Wednesday, February 29, 2012

In which....well.... just 'White Collar', y'know?

oh NEAL! oh PETER!
Dear World,

Sometimes I spend my off-time reading clever books and watching clever films and filling my brain with all sorts of deep goodies which I then impart on you, fair public....

Other times, I just watch a heck of a lot of White Collar because USA Network has the best American television there is .... most of it doesn't air in my country; but, we do what we can (and purchase a lot of dvds)

So, season three came to an end and, as per their usual DELIGHTFULLY AWESOME CLIFFHANGER season finales, I was left going....asdjfkla;d fjkald jakl;dj kl;a jdskfl; jaklsd; jfl;ajdsk fajsdklf jaskdl; jkasd jifaioe ui ahui gfiuasd!!!!!!! ( or something like that.... with more question marks)

that's right. smooch it up. i love BOTH OF YOU!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Swiss Courier and Chasing Mona Lisa by Tricia Goyer and Mike Yorkey

TWO! TWO book reviews for the price of one!

When I received Chasing Mona Lisa from Graf Martin Communications (on behalf of Revell), I was inspired to immediately purchase its predecessor The Swiss Courier by the same authors, Tricia Goyer and Mike Yorkey.

The strongest element of both books is their fast-paced timelines, deft characterization, skill for WWII-era history and aura of suspense and espionage. Indeed, readers of Bodie and Brock Thoene’s The Zion Covenant Series will feel strongly about the depth and competence of the research and fans of Sarah Sundin and the Allie Fortune Series will immediately feel at home with the time period.

In both novels, intrepid Swiss OSS agents Gabi Mueller and Eric Hofstadler race against time from their neutral Switzerland to perform daring operations which could turn the tide of the Allies’ integration in the war.  The Swiss Courier finds Gabi charged with rescuing a German physicist working on the deadly atomic bomb.  Chasing Mona Lisa sees Eric and Gabi attempting to keep Da Vinci’s masterpiece from falling into enemy hands.

The former begins with the events dramatized in the movie Valkyrie and makes careful note of theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his careful spiritual work to undermine and overthrow Hitler.  In both books, the research is well-plotted out and Yorkey and Goyer’s grasp of the German language and Swiss-German dialect is plausible. I mentioned to a friend how much I appreciated their infusion of German terms and phraseology without immediate translation. It feels like Yorkey and Goyer have eluded the tendency in the Christian market for talking down to the readers: their plots are swift and complicated, there are a myriad of characters to keep pace with in both offerings and there is a saturation of interesting and noteworthy information we are expected to take in stride. While some readers may initially find the twists and skips from one plot setting to another to be convoluted, you soon fall into ease and become accustomed to how fast the pages turn and how you are spirited from one scenario to the next.  While Chasing Mona Lisa did not keep my attention to the same degree as The Swiss Courier, I very much enjoyed meeting Gabi and Eric and look forward to more of their adventures in the future.

Visit Mike Yorkey and Tricia Goyer on the web
The webpage for The Swiss Courier

I received Chasing Mona Lisa for review from Graf-Martin Communications on behalf of Revell, a division of Baker Publishing. I purchased The Swiss Courier in conjunction

Monday, February 27, 2012

Words Spoken True by Ann H. Gabhart

Words Spoken True is a well-researched look into the world of newspaper reporting in mid-19th Century Louisville, Kentucky.  Tensions in American politics are high: especially when it comes to the ever-present recognition of a growing immigrant populous.  Adriane Darcy, raised in her father's newspaper offices, is determined to find a story no matter the cost. Her fierce competitor, Blake Garrett, has a controversial new style of reporting which requires him to work in and amongst those most dangerous in order to excavate a scoop.  From high social parties to trailing a Jack-the-Ripper like murderer, Gabhart keeps the tension taut and strong as she peppers her well-developed world with information about this mounting medium.

Adriane Darcy is exactly the type of heroine I seek in my historical Christian fiction: somewhat bound by the norms of proper society ( and in Adriane's case even bound to a loveless engagement) who breaks free from the structure of her time to pursue her heart's desire and calling. I was quite fond of Adriane who read like a flesh-and-blood heroine and not remotely like a cardboard cut-out or usual archetype of this ilk of fiction.  I especially loved her interactions with Beck, her father's pressman.  Their mutual care and banter kept the pages turning. Moreover, I enjoyed Adriane's dedication to thwarting the suit of the boring, but proper Stanley Jimson.

Blake Garrett is a dashing, be-moustached 19th Century hero and in the few encounters that Blake and Adriane experience with each other early on, the chemistry is palpable and the sparks fly. Indeed, it is interesting to pit these two against each other because regardless of their differences and well-balanced competitive nature, their similarities include a passion for reporting and exposing stories.

This is a prime bit of Americana with enough carefully plotted historical and political research to entice those who are looking for a story in the genre that relays a slightly less-explored area of US history with mounting regional and national tensions.

While this is a galloping romance with some heart-wrenching scenes of distant and formative love, it is also a well-knitted suspense and most atmospheric when our intrepid reporters are in the face of danger while pursuing this faceless killer.

My friend Ruth also reviewed this book last week and I invite you to visit her blog and read what she thought!

This book was received from Graf-Martin Communications for review and I thank them for the opportunity to explore this exciting new Revell title

Visit Ann H. Gabhart on the web
Purchase Words Spoken True on amazon

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Chateau of Echoes by Siri Mitchell

Chateau of Echoes is my first “keeper” book of 2012.  The first book that makes me want to leaf through it again in search of all of the treasures and snippets and revelatory moments which may have evaded me during my inaugural reading.  Siri Mitchell, alongside Lynn Austin and Dale Cramer, is my favourite Christian novelist.I have adored her previous work and her strong literary elements and thematic devices. In fact, I was thrilled to be an INSPYs judge when She Walks in Beauty received the well-deserved award for Best Historical Novel of the year.

