Friday, March 16, 2018

One of the Best Books I have Ever Read: The Traitor Prince

Image resultLast week, I devoured The Wish Granter by CJ Redwine after a recommendation from my friend Ruth. I loved it to death. Sebastian was a Rachel catnip hero and the dark Rumpelstiltskin world was immensely readable.   First off, because I will make you buy this book--- Though the book is the third in the Ravenspire series: they are standalone novels set in a similar world. okay?

Let's dig in, kittens!


Fear out, Courage in.

I craved more, so immediately downloaded The Traitor Prince which blew me away in the best way possible.  I am not hyperbolic in saying it is one of the best books I have ever read; because I am not just carrying the hangover of emotion and well-crafted world.  I am stating that as someone who loves to watch technique, who catches and revels in nuance, who stops and notices the slow, unfurling threads of allegorical substance, who is alighted by the pursuit of a hero's journey resplendent with heartbreaking themes of sacrifice and grace.

Javan Najafai is the true prince of Akram. He has lived at the prestigious Milisatria Academy for Nobility for ten years, excelling at everything and becoming well rounded enough that he will eventually be able to step into the crown.
He is kind and studious, forsaking the revelry and hobbies of his friends for prayer and reflection and to become the kind of king that his father, the King, will be proud of.  He is a devoted servant of his god, Yl' Haliq and relies on his wisdom and guidance as he prepares himself for the arduous and magnanimous task of eventual ascension to the throne.

Since his mother's dying wish that he earn the most honours of any prince educated at the academy, Javan has centered his sights on granting her this honour: furthered by his desire for his father's pride and respect when he graduates at the head of his class and presents the coveted red sash that marks his accomplishment.  The guidance from his headmaster and the support of his friend Kallen have seen him to the days leading up to final examinations and graduation.


Now he had to pick up his beliefs, one by one, and examine them the flaws that surely ran through them.


Elsewhere, Rahim, who bears a striking resemblance to Javan  and has a threadbare connection to the throne, works with a plot to supplant Prince Javan on the throne after his return to Akram.  The true king slowly poisoned, Rahim's estranged father--and the king's closest relative---has wielded his unlikely power to mold the kingdom into place of bleak poverty and despair. While the nobility gets richer, they do so on the backs of the outcasts and impoverished and any clemency the true King might have shown to their plight is squandered under his tyranny.


What follows is a plot that weaves a tapestry reminiscent of The Prince and the Pauper, The Count of Monte Cristo and the book's lesser known eponymous fairy tale.


A swath of grace ( one of many --often undeserved and unexpected) finds Javan escaping the death plot set against him though at tragic cost.   Sparing his life, someone who recognizes him for who he says he is, throws him into Maqbara Prison: where if he can survive and win a gruesome gladiator-like champion, he will be granted an audience with the king and a boon of his choosing.

In order to fight for his rightful claim to the throne, Javan will risk his life daily while his faith dwindles and enemies surround, using the skill set he learned at Milistaria not to lead, rather to survive.


The world of the prison --where 80 percent of the novel takes place-- is unbelievably painted in grim and creaky palette.  The warden is a fearsome enemy,  food is scarce and blood is shed.  And yet, Redwine consistently offers smatters of light and hope.    One of Javan's allies is Tarek, an old prisoner with a heart of gold and stable countenance who will put readers in mind of Abbe Faria in The Count of Monte Cristo. Tarek's role in the story affected me deeply.  Another--and far more reticent connection--- is Sajda.  Enslaved at a young age by the warden, she is kept in cuffs and forced to keep the prisoners and the ever-changing range of magical beasts for the circus arena combat in check.


The prisoners --many arrested and confined for minimal disturbance--and often unjustly--- spend their days cleaning the arena that will lead to many of their deaths as well as training (however inexperienced) for the next games day.

Spectators attend lavishly bloodthirsty productions where terrible beasts are thrown in with prisoners--some armed-- some not.   Points are assigned for the killing of each creature and the top competitor will be granted the king's ear.    It is not, Javan soon realizes, that different than ascending the ranks of the academy as his mother wished. 



Javan is a true hero. His heart is splendid. His humility is inspiring. His journey is heartbreaking.   Readers of this blog know that I keep one foot in the Inspirational Fiction world and I can safely say the faith message in this story--- integral to Javan's journey--- and written in a subtle, almost-allegorical way, is 80 times more potent than many of the books I have read intentionally published for faith readers in the past year.   And yet it is in his doubt and tragedy and moments of hopelessness that he becomes a beacon to lean on. He is not perfect. He takes a wrong step. But at heart---at his core--- is everything that the story needs him to be.  He is at times a martyr but only to lead to his destiny.

