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 café 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!

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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 

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Theatre Post !

I have had some fun theatrically recently and am so excited to tell you about it.

First off, Come fromAway: a musical I loved in its pre-Broadway run at the Royal Alex is now opening on Broadway. It is set during the aftermath of 9/11 in Gander, Newfoundland and showcases the incredible hospitality and resilience of the spirited locals.  If you are in New York, make sure you see it

Two weeks ago, I went to Halifax to see Kim’s Convenience at the Neptune Theatre. I always love an excuse to go to Nova Scotia and my friend Kat has long been this ground-breaking production’s stage manager.   Though I had seen it before in Toronto ( with Ins Choi, the playwright, playing prodigal son, Jung), it was a fresh and exciting experience to see a few new cast members.   This show, too, is headed to New York this summer ( huzzah for Canadian theatre on Broadway).

And, as always, Halifax was good for my writing chops.  I wrote a ton while there….

We are so lucky to live in a time and age where theatre is broadcast on cinema screens.  I absolutely salivated when I heard that the National Theatre was producing Amadeus, which remains one of my favourite plays of all time.   And I was stoked to see it at a theatre a few weeks ago.   It is a tale of madness and religion and obsession and art and the play has freer range to delve into all of these themes in a way that the (also excellent) film doesn’t.   To add, they really amped up the use of Mozart’s music, with  a mobile orchestra on stage. I liked it so much, I am pipe dreaming a trip to London when it plays again next winter….

As a musical theatre NUT, I have always wanted to see Cabaret –especially the definitive Roundhouse Production that plays on the popular Sam Mendes direction from the mid-90s.    It is here for a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it stop at the Princess of Wales while on a national tour.  I was blown away by the production and the hefty conceptualization of the show but also how chillingly and potently relevant it is to current political tenets.  Honestly, this is why I love theatre: it says things in a big and broad and brash way with stop lights and pageantry.  A magnificent production.

Last night, I was SO stoked to attend a production of Measure for Measure by Toronto’s new Groundling theatre company.   I also enjoyed the chance to see a show in the Winter Garden.   I have been there quite a bit the past few years for tour and research, but most of what I see at the double-decker, is in the Elgin.  Readers of Herringford and Watts will know that I think it is the most beautiful place in the world. So magical, I set numerous Jem and Ray scenes there---

Last night, the intimate audience sat on stage in scaffolded rows while the action took place at the lip of the stage and the empty, gorgeous flora fantasia stretched out in its glimmery coloured lanterns and draping vines.       This was a Shakespeare I had never seen live before and, as per his magic, it stretches out before you, you quickly becoming accustomed to the rhythm of the language and picking up with its ebbing speed. 

Friday, February 10, 2017

Author Interview: Stephanie Morrill and GIVEAWAY

So excited about the release of The Lost Girl of Astor Street this week. 
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A new favourite author, Stephanie Morill, was kind enough to answer some questions I had regarding her gorgeous new historical YA

Leave a comment telling us WHY you want to meet Piper and Mariano, and we'll do a random draw for a hardback copy of Lost Girl!

1.)    Lydia’s bouts of epilepsy play an important role in the story and our understanding of her character. To add, they show the glaring injustice befalling victims of illnesses in a time when so much was yet to be learned. What inspired you to include this in the novel?
Epilepsy became a part of The Lost Girl of Astor Street because one of my sons had recently been diagnosed. As I researched his condition, I learned that the 1920s was a big decade of change for those who suffered from epilepsy. One of the first effective anti-seizure drugs was developed at that time, as was the Ketogenic diet, which has been miraculous for my son. As terrifying as it is to experience epilepsy now, it broke my heart to consider how much harder it was before technology like EEGs came along.
2.)    White slavery, bootlegging, the Mob, violence and abuse are themes apparent throughout the book and you never once cringe from blatantly showing their effects on our central characters.    How difficult was it to balance the lighter moments and romance in the book with moments of this dark subject matter?
That was one of the reasons why this book to me so much longer to write than any I had written before. Developing the relationship between Piper and Mariano took several drafts to get right, because of the struggle to balance Piper’s emotional journey. She was going through something devastating like not being able to find her best friend, but then also something lovely like falling in love. While I was writing, it was difficult for me to tell if I was getting the balance right, so it was very important for me to have lots of time between drafting and editing. I was also thankful for writer friends who gave their time to reading early drafts. They were very patient!
3.)    You cite that you enjoy strong heroines --- what is it about the 1920s that loaned itself to creating a strong, independent female who draws sound comparisons to 21st Century sleuth Veronica Mars?

