Wednesday, July 13, 2016

WHAT ARE YOU DOING RACHEL?

Well blog, I have deserted you for plenty of adventures.

Adventures such as book signings! Adventures such as the LMMI Conference in Charlottetown!

MORE THEATRE 


I GAVE A PAPER! 

Toronto Edwardian Adventures 


I have also been finishing a lot of writing!  The White Feather Murders, Conductor of Light and a top secret Christmassy project




And!!!! I got tickets to Hamilton in Chicago for next year!  SO EXCITED ( I have been listening to it like the rest of the world NON-STOP  *pun intended* )


<3




Thursday, June 16, 2016

Book Gush: 'From This Moment' Elizabeth Camden

Hi!

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).


QUOTES:

"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! )




Guys!!!  THIS BOOK! THIS GUY!   YUMMO!

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.

QUOTES:

"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

OF DUBIOUS AND QUESTIONABLE MEMORY

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

READER REVIEWS: 

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!

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

In which I was in Chicago

So, I have been rather silent on the blog: but with good reason.

My galleys for A Lesson in Love and Murder were due and I have been feverishly working on The White Feather Murders.

Busy, busy.


I did, however, get to steal away to Chicago for the latter half of last week.

I arrived on Wednesday after a bit of a gong show of a trip over there. We left Toronto early in the morning, arrived in Chicago, couldn't land because of fog, circled and circled about and finally returned to Toronto.

I spent most of the day in the Porter lounge at Billy Bishop writing White Feather. When I finally did get to Chicago I was excited to see all of the sites that I hadn't seen in two years since my last trip there ( especially because I had written A Lesson in Love and Murder  during the interim --- about 80 per cent of that book is set in Chicago).

My friend Sonja ( from Vancouver Island) joined me and we stayed at the W City Centre Hotel. It was fab: like this psychadelic disco castle.

We took a long ramble about and I gaped up at the amazing architecture and found dinner at Pizano's on State Street.  Score for us, it was half-off bottles of chianti.


The next day, I was pretty packed with all things bookish at Book Expo America.

I met the Harvest House crew for breakfast and then headed over to Book Expo at McCormick Place.   It was a zoo! I signed a few books and met a few readers and spent some time with my amazing editor.




A long day of bookish goodness later and Sonja and I were back prowling Chicago. We had dinner at the Emerald Loop and then cocktails at The Palmer House.  Note: I am obsessed with the Palmer House. It's where Jem and Merinda stay when they are in Chicago and you really, really, really must spend time there if you are in the Windy City.

Friday saw us out and exploring again....
Sonja is a professional photographer, so part of her vision for her portion of the trip was to use Chicago's gorgeous hybrid of historical and modern architecture to create a visual narrative.   Because she had a friend ( me!) along with her, I modeled for a lot of the shots.  

We spent a wonderful day getting pics at the El stations and perusing Marshall Fields and the Tiffany Ceiling (now Macy's), exploring the river and shooting near the Palmer.  After work was done for the day, we headed for cocktails at the Signature Room in the John Hancock Building where we were afforded amazing views of the city.  After which, we found dinner at Quartino which is one of the best restaurants I have ever eaten at in the States. The food was amazing, the wine was amazing, the wait staff was amazing ( thanks for the free limoncello! ).   After which, we left the W behind and headed to an air bnb in Lincoln Square to spend the rest of our Chicago weekend.

A new neighbourhood and new digs ( with a gorgeous swath of print! --- I love print!) , our borrowed apartment was cozy and gave us an entirely different feel for an interesting new neighbourhood.  On Saturday morning we wandered through the square which is home to several families with small children and inched through a street festival.   Lincoln Square ( unbeknownst to me previously) is a largely German area of Chicago and it was interesting to see that cultural influence.

A quick El ride in to the city proper and we were freezing along the river thanks to a quick temperature drop. Nonetheless, we took an Architectural Tour on the river before wandering the streets again and stopping at this adorable little wine bar.    Dinner was at Bistronomic--- a to-die-for French place on Pearson Street. Thereafter, we procured tickets to Disenchanted: a Disney musical spoof reclaiming a feminine space for princesses.


Sunday morning was a lot of packing followed by brunch at Le Cafe in Lincoln Square before she took an uber to O'Hare and I took an uber to Midway.