This book ripped my heart to shreds. I was anxious about finishing it.  Anxious to be leaving the way it alighted my world and spirit.  And even though I carefully rationed it over the past few days, lingering over its poetically sensory experience, I am so glad that I was finally able to encounter the punch-to-your-stomach poignancy of its climax.  This book instills in me the strength to believe, to hope, to endure.  Javan is a hero whose faith in god and his eventual restoration for the sake of his people puts him with the greats.   He is timeless. He is the hero we return to.  He is reminiscent of Dantes, yes, but also of Homer. And, for those of us approaching Easter, his entreaty of Yl' Haliq to intercept his grim fate will put readers in mind of the Greatest Hero of All.


I was profoundly moved by this story.  I was broken and sobbing by the end.   I was touched so deeply by Javan's goodness, by Tarek's selflessness, by Sajdan's vulnerability. Indeed, I can count a few reading moments previously that have left me so wrung:  Jessica Dotta's Price of Privilege trilogy, for one. Stephanie Landsem's The Thief  as another.  Sometimes I just cried because the storytelling was so perfect and the language so beautiful, its consonance tripping of my tongue as I read phrases aloud, the languorous legato of several lines in their perfect magic order...

But lest you think this is all about presenting a theological tenet or speaking to the balance of visceral darkness and staggering light of humanity, it is so much more than that.  This book is a beautifully told story of survival and each competition---ascending in importance --kept my heart in my throat and my pulse pounding.  This, readers, is exceptionally written adventure fiction.   Javan's strategy to make loose connections with prisoners who would see him dead and to balance his immediate penchant for mercy and assistance in a gruesome ring while cognizant of the greater significance of his survival and restoration, is why we read books.  There is a classic sensibility to this piece.

To add, it is a beautifully woven love story between two lonely souls who find each other in the midst of squalor.  Sajdan realizes that Javan is who he says he is because of his actions. It goes beyond his noble manner of speech and the way he commands himself, his erect shoulders and his unending knowledge of all of the kingdoms in their world.  Javan is princely to his core. A true prince who puts the lives of his people before his own.

Initially, he enlists her help by promising her his knowledge.  She is determined to one day shake off her shackles and step into freedom.  She wants to learn about the stars--- the galaxy that she climbs to amidst crates and crackles high into the rafters of Maqbara, like an architect plotting to build a steeple that will pierce close to heaven.

Being her friend was like taking a ride on a half wild stallion with nothing but your wits and your courage between you and a long, dangerous fall.



But as for one of the greatest books I have ever read, it comes in the execution of the plot and the pieces falling into perfect place.    In the subtle moments where the quest shifts from Javan's survival to his recognition that he must win for the goodness of humanity, that there is a far greater weight. It comes in his recognition that Yl' Haliq has presented him with a path of suffering for a greater purpose than all of his prayers for restoration and redemption could ever have imagined.

Yl' Haliq was with him, whether Javan could feel him or not. The sacred texts were clear. 

It comes in the way that Redwine understands the keen sensibility of the reader--- in the meted metrics of intensity--- in her shifting of perspective during arena sequences. Indeed, I nearly gasped at the brilliance of her shifting the point of view to that of the villain  (there is more than one villain in this piece, all brilliantly realized and dimensional).

It is in her perusal of nightmares--living and imagined--- in the power that Sajda hides and then wields with abandon when the life of another is on the line.


And in the stillness of his mind, an idea formed, crystallizing before he realized what was happening. He clenched his folded hands as hope, soft and fragile, unfurled in his chest and took root. He was right where he was supposed to be He was meant to hurt the way his epople hurt. To see the truth of Akram from their eyes. Their grief was his to bear. Their injustices his to make right He was destined to lose what he'd thought was his so that he could gain something even more important---wisdom. 

It is in the blink-and-you'll-miss-it moment when slight narrative intrusion turns our minds: no longer is she referring to Javan by his name but slowly, achingly, she begins to speak to the Prince of Akram.  It is when his world crumbles around him, that the authorial voice restores his rightful place.

It is in the heart and humanity and hope whose resonance spans far beyond a made-up sphere set years and years ago and surged with magic.


Authors use tropes and tales to tell their truth. Redwine inhabits a fairytale like atmosphere to speak to weave a treatise of faith and doubt and unbelievable sacrifice.  This book will strengthen you.

And, at the end of the day, it is just a damned joy to read.


"I kept praying for deliverance. For escape. I was so consumed with the wrong done to me that I failed to stop  and listen. To learn. But I've been listening, Sajda. And I know that I was always meant to be in Maqbara. I was meant to understand the corruption my uncle brought to Akram, the pain it causes my people and the horrors that take place here in the name of sport.... And I was destined to meet you. I wouldn't take back a second my own pain if it meant that you and I would be strangers. But my pain isn't the most important thing to me. Yours is. I would do anything to take backk the heartbreak you feel. Even if it meant I'd never get to be your friend in the first place."



 Like, guys, for the love of cookies.  It is the most lusciously romantic, heart stopping, action packed ,gruesome, alive and wonderful and wisdom-filled and faith-surged piece of fiction in the freakin' land. This author is a genius, her pen is inspired and every word will rumble in your chest and every theme will light your eyes like a bulb and can we please just make her write more in this ilk forever? and ever?

amen.


