Friday, September 28, 2012

What you SHOULD be doing with your friday night....

Okay, I am a hypocrite, because I am not home tonight either; but I am definitely making sure that I have this PVRd

If you are a Canuck Holmesian (the term Sherlockian seems more and more to relate to followers of just the Cumberbatch franchise) then you, yes, YOU!, really want to tune into this

The Real Sherlock Holmes

It's going to tell us that without Sherlock there would be no MI:6 or Twitter or NASA ...and stuff like that.

Which is probably true.

Friday, September 21, 2012

When Hope Blossoms by Kim Vogel Sawyer

From the Publisher: Sweet Contemporary Story Set in an Old Order Mennonite Community

Amy Knackstedt moves with her children to Weaverly, Kansas, to escape the speculation surrounding her husband's untimely death.

She hopes the new location will provide a fresh start for them all. But her neighbor, Tim Roper, is not pleased to have a Mennonite family living next to his apple orchard. When the children try to befriend him, he resists. Tim left the Mennonite faith years ago and doesn't want any reminders of his former life. Yet Amy and Tim find their paths colliding far more than either could have foreseen. Will this tentative relationship blossom into something more?

This is not my preferred genre of CBA fiction; however, Vogel Sawyer is a competent writer and I have enjoyed a few of her historicals: most prominently Courting Miss Amsel and A Promise for Spring. Her attention to historical detail in My Heart Remembers and the way she balances characters with individual and multiple narrative threads can be appealing. 

Due to this strength in her writing, she is able to marry the old and the new in When Hope Blossoms.  This is the kind of fiction you take to Nana's house on a Sunday afternoon and place next to the tea cozy and scones.  This is not edgy fiction. Instead, it's a sweet floral garden which exposes facets of the Mennonite tradition with the contemporary world.  Everything is Amish these days and, truth be told, it's nice to have some Mennonite traditions thrown into the mix.  I enjoyed Tim's budding relationship and attention to Amy's precociously sweet children. 

There is something quite tantalizing about a hero attempting to make peace with his Creator after tragedy; but also unwillfully softening to the muted overtures of a second love.  Toss in the fact that this hero is still fighting with his past as a Mennonite and you have a realistic portrait of a man who blames the past for his present and cannot find his way to accept the path that brought him to where he is. 

The clashing of cultures is also an interesting and well-developed thread as Tim Roper encounters the old world tradition of his new neighbour . The promise of a second love and the reconciling of beliefs with personal differences and sudden community makes for an interesting transition from scepticism to love.  A light, lovely story that will amuse readers of Beverly Lewis and Cindy Woodsmall.

My thanks to Graf-Martin Communications for the review copy on behalf of Baker Publishing Group

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Girl in the Glass by Susan Meissner


Renaissance is a word with hope infused in every letter.

Since she was a child, Meg has dreamed of taking a promised trip to Florence, Italy, and being able to finally step into the place captured in a picture at her grandmother’s house. But after her grandmother passes away and it falls to her less-than-reliable father to take her instead, Meg’s long-anticipated travel plans seem permanently on hold.

When her dad finally tells Meg to book the trip, she prays that the experience will heal the fissures left on her life by her parents’ divorce. But when Meg arrives in Florence, her father is nowhere to be found, leaving aspiring memoir-writer Sophia Borelli to introduce Meg to the rich beauty of the ancient city. Sofia claims to be one of the last surviving members of the Medici family and that a long-ago Medici princess, Nora Orsini, communicates with her from within the great masterpieces of the Italian Renaissance.

When Sophia, Meg, and Nora’s stories intersect, their lives will be indelibly changed as they each answer the question: What if renaissance isn’t just a word? What if that’s what happens when you dare to believe that what is isn’t what has to be?

The part of this book that most resonated with me is Meg’s obsession with place.  I truly believe that there is a spiritual connection between people and a place they have dreamt about or visited. I believe that a place or a time can feel like home to you even if it is far from where you live and grew up.  I believe in attachment. 

Readers of this blog know that my lifelong passion is Vienna. I felt rather like Meg as I planned and plotted my first trip there. Knowing, as Meg does, that I couldn’t just up and go; but that every tenet of it would have to be perfect in order to fully realize my dream.  As I love Vienna ( more so now than I ever thought I could before I spent time there), so Meg is enticed by Florence. Every rooftop, the colourful esplanades and tiles, the centuries of beautiful art.  Indeed, Meg seems to suffer from a bit of the Florentine Stendhal Syndrome before she even steps off the plane.

While Meg is planning and hoping for a trip to Florence, Florence and its long history of Medici art is infusing her “real” world.  Meg works for a Travel publisher and stumbles upon a proposed manuscript which links an eccentric woman who believes herself to be the last remaining (and highly unlikely Medici) to a young woman named Nora who has left fragmented words and thoughts behind her even though she is long dead.  Thus, we are treated to three different perspectives, three completely different engaging experiences with Florence as well steer through Meissner’s path of faith, art and beauty.