Chicago is an incredible city. It reminds me a lot of Toronto. I fell for it two years ago when I visited for the annual Dickens Fellowship Conference and was very lucky to spend more time there again.
The preservation of Victorian and Edwardian architecture and the on-going beautification process (started in the early 1900s on the magnificent mile and beyond) help establish one of the most alluring historical cities in the US.



Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Guest Post: 1910s Cinema and the Strong Heroines in those Films that led to A FRONT PAGE AFFAIR by Radha Vatsal

Rachel note: delighted that Radha Vatsal took time to talk about cinema in the 1910s:  Kitty Weeks' first adventure is one I loved  ( it is very Jem and Merinda approved!) and I so appreciate Radha taking the time to visit A Fair Substitute for Heaven today. 



Capability “Kitty” Weeks, the protagonist of A Front Page Affair, is a reporter for the Ladies’ Page of the New York Sentinel in 1915.  She’s dying to report real news but that’s the prerogative of the men who work at the City Desk or in the Newsroom. Still, Kitty is inspired by the strong, active heroines she sees on screen in the movie theaters.  These women—actresses like Pearl White, Kathlyn Williams and Helen Holmes—portrayed athletic, independent and intelligent heroines who were hungry for adventure and took matters into their own hands when necessary—and this was before women even had the right to vote.
I learned about the action film heroines of the silent era during my graduate studies at Duke University.  The 1910s saw a spate of silent film serials released, all of which featured women playing the lead in action roles.  These films showed women involved in mThe Hazards of Helen (1915).

atters far outside the home. They moved into the territory that we might now associate with male actors. They chased villains in cars, rode horses, flew airplanes, ran down hillsides chased by huge boulders, and emerged from dangerous situations basically unscathed. They were tough and also happy-go-lucky, and their films were popular both in the US and around the world.  Here’s a clip of Helen Holmes in

I thought they needed to be put into a story and the way I did that wasn’t to make an action heroine the protagonist of my book, but rather, to make an action heroine, specifically Pearl White, Kitty Weeks’s inspiration as she pursues her journalistic investigations.  In a later book in the Kitty Weeks Mystery series (A Front Page Affair is the first) I hope to have Kitty directly interact with Pearl or another silent-era film star.  Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, for instance, were very influential in persuading ordinary Americans to support the country’s entry into World War I.  Kitty Weeks will be there, watching it all unfold.  You can read more about the forgotten silent-film heroines of the 1910s in an article I wrote for TheAtlantic.com, and see images about them and other aspects of life in the 1910s on the World of Kitty Weeks Tumblr.




Radha Vatsal is a writer based in New York City. She was born in Mumbai, India and has a Ph.D. from the English Department at Duke University. Her debut novel, A Front Page Affaircomes out this May from Sourcebooks Landmark. You can write to her at radhavatsalauthor@gmail.com or friend her on Facebook.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

GIVEAWAY AND RELZ REVIEWZ CHARACTER SPOTLIGHT

GIVEAWAY TIME!  Over at Relz you can meet the girls and here you can meet their guys! 

You need only visit here and comment and then go to Relz and comment 






The Bachelor's Guide to MurderGA

Character Spotlight @ Relz Reviewz


Brief physical description: Ray DeLuca
Ray is medium height ( the exact same height as Jem Watts. I wanted to make them equals in every way). He has dark black hair, long lashes and black eyes and always has ink on his fingers.   His ears stick out a little bit and his nose is not quite patrician, but close. He’s several years older than Jem so he is just starting to show a bit of grey at the temples.

Resembles: the DeLuca smile is definitely actor Chris Messina’s.  When I was first plotting the book, I had watched a film called The Giant Mechanical Man and I thought: there is a guy with an interesting smile ( it helped that he wears a bowler hat in it)   Not conventionally handsome, not someone who would stop you in your tracks; but who has a really dazzling smile when it’s full on. Ray doesn’t full on smile that often but when he does….  Jem falls off her chair



Strengths and Weaknesses:

Strengths:  Ray provides for his sister and his nephew sacrificing a lot of his salary and his attempts at finding personal happiness to take care of them.  Ray is a remarkably quick learner and picked up English fairly quickly when he arrived in Canada. Like Jasper Forth, he has strong convictions and believes in Jem and Merinda as equals deciding they can do anything they put their mind to.   Ray has a heart for injustice and the immigrant community and proves it by often undertaking long muckraking stints in prisons and flophouses to excavate some of the dirt therein and publish it publicly in the Hogtown Herald. Ray is also a romantic and a dreamer.  His dream is to work for the Globe and Mail. 

