Monday, August 24, 2015

Things I am Totally Into Right Now

Tommy and Tuppence ( Partners in Crime)
Guys! Guys! I am not a huge Agatha Christie fan across the board, but I love these two. Unlike the 1980s series which was totally 1920s flapper glam,  this reboot is set in the 1950s and it makes it even more wonderful when Tuppence thwarts domesticity for a life of crime-solving.  I love the chemistry between Tommy and Tuppence who are a settled married couple but have such a penchant for thrill-seeking it jolts something back into their obvious chemistry.  I also enjoy how their little boy is always conveniently away and how they sneak into people's things in pursuit of their mysteries and get caught and have lame cover stories and no one cares.  Love.


Newsies 
I saw this touring production in Boston and then twice now in Toronto and Dan DeLuca( as well as having a favourite close-to-my-heart surname) is just astounding as the leader of the strike, Jack Kelly. I went with some people yesterday and told them that Newsies excels at revitalizing the old fashioned type of broadway that is reliant on singing and dancing and not on special effects and rock ballads.   The kids are amazing on stage, there is a fabulous feminist lead and the voices are exceptional. The choreography incorporates every type of dance from acrobatic to ballet to tap.  I am just thrilled at how much verve it has.  See it if it is coming to your city ( don't worry, it is much better than the film. It works better on stage)

I also think if people have kids this is a great way to introduce them to a major point in children's justice and history but also to ignite a discussion on social justice.



Pygmalion

I  could talk about the Shaw Festival's production forever and wanted to do a full blown review but realized I don't have the time this week what with edits and my real job.  So, here you are going to get the overview.   Settled in gorgeous Niagara-on-the-Lake, the Shaw Festival is a favourite summer stop about two hours out of Toronto.  My friend Mel and I went and had a blast.  Here, they have kept the dialogue the same and stayed cherished and true to the original work but transposed it to the 21st Century.  All the way through, I was delightedly thinking:  How Does Pymalion Work Now? But it does.  Save for when Eliza complains about not being able to find a role outside of marriage as Higgin has made her fit for nothing.  




Speaking of Higgins,  Patrick McManus made it his own. I have seen several incarnations of Pygmalion and My Fair Lady and a lot of it is the same old, same old ( the delightfully same old because I friggin' love it).  But, McManus updated the character, made him boyish and infused quite a lot of physicality.  The sets were amazing. Eliza was amazing. It just worked very well.    There is an entire re-invention fashion motif,  there is a set-change video from the BBC talking about the new class ( which blends well with Alfie Doolittle's long -drawn-out treatises on Middle Class Morality). It proves that Shaw's humour and relevance are century agnostic.




Emma Approved
After a long week at a work conference, I vegged out Friday night and binge-watched this youtube serial.  I have never seen Lizzie Bennett Diaries but I really enjoyed this. It worked well. The Knightley was adorable and it is cozy marshmallow-hot-chocolate viewing.




Thursday, August 13, 2015

Book Gush!!!! : Sebastien de Castell and Kate Griffin





If you are like: I wish I could find the Musketeers as retold by Scott Lynch then I have this series for you.

Confession: it’s hard to make me laugh in books.  You won’t usually find my laughing at the spirited antics of some contemporary romance where the heroine has toilet paper stuck to her shoe.  I’m not into that.   I am, however, a sucker for cerebral sarcasm and a winning, irreverent voice.    


‘Goodnight Lord Tremondi,’ I said. ‘You weren’t an especially good employer. You lied a lot and you never paid us when you promised. But, I guess that’s all right, since we turned out to be pretty useless bodyguards”

I WAS LAUGHING ON THE FIRST PAGE !   Falcio and his Greatcoat friends are outcasts, outliers and completely obsolete but they need to save the day anyways.

“My name is Falcio val Mond, First Cantor of the Great Coats and this was only the first of a great many bad days to come!”  de Castell tugs you into his web and entangles you there.

Lest you think it is all fun and swashbuckling hijinks, it is not.   Indeed, there is a pensive and sad undertone with a perfectly realized world developed with injustice, pain and sorrow.

“It is an odd sort of bluish colour, and you would call it bright at first, but then as you looked on it further, you’d find yourself adding words like oily and runny-looking and finally sort of disturbing.”

de Castell has a way with words that is equally surprising and winsome, cunning and smart.   His prose literally snaps up from the page and sparks you in the eye like the moment you toss an extra log on a campfire and flits of ember flick a little extra smoke.

There’s a great deal of screaming in this story. Best get used to it now.

I think I was attacked once or twice, but I couldn’t afford the delay so I killed them and moved on.


I just love them.  The first two books  The Traitor's Blade  and Knight''s Shadow are available now.

I received Knight's Shadow for review from the publisher 




And, if you are like: I kinda want Sally Lockhart but I would prefer a more interesting guy sidekick (maybe a gay Italian with a half-scarred face) and more cross-dressing and opium addiction then you will love Kitty Peck. I read The Music Hall Murders and the Child of Ill-Fortune back to back last week. I had trouble putting them down.  [note: these books are super inexpensive on kindle]

You guys all know I love Victoriana and surprising poems and the dark, creaky shadow-drenched streets of London illuminated with surprising prose.   Kate Griffin pulled me in immediately.

“She was dressed in a black embroidered gown that gaped wide at the neck revealing a throat that was strung like a broken violin.”

Really vivid imagery, a perfect Cockney-vernacular which sets brilliantly well in the first person narrative.  Kitty is at times infuriating and vulnerable, strong and sly.   A different kind of lady detective in stories that defy genre.

“Lady Ginger’s words were like something noxious coughed up by a pampered cat. One minute it’s purring and curled up neat on your lap, next it’s hawking out a half-digested rat head.”

“he coated my name with a greasy slick of insolence”

And as much as I love Kitty, I love Lucca!  Smart, cultured Lucca who maintains pride and vanity despite the treacherous accident that marred half of his beautiful face.  I love how a few Italian words and phrases erupt now and then. 

“I’d seen the truth of that picture, but Lucca, now , it was like he could feel it all—every lash, every cut, every chain.”


It’s a very vivid and visceral and gritty world with dark motivations and the basest of human depravity.  


Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Book Spotlight: the Great Estate





Title: The Great Estate
Author: Sherri Browning
Series: Thornbrook Park, #3
Pubdate: August 4th, 2015
ISBN: 9781402286858

Pulled apart by past mistakes. Driven by a passion neither could deny.

