experiences as a journalist in the Boer War allow for the study of PTSD and a look into the primitive psychiatric methods such as shock therapy.   A threat to Lucy is a gateway to a close interior look into mental asylums and the cruelty waged on patients sometimes only committed for incorrigibility.


To summarize the many interweaving plots as Colin and Lucy navigate the intricacies of the Drake fortune is difficult  because Camden excels at being so (albeit accessibly) complex. I  had trouble putting this book down during a research trip to Boston over the weekend ( books are companions when one is traveling and dining alone) and found myself blown away ( as per usual )with the seeming ease with which she creates conflicting worlds.   There is a hunting weekend at a grand estate in upstate New York as well as parties and soirees that hang on Colin's coattails as a reminder of his past and the inheritance that binds him as tightly as the Drake fortune does Lucy and her brother.  Manhattan becomes a character a colourful and nuanced as Washington in Beyond all Dreams  and Boston in From This Moment as Camden uses her natural skill to paint a  canvas brought brilliantly to life.



There is romance, yes, but also a hefty dose of suspense and an intricate mystery I was not anticipating.   This is the best type of savoury read: relatable and fascinating characters, a peek through the curtain of the past, a dashing hero, a resourceful heroine, a race against time. Twists and turns and second guesses,  dubious villains and beautiful heiresses. In short, a deliciously robust read.


Elizabeth Camden is an inspirational writer; but the religious themes in her book are just that---themes.  She writes with a strict and genuine value system and her realistically fallible characters work between the lines of right and wrong often finding their consciences at odds with the world around them.   She is never preachy and the faith elements are presented as sociocultural concept.   I would recommend her highly to readers from or without a faith background.


buy this book now:


Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Book Gush: Speak Easy, Speak Love by McKelle "PLEASE WRITE RACHEL BOOKS FOREVERMORE THANKS" George

Image result for speak easy speak loveI hope you guys aren't looking for deep thoughts or even coherent ones here because you have come to the wrong shindig, kittens. So get ready for this tipped-over-glass of rambling  loquaciousness:




I am DRIPPING with love for this book. ACHING with love for this book. GIDDILY FALLING OFF MY CHAIR for John Mor--erm--- I mean this book.

Yes. this book

(also, for John Morello)

and also for the voice--- the narrative voice-- cajoling and teasing and warm and knowing and like a sly wink --- ugh!  these are the voices that wrap and keep you and make you feel all tingly to your fingertips like a first sip of wine after a long day.


This is the most delightful surprise ever.  What larks to have the mind of a genius who decided "know what would super duper work?  If I took Much Ado About Nothing --but without any of the douchebaggy Claudio bits --- and reworked it into a 1920s speakeasy-set treatise on outsiders, gender and race relations amidst a shifting age resplendent with historical awesome --- and highlighted by the mob!"


WHAT LARKS! 

 Okay, SO, Beatrice (wanna be doctor and long lost cousin to Hero)stumbles into the craftily named Hey, Nonny Nonny, replete with the most amazing cast of homage characters to the original.  There's the vivacious and lovely Hero, there's Pedro "Prince" Morello and his half-brother (and my true love) John Morello, there's Maggie, a torch-siren-voiced headliner for all manner of jazz aged ditties mellowed into microphones whiskey-sopped and whose breathy voice finds the corners of the darkened joint ( THIS NOVEL IS SO ATMOSPHERIC YOU WILL DIE).  Benedick (of course!!!) is a Scott Fitzgerald wannabe holding tight to his typewriter, Isabella, and tighter still to his belief that to truly be creative he should shirk his family posterity and, you know, rough it with some rum runners at a gin-soaked hop.  There's dalliances and mob run-ins and terribly sour watered-down gin and there's mishaps and shootings and there's misunderstandings and dark corners and silhouettes of a couple to instill jealousy in another all amidst the true bond of family.

My favourite stories take the most unlikely cast of characters and smoosh them together in a colourful kaleidoscope of adventure.   Each person is so well developed in this perfectly realized world, I dare you not to look up from the fresh and period-perfect descriptives and not find them starting across from you.   I loved, loved, loved how it awakened Shakespeare's treatise on belonging, equality and love in a dazzling and wholly unexpected way.   Once you start bounding along in this wingdinger of a hoodless jalopy, you're never quite sure where it will swerve and fork and I LOVED THAT!


And the language hints at the meted measures of the original but in a soft and accessible way so that you fall into  its rhythm and are visited by the source phantom without ever thinking that she just stole a line and modernized it.   LIKE HOW BRILLIANT IS THAT????? ugh ,read it for examples there are too many. TRUST ME!  --but this is one "the world always took on a different shade after you'd failed." and "a girl might consider him handsome were she so inclined"  and it is pinged with the same tell tale wisdom and social observance on the human condition; but somehow still more in its lovely, tangy pulse.