Weaknesses:  Ray has a temper.  He also writes terrible poetry ( but I think it only sounds terrible in English--- in his native language, I am sure we would all swoon).
Jemima is a major weakness for Ray ( but also his strength), their relationship is a guiding force of the entire series.


Your inspiration for the character: Like Watson and Mary Morstan, I wanted Jem Watts to find a love interest. Initially, I thought to create a police officer for her.  But, then I got this idea for a reporter. Someone who knows the ins and outs of the city and who fights injustice through words.  The more I spent time fleshing out Ray (who am I kidding, the guy started taking over the book), the more I recognized that he represents everything I love about my city.  He is an emblem of its progress and change, its perseverance and the immigration and multiculturalism that makes the city so unique.

Jasper Forth

Brief Physical Description:  Jasper is tall and broad-shouldered ( over 6 feet) he has dark brown hair and bright blue eyes. He is handsome in a boy next door kind of way. He especially looks dashing in his police uniform.    Note: Jasper is from Maritime Canada so he has a bit of an East Coast lilt to his voice.

Resembles… 

(With most of the characters I have a really specific idea of what they look like based on my imagination; but with Jasper he is definitely British actor Andrew Buchan. When I first thought of him, I thought this fellow has to have an open, honest face. A face like Andrew Buchans.)




Strengths and weaknesses  

Strength: Jasper is a loyal friend –especially to Merinda. He believes in her completely no matter what society would say to her detriment as a lady detective. He is good at his job and is forever getting promotions before getting demoted thanks to helping Merinda out.  Despite his stints back on the King Street traffic beat, he will always find a way to help out.  He is also an honest cop in a corrupt police force: something that is explored more and more throughout the rest of the series.    He will do anything to protect his friends and find justice.

Weakness:  Jasper’s primary weakness is Merinda. He has been in love with her since they were at university and he will do anything to please her—even if it means getting in trouble.  He is also a very nice fellow. While he is very competent at his job, it can mean he is subject to teasing. Ray tells him that there are different kinds of strengths but the strength Jasper has is one of conscience and character and this is sometimes underappreciated by Chief Henry Tipton

Your inspiration for the character:   I wanted Merinda and Jem to have a connection with the police force and because Merinda is such a strong personality I wanted to pit her against a man who is very much like her friend Jem in so many ways. I love a man who is dedicated to one woman and who has been saving his salary for years for a home and family.  I also think Jasper represents the morals and ethics of the story in the most traditional way.   He will always follow the letter of the law.  Finally, I wanted a counterbalance to Ray, and an opposite to Merinda.  Jasper brings out a softer spot in Merinda in several instances (stay tuned) much as Jemima does. 



 GIVEAWAY: US CANADA ONLY
To enter:
  1. Post a comment here about what you love about what makes a strong hero; AND
  2. Pop over to Rel's blog, and leave a comment about Jem and Merinda and meet them there
A winner will be drawn on Sunday May 1st!

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

ALL THE BOOK BIRTHDAYS!


Some amazing books are releasing today!

Check them out!





A wildly entertaining and realistic contemporary romance set in New Zealand and with a brilliant Tolkien twist.  Kara Isaac's assured debut Close to You  is cerebral whimsical snark and is a firecracker new addition to her genre






Painstaking historical research coupled with a mesmerizing narrative, Promised to the Crown features three remarkable ( and remarkably different) filles du roi: navigating life, love and hardship in 17th Century New France




Flickers finds Slade back in Dust mode: with a creepy vintage feel and things that go bump in the night. A harrowing, haunted look with a cinemascope feel and a perfect 1920s atmosphere, he remains my favourite Canadian YA voice.








Thursday, April 14, 2016

Jem and Merinda are out in the world.... and giveaways! and a party!

So you all know from my latest post how to buy The Bachelor Girl's Guide to Murder at all major retail outlets online.


