Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Book Gush: Speak Easy, Speak Love by McKelle "PLEASE WRITE RACHEL BOOKS FOREVERMORE THANKS" George

Image result for speak easy speak loveI hope you guys aren't looking for deep thoughts or even coherent ones here because you have come to the wrong shindig, kittens. So get ready for this tipped-over-glass of rambling  loquaciousness:

I am DRIPPING with love for this book. ACHING with love for this book. GIDDILY FALLING OFF MY CHAIR for John Mor--erm--- I mean this book.

Yes. this book

(also, for John Morello)

and also for the voice--- the narrative voice-- cajoling and teasing and warm and knowing and like a sly wink --- ugh!  these are the voices that wrap and keep you and make you feel all tingly to your fingertips like a first sip of wine after a long day.

This is the most delightful surprise ever.  What larks to have the mind of a genius who decided "know what would super duper work?  If I took Much Ado About Nothing --but without any of the douchebaggy Claudio bits --- and reworked it into a 1920s speakeasy-set treatise on outsiders, gender and race relations amidst a shifting age resplendent with historical awesome --- and highlighted by the mob!"


 Okay, SO, Beatrice (wanna be doctor and long lost cousin to Hero)stumbles into the craftily named Hey, Nonny Nonny, replete with the most amazing cast of homage characters to the original.  There's the vivacious and lovely Hero, there's Pedro "Prince" Morello and his half-brother (and my true love) John Morello, there's Maggie, a torch-siren-voiced headliner for all manner of jazz aged ditties mellowed into microphones whiskey-sopped and whose breathy voice finds the corners of the darkened joint ( THIS NOVEL IS SO ATMOSPHERIC YOU WILL DIE).  Benedick (of course!!!) is a Scott Fitzgerald wannabe holding tight to his typewriter, Isabella, and tighter still to his belief that to truly be creative he should shirk his family posterity and, you know, rough it with some rum runners at a gin-soaked hop.  There's dalliances and mob run-ins and terribly sour watered-down gin and there's mishaps and shootings and there's misunderstandings and dark corners and silhouettes of a couple to instill jealousy in another all amidst the true bond of family.

My favourite stories take the most unlikely cast of characters and smoosh them together in a colourful kaleidoscope of adventure.   Each person is so well developed in this perfectly realized world, I dare you not to look up from the fresh and period-perfect descriptives and not find them starting across from you.   I loved, loved, loved how it awakened Shakespeare's treatise on belonging, equality and love in a dazzling and wholly unexpected way.   Once you start bounding along in this wingdinger of a hoodless jalopy, you're never quite sure where it will swerve and fork and I LOVED THAT!

And the language hints at the meted measures of the original but in a soft and accessible way so that you fall into  its rhythm and are visited by the source phantom without ever thinking that she just stole a line and modernized it.   LIKE HOW BRILLIANT IS THAT????? ugh ,read it for examples there are too many. TRUST ME!  --but this is one "the world always took on a different shade after you'd failed." and "a girl might consider him handsome were she so inclined"  and it is pinged with the same tell tale wisdom and social observance on the human condition; but somehow still more in its lovely, tangy pulse.

This, my dear readers, is not (thank highball glasses) an "updated classic" that aligns perfectly each and every character and plot point transposing it into a modern setting. NO!!! What George does swimmingly is take everything that the play should have been and play with it in the brilliance and light of a more contemporary setting.   The restrictions of gender and class indigenous to the 1920s era ---as well as the progression for women and minorities-- are a springboard for working through what Shakespeare could only experiment with in embryo given the rigid structure of his time and experience ( this, guys, is the scribe who thought a great idea for an Italian name was "servantio" -- you know what we are working with here).  Meaning, George is able to add several layers on her colourful cake and in the meantime work with the shifting dynamics of one of the most fascinating and pivotal decades in modern history.  And she does this through the lens of the very feminist hero,  the philosophical observer, Benedick and the mixed race pairing of my boyfriend/true love John Morello and Maggie.

And before you can  think "Tonight, on a very special episode of Blossom", not once does she make this an "issue" or "statement" book; rather just a lens moving over a shifting moment in time and flesh and blood characters. There is not one stand-in archetype here. EVERYONE is developed: from "rum running thug #2 on the dock" to the revelers at Hey, Nonny Nonny 

And it is stark and lovely and surprising and funny as all get out and DEAR HEAVENS READ THIS BOOK AND GIVE IT TO ALL OF YOUR FRIENDS!!!