This, my dear readers, is not (thank highball glasses) an "updated classic" that aligns perfectly each and every character and plot point transposing it into a modern setting. NO!!! What George does swimmingly is take everything that the play should have been and play with it in the brilliance and light of a more contemporary setting.   The restrictions of gender and class indigenous to the 1920s era ---as well as the progression for women and minorities-- are a springboard for working through what Shakespeare could only experiment with in embryo given the rigid structure of his time and experience ( this, guys, is the scribe who thought a great idea for an Italian name was "servantio" -- you know what we are working with here).  Meaning, George is able to add several layers on her colourful cake and in the meantime work with the shifting dynamics of one of the most fascinating and pivotal decades in modern history.  And she does this through the lens of the very feminist hero,  the philosophical observer, Benedick and the mixed race pairing of my boyfriend/true love John Morello and Maggie.

And before you can  think "Tonight, on a very special episode of Blossom", not once does she make this an "issue" or "statement" book; rather just a lens moving over a shifting moment in time and flesh and blood characters. There is not one stand-in archetype here. EVERYONE is developed: from "rum running thug #2 on the dock" to the revelers at Hey, Nonny Nonny 

And it is stark and lovely and surprising and funny as all get out and DEAR HEAVENS READ THIS BOOK AND GIVE IT TO ALL OF YOUR FRIENDS!!!


You know how it is irreverent to say that you like something better than the Shakespearian source material because that makes you dumb and not smart enough and probably not deserving of the eight billion (approximate estimate ) dollars you spent on University?   well, whatever guys, I am a grown adult woman and I LIKE THIS BETTER THAN READING THE PLAY.  so there! Also, I will take out loans and life insurance to sponsor this netflix series.



"There was John, as if her singing had conjured him" 
And now a special moment, nay, an ode, for John Morello and Maggie.  He understands her core through music.   He enables her to speak for herself and find her voice through song.  He strips her to the understanding of the beauty of her own natural simplicity.  There is a scene ( you will die, guaranteed) where she is trying on one of Hero's wigs ( all sleek and Cleopatra) and John ( unwitting mob boss who looks all surly but is actually a tortured bunny) beseeches her to take it off and be herself and THERE IS KISSAGE

I just ... Maggie and John are my heart's language " I can feel when you sing." HE CAN FEEL WHEN SHE FREAKIN SINGS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! and what John does for his brother, Prince, and how he believes in him and how he sacrifices for him like a TORTURED BUNNY "I am not a good person, Margaret, but if I can let Prince stay one, the world is a better place." 
UGH! DEATH! THUD!


"For someone who said he didn't care" (JOHN YOU PRECIOUS BUNNY LET ME FEED YOU LOLLIPOPS AND PULL YOU INTO THE SUNSHINE), "he sure put a lot of effort into not caring. Sometimes she could trick him into admitting she was as charming as she thought she was; but most of the time, it was like dancing around a cinder block." 

"When the song was so perfect, he couldn't help himself, his usually barred eyes opened up like clear lakes" (ARE YOU EFFING KIDDING ME??? GIVE ME MORE) --she could see the music in him. She aimed for that look every time she sang in front of him because then she knew she'd struck gold."

For a relationship that on paper has a bazillion barriers--- mob guy, black woman, 1920s nonsense and social and racial and gender hurdles--- they speak and understand and love through music! KILL ME NOW!



"She'd walked by him and not noticed and normally she was aware of him like a moon to her tide." I need my JOHN AND MAGGIE BOOK NOW!

Like, observe: "So what if they'd had whole conversations without saying a word--- using only music?" 

HEART THUD! I die, Horatio.

So, do we want some  more quotes?  Yes, yes we do!

ALL THE QUOTES

"Her stare was direct--channeled through absurdly big eyes, the kind a more inclined man might trip and drown in, if he weren't watching his step--but she was not exceptionally pretty. She was just aggressively there" 



"The heart was an organ of instinct over reason" 


Trouble, in other words. And like trouble, sometimes a girl found herself looking for it, wanting it,
even when she knew it was a bad idea." 


"Secondly, we both know 'special automotive toolbox' was your name for whatever distraction you were going to cook up to keep me away from the car, and of course now we see why"


"Words, what a tricky, tangled silence."


"Next to Anna, who met her own husband by accidentally clocking him in the face with a women's rights poster), Ursula appeared like the dour face of reality"


"You shoot things and don't fear spiders and are about as sweet as a lemon. What would a man even do with you?"   

"The better question  is what I would do with a man."


Frig. Don't even get me started. I could talk forever. If you're a teacher and are like "I need a new fun lesson plan and comparative study", I know Bloom's Taxonomy. I used to write lesson plans. Hit me up, I will give you ideas if it makes you buy this book because I love the experiencing of reading and discovering new things and it is my duty as a human to share experiences with you


Find McKelle George on twitter and the web 

Buy this book ( ten copies, at least) at amazon 

Thursday, September 14, 2017

The Gushiest of Book Gushes: Impossible Saints by Clarissa Harwood

"Why is it that men's courage is called bravery but women's courage is called recklessness- or, even worse, foolishness?"

"That's just it, Harriet. Doesn't It bother you that we're still making the same arguments she (Wollstonecraft) made more than a hundred years ago, and so little has changed?" 
Imagine a work of fiction that helps you reconcile years of insecurity and forces you to finally confront some of the rifts between the religious traditions that informed your childhood and the views you established as a thinking, reading, hyper-sensitive, feminist-inclined adult....