Sophia Thorne was young and inexperienced when she married the dashing Earl of Averford…and through dark and troubled times, their relationship nearly came to an end. Now she’s determined to transform herself into the fiery, ardent lover she always wanted to be, giving them a second chance at love… before they’re lost to each other forever.

It took nearly losing Sophia for Gabriel to realize he had allowed his love for his great estate to distract him from his beautiful wife. But that time is over. Despite all the obstacles standing in their way, Gabriel vows to teach Sophia what it is to truly love…and to be loved by a husband devoted heart and soul to her every desire.

Sherri Browning writes historical and contemporary romance fiction, sometimes with a paranormal twist. She is the author of critically acclaimed classic mash-ups Jane Slayre and Grave Expectations. A graduate of Mount Holyoke College, Sherri has lived in western Massachusetts and Greater Detroit Michigan, but is now settled with her family in Simsbury, Connecticut. Find her online at www.sherribrowningerwin.com.

***

Perfect for fans of Downton Abbey, the third in Sherri Browning’s Thornbrook Park series, The Great Estate, comes out this August! To celebrate her new release, Sherri’s agreed to answer some questions for us about herself and her career as an author.  

How do you approach the research in your novels in order to provide the lush and well-drawn settings in which you populate your characters.

I travel. I love visiting old estates that have been kept in their original condition. I recently went through the Frick Museum, former residence of Henry Clay Frick (1849-1919), with author Julia London in New York City. I like to read fiction written in the same time period I’m writing in to pick up some ideas of setting, like novels by E.M Forster or Edith Wharton. I also use Pinterest and Tumblr to find some pictures of location or period-specific clothes, art, and architecture.



An Excerpt:

Thornbrook Park. A warm wave of pride filled him at the sight as Dale drove them up the winding way. The chimneys appeared first over the crest of the hill, followed by the slate roof, and finally the rose stone facade. How could he have stayed away so long?  
 Sophia wouldn’t be expecting him. He planned to surprise her, perhaps persuade Finch not to even announce his return. He would simply appear at the dinner hour, dressed to the nines, and act as if he had been there the entire time. Darling, I believe the quail is cooked perfectly, but not quite the same as when I shoot it myself… No, it wouldn’t do. She hated it when he left her alone to go off hunting. He’d always known it, but he couldn’t seem to give it up. Old habits. In truth, he couldn’t wait to get his boots on, the good English ones he’d left behind, take up his rifle, and stomp off into the woods. His woods. Alas, there would be no more hunting. At least, not as frequently, and certainly not right away. Not until he was certain that he wouldn’t upset Sophia further. Not until she forgave him.
Perhaps he could suggest other activities that they could do together? His brow shot up. He knew just what activities he had in mind, but they would have to work up to that. Slowly. He meant to court her properly, one step at a time.
“Now, Dale, I don’t want a fuss,” he said. “It’s good to be home but no need for a celebration. I mean to slip in quietly.”
           

Buy Links:

Indiebound: http://bit.ly/1gmvOeQ

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Book Spotlight: Tremaine's True Love by Grace Burrowes

Hi reader friends! I do love a good romance now and then! 

Grace Burrowes gives us insight into Tremaine's True Love as well as an excerpt from the book



What makes a man a gentleman?

For a romance writer, this question has to be answered in every book, because implicit in the term “hero” is something of the gentleman. Heroes need not be charming, handsome or wealthy, and they might not even be obviously heroic, at least at the start of the book, but they have to be worthy of our loyalty for the duration of an entire book.

In the True Gentlemen series, I took three men who’d wandered across my pages in previous stories—Tremaine St. Michael, Daniel Banks, and Willow Dorning—and found them each a happily ever after. Tremaine is a flinty business man, Daniel is poor and pious, Willow finds polite society an enormous trial and would far rather be with his dogs. These fellows were not obvious choices as romance heroes, but they each hadsomething that tempted me to write stories for them.


When we met Tremaine in an earlier book (Gabriel: Lord of Regrets), Tremaine was convinced that he’d found a good candidate for the position of wife. He offered marriage, listing all the practical advantages to both parties, and he congratulated himself on how much sense his proposed union would make.


The lady turned him down flat, and as a gentleman is bound to do, he graciously ceded the field. He didn’t like it, he didn’t entirely understand how or what he’d lost, but he wished the happy couple well.

Daniel’s role in David: Lord of Honor was to charge to London with sermons at the ready in an attempt to restore his sister’s honor. The very man Daniel accused of wronging that sister had already set her back on the path to respectability.

Oops. But again, being a gentleman, Daniel wishes the couple every happiness, even if doing so costs him the future he’d envisioned for himself and his loved ones. Like Tremaine, he’s a gracious and even dignified loser.

Willow’s appearance in Worth: Lord of Reckoning is brief, but he too is determined to see a sister rescued from a possibly compromising position, and again, rescue is simply not on the heroine’s agenda.

In all three cases, the true gentleman acts in the best interests of those he loves and is responsible for, regardless of the inconvenience or cost to himself. Because Tremaine, Daniel, and Willow were honorable, I liked them. I trusted them, I wanted them to have the happiness they clearly already deserved.

In the Nicholas Haddonfield’s sisters—Nita, Kirsten, and Susannah—I found ladies willing to oblige my ambitions for these men. In each case, our hero has lessons yet to learn, and in each case, his inherent honor wins the day. He might not be handsome, wealthy, or charming in the eyes of the world, but because he’s a true gentleman in the eyes of his lady, he wins her true love.



I hope you enjoy reading these stories as much as I enjoyed writing them!



Excerpt – Tremaine’s True Love

Wealthy businessman Tremaine St. Michael has concluded that marriage to Lady Nita Haddonfield would be a prudent merger of complimentary interests for the mutual benefit and enjoyment of both parties… or some such blather.



Tremaine rapped on Lady Nita’s door, quietly, despite a light shining from beneath it. Somebody murmured something which he took for permission to enter.



“Mr. St. Michael?”



Tremaine stepped into her ladyship’s room, closed the door behind him and locked it, which brought the total of his impossibly forward behaviors to several thousand.



“Your ladyship expected a sister, or a maid with a pail of coal?”