Chateau of Echoes is a thesis on passion: passion for stories, passion for legend, passion for research and passion for history--- social history----food, wine, dancing, exploration, myths and stories. In fact, excavation runs as an apt undercurrent throughout the text.   Widowed Freddie owns a chateau in Brittany, France.  Here, she is pursued by the many readers and lovers of the history of a young medieval diarist named Alix: whose grasp of English and languages is remarkable and rare considering the station of women in her age.

 The writing is beyond what is usually housed in the Christian fiction genre. If you are an avid Christian fiction reader like myself, who also has a penchant for sleek literary merit then this is a book you can unashamedly thrust at your non-Christian friends. The themes of God and acceptance are grappled with in a natural and stormy way. Indeed, like so many of Mitchell’s heroines, Freddie’s coming-to-terms with Faith and Grace is a tumultuous journey which requires some semblance of self-sacrifice and the giving of one’s way to a Higher Power.   We learn that Freddie’s deceased husband was an atheist and the guilt that has accrued from his passing keeps Freddie at a distance from her Creator.  One Christmas returning to church after a long drought, she explains: “Looking back on those years, I realized I had missed the wonder of Christmas and the contemplation of the divine. I missed meditating on the sacred moment when God reached down and touched the earth. Peter viewed Christmas as an opportunity to ease the collective guilt our culture had accumulated throughout the year.”  And further: 
“Neither of us understood a word; but the liturgy was so familiar it seemed as if no one was there to actually hear it, but to experience it. To enter a stone country church lit by candlelight on the holiest evening of the year.”  The mystery and mystic nuances of the celebrated Season help broaden the theme of legend and spun tale. For example, the teenage diarist Alix, so followed in the tale and such an object of affection for a visiting phd student and the brash Robert Cranwell: author of numerous celebrated novels now only coming to terms with his desire to write something of greater substance, spends the ilk of a season penning a great mystery play.

 The relationships between men and women past and present is not easily dissolved when taken in great, galloping gulps as this novel affords. In the past we have Alix and her relationship,  as of yet unconsummated by her husband, Awen.  Her struggle to come to grips with the man who approaches her bedchamber only to weave a tapestry of narrative ( not unlike a Scheherazadean tale) each night echoes the modern day presence of Cranwell, the competent writer who invades Freddie’s life and chateau for months.  Yet, to mull on the idea of male and female voice one must also consider the great pains given to make each voice heard across the ages: sure, Awen spins the nightly tales (painstakingly researched legends and fables collected by Mitchell); but it is Alix who is modern in her ability to read and write many languages and script a Mystery play that her husband will ultimately take credit for.  In present, it is Robert Cranwell who will pen Alix’s story for the world to hear; but the narrative voice belongs to Freddie.

The presence of Guinevere, of the story of the Holy Grail, of King Arthur and his Knights and of Joseph of Arimathea and the history of the grail are all prominent here and so well infused you feel as if they are sparking off the page and you are a guest at the Chateau in a similar manner to Cranwell.

Mitchell is an ardent traveler and her details as to French culture and food ( even on a sojourn Freddie takes to Italy) are so well-penned you are gifted a sort of travelogue within in a novel. I know for certain that I want to hunt out all of the magical portions of France painted in this tale. Her passion becomes even more acute when paired with the amount of detail provided at the end of the novel: recipes, Breton History, even a Medieval calendar to guide readers through the inserted passages of Alix’s diary.

The balance between the past and the present and the seamless weaving of their thoughts on love, doubt, faith and redemption are so well-balanced: like a carefully-tipped literary see-saw.

I was remarkably impressed by Mitchell’s fresh narrative style in A Constant Heart and more still when she penned Love’s Pursuit: what is destined to be a modern Christian classic.  Chateau of Echoes should NOT be limited just to the faith-reader public. It is far too exceptional and far too beautifully written.  Yes, there are elements of faith; but they are sprinkled to highlight constant doubt in the presence and the structure of history.

If you are in a book club you NEED to pick this book as a future read.  There are some thought-provoking discussion questions included ( and not the usual range of “what colour of heroine’s hair would you most like to have” and trash like that)

I cannot believe this book has not found a larger publishing house or bigger reading base.

The Rose of Winslow Street by Elizabeth Camden

While reading the Rose of Winslow Street I was reminded of Dickens’ Bleak House and of The Apothecary’s Daughter by Julie Klassen.

Stay with me here: the former because it involves a piece of property that two parties desperately want and lay claim to and a strong-willed legal battle: the latter because Liberty Sawyer’s investment and knowledge of botany rivals The Apothecary’s Daughter regency-infused methods of pharmaceuticals.  A stronger offering than Camden’s inaugural novel, TheLady of Bolton Hill, Camden has applied her penchant for strong research and bold, non-flowery writing to write of the struggles and triumphs of a young Romanian immigrant and his two sons and a young woman whose lifelong shame of illiteracy has forced her to build an invisible wall. It will take a crisis of faith and the unravelling of years of secrets to bring these two together and sever the barrier between them.

I was impressed by this novel on two fronts: the first in Camden’s natural flow and ease of storytelling and her insertion of knowledge without infusing a sense of overladen fact-dropping; secondly by the slow and easy and quite believable depth of characterization: from initial remonstrance through kind and gentle understanding.  Camden paints quite a different portrait in the trials and travails of Michael Dobrescu, the swarthy strapping ex-soldier, his two sons and his compatriots. Moreover, she dallies with the fragments that will sew together the larger revelation, pulling the reader along with finesse.  She is a fine storyteller and her strong talent and ease of verisimilitude helps stretch a bright canvas of late 19th Century New England life.