If you are in America: Barnes and Noble has extended their promotion of Bachelor Girl's Guide to Murder for a few more weeks. So look for it on new release displays and if you feel so led, snap a picture....



CANADIANS! Guess what? Soon, soon, soon you will be able to find Jem and Merinda in the Mystery section of your Chapters and Indigo.   Until then, you can order online or from the kiosk in-store ( even pre-order A Lesson in Love and Murder while you are at it)

If you are in St Catharine's author Sandra Orchard will be signing copies of A Fool and His Monet and I will be signing copies of Bachelor Girl's Guide to Murder this Saturday at Heritage bookstore !

I was so excited to meet part of the Harvest House publishing team last night here in Toronto for dinner! Even though my publisher is far away in Oregon, I so enjoy being a part of the family there.



We are having an amazing amazing awesome and phenomenal GIVEAWAY thanks to our friends at Litfuse!   Check out the promo landing site here  This Murder Mystery Prize Pack was handpicked to reflect some of Jem and Merinda's favourite things:





In addition to this awesome giveaway, please come to our public (meaning EVERYONE is invited) facebook party which will give you an opportunity to talk to ME and learn about my BOOKS and Toronto and DEDUCTION but also give you the opportunity to win more prizes such as gift certificates and copies of Bachelor Girl's Guide to Murder.





Now, friends, everything you have (n)ever wanted to know about Jem and Merinda and Jasper and Ray and me are at your disposal.  Please come! You can RSVP here https://www.facebook.com/events/1601750113480451/



Here's a blog I did for Lifeway on the Elgin and Winter Garden theatres ( a big part of Toronto history and a very special place for Jem and Ray)


I wrote about the conditions of the Ward for the Harvest House website

And guest posts and interviews galore:


At Litfuse

at Reading is My Super Power

At Lena Nelson Dooley's blog 

A peek at my writing desk at Inspired by Love and Fiction 

At Kelly Bridgewater's blog ( a Fictional Hogtown Herald article care of Ray!)









Friday, April 01, 2016

Happy Book Birthday Jem, Merinda, Jasper and Ray (aka The Shameless Self Promotion Post)

HAPPY BOOK BIRTHDAY!
Debut of the Month!!!!! thanks, Library Journal 

OH NO! Temporarily out of Stock! Keep those orders coming ! WHEEE!

HEY LOOK! thanks Romantic Times 

THE MOST ADORABLE GOODREADS REVIEW EVER 

that one amazing reader who named her baby chicks Merinda and Jem and made this ADORABLE graphic 


Fresh and beguiling, the Bachelor Girls are an engaging new addition to the mystery scene. They tackle criminals with a combination of unique moxie and an irrepressible sense of adventure. I want to be friends with the Bachelor Girls---Deanna Raybourn


In her fabulous debut, Rachel McMillan brings 1910 Toronto to rich and wonderful life. The intrepid Jem and merinda make a winning detective team. Full of romance and derring-do, The Bachelor Girl's Guide to Murder will keep you turning pages-- Nancy Herriman




Now, a lot of people got the book on NETGALLEY or through early amazon shipments, but today is ACTUALLY the release day of the Bachelor Girl's Guide to Murder.  YAY HURRAH!




So, I really think that you should consider going and finding this book and telling your friends!


Amazon
Books a Million
Barnes and Noble
Target 
WalMart 
CBD 
Chapters
Goodreads 


And we had a launch in the Distillery District here in Toronto ( where my fictional Hogtown Herald office is located)

thanks for the promotion, Chapters Indigo homepage!

LAUNCH! 

I AM BY A BUNCH OF BOOKS









Thursday, March 31, 2016

Theatre Catch-Up

With my real job and tomorrow's release of Bachelor Girl's Guide to Murder , I am behind on my blogging.


I saw three shows recently.  First, a touring production of Beauty and the Beast  which is now scaled back somewhat from the dazzling 90s production and didn't do a lot for me.

Friends and I went to Tarragon to see You Will Remember Me which was a fascinating experience: mostly because the playwright and translator were there to flesh out their experiences with the piece in a post-show talkback.


c/o Torontoist


R.H. Thomson is pretty unbelievable as a French-Canadian history professor whose alzheimers is settling in quickly.  While his quick mind still holds to the past ( the very, very far gone past ), scribbles in his notebook keep that which is contemporary swirling around him.