Tuesday, March 06, 2018

Travels with Rachel

I realize I have neglected this blog and I am sorry. But I have been spending my non day job hours doing some pretty cool things: mainly traveling and writing. 


First, Love in Three Quarter Time has been out in the world since Valentine's Day and its reception has inspired me to write two more Viennese themed novellas.  

I am at work on the second installation of the Van Buren and DeLuca series where Reggie and Hamish adventure in all things romantic and deductive.

A recent trip to Brussels a few weeks ago borne by love of Charlotte Bronte's Villette and her time there as a teacher ended up inspiring a new novel I am working on.  I honestly had no idea when I went to Belgium I would be so creatively inspired.

I also encourage you to follow my Goodreads where I am pretty up to date on logging what I am reading and loving.


In December, I went to Prague which inspired me so much I infused it into an integral scene between my hero and heroine in Love in Three Quarter Time


Here are some pics!
gorgeous Brussels 

I took Villette to all of the places in the novel!

Bruges!

kinda fell in love w Brussels 

The Charles Bridge, Prague, on the shortest night of the year in December 

Prague from the Mala Strana side 

Prague

Ghent

Monday, February 05, 2018

Book Gush: The Morning Gift by Eva Ibbotson

I don't know how I missed this one. Because I have read a lot of Eva Ibbotson.  But I missed it and that is lucky for me because I have found it and now I have another book for my keeper shelf and what a book.

This book is hilariously sharp.  And while a lot of us read Ibbotson when we were younger because she had just been released as YA and her fairy tales were just the aching sort of thing we would fall into as uber romantic teens who wanted older cultured men and european locales (with the right fringe of war-time danger), adult Rachel is SO happy she read Morning Gift now because double-entendres are my thing and whipsmart innuendo is my thing and this book proves Ibbotson a master at both. 

See, Ibbotson never intended for her books to be categorized as YA and I think this is largely in part of YA not existing when she published the way it does now.  So, this is very much an adult romance with a charmingly youthful and beguiling heroine.


There is something SO refreshing about Ruth. She is so inquisitive and smart ---but never precocious-- and she sees the world in such a delightful way.    She is the perfect counterpart to academic Quin Sommerville who navigates a world of fossil and bone and tries to shrug out of his heritage like a sweater....

....but I get ahead of myself. Because the characters inhabiting this treasure trove of a laugh out loud confectionary are worthy of the brilliant world Ibbotson creates. 

First, we sink into the green depths of opulent Vienna at the brink of Hitler. Even the shadows of the Anschluss cannot stop the beaming sun from highlighting Strauss in the Statdpark or the night time world of the Natural History Museum in Maria-Theresien-Platz, where Ruth, whose partly Jewish parents have already escaped and being left hopelessly alone, has taking up residence.



As in every last Ibbotson book, the author knows her fairytales are only perfectly woven if done so with music, myth and magic to mete what she is embroidering.  And so, the luscious world she describes is matched with Ibbotson's over-turned passion for art, for music, for Vienna. For Mozart.

Oh yes, the Mozart.


‘It’s Mozart, isn’t it?’ she said, sighing, for she knew already that there was everything in Mozart; that if you stuck to him you couldn't go wrong."


Quin shook his head, but he was amazed, for she had pushed back her hair and smiled at him – and in an instant the beleaguered captive in her tower vanished and it was summertime on an alp with cows.



The humour in this book draws the reader out of the encroaching pathos and even while Ibbotson's personal experience with refugees and exiles due to her family's own evacuation from Austria during the war. And as in all books, the theme of outsider is most expressly viewed in the delicious personality of her winsome, elvish heroines.  And Ruth is no exception.


Too late, Ruth realized where she was heading and looked with horror at her empty glass, experiencing the painful moment when it becomes clear that what has been drunk cannot be undrunk. It had been so lovely, the wine, like drinking fermented hope or happiness, and now she was babbling and being indiscreet and would end up in the gutter, a confirmed absinthe drinker destined for a pauper’s grave. 


I also love the Ibbotson take on the Chekhov's gun motif: meaning if she mentions a rucksack in chapter two, say, you better bet that it will come full circle in a moment of love hundreds of pages later.  If Ruth languidly spending her last hours in Vienna before exile at the Danube, speaks to her uncle's romance borne of a message in a bottle, then the theme of rivers will stream through the slow-moving love story of our heroine


So Quin the academic with a title and a grand estate, late of Britain, rescues his old professor's daughter and marries her in paper only to get her out of the country.  He tells her the story of a Morganic marriage: where it is unconsummated and sometimes followed by an act of a gift the morning after the wedding night where the bridegroom gives an expensive gift to his bride, severing the marriage forever. Ruth's imaginative goblet spills over and she is just so in love with the romanticism of this idea and she culls a million momentous references to myths and legends and is so darling about the whole thing.


So Quin and Ruth marry, steal away from Austria to England and her awaiting already- fled family aboard the Orient Express and seem to be rid of each other until their annulment papers can be sent.