I really enjoyed her attention to historical detail: from the flow with which she expels descriptions of botany and the perfumes and illustrations of soaps of the day, to a monumental eclipse, through the prejudicial slighting of Michael and his family and more still to the over-arching legal battle over ownership of the house on Winslow Street. There is also dichotomy to the eponymous rose and readers will soon grasp the many symbolic inferences of the flower to the characters and their growth.

This book was provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.
From Bethany House, a division of Baker Publishing Group 

Buy it at Amazon

Visit Elizabeth Camden on the web

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

LILI, 1953 dir., Charles Walters

Also known as: The best time that Mel Ferrer played a brooding, drunken ex-dancer/soldier-turned-puppeteer-with-a-self-pity-problem-to-rival-Sydney-Carton

You may think I am making this up; but I'm not. A trailer to prove it:

Guys, have you seen Lili?  Oh well, you have to.  It’s a 1953 Leslie Caron vehicle (before Gigi) and works toward securing her as the best waif-elvin-french-girl-to-star-as-titular-heroines-with-cute-two-syllable-diminuitives.
Lili’s dad is dead and so she wanders the provincial French streets hoping to find a job.  But, she doesn’t.  The baker she was going to work for (an old friend of her father’s) is dead. She heads next door to see if she can help a tailor; but he is a douche... Such a douche that she is happy to be interrupted by a hot Carnival performer who is obviously the world’s slimiest guy. But, he has curly hair and an accent. Le voila!

And there be DANCING

So, she follows him around and meets up with his other two circus friends: one is pudgy, the other is Mel Ferrer(who is tortured and brooding and angry).
Lili tries her hand at waitressing for the carnival;  but keeps getting distracted by the hot slimy carnival magician.  Even though he’s a douche and obviously in a steamy relationship with Zsa Zsa Gabor.  So, she does what any self-respecting French teenager stuck at the Carnival with No Money would do: she decides to commit suicide. She starts climbing up, up, up, up this tall pole-thing when a voice beckons her calling her name and calling her back.

The voice comes from a puppet.  It’s Carrot Top, a rascally little red-head of the era of Howdy Doody. It’s a scary little thing.  Then all the other puppets at the puppet stand burst through the curtain and talk to her: Reynardo the Fox, Golo the goofy giant, Marguerite the vain and pretty woman.
Lili is enchanted and interacts with the puppets genuinely.  She doesn’t seem to recognize that they are actually controlled by Mel Ferrer’s Paul the Puppeteer. Soon, they inadvertently draw a crowd and Lili sings a cute song with the puppets and the whole world is beguiled.  I mean, come on! Leslie Caron dancing with a puppet!

So, you see, I am actually ALL THE PUPPETS!

So, we learn that Mel Ferrer’s puppeteer--- all war-ravaged and injured and broken from being reduced to puppetry after having been a promising dancer--- is all googly-eyed for Lili. Big time. Sydney Carton. But, he drinks too much wine and his way too gruff and doesn’t know how to explain that I HATE WHEN YOU TALK TO THAT DOUCHEBAG MAGICIAN---- not because I hate you; but because I WORRY for your VIRTUE, you pristine little pure-as-a-bell wait elf!

Lili is hired to perform with the puppets every night.  It is LE CHARMING!  She doesn’t ever seem to recognize that they are puppets and, as it is the one time that Mel Ferrer can be gentle with her, he asks her her private thoughts and uses the puppets to woo her in the way he wishes he could in “real” life.  As soon as you can say Cyrano  de Bergerac, Mel Ferrer is following Lili around with eyes so enraptured with love and devotion that your heart will break.

And yet, fair readers, he is of the TORTURED, BROODING sort.  But, heck! He can do a voice….

So the puppet thing goes on and these big wigs offer Mel Ferrer a puppet job away from the Carnival because he is so good and the Douchebag Magician is leaving the Carnival and Lili learns that Zsa Zsa is actuellement his wife! Zut alors!

So Mel Ferrer sees Lili talking to DBM and misinterprets it as VIRTUE HAVING BEEN COMPROMISED so SLAPS HER (!!!?????!) and she decides to leave the carnival and the puppet team.  But, before she does: Carrot Top and Marguerite and all of her puppet friends beseech her to stay. She has a tearful farewell with them and just as she hugs them, she notices that they are trembling: well, the hands holding them and propelling them are trembling and then LILI finally realizes that MEL FERRER is the guy she has been talking to all along. … telling her deepest secrets and desires through the PUPPETS actually controlled by him! And she is conflicted and he is all, like, I AM THE PUPPETS: I, like every man, embody their perplexing personalities and characteristics and the viewer is all, like: DUDE! That’s some sort of metaphor!

But, Lili still leaves the Carnival…. And she walks down a warm, musty grey road ONLY to dream a puppet dance sequence (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)   Every time she dances with one of the puppets (now life-sized) they imaginatively fade into their creator…. And Lili is like DUDE! MEL FERRER is ACTUALLY HOT and he ACTUALLY LOVES ME!

So…. She runs back to the carnival and THEY MAKE OUT and have one of those awkward 1950s-era neck-tilt kisses and the PUPPETS clap from the puppet stand ( although who is making the puppets move is beyond me because Mel “puppetmaster” Ferrer is getting busy with Lili….


But, ANYWAYS… it is the best movie ever. Also, Mel Ferrer was something else because, for a time, he was AUDREY HEPBURN'S HUSBAND! Also, Mel is short for Melchor. True Story.

TLC Book Tours: The Garden Intrigue by Lauren Willig

Lauren Willig’s enchanting Pink Carnation series is basically Georgette Heyer meets The Scarlet Pimpernel with a bit of Bridget Jones.  If ever I were to paste the term “something for everyone”, I would use it as a label for this fresh series. Fresh, still, and uncannily, seeing as it is on its 9th book!

