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... 


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....


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



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.


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


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 !

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.

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


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


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....


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


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.”


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." 

Thursday, May 04, 2017

Book Gush: Kitty Peck and the Daughter of Sorrow by Kate Griffin

“I signed my soul away for the Paradise that day.”

The desperate tragedy that tugged us toward the end of the previous installment in Kitty’s tale seeps into her world from the outset and drags us into the mire of an unbearably smoggy summer, into the depths of opium dens and across the stage where lime-lights and greasepaint adorn a world Kitty knows so well.  A world that has, to Kitty, become little more than a den of iniquity and brutality.

The amazing thing about so many series is  you become so accustomed to their  world  a new installment makes your heart race.   Also, as you adapt to the world and the characters, you forget amazing fictional friendships.  In the Kitty Peck series ( gushing here ), I have discovered that my heart thrums a little the first time I see the word fannella: Lucca’s pet name for Kitty!   Revisiting these characters and spending time in Kitty’s London laced with visceral and grotesque undercurrents and weighted under the sticky summer sun was a delight. The best books transplant you so deeply that when you look up from their pages you aren’t sure where you are.  Kitty does that—gets a hook into you and pulls tightly.

   Kitty Peck and the Daughter of Sorrow is the third installment in a series I wish would go on- and -on- forever—and- ever -amen and it drops right into the murky lair of an opium-tinged underworld.  Now, Lady Linnet, Kitty has risen from  music hall seamstress to  a position of dark power and mars on her conscience stick to her with the ascent.    

As always, there are secrets entwining her brother, Joey ( who was approached with great detail in Kitty Peck and The Child of Ill Fortune) and Lady Ginger, a scary Havishamesque maternal figure who would be at home in the Lannister court in Game of Thrones, all surrounding Kitty’s coming of age story as the curtain is peeled back and her shocking past revealed.

To speak to the intricate plot details would do this review a disservice. You really need to read the books in order to appreciate the complicated web Griffin tightens around Kitty and her allies. In this book,  Kitty’s to-die-for connection with Lucca and her budding feelings for journalist Sam Collins are the bright lights in Kitty’s darkening world and a delight to the reader.  While Lucca spends a lot of time off-page ( miss you, Lucca!), Kitty and Sam’s conversations crackle and pop with chemistry.  Their words buzz.     Another ally is Peggy, expecting a child while navigating a new world without Dan, whose death Kitty knows more than she should about.

Kitty has always been a complex character who colours between the worlds of dark and light.  Resourceful and intelligent beyond her years, she uses exceptional agency to work the world around her as befits her desire to find her brother and, in this case, to reconcile the deeds of her conscience as she stepped into her new role with the Kitty she most wants to be.    What I found especially memorable about this installment, is how much of a coming-of-age story it is.   Kitty grows and develops amidst a festering underworld of criminal activity, violence and disgrace--- and this is most apparent in the slight changes in her alluring narrative.  This is a more confident Kitty, a hardened Kitty --though never bereft of the spirit and light that pulls us onward as we fall into her voice.   Griffin shows her writing chops by allowing us to see the cracks in the veneer of Kitty’s confidence, while never allowing her self-awareness and strength to falter.  

I highly recommend starting this series from the beginning and I highly recommend savouring the tang of its unique voice.  Describing Griffin to people, I sometimes think of Sarah Waters meets Catherine Webb for lunch with Michael Faber after a pre-drink with George RR Martin.

As in the previous two installments,  Griffin has created a tangible world thanks to Kitty’s pitch-perfect narration, expert research and descriptions that buzz off the page. While the plot is intricate, terrifying and undercut with suspense, it is a character-driven tale populated with colourfully dimensional characters.   

There is also ( tearing up here) an amazing moment of sacrifice between the two men in Kitty’s life, Lucca and Sam.  If you didn’t already love these characters to the point of distraction, The Daughter of Sorrow will pull you over the edge.