The story is peppered with situations so problematic and real that the elaborate tapestry painted by the age-old city of light and art is stripped back to remind us of the world far beyond Meg’s constructed fairytale.  There are relationship failings, age-old arguments, lack of forgiveness and testings of faith. 

But, amidst this, is a genuine passion for place and time and scope and space.  This is the part of the story with which I most connected---even as I was slightly distracted by the somewhat disjointed, jarring and multiple narratives, likewise the seeming dislikability of our heroine Meg.  I appreciate and understand her propensity to fall for the beauty of a city: at first imagined and then realized.  Seeing Florence through Meg’s eyes--- through a woman so fixated on her passion becoming manifest --- well, I can buy into that.

The religious facets of the novel are rather tame and more thematic then blatantly applied in usual Christian fiction.  I find that most of Meissner’s heroines tend to bleed into each other… so if you are familiar with her previous stories marrying history with present--- then this will not be a surprise to you. It is, however, competently written and boasts a surety of place and sense and spirit. 

I received this book care of the WaterBrook/Multnomah Blogging for Books Program

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

A few new titles to enjoy.....

Sometimes, despite my best reading and reviewing efforts, a few books get side-tracked as I whirl myself into a reading frenzy.  In this case, these are two books high on my TBR list that I have not yet posted and promoted. I received both copies from Graf-Martin Communications ( on behalf of Baker Publishing Group) 

The Deposit Slip by Todd M. Johnson has a backcover copy that reads like Robert Whitlow, so readers are, indubitably, in for a treat with this offering from Bethany House:

$10,000,000 Is Missing.

Erin Larson is running out of options. In the wake of her father's death, she found a slim piece of paper--a deposit slip--with an unbelievable amount on it. Only the bank claims they have no record of the money, and trying to hire a lawyer has brought only intimidation and threats. Erin's last chance is Jared Neaton.

How Far Will One Lawyer Go to Find the Money?

When Jared wearied of the shady ethics of his big law firm and started his own, he never expected the wheels to fly off so quickly. One big loss has pushed him to the brink, and it's all he can do to scrape by. 

And How Far Will Someone Go to Stop Him?

He's not sure if Erin's case is worth the risk, but if the money is real, all his problems could vanish. When digging deeper unleashes something far more dangerous than just threats, both Jared and Erin must decide the cost they're willing to pay to discover the truth.

Visit Todd M. Johnson at his website

Mary Magdalene by Diana Wallis Taylor promises to help us excavate the enigma and controversy surrounding this popular figure: 

Long maligned as a prostitute or a woman of questionable reputation, Mary Magdalene's murky story seems lost to the sands of time. Now a portrait of this enigmatic woman comes to life in the hands of an imaginative master storyteller. Diana Wallis Taylor's Mary is a woman devastated by circumstances beyond her control and plagued with terrifying dreams--until she has a life-changing confrontation with the Savior.

Lovers of historical and biblical fiction will find this creative telling of Mary's story utterly original and respectful as it opens their eyes to the redeeming work of Christ in the lives of those who follow him.

Visit Diana Wallis Taylor at her website

Sunday, September 16, 2012

So much love......

Remember that time that I won a blackberry PlayBook in the TIFF line?   I am madly in love with this thing......... Lighter than the ipad. Great Internet connectivity. Links to my BlackBerry smartphone, contacts and chat through the bridge application.  True. Love . First blog post on PlayBook.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Author Interview: Laura Frantz

I am so thrilled that Laura Frantz agreed to answer a few questions about her latest title, Love's Reckoning.
I have LOVED Laura Frantz's work so far: The Frontiersman's Daughter (which I read when it was shortlisted for the INSPYs), Courting Morrow Little,  and The Colonel's Lady.  Honestly, I cannot pick a favourite thus far because all books are equally strong and unique. 

If you are searching for literary Christian fiction: with scintillating prose, strong evocation of place and time and in-depth characterization, you have come to the right party!

R: One of my favourite parts of the story had Silas writing out Bible verses for Eden: translating them first from Gaelic and hiding them throughout the house so she would find a surprise during her daily chores. This not only spoke to Eden's deep thirst for all things spiritual, but also for the developing relationship between Eden and Silas. Can you speak to your choices of scripture in these moments and what inspired you to weave this delightful aspect into your romance? Subtle and sweet! loved it!

L:Oh, love that the spiritual thread worked for you! That portion of the novel sort of wrote itself - I kept having these mental images of this tall, strapping blacksmith creatively leaving a trail of spiritual nourishment to satisfy Eden's hungry heart. I thought, from the start, that Silas, being a man of honor, would woo a woman a bit differently than the norm. He always hedged his heart, so to speak, and his safety was found in Scripture. He responded to Eden's need by giving her what had satisfied him in his time of want. He wanted to impart that nothing satisfies like the Savior. It was a lesson she would come to realize for herself when things went awry. It's a lesson we could all learn and relearn, myself foremost. The specific Scripture I included are personal favorites. I never tire of them.