But the plot-within-a-plot structure, coupled with Willig’s devotion to the time period and her fervor for splendid and sparkly research provide readers with another glimpse into the world of romance, danger and espionage: this time, featuring the newest in the network of the Pink Carnation, the beautifully named Augustus Whittlesby and the  New York born Emma Morris Delagardie.
Sparks fly, intrigue ensues and it is up to the American student Eloise and her erstwhile love interest Colin Selwick to excavate once more some of the most endearing, endangering, sexy and suave history of the British Empire.I especially enjoyed Augustus Whittlesby’s penchant for bad poetry. Of all of Willig’s incredible captivating regency heroes, this one proved to be the closest descendant of Sir Percy Blakeney, that indomitable and elusive Pimpernel.

I realize that my thoughts here are rather over-arching and not as specific to this particular novel and that is because, after looking through my blog, I don’t think that I have ever written about this series previously and I want readers to pursue the entire series. ALL OF IT! I have enjoyed all 9 books immensely and crave many, many more and I would heartily recommend starting at the very beginning ( especially for the well-worthwhile introduction to the Pink Carnation ring and to Eloise and Colin and their charming exploits around a beautiful old English manor: said to house the greatest secrets of the scheming carnation and her floral-power counterparts …)

I mostly enjoy Willig’s work because her passion for the period and for romance and for the tongue-in-cheek reverence that follows is so deftly acute. It infuses every one of her books and makes for rip-roaring fun.
Even though her research loans pitch-perfect verisimilitude to each of her endeavours, it is her sparkly wit and the devilish fun that hops off of every page.  Willig is more than a competent writer: her pen was MADE for this era. She will throw in enough laughs, enough tawdry villainry, enough steamy romance and enough wit and sparkle and denouement to thaw even the most reluctant of historical readers.

I heartily recommend The Garden Intrigue, yes; but strongly advise the entire series for optimal enjoyment.

Just see if you don’t fall for dashing Augustus and his dastardly couplets, verses and rhymes

-Visit Lauren Willig 

-Find the sequence of the Pink Carnation series here 

-Buy the Garden Intrigue on Amazon 

-My thanks to TLC for allowing me to host the most recent book by one of my favourite contemporary writers.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Fastest Book Reviews You'll EVER READ!

I read a ton of books and due to having a real job and time constraints and a social life, I cannot possible devote the time that is necessary to give them each a well-deserving (or perhaps not-so-well-deserving ) blog post. So, instead, I shall just note them here and you guys can go and read them ....

Merlin reading surrounded by lovely BOOKS

Thursday, February 16, 2012

more shameless Arthur Slade promotion

You guys know I love me some Canadian lit, right?

I happen to really like Arthur Slade. He's a swell guy.  He keeps releasing ( and tracking ) e-book sales with, like, scientifically coloured graphs and stuff.  So, you should, like, see what he's been up to: READ THIS

Also, according to this blog post, Buy a Book and Save a Butterfly ( true story)

Also, follow him on twitter: (@arthurslade)

Also, read Jolted

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

In Which I pull a few BBC miniseries out of my vast collection....

This past weekend I re-visited two BBC miniseries from the Golden Age of adaptation: the mid-1990s

The first, Martin Chuzzlewit, was in honour of Dickens’ bi-centenary.  The second, Middlemarch, was a borne of an impulse to revisit the complicated whir of industrial events spinning the cogs in the lives of Dorothea Brooke and Tertius Lydgate.

Martin Chuzzlewit has never been a favourite Dickens novel of mine.  I do appreciate its thesis on avarice, selfishness and the slow, tormented descent into sheer villainess; but its peripheral characters far outshine the main characters and the love story of the younger Martin Chuzzlewit and the almost possibly good Mary Graham pale when I compare them to, say, Lucie and Sydney Carton or Amy Dorrit and Arthur Clennam. Nevertheless, the secondary characters are divinely, colourfully Dickensian: including the stalwart Tom Pinch, the greedy and horrifyingly abusive and murderous Jonas Chuzzlewit and the dastardly Pecksniff.

Montague Tig and Mrs. Gamp as well as the refined old gent Chuffey help round out a myriad of some of Dickens’ most eccentric oddities.  Merry and Cherry Pecksniff are deliciously silly and frivolous and the adorable Mark Tapley revives some of the dragging scenes with his fresh zest and optimism.

Martin Chuzzlewit is known for painting a primitively dirty America to instill a sense of new world dread in its English readers. Certainly the scenes in the series which find Mark and Martin in supposed Eden (rather a malaria-ridden swamp) are as well-painted here as in the novel.   The moments where the lovely and good-hearted and golden Tom Pinch looks up from the organ where he practices at the cathedral to feast on the angelic countenance of Mary Graham captures you with the same sense of devotedly unrequited romance as bespeaks Tom’s journey in between the pages of the novel.

The casting of the series is excellent. Paul Scofield provides a WONDERFUL Martin Chuzzlewit, Tom Wilkinson and Keith Allen (Sheriff of Nottingham in ROBIN HOOD!!!) are both equally horrifying villains as Pecksniff and Jonas Chuzzlewit respectively, Pete Postlethwaite is inspired as Montague Tigue …and John Mills makes a sweet Chuffey. I cannot recommend the casting highly enough.  The character depth and realization is multi-dimensional here and no one is static: each revolves, evolves and changes due to circumstance and plot developments and it really is a wonderful to behold how they have transferred something so intuitively Dickens and painted it on screen.

Middlemarch remains one of my all-time favourite BBC series because it does well at capturing the essence of a remarkably complicated and twirling novel. Whenever I have talked to readers intimidated by beginning what has been called the definitive and finest Victorian novel, I tell them just to think of it as three different strands braided together: Dorothea Brooke and her untimely and loveless marriage to the wretchedly possessive scholar Edward Casaubon and later love of the romantic artist Will Ladislaw. Idealistic doctor Tertius Lydgate and his passion for research and reform: squelched by the vanity and social-assumption and spoiled nature of his beautiful wife, Rosamund Vincy.The good-hearted; but unlucky and wayward Fred Vincy and his pursuit for Mary Garth. Inasmuch as these three stories propel the themes of social reform, industrial change and growth in a small, middling community, all action revolves around/or is witnessed by these three sets.