Imagine this piece of fiction wrapped in a perfect historically romantic (like, honest to Pete romantic with the gushing and the kissing and the pining!)  package and bow....

 Impossible Saints by Clarissa Harwood was the best reading experience ( because, indeed, it was an experience), I have had in an age.  I was at turns giddy and shaking and smiling so wide my cheeks hurt and then crying --- because it is emotional to read a transparent transcription of all of the challenges you have encountered as a woman eager to reconcile the traditions and conservative beliefs of her childhood with the progressive views of adulthood. Part of me wishes that this novel had been around when I was 17 --trying to find myself in Catherine Marshall and Lynn Austin and Dorothy L Sayers amidst a tradition that found women largely in potluck kitchen service or on nursery duty. A worthy calling--- not my calling. Part of me wishes that when I spent the weekends at Crux bookstore at my alma matter U of T running my finger over the spines of titles on Christian Feminism and doling out a chunk of my student loan on a burgeoning new library that this had intercepted me. But part of me is so happy that it found me now--- now as a woman who has written a series that tries to exercise some of the contradictory tenets of my faith within the structure of two lady detectives wearing trou
sers and exploring women's roles in confining Edwardian times. And part of me is happy I found it now when I am a little more sure of who I am, what I believe beyond the expectations of others and beyond the traditions of my upbringing.

"I wouldn't mind being an outcast if I were free to live and work as I choose" 

I am a huge believer in the kismet that happens when the right books find the right reader. Often at odds with my strong opinionated feminist views pitted against my upbringing as a pentecostal minister's kid, I have an insatiable thirst for the dialogue and debate that pings throughout this brilliant and evocative historical treatise on faith and conviction.


And while I still muse on and try to decipher how the square peg of feminism can fit in the circular hole of the Church's long traditions books like this--- wonderfully packaged in a beautiful, excessively readable love story, there is the brilliant elasticity that allows for interaction with characters who play out all of the questions and thoughts and muddled confusions of tradition and faith and feminism on a well-worded page.


And yet if you're like: what? NO! I want to read for enjoyment! Well, Saints be Praised! You get that, too! this is a rare package of perfectly lovely prose enveloping deeper truths.


In 1907, teacher Lillia Brook re-establishes her friendship with Canon Paul Harris, a rising figure at St. John's Cathedral who helped her navigate Greek and Latin studies in her formative years-- by letter- when such subjects were deemed useless to females best honed to play angel of the hearth. Lillia and Paul's re-acquaintance in adulthood sparks from their first meeting as they encounter themselves as pendants for Women's Suffrage and the Tradition of the Church ---the quintessential male sphere-- respectively.


While Lillia becomes more deeply involved in the growing danger of the Women's Movement in a circle that includes Emmeline Pankhurst, Paul is forced to confront his comfort in the sacred symbol and tradition of the church ---communion, prayer, the solemn process of a worshipful Sunday with the worship in action met head on when he accompanies Lillia to the brutal cloisters of a penitentiary for fallen women. It is in these early chapters--- so lovingly expressed and evoking the feeling of a hot cup of tea with a dose of Masterpiece theatre on a sun-slanted weekend--- that Harwood begins to develop her deeper thesis. A startling contradiction of tradition meted against two shifting worlds that startlingly parallel ongoing conversations in the modern church.

"Miss Wells, I'm not in the least concerned about my reputation." 


A complicated love story set amidst the turmoil and transition of the shifting roles of tradition in anglo catholicism and the pressure to move worship into action beyond the pulpit paralleled with the changing course of women finally meeting their snatches and life outside the home with violence and misery! WAS THIS WRITTEN FOR ME???! A love story that intellectually and spiritually challenges the reader to confront the loop holes in their own beliefs as they sit across from Paul and Lillia who, on equal mental footing, discover themselves and their roles in each other's lives through constant debate? IS IT MY BIRTHDAY???! And romance? OH ROMANCE! clutch your heart and catch your breath romance---- sparring here is hotter than kissing and the romance Paul and Lillia find is symbolic of a marriage between a shifting church meeting head-on the demands and views of its expectant believers. So, this is not your run of the mill " Oh! he has a dazzling smile and my heart grows faint" type cliche-- though, yes, he does have a dazzling smile--yet the evocation of true attraction between two mismatched puzzle pieces that need to figure out how to tweak themselves to fit into each other's lives.



Both are forced  to put faith in action: Paul  beyond the sacraments of worship by Lillia who changes how he views worship and Lillia who opens her mind to meet him halfway.  And you know that delicious moment in books when a character realizes their true love for someone when they unwittingly step up to defend them? (Hello Bella Wilfer for John Harmon against Mr. Boffin in Our Mutual Friend) we get TONS OF THAT HERE!  WHAT BETTER TYPE OF LOVE STORY IS THAT THAN BETWEEN PEOPLE WHO ALLOW THEIR HEARTS TO BE CHANGED and are willing to reconsider convictions that, to this point in their lives, were etched in stone?  

