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!
It'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
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
Thursday, January 11, 2018
Wednesday, January 10, 2018
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.
It 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