You know how it is irreverent to say that you like something better than the Shakespearian source material because that makes you dumb and not smart enough and probably not deserving of the eight billion (approximate estimate ) dollars you spent on University?   well, whatever guys, I am a grown adult woman and I LIKE THIS BETTER THAN READING THE PLAY.  so there! Also, I will take out loans and life insurance to sponsor this netflix series.

"There was John, as if her singing had conjured him" 
And now a special moment, nay, an ode, for John Morello and Maggie.  He understands her core through music.   He enables her to speak for herself and find her voice through song.  He strips her to the understanding of the beauty of her own natural simplicity.  There is a scene ( you will die, guaranteed) where she is trying on one of Hero's wigs ( all sleek and Cleopatra) and John ( unwitting mob boss who looks all surly but is actually a tortured bunny) beseeches her to take it off and be herself and THERE IS KISSAGE

I just ... Maggie and John are my heart's language " I can feel when you sing." HE CAN FEEL WHEN SHE FREAKIN SINGS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! and what John does for his brother, Prince, and how he believes in him and how he sacrifices for him like a TORTURED BUNNY "I am not a good person, Margaret, but if I can let Prince stay one, the world is a better place." 

"For someone who said he didn't care" (JOHN YOU PRECIOUS BUNNY LET ME FEED YOU LOLLIPOPS AND PULL YOU INTO THE SUNSHINE), "he sure put a lot of effort into not caring. Sometimes she could trick him into admitting she was as charming as she thought she was; but most of the time, it was like dancing around a cinder block." 

"When the song was so perfect, he couldn't help himself, his usually barred eyes opened up like clear lakes" (ARE YOU EFFING KIDDING ME??? GIVE ME MORE) --she could see the music in him. She aimed for that look every time she sang in front of him because then she knew she'd struck gold."

For a relationship that on paper has a bazillion barriers--- mob guy, black woman, 1920s nonsense and social and racial and gender hurdles--- they speak and understand and love through music! KILL ME NOW!

"She'd walked by him and not noticed and normally she was aware of him like a moon to her tide." I need my JOHN AND MAGGIE BOOK NOW!

Like, observe: "So what if they'd had whole conversations without saying a word--- using only music?" 

HEART THUD! I die, Horatio.

So, do we want some  more quotes?  Yes, yes we do!


"Her stare was direct--channeled through absurdly big eyes, the kind a more inclined man might trip and drown in, if he weren't watching his step--but she was not exceptionally pretty. She was just aggressively there" 

"The heart was an organ of instinct over reason" 

Trouble, in other words. And like trouble, sometimes a girl found herself looking for it, wanting it,
even when she knew it was a bad idea." 

"Secondly, we both know 'special automotive toolbox' was your name for whatever distraction you were going to cook up to keep me away from the car, and of course now we see why"

"Words, what a tricky, tangled silence."

"Next to Anna, who met her own husband by accidentally clocking him in the face with a women's rights poster), Ursula appeared like the dour face of reality"

"You shoot things and don't fear spiders and are about as sweet as a lemon. What would a man even do with you?"   

"The better question  is what I would do with a man."

Frig. Don't even get me started. I could talk forever. If you're a teacher and are like "I need a new fun lesson plan and comparative study", I know Bloom's Taxonomy. I used to write lesson plans. Hit me up, I will give you ideas if it makes you buy this book because I love the experiencing of reading and discovering new things and it is my duty as a human to share experiences with you

Find McKelle George on twitter and the web 

Buy this book ( ten copies, at least) at amazon 

Thursday, September 14, 2017

The Gushiest of Book Gushes: Impossible Saints by Clarissa Harwood

"Why is it that men's courage is called bravery but women's courage is called recklessness- or, even worse, foolishness?"

"That's just it, Harriet. Doesn't It bother you that we're still making the same arguments she (Wollstonecraft) made more than a hundred years ago, and so little has changed?" 
Imagine a work of fiction that helps you reconcile years of insecurity and forces you to finally confront some of the rifts between the religious traditions that informed your childhood and the views you established as a thinking, reading, hyper-sensitive, feminist-inclined adult....

Imagine this piece of fiction wrapped in a perfect historically romantic (like, honest to Pete romantic with the gushing and the kissing and the pining!)  package and bow....