“I wasn’t expecting you.” Lady Nita sat near the hearth in a blue velvet dressing gown. The wool stockings on her feet were thick enough to make a drover covetous. “Are you unwell, Mr. St. Michael?”


“You are not pleased to see me.” Did she think illness the only reason somebody would seek her out?


She set aside some pamphlet, a medical treatise, no doubt. No vapid novels for Lady Nita.


“I was not expecting you, sir.”


“You were not expecting me to discuss marriage with you earlier. I wasn’t expecting the topic to come up in a casual fashion either. May I sit?”


She waved an elegant hand at the other chair flanking the hearth. Tremaine settled in, trying to gather his thoughts while the firelight turned Lady Nita’s braid into a rope of burnished gold.


“You are pretty.” Brilliant place to start. The words had come out, heavily burred, something of an ongoing revelation.


“I am tall and blond,” she retorted, twitching the folds her of her robe. “I have the usual assortment of parts. What did you come here to discuss?”


Lady Nita was right, in a sense. Her beauty was not of the ballroom variety, but rather, an illumination of her features by characteristics unseen. She fretted over new babies, cut up potatoes like any crofter’s wife, and worried for her sisters. These attributes interested Tremaine. Her madonna-with-a-secret smile, keen intellect, and longing for laughter attracted him.

Even her medical pre-occupation, in its place, had some utility as well.


“Will you marry me, my lady?”

More brilliance. Where had his wits gone? George Haddonfield had graciously pointed out that Nita needed repose and laughter, and Tremaine was offering her the hand of the most restless and un-silly man in the realm.

The lady somehow contained her incredulity, staring at her hands. “You want to discuss marriage?”

“I believe I did just open that topic. Allow me to elaborate on my thesis: Lady Bernita Haddonfield, will you do me the honor of becoming my wife? I think we would suit, and I can promise you would know no want in my care.”

A proper swain would have been on his damn bended knee, the lady’s hand in his. Lady Nita would probably laugh herself to tears if Tremaine attempted that nonsense. Lady Nita picked up her pamphlet, which Tremaine could now see was written in German.

“Why, Mr. St. Michael?”

“I beg your pardon?” Tremaine was about to pitch the damned pamphlet in the fire, until he recalled that Nita Haddonfield excelled at obscuring her stronger emotions.

“Why should you marry me, Tremaine St. Michael? Why should I marry you? I’ve had other offers, you’ve made other offers. You haven’t known me long enough to form an opinion of my character beyond the superficial.”


This ability to take a situation apart, into causes, effects, symptoms, and prognosis was part of the reason she was successful as a healer. Tremaine applied the same tendencies to commercial situations, so he didn’t dismiss her questions as coyness or manipulation.


She wasn’t rejecting him either. She most assuredly was not rejecting him.





Buy Links



Author Biography

New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Grace Burrowes' bestsellers include The Heir, The Soldier, Lady Maggie's Secret Scandal, Lady Sophie's Christmas Wish and Lady Eve's Indiscretion. Her Regency romances have received extensive praise, including starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Booklist. Grace is branching out into short stories and Scotland-set Victorian romance with Sourcebooks. She is a practicing family law attorney and lives in rural Maryland.

Social Media Links

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

BOOK GUSH! A Curious Beginning by Deanna Raybourn




GUYS I LOVE DEANNA RAYBOURN!

Not only is she one of the best authors to follow on social media and blog, she is a prime example of how to connect and engage with one's readership.

Oh! And she writes the sexiest most intelligent books in the stratosphere.


( read my Q and A with Deanna here )

I fell head over heels over her Lady Julia books and then, most recently, with her triad of adorable adventure romances that recalled Out of Africa, The Scarlet Pimpernel and, well, everything good thing (my book gush of City of Jasmine is here )  And now we have a new series to tempt readers of Julia and Brisbane who want something that stretches over books and allows us to settle in to a flint and tinder romance. Beginning with A Curious Beginning (releasing September)

Raybourn writes with a knowing wink and a smile and, here, she is back in Victorian London featuring the darling and bright Veronica Speedwell, a Victorian lady reminiscent of Amelia Peabody who loves to chase butterfly specimens across the exotic corners of several continents and can stay off any untoward advances with her hat pin. She keeps a small mouse named Chester tucked tightly to her as a mascot and she is brave and wonderful with an athletic form, a manner too bold for a spinster, and a life stretched with possibility when her guardian "aunt" passes away.

But there is intrigue! Mystery! Murder! Stolen identities! and even a Royal tinge of excitement and Veronica, alongside the growly and perfect Emerson-like Stoker (there's a lot of Elizabeth Peters in this series) into a whirlwind of corruption, danger and near death.


No one writes quite  like Deanna Raybourn: pairing a whip-smart sense of humour, paragraphs and conversations replete with verisimilitude with sensuality and intelligence.    Obviously, the sparks between our unlikely pair: Stoker the taxidermist with a high falutin' past and Veronica with the unintentional web of intrigue entrapping her corsets, bloomers and fashionable clothes, is palpable.  But Raybourn leads them through several verbal waltzes,  heated breaths and close quarters, without ever quite throwing them in each other's arms.   This is what kept me reading at a harried pace through hilarious scenes with a travelling circus ( seems like Stoker is also an expert knife thrower, amongst other things) to the alleys of London and the docks and filmy murk of the Thames.

The connection between the two is something that will clutch at your heart and catch in your throat, but Raybourn knows how to play her cards and keep you wanting just a little more.  This is chemistry and sexual tension at its finest: a marriage of minds, joining equals who keep the banter flying.

Hilarious and romantic and breathtaking at the same time.


An unconventional symphony that twists and sizzles in flying colours.  I cannot WAIT for the next Veronica Speedwell.


My thanks to the publisher for an e-galley.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Am Writing: Everything about Benny Citrone

As a reader, I love learning about the behind the scenes stuff of novels I love.  Especially when it comes to characters. I want to know what is going on in the mind of an author when they create my latest fictional book obsession. I google a lot. Interviews. Pinterest boards.

I would love to pepper Martha Grimes about Melrose Plant and ask Patrick O’Brian what he was thinking with Maturin (and where Maturin came from ). I would love to ask LM Montgomery about Barney Snaith.



I am currently working on the second Herringford and Watts book A Lesson in Love and Murder wherein I introduce Benfield Citrone.