R:Eden's friends at Hope Rising ---as well as Leige Lee before he turned from religion---practice the Quaker faith. Can you speak to your choice in including this particular tenet of protestantism as well as the research involved in presenting this history into the novel?

 L:I've always had a particular fascination with Friends or Quakers (actually a derogatory term at one time) - with their dress, their speech, their anti-slavery, pro-women stance. They were way ahead of their time in many respects and were often respected, wealthy leaders. Since they were the backbone of Pennsylvania, I knew I had to include them in the story. Getting their THEES and THOUS right was a bit tricky, though...

R:Eden and Elspeth are about as different as sisters can be --- and yet one can't help but imagine that if they were melded into one person, their strengths and weaknesses might be better counterbalanced. What strengths do you hope readers take away from Eden? What might we learn from the far more difficult Elspeth? 

Sadly, I've known some Elspeths. And I wish I was more like Eden in that I had her reaction to the circumstances of life - a gentle and quiet spirit. I think Eden was truly a product of her time when women were often victimized and considered little more than property. Given her terribly dysfunctional family, could she have been any different than she was? Her strength was in her attitude about it all. She was a survivor and made a better way for herself. As for Elspeth, I hope she wasn't too black and white. I wanted to show how envy and discontent can destroy you. I do understand how Elspeth ticks. You'll see more of her in book 2 when she becomes a bit more human (sort of). But no spoilers!

R: Silas has a very rich history shrouded in enigma! In fact, I often felt like Gretel being tossed a few revelatory breadcrumbs when it came to details about his past. As an author,what tricks did you use to make sure you weren't giving too much away?

L: Oh, love the Gretel analogySmile emoticon! I think every character should have secrets. I have a horror of TMI or backstory dumping so like to keep things trim. I excel at TMI, actually, so always have to be on guard. I thought that Silas - and readers - would benefit more from a diet of breadcrumbs than a hefty steak. Though I longed to give them steak! My editors have kept me to a strict 110k word count on this series so Silas has had to go on rations along with the author! Prior to turning this book into my editors, the story was quite sprawling. I always want to cry when I cut scenes or reduce things to the barest essence. So much richness and detail is stripped out of the story. But you've given me hope that just a few breadcrumbs might well work!

R:The Ballantyne Legacy is going to be a series (HURRAH!) and we are going to find out more about Silas and his family (DOUBLE HURRAH). Did you start by outlining all of the books in the proposed series to have a bit of a roadmap on where to go? Do you have an omniscient perspective on what will happen when, or do your characters still take you by surprise? Can you speak to your writing process ---especially since your previous novels, have been stand-alone stories.

L: I've always been one of those writers who just sits down with a pen and paper (yes, I still write all my novels in longhand first) and work with only the barest story premise. But with The Ballantyne Legacy, my publisher wanted a detailed synopsis for each of the 4 books in the series. This took me about 3 months to think up! I've never thought a story through from beginning to end and am not sure I like that - though my pub does. Strangely enough, a story and its characters have a life all its own and sometimes you just pitch said synopsis out the window. For example, David Greathouse was never in the synopsis but strode on stage in chapter 2 and just about took over. I was a bit shocked and didn't quite know what to do with him though I knew he meant trouble! I will say that writing a series is far more difficult than writing standalones. Aging and maturing characters is a challenge and the tone of each novel changes. I'm on Ballantyne book 3 now and it's an entirely different animal. Silas is by now 90 and Eden is nearly that. Try spanning that many years! Do you give them gout or let them age gracefully? Do you magnify their foibles or keep them quiet? Things become complicated, to say the least. I may go back to writing standalones!

Make sure you visit Laura Frantz at her website
My thanks to Graf-Martin Communications for providing me with a review copy on behalf of Revell Publishers

FIlm Review: 'Great Expectations, 2012'

Gina at Dickensblog was kind enough to post my review of the 2012 Great Expectations which debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival the other night....complete with my blurry blackberry pic :)

Take a gander at dickensblog

Wednesday, September 12, 2012


Just after picking up my ticket at Roy Thomson
a good quality picture of Jeremy Irvine (Pip), Toby Irvine (Jeremy's brother and Young Pip) and Ralph Fiennes (Magwitch) on the red carpet (top) my blurry blackberry pic from inside the theatre (Mike Newell, director, Ralph Fiennes, Jerermy Irvine, Holliday Grainger, Toby Irvine) 
I totally had the opportunity to see the World Premiere of Mike Newell's brand new Great Expectations last night here in Toronto at the Toronto International Film Festival: a gala held at Roy Thomson Hall.

Review coming shortly on Dickensblog and I will make sure you kids all see it.