Ha!

Turns out Ruth is pursuing a british education and Quin is her professor and it gets even more fun!

There are several Goodreads reviews that cite this as a poor example of "instalove" where the hero and heroine find happiness within the latter third of the book and it is not developed.  I DISAGREE!!!!!!!! (a million exclamation marks).  The careful reader will see the knowing winks from the author pairing them together.   We have figured out their love, they are just catching up and it is slow and agonizing and dotted with misunderstandings and stupidity (as is love in general) and the clumsy waltz they take around each other from the classroom to Quin's family summer home in Bowmont is achingly funny and wonderful and heart-wrenching.



Ruth is so charming. Her worry over not having her post-coital tristesse  ( she has read too many dirty french novels), her propensity to talk to sheep.

Quin is so determined not to be in love that its web around him is just the most deliciously wonderful thing. I snorted. I giggled. I chortled. 


The more he tries not to actively notice her, the more she becomes a part of him:

Nevertheless, Nature had not shaped Ruth for nonexistence....Ruth leaning over the parapet to feed the ducks was not nonexistent, nor encountered in the library  behind a pile of books, a piece of grass between her teeth. She was not nonexistent as she sat under the walnut tree coaching Pilly, nor emerging, drunk with music, from rehearsals of the choir. In general, Quin, without conceit, would have said he was a man with excellent nerves, but a week of Ruth’s anonymity was definitely taking its toll. 


In turn, Ruth's tide is pulled in by Quin but she is so engaged in the new experiences around her that she doesn't have the same slow recognition of his effect.   She also, because she is young and impressionably romantic, believes she is destined for Heini, her stupid cousin who is an insufferable archetype of every insufferable suffer-for-my-art musician to ever live.  And this roundabout dance of two people who thought they would never see each other again always, always within feet of each other as their attraction grows, is just the sweetest thing on the planet.    Quin made a sacrifice rescuing her, giving her his name, but we just do not see how tantamount that is until we see a Quin reconciling with the fact that she might not ever truly be his.

And Ruth.... oh darling Ruth!  ---is naive enough to think that Quin will reject her.   The Morganic marriage motif comes to a shattering conclusion and I cried through Ruth's mistaken heartbreak.






Quin, encountering that rare phenomenon, a person who read footnotes, was ready to be impressed.


Ruth’s eyes glowed with the ardour of those who swear mighty oaths.


Ruth and Quin are two of the most delightfully funny and decadent and unique and esoteric and quirky and challenging characters I have encountered in a book in AGES! I love them! I love their blind love for each other and how they frustrate each other and how they are so passionate about each other even as they mask it by quoting classics at inopportune times.  I love that his heart wrenches when she almost drowns rescuing a puppy so he yells at her something fierce and I love that she runs to him after a botched night with Heini so they can finally get around to consummating their own love. I love that while the shadow of Hitler falls in pitch-perfect research it never detracts from the life and passion around! Life!    It makes me think of a photography exhibit that my friend and I went to a few years ago. Photographs from the Lodz Ghetto: tragic circumstances but captured humanity: women getting married, children playing.   We sometimes have the propensity to see the Second World War through a grainy sepia film of docudrama.  We need books that show what thrived even as it crept like its Leviathan and Ibbotson infuses her personal experiences into a book about love.

Love for music, for love itself, for romance and Mozart and Vienna. 

When the angels sing for God they sing Bach, but when they sing for pleasure they sing Mozart, and God eavesdrops.



Quin and Ruth are an unlikely pairing in an unlikely magic moment of a book that begs to be read within an inch of its life. The humour is to die for! The love story just the right amount of melodrama to whisk you away and remind you that hot cocoa and blankets pair well with things that are imagined and need not accompany realism.

I friggin LOVE this book. And will read it to infinity ....





Friday, January 19, 2018

COMING SOON from YOURS TRULY: A Valentine's Day Romance Novella

My birthday is on Valentine's Day ---the most romantic day of the year ( apt for this romantic) so I thought I would share one of the great romances of my life, Vienna, with you for a Valentine's Day treat:



A romantic waltz through a city filled with music, passion and coffee.


Evelyn Watt fell in love with Austrian marketing director Rudy Moser the moment he stepped into their Boston firm. With his ice blue eyes and chocolate-melting accent, he is as refined as she imagines his home country to be. When Evelyn finds herself unexpectedly unemployed right before Christmas, she is left with an unknown future until Rudy steps in with a job appraising, assessing and cataloging heirlooms, lending her American vernacular to the translated descriptions to give each item international appeal. Evelyn will live in Vienna for the months leading up to a grand auction at a party held in conjunction with the Opera Ball—on Valentine’s Day.

Vienna is a magical blend of waltzing, antiques, and bottomless cups of Einspanner coffee at the Café Mozart. When a secret from Rudy's family's past blows in with the winter chill, Evelyn is forced to confront how well she knows the object of her affection. Her café tablemate, the gruff and enigmatic Klaus Bauner might be the only person who holds the key to Rudy’s past. But could that key also unlock her future? In the days leading up to the Opera Ball, Evelyn finds herself in the middle of the greatest romance of her life…as long as she doesn’t trip over her two left feet.