Andrew Davies (one of the finest screenwriters and adaptors of all time) does well in focusing his attention to great detail when it comes to painting the definition of each of these three threaded storylines. Equal weight is given and enough backstory and character development ensues.  Viewing Middlemarch is, at base, an enriching experience: the frosting is the eccentric population supporting these three sects: the wonderfully noble yet prone to gambling chaplain Mr. Farebrother, the tediously loquacious Arthur Brooke, the conniving Mr. Bulstrode who cannot leave his past behind him….  Plate this against the Great Reform Bill and the expansion of the railroad, and you have a wonderfully historical portrayal of life in a provincial community.

Like Les Miserables by Hugo and Hard Times by Dickens ( well, a lot of Dickens, at that); Middlemarch was written under the grain of social activism and the detailing of Brooke’s life in politics, Will Ladislaw’s dappling in the newspaper and Dorothea’s passion for her cottages  and benevolently providing a better way of life for her land tenants give us a superb snapshot of the issues of the day. The casting is, as always, perfect and Dorothea is the perfect angel imprisoned by her ill-fated marriage, Tertius Lydgate is heart-wrenching as the doctor doomed to a life of remonstrance at the ill-advised expenditures of his clueless wife.

If you are a fan of BBC period pieces and you have not seen either of these, I heartily recommend them.  Moreover, seek out their source material and bask in the multi-layered, heavily caricatured tapestry of Victorian Literature’s greatest.

Ransome's Honour by Kaye Dacus

Ransome’s Honour is like Horatio Hornblower meets Jane Austen for CHRISTIANS

I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed the strong period setting, the pitch perfect dialogue of the era and the perfectly infused historical details regarding the glorious Age of Sail. Dacus never dumps information, rather strings it into each sentence with fervor and aplomb. The result? One of the strongest historical voices in Christian fiction.

Julia Witherington stands to inherit a large dowry upon her 30th birthday. One young man, destitute from gambling debt, vies for her hand and the promised fortune. Another is the dashing William Ransome: a Captain beloved by Julia and her father who turned her suit away years ago. Now, back in her life and as daringly close as ever, Julia proposes that they marry, that he secure her fortune, that she use his means in the navy to secure passage back to her native Jamaica.

The Portsmouth and subsequent sea setting of the novel are so well-coloured you believe that Dacus has lived and worked there in the time in which this novel is set: the golden cusp of the Napoleonic World ---when England turned from War to downing pirates and lusty privateers. Yet, it is rather (according to some searching on her blog) a love affair with a type of thinking person’s fan fiction that wrought this captivating tale. You know from the get-go if you, like me, have devoted hours of your life to the reading of Patrick O'Brian and watching of films like Master and Commander and the excellent ITV Hornblower series that Dacus is a kindred spirit. A sprinkling of drawing room manners loans the author’s penchant for Jane Austen and the inclusion of nautical figures provide the chivalrous spark. Many characters emulate doubles from the Hornblower series specifically: especially Bosun Matthews and Ransome’s eager servant. The righteous and brusque Admiral Witherington is so very much like the indomitable Pellew of the Hornblower series (lesser portrayed in the books; but still widely mentioned).

I have often mentioned that part of the reason I enjoy reading Dacus’ fiction is she features a unique type of Christian heroine: a single woman amidst a bevy of married women who is very much trying to find her place. It is interesting that to a degree Dacus is able to transplant this part of her ongoing thesis into Ransome’s Honour. Julia is very much “on the shelf” at almost 30 and well beyond marriageable age. Her wit, intelligence and refusal to comply to societal niceties and norms; and, further, the adventurous spirit that will catapult her into Ransome’s path and to Jamaica set her apart from the usual Regency era dolls with careful curls and docile dispositions.
It was quite a different experience reading this novel in conjunction with Dacus’ modern-day romances. I really REALLY liked this book and quite look forward to the next two in the series.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Paris, My Sweet by Amy Thomas

Warning: If you do not have chocolate nearby, do not read this book. Under any circumstance.In fact, make sure you BUY chocolate ahead of time. Or a cupcake and read it alongside.

This book reminded me a little bit of Chocolat  by Joanne Harris and a little bit of Petite Anglaise by Catherine Sanderson. The former, because of the passionate, undying love for all things sweet; the latter because it speaks to a young woman rediscovering her life in the City of Light.

Amy Thomas was always obsessed with the French. She loved pastries and chocolate and writing and, when offered a job to write ad copy for Louis Vuitton, she leaves her gorgeously decorated condo and the plethora of NYC cupcake shoppes she loves and heads for the Champs-Elysees.

The best part of Paris, My Sweet is Thomas' love affair with all things Parisienne. It is so whole-hearted, consuming and genuine. You can just feel in your fingertips that this, THIS is her dream city; rather like Vienna is mine. It was also refreshing, in a world of books where women feel they must restrain their sweet tooth in order to accomplish a societal ideal, to read of a woman's passionate love-affair with food. Dieting be damned! Thomas bikes everywhere and, like the (now immortal?) words of actress Emma Stone, believes that "life is short. You only live once. So eat the damn red velvet cupcake" (paraphrase).

"The first time I bit into one of Rachel's truffles", Thomas recalls, "I was instantly smitten." This Valentine's Day, I propose rediscovering Romance in its artistically liberal forms.  It was, long before the Hallmark Card industry, a term reserved for implying all sorts of artistic merit and unrestricted beauty: passion and fervently immeasurable beauty: in music, art, theatre, literature: colouring outside the lines, discovering passion and sensuality in themes, images, ideas.  Thomas reclaims Romance in this sense by offering us a succinct world of delicate deliciousness.  This is a sensual exploration of one woman's passion for pastries and the smells and sights and senses that lead her on a remarkable journey around the City of Love.