( I know, I know, so many caps ---but I cannot contain my enthusiasm here!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! If I were sitting across from you my hands would be excessively flailing)


Their compromise and eventually synchronicity  encourages growth as two people willing to shift their stubborn views to let some leeway. A treatise on the changes modernizing an era where everyone's roles were falling away and a new type of woman ( and man ) strode to find equal footing.  And Harwood does this ingeniously-- -quietly--- thoughtfully--- with little  crumbs in the narrative: the pipes of the masculine sphere in Lillia's boarding house, the importance of Paul's given name in contrast to the historical part that spoke for women's silence--- all of these little notes strung throughout ... ugh! so goooood!  I die, Horatio... 


anyways... 



What we sometimes forget about the power of fiction is how it can be used as a mirror or lens to our experiences and preconceptions. More still, how it can be the bind that helps us reconcile our past. When you view the world through the lens of fictional emblems it becomes a safe space to be mentally engaged, spiritually moved, and challenged to change. There is a balm in the constraints of fiction that allow your mind and heart to roam free in a way you might not confront what the fiction offers in real life or conversation. Is fiction a mode of conversation, of course---- but it is something silent and ruminative and in Impossible Saints I watched the war between my Christian upbringing and beliefs and my feminist views rile on the page in Paul and Lillia.


"I can see you've placed me in the category of the fast, modern woman, and there I'll stay until I can prove to you I'm a real person."

It takes a lot for a book to resound echoes long after the constructs of its time period, but Impossible Saints is relevant. Relevant to anyone who is shaped by expectation, latches to tradition while still at odds with the convictions that force us to grapple with the malleability of theological tenets and basic human principles. It is really brilliant to have this sewn up within the pattern of a novel and makes it accessible for readers who struggle and yearn to be challenged with their entertainment. For as much as I would love to posture about the higher tenets of this book's grappling with spiritual, philosophical and humane truths, so I am always reminded of how friggin' ENJOYABLE the whole darned thing is. Because, seriously, beyond the awesome discovery that it would hit me like the best kind of anvil, its time period and subject are TOTAL RACHEL CATNIP! I walked out of the film Suffragette a few years ago feeling flat--- like it was an open pop left out and devoid of fizz--- but all that I wanted it to be is resplendent here in a flesh and blood and contradictory heroine. I finish an episode of Grantchester wishing that the dominant male sphere would be countered more by feminine influence beyond the wishy-washy turn ups of fashionable Amanda--- and I find it here as Paul's mind broadens and stretches with Lillia's influence.

I often cite Catherine Marshall's Christy as a true love story: thinking of how agnostic doctor Neil MacNeill challenges Christy to believe for herself beyond the expectations or platitudes of the Mission. It is in this that he shows true love and devotion: interested in hearing her as more than a mouthpiece, wanting a peek inside. Here ,we have two people who through danger, loss and strife are willing to sacrifice and meet in the middle after many (exceptionally well-written) snapshots into their debates. As they verbally spar, so you might very well meet new thoughts and ideas that will encourage you to put the book aside and work things out for a little bit. At one point in the novel, an unhappily married woman repeatedly calls " all men cowards" -- cowards who must rise or work and strive to raise themselves up in church or society --- And yet Harwood's book proves the opposite of that again and again in two characters who are shaped in the truest form of courage there is --willing to stumble and fall and admit fallacy, willing to sacrifice moments of dignity and pride in order to find a surer footing with each other and with the higher plains they subscribe to. Write me this romance again and again, world, for it is not only the romance between two people finding a lasting and heart-clenching love but the romance in finding a surer belief in ones instincts when acting on conviction beyond human or church expectations.


I have an equal readership of faith based readers and non and while I am speaking to this book as it pertains to my faith experience, rest assured that it is not a prerequisite. This can be read as a whizbang- good- snap -crackle -and- pop story of historical romance which just happens to pair two people at odds with each other and one of these odds is Paul's life as a clergyman. You don't need a lexicon or even to believe to enjoy. Moreover, it offers a succinct and troubling look at the brutality and intolerance facing the women who sacrificed their livelihood and comfort for a greater cause.




There are the books you want to hand out to people so that they can understand your heart and mind and the vulnerable pieces of yourself and your strengths and weaknesses. .... hand them out at Christmas with a little bow and a card that says "here, steal inside my heart for a moment." And this is that book. This is one of those thumb-printed on my heart and mind and resolve and more especially interwoven into the fabric of my reading life forevermore.



So I will forever be grateful to a casual facebook chain where a friend tagged me in a post about this book (the post by another author I fangirl over--- Jennifer Delamere) because this is just.... ack! I cannot even form complete and cohesive sentences anymore... just make sure you preorder this book and read it and think about it and mull on it and then revisit it. ....I know I will --- interred again and again into my perennial collection....

QUOTES: 

Lillia had never given much thought to his physical appearance. Indeed, there was nothing remarkable about it--- except when he smiled. And she realized, now, when he preached. It was as if the cathedral was his natural setting, the only place where a rare, powerful illumination could blaze out from inside him. The man and his setting were equally beautiful. 