It is a quiet play with calm sets and a small cast, largely resting on the fact that Thomson is brilliant. He really is.  He is magnificent and heartbreaking here.

But, what the play renders so beautifully is a snapshot of the threatening loss of cultural consciousness. A bold statement on the loss of the fervour of a Quebec Libre, Rene Levesque and past referendum.  While this Quebecois-surged piece might at first seem isolating to those unfamiliar with the material--- the themes of loss and a zealous nostalgia are universal.  Hence, when the playwright mentioned that it had played in Calgary and was perhaps finding its way to New York, I knew that the solid material would shine.

No intermission and a stark woodsy backdrop immerse you immediately in the content and do not let you go until the lights dim.  Perhaps one of the most interesting notes I came away with is how Thomson managed to inflect his voice and mannerisms with those of a man indigenous to Quebec without putting on an accent.   I am a firm believer that I would rather have no accent than an inconsistent one and while Thomson can probably do anything, this was one thing that stood out for me.
c/o postcity


Readers of my blog know I am a MASSIVE Soulpepper fan. We are so lucky that Toronto has such a strong theatre base and their ensemble pieces continue to dazzle.    I was familiar with David French's Canadian play but had never seen it and it is one of the funniest and most farcical spectacles I have ever seen on stage.   The audience was in an uproar surging the auditorium with an energy that flicked and pulsed the frenetic action on stage.    Oliver Dennis is a LONG time favourite of mine and he is perhaps the most scene-stealing character in this backstage drama about the anxieties and tensions rampant behind an opening production.

The cast used the space well: meandering through the aisles, the stage manager bellowing from the box above and the set was all 70s kitsch.    Alex Furber ( who we had seen in Anne and Gilbert the musical in the fall) played the ingenue role like a wide-eyed Greg Brady.


I am really lucky to live where I do:  in close proximity to festivals such as Shaw and Stratford and in the heart of Toronto which has some of the greatest theatre going.

In both of the aforementioned plays, the love for Canadian culture and its limitations and triumphs are paraded --- in Jitters over-the-top,  in You Will Remember Me subtle and sad.





Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Special Feature: These Farmhouse Bookshelves by Christie Purifoy

Rachel note: delighted to have the winsome Christie on the blog today.  Loved her book Roots and Sky: Christie is a poet and a luscious writer , also her blog and her instagram will change your life with sheer beauty !  I love following her 'These Farmhouse Bookshelves' feature and am happy to feature her here ..... 


photo c/o Christie's blog 
I’ve always heard you should write the book you want to read.
I’ve always thought, easier said than done.
I love to read everything from Virginia Woolf to Agatha Christie, but I don’t see myself following in either woman’s literary footsteps.

Today, I’m convinced the advice is solid but a little too broad. We can’t write every book we want to read, but our reading loves and our reading disappointments will point us in the right direction.
I discovered my direction when I realized how many of the stories on my bookshelves are told according to the pattern of the shifting seasons. These were some of the first books I learned to love, books like Tasha Tudor’s A Time to Keep which celebrates twelve months of seasonal traditions and Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden in which the drama of winter becoming spring is mirrored in the lives of two children.

One Christmas, I was given the heavy yellow boxed set of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books. I reread every one until the spines cracked and the pages splayed, but I read Farmer Boy most frequently of all. This fictionalized autobiography of Laura’s husband Almanzo tells its story according to the seasonal rhythms of a northern New York farm. From winter’s deep snow and popcorn by the woodstove to pulling a block of river ice from the icehouse for homemade ice cream in summer, Farmer Boy made me hunger for seasons I never fully tasted growing up in a central Texas prairie town.

Today, I live in an old farmhouse in Pennsylvania, and that long-ago hunger is satisfied in snowflakes, daffodils, zinnias, and fiery maple leaves. More than that, the hunger and its fulfillment became the dominant themes of the book I wrote about our first year in this beautiful, crumbling old house called Maplehurst.