See some of my inspiration on my Pinterest board: https://www.pinterest.ca/rachkmc/love-in-three-quarter-time/



Love in Three Quarter Time: A Viennese Valentine by [McMillan, Rachel]

You can pre-order Love in Three Quarter Time  for KOBO and KINDLE 

It releases on Feb 14! 





Thursday, January 18, 2018

Book Gush: Intermediate Thermodynamics by Susannah Nix

It is so hard to get me to fall for a contemporary Romance.  It is not often my genre of choice and as readers we all know that we get in moods and rhythms and we need certain books to meet our cravings at certain times.  


Intermediate Thermodynamics might be one of the best Contemporary Romances I have ever read. It is certainly one of the smartest. Definitely one of the best-written and it is the only contemporary romance that has ever made me ugly cry. 


I LOOOOOOOOVE THIS BOOK 

I LOOOOOOOOOVE how it features a freakin' smart as all get out heroine whom the hero is never ONCE intimidated by. Indeed, her brains are what attract him to her! UGH! SO GOOD! FOREVER I LOVE THIS! 



We have a typical romcom set up here: neighbour finds neighbour annoying. He doesn't understand the basic courtesy rules of the laundry room.   Jonathan smokes on his balcony and it wafts into  Esther's  apartment. His wind chimes keep her up at night.  

We have the bargain trope: she'll look at annoying neighbour's sci fi manuscript (he's a screen writer! Well, it is set in L.A) through her aerospace engineer eyes and he will take her best friend Jinny out on three dates to keep Jinny from getting back together with her dbag ex-boyfriend.

Jonathan and Esther start working on manuscripts and slowly ease into each other's lives like a comfy sweater and...well... the rest isn't rocket science. 

Intermediate Thermodynamics: A Romantic Comedy (Chemistry Lessons Book 2) by [Nix, Susannah]"Objectively, she supposed he might be considered attractive--so long as he didn't open his mouth and start talking" 

See, even a revisited trope or plot (as Northrop Frye says, there are only like three different stories in western literature), can become something entirely new when a fresh voice is at the helm.   Nix excels at embroidering a tapestry of likeable and relatably flawed characters, a world that is fascinating and merges science fiction, with, well, sciency-science, blurt-your-tea-out laughter and a starkly honest look at two people recognizing that their Social Anxiety is what has kept them from crossing their respective thresholds.

It is also a treatise on love and attraction borne out of an endearing friendship. In short, it is an intricate study of human nature wrapped up in a sparkly rom com bow and it is oh so fun to read!

"Then she would go back twenty four hours and punch herself in the face for making this stupid bargain" 

And beyond the friendship that turns into something deeper in Jonathan and Esther's court, we have a study in female friendship and work friendship --- all cogs in the wheel that allow us to understand Esther (prickly and scared and closed off) in her journey toward authentic vulnerability.

Vulnerability and honesty, the book asserts, is the sacrifice that can lead to restored friendship, love and, at the forefront, personal fulfillment. 


"She'd pygmalion the s**t outta him"

Esther is so concerned at seeing the limitations of and propensity for change in others that she spends most of the novel failing to invest in her own self improvement.  The counterbalance she finds in Jonathan and his friendship complementing her as well as stretching her in ways she wouldn't have imagined possible, is at the core of the book.


Esther learns and in the softest timbre.   For example, the first time she gives Jonathan feedback on a manuscript it is thoroughly critical and less constructive. The second time, she makes a small nudge toward  framing her comments in a more palatable way.  


"It was one of those aimless indie dramas about two people who meet by chance and change each other's lives forever blah blah blah...."



And when Esther's perspective of Jonathan changes, so does her ability to stretch and shift and see the world through a different, enriched lens.  

Esther never thought she needed to be in love .Love meant hurt. Love meant confronting the unresolved issues with her family: a father that left, a mother that is in constant need and rarely self sufficient. Absence and suffocation with no middle ground. Yet, this book delves into intricate and deep places without turning in to a "subject" piece.   A lesser writer and this would be an issue book or wade into women's issues that make you want to skip it all and watch Hallmark.  The buoyant tone, the attention to every detail, the perfect world building in the sphere of Esther's apartment life with Jonathan to her knitting group to her super sciency day job ---are all expertly explored. There is not one wasted scene.


"She wasn't waiting for a man to come along and complete her." 


Sometimes the truth through fiction stings. Sometimes watching Esther's choices forces you to confront your own anxiety, your own sift through feelings of rejection.   "If you never let yourself care about people," Esther has taught herself, "it didn't hurt as much when they didn't care back." 


When Esther lets herself give into attraction, it has been a slow build borne of chemistry-- and not the boring dime-a-dozen physical kind, the kind that comes from learning someone is the other puzzle piece missing.  