They lived in two different worlds that were more often than not hostile toward each other.


I don't know if you realize how lucky you are.You're free. No man has a claim on you. No man has conquered and enslaved you mentally, physically, or spiritually. You're not free from all struggle and suffering--of course, you must feel lonely, you must have desires-- but you haven't bound yourself to a man you'll come to despise. 

Men don't want to be married to stupid or vacuous women

I'm starting to become suspicious of your motives for becoming a priest. Your position is too convenient an excuse for breaking rules that ordinary people must abide by.


He sent me copies of his lessons and corrected my mistakes. I may be the only woman in Britain with an education from one of the best public boys' schools. 




pre-order 10 copies for your book club here (DO IT!-- need discussion questions? heck! I'll write them for free) 
[pre-order another 5 copies for all of your friends and family afterward]

Add it to your Goodreads "to read" shelf so you don't forget ( as if I would let you forget--- I won't--- I will be back in December reminding you ) 




and thanks thanks thanks to Pegasus and Netgalley for this ARC 



Book Gush(es) A Name Unknown, An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors

Image result for an alchemy of masques and mirrors


Want some gushing?

Here is some gushing



First,  An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors ----  GUYS ! DO YOU WANT steampunk, hot air balloons, a whiff of romance and musketeers in an alternative Parisienne world?  YES! YES YOU DO!


of course you do!


Then, have you come to the right party:

A wildly entertaining romantic romp in the tradition of Dumas and Sebastien de Castell and Mary Robinette Kowal. In a steampunky alternative Paris, laced with political and magical intrigue, power dynamics and and murder, Princess Isabelle and her musketeer protector Jean-Claude are thrown into a world of turmoil, attempted assassination and intrigue. I cannot properly convey how compelling the hook of this tale was to me nor how pleased I was with its exposition. Fun adventure matinee-style threaded in a fresh and compulsively readable voice that paints a unique and daring world with aplomb.

This world is so wonderfully realized and the dynamic between the two leads is so snap-crackle-pop with chemistry and the whole "but social divide and bodyguard and stuff" thing and I just love things that are fresh and imaginative.  So TWO RACHEL THUMBS UP 

Image result for a name unknown

okay! and then you want, of course, a slick and sophisticated slow-burning romance set in Edwardian Cornwall featuring a thief -turned- librarian and a stammering author with royal connections who may hold secrets to the axis retaliation in the looming war? RIGHT?  yes. 

So then we have A Name Unknown which features  not only some of Rachel's favourite tropes ( tortured reclusive misunderstood stammering author,  two lost souls who connect through words and leave letters to each other!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! ) but also possibly my favourite hero of 2017.  Peter Holstein is certified Rachel Catnip! I love that he is just too lovely and tweed-clad for the real world --- and the stammer in his voice is ironed out in his writing.  There is a lovely Barney Snaith type twist to this set amidst a bubbling world on the brink of war against the lush tapestry of Cornwall. Rosemary Gresham, our intrepid heroine, was a tad more difficult for me to fall for --- but I think that was a conscious decision on the part of the author to show how she ---due to necessity and complicated past-- wants to keep the world at bay.  And it is all "a rose by any other name.." because names and titles and connections and noms de plume are a huge motif here. 

But mostly, Peter. I am in this for Peter bless his tweed and his accent and his spectacles and his awkward way with the world and you should be in it for Peter, too. 



with thanks to Netgalley for these titles 


Tuesday, August 22, 2017

ALL THE THEATRE in the WORLD in LONDON, EDINBURGH, TORONTO AND NEW YORK ( Catch Up Post #1 )

Friends,

I have been REMARKABLY busy.


I turned in a Manuscript!   Murder at the Flamingo releases with Harper Collins July 2018 and you can add it to your Goodreads shelf   . The cover for this book is nothing short of amazing and I will be able to reveal it to you in the next few weeks :-)


I traveled to Scotland, England and Paris (!!!)

I traveled to Northern Ontario for a work conference

I spent a weekend at CFRR in Cincinnati

I spent a weekend in New York seeing a ton of theatre

I have done weekend trips to Niagara on the Lake for Shaw!

I spent a week in my little hometown Orillia

I have wandered Toronto near and far!


I TURNED IN A MANUSCRIPT (let me repeat that )

So I have been very neglectful of ye olde blog and rather do one LARGE catch up post, I thought I should divide it into a few sections.