 Impossible Saints by Clarissa Harwood was the best reading experience ( because, indeed, it was an experience), I have had in an age.  I was at turns giddy and shaking and smiling so wide my cheeks hurt and then crying --- because it is emotional to read a transparent transcription of all of the challenges you have encountered as a woman eager to reconcile the traditions and conservative beliefs of her childhood with the progressive views of adulthood. Part of me wishes that this novel had been around when I was 17 --trying to find myself in Catherine Marshall and Lynn Austin and Dorothy L Sayers amidst a tradition that found women largely in potluck kitchen service or on nursery duty. A worthy calling--- not my calling. Part of me wishes that when I spent the weekends at Crux bookstore at my alma matter U of T running my finger over the spines of titles on Christian Feminism and doling out a chunk of my student loan on a burgeoning new library that this had intercepted me. But part of me is so happy that it found me now--- now as a woman who has written a series that tries to exercise some of the contradictory tenets of my faith within the structure of two lady detectives wearing trou
sers and exploring women's roles in confining Edwardian times. And part of me is happy I found it now when I am a little more sure of who I am, what I believe beyond the expectations of others and beyond the traditions of my upbringing.

"I wouldn't mind being an outcast if I were free to live and work as I choose" 

I am a huge believer in the kismet that happens when the right books find the right reader. Often at odds with my strong opinionated feminist views pitted against my upbringing as a pentecostal minister's kid, I have an insatiable thirst for the dialogue and debate that pings throughout this brilliant and evocative historical treatise on faith and conviction.

And while I still muse on and try to decipher how the square peg of feminism can fit in the circular hole of the Church's long traditions books like this--- wonderfully packaged in a beautiful, excessively readable love story, there is the brilliant elasticity that allows for interaction with characters who play out all of the questions and thoughts and muddled confusions of tradition and faith and feminism on a well-worded page.

And yet if you're like: what? NO! I want to read for enjoyment! Well, Saints be Praised! You get that, too! this is a rare package of perfectly lovely prose enveloping deeper truths.

In 1907, teacher Lillia Brook re-establishes her friendship with Canon Paul Harris, a rising figure at St. John's Cathedral who helped her navigate Greek and Latin studies in her formative years-- by letter- when such subjects were deemed useless to females best honed to play angel of the hearth. Lillia and Paul's re-acquaintance in adulthood sparks from their first meeting as they encounter themselves as pendants for Women's Suffrage and the Tradition of the Church ---the quintessential male sphere-- respectively.

While Lillia becomes more deeply involved in the growing danger of the Women's Movement in a circle that includes Emmeline Pankhurst, Paul is forced to confront his comfort in the sacred symbol and tradition of the church ---communion, prayer, the solemn process of a worshipful Sunday with the worship in action met head on when he accompanies Lillia to the brutal cloisters of a penitentiary for fallen women. It is in these early chapters--- so lovingly expressed and evoking the feeling of a hot cup of tea with a dose of Masterpiece theatre on a sun-slanted weekend--- that Harwood begins to develop her deeper thesis. A startling contradiction of tradition meted against two shifting worlds that startlingly parallel ongoing conversations in the modern church.

"Miss Wells, I'm not in the least concerned about my reputation." 

A complicated love story set amidst the turmoil and transition of the shifting roles of tradition in anglo catholicism and the pressure to move worship into action beyond the pulpit paralleled with the changing course of women finally meeting their snatches and life outside the home with violence and misery! WAS THIS WRITTEN FOR ME???! A love story that intellectually and spiritually challenges the reader to confront the loop holes in their own beliefs as they sit across from Paul and Lillia who, on equal mental footing, discover themselves and their roles in each other's lives through constant debate? IS IT MY BIRTHDAY???! And romance? OH ROMANCE! clutch your heart and catch your breath romance---- sparring here is hotter than kissing and the romance Paul and Lillia find is symbolic of a marriage between a shifting church meeting head-on the demands and views of its expectant believers. So, this is not your run of the mill " Oh! he has a dazzling smile and my heart grows faint" type cliche-- though, yes, he does have a dazzling smile--yet the evocation of true attraction between two mismatched puzzle pieces that need to figure out how to tweak themselves to fit into each other's lives.

