Thursday, June 16, 2016

Book Gush: 'From This Moment' Elizabeth Camden


I am a gushy fangirl!

Part of the reason I make an idiot of myself fan-girling over Elizabeth Camden is that she validates everything I love about fiction.   In her heroines, I see proud and strong women who are very professionally-driven.  Her romances always unfurl with the heroes falling for the heroines because of their confidence and strength. In short, she uses fascinating historical detail to champion women in the working world. She makes me feel better about myself: my career, my choices, my strong nature and will.

While her heroines are never shrinking violets, so they still range from the optimistic to the steel-spined to the romantic to the troubled to the vulnerable--- often all at once.

Camden is especially brave in the way that she handles relationships that are not a traditional happy ever after. Braver still in how her characters express their limitations.  They may fall into each other's arms on a beautiful beach scene ( thanks, Romulus and Stella), but they also are honest enough to admit that they may fail even as they brush the possibility of a life together.

Indeed, this is one of the points I want to make about the power of From This Moment. The prequel novella Summer of Dreams is a resplendent companion piece featuring two supporting characters in Clyde and Evelyn.  Clyde and Evelyn's story ends happily in the novella only to find them separated and working through layers of confusion and miscommunication in this full-length book. While most romance authors enjoy tying up the neat bow of the happily ever after ending, Camden explores the after: two people who through time and circumstance have grown apart and who tragedy has given a new opportunity. Will they sever forever or find a strength that will bind them more closely than they imagined?

For readers of Camden's canon, they know that the troubles plaguing characters with histories of regret and guilt are part of what makes the flawed personages stand out so well on page.  No one in a Camden novel will ever grace its pages without the weight of the past.    Think of Lydia in Against the Tide, think of the abuse that Anna and Luke have both endured in Beyond All Dreams, think of Trevor's passion for medical study in With Every Breath.   In From This Moment, Romulus and Stella are both results of the past, as are Clyde and Evelyn.

I start, here, with the former:    Clyde and Evelyn  married young and recklessly in a whirlwind of excitement.  But Evelyn suffered the tragedy of the death of a child while Clyde was focused on supporting her with a remote job.   Both independent workaholics, the events of From this Moment recall all that has ripped them apart at the seams over a decade.

Their close association with Romulus has resulted in his taking two steps back from any relationship first, because his heart was broken and second because he has seen what can happen when you love.  Clyde and Evelyn loved deeply and it forged a tremulous gash in their makeup.

Broken relationships, fallacies, limitations and pride:  these are bold things to explore in Historical Romance but Camden, with a swift brush and a ponderously gorgeous grasp of prose ( not to mention a perfect realization of late 19th Century Boston), does so, consistently, with aplomb.

Perambulatory musings aside, let's get to the heart of this rather shakingly good book.

Stella is a talented artist who has long enjoyed correspondence with Romulus, editor and part owner of Scientific World.    Romulus has long pursued her to work for him and the hints of an epistolary banter is magnified when the sparks fly on their first meeting. As much as Stella wants to use her artistic talent, so she is afraid of being side tracked from her true purpose in Boston: to uncover those responsible for the death of her sister.  Said to be a drowning, Stella suspects that Gwendolyn's proximity to corruption at the heart of the city's political core may have led to her murder.

Romulus, fascinated by Stella's confidence and pride ( they both sport considerable egos, especially when one-upping each other) helps her meander her way around some of Boston's higher echelons. In return, she does some splendid work for him.   Together, they find themselves entangled in a maze of deceit and tragedy, childhood mistakes and uncertain futures, all pitted against the fascinating engineering of the Boston subway system.

I must add that alongside the many, many virtues of a Camden book is that her heroines never need to be rescued and often rescue themselves. This is most pronounced at a climactic scene where it would be an easy-set up for Romulus to ride in on a white horse, but he doesn't need to. In turn, there is a sequence where Evelyn rescues Clyde.  She plays with gender supposition and undercuts with such a staggering and strong sense of gender equality my fingertips tingle.

There are so many delicious things about this book: one is the slow thaw of two characters who, lets face it, aren't the darlings of the page from the get-go. They are both flawed, proud, conceited and stubborn as all get out.  When contrasted with the supporting relationship of  Clyde and Evelyn who show pride and limitations in their own way, you wonder if anyone will ever find their happy ever after.  But that is the brilliance of Camden.  She gives you a little bit of a shaft of light here and there: a night listening to music and stuffing subscription letters into envelopes, the sanctuary of the memory of hummingbirds, a few key insights into a friendship long established while Stella is welcomed into the group.

Like little breadcrumb trails, she flings you pieces of the character's inner-workings and relationships much in the same way she gives you just a fling here and there of the eventual realization of the most intricate mystery. When all is revealed, you will first audibly gasp then secondly laugh at HOW SMART SHE IS for writing this.

Camden's penchant for verisimilitude and her obvious passion for painstaking historical research are well on display here.

When it comes to world-building, few authors have such a keen handle on the female professional experience in the late 19th Century.     I am fascinated by her heroine's intelligence, I am hopeful by the hero's acceptance of their confidence, I am glad when a preternatural kinship sometimes riddled with the conflicts of the story are smoothed out and all is well that ends well.