THEATRE 


I  have seen a ton of theatre in the recent months and I thought I should give you a recap



Toronto: 

Les Miserables: this was a workshop at Factory Theatre that really has a lot of potential. The story isn't quite finished yet;  but it drew greatly from Hugo ---drenched in his prose and presence. I am interested to see the final, polished product.    We are so used to the musical version, it was nice to see something straight

Strictly Ballroom:  here is a show with sequins and sparkle adapted from the popular film and transposing its soundtrack from screen to stage that just cannot figure out what it wants to be.   It was a fun spectacle; but needs a little story work


Tosca My friend is the technical director at the Canadian Opera Company and I had the privilege of seeing this on dress rehearsal night. IT WAS AMAZING!   Opera is not my favourite musical medium; but I do appreciate Puccini.  I had seen this at the MET three years ago and I have to say, I enjoyed our production more. GO CANADA

SHAW FESTIVAL in Niagara on the Lake 

The Farmer's Revolt:  Face it: if you adapt the Rebellions of 1837 to stage my Canadian history loving heart is gonna go pitter patter.   This was an interesting tapestry sewn of many different patches embroidering different perspectives of Canada's almost-Civil-War in Upper Canada well over a century ago. It was a great ensemble piece; but I found without a working knowledge of the source material, audience members might get lost.   I was right: several people left at intermission

The Madness of King George: My friend Melanie and I did a double-header day and this was our matinee. It wasn't the cast's fault; but the pacing in this play needs so much help. SO MUCH HELP! amazing what an editor could have done to tighten up the plot.  It is a fascinating look at the George that, truth be told, just makes everyone's favourite Hamilton songs run on loop

Saint Joan MAN THIS WAS AWESOME! I love Joan of Arc.  They chose to do it in that vague century-agnostic militant way that so many people are doing to transpose popular yarns of war to the stage;but it was captivating and sparked a ton of discussion !





NEW YORK 
Got the dream team back together and spent another weekend JUST for shows in New York

Miss Saigon: they did a lot of work at revitalizing this blockbuster ( a long time favourite of mine because of the MUSIC!) and they kinda did everything  I ever wanted them to do to make the story and characters more palatable.  This is not a white saviour story.  This is a story about conflict and multi dimensional characters , blended dark and light, spotlit against the travesty of a complicated war.  There are not heroes and heroines in this piece: just sweeping music and poor decisions informed by impossible situations.

Anastasia 
So first, there are some great additions to the soundtrack ( albeit some lyrically challenged). Second, the production values are astonishing: costumes, lighting, sets, design--- truly breathtaking. STORYLINE --- this has always been problematic and somehow it becomes more apparent on stage when told in this way.  I enjoyed it; but I wasn't floored. I kept turning to my friend Kat, scrunching up my nose to match her puzzled expression in the dark and shaking my head.  The pre-teen girls in their sparkles LOVED IT


Bandstand

GUYS!  I bought the soundtrack to this early in the summer and it is just absolutely dazzling.   On stage, this is just a revelation: the actors sing, dance, act (triple threats!!!) and PLAY INSTRUMENTS!  You see a real live swing band form before your eyes.  I loved the story of recent veterans from the Second World War returning home to find that the world hasn't stopped as they anticipated; nor is it rolling out the red carpet as they dreamed when in the trenches.  A bit more careful characterization could have drawn out some of the individual stories of the supporting band members, but Laura Osnes and Corey Cott (!!!) were exceptional

Kim's Convenience Readers of this blog know that this is not my first time with this show. Due to my friend Kat's close relationship with it, I have followed it around --- this time to New York! It was so lovely to see a slice of Toronto find a home in Manhattan for a little while and touch audiences in America the way it does here




LONDON:

Half a Sixpence
This is the show you pick to see in the West End when you want to see the most British thing you can conjure.  Based on a lesser known H G Wells novel, it is kinda Downton meet Great Expectations meets--well any Lord of the Manor from humble beginnings tale. The music isn't memorable, the story is flimsy; but there's this adorable bunny (actor Charlie Stemp) who has a whole lot of gumption and a banjo and literally takes the show and runs off with it. You literally cannot take your eyes of him. When you do, you see a tightly produced piece with expert voices and choreography that are far better than the material they are performing.  A fun night out and so very British I cannot even....


EDINBURGH:

One of the reasons I trekked to the UK this summer, was to check up on my friend Maggie  and her immersive show in the Edinburgh Fringe, Intermission. It was kinda neat to see how this piece---infused throughout Edinburgh by marriage of stage show and app and video and podcast--- came to be.  


Whew! I think that is it !  Mel and I are off to Stratford to see Twelfth Night on the weekend--- so will keep you posted on that


Catch Up Posts will continue .....

Monday, June 26, 2017

book gush The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue



La! THIS IS MY BOOK!

It was hard to, like, eat and sleep and write and be out in the world the last few days knowing this was in my apartment

"“I swear, you would play the coquette with a well-upholstered sofa."

"First, I would not. And second, how handsome is this sofa?”

You have no idea.  I just can't stop  smiling about it. My cheeks hurt and, yes, I am going to read it five more times and probably all of those times just this week. For starters.    Because this is the keeperest of keeper shelf keepers in the history of keepers.  It is Rachel catnip, it is darned delightful, it is skittles and sunshine and kittens and ice cream and I am drawing hearts around it with my mind.

Oh Monty, you delicious rogue! Why are you so nose-wrinklingly adorable?  But alas, I digress in my enthusiasm to just absolutely rave about the adorable awkwardness of this young man and his clueless ( so clueless) attempts at deciphering the intentions of his crush, Percy.




“It's beginning to feel like he's shuffling his way through the seven deadly sins, in ascending order of my favourites.”