What was with her? Drooling over a glimpse of calf like a sex-starved Victorian duke in a romance novel!"


And when it reaches an inevitable boiling pot and Esther accepts that she is going to have to take a step to reach the strides he is taking, it is painful to watch ---but still interspersed with heartmelting acts of friendship and love.   The boring indy romance screenplay has been rewritten --like Esther's life and view of the world-- and somehow she is able to meet it in the middle with her new perspective and its new timbre and it is something achingly winsome.  "It was almost like reading a diary of their friendship." 




What Intermediate Thermodynamics resoundingly excels at is providing a thesis of change.   We are talking deep and subtle tics and beats that layer the book like a freakin' cake.  And then some. 


We fall for Jonathan before Esther can catch up.  We want to shake her and hold her all while so deeply identifying with her fear of love and rejection that we want to hold her in a vulnerable ball while confronting our own limitations. We recognize that, as Nix writes "The point is to do something that's hard for you because it's meaningful for someone else."

It is a book about sacrifice and evaluation, of letting people love you, of believing yourself deserving of ownership of one's personal and professional strengths and weaknesses. 

Indeed, to take a deep look at the finer tenets of Jonathan and Esther's relationship (to wit, even Jinny and Yemi's relationship with Esther) is to hold a mirror up to our weaknesses and Esther's gradual and realistic inch toward triumph echoes with an acceptance that brings the reader-author relationship full circle.  



Intermediate Thermodynamics is a layered and subtle and magnificent look at modern relationships through a perfectly constructed lens of timeless themes. It is funny and smart and aching and beautiful and will make your heart grow three times. You will laugh aloud, you will cry, you will revisit your weakest moments and find yourself stronger for the confrontation and ultimately you will want to find yourself falling mind-numblingly, friendship-inducingly, marshmallow-gooingly in love 

(pending that, at least finding the next in Susannah Nix's library) 


Thursday, January 11, 2018

IN WHICH THE LACEMAKER is THE BEST THING TO EVER HAPPEN TO THE WORLD

GUYS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


For the love of freakin' turtles. 

What do we even do with a book like this?  Apparently, I can only just slosh a bunch of thoughts together with little cohesion, so settle in.

What I want to do is have the words at my disposal to give it douse it with the lauds and laurels it deserves. But it was such a whizbang of a finger-tip-tingling-exuberant experience that I don't know if I should try or just GUSH the HECK OUTTA IT !


So basically, here's the thing: EVERY TIME I READ A LAURA FRANTZ BOOK I AM LIKE: "THIS! THIS IS THE BEST LAURA FRANTZ BOOK IN THE HISTORY OF FRANTZ"


and then another one comes along--

The Lacemaker shows up and is all "hold my beer" (or in this case tepid Revolutionary cider in a pewter mug)


There is just so much that this book gets RIGHT!

Image result for the lacemaker frantzIt's almost like you never realized the limitations of other historical fiction until you read a book that is pretty much perfection. AND. THERE. ARE. FREAKIN. SPIES

spies. SPIES!

It's almost like you sing odes to the history of pen and paper and computers that allowed this to reach you.  Thank you, Gutenburg!  THANK YOU CAVEMEN WHO SCRAWLED IN CAVES...



Elisabeth "Liberty" Lawson is daughter to a Tory authoritarian just as rebels and revolutionaries are boiling under the surface and Williamsburg is a barrel of gunpowder that with the slightest flick of a wick could explode.     When the pot boils over, Elisabeth is left abandoned by her father, her friends, the few Tory supporters remaining and even her would-be fiancee Miles.

It is Miles' cousin, Noble ( in any other book this would be an on-the-nose name, but I am giving it to Frantz because yah! take it! run with it into the sunset! more on Noble later ) who steps in (not for the first time) to prove stoically heroic and install Lady Elisabeth and her maid into his own estate.


Noble embodies the gift of hospitality. Go back to your Fruits of the Spirit in Sunday School. Look upward at that felt board with literal fruit with attributes in bold black marker--I bet, like in my class, Long Suffering IS ALWAYS the banana--- this is Noble.  He is a hero of quiet strength whose sister's recent death left him even more bereft of his home and nationality.  Ty Mawr, it seems, and the late Enid's care for it, embroider a lush picture of home: the first he truly had since emigrating from his beloved Wales. Noble's care for Elisabeth--beyond the realm of political affiliation and borne of pure Christian charity--- places him at odds with the kettle-boiling-over  political world around him.   His gentle tenacity to do the right thing, even for the enemy, will play out time and again throughout the mounting tension of the book until its gut-wrenching climax.

Now in historical romances, we often fall for the typified alpha guy!  He is a cowboy! he is a gunslinger! he can wield a rifle and force those rapscallion Redcoats into their holes!  But Frantz wants to provide the reader with a more intricate view of the many nuanced tenets of character. There is no witty banter, he is not out to be redeemed, he does not challenge the heroine ---he only surprises her with his unthinkable acts of hospitality: which benefit not only Liberty but her servants and family-- people on the other side of America's mounting conflict.