(note: I especially enjoyed the attention paid to fashion in this one: Stella is a very fashionable woman and Camden extrapolates on this well. Romulus also is quite dapper).


"They would either get along smashingly or be tempted to kill each other on sight."

"Beneath his fine black suit, he wore a vest of lavender silk shot with threads of gold. Only a man of immense confidence could wear such a colour and still appear to be the most masculine man in th world."

"It was in ordinary places that the human spirit was unshackled and free to enjoy the gift of life, transcendent in a way that was almost holy"   <--yes she does make a quick stop at a pub for cabbage and beef a religious experience

"To date you have displayed the manners of a common wood tick, but I live in hope"

"Excitement illuminated his face as if a live electrical wire had flared to life inside him"

"Ouch," Romulus said, "Two split infinitives in one sentence."

"He even smelled divine, like piney soap and the crisp scent of starched linen."

"The last thing Stella wanted was to join the ranks of pitiful women trailing after Romulus with forlorn hope in their eyes. But she wasn't a pitiful woman. She was a strong one who was willing to fight for what she wanted. And she wanted Romulus White."

"If women don't band together, we'll fall beneath the stampede of men."

Monday, June 13, 2016

Theatre Update

Alright, it has been awhile since I touched base on the performance side of things.

shakespeare in love 

Like a long time! I am trying to think what I need to recap you on.

I left half-way through a production of If/Then because neither the music nor the plot and characters grabbed me.   I did enjoy seeing Anthony Rapp, though

The Judas Kiss was a brilliant adventure for renowned actor Rupert Everett: who embodies Oscar Wilde in a warm and funny way.  The contrast between the Wilde of the first act and subsequently the Wilde of the second, post-incarceration, is remarkable and displayed in Everett's tone and body language.  Perhaps the most alluring aspect of this play, to me, was the way it incapsulated the language and wit of a Wilde play, appropriating it to tell his story. The rhythms and nuances were quite deft and wonderful.

Theatre-adjacent and performance wise, I had the opportunity to hear Kathleen Battle two weeks ago through a cycle of Negro Spirituals and backed by a marvellous choir.  Roy Thomson Hall was the perfect setting for her resplendent voice and she was a performer on my bucket list.  She has a haunting away of wrapping her instrument around haunting metrics. I loved it.

Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder is one of the smartest, funniest shows I have ever seen. I am actually going back I liked it so much.  It is based on the British black comedy Kind Hearts and Coronets and features Monty Navarro: an impoverished man mourning the death of his mother who learns she is a distant relative of a wealthy and titled family.  He picks off his relatives in rather ingenious and hilarious ways to climb to the top of the pecking order.   The staging is  wonderful and the Gilbert and Sullivan-esque musical numbers pay homage to the Edwardian music halls with perfect musical setting.

I was in Stratford this weekend ( I hope to return again this summer)

A Chorus Line is a passion project of famed Stratford choreographer and director Donna Feore.  Stratford's production is the first time Michael Bennett's estate has allowed a professional company to perform the show on a stage that is not a proscenium arch.

A Chorus Line is familiar to me as is its music, but I have never seen it performed live. A complete contrast to the opulent mechanics of a show such as Gentleman's Guide, the stage is black with only lights and mirrors to create the world of a Broadway theatre on one day of audition eliminations.     It is one of the best musicals I have seen at Stratford, mostly because there were no weak links in the cast. Everyone was talented vocally and in dancing with a few stand-out solos. The orchestra was also amazing.     It is a very effective piece: highlighting vignettes of auditioning dancers and digging into their backgrounds, only to have them fade into one seamless and un-indvidualized line at the end.

(note: if you haven't seen the documentary Every Little Step it is worth the watch for anyone interested in Broadway).

Yesterday afternoon, I went to Shakespeare in Love at the Avon (which I prefer to the Festival Theatre, sorry ).  Tom Stoppard ( a brilliant playwright) also dabbles in Hollywood and the film made for sensible theatrical pursuit.  Unfortunately, despite the costumes, staging, music ( extra points for the troubadours and performers on stage ) the two leads failed to have any chemistry at all which undercut the smarter and more alluring parts of the feminist historical tale.  I, of course, love the trope of a woman dressing as a man in order to pursue a man's world but I didn't buy the two leads as really grasping the mouth-dropping and unexpected and blatantly forward story they were telling.

It did, however, remind me how wonderful Stoppard is: interweaving Two Gentleman of Verona and Romeo and Juliet with his own lines--their cadence and exposition worthy of the Bard.

Thursday, June 09, 2016

Book Gush: 'The Beautiful Pretender' by Melanie Dickerson

Unless you are a book on Toronto in the Great War, early 20th Century munitions or the War Measures Act, I have not been reading you for the past few months.

Fiction and reading for pleasure has been replaced by my researching and working on The White Feather Murders .
So, I was delighted to take a brain break and start reading The Beautiful Pretender as my subway read to the real job the last few days.