Benny came about when I was butting my head against the wall with Jasper Forth. Jasper is a long time friend of the girls and, in his mind, a prospective love interest for Merinda whom he just adores.  But he wasn’t adding the spark I needed to the story and he wasn’t bringing out a zesty and challenging side of Merinda I needed him to.  He’s still essential to the story and I won’t let you know how his path ends, but for the purpose of the middle book I needed something other than Jasper.

Benny also came about as a counterbalance to Ray.  My Ray DeLuca ( who is the leading guy in Bachelor Girl's Guide to Murder is extremely problematic in book II and doesn’t spend as much time on page as in the first, though he remains a pivotal character and plot point.   I know some readers would love Ray but some wouldn’t be attracted to him.  I wanted to give prospective readers options. I don’t always fall for the most obvious character in a novel and I wanted to provide different types that reflected the major differences in Jem and Merinda.  Though best friends, Jem and Merinda would not be attracted to the same kind of man.   I wanted to have some prospect of romance because I love writing it and it makes the mysteries more fun (and gives them an extra slant for investment) and Ray just wasn’t cutting it in this book ( he really doesn’t.  *shakes head* he’s kinda clueless and I keep asking him:  do you REALLY want to do that? And he’s like, “dude. You made me up. I cannot be held responsible for my poor albeit good intentioned life choices)


Benny showed up and he was a mountie.  My dad is an RCMP chaplain and a long time collector of mountie memorabilia and history. It is a major part of my upbringing.  Merinda calls him Benny but his full name is Benfield Citrone.  Benfield is the middle name of Samuel Benfield Steele,  an RCMP officer renowned for taming the Yukon without use of a firearm.  Citrone is ( get this ) the surname of a client I used to work with at my day job and the name just stuck.   

I liked the idea of having a man who possessed the same deductive skill as Merinda but in a slightly different way.  Merinda is schooled in Sherlock Holmes and the guidebook of former Pinkerton M.C. Wheaton.   Benny is a tracker. He is remarkably observant but his skills were honed in the Yukon.  He is vibrant and perceptive and aware and has immediate chemistry with Merinda.


I needed to give Merinda an equal:   I do some neat things with Jasper but at this point in the series she could stomp him into submission.  The second book in my series thematically deals with anarchy and submission and I couldn’t have Merinda sway someone so easily. She has equal footing with Benny and part of their mutual attraction is borne of their butting heads.

Benny is in Toronto infiltrating an anarchist group in hopes of learning more about his missing cousin, Jonathan.  Jonathan may well be dead but Benny won’t rest until he has tracked every last clue to his cousin’s whereabouts: dead or alive.


I am having a lot of fun with him, especially as he takes on his own characteristics.  As a writer, I find I have a beginning outline and vague form and idea of a character but soon enough I’ll be tapping away and they begin to think and talk for themselves.  I have had more time with Jasper, Ray, Merinda and Jem so they have been their independent fully-formed entities for a long creative while,  Benny is fun to get to know.


My sister in law has a question for me any time I go out on a date and that is: Who Would Play Him in a Movie?

Benny is conventionally handsome except that he has had his nose broken in two places by a hockey puck. 


I think of actor Sam Reid ( but with brown eyes instead of blue )



Wednesday, July 29, 2015

In Which I write Elsewhere

Hi Team!

irrelevant hedgehog

It's been awhile!


It is becoming increasingly difficult for me to review every single book I read ( what with working on my second novel and all ) but I try to do a good job of keeping my Goodreads up to date! Often with little comments or squeals of glee. I encourage you to check out my reading log there.


Rachel's Goodreads 


And while you are there, feel free to add my first Herringford and Watts novella "A Singular and Whimsical Problem" to your shelf.

AND! you can also add the second full-length H and W novel "A Lesson in Love and Murder" to your shelf because my publisher was nice enough to put this on there ( even though I haven't quite written it all yet ;) )


(and seriously: I am working on Lesson in Love and Murder right now and you will all love Benfield Citrone --- my MOUNTIE! yes, I have a mountie.Also, a cameo by Emma Goldman. Also, a cameo by Teddy Roosevelt. Part of it is set in Chicago where my trouser-wearing lady detectives pit against anarchists ---with explosives! La! )


In other places:

On Novel Crossing, I wrote about reporters in CBA fiction ( something dear to my heart as I have one in my own special Ray)

I also interviewed Kate Breslin whose Not By Sight was fantabulous

For Breakpoint, I was able to write about the fab new film Testament of Youth  as well as review Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Q and A: Natasha Pulley




Readers, I cannot tell you how thrilled I was to gulp down The Watchmaker of Filigree Street over the course of Saturday. That's right, I read all day.  This is a keeper book. It is funny and fresh and wonderful. I laughed aloud and often when I wasn't sinking into its gorgeous language.

I was thrilled, too, when Natasha Pulley agreed to do a Q and A here!  Her voice is so special and she is an author that came out of nowhere for me and one that I will follow forever.    I loved her characters immediately!


[[A few snippets of imagery made me trip over how gorgeous they were:

"....the dark corridor to a door the far end under which firelight bled."

"Under the gas lamps mist pawed at the windows of the closed shops"

"The gold caught the ember-light and shone the colour of a human voice."

"Today the silence had a silver hem."

"...water mumbled in the pipes and there were steps and sudden bright thumps..."

"A prickling terseness started about halfway down his spine as if somebody had rested their fingertips gunshaped between the vertebrae there."


"...still dense over the river where it made skeleton ghosts of ships' masts and trapped the stale smell of the water"

"your science can save a man's life, but imagination makes it worth living."

(I could go on forever!   But, I won't) ]]



R: I lost my taste for every other book after reading Watchmaker. Your voice was something I had never encountered before. Do you just sit and write? Or are you a plotter?



I just sit and write. The book didn’t really have a plot at first, but then my editor sort of nudged me and said it might be a good idea if something actually happened.


R:There’s a lot going on in the story---some of it quite dark--- what with nationalism, racism and even terrorism! At times, it seemed to parallel our own world—even though set well over a century ago. How do you think the Victorian age and the “Steampunk” genre best help us confront some of the limitations and darkness of our contemporary time?



Historical fiction is a lot like a telescope. We learn history as a series of facts, unemotionally, and so we tend to think of it in a fairly detached, distant way. Fiction brings everything near again. But if you turn it round the other way and look through it backward, you can make very near things look distant. Very few modern problems are new — they just look new, because they’re closer than we usually see things. Putting them into historical fiction, and making them distant, can sometimes make it clearer what they actually are.