When is the last time we actually celebrated a romantic hero whose finest trait is in feeding and sheltering? When the latter part of the book arrives and Noble is thrust into a battle (both in the military arena and beyond), we are able to appreciate its effected counterbalance more.  We have seen his true heart and now we can comprehend how a man of quiet conviction would take such drastic action.  Frantz's delicate thesis is justified because she brings us clearly from point A of Noble's Awesomeness to Point B of Noble's awesomeness.


His heart and goodness and tiny smudges of grace--- escorting a lady home--- attending to her well being at a dance--- doesn't mean Noble can't lift a musket to his broad shoulder and fight alongside his comrades. That is not to say he doesn't frequent the Raleigh tavern and sound his conviction over pints  with well-known historical figures (Wash and Jeff and John Laurens--- here's looking at you, Hamilton--play well at fitting into the pulse of the story without drawing attention from the central characters and conflict. Acting, instead, as pieces of the historical puzzle which deftly contribute to this elaborate world).


There is a lot of talk in the blogger and publisher world that divides heroes into two types: alpha (think  Rhett Butler ) or Beta (think Peeta), Noble is the completely well-rounded male character that never once sifts into a category. He is, as most people are, at the intersection of a Venn diagram.


To add, Liberty is a strong woman whose strength often asserts itself in being intelligent enough to see beyond her own determination for agency to accept help.   Her strength is her femininity. Her agency is found in an ultra feminine profession (lacemaking) and she is winsomely smart enough to recognize that the skill she fostered in a high social standing will find itself measured differently in a topsy turvy new world.   Liberty is a passionate woman who is forced to stand on her own two feet, yes, but grateful for the help of others. She stumbles, she picks herself up, she navigates a new world but never with a boisterous or reckless spirit. Her calculated decisions are borne of a book's slowly mounting tension and realized with fabulous aplomb. 

ANNNNDDDDD we need to talk about the fact that THANK ALL COOKIES IN THE JAR Frantz addresses the problematic tendency to confuse infatuation with love. 

Liberty and Noble differentiate their growing attraction with love. Indeed, love only peeks up out of its gopher shell in true abiding form at a pivotal point of the story ( the gut wrenching you will DIE A THOUSAND DEATHS part)



This book is as exceptionally well-researched as every Frantz book and the plot spins at a beautiful pace, threaded with Frantz's lyrical description.  Indeed, it put me in mind of the same heart-tug I felt reading the Mark of the King. Its faith threads are subtle and socio-cultural and very apt for the time--they are also explored through deft symbol and sacrifice. 



And a rant, kittens, most of the time written dialect makes me scrunch up my nose and want to throw things.  The insertion of "och aye bairn" unnerves me. There is a way to paint the accent instead in descriptors. But, Frantz, she can do it all.  Trust her.  Be it French, Welsh or Scotch, you are going to fall into the carefully meted timbre of dialogue.     You know what, kitty cats, there is something about dialogue that suggests if you take ANY of it out of context and place it on stage, it would set a dimensional scene. That is the level of talent Frantz has--- she is just--- in a league of her own.





I also feel we need to thank Colonial Williamsburg because whomever has helped Frantz with her research has helped give the reader the fine-tuned extraordinarily detailed experience we have wandering through this world.  Immersing yourself in The Lacemaker is as intricate a tour through Williamsburg during the Revolutionary wars as a youtube video mechanized to show us through the streets would be.   If I didn't know Laura Frantz was alive and well and pinteresting her way through her beautiful life, I would swear this book was written years and years ago.

The best historical fiction takes time not only to narrate the past; but to inspire the reader to fall overwhelmingly into it.  Verisimilitude. Dialogue intentions. Aura. World-building.  Sight and scent and canvas.  There is an ornate and startling poetry to the caresses her pen takes to a period she knows obviously as well as the one we live in.



The patriotism instilled in this book is one that is accessible beyond America.  It is not all Mel-Gibson-Waving-a-Flag in The Patriot. This subtle humility toward better understanding of a still-flawed and frayed world-- as navigated by Liberty and Noble ( see the names? their every person representation as two of the pinnacles of any successful experiment--including the American one)   stretches beyond  run- of- the -mill jingoism, this instills the universal desire and need for fairness and equality.



Sometimes a talent is so arresting that you are so blessed that it exists. Sometimes art is so enriching that it makes you happy to be well and alive so that you can experience it.  The Lacemaker is one such gift.  It is a journey, a love letter, a tapestry. It is a book of resounding beauty at once still and shattering.   It will move you to tears as a warm glow for the good of human nature and the advocacy of the best parts of humanity eke through you.


So I underlined a billion trillion lines in this book.  A BILLION TRILLION! #nohyperbole --- but I have made the conscious decision to let this be part of the surprise and romance of unwrapping this word-gift. Let this be the slow moving peel back of startling words in perfect order.