(note: if you are expecting any kind of eloquence, I direct you elsewhere.  Herein, you shall be privvy to my squeals and bouncing in my chair and finger-tip tingling delight! )


The sexy "we're hiding in a false wall behind a book case and there may be beetles but let us hold each other for body warmth!"

The kinda-maimed-Beast-like-guy who saves the HEROINE from WOLVES !

The dresses and historical detail. THE BALLS!  The Queen Esther trope of having a man in a position of power audition women to be his lady for life.

I die, Horatio! 

Basically, Reinhart is Rachel-catnip and is by far my favourite Dickerson hero since the gruff and gentle Ranulf in The Merchant's Daughter who I am still pining for.

Now, The Beautiful Pretender  is tied with the aforementioned for RACHEL'S FAVOURITE MELANIE DICKERSON BOOKS

I guess you guys want some plot or recap.

Avelina is ladies' maid to beautiful Dorothea. But Dorothea is a bit of a *ahem* scandalous woman and has found herself with child and unmarried having run off with a knight ( this is totally a story I would also read, fyi ). This is rather inconvenient because Dorothea was to be on a medieval episode of the Bachelor and go to Thornbeck Castle for two weeks to audition as bride to the Margrave of Thornbeck: one of the king's favourites and a powerful political alliance.

The Earl of Plimmwald demands that Avelina go in his missing daughter's place.  Avelina is all: but I am a servant.  Earl is all: I don't care and you better not get him to choose you but find out if there is a threat to Plimmwald or I will hurt your family and not give you pork.

Avelina goes.  While there, she is resplendently unique and herself and befriends another auditionee, Lady Magdalen, while slowly thawing the cold exterior of THE HOTTEST TORTURED MARGRAVE IN THE HISTORY OF UNSHAVEN TORTURED MARGRAVES!  His brother died, he has a mad woman ( and secret ) in the West Wing and he doesn't believe a woman can heal a soul fettered by the wounds of the battlefield.

OMG!  But .... then... Avelina speaks her mind and is gentle and is even playing the game so that her friend Magdalen can win the Margrave's love and this unintentional "hard to get" act just makes her more appealing.  And someone tries to sabotage her horse saddle and he catches her! And someone tries to throw her off a balcony --- AND HE CATCHES HER !

and there is a lot of physical being and touching and caressing and holding in this book and I feel warm like a cup of mulled cider with the spicy pheasant they always seem to be eating.

Also, Avelina likes cherries which are sweet and tart and that is just a stroke of character genius!

Also, private tunnels and false doors and hidden dungeons and lots of PLACES FOR THE MARGRAVE AND AVELINA TO HIDE AND HOLD AND SNUGGLE when the palace is under attack ( but I will leave that for you guys to find out)

Also, there is Odette and Jorgen and we love those guys from a previous book ( but you can read this standalone)

What we have here, kittens, is a beautifully-rendered world, lush with moral pragmatism, gorgeous language and a romance unfurling in the trope of preternatural kinship.  These two are equals! And I love that she loves him but wants what is best for him and he loves that ( may I mention again) HE SAVES HER FROM WOLVES

and he has a big library.


"If my mother has taught me anything, it's that a woman must demand respect."

"And even though this love was painful, it was worth it to remember how the sight of him and the sound of his voice had made her heart beat faster, that feeling of wanting what was best for someone else even if it broke her heart."

Tuesday, June 07, 2016


If you have yet to purchase the most recent installment of the Herringford and Watts series, you really should!

I think it is a heck of a lot of fun and features some of my favourite things in the world: like lemon jam, Little Women, and Boston

Ne'er-Do-Wells of New England—You've Been Warned!
Merinda Herringford and Jem Watts are never lacking for mysteries of the curious and commonplace, but lately business has been a little less curious and a lot more common.

With only missing jewelry and a kidnapped rooster on the case docket, Merinda is bored stiff. Jem welcomes the reprieve as she settles into married life, attempting to learn the domestic skills that have cunningly evaded her as a bachelor girl detective.    

The lull in business is short-lived when a telegram arrives from the detective duo's suffragette friend, Martha Kingston, detailing the mysterious disappearance of a school chum's sister in Concord, Massachusetts. 

No sooner do Jem and Merinda arrive in the States to investigate than they find themselves embroiled in a world of strange affairs, purloined letters, and a baffling mystery whose clues lead directly to Orchard House, the homestead made famous by its long-time resident, Louisa May Alcott.

At Orchard House last June


What is better than Merinda and Jem coming to America? Not just any part of America but where Louisa May Alcott lived. With the returning women detectives, I couldn't wait to see them solve this mystery. From a lost rooster and a missing woman to problems adjusting to life as a newlywed, Merinda and Jem took me another adventure, which I willing went along with. The main problem I had with this novella was that it was too short. The pages zoomed by, and before I knew it, the story was finished, and the mystery solved. I really can't wait for the next book A Lesson in Love and Murder. Write faster, Rachel!!!

At Walden Pond last June 

Such an enjoyable read! I have loved following these richly written characters and watching their story unfold. The consistency with which the author writes, from language to location, truly transports you back in time. I have absolutely loved walking the streets of 1910 with Herringford & Watts!