R: My head hurt just thinking of how brilliantly mapped out the entire plot was…not to mention the research from botany to science to watchmaking! The different timelines, the dates, the happenstances, and the events perfectly constructed by Keita Mori. How did you keep track and juggle all of this?


I should probably have kept a big chart, but I’m not that efficient; when I wrote, I tended to have bullet points at the start of new sections to remind me what had to go in and what it had to match up to later, but that’s quite an easy thing to do. A book looks like a linear document when you read it, but writing one, you can skip about from chapter three to chapter twenty without all the intervening stuff to make you forget.


R:I must tell you—I cannot remember highlighting a book so enthusiastically as I did The Watchmaker of Filigree Street. It was at times heartbreaking and tense, yes, but also extremely funny. Do you have a personal favourite moment?


Yes. The moment Thaniel forget the music from the Foreign Office Ball, and the moment Mori forgets how to play it, is probably one of the oldest and most redrafted in the whole thing. I think I spent more time trying to get that right than I did on all the parts set in Japan.


R: absolutely adored the relationships between your characters. Sure, the development of Grace and Matsumoto and Mori and Thaniel could set us in mind of Philip Pullman and Doyle ( as two examples). Yet, they were all so unique and so organic. Were there concrete inspirations for your characters? Or, did they just develop naturally on their own?


Definitely there were concrete foundations for everything, only some of which I can remember. I watched a Japanese sci fi movie called Moon Child (it’s about vampires) in which one of the actors looks very like Mori, so I started blurring the two in my mind after that. I was also reading lots of Sherlock Holmes when I started writing it, and it always struck me as strange that although Watson is yanked always between his wife and Holmes at any given time, nobody ever really seems to get properly upset by any of it. I also read everything by Robin Hobb, who has a marvellous character called the Fool who knows the future. He’s a prophet in a far grander sense than Mori is, and he’s much stranger, but a lot of her stories hinge on how what he can do affects his relationships. That said, concrete foundations only go so far and I think the point at which a story really becomes yours is when you start building your own structure rather than looking at other people’s architecture; after point, the characters did develop by themselves.


R:Another note on character: I loved how there was no distinct line between good and bad and each character had moments where the reader questioned or even misunderstood. Here, I think of Grace. While I found it difficult reading about her reactive response to Mori, I empathized with my belief that she was doing what she thought was right. How did you set to achieve this balance?


Nineteenth century novels are full of total candlewasters who wouldn’t react to a slap in the face; I hate The Portrait of a Lady, because the heroine of it goes back to an awful man at the end for a lifetime of rubbish rather than murder him like you want her to. It’s righteous but annoying. With Grace and Mori, I didn’t want either of them to be a coward, and I didn’t want either of them to be a saint. It felt much more human for them to be afraid of each other and to fight and to come away less than shiny.


R:Finally, what has been your favourite part of your journey to publication thus far?



The book cover, definitely the book cover. I owe the Bloomsbury design team a very big round of drinks.


Natasha Pulley studied English Literature at Oxford University and earned a creative writing MA at the University of East Anglia. Pulley lives near Ely in Cambridgeshire, England. This is her first novel.


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Friday, July 17, 2015

Bachelor Girl's Guide to Murder is around the web!

Hi Team!

Just letting you know that you can pre-order the first full-length Herringford and Watts adventure (a novella entitled A Singular and Whimsical Problem will introduce you to the characters in December!) is now available for pre-order

Go to Amazon!



Also, Bachelor Girl's Guide to Murder is on Goodreads --- so please feel free to go and add it to your TBR account because I think you will want to read it!


Also,  I have been working on the second novel in the series  A Lesson in Love and Murder and you can check out my pinterest page 


My reading world lately has been this:


Friday, July 03, 2015

Book Gush: Not by Sight by Kate Breslin

what I said on Goodreads: An unbelievably well-written and heart-wrenching exposition on the power of faith to see through treason and uncertainty. Ripe with deft metaphor, Breslin puts her skilled pen to the test weaving a tale with all the enigma and romance that reminds you why you LOVE reading. A throwback to the classics such as Phantom of the Opera, the Scarlet Pimpernel and others, Breslin's talent is optimized in her passion-meets-poetry take on the Great War and the British experience. Literary crossover fiction with perfect faith themes, expert characterization and a heart-wrenching climax. The perfect read

You guys I am gonna gush. So be ye warned. I am just letting you know that there will be all-out gushing. Because Kate Breslin is a genius and this book is a world.

I loved this book. I loved the experience of reading this book: the physical reaction that had my hands shaking and my palm over my heart to hear its thudding beat.

I loved this book. This book is smart. This book is brilliant. This book is poetry. This book is parable.

And, best of all, this book is a perfect literary read: a book lover’s dream---pulling on Leroux’s Phantom of the Opera, with hints of Thornfield Hall, with a great, lovely nod to the Scarlet Pimpernel.  This book reminds us why we read.  

We read for love. We read to find ourselves in the pages and we are happily surprised when the characters speak for us--- regardless of time or travail or circumstance.


A well-flourished exposition on betrayal, trust and hope, Breslin thematically weaves faith tenets within the tenuous world of the Great War.  The prose that she so well honed in For Such a Time is expert poetry-in-motion in her sophomore novel.



And can I talk about the feminist suffragette slant? I have mentioned before that a favourite literary trope is exploring women who so want to take a stand but really have to stumble into it : realizing that their individual gifts might be as resonant in their quiet ways of changing the world than in grand gestures.  Here, the book opens with a ball throwing back to Lord Grenville’s ball: that pivotal moment in the Scarlet Pimpernel and as Percy falls immediately for the dashing French actress Marguerite, so Jack Benningham disguised as a playboy while working for the Admiralty is immediately smitten with Grace Mabry---to him a nameless goddess ensconced in tempting green, swathed as Pandora ….


The  metaphorical box she opens is enough to distract and lure him away from his mission at the event, culminating in her leaving him with a white feather, an insignia of the cowardice she feels at his being a playboy in London-town and away from the action of the European theatre.



They meet again, although now Jack ----safely ensconced  on a grand estate as Lord Roxwood---is blind and scarred, the result of an accident at sea immediately after the ball but, to Grace and others, just another story in the tabloid rags of a playboy drunk who set his townhouse on fire.