( and the END omg the END! I die, Horatio! The end was just this lovely little jolt of adrenaline that got Kitty's heart racing so madly I swear I appropriated some of its beat.  The author's note informs us that Kitty's world will be brighter and I sure hope so because I NEED these characters in my life and I need more of this fresh, exuberant, wrap-around-you-so-tightly narrative voice)

A few lines:
Of Sam: “There were grooves at the corners of his mouth worn  there by smiling, not temper.”

“Colour was a luxury here.”

“I could smell disappointment rolling off him, in the way you get a tang of old liquor off a lusher.”

“I believe that death, when it comes, will be a kindness.”

“When my dress stuck so close to my flesh, it was like the cotton had been coated in honey.”

With allllll the thanks in the world to Faber and to Kate Griffin for the opportunity to review 

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Book Gush: High as the Heavens by Kate Breslin

Warning: there will be  ALL THE CAPS!
Image result for high as the heavens breslin

But first, plotty stuff:

Evelyn Marche is a nurse currently working for the resistance while playing nice with the Germans in war-occupied Brussels.   Her life is a barrage of secrets propelled by a haunted past. While she works at her aunt and uncle’s cafĂ© and saves lives from both sides of the war, you know that she is just going through the motions.  She’ll stay alive for her mother, for the Resistance that needs her, and to retrieve her siblings, lost in France.

But underneath Eve’s complicated and complex world of intrigue and her highly skilled spy work,  she goes through the motions, rendered an automaton by the death of her pilot  husband years before.

A tragic sequence of circumstances thereafter pricks at her constantly and she is but a shell of a person with really nothing to lose after life and love were ripped from her.  

When detoured from a night time assignment by a plane crash in Brussels Park, Eve never expects she will find herself face-to-face with her supposedly dead husband, Simon Forrester. Now, caught playing a dangerous game of roulette, she’ll have to risk his trust to save his life ---even as she keeps the darkest secrets from the person who should know and love her best.

GUYSSSSSSS what we have here is one of Rachel’s FAVOURITE ROMANTIC TROPES: something I like to call The Pimpernel.   For those of you familiar with Orczy’s classic ( and if you aren’t what have you been doing with your life?), it features a married couple who due to secrets and mistrust are torn apart even as they STILL LOVE EACH OTHER DEEPLY FOREVER AND EVER and WANT TO SHARE KISSES AND TOUCHES AND EACH OTHER FOREVER AND I CANNOT EVEN DEAL.

Here, like Sir Percy, Simon is rattled by the fact that his beloved and rediscovered wife may indeed be a traitor while Eve is confronted with the treacherous fact that the return of her husband means finally spilling a secret that has ruined her at core.


WHAT WE HAVE HERE IS A FAILURE TO COMMUNICATE and oh is it ever achingly, seethingly , bone-tinglingly delicious as time is meted out in slow, languorous romantic breaths and you are all: OH PLEASE END THIS INSANITY AND KISS FOREVER

It’s really lovely and done so well: especially when embroidered with sweet tantalizing scenes from the past.  We see Simon and Eve fall in love and must reconcile the sepia-tinted light of these remembrances with the hardened, challenged and war-torn people they are at present.

OF COURSE THEY STILL LOVE EACH OTHER and would die for each other a thousand times over but THEY CANNOT TELL EACH OTHER without risking their respective causes and Eve is near rendered mute by a secret that clogs her throat and catches her breath and she wonders if Simon could ever truly love the woman who, out of desperation, was forced to make a lethal choice.

And what is AWESOME about this, reader friends, is that the longer the game goes on, the more confusingly intricate the web becomes.  You think that everything is smoothed out like a crease in your favourite pencil skirt, but NO, she throws another wrench into things because she takes DELIGHT IN TORTURING US.  To add to the torture, she has a lovely and poetic way of painting a physical connection between our two leads that is whisper light and passionate and alluring—while reminding us that their true connection is strung together with a deeper knot.  The more we see Simon and Eve in their respective roles for the cause, the more we are met with the commonalities that surge between them and can truly buy into their connection and story on an inherently intelligent level.