Think of this as the chocolate-lover's travelogue: interspersed, Thomas includes Sweet Spots on the Map which weave a chocolate-lover through some of the most delectable spots in her world. The index at the back of the book is a lovely list of bakeries: in Manhattan and in Paris where those who share an affinity for all things sweet can retrace Amy Thomas' footsteps.

The only complaint I have in regard to this frothy and fun story ( which I, smartly, decided to read with a decaf latte and pastry near-hand) is the dialogue intermixed. I recognize that Thomas needed to provide a narrative credibility and flow to her story by paraphrasing dialogue which would help transport the reader to the times and locales of her memoir; but I found this aspect rather weak.

If you are looking for a love affair with chocolate, vanilla, cupcakes, brioches, cinnamon, croissants, macaroons, petite fours and icing, then LOOK NO FURTHER!

This was a fun, frivolous and frosty maze through a city renowned for its unabashed delight in all things sweet.

My thanks to Sourcebooks for the opportunity to read this book and review it on the blog.

Read Amy Thomas' aptly named blog: God, I love Paris
Buy the book at Amazon

Happy Valentine's Day

get the girl
feel a tingle
listen to mozart
take a walk around a moonlit neighbourhood
squint up at streetlights
skip down the stairs
kiss a lady on the hand; a gent on the cheek
hold open the door
eat your weight in cinnamon hearts
lick the icing off of a cupcake
smile twice as big
watch the last five minutes of your favourite BBC miniseries: the part where, after 6 hours and numerous conflicts, the characters share an ecstacy of kiss
feel enraptured
tap music only you can hear on a table top
remember those little cut-out hearts in red construction paper
taste a snowflake on your tongue
remember all the colours of the rainbow
taste cherry lipgloss
paint your world with sparkle
believe in magic and light
love can be found in all corners, under tipped chairs or over seemingly unbeatable odds
chivalry is everywhere: at starbucks, on the subway
romance is a philosophical feeling: of liberated art, music and song
find a loved one
hum the Carpenters ---loudly
swing your arms
feel the world.

Monday, February 13, 2012

BOOKS in the NEWS!

-Remember how much I love Catherine Webb? Yah, we all do. Anyhow, I found this lovely podcast interview of her answering questions of adorable students. I had never heard her speak before (although I, of course, read her often and follow her well-written blog

-To celebrate the 100th anniversary of Stephen Leacock's Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town set in the fictional Mariposa (a stand-in for my hometown of Orillia), the CBC made a really boring tv movie filmed in Gravenhurst. I watched about 23 minutes. Leacock was rather like Canada's Mark Twain in ways. Shame that this had to happen to him.

-I love the Classic Trash series at The Awl. I especially liked this write-up of that Golden Book of WTF-ery, The Thorn Birds: made into an equally creepy TV movie starring Richard Chamberlain (who spends more time eye-snogging with Christopher Plummer than actually acting on his forbidden lust for Rachel Ward).  Anyways, funny-as-heck book written in a funny-as-heck article.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Mortimer and Eugene, a Study in Friendship

Hey friends,

Gina was kind enough to post my rambles about Mortimer and Eugene from Our Mutual Friend over at dickensblog today.

Read it here. I'm sure you'll agree that Mortimer needs some love at the end of the story too!

Friday, February 10, 2012

little known fact

....i try to wear a bit of animal print every day: whether in jewellery, scarf form (like here), dresses, shawls, purses, bags, rings..... i love to differentiate myself with animal print ----and, fortunately, it is easy to find at value village and goodwill.....

what heroines do you think would be best suited in leopard print? i like to imagine that a modern lily bart would dapple in le print....

"artsy" self-portrait from mac photobooth taken for linked-in profile

In Which, I TWEET

I used to update a regular Twitter account; but dissolved it over a year ago.  However, I missed connecting with booklovers, publishers, authors and bloggers.... so....

FOLLOW ME: @rachkmc

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Our Mutual Friend

To celebrate Dickens’ Birthday on the 7th, I decided to re-watch Our Mutual Friend: one of the best miniseries ever produced by the BBC and one I had not seen in an age.

Our Mutual Friend has long been one of my favourite Dickens’ novels ( next to Great Expectations it is, indeed, my favourite) because it is such a whirling universe unto itself. We are forever see-sawed from the murky depths of the Thames to the furnished, veneered ponce and circumstance of London’s elite. It is Victorian overload: propelling us from one end of the social sphere to the other, reminding us that there was no way for middleground to subsist.

From the moment we meet the Lamleys: fated to spend a life of misapprehension due to their failure to recognize that neither had property or wealth upon their wedding, we realize that this will be Dickens' thesis on wealth and greed: on new money and old, on the violence and mystery shrouding wills and estates, of a Jarndyce and Jarndyce scale of horror at the supposed death of heir to the dust fortune, John Harmon.

Dickens does nothing shoddily and every character and every well-developed scene serves its purpose in building the blocks of this intricate universe. Our shift from Gaffer Hexam and his gloriously mute daughter Lizzie dragging corpses from the Thames on a moonlit night to the flash of the Lamley’s wedding party is meant to beguile and shake our senses and it does. Like the best adaptations, the miniseries does well at offering screentime to all major players while slowly and painstakingly doling out the Dickensian secrets of history and mystery that will all add up together in the end.

To walk you through a recap of all the minute details of the plot would be to no avail. Like all complicated Dickens (think Bleak House! Think Little Dorrit !) it is best for you to see and unravel the mysteries on your own. This was Dickens' last completed novel and it is certainly his most competent. While critics argued that Oliver Twist was a hodgepodge of loose plot ends, Dickens has tightened his style, has mapped out an impressive amount of well-developed and dimensional characters and has excelled at his forte: bringing seemingly unrelated circumstances together and welding them into revelations about the characters, their story, and the plight and injustice of society.