She becomes his driver, when she is not working  on his estate with the Woman's Forage Corps he becomes smitten with her via their preternatural kinship and a menagerie  of colourful personalities are bottled in a cozy countryside: the servants and friends of Lord Roxwell ( including Violet, Jack’s rich fiancĂ©e and Lord Marcus, a regular Andrew Ffoulkes for those who subscribe to all things Pimpernel)


I did find, at times, that Grace was almost too good – and too perfect a mouthpiece to express Breslin’s religious and moral intent.  But, I found myself not caring because I was so much in love with the story.


In love with the sexual tension that was an undercurrent of every zippy, nerve-tingling scene Grace and Jack shared together.  In love with the soft introduction of betrayal and helplessness, of hope and believably flawed characters. In love with the resplendent juxtaposition of conversation with pure descriptive poetry as Grace, like her creator, imbues the English landscape with a painting of words.  In love with my favourite romantic trope: a man scarred who looks to the promise of love for redemption. This is Rochester, this is Sir Percy, this is  Col Brandon --- this is the reason my literary heart beats so strongly.  In love with the tantalizing research eked out in every scene regarding the Woman’s Forage corps --- a precursor to the Women’s Land Army of WWII ( this has shades of Land Girls, for those BBC fans)

Espionage! Treason! And an e-galley that is pretty much entirely highlighted as I tripped carelessly in love with almost every.single.quote  A teacher once referred to poetry as the perfect words in the perfect order.  Not one of Breslin’s descriptors is out of place:


“Most women,” says Jack, “are by far more intelligent---which is probably why men don’t want them voting at the polls.’ His tone sobered as he added, ‘Fear tends to breed hatred and dissention, Miss Mabry.”


“Just like an artist captures an image on canvas, a good writer must paint a picture with words”


“Men don’t like suffragettes because they want to keep us under their thumbs”

“Those smiles of his were so rare, each one she received from him like a gift”

“His gentle voice caressed like the rustling grasses of the field. “

“Grace pressed close and touched her lips to his. Let this be their parting then, she thought, surrendering not to reason but to her heart”

“Passion unfurled between them like the petals of his most prized rose.”

“She sensed in him a longing, tasting the loneliness he would face in the days to come. Surrounded by him, she breathed in the spice of his Bay Rum cologne mingled with a touch of aged leather and the scent that was uniquely Jack Bennigham.”


“Her emerald eyes gleamed, and Jack drank in her presence –from the riot of red curls bound in green ribbon to the beautiful eyes, her perfect nose and her rosebud mouth that now quivered with mischief.”



I just want to talk about this book forever. And I will.  So I need you guys to promise me that you will go read it and then see if you can get through it without dying to throw in the Anthony Andrews version of the Pimpernel (but resist it and keep reading) and then come talk to me. FOREVER!

As for me, I have preordered three print copies: one for me, two spares – or to giveaway to friends who will fall as hard for this fictional world as I did.


BOOK LOVE

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Boston!

For the second time in a year, I  was back satiating my passion for BOSTON!  My goodness, by far my favourite US city!


I spent six days wandering the city as well as taking advantage of the amazing and quick commuter rail to head out to Concord to visit Orchard House (Louisa May Alcott's often homebase and the inspiration for Little Women)  and to visit Walden Pond, Thoreau's homestead and Ralph Waldo Emerson's house.

I love Boston.



Some of the reasons I love it:

Boston proper is a relatively small city (especially compared to Toronto) so it is so easy to walk around in.


The Common: Reading in the Common with an iced coffee while watching those Swan boats?  Love


The cobblestoned Freedom Trail.


Quincy Market and Faneuil Hall


The accents! To Canadian Rachel, most Americans have accents: but the Boston dialect is so distinctive and regionally specific----


THE NORTH END! Oh my goodness, I love the North End: site of Paul Revere's house and the Old North Church but also Boston's Little Italy---home to amazon cannoli and all manner of delicious Italian food at restaurants people line up for hours to get in.


Back Bay and Beacon Hill: the rows of red-bricked ornate architecture, the public alleys and Boulevards


THE PEOPLE: the people in Boston are so friendly. When I was there last autumn, stepping out of the airport, a woman used her Charlie Card to get me on the subway and rode past her stop to make sure I found the Back Bay station


The Green Dragon Tavern: I love the ambience and the ghosts of the rebel Sons of Liberty plotting their revolution


The Harbour: gorgeous! I mean, one moment you are remembering a ton of darjeeling was tipped over the side, the next you are gazing over at New England lighthouses


The people ( I think I mentioned this )


The Old State House and the Old South Meeting House: just walking Boston gives you a sense that you have peeled back a few hundred years



And SO MANY MORE THINGS


pictures! ( ever so craftily stolen from instagram)








I read great books in Boston

Finally finished Mad Miss Mimic by Sarah Henstra

American Eve: Evelyn Nesbit, Stanford White, the Birth of the 'It' Girl and the Crime of the Century by Paula Uruburu ( note: this non-fiction is UNPUTFRIGGINDOWNABLE )

Popular by Maya van Wagenen 

The Daring Exploits of a Runaway Heiress which was adorable and snarky 


I was at opening night of Newsies on its Boston tour stop and it was my first time seeing the highly anticipated Broadway show ( I have been stoked about it ).  Ironically, I am seeing it opening night here in Toronto.  Lots of Newsies for me!


Friday, June 19, 2015

'Caroline in the City' is on youtube and I am very ranty about it......



I was amused to find all episodes of Caroline in the City on youtube. I wasn’t a diehard follower but I had seen several episodes esp of the first season in high school and I liked the sarcastic bite of the humour mostly between Caroline’s cartoonist Richard ( who, clad in black and obsessed with existential poetry was a complete anomaly in 90s heroic standards) and Annie (the best character on the show, Caroline’s best friend and a dancer in Cats).

So, when I discovered it ( probably after thinking about it while talking to Allison)  I watched a few eps here and there on youtube, recorded from syndication on some British station as evident through the v.o. on the credits and enjoyed revisiting the 90s clothes, the 90s hairstyles, Lea Thompson’s dimples and the broadway references.   Note: there is a fab epwith David Hyde Pierce playing an accountant who wants to be in Cats. You should find it.