Find yourself in this book, friends, and return to it again. It will enrich you as a reader, its goodness and heart shining through with a smartly lit radiance, slow burning with an ending SWOOSH of a boom.


LA! THIS BOOK IS THE BOMB, yo!

read it FOREVER


with gratitude forever and ever to Revell for making me stay up so late at night I was walking red-eyed zombie at work.

With gratitude forever to the makers of my favourite sauvignon blanc which helped me drown my BEST KIND OF DELICIOUS SORROW when this book ripped me apart.


Buy the Lacemaker NOW 

Find Laura Frantz online 




Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Book Gush: OLIVIA TWIST by LORIE LANGDON

There are a million and one reasons why OLIVIA TWIST is everything I hang my bookish hat on.

“That small inner voice that most women ignore because they’re too concerned with living the life others expect."

“With Jack’s presence, the room brightened as if several more candelabras followed him into that room. A smile that seemed to originate deep in Olivia’s chest stretched her lips without her consent.”


It is everything a book experience SHOULD BE.  It is everything LIFE should be. It is a gaslit Victorian carousel of pickpockets and villains, rickety pubs, railing danger and clandestine meetings with handbrushes that send tingles to your toes and harrowing meetings on London Bridge.  Olivia Twist marries a well known trope while finding footing in a dazzling new world.   Though not fantastical as it is rooted deep in perfectly-researched Victorian London, the heart-pounding feeling you get as the curtain is pulled back on its colourful universe makes you feel you are stepping into another world.   It is my favourite type of read.

Image result for olivia twistIt takes you into a place of nostalgia while offering a unique tug into a world at once familiar and surprising.  It elicits all manner of giggles and gasps and blanket-gripping tension as you think you know how it will end, but you are not quite sure. It reminds you why you love reading in the first place.

Olivia Twist finds a brilliant balance between source material  novel and famous adaptation and adds another layer to this delicious cake.   Cameos from the book like Monks and Fagin are paired with the sheer heart behind the musical that introduced many of us to Dickens (the musical, it should be said, is a gateway drug). And while the book is gifted with subtle lovely nods to red roses and mornings whose sunshine you want to buy and bottle, it springboards into its own realm of adventure. 

Basically, if you love Oliver Twist—in any form---you have come to the right party.  If you love Dickens, you have come to the right party. If you love cross-dressing female heroines, you have come to the right party.

If you love ROMANCE that will strangle you breath and pulse your heart into a gallop from the first unexpected meeting between two people who used to know each other ( one knowing a little more about one than the other), then you have found a virtual literary rager.


A heroine of agency and heart who reminded me a lot of Wonder Woman for some reason ( weird contemporary link, I know ); but like WW, Olivia has a kind heart, even if you never want to run into a bout of fisticuffs with her.  Like WW, Olivia would see a baby and melt, taste ice cream and melt, care of her elderly guardian by day playing the winsome socialite while sneaking out be-wigged to help a band of orphans at night.

It is this perfect balance of scrappy and sophisticated that pairs a wonderful example of the complexity of women. To be strong, Langdon asserts, does not mean shrugging out of femininity. Likewise, to enjoy finesse and have a caring maternal view does not undermine strength.    

“She blinked up at him and he was Dodger again. The rough-and-tumble street kid with the heart of gold.”

Then there’s Dodger who is at once sweet cinnamon roll of vulnerability and savvy, scrappy pickpocket late of Fagin’s influence.  He is our guide to the underworld while, like Olivia, balancing a life of high social standing and finding it a bit like a sweater with sleeves too long for him.

While I was delightfully on the edge of my seat to reacquaint myself with well known characters against a well known canvas in a new backdrop, I think the most surprising aspect of the novel for me was its amazing portrayal of sacrifice: something I was not expecting.  It is here that the subtle and deft touch of faith is interwoven within a compelling world at large.   If your soul is not strangled in breath-gulps by the end ---by either the beautiful writing or the sob inducing choice one is willing to make in the spirit of true love—then go sit in a corner with a lump of black coal.


Oh! And the writing?  See, the writing.  Friends, sometimes a book springboards to life because its sizzles and sparks with the author’s heart.  You can feel the author’s passion through the page. This is one of those books. Reading this I felt I had found new fictional friends, yes, but also a kindred spirit in the pen behind the page.  In OLIVIA TWIST, Langdon’s obvious love for this world of story plays fast and loose to win us completely. It’s her gift. It’s an act of sharing.  This passion is a portal for gorgeously lyrical writing that at turns grips and surprises.

“Haze draped the skyline of the city like the oozing, yellow center of a stale egg” (I mean, come on! It whiffs of Dickens but with an originality of its own)

“Peels of fog slithered and curled over the cobbles.” ( COME ON!)


“Their skirts sweeping against the cobblestones like a thousand whispers” (because consonance is the spice of life.  Like Dickens before her, Langdon’s prose begs to be read aloud) 


With all the thanks to Blink YA for the review copy of an anticipated book that shattered my expectations and winnowed its way to my FOREVER READ SHELF