Our Mutual Friend is notable for colouring two of Dickens’ most beguiling heroines and their respective love stories (Bella Wilfer and John Rokesmith, Lizzie Hexam and Eugene Wrayburn), for introducing us to the charmingly bored pair of Eugene and Mortimer Lightwood, for ushering us into the world of the Boffins: well-deserving folk with hearts as big as their new fortune, to Sloppy, the slow and happy child-like mangler, to Venus who deals in bones and Rogue Riderhood who scrapes the Thames for fortune, to Bradley Headstone who hovers with passionate possession in the foreground and traipses the streets of London at night (Dickens was known to spend many evenings plotting while strolling the maze of his favoured city and we can see where his efforts paid off in his well-drawn descriptions), to Mr. Tremlow: the oft silenced voice of reason in a hodge-podge of socially stuffy nonsense.

The casting of the miniseries is perfect. I first watched it after finishing the book for a Dickens’ seminar in university and I was impressed at exactly how faithful to the broad and intimidating breadth of the text it was. Our Mutual Friend is often overlooked when we recount our favourite Dickens and our favourite characters. The problem(?) is that he wrote so prolifically and introduced us to such a multi-layered universe constructed with such intricate detail and such a plethora of pervading and flamboyant characterization---from social high to degrading low—that it is as easy to narrow in on a favourite Dickens as it is to choose a member of your family. You can’t cut one part out without understanding the whole. So, if you have yet to read Our Mutual Friend, I envy you for you have yet to stumble upon a wealth of mystery and intrigue of aliases and romance I wish I had yet unread and in my reading future…. And if you haven’t seen the miniseries yet; I highly, highly recommend it as one of the strongest BBC adaptations ever produced.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Rachel's Favourite Romances

Soon it shall be Valentine's Day and soon this Romantic will celebrate her birthday ( which, coincidentally, is also on Valentine's Day). I wanted to share some love.... some wonderful, chocolatey, delicious, cheeks-burning, breath-catching, finger-tingling love... in all of its beautiful literary and literary adaptation form.....My countdown of my top 10 romances of all-time leading to my NO. 1 FAVOURITE

10.) Anne and Gilbert: Anne of Green Gables., etc., L. M. Montgomery
I include them because they were my first introduction to romance as a child. That infamous kissing scene on the bridge at the end of the miniseries was, in all of its dusty purpled light, my first realization of a boy and girl falling in love. I love stories of unrequited love and of passionate persistence: both of which Gilbert epitomizes in his steadfast patience for Anne.  Like all of Montgomery’s love stories, she champions the imaginative, creative and eccentric woman. Gil loves Anne because she is different: thus validating so many of us ---especially in our formative years—when we creative bookish types were more likely to go off on imaginative sprees than engage in the real world. Ironically, I prefer Anne and Gil in the Sullivan miniseries to the series of books. Odd, I know.

19th C. Illustration: Eponine: a Rose in Misery

9.) Eponine and Marius: Les Miserables, Victor Hugo
People will automatically assume I’m speaking to the musical and I’m not (though the musical is the strongest adaptation I have seen of the book in any medium). Eponine’s love for Marius is complex and unrequited. She, the daughter of the malevolently scheming Thenardier--- a soldier to whom Marius’ father owed his life at Waterloo--- has fallen into disgrace and poverty.  Gap-toothed with stringy hair and a  voice sounding like a piano missing keys, she pines for the bookish student who lives next door.  She doesn’t know how to feminize herself with the coquettish glances he reaps from Cosette; but she does love devoutedly and passionately---so much so she dies in his arms after saving him from a bullet during the student uprising of the July Revolution.  Eponine’s plight: from the steeped underworld of the Seine, through her goblin-like appearance hovering in the corner of some of the major intertwining plotlines gives her an almost every-person status.  Like her brother Gavroche, she acts as median between the rapidly twirling plots.  Her sister Azelma does not require the same flesh and blood treatment upon growing up---she is left darkly in the shadows: Eponine’s inherent goodness, her crassly endearing way of talking, her dirty vulnerability and her efforts to act on a love never reciprocated speak to one of the many emblems of pathos in this aptly titled novel.

8) Jasper and Venetia: Venetia, Georgette Heyer. Heyer is a Jane Austen fan’s dream. She pens willful heroines and whirling plots of mistaken identity from the lusciously ornamented ton to abandoned country estates. The latter finds the intelligently well-read Venetia on the shelf looking after her younger, scholarly brother and avoiding the suits of two nearby men so dull and boring and foppish she cannot bear to look at them. Enter Jasper Damerel: he is a RAKE if ever there was one. Upon their first meeting he steals a kiss from our pretty Venetia which would send London high society reeling. What follows is a long-stemmed, slow-churning romance that involves some sacrifice and some swallowed pride. What stands out is the preternatural marriage of minds that meld both Venetia and her mental equal. Their banter, his abandoned thought at his love for her and their eventual fireworks and sass proposal is one of my favourites to revisit.

7) Rhett and Scarlett, Gone With the Wind, Margaret Mitchell: When I was 10 years old I had the flu and watched Gone with The Wind which my dad had taped from television on vhs over and over again.  I was in love with the dresses and the decline of the Antebellum period, yes, and also by Scarlett’s ridiculous reserves of strength and panache; but I also loved roguish Rhett, the indelible Clark Gable with his rakish moustache, dimples and alert ears.  I loved the passion he felt for Scarlett and how he kept insisting that, though she try to avoid it, they were so very much the same. Later, I read the book several times and though it departs strongly from the  film ( one of the rare cases where I prefer a film to its source material; perhaps because it was my first introduction to the story), it maintained the sizzle and spark I liked between Rhett and Scarlett. I love this story. I love when she slaps him! I love when he devastatingly admits to Melanie the extent of his love. Ashley Wilkes is a dull dreamer; Rhett the perfectly irreverent man of action.