The book is Roots and Sky: A Journey Home in Four Seasons. Here are a few more of the “four seasons” books that inspired my own:

A Country Year: Living the Questions by Sue Hubbell is a classic of this genre. Once, Hubbell was a married city-dweller who worked as a university librarian. In middle age, she finds herself living and working alone as a beekeeper on a remote farm in the Ozarks. These essays are quiet, contemplative, and slow, but they are also sharp, witty, and observant. I love this book because it reminds me that one of the most important things we can do in this life is to know a place, to love it well, and then invite others to see it through our eyes. That place might be a northern city or a Midwestern mountainside, but I know that I am richer for having seen the Ozarks through Hubbell’s eyes.

First published in 1967, TheShape of a Year by Jean Hersey is a vintage gem. I think I bought my hardback copy for one dollar plus shipping. It’s worth fifty times that.
Hersey was a garden writer, and this book observes the four seasons on her rural Connecticut property with curiosity and joy. This is a book all about the simple pleasures of the seasons. There is less human drama here than in Hubbell’there is always something happening.
s chronicle, and some might complain that nothing much happens, but Hersey knows what everyone with eyes to really see the world around then has discovered:

I love every memoir in Madeleine L’Engle’s series of Crosswicks journals. The IrrationalSeason, ostensibly book three though these don’t need to be read in order, begins with Advent and is shaped by the traditional calendar of the western church.
I appreciate L’Engle’s commitment to asking difficult questions. What I discover in all her books – but in the Crosswicks journals most of all – is that unknowing is not a scary place to be. L’Engle shows us that we can sometimes experience God’s presence in more beautiful and more comforting ways when we take the time to sit with the questions we do not have answers for.

Also, L’Engle’s family home, Crosswicks, has been described as a “farmhouse of charming confusion.” That, right there, is everything I hope for my own home. We have the confusion down pat. The charm is a work in progress.


Christie on the Web:

These Farmhouse Bookshelves (blog feature) 


Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Book Gush: 'Promised to the Crown' by Aimie K. Runyan



from the publisher:
In her illuminating debut novel, Aimie K. Runyan masterfully blends fact and fiction to explore the founding of New France through the experiences of three young women who, in 1667, answer Louis XIV’s call and journey to the Canadian colony.

They are known as the filles du roi, or “King’s Daughters”—young women who leave prosperous France for an uncertain future across the Atlantic. Their duty is to marry and bring forth a new generation of loyal citizens. Each prospective bride has her reason for leaving—poverty, family rejection, a broken engagement. Despite their different backgrounds, Rose, Nicole, and Elisabeth all believe that marriage to a stranger is their best, perhaps only, chance of happiness.

Once in Quebec, Elisabeth quickly accepts baker Gilbert Beaumont, who wants a business partner as well as a wife. Nicole, a farmer’s daughter from Rouen, marries a charming officer who promises comfort and security. Scarred by her traumatic past, Rose decides to take holy vows rather than marry. Yet no matter how carefully she chooses, each will be tested by hardship and heartbreaking loss—and sustained by the strength found in their uncommon friendship, and the precarious freedom offered by their new home.
 

guys guys guys! I loved, loved, loved this book! Loved it!   LOVED IT!   Seriously, loved it.

17th Century: France was a major power who wanted to extend their influence by populating and securing New France.  The King offered young women of various stations a dowry and an opportunity. Called The Filles du Roi these women of breeding age and strong constitution would sail to North America, marry the settlers already colonizing this brave, treacherous land and increase the population for the good of their home country.

The Filles du Roi have always fascinated me as we studied them in school.   Peeling back the curtain on the indubitably harsh and trying circumstances forging a life here in Canada amidst its terrible winters and harsh terrain, my imagination sought out romantic prospects.  It’s not unlike an early form of “The Bachelor.”


These women were marriageable commodities, yes, but also strong.  The women who survived were the ones who grabbed life by the reins and decided to use this strange new opportunity to secure a sense of purpose and happiness. For other women, what better way to escape?


A trio of women and a supporting cast of nuns, lovers, brothers, enemies, townspeople, husbands, populate the exceptionally written Promised to the Crown which is by far my favourite read of 2016 thus far.    Painstaking research, a lyrical tongue and an impressively sure handle on each of the three distinctive narratives as they intertwine and intersect are just a few of the reasons Runyan has weaved such a luscious canvas.