Onward:



It's very hard to get me to laugh aloud in a book. I snicker.  I am amused. But, there is something magic about a voice that makes me laugh til I have tears. I love to giggle and clever humour is often how I find a keeper author. I  also have a thing for writers who use beautiful, captivating fiction to draw out social injustices of a time period: in this case, the limited understanding of epilepsy and the stigmas surrounding it, same sex relationships,  and the treatment of bi-racial Percy Newton, who is a bit of a hybrid between two worlds (if you have seen the film Belle you will be familiar with some of society's fascination and judgment of him)


I preface that to set the tone for our romp through Henry (Monty) Montague's disastrous Grand Tour. But also to place it as one facet of a multi-dimensional story that wrings tears along with its laughter ( sometimes at the same time )

Like the Horatio Lyle series and the Watchmaker of Filigree Street,  this book had a narrative voice that arrested me.  It is something special and something I want to keep in a treasure chest.  To find a unique, alluring, brilliant, smart and surprising narrative voice is what a lot of readers live for and if you want one that will nab you on page one, this is the book for you.

It's a good thing, too, because Monty---our guide through his snortable adventures from lazy coquettish drunk to target in an international chase--- is an insufferably  shallow but oh so delightfully rich fop.

And he is not as dense as what he gives off and he is not as shallow as the man who opens his story drunk and depraved and he undergoes a subtle and wonderful development.  Character development? Not really, more the development of displaying to those closest to him what was always there on the inside, inverting it so it radiant for all to see.  Monty is a good and lovely human. He just has to trip over a few of his own stupid mistakes to realize it.


“God bless the book people for their boundless knowledge absorbed from having words instead of friends.”
Like so many men of his age and circumstance, Monty is to spend a year on a Grand Tour of Europe before settling down to become the Lord of the Manor.     Monty hates everything about his family life: the restrictions, his wailing little brother, his abusive father and a life that would paint him into rigour and structure where he would rather be out kissing boys and girls and more boys, drinking everything within a six mile radius and flirting with his best friend Percy.

Percy, you see, is for the first several chapters of the book, Monty's only redeeming factor.  Well, Percy and Monty's wonderful sense of humour keep you from thinking: you are a terribly selfish human being but La! You are also so fun and I cannot turn away from you, you disaster of a person.



“Oh no."
Percy looks sideways at me. "Oh no what?"
I swallow. "I'd first like it to be noted that I am most certainly not a smuggler."
"Monty..." he says, my name sopping with dread.
"And," I continue overtop him, "I'd like you to both remember just how much you adore me and how dull and gloomy your lives would be without me in them."
"What did you do?”



Bundled into a carriage with a bear guide, his 15 year bookish sister Felicity ( think Mary from Pride and Prejudice) and Percy,  his one true love, they set off for one last whirl of fun and end up running for their lives.

Some people don't want to spoil mysteries or twists. I don't want to spoil adventures. I don't want readers to be for one moment expecting the freshness of language, the originality of adventures or the heart of the chase that turns the plot from comedy of (ill) manners to continental chase ( with pirates, for good measure).

But I do want to allure readers by expressing my absolute delight (tame, I mean head over heels full blown heart-thrumming finger tingling obsession) and LOVE for our three leads, their interactions and the deep affection that is so beautifully shared it cuts through like a knife and winnows its way to stay.

When Monty learns about a terrible secret that would see Percy taken from him forever, it reveals the true depth of his heart. Monty may be all about quips and asides and lecherous behaviour, but he is loyal and broken--- we learn the depth of abuse at his father's hand--and so wanting to do the right thing (even if he takes a maze of lasciviousness to get there).



I absolutely loved this book.  It was one of my most anticipated reads of the year (from years of following the author on social media), made more so when the first four chapters were released at Epicreads and I fell immediately into the wink of a knowing voice that I  would follow everywhere.


It takes a lot to work with a hero like Monty---vain, self-centred, ridiculously and cluelessly obsessed with trifles--- but if you balance him with kind-hearted Percy  you really do see through the prism of Monty's world: his goodness is most blatantly exemplified in his love and pursuit of a truly good man.   And it is his care for Percy that opens up the shafts of his heart and sparkles and in that reciprocated goodness, you are given an epic pairing for the ages.  As in all things, Monty loves without abandon, but it takes a journey to work through the unexpected hurdles that will prove him worthy of the object of his desire.   ( I love Percy, too. I LOVE LOVE LOVE HIM! I love them both!)



“We're not courting trouble," I say. "Flirting with it, at most.”

So, get ready to snort tea out your nose and gasp and giggle and roll your eyes (because, really Monty, keep your stockings on and put that girl down!) and appreciate the craft of writing something excessively unputdownably readable undercut by a treatise on social injustice and featuring three of the most delicious leads in an age.

I want to follow you to the ends of the earth (or at least to a gambling den or Versailles hunting cottage) with you all, Percy, Monty and Felicity ---and thanks to a recent announcement about Felicity's upcoming adventures, I might be lucky enough to do just that.