The teenage generation in the 1920s was the first generation to be targeted by advertisers at a young age. There was also a lot more connection and awareness to other lifestyles, rather than being more isolated to your local community. And there was an ever-widening gap between their values and the Victorian era values their parents were raised with. I’ve found that writing about generations where there’s a lot of change can open up a lot of opportunities for strength to shine through.
4.)    Chicago is one of my favourite US cities to visit ( I will be back in March!)  You create a Chicago that sizzles and pops off the page acting as a character in its own right. What research went into this world building and what about this city allured you to create such a stirring landscape?

Oh, I love Chicago. I’m jealous you’ve been so recently, because I’m dying to get back there. When I started the book, I knew I wanted 1920s and a big city. Chicago certainly had plenty going on at that time! I had been several times, and could recall memories of the wind coming off the lake, games at Wrigley Field, and hectic Michigan Avenue. Much of the rest was good old-fashioned research. Google Maps became my best friend. I spent loads of time “walking” around the Gold Coast, plus looking at old photographs of it. The website for Chicago’s public transportation system has fabulous historical goodies. And I was at my library constantly to pick up more research books.
5.)    As a reader I was struck by how Mariano’s complicated relationship with his family aligned with Piper’s revelations about her own family. Like many points in the novel, it reiterated how carefully plotted the story was and how intricately connected all of the characters were.  How did you prepare for such a thrilling, twisting, mystery while balancing such deft character development?
Thank you! Rewrites, rewrites, and more rewrites. And early readers who provided great feedback about what wasn’t working. Without giving too much away, I knew from the beginning that I wanted Mariano to not be exactly what he seemed. But I didn’t know what that looked like, so there was a lot of trial and error involved in making that all fit together.

6.)    I really want the last question to be Will Mariano Marry Me ( but I think Piper might have dibs). Instead, can you tell us a bit about what you will be working on next? If this is top secret, perhaps a period you have always wanted to fictionally explore? 

Of course! I’m in the middle of edits for another book that is set in the same world as Piper’s and has some overlap, but is a separate story. I have ideas for another Piper book, and I’ve done a tiny bit of writing on it, but I really want to make sure that it’s the right kind of sequel.

Stephanie Morrill is the creator of and the author of several young adult novels, including the historical mystery, The Lost Girl of Astor Street. Despite loving cloche hats and drop-waist dresses, Stephanie would have been a terrible flapper because she can’t do the Charleston and looks awful with bobbed hair. She and her near-constant ponytail live in Kansas City with her husband and three kids.


About the Book:

Lydia has vanished.

Lydia, who’s never broken any rules, except falling in love with the wrong boy. Lydia, who’s been Piper’s best friend since they were children. Lydia, who never even said good-bye.

Convinced the police are looking in all the wrong places, eighteen-year-old Piper Sail begins her own investigation in an attempt to solve the mystery of Lydia’s disappearance. With the reluctant help of a handsome young detective, Piper goes searching for answers in the dark underbelly of 1924 Chicago, determined to find Lydia at any cost.

When Piper discovers those answers might stem from the corruption strangling the city—and quite possibly lead back to the doors of her affluent neighborhood—she must decide how deep she’s willing to dig, how much she should reveal, and if she’s willing to risk her life of privilege for the sake of the truth.

From the glitzy homes of the elite to the mob-run streets of 1920s Chicago, Stephanie Morrill’s jazz-age mystery shows just how far a girl will go to save her friend.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

BOOK GUSH: 'The Lost Girl of Astor Street' by Stephanie Morrill


Oh my goodness, YOU GUYS! Have I got the book for you........

Conductor of Light (Free Short Story) (Herringford and Watts Mysteries) by [McMillan, Rachel]
But first, a reminder that CONDUCTOR OF LIGHT is now available on all major e-readers for FREE.   Publisher and I came up with the idea of a tiny little Herringford and Watts treat to tie you over before WHITE FEATHER MURDERS releases in May.  It is a close-roomed mystery in Four Acts set amidst the tantalizing world of Edwardian Vaudeville.  And there is a bit with a dog.


Lost Girl of Astor Street_cover (2)

Back to gush.

Okay, SO I really, really wanted to read The Lost Girl of Astor Street the moment I heard about it and I was savvy to have it on my radar, it turns out, because it exceeded expectations and then some.