Rose, Elisabeth and  Nicole  forge a lasting friendship. For this is a woman’s space and what better way to celebrate International Women’s Day than with an example of women who were the stronghold and survival of a new populous.   There is a decidedly feminist aspect to a tale that could easily fall into a puddle of straight domesticity. For while women were very much homemakers and baby carriers, they were also the backbone of a culturally and socially developing society.   A favourite thread followed Elisabeth who marries Gilbert, a baker, because he will offer her equal business standing in his enterprise.      


Each woman is fully developed from their treacherous sea passage and the nods over their shoulder as they look behind on the life they leave: sometimes trailing its tragic ramifications with them.  From their earliest days in Quebec: entertaining suitors with pastries and cider to their marriages and growing families, Runyan has developed a woman’s sphere.      

I gobbled this book up: it had funny, strong moments and tragic, painful sighs of moments.   It perfectly adapted a foreign historical experience to a readable, accessible page.   Runyan sets you back centuries so you can smell the crackling hearths and feel the tang of the settling winter.   I cannot remember enjoying a historical experience this acutely … not for a long, long time. 


I really encourage you to expose yourself to a time period in history not often pursued in fiction. Runyan's research make her the perfect authoritative pen to transpose this experience to fiction and you will not be disappointed.   Friendship, romance, hardship and adventure dot each fabulous page! 

Pick this one up!  Amazon


my thanks to Netgalley and Kensington for the review copy 

Monday, March 07, 2016

Author Q and A : Cheryl Honigford

Recently, I read an e-galley of The Darkness Knows which is a fabulous start to a mystery series featuring a winsome radio star and Private Eye duo in 1930s Chicago.

I was delighted that Cheryl agreed to answer a few questions. I know my blog readers will love the zest and snap of the dialogue, the romantic tension and the intricate murder---not to mention the amazing setting !



1.) Most agents and publishers like a good "hook" when considering a novel. What was the hook for THE DARKNESS KNOWS?



It’s October 1938, and radio is king. Vivian Witchell is determined to be a star, and with her new role in the popular detective serial, The Darkness Knows, everything she’s dreamed of is finally within her grasp. Until, that is, Viv stumbles upon the body of the station’s biggest, and most reviled, actress in the employee lounge. Clutched in the dead woman’s hand is a threatening letter that targets Viv as the next victim. Suddenly, Viv’s biggest worry isn’t remembering her lines, it’s staying alive.




2.) One of the things I loved about the book was Viv's insistence on a career: despite her upbringing and the pressure from her society-obsessed mother to marry. The Darkness Knows did a wonderful job of painting a woman's plight in a "modern" society with some very traditional views still at the helm. Even though a new world was on the brink, warring women's roles were still a major issue. Was this an intentional layer in the story and something that you can see yourself exploring more in the next novels?

Yes, this was definitely intentional. You can’t get very far into research for the period before realizing what a woman’s role was supposed to be in 1938. I collect vintage women’s magazines and some of the ads are amazing. Dishpan hands were supposed to be a woman’s greatest worry, and don’t get me started on how they were using Lysol then… (Google it if you’re curious and not too squeamish about your lady bits.) Women didn’t have “careers” in 1938. They may have had jobs, but only if they absolutely had to and only until they found a husband. Then they were expected to promptly quit that job to take care of hearth and home. (In fact, that’s what the actress Vivian is replacing at the beginning of the book has just done.) Vivian can see how limiting this is and her becoming a secretary and then a radio actress is an attempt to buck that claustrophobic social structure (and infuriate her mother). To be fair though, Vivian’s wealth and social standing give her a lot of advantages that most women simply did not have then – like the luxury of being able to go to secretarial school out of spite. This theme of female independence will continue to be explored in the series – especially with the lead up to WWII and all that will mean for women’s changing roles in society.



3.) Radio Actress meets Sardonic yet good-hearted ( and dashing!) Private Investigator: How did these two characters come to be?


Well, Vivian was around first and then when I got the idea for her to be starring in a detective serial I thought it would be fun to play her off of an actual detective (and contrast that with the fictional detective ideal in The Darkness Knows, the radio serial). When Viv meets Charlie everything she thought she wanted flies right out the window - in a good way. J Their relationship is very much inspired by the Nick and Nora sort of bantering couples of 1930s screwball comedies.