It was a great night:  I scored free popcorn from the Orville Redenbacher folks, the nice people in line gave me a champagne token c/o Visa and I got UPGRADED from the public balcony viewing area to the main floor at RTH --- I ended up being just beyond the reserved press seating---about 8 rows back.

in the theatre: upgraded ticket,  notes to write up review for dickensblog,
newly won BlackBerry Playbook
The acoustics, of course, were wonderful.  It was thrilling to see so many of the actors in the film sitting in the audience and on stage beforehand excited to experience the film with a throng of movie-goers.

The best part of the night ?  I won a BLACKBERRY PLAYBOOK from the BlackBerry folk who were wandering about the ticket line pre-show.  It was a momentous and completely unexpected moment and I am thrilled to the gills with it: mostly because it has a Kobo reading app so I have even more ways to receive review copies of books. Moreover, it is compatible with the software that the Toronto Public Library uses to loan e-books which is awesome. Because now I can read everything.

I can also watch Hell on Wheels in whatever format I want ( sidenote: I am currently addicted to Hell on Wheels) : If I wanna watch it on my macbook? fine.  If I wanna watch it on Blackberry Playbook? yep!


More to come....

Monday, September 10, 2012

Author Interview: Karleen Koen, "Before Versailles"

1    I am so thrilled that best-selling author, Karleen Koen, was able to answer a few questions about her intriguing new novel, Before Versailles:  a sweeping and exceptionally intelligent look into the life of the Sun King featuring a cast of unforgettable characters and a beautiful peek into an opulent time....

R:Well-researched Historical Fiction, such as yours, is a treat to readers who love to time-travel to luscious landscapes, seeing through the eyes of historical personages such as Louis XIV. Why do you think Historical Fiction plays an important role in connecting readers with the past as well as helping them understand our world today?

K: Historical fiction is just more fun to read than history, unless the historican is a fine writer, such as David McCullough or Antonia Frasier (my favorite). Wise folk says we learn from our past….we can’t learn from our past if we don’t know it, and historical fiction is a way to get into an era. If you like the era, you can read the factual sources, memories, biographies, etc. The story behind the fact –date of the treaty, time of the assassination, who did it—always grabs our emotion. Fiction allows a play with that emotion, a play that, if the writer can write, pulls a reader in and gives them insight to what is too often dry factual information.

R:I first read Through a Glass Darkly because a friend compared it to Gone With the Wind: a sweeping historical pick that I was so in the mood for!  Before Versailles has the same ambitious and well-realized scope.  What books and authors have most influenced your flare for these epic novels?

 K: I read Frank Yerby and Frank Slaughter, both historical novelists, as a child. I think they had a great deal to do with my innate gravitation toward historical fiction. I read a lot of Louisa May Alcott as a child, and she handles many characters and moral direction well. I love Winston Graham’s first six or so Poldark Saga books because of characterization. I love Daphne du Maurier’s Frenchman’s Creek and King’s General for the narrative voice. I love Georgette Heyer for the silly, fun little comedy of historical manners she wrote….small plots, small characters, but so well done and amusing. I adored Herman Wouk’s Winds of War. Now there was an epic. 

R:The Sun King is a famous subject and many readers will have strong opinions about him as well as imaginative or academic ties to 1660’s France. As an author of fiction, what choices do you find the most difficult when it comes to balancing truth and fiction to appeal to a large audience?

The truth is I don’t worry about appeal. I think only in terms of story as I’m writing. Finding it is my quest. In other books, and likely in the ones to follow Before Versailles, I have always used actual historical characters as secondary characters in the plot. I like the freedom a non-actual hero/heroine gives me. So the trick with writing Before Versailles was to leap off all the research I’d done and knew, to move past the fear of making a mistake around an iconic historical figure, and make Louis XIV human. I think I succeeded. I know I did because I ended by having a crush on him and feeling like I knew him the way I know beloved friend……….

R:Not only does Before Versailles paint a vivid picture of one of history’s most renowned monarchs, it focuses on a crucial period in King Louis’ life---peppering it with intrigue and romance.  How did you get into the mind of the young Louis and what tactics did you use to help bring him so colourfully to life?

K:There are no tricks. I simply try to imagine what the character must be feeling. When I know that and trust my knowing of it, I have the character, so to speak. If Louis seems colorful and not factoid, it’s because I showed readers his emotion.

R:There are several wonderful characters in the novel: the boy in the iron mask, Cardinal Mazarin and Louis’ mother, to name a few. How did you select which characters to portray fully as you painted this portrait of a young king’s history?

K:To select accessory characters was diffcult because so much is known of Louis’s court, and the court was big. Mazarin and Queen Anne are key, however, to the man he became. My research and my own sense of character told me that. Now Mazarin is only a memory, Louis’s memory, in Before Versailles. But he has just died in the story, and he was very much a father figure and a mentor to young Louis, so his death would have been profound and Louis would have been thinking of him, measuring himself according to Mazarin’s standard. His mother was an intelligent woman who survived an awful marriage and young reign. She was clever, and she was loving to Louis. She was also powerful. All of this seemed natural to portray to help readers understand where Louis was coming from.