But then, the show takes a nosedive.  A nosedive.   I don’t know (and I have a barely working knowledge of this ) if it was taking cues from relationship triangles and disasters in Friends but it goes so way off the deep end and I GOT VERBALLY ANGRY last night.

ANGRY at a sitcom.  Why? Because I am an adult and I can.


Let’s recap the relationships in Ye Olde C in the C.  You may need wine 




Richard ---- morose, bitter artist turned colourist who has a thing for sunny Caroline but doesn’t realize it til Caroline almost marries Del---her poofy haired greeting card mogul.  Caroline doesn’t recognize this.  (note: my teenage self never realized that Richard is basically gay.  Now, it is blatantly obvious.  Regardless, Richard shoulda ended up with Annie or with Del.  Whomever.).

 Caroline----perky Wisconsin native with dimples who has her own single girl in the city comic strip. In the second season ---after a few mixed paths and almost-happens realizes that she loves Richard.  This is not done well. This is not done subtly. Culminating in her leaving Richard a message on his 
( hello 90s!) answering machine which his returned-from-Italy old girlfriend Julia erases.
 
sometimes Richard dates Lorelai Gilmore



Then Richard marries Julia!!!  After pretending to be married to Caroline.  This isn’t even some charming screwball comedy move from the 30s….

Then we get season three which, I swear, I may  not actually make it through:
Julia---- I HATE IT WHEN writers resort to a Julia.  The Men love B**ches Trope. I HATE IT!   The same guy who would fall for Caroline would not end up marrying ( and yet he does) the woman who albeit gorgeous, he left in Italy with his memories of backpacking.  It is  awful.  The two have no onscreen chemistry and the love triangle is so very sickening.  Julia is a horrible woman and she does dastardly things and we’re supposed to hate her but root for good girl Caroline to win Richard. But, who WANTS Richard now that he has proven terrible decision making skills? Who wants Richard to be the hero when he knows that he is susceptible to a gorgeous but horrible woman with a trust fund?

Not me.  Anything that was endearing and black and artistic and nerdy about him before is now just annoying.  And Caroline is annoying because she gives into Julia and I want them all ( except for Annie ) to fall off a cliff.


But the  show decides (cue from Friends?) to finally get Richard and Caroline together.    In the stupidest way possible.  The absolute worst writing of any “love” story ever.   And they keep poking at it with episodes soapily linked to each other in To Be Continued. It is so genuinely awful.

First, they have the entire ensemble in an unrealistic flashback bottle episode where they are all tied up by a marriage counselor.

Then they release Julia’s trust fund so Richard is no longer a starving artist and can paint in a penthouse.  This is disingenuous to the character who has spent seasons ALMOST getting his big break (in a funny and clever way). They just cash in their bored chips and GIVE him money. All that clever writing work. UGH!

He also doesn’t have to work for Caroline anymore which means they can’t have their daily domestic spats; nor can Annie show up from across the hall and engage him in a battle of sardonic quips.


They paint themselves into the worst corner ever and do you know how they get out of it?  ( I am rolling my eyes here): by having Caroline and Annie think that Julia has cheated Richard prompting Richard to follow his wife to Spain to confront her. Thereafter, Annie and Caroline also go to Spain and Richard almost gets trampled BY A BULL RUN ( oh how I wish he had).


And this was the episode I watched last night after a few pints with a friend and I WAS SO LIVID that someone ( a many someones, to be exact) made actual real live money and lots of it for writing this awful nonsense.  Like give me the money and make Richard get trampled by the bulls….

And it gets even worse…

Caroline and Annie  have apologized for their mistake and gone back to New York.  Richard follows Caroline because on his deathbed from bull trample ( he’s not even scraped) he re-evaluated his life and wanted to be with Caroline.


You two shouldn't be together. The cat deserves more happiness
And I didn’t get past this moment so I cannot tell you what happens next because I was yelling at my computer and because I love my MacBook Air so much didn’t want to  be inspired to throw it across my room in frustration.



So what have we learned?  A.) people who write throaway bull running episodes owe me money B.) I hate it when writers create a “love triangle” by having their heroine or hero end up with a jerky mean and evil person. WHY WILL WE LIKE THEM IF THEY MAKE POOR LIFE CHOICES AND FALL FOR HORRIBLE people?  C.) the 90s. oh the 90s 

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

book gush! Tiffany Girl by Deeanne Gist

Rambly Rambly Book Gush


I am going to go straight out and say that Deeanne Gist hasn’t always been a favourite read of mine. Not her writing ability, so much as her heroines and the conventional wrap-up and message of her stories.  But,I read them all. I guess because I saw some spark I knew might be one day fully realized.


I followed her from her Bethany House days to Howard and found that I enjoyed the Fair books more than I had her previous books. We are, thought I, on the right track. Maybe because she had moved away from ( there's nothing wrong with this ) a more conservative inspirational publisher and had a little more wiggle room.

Then, Tiffany Girl came along.   And this is the book that, I think, Gist was meant to write and it makes the statements I wish she had made throughout her entire fictional career.  You see, Gist’s previous romances hedged on the happy ending.  As was part and parcel of the demographic she was writing for and the convention she was writing in ( again, nothing wrong with this) but both present an odd paradox for a romantically inclined feminist.  I often find myself at a bit of a complicated odds in my reading life: for while I love romance, I am a bit of a complex contradiction, sad often that the heroine’s life really STARTS when she weds and the independence and spirit that saw her to that eventuality sometimes gets tucked under a carpet of domesticity.  Of course---and slightly tangential here---we have series like Thoene’s Zion Covenant where Elisa and Murphy are just as exciting to watch after marriage as before. Raybourn's City of Jasmine is another example of this trope working well. The same with the Scarlet Pimpernel, where the marriage off-sets a romance more dazzling than before. 
But, for the most part, the happily ever after sealed the deal with Gist’s heroines and I found myself thinking a bit of them had died.  The prose and story waltzed around the eventuality of marriage. Rightly so, as this was the focal point of so many women’s stories in historical periods.  But, I digress....

Here, Gist decides to invert the trope that she so long fictionally subscribed to and, in what I find a brilliant tongue-in-cheek colouring outside the lines ( brilliantly paired, here, with the artistry motif) she writes a treatise on the very thing that made her career: the romance ending in marriage.