4.) Your Chicago is to die for (okay pun intended)! So sumptuously painted with just the right amount of historical detail. I totally wanted to be at the masquerade at the Palmer, by the way. Did you intentionally use it as a starring character in the Darkness Knows or is that something that organically happened?


I wanted to be at that masquerade too! I love Chicago and I love that time period - and I think both are woefully underrepresented in fiction. I live in the far suburbs these days, but I spent 7 years in the Lakeview neighborhood and really got to know the city. I love history, in general, so even before I got the idea for this book I had already catalogued all of this random information in my head about the history of the city and the architecture. I really loved researching the details of the time period. It meant a lot of staring into old photographs and imagining how things looked, smelled, sounded. It was a different world, and I would give anything to sit in on a live broadcast of The Darkness Knows. So I guess, the answer is to your question is both - Chicago as a main character was organic and intentional at the same time.



5.) I wondered if you could give us any hints as to where we'll find Charlie and Viv next!


Book #2 (Fall 2017) is set a few months after The Darkness Knows - at Christmastime 1938. Vivian stumbles upon something that flips everything she thought she knew about her beloved (and now deceased) father on its head. Think Capone, speakeasies, and all of the shady activities that go along with that… Expect more radio station intrigue (especially with Viv’s star on the rise) and more historic Chicago detail woven throughout. And of course, Charlie is there to antagonize Viv and help her get to the bottom of things.



Thursday, March 03, 2016

Author Q and A : Jaime Jo Wright

Greetings! 

I have our friend Jaime Jo Wright answering a few questions about her new novella The Cowgirl's Lasso  part of The Cowboy's Bride Collection. You can buy the compilation here


Jaime ( in my own words) is a super spunky caffeine-addicted workaholic who may be wonder woman. Don't believe me? This woman is a power house manager and writer and wife and mother to two adorable kids.  She has an insatiable spark about her: be it in person or print  and is a delight on social media. 

I am so thankful she took the time to chat: 




1.) The book that made you want to be a writer ( if one )


Jane Eyre and then The House of Seven Gables, by Hawthorne. Both were the epitome of romance and dark and deliciousness. I devoured them, and then determined to be like their authors one day.

2.) Your best Starbucks experience


When my barista brought me a sample, then after delivering them to everyone in the shop, gave me the rest of the samples and then returned a few minutes later with a free grande "sample". They know I have a problem. :)

3.) How do you juggle working full time, raising two kids and writing?


I don't.
LOL I don't know. Sometimes I wonder if I'm imbalanced. A lot of writing sprints. 15 mins here, 30 mins there. I have to make my kids first and then write. Oh yeah. I'm married. Hmmm... better figure that into the equation ;)


4.) Is there a historical period you have not yet attempted in fiction that you would like to?


Yes! The '20's or '30's. I love that era. I just bought my first flapper dress actually this week. I look quite grotesque in it, but I shall wear it with pride to a gala this Friday and pretend I know how to Charleston

5.) Any insights into your research process?


I read. Lots of books. Fiction and non-fiction. I love looking up old newspaper articles. They're full of interesting stories because back then, they actually wrote interesting stories. Like the most recent one where the family watched their twenty-something daughter get struck by lightening as she fed the chickens in the chicken coop. They said her bobby pins melted to her head. I know. ew. But oh so fascinating.

6.) What was the most challenging thing about writing a novella?


It's ridiculously hard to write a decent story in 20,000 words. Cause really? Who falls in love THAT fast? I wanted my romance to be somewhat realistic. So it was difficult to have time pass and a relationship establish to the point of pledging lifelong love without seeming like she was being abducted into some subservient, domestic role and forced to fall "in love". LOL


7.) Any advice to writers who are not yet published on the agent and editorial experience?



Oh gawsh. Nothing can be more painful than that journey. There's so much self-doubt. My best piece of advice is learn to take constructive criticism and apply it. I see too many get hurt feelings or make justifications as to why they wrote what they did and why it's good how it is. No one means to say you're a bad writer, but if agents and editors (especially them!) give you feedback, use it! That's invaluable and it makes you teachable. They're in this career field after all, because they know how it works. So be humble enough to know that maybe you don't really know.


Find Jaime on the web


On Twitter