Both are forced  to put faith in action: Paul  beyond the sacraments of worship by Lillia who changes how he views worship and Lillia who opens her mind to meet him halfway.  And you know that delicious moment in books when a character realizes their true love for someone when they unwittingly step up to defend them? (Hello Bella Wilfer for John Harmon against Mr. Boffin in Our Mutual Friend) we get TONS OF THAT HERE!  WHAT BETTER TYPE OF LOVE STORY IS THAT THAN BETWEEN PEOPLE WHO ALLOW THEIR HEARTS TO BE CHANGED and are willing to reconsider convictions that, to this point in their lives, were etched in stone?  

( I know, I know, so many caps ---but I cannot contain my enthusiasm here!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! If I were sitting across from you my hands would be excessively flailing)

Their compromise and eventually synchronicity  encourages growth as two people willing to shift their stubborn views to let some leeway. A treatise on the changes modernizing an era where everyone's roles were falling away and a new type of woman ( and man ) strode to find equal footing.  And Harwood does this ingeniously-- -quietly--- thoughtfully--- with little  crumbs in the narrative: the pipes of the masculine sphere in Lillia's boarding house, the importance of Paul's given name in contrast to the historical part that spoke for women's silence--- all of these little notes strung throughout ... ugh! so goooood!  I die, Horatio... 


What we sometimes forget about the power of fiction is how it can be used as a mirror or lens to our experiences and preconceptions. More still, how it can be the bind that helps us reconcile our past. When you view the world through the lens of fictional emblems it becomes a safe space to be mentally engaged, spiritually moved, and challenged to change. There is a balm in the constraints of fiction that allow your mind and heart to roam free in a way you might not confront what the fiction offers in real life or conversation. Is fiction a mode of conversation, of course---- but it is something silent and ruminative and in Impossible Saints I watched the war between my Christian upbringing and beliefs and my feminist views rile on the page in Paul and Lillia.

"I can see you've placed me in the category of the fast, modern woman, and there I'll stay until I can prove to you I'm a real person."

It takes a lot for a book to resound echoes long after the constructs of its time period, but Impossible Saints is relevant. Relevant to anyone who is shaped by expectation, latches to tradition while still at odds with the convictions that force us to grapple with the malleability of theological tenets and basic human principles. It is really brilliant to have this sewn up within the pattern of a novel and makes it accessible for readers who struggle and yearn to be challenged with their entertainment. For as much as I would love to posture about the higher tenets of this book's grappling with spiritual, philosophical and humane truths, so I am always reminded of how friggin' ENJOYABLE the whole darned thing is. Because, seriously, beyond the awesome discovery that it would hit me like the best kind of anvil, its time period and subject are TOTAL RACHEL CATNIP! I walked out of the film Suffragette a few years ago feeling flat--- like it was an open pop left out and devoid of fizz--- but all that I wanted it to be is resplendent here in a flesh and blood and contradictory heroine. I finish an episode of Grantchester wishing that the dominant male sphere would be countered more by feminine influence beyond the wishy-washy turn ups of fashionable Amanda--- and I find it here as Paul's mind broadens and stretches with Lillia's influence.

I often cite Catherine Marshall's Christy as a true love story: thinking of how agnostic doctor Neil MacNeill challenges Christy to believe for herself beyond the expectations or platitudes of the Mission. It is in this that he shows true love and devotion: interested in hearing her as more than a mouthpiece, wanting a peek inside. Here ,we have two people who through danger, loss and strife are willing to sacrifice and meet in the middle after many (exceptionally well-written) snapshots into their debates. As they verbally spar, so you might very well meet new thoughts and ideas that will encourage you to put the book aside and work things out for a little bit. At one point in the novel, an unhappily married woman repeatedly calls " all men cowards" -- cowards who must rise or work and strive to raise themselves up in church or society --- And yet Harwood's book proves the opposite of that again and again in two characters who are shaped in the truest form of courage there is --willing to stumble and fall and admit fallacy, willing to sacrifice moments of dignity and pride in order to find a surer footing with each other and with the higher plains they subscribe to. Write me this romance again and again, world, for it is not only the romance between two people finding a lasting and heart-clenching love but the romance in finding a surer belief in ones instincts when acting on conviction beyond human or church expectations.

I have an equal readership of faith based readers and non and while I am speaking to this book as it pertains to my faith experience, rest assured that it is not a prerequisite. This can be read as a whizbang- good- snap -crackle -and- pop story of historical romance which just happens to pair two people at odds with each other and one of these odds is Paul's life as a clergyman. You don't need a lexicon or even to believe to enjoy. Moreover, it offers a succinct and troubling look at the brutality and intolerance facing the women who sacrificed their livelihood and comfort for a greater cause.