(a note to readers: I read and review a lot of inspirational fiction on this blog, this book  will not be for all readers.  Please be advised of sexual content and strong language) .



Thursday, June 08, 2017

Book Gush: The Austen Escape by Katherine Reay

Image result for the austen escape by katherine reayI have been so busy lately. Mea Culpa.  I was in Cape Breton for work,  have been writing a ton on my current WIP ( cannot wait for you all to meet Hamish and Reggie), have been seeing a lot of theatre!!!!!! ( including my first Shaw show of the Season at Niagara on the Lake), have been socializing and adventuring in Toronto.  So my apologies that the blog has fallen behind).



Now, gush time.




"When there are serious matters to discuss, Austen women walk. And it has the side benefit of keeping our figures so light and pleasing."


I have to admit I have been getting a little tired of Austen everything.  So many updates. So many re-imaginings---  But, if anyone can do Austen, Reay can.  Especially because she doesn't just transpose a story into a new setting, she interweaves a new story with new characters, nuances and worlds with the timeless sensibility and humour of Jane Austen.  Even while you are not reading ye olde "Austen Update" that merely parallels Austen heroes and heroines in a modern setting, you are being confronted by an invigorated re-visitation of Austen's wisdom.  When this strikes you, midway through the book, you recognize that Reay is far smarter than you initially could have thought.  This is not just a nod to Austen, this is a thesis ABOUT Austen (specifically her relationship with Bath and her inter-textual connections about love, wisdom and modern relationships) told in prosaic form.

It's not often that fiction is supplanted with such an academic tenet; but that is what makes Reay  one of my favourite writers.  With all of her Austen and Bronte and Weber infused prose, she makes a statement about the books she pays homage to.    It is this added layer that asserts her as one of the finest contemporary voices.

But while I get all stodgily English major-y on you, what makes Reay a must-read is her natural accessibility.  While this  certainly offers a grand wink and nudge to fans of Austen's work on a deeper level, so it is a keen and sparkly colourful carousel of characters transplanted into a Regency-modern hybrid in present-day Bath.


Mary Davies is a quiet engineer who works for WATT, a startup in Austin, Texas.   Constulant Nathan is one of the brightest parts of her day.  While she works to gauge disappointment that her latest optical project Golightly ( yes, THAT is Holly Golightly) didn't take off, she assembles wire animals at her desk and works to  decipher the extra attentions Nate gives to her.  Work complications and a new manager, however, inspire her to accept her life-long friend Isabel's invitation for a vacation at an Austen-themed estate near Bath.   Deciding to escape the everyday and clear her head, she follows Isabel into a world of costumes and balls, of traditional manners and eccentric participants who acquire a personage from the books for their stay.

But Isabel is not as balanced as she seems and her domineering friend soon begins to show a remarkable mental instability, actually thinking she is Emma Woodhouse and speaking in the sequences and memories of Austen's canon.  While  Mary struggles to reach her friend, she discovers Isabel's connection to Nathan, who has sparked her life for so long it has flickered into a kind of unending flame.  Hurt and confused---mostly by Nathan's own arrival at the estate--- Mary navigates the map of herself while amidst a fresh and inviting, humorous and whimsical world patronized by " clever, well-informed people who have a great deal of conversation."
Human relations and fallacy, the map of the human mind, the friction between literature and art chafing against science and logic and math: all in a carefully constructed waltz.  



I have spent some time in Bath and was happy when the resplendently unique city was drawn to colourful life by Reay's consistent canvas.  As Seattle, Chicago, Italy and Ha'worth before, Bath becomes a pulsing throbbing city-- the antidote to the surging Austin heat.     

While this book may remind readers of Austenland  by Shannon Hale, it takes a step further in immersing the reader not just in a surfacely Austen world of Regency mannerisms and dialect; rather a deeper look at the wisdom of Austen and her prodding and poking into the deepest tenets of human nature.  There is a particularly profound moment that finds Mary understanding more about Austen's relationship to Bath beyond the lens of Persuasion and Northanger Abbey that made me shoot up and think.


this book glistens.








What makes The Austen Escape different than all other Austen updates and adaptations is that rather than just making a contemporary parallel of an Austen story and Austen characters, she works a profound and meaningful thesis about Austen into prosaic form. And that is why the Austen Escape is an integral companion to the study of Austen in the 21st Century.


[with thanks to Thomas Nelson for the review copy]



A few quotes: 

"As the morning rolled up its sleeves and got ready to welcome its friend afternoon, the sunshine held fast in the clear sky."


"And Nathan fished. The silence was light and lovely until I realized it wasn't silence at all.  The stream gurgled, birds chirped, something called in the distance."


"Something had been missing and its absence only felt with its return. Nature abhors a vacuum and will fill it but you must create an opening. Music was that opening. It felt as if the universe was expanding right before me, in a ballroom in Bath," 


"And I was diminishing--as one should before the size and unending grandeur of the universe. It wasn't that I was smaller or less significant; it simply felt like I didn't need to fight for a place within it or for my own protection. "


"I waited too and watched the stars.  A few flickered and the sky felt like music. Music required honesty."