If you like Veronica Mars, the Roaring Twenties, plenty of plot twists and knee-buckling romance, then let me invite you into Piper Sail's fully realized world of flappers and mob-men, danger and high-class sleuthery.

Piper Sail is a renowned lawyer's daughter and resident of the upscale Astor Street in Chicago.  She does a poor job of avoiding trouble at her prestigious private school but is tempered by the influence of her sweet friend, Lydia.  Also peppering her world are her brothers, a rakish journalist named Jeremiah Crane ( you might want to start writing that name in your notebook and drawing hearts around it) and her long-time baseball-playing friend Walter ( ditto with the heart drawing).

When Lydia is reported missing, Piper learns that her friend was a pivotal aspect of a world now seeming to fray at the seams. Nothing is as it seems and with her amateur investigation into Lydia's whereabouts, she is springboarded into a season of self-realization.

While confronting the uneasiness of a world shrouded with privilege and slowly eking out shades of darkness in her own family,  Piper is joined by the absolutely swoon-worthy young detective, Mariano Cassano.

And here, fair readers, I will go tangential with cheeks blushing and fingertips tingling....

MARIANO is a friggin' dreamboat.  He respects Lydia and treats her as an equal as they launch each step of their sideline informal investigation.  He has a dark, broody past that only reconciles with the tenacity and virtue of his present and he is dedicated to his job.  He has a winning smile, a lanky build and every time he tipped his trilby or fingered his suspenders ( maybe I wrote that in..... I don't know if he fingered his suspenders but you all know I think suspenders are hot), I went to lala land ( now playing at a cinema near you).

The chemistry between Piper and Mariano snap crackles and pops from their first meeting when  (SIGH) he arrives to calmly question her about Lydia ( DOUBLE SIGH) while, of course, being all dark-haired and olive-skinned and handsome as all get out.

( Later they dance under the stars after eating pizza in the park, I kid you not).

Mariano and Piper's relationship was, to me, the center of this well-spun tale but the romance does not overcrowd the mystery. As I preambled, there really are several twists---one that happens early on in the story and that earned my respect as a discerning reader.    Chicago becomes a character---from its speakeasies to the L to the high townhouses and manicured streets owned by those who are willing to play into the powerplay world of two magnanimous families: the Cassanos and the Finnegans.

Another highlight of this excessively-readable book was Piper herself.  Unlike Veronica Mars ( who I mention because there are several shout-outs to the tiny blonde one), Piper showcases a realistic insecurity. For as often as she straightens her shoulders and plunges in to danger for the sake of her friend, so she is uncertain in herself and the deductive abilities she is just beginning to find sure footing in.   It was Piper's normalcy that jolted this story with a little something extra for me.  She is winsome in her relatability.

The pages turned easily and while I sometimes found myself assaulted by a modern verve of speech or nuance, I was for the most part transplanted to a vintage whirlwind of murder, flappers and a sort of easy grace of a time past--- a world that doesn't quite know that while it speeds hastily to outdo itself, it is spinning itself on a dangerous axis.

I so hope that we get more of Piper's adventures.  And more of Mariano. Because MARIANO is just music.

Music, I tell you.

With thanks to BLINK for the review copy.


Friday, December 30, 2016

2016 wrap up

Good Lord, I have neglected this blog and for that I am truly sorry. This has probably been the busiest year of my life.  But I still managed to read 95 books ( well, at least I will have by tomorrow!)  and managed to have a successful year at my real job.

I also wrote a ton! I finished two full-length novels and three novellas and started another novel for an entirely different series.

Schonbrunn Christmas Market

I thought I would do a bit of a wrap up seeing as I got majorly side-tracked this past month with Christmas and with a spontaneous trip to Vienna, Austria (my favourite European City) to go to the Christmas Markets

In Vienna, I roamed and roamed for days and experienced the music that drips over the cobblestones and settles over the opulent decorations of the season. I sipped gluehwein under the spires of Stephansdom and saw a few concerts--- including Der Messiah at The Musikverein ( ironically, this was a spur of the moment concert and I had just seen the equally excellent Tafelmusik Messiah in Toronto the week before).

Favourite Books Read in 2016

Unmentionable, Therese ONeill

The Mark of the King, Jocelyn Green

The Devil in the White City, Erik Larson

Charlotte Bronte, a Fiery Heart, Claire Harman

Keeping the Castle, Patrice Kindl

From This Moment, Elizabeth Camden

Promised to the Crown by Aimie Runyan

Favourite Movie:

Manchester- By -the Sea


Gosh, I saw a lot of theatre this year.