6) Amy and Arthur Little Dorrit, Charles Dickens: This is another story that I prefer on screen.  If you watch the Derek Jacobi version you are once again reminded of the stern age difference between Amy Dorrit and Arthur Clennam. In the recent BBC adaptation, they seem a little more on equal terms and the expression of their love and Arthur’s gradual realization is heart-stopping. Like so many of my favourite stories, it is, for the most part, one of persistent, unrequited love. Amy Dorrit falls in love with the kind-hearted Arthur near the very beginning: well aware of her social seclusion  as a daughter of the Marshalsea prison and that Arthur’s interests lie elsewhere.  Every moment shared between these two, as Amy steals one his shirt buttons, as Amy listens to Arthur express his love for another are heart-wrenching. Finally, when their respective fortunes seem dissolved and the mysteries of their parentage and long-time link is revealed, they can fall against each other in bliss.  Arthur cannot say when he realized that Amy was a woman hidden inside the girl he was so very fond of; but relationships borne out of respect, equality and friendship are my favourite

5) Emma and Knightley, Emma, Jane Austen: Another love story born out of friendship.  I really want to leave this one to the reader; but think it is best represented in the 2009 BBC version of the tale at the pivotal moment when Knightley leads Emma to the dance floor.  Johnny Lee Miller does an incredible job of repressing gushing feelings, expressing confusion and inwardly recognizing the change in his feelings toward Emma:

4)Olivia and Jasper Dale, Road to Avonlea (inspired by the tales of L M Montgomery) R to A took a lot of liberties with both of these characters: sometimes melding instances from Montgomery’s Chronicles of Avonlea, The Story Girl and the Golden Road to make it more engaging for a television audience.  Like Anne of GG,  the love story of the stuttering befuddled inventor Jasper Dale and Sara Stanley’s adorably scattered and sweet aunt Olivia was one of my first introductions to the world of romance. I love the chemistry between these two and how they so devotedly believe in each other’s pursuits: Olivia as a newspaperwoman and Jasper as a budding inventor.  It really is one of the sweetest courtships explored in television and I can’t help but re-watch the scene when Olivia *finally* tells Jasper she loves him and throws her arms around his neck, near tipping over their horse-drawn carriage in her fervor

3) Percy and Marguerite, The Scarlet Pimpernel, Baroness Orczy. The Elusive Pimpernel and the beautiful French stage actress.  This is the stuff that dreams are made of.  Whether in musical, televised or film format, I will never stop loving the treatment given to the dashing English aristocrat who becomes the first super-hero in many ways by disguising his identity as a clothes-obsessed fop to make several trips into Paris: only to secure the lives of those threatened by the guillotine. Percy is the perfect hero: gaily poetic, smart, intelligent and honourable and willing to sacrifice his pride to save the innocent. He is tricky and clever and balances his passion for his cause with his troubled love for his beautiful wife.  When they first meet he is nothing short of besotted by her beauty and charm. Once they marry and he is misinformed as to her part in the renouncement of a prominent family, he hides his love beneath a mask that will ensure his role as the pimpernel is secure. But, even when he cannot trust her, he worships her enough to kiss the steps where her feet have trod.  This story is wonderfully frustrating to the reader/audience who knows that if they JUST TALK IT OUT, the two equally capriciously clever duo will be a perfect pair. It takes a long time and a lot of misunderstanding before they finally, married as they are, are able to enjoy their deserved wedded bliss. [my favourite version]

For the love of ALL THAT is HOLY read the BOOK! read the BOOK!
I just added this for fun; but they take too many liberties in the cheesy TV show

2) Neil MacNeill and Christy, Christy, Catherine Marshall: The devout, seeker Christian and the Agnostic Doctor. Catherine Marshall planted strands of her own history and that of her mother’s into her Christian fiction masterpiece, Christy: I argue that her father the minister is doled out in David Grantland, one of Christy’s ardent suitors when she moves to the Mission in Cutter Gap, Tennessee, while her own husband, Peter Marshall infused some of the fiery Scottish conviction of Neil MacNeill.  I love this love story.  I love how fascinated Neil is with Christy and how he pressures her to discover herself and her faith. Neil is a catalyst and part of their relationship involves how he can push her to tipping point and force her to discover her own values and opinions. If only every relationship had such a supremely intelligent model.  MacNeill believes that “love is the most creative force in the world” and a force that spirits a young teacher to Tennessee to thaw the heart of one who long ago gave up on God is a potently creative one indeed.

1)Barney and Valancy, The Blue Castle, LM Montgomery:The Blue Castle is my wish book. In fact, should I ever get married, I have pictured Bala as a possible location.  There are so many things I love about this: one such being the fact that Valancy falls in love with Barney long before he does her. I love stories where the female pursues the man as this is not always the most popular case in literature. Seemingly relegated to spinsterhood by her over-bearing community, Valancy changes her life at 29: at the time this was published, this was way past marriageable age where, like so many Heyer heroines, she was well on the shelf.  Upon receiving the letter that will change her life, Valancy shakes off her shackles, acknowledges there is worth in defiant independence and is rewarded with romance beyond her wildest imaginings.  Again, a preternatural kinship between hero and heroine pulses between Valancy and Barney who are best friends before they become lovers and lovers before they realize that their happy ending is forever after.

Honourable Mentions: Harriet Vane and Lord Peter Wimsey, D L Sayers; Prof. Bhaer and Josephine March, Little Women, Louisa May Alcott; John Harmon and Bella Wilfer, Our Mutual Friend, Charles Dickens; Vivian Rivington and Richard Jury, Richard Jury Series, Martha Grimes

And, finally, my absolute favourite love story of all time is an ancient and sacred one and can be found in the Book of Ruth (read online here)