Breslin also does well at painting both sides of the conflict in sympathetic light.   Eve’s ability to understand the plight of the German enemies she waits on ( and whose lives she saves as a skilled nurse) even as she aids the allied effort are human and as rooted in an impossible situation as she is.  Breslin also (of course, its Breslin) impresses an impressive understanding of culture and verisimilitude as is trademark in her historical fiction.

But, mostly, and above all, she makes you love. She makes you love the ginger-haired Scotch pilot with the calloused hands and roguish burr and his Eve--- a stroke of genius in the name--- the woman who could be his saviour or the downfall of his life and his heart…. Again.

A series of games, clues, breathless escapes, creaks and snippets of war on the European front, you will have to navigate a world of double-agents and betrayals.  But rest safe in the hands of Breslin’s competent pen, her fully realized characters and … of course… an “OMG YOU DIDN’T THIS IS THE BEST EVER PIMPERNEL ROMANCE AND I CANNOT EVEN”

I can’t even, guys.   And for the last time she did this to me and ruined my life with the most agonizing kind of word bliss, read NOT BY SIGHT 

Thanks to Bethany House and Netgalley and Kate Breslin for ruining me for the real world 

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

book gush: After Anatevka by Alexandra Silber

Memory, she thought, is a sacred place. It is the place where the past is gathered—an inner synagogue where we make meaning of our existence.

 You know those books that just make you giddy because they are soooooo good and the author is SOOOO smart and you are just happy you live in a world where words can be outfitted to paint a splendid, moving, remarkable heart-stopping portrait of love and life and hope and ache and power?

You know those books that just tug you into them and hold you tightly so that you look up and are surprised that you are on the subway and not sitting across from characters whose tongues drip simple wisdom and who are salt and light and everything that is flawed and flourishing about humanity?

Image result for after anatevkaAfter Anatevka  is that book.  It is a globe, a sphere, one of those snowglobes you shake peering into the tiny world crafted perfectly and shrouded in flickering snowflakes. It is a capture of a moment of exquisite heartbreak against a brutal yet achingly lovely canvas that can never quell that which you cannot tether from a human: faith, hope, the best kind of once-in-a-million love.

After Anatevka answers a question I revisit every time I see a production of Fiddler on the Roof: what happens after Hodel leaves Anatevka with the news that her beloved, the radically smart Perchik, has been transported to a Siberian prison?

The door on her story is closed at the train station as she explains why she will go far from the home she loves to follow Perchik while her father Tevye, is confronted with one more way that the traditions of his past and his religion are fraying at the seams.

I thought this was a fascinating premise for a novel and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a copy.   What I wasn’t expecting, however, was to encounter one of the smartest historical novels I have read in an age nor one of the most lyrical debut voices of my reading life.

After Anatevka, is not a story so much as an experience and in lesser hands it could never embroider the pathos and light of a historical narrative tradition to create  a melancholy and everlasting tapestry of hope.

Yes, hope.  For all the darkness undercutting Hodel’s imprisonments and Perchik’s suffering in the Siberian salt mines, the power of hope and the commitment to life ( hear L’Chaim! in your head) is the true theme of the story.  Love knows no barriers. Love is a spiritual connection .Love has agency beyond borders and boundaries, deceit and despair.

The bookrepresents Hodel and Perchik’s present:  first Hodel incarcerated as a single woman in pursuit of her fiance in a kind of holding cell ( held in time and place at the mercy of waiting ) and then reunited with Perchik in Nerchinsk  with respective flashbacks subverting every trope of romantic ballads with startling freshness.  It is in flashbacks that Silber is at her most ingenious: colouring in the world of Hodel and her sisters and infusing a crash course in cultural norms in early 20th Century Russia.   A treatise on the beauty of domesticity and the advocacy for women who think beyond the realm of their small town and customs are balanced to justify all female experience. The feminine sphere – either perfecting the baking of the challah or pursuing a man outside of your faith ( Chava) are seen as equal experiences and all worthy.    In the latter half of the book, Perchik’s story is embroidered—and taken beyond the seams of anything grounded in its many nods to its theatrical counterpart and into Silber’s own imagination.   While Hodel’s limitations are dictated by the rubrics of a woman’s place in Anatevka, so Perchik finds poverty and mental abuse by his uncle the chains that would keep him from pursuing life.  And all while peeling back the curtain of their formative years, Silber forms the perfect pair--- allowing the reader to fully understand why Hodel would leave the safety of her home for a life of destitution and darkness and why Perchik pursued a forbidden dance with the dairyman’s daughter in a small village. 