It's hard to pick a favourite from Stratford's high standards to Les Miserables at the Dubai Opera to the touring return of Phantom......  I loved the pre-Broadway Come From Away.  Honestly, I don't think I could pick a favourite.  All of my dozens of theatrical experiences this year were varied.


I covered a lot of ground in Canada and the US this year! And in other continents!


Victoria and Vancouver
Prince Edward Island

Abu Dhabi and Dubai


 I didn't see a ton of TV in 2016 as I was way too busy. But I did love Poldark and Endeavour! 


I had two full length novels and one novella publish in 2016 as part of the Herringford and Watts series:

The Bachelor Girl's Guide to Murder
A Lesson in Love and Murder
Of Dubious and Questionable Memory

 I also published Starring Christmas with my co-author, Allison Pittman

Tuesday, November 22, 2016



I have, alas, abandoned you again.  But, with good purpose.

I have begun working on an entire new series and I have been traveling and visiting with friends from out of town and working at my day job and watching baseball and editing White Feather Murders and .... OH MY!

A bit of what I have been up to of late:

I went on vacation in ABU DHABI and DUBAI and met some amazing camels !

While there, we saw an amazing production of Les Miserables ( my 15th viewing and my 3rd continent!) on opening night at the Dubai Opera.   The composers, Boubil and Schonberg, were in attendance to celebrate.....


 I saw Cuisine and Confessions  at the Princess of Wales and was flabberghasted by the talent and acrobatics!

My friend visited from British Columbia and we had a fun time exploring Toronto and checking out the amazing sushi!, Le Papillon on Front Street and Cafe Moroc

 My friends Mel, Ben, Kate and I stayed at an adorable B and B in Leaskdale and attended LM Montgomery Day: a conclave of dialogue, lectures and reminiscences at the manse where her husband, Ewan MacDonald,  ministered for years.  We also hit up the amazing bookstore, Heron Books!
I also spent a weekend in Washington, hanging out with some amazing old buildings and statues!

And, in typical Rachel fashion, I have been watching as many Made for TV Christmas movies as time allows!

I am featured at Relz Reviewz today taking you behind the scenes of A Lesson in Love and Murder.   Speaking of which, it is currently on a 1.99 sale on all e-book formats! Grab it while you can HERE

Oh and Conductor of Light is available for FREE pre-order 

Over at Books and Beverages, you have the opportunity to win some Herringford and Watts 

Finally, and something dear to my heart, it is 1 week until my next book releases: a Christmas novella set amidst the magic of made-for-TV Christmas movies and co-written with my friend and author pal, Allison Pittman.

Starring Christmas  features two Christmas romance novellas ( magically connected) for one low price:

Falling for a Christmas Star Sam Medina has finally made it. A last minute casting change finds him en route to Toronto to star in the latest entry of the Serendipity Network’s annual Christmas movie extravaganza, My True Love Gave to Me. Finally, he will have the chance to shake off his reputation for supporting roles as the best friend or kind-hearted barista and prove that he is leading man material.

Merry Strathford is too busy for love. When she’s not pursuing a tenure track position in Medieval Women's studies, she’s serving plum pudding lattes at the Holly and the Ivy Café. Thus far, the only romance in her life occurs when she falls under the spell of her favourite made-for-TV movies. That is, until Sam Medina walks through the coffee shop door.

Suddenly, both Sam and Merry are living the romance of a Serendipity movie. But life isn't all snowflakes and sugar plums and real life ---and relationships---are far from cookie cutter shortbread.

Lone Star Christmas Lights
by Allison Pittman

Mari Medina is in love…with her neighborhood. She’s converted her historic ancestral home into a cool coffee shop and party space, with an apartment upstairs big enough to share with her mother. It’s a comfortable, safe existence, even if it lacks the spark to fuel her unsuccessful attempts to break into the world of writing romance. Still, she’s always on the lookout for a new taste to bring to her patrons.

Larsen Clarke had everything that comes with a successful career: a luxury apartment, a flashy sports car, and his pick of society women. When hardship strikes his family, he gives it all up, trading for a room in his brother’s home, and a venture into creating craft beer. He’s traded his expensive suit for a plaid shirt, and the only risk he’s willing to take involves bold Texas-based brew.

When Mari and Larsen meet, it’s a collision of retail and romance. She’s looking for a story, he’s looking for himself. Together, they just might find a little lone star magic.