I found the idea of a young court, of so many of his friends around him, of how he would claim power among them, and his relationship with his brother, just intriguing and felt readers would also, once they understood the dynamics.

R:You’ve written extensive historicals with settings in France, England…even Virginia! Where, as a writer, do you feel most “at home”?

K:In a research book and in the pictures research creates in my mind. More at home in England and France, and more at home with later history, 1660 onward, because it’s not so lethal and cruel. More modern sensibilities are beginning to be formed. The cruelty of other eras, the lack of respect for life, is not my cup of tea………

R:You mention on your website that you prefer European history to American because American history is so “male.” If you could re-imagine one historical event in which a woman’s leadership might have led to a different outcome, which event would you choose?

Sounds like a great plot for a novel….and far too heady and intelligent for me…..what do you think? I think women who have children are less likely to support war, particularly if those children have no choice but to fight in them……but so much depends on the standards of the times.

R: mmmm. I am going to have to think about that one, too! :D

R:You’ve written for magazines and specialty news periodicals. How does this background inform your research and the details and perspectives included in your fiction?

K:Fiction and nonfiction are such different beasts. I did learn to organize lots of information writing nonfiction, organize and focus, and now that I think on it, that skill is probably why I can write big stories that sweep a reader along. But I cannot emphasize enough how different fiction and nonfiction are. Fiction is writing without the net. Nonfiction always has the net of the facts. Fiction is scarier and brings up all your inner demons as you write. 

I would like to thank Karleen Koen for stopping by and answering some of my questions! Also, to Sourcebooks for the opportunity to read this exciting novel and host Karleen Koen here.
Make sure you visit Karleen Koen on her website

Friday, September 07, 2012

The Pirate Queen by Patricia Hickman

From the Publisher: 
Treasure is found in the most unlikely places.

The envy of all her friends, wife and mother Saphora Warren is the model of southern gentility and accomplishment. She lives in a beautiful Lake Norman home, and has raised three capable adult children. Her husband is a successful plastic surgeon--and a philanderer. It is for that reason that, after hosting a garden party for Southern Living magazine, Saphora packs her bags to escape the trappings of the picturesque-but-vacant life. 
Saphora’s departure is interrupted by her husband Bender’s early arrival home, and his words that change her life forever: I’m dying. 
 Against her desires, Saphora agrees to take care of Bender as he fights his illness. They relocate, at his insistance, to their coastal home in Oriental—the same house she had chosen for her private getaway. When her idyllic retreat is overrun by her grown children, grandchildren, townspeople, relatives, and a precocious neighbor child, Saphora’s escape to paradise is anything but the life she had imagined. As she gropes for evidence of God's presence amid the turmoil, can she discover that the richest treasures come in surprising packages?

I must confess that I had requested this book from WaterBrook and it had been lanquishing away in my drafts folder. Raise your hand, bloggers, if this has ever happened to you?

It's very rare that I seek out contemporary Christian writers with a more literary scope ( as I usually prefer the historical romance genre of the CBA); nonetheless, the title intrigued me, calling to mind the famed Grace O'Malley of yesteryear, and a review I had read made me think that Hickman was a talented spinner (if imperfect) of words I should seek out.

I am glad I did.  What is lacking in the CBA are more concise female writers who delve deeply into the psyche of family, hope, faith and traumas (large and small) without shrouding them in romance. Saphora's journey recalls Mrs. Dalloway or the tragic heroine of Kate Chopin's "The Awakening." In short, a woman who wants to buy the flowers herself: surrounded by the typified beauty of a life rigidly vacant life to fill her soul.  When an unexpected arrival and deafening news shatter her best laid plans, Saphora is forced to become giver and forgiver: to dig deep to find compassion in a deep well that will force her to leave behind her plan for new paradise.

Readers, such as myself, may not agree with all of Saphora's decisions may be infuriated by her, her choices and even by her husband and his past; but I wonder how often God is infuriated by us and true character studies take us beyond the realm of simply "likeable" and into the vortex of something deeper and more humane.  

There are some issues of voice here and a penchant for redundancy; but I applaud effort.

This better-late-than-never-review was made possibly by the WaterBrook Blogging for Books program from which I received a copy for review.

Follow the Heart Cover Reveal Contest

Look at the Pretty COVER!!

Hey friends! Today is super special because I am one of the blogs featured in the AWESOME scavenger hunt for all of you lovely readers as desperate to get their hands on a print copy of Follow the Heart (the newest novel by Kaye Dacus) as I am. 

Is there anything I like better than stories set in the Victorian period with a dash (well, more than a dash) of intrigue and romance? Not really! Is there anything better than the development of a love triangle between a zesty heroine and two dashingly different meant? Not really! 

Are we going to find these goodies within the pages of Follow the Heart?! Well, confession time, I have had a sneak peek and I can say, with resounding honesty, YES! YES!  YES! 