There are the books you want to hand out to people so that they can understand your heart and mind and the vulnerable pieces of yourself and your strengths and weaknesses. .... hand them out at Christmas with a little bow and a card that says "here, steal inside my heart for a moment." And this is that book. This is one of those thumb-printed on my heart and mind and resolve and more especially interwoven into the fabric of my reading life forevermore.

So I will forever be grateful to a casual facebook chain where a friend tagged me in a post about this book (the post by another author I fangirl over--- Jennifer Delamere) because this is just.... ack! I cannot even form complete and cohesive sentences anymore... just make sure you preorder this book and read it and think about it and mull on it and then revisit it. ....I know I will --- interred again and again into my perennial collection....


Lillia had never given much thought to his physical appearance. Indeed, there was nothing remarkable about it--- except when he smiled. And she realized, now, when he preached. It was as if the cathedral was his natural setting, the only place where a rare, powerful illumination could blaze out from inside him. The man and his setting were equally beautiful. 

They lived in two different worlds that were more often than not hostile toward each other.

I don't know if you realize how lucky you are.You're free. No man has a claim on you. No man has conquered and enslaved you mentally, physically, or spiritually. You're not free from all struggle and suffering--of course, you must feel lonely, you must have desires-- but you haven't bound yourself to a man you'll come to despise. 

Men don't want to be married to stupid or vacuous women

I'm starting to become suspicious of your motives for becoming a priest. Your position is too convenient an excuse for breaking rules that ordinary people must abide by.

He sent me copies of his lessons and corrected my mistakes. I may be the only woman in Britain with an education from one of the best public boys' schools. 

pre-order 10 copies for your book club here (DO IT!-- need discussion questions? heck! I'll write them for free) 
[pre-order another 5 copies for all of your friends and family afterward]

Add it to your Goodreads "to read" shelf so you don't forget ( as if I would let you forget--- I won't--- I will be back in December reminding you ) 

and thanks thanks thanks to Pegasus and Netgalley for this ARC 

Book Gush(es) A Name Unknown, An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors

Image result for an alchemy of masques and mirrors

Want some gushing?

Here is some gushing

First,  An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors ----  GUYS ! DO YOU WANT steampunk, hot air balloons, a whiff of romance and musketeers in an alternative Parisienne world?  YES! YES YOU DO!

of course you do!

Then, have you come to the right party:

A wildly entertaining romantic romp in the tradition of Dumas and Sebastien de Castell and Mary Robinette Kowal. In a steampunky alternative Paris, laced with political and magical intrigue, power dynamics and and murder, Princess Isabelle and her musketeer protector Jean-Claude are thrown into a world of turmoil, attempted assassination and intrigue. I cannot properly convey how compelling the hook of this tale was to me nor how pleased I was with its exposition. Fun adventure matinee-style threaded in a fresh and compulsively readable voice that paints a unique and daring world with aplomb.

This world is so wonderfully realized and the dynamic between the two leads is so snap-crackle-pop with chemistry and the whole "but social divide and bodyguard and stuff" thing and I just love things that are fresh and imaginative.  So TWO RACHEL THUMBS UP 

Image result for a name unknown

okay! and then you want, of course, a slick and sophisticated slow-burning romance set in Edwardian Cornwall featuring a thief -turned- librarian and a stammering author with royal connections who may hold secrets to the axis retaliation in the looming war? RIGHT?  yes. 

So then we have A Name Unknown which features  not only some of Rachel's favourite tropes ( tortured reclusive misunderstood stammering author,  two lost souls who connect through words and leave letters to each other!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! ) but also possibly my favourite hero of 2017.  Peter Holstein is certified Rachel Catnip! I love that he is just too lovely and tweed-clad for the real world --- and the stammer in his voice is ironed out in his writing.  There is a lovely Barney Snaith type twist to this set amidst a bubbling world on the brink of war against the lush tapestry of Cornwall. Rosemary Gresham, our intrepid heroine, was a tad more difficult for me to fall for --- but I think that was a conscious decision on the part of the author to show how she ---due to necessity and complicated past-- wants to keep the world at bay.  And it is all "a rose by any other name.." because names and titles and connections and noms de plume are a huge motif here. 

But mostly, Peter. I am in this for Peter bless his tweed and his accent and his spectacles and his awkward way with the world and you should be in it for Peter, too. 

with thanks to Netgalley for these titles