Their connection is palpable and bursts off the page.   Even while Hodel is drawn to the past: remembering, fingering through letters late delivered from her sister Tzeitel, we see that there was no other choice but for her to chase one half of her soul—Perchik---no matter the consequences.

A large portion of the book follows the (expertly researched ) daily life of internment at a labour camp.  Into this world, Silber broadens the circle with fluid, dimensional characters – both overseers and fellow prisoners—that add colour, human and life to its dreary toil.

I just cannot say enough about this book. It is a world.   Silber’s instincts are pitch perfect, drawing you in and tethering you to a tale remarkable in its praise of the fortitude of spirit and intelligence.  Modern parallels ( the best aspect of historical fiction), encourage the reader to ponder how far they would go to speak and be heard.   Faith is at the crux of Hodel and Perchik’s love, even as they find it beyond the metrics of the traditions that Tevye saw slipping from his family in the source musical.   And all unfurling in an expertly woven tale full of self-awareness and beautiful language.

“The pivot?” Hodel murmured.
“The fulcrum. The turning point. In every story there is always a moment when the anchoring thread of the tapestry unravels.  I don’t know that I have ever been inside that story until now.”

“There is a kind of transaction that occurs between a person and a place: you give the place something and it gives you something in return.  In years to come, Hodel would know for certain not only what Nerchinsk had taken, but what it had given her as well.”

For theatre buffs, this book will excite you – yes, it does have several lovely nods to the musical so beloved.  But for readers with no previous attachment to the story, rejoice! We have found an earth-shatteringly beautiful new voice in historical fiction—resplendent with passion and poetry.  A perfect voice for excavating the little moments in humanity against the bleak brutality of Nerchinsk.

And then, the descriptions (music!) “ Hodel admired how the broadness of his shoulders curved above the volume as if he were cradling the very thoughts upon the pages with his entire body.”

“How exquisitely Nerchinsk sulks upon its gray and sorrowful bluff. How shafts of sun burst through the thick, low blanket of cloud above the village like stabs of hope from heaven.”  (ARE YOU KIDDING ME???? Dies of love)

And the feminism “Hodel saw it through her sister’s eyes: women were created to be in every way partners, not mindless slaves or brainless doormats, but helpers, collaborators, equals. And that was a thing of great beauty”

And the simple wisdom “For our greatest rewards, Hodel, sometimes we must endure.”
“Perchik could no longer stand being believed in—belief was heavy; it was burning sunlight in his eyes.”

And this : “ I wanted a woman who was somewhat like the moon. I would miss her when she was away and appreciate her when she returned, but I did not want her around all the time!”

And this: “In two little words, all of Hodel’s life choices were suddenly obliterated by Tzeitel’s sense of domestic superiority” ( snortle. There are a lot of lovely sibling moments in this!)

I had a full blown love affair with this book.  It exceeded expectations I didn't know I had and then some.   

Pre-order two copies at least: one for you and one for the person you will immediately ache to share it with.  This story is a love letter and love letters are never meant to experienced in solitude. 

With thanks to Pegasus and Netgalley for the review copy.

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

book contract news!


So delighted to announce some news about my BRAND NEW SERIES....

I am partnering with Thomas Nelson/ Harper Collins to bring you a brand new series!