Here's how we get this going: 

Leave a comment for me telling me who your FAVOURITE hero of the Victorian Era is ( need help? Queen Victoria reigned from 1837-1901

Scavenger Hunt Trivia:
Directions: Each participating blog has both an answer and a question—but the answers and questions aren’t on the same blog. DON’T POST YOUR ANSWERS HERE! Collect the questions and answers in an e-mail—along with the address of the site where you found each—to be sent to Kaye Dacus once you’re confident you have all of them and be entered to win one of FIVE signed copies of Follow the Heart when it releases in May 2013. Visit for the list of participating sites in the scavenger hunt and rules for entering the contest.
Question: What historical event is generally considered to be the first world’s fair?
Answer: An estimated 42,000 people visited the Crystal Palace every day, with an overall estimated attendance of around six million. From a newspaper report at the time: “There were honest fellows in corduroys, agricultural labourers in smock frocks, and rural folk in their full dress of velveteen, with their sweethearts in bright-coloured shawls of scarlet and green. It was amusing to observe the amazement of these good folks as they entered, and the bewildered look of their upturned wondering eyes gazing up at the roof of the building in stunned and staggered astonishment.”

Book Blurb/Info:

Follow the Heart by Kaye Dacus
Book 1 in The Great Exhibition Series
Coming from B&H Publishing in May 2013
Kate Dearing’s life is turned upside down when her father loses everything in a railroad land speculation and she and her brother are shipped off to their mother’s brother, Sir Anthony, in England with one edict: marry money.
Though their uncle tries to ensure Kate finds matrimonial prospects only among the highest echelon of British society, her attentions stray to the one of the least eligible people at her uncle’s home—the garden designer.
Trying to push her feelings for the handsome—but not wealthy—man aside, Kate’s prospects brighten when a friend of Sir Anthony’s, a wealthy viscount, shows favorable interest in her. But will marrying for the financial security of her family be the right thing to do, when her heart is telling her she’s making a mistake?
Mandates . . . money . . . matrimony. Who will follow the heart?
 Author Bio:
Humor, Hope, and Happily Ever Afters! Kaye Dacus is the author of humorous, hope-filled contemporary and historical romances. She holds a Master of Arts in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University, is a former Vice President of American Christian Fiction Writers, and currently serves as President of Middle Tennessee Christian Writers. Kaye lives in Nashville, Tennessee, and even though she writes romance novels, she is not afraid to admit that she’s never been kissed.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

TLC Blog Tour: The Healer of Fox Hollow by Joann Rose Leonard

From the Publisher: "Right from the start, Layla Tompkin’s way forward is full of detours after her mother dies in breech birth, leaving only her and her devoted, sorrowful father, Ed. Then, at the age of five, Layla is rendered mute after a horrible accident. “God is leading Layla to speak in new tongues,” proclaims Pastor Simpson at the local serpent handling church. Soon after, Layla is found to possess the gift of healing and her reputation spreads. Even Doc Fredericks, the area’s skeptical physician, is forced to re-examine scientific tenets when Layla's healing touch is the only treatment that brings relief to his son Brian, whose legs were blown off by a landmine in Vietnam. Doubt and the miraculous, loss and survival, hurt and forgiveness collide when a secret challenges what everyone holds true, leaving Layla, her family and the community profoundly changed in a story about what it means to be truly healed."

This is a delicious character piece: carefully constructed to speak to human weakness and the gift of using broken or unlikely vessels to filter the miraculous.

It's  revelatory that a book infused with the spiritual and the metaphysical can also extract great warmth from the ordinary. Layla Tompkins is not an extraordinary character. She is, instead, bestowed with the gift/plague of and extraordinarily miraculous power.  Consider a conversation about sandwiches ----peanut butter or roast beef--- in pitch perfect realization of dialogue past the halfway mark of the novel; or Layla mounting a Greyhound bus, pig-tailed and equipped with emergency numbers as she goes to visit relatives.

Leonard could easy have made this into a sweeping spectacle of holy ordinance; rather she chooses instead to pen a thesis stringing faith and doubt; hope and heartbreak and peppered with characters so well-drawn, dynamic and believable, they leap off the page at you.  There's a touch of John Irving here and a touch of Billie Letts: like their novels, like the best novels, Leonard chooses not to patronize readers; rather to welcome them warmly into the yarn--- as if we were beguiled bystanders watching the action unravel before us: laughing at quipped dialogue, suffering at the atrocious aftermath of war, the propensity of humanity to falter with suffering and heartbreak, the personal demons which haunt and taunt us as we grow older, wiser, frailer.

With this novel, timeless in its scope, and in addition to the thematic resonance above, you are set in a sort of age-old attic, squeaking floor boards beneath you, dust unsettling at the slightest touch and you stumble upon scrawled handwriting of the past as names and places spoken to you at random, jumping  to life as you intwine yourself with the story and its all-too-human characters.