Flossie is not your ordinary girl. Instead, she is believably complex. Like so many women she is torn between her desire for her husband and children as well as her passion for her art.  When she is offered the chance to be a Tiffany Girl: to work the stained glass for the grand exhibit at the Chicago World’s Fair, she grabs it at the reins.  (Note: this is brilliant because while so much fiction in the CBA market focuses on the actual fair, this is in the periphery ---art meant to be displayed there that gives us a bustling New York backdrop).    Despite the reservations of her parents, who have supported her interest in art and her artistic schooling to this point in hopes she would give it up for a husband and babies, she moves out to become a New Woman and takes up residence in a boarding house.

For the first half or so of the novel what we see realized is one of my favourite types of story:  an almost bildungsroman of a woman trying to fit into a mould that she is not meant for.  Flossie is certain that her intrinsic ideals are well-matched with the New Woman archetype and yet she is not a character who can be fit into a type. She immediately falls back on cordial hospitality: befriending the boarders and setting up little dinner parties and games.

Reeve Wilder ( note: by far Gist’s best hero and one of my favs of the year) is not under Flossie’s spell.  He thinks New Women are like to undermine and overhaul all that is sacred about motherhood, home life and family.  His dark and lonely past help realistically inform his distrust of this new model of women and he speaks out quite plainly against Flossie.  Yet, they are neighbours, and while he cannot advocate for her lifestyle, he is intrigued by the light that surrounds her, her artistic sensibility and the warmth that imbues every single person in the boarding house. 

There are charming scenes where Flossie pricks away at Reeve’s icy exterior just as there are scenes involving Reeve and an elderly widow --- where we get to see the true treasure behind the New Woman rant and spiels.


Both characters are --as I feel so often as a reader/ woman ---contradictions. Brilliant, befuddling contradictions as so many of us!  Real, fleshy human beings with hopes and flaws. Do they grow? Absolutely.
When Reeve begins writing a fictionalized serial about a New Woman, modeled on Flossie, of course, the book's ideologies slowly start to shift and its stern yet subtly woven statement begins to emerge.

Everyone wants a happy ending for the fictional heroine. And a happy ending for fictional serialized girl means giving up her photography business ( for what married woman can work!) and falling into marital bliss.  The editor basically tells Reeve he has set the story up for this moment. This trapping is the only seeming resolution for two characters of 1890s New York.    Of course, the readers expect the same.  But something has changed. Reeve has begun to understand why women want to make their own money, why women want to pursue their passions and leave their indelible marks outside of the expectations and industry of men.    Reeve has begun to see why Flossie wants what she wants.

The desire is not to overthrow him, the desire is for her to be herself—have her own passion and dreams.

In ingenious parallel, meta-fictional and fictional worlds collide and intertwine.

There is some confusion, some dancing, some spats, some cute moments and a few kisses ( much hotter, with innuendo-ed language that far outweighs any further descriptive) and the metaphor of doors being open and closed.

There are ups and downs as Flossie learns that her passion for her art and her natural skills are at odds with each other. She recognizes that she is average. Quite remarkable for a woman in a historical fiction novel, where we pride ourselves on women who break boundaries and excel. She does these things, yes, but on a small scale.

And Reeve....well Reeve.... learns what it is to let his guard down.  And he writes some more and she finds herself in his words – and not in words crafted around her caricature, where her flaws and contradictions are paraded, but in soft, dulcet tones.

And romance ensues.

Real, toe-tingly romance.


And we whirl and twirl and Blue Danube our way into a pattern that is so familiar and that is exhumed so expertly into marital and domestic certainty…..and yet….

Yet....

This book may have lost me if it had not been able to maintain its equilibrium between the two characters.  This book is romantic feminism at its best when it works with the often explored theme of shared marital finances.


Reeve and Flossie are not of a time period where they can shake the world to such extent it turns on its ear.  Reeve and Flossie are not of a time where women can work and still be married.  But, Gist is brilliant enough to assuage convention by carefully threading what true independence and collaboration mean.  And, for her, and for her characters, this is deftly interwoven in terms of money, earnings and how married couples divide property.    There are limitations, but these are not the days of pin money and rescinded property.

So she makes her statement and it is better still because it is historically plausible.   We know that Reeve and Flossie are part of a chugging motion that will echo into the future and bring us to the point where we are at today: a point where women with independent passions and means outside of familial life are advocated for as much as those who choose marriage and families.


I suppose ( and I thought of this continually while writing) , part of the reason I always read Gist’s books is because the historical accuracy and research is resplendent. From basketball to trolley assaults, she outdoes herself here. 

I also want to make note of the inspirational content.  Gist was indeed an inspirational author.  This is very much a general market book. There is nothing christian about this story. Save in its subtle themes ( i.e., Reeve pays Flossie’s debt at one point, anonymously and without wanting payment).   However, she keeps all *ahem* action behind closed doors.  That doesn’t detract from the sexual tension, though. It is palpable.   (okay, so there’s this hot scene where Flossie arrives in the middle of the night chilled to the bone from wandering in a blizzard and boarding house mate Reeve has waited up for her and he rubs her feet so they don’t get frostbite. And this is, like, the sexiest thing since Willoughby helped Marianne Dashwood with a sprained ankle or since Dick Dewy and Fancy Day washed their hands together in Under the Greenwood Tree)



QUOTES!


 "She did want that, there was no denying it. For years, all she'd ever dreamed of was growing up and becoming a wife and mother, but that was before women had any choices. Now they were earning degrees. They were asking for the vote. They were even securing jobs in professions never before accessible to them."


"Managing comes naturally to a woman. She has been managing homes since the beginning of time. But the quality we, of the stronger sex, assume she lacks is business ability. Yet this writer had an opportunity to sit with the head of the only shop of woman glasscutters in the world. She and the dozen young women who work under her direction made--without any assistance from men---the award-winning windows of the Tiffany's chapel.

"Their eggs are all in one basket, and when you've only one basket, it stands to reason that it had better be a good one."


"Instead, he found her mouth again and wrapped his arms clear around her. "Open your mouth, magpie."
"What?"
He kissed her, really kissed her. She made mewling sounds. She raked her fingers through his hair. She twisted against him. Bracketing his ears, she pushed his mouth away.  "I thought I was going to die during the photos!" 

"That's the whole point of being a New Woman. They don't want to be reduced to housewifery. They feel it would take away everything that is special about them."

"Well, now she really was a New Woman and also in love. Neither looked even remotely like her fantasies."