I get to usher you to 1930s Boston: to tell the tale of a remarkable and special and anxious and smart and kind young man whose life truly begins when he arrives in the Revolutionary City. also, of a spirited young woman --a New Haven debutante--whose grand dream is to cross off every last "to do" in her "journal of independence." together, they will flirt with love and life and perfect the Lindy Hop.... they'll also solve a murder or two....

From the dazzling neon-striped nightclubs of Scollay Square to a crumbling office adjacent the Paul Revere House in the North End, we are going to Boston! beautiful, wonderful Boston!

Hamish DeLuca and Reggie Van Buren's first adventure releases in 2018!

(And yes, it is THAT DeLuca--- Hamish is Jem and Ray's son ---- all grown up!)

one of the most exciting parts about all of this, is that I was finally able to change the setting on my Pinterest page from secret to public.  Check it out :

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

FREEEEEEE Herringford and Watts novellas

For the next month to celebrate the almost-release of WHITE FEATHER MURDERS, all 3 novella-sized Herringford and Watts novellas are FREE on all major retailers

I know! It's the best!

A Singular and Whimsical Problem is the first adventure published ( thought not chronological) and is a little Christmas jaunt with Jem and Merinda and an elusive cat named Pepper

amazon / barnes and noble / itunes / kobo 

Of Dubious and Questionable Memory takes the girls to Massachusetts in pursuit of a missing woman whose mystery leads them to the heart of Concord and Orchard House, residence of Louisa May Alcott

amazon/ barnes and noble / itunes / kobo

Conductor of Light is my homage to my love of all things theatre and is a cozy closed-room mystery set at the Elgin and Winter Garden theatres here in Toronto.

amazon / barnes and noble / itunes / kobo


amazon / barnes and noble / itunes / kobo 

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Where have I Been?

Blogger friends, this is just turning out to be the busiest year.

My next writing adventure takes me back to 1930s Boston so, of course, I am using any opportunities I can to head out to Beantown and its historical wonderfulness in order to immerse myself in the place and walk for hours.   I stayed at the Omni Parker House: which will be familiar to readers of Of Dubious and Questionable Memory as one of the locations Jem and Merinda visit on their Massachusetts adventure.

a few snippets from my recent adventure

And then, Allison Pittman ( my co-author from Starring Christmas) and I found ourselves in Chicago for some major brainstorming and some major Palmer House-ing ( readers of A Lesson in Love and Murder  will remember my use of that hotel -- -it's where Jem and Merinda ( and Ray!) stay when they're in Chicago.

We also found ourselves in the Room Where It Happens seeing the amazing Chicago cast of Hamilton --including new addition Wayne Brady as Aaron Burr.   note: I got these tickets the day the first block of Chicago seats went onsale last June. That's how long we waited.

Chicago, you're so pretty 

the Palmer House 

Rachel and Allison

And for those of you who may be wondering if Hamilton  is everything they say--- it is--- and more.  I have seen hundreds of shows and it is unlike anything I have ever seen.

speaking of Unlike Anything I have Ever Seen,  I am a huge fan of Come From Away.  I saw the original cast in Toronto last fall during their pre-broadway run and am absolutely thrilled that this small Canadian musical with a staggeringly beautiful story and infused with Maritime Canadian music is making a splash on broadway.  Just read what the NYT had to say 

As for theater in Toronto, I will be seeing Mrs. Henderson Presents straight from the West End next week so will keep you posted.

 And this past week I was in the East Coast of our great country for work!

Image may contain: sky, cloud and outdoor
love the Jelly Bean houses in St. John's, NL 
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And from St. John's, I flew a tiny plane out to PEI. Last time I was in Charlottetown was in the height of summer--- it is decidedly more quiet at this time of the year.

So, that's what I have been up to.    And it doesn't slow down a lot.   I still have work travel for my day job and an Easter Weekend research trip back to Boston.   But, I am also excited about THE WHITE FEATHER MURDERS which releases May 1

There's a nice review in the next issue of Romantic Times

order at Barnes and Noble     Amazon      Chapters