In a world where families are torn apart and abuse and violence are rampant: I enjoyed how this story cherished and championed the pure relationship of a father and a daughter; of flawed yet good-meaning men and women who painted the backdrop of Layla's formative years, who became her family---contrived and natural---

I know readers who are reluctant to engage with a story that speaks to religion; but , in this case, the spiritual facets of the novel are closely interwoven with the failings and triumphs of humanity: of hope, belief and love.  I would encourage readers skeptical of miracles, or spiritual revivals of sort to indulge in the taut characterization.  Though a religious person, I found myself disengaging from any strongholds of spiritual truths and instead spellbound by a gifted storyteller's magic.

This book, without a doubt, should be made into a film

I received this book for review from TLC ( though I am probably blacklisted by now for reviewing it so late after the promised date ;)  For that, and to you blog readers, I apologize).

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

What "White Collar" can teach You ( yes YOU!) about characterization ....

Note: When referring to the writing behind White Collar, I use Jeff Eastin (creator's ) name to denote the team of writers which propel his creation forward....I'm a book reviewer. I'm used to having one author :D

White Collar is better written than you think it is.  Even if you think that it is the smartest thing ever.... it is smarter still.

Here's why:  White Collar speaks to the insanely imperative need to script deft characterization and have a succinct direction for your plot and characters before you set pen to paper with more finite details like, oh, I don't know: one episode  ( from a novel writer's point of view, say, a chapter).  It is so amazingly obvious that Jeff Eastin has created an entire world and that he knows each of the characters populating this universe that every character and every character's situation speaks to the careful outline and comprehension Eastin has for their individual constructs.

To add,  Eastin is a master of weaving deliciously threaded themes into the current of his story: the story of Midas, the belief that you are informed by your history and environment, the natural human interaction which can transfer into traits transposed from one party to another, an interesting thesis on ethics, the blurred line of morality, the grey areas ---- it's all there.....

This is remarkable in a medium such as television where several writers have their fingers in the creative pie.  Indeed, as an aspiring novelist, I cannot imagine what it would be like to have someone else given reign over one of my characters: to take them, marionette-like, and make them dance.  However, secure in the knowledge that Creator Eastin and team know their world so well, this works: on an individual and over-arching level.

Before you can see "That Music Box/Fowler Thread From Hell" ---consider this.  Consider how WC plays with conventions.... while still feeding into the popular demographic and the need we all have for seasons to end on high suspense and string us along, week by week, given slow, steady tosses of crumbs like Hansel and Gretel mid-forest.

Eastin et al write for the USA network: renowned for separating their "seasons" into two: breaking in the summer, in White Collar's case and resuming in Winter.  Thus, Eastin has to be well aware that he will have two major breaking points. In order to woo back the audience ( if Matt Bomer's smile was not enough), he has to plan two plausible breaks.  He has to make his characters colour outside the lines enough or dapple in trouble enough to leave the audience hanging without ruining the rest of his structured season with a rapid denouement favouring plot over development.

If you have solid characterization and, more still, a solid understanding of each of your characters and how they work in your little world, your puppet show, then this will be a smooth transition.

Consider this scene:  you can pick any scene really and it will have some level of revelatory moment; but this is from Season II.  Peter's background as an accountant is brought to light. Not the prime focus usually; but mentioned so that we are ready for this episode. Further, the episode (to dig deep into character remembrance) has him drinking Italian Roast espresso: one of the first things we realize that he likes upon visiting Neal for the first time and our first inclination that though a steady, hard-working agent he is enamoured with the finer things that Neal possesses ( or steals).  In these slight-of-hand ways we are led towards the moments where Peter will cross lines and blur morality into Neal's world.  Blink and you'll miss it; but he NEVER acts 'out of character' even when he surprises us:

Eastin knows what his audience wants and yet he never gives all of it to you.   From the beginning, he has been dropping sly, small hints about where the story might go.  He throws in a few curveballs: streaming the plot to the side and keeping you on tenterhooks; but the ever-important arch; the ultimate manifest of his character's lives as a whole are pulsating there like a flounced basso continuo beneath the surface.

Most television shows would love the idea of exploring a main character's background. Especially if, as is the case with master con Neal Caffrey, the main character is a veritable smorgasbord of aliases and noms de plume.  We want to know everything about Neal; we want to know the intimate details ---even the details that super-agent Peter Burke, FBI, couldn't detract when he was tracking Caffrey.
Details such as Neal's family.  Eastin does well at throwing this plot detail in like a sprinkling of salt in an already flavourful dish.  In season II,  Neal mentions his father.  If you were half-paying attention while knitting or cooking or doing handstands against your wall,  you might even have missed it.  We learn that Neal's dad died when Neal was very young and that his father was a corrupt cop.  We learn that Neal believes that one is a product of their environment and that he feels almost preconditioned to lead the same dissolute lifestyle. We know that Peter disagrees.

These seeds are planted.  In another show, a lesser show, the next episode would dive right in for immediate viewer satisfaction and thus the second half of a storyline of a season might be born: bring in the family history, figure out the rough and tumble way it attacks our character and have a rip-roaring finale with a family member introduced ( I'm looking at you, Grimm) Oh revelations! We love them.  Instead, Eastin let the pot stew for a bit. We're in season 4 and we're finally learning about Neal's history.  The entire focus of every storyline, however, is not pinpointed towards that plot point for instant gratification.

There are eight bazillion reasons why White Collar is well-written; but the most influential aspect of the show is its careful characterization and ability to choose character over plot knowing that if you excel at one, the other can be painted in later to great aplomb.

We're talking deft characterization. Down to knowing a character's shoe size ( as Peter knew Neal's when he was tracking him ) to their favourite ice cream ( bubble gum, Mozzie!) to what vocabulary they would use.  As a writer I love the moment when my characters separate and start talking on their own: with their own inflection, their own choice words, their own spirit or sass. Consider the choice words Mozzie uses --- Mozzie has a vocabulary of his own down to descriptors.  Consider the contractions that Peter uses while Neal still holds the pretense of being somewhat more upper class ( as bespeaks his life as a high-class White Collar con )..... the attention to detail, the firm grasp of each character's motive and how they bleed into each other in a sort of extended, rotating carousel is unparalleled.

We're not talking BBC Sherlock here, kids.  That's brilliant for a different reason: the updating of a century-agnostic story and the medium of adaptation. We're talking about an American police procedural which is deceptively fun and a lot like cotton candy; but which has inspired me to spend more time internalizing CHARACTER --- what they say, how they say it, how themes suggest plot. Moreover, it inspires the sprinkling of a strong hint or two into a veritable jambalaya and letting it soak up flavour under the perfect moment when you can extract and taste....

Anatomy of a Scene from @jeffeastin 's twitter account -- the process in writing 
We're into a really juicy part of the story now, boys and girls, and I know that fair Eastin has our entire path plotted out for us.  We'll keep going back to Peter and Neal's on again/off again relationship and myriad of trust issues because it has enough quantifiable believability to lead us on.  With all great characterization comes reader/viewer/audience investment.  And guess what? I'm invested ( and if you're reading this, you probably are too)

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

A few Thomas Nelson titles read recently....

I[I received both review copies through Netgalley]

Through Rushing Water by Catherine Richmond: I was phenomenally impressed with the literary competence displayed by Catherine Richmond in the first title I have read by this author.  If you, like, me are driven deep into a novel by well-realized characterization; then you have come to the right party.  Sophia Manikoff is certain that her beau will not only become a US Congressman; but also propose.  Her future seems safe and secure until the unthinkable happens and she is brushed aside for another woman.

Sophia acts rashly and registers for the Board of Foreign Missions, certain she’ll be spirited off to the Far East and not to the Ponca Indian Agency in Dakota Territory.  Nonetheless, it is here she lands and is thrust into a world completely devoid of anything familiar.  She befriends the locals, sets long-standing customs on their ear and dapples in a budding romance with the local carpenter, Willoughby Dunn.   I was not only impressed by the descriptive flare of Richmond’s prose;  but also her meticulously-researched yarn.  Moreover, I enjoyed Sophia’s intelligence and her grasp of numerous languages. Learning more about her unique Russian heritage was welcome. Will was a welcome suitor; mentally-matched to the spirited Sophia and the harsh winter, difficult situations and violent surroundings of this Territory are well met by Richmond’s competent pen.

This Scarlet Cord by Joan Wolf comes after the success of her re-telling of the Esther story.  Here, she re-imagines Rahab’s life in Jericho from the time of her youth:  a young Canaanite woman of unique beauty who nearly escapes a life of slavery by the help of prominent Sala ( the Biblical Salmon ) and his father. Time moves forward and Rahab is pitted against the well-known historical events in the Bible: including her hiding of two Israeli spies from Joshua’s army.  Sala’s military connections are also explored.  I must confess that this is not the most accurate representation of the Bible story; infused with a rather fictional realization and colouring of events that stray from the original text.  What Wolf excels in, however, is her grasp of the political and cultural climate of Rahab’s age: she does well at painting the pagan rituals as well as the star-crossed love of Canaanite girl Rahab and Israeli boy Sala.  The issue of women being used as commodities to secure financially-appropriate marriages is also explored.  This book is exceptionally readable.    


Saturday, September 01, 2012

FREE on KINDLE : 'The Widow of Larkspur Inn'

If you like Elizabeth Gaskell's novels or revelled in the rural simplicity of the BBC Cranford series, then this is the novel for you....

One of the best Christian historical writers ( really, she is a classic ) evokes a small English countryside town in the height of Victoriana in The Gresham Chronicles

The first visit to Gresham is FREE today on kindle....

go forth, and get it !