Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Maiden of Mayfair by Lawana Blackwell

publisher: Bethany House

rating: ***

Maiden of Mayfair is the first in the Tales of London series by Lawana Blackwell. I am a big Blackwell fan, as previously mentioned, because I feel she has a wonderful sense of Victorian England. Moreover, her prose, characters, dialect and ambience transport you to a simpler time.

In Maiden of Mayfair readers are given the perfect Cinderella story. Sarah Matthews ( named after the foundling home she has spent the first part of her childhood in) is believed to be the illegitimate granddaughter of a wealthy matriarch whose adored son’s illicit behaviour broke her heart and led to his untimely death.

Sarah is transplanted from a home for orphans into a grandiose mansion where her great life lessons are borne from the significant amount of time she spends with the servants there…especially the cook and her promising nephew, William.

I found this a charming sort-of upstairs/downstairs story with some wonderful moments of grace and redemption. The gospel message is translucent throughout in a kind and reaffirming way.

I read most of this novel while in an airport waiting lounge and it was perfect to while away the hours and the plane ride.

( I still have a bit of flight-fright so I always strategically plan to be well into a great novel before boarding. Thus, when the plane takes off, I am too engaged in the story to think of heights or imminent death).

I think I will leave it a bit before I hunt the next in the trilogy because I have so many books to get through. But, I applaud Lawana Blackwell. I appreciate her informed style and well-research tales as a worthy contribution to the Christian historical genre.

What I am reading now: I just started The Falcon and the Sparrow by M.L. Tyndall. Very Scarlet Pimpernel with a sea-faring slant I quite enjoy.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Love's Pursuit by Siri Mitchell

publisher: Bethany House

(Note: read in uncorrected galley format)

There are few novels which have knocked the wind out of me the way Love’s Pursuit by Siri Mitchell did.

I was fortunate to read this in Massachusetts on my mini-vacation there: settled near the Massachusetts Bay Colony where her gloriously written story of grace and redemption takes place.

Susannah Phillips is an upright Puritan girl with strong moral fiber and a mind turned to Godly things. She narrates one half of the story. The shy and secretive Small-hope Smyth narrates the other. Like A Constant Heart, the story does not underestimate the reader yet assumes with switch in voice, that the reader will keep up: so immersed are they in each perspective. Mitchell does very well in exploring this narrative switch. Few writers do it well but it is a tried and tested technique with her.

Life in Stonybrooke is interrupted by the dashing and cavalier Capt Daniel Holcomb: a wonderful, comic, brave and courageous man whose faith in God is dissimilar to the Puritans but strong nonetheless.

The novel tells two intertwining stories: one of Susannah and Daniel. The other of Small-hope and her morally stalwart husband, blacksmith Thomas Smyth who loves her far more than she thinks she can ever love herself.

Small-hope’s name is resonant throughout this tale where grace is hard come by and hope seems dwindling and lost.

Mitchell delves into deeply uncomfortable territory regarding the subdued roles of women in harsh Puritanical communities. It seems only Daniel and Thomas see beyond the motives of the City on The Hill to reduce women to silent harbingers to bear children and keep house.

I absolutely loved this novel because it splayed redemption so deep and lasting I could not help but start at the first page once more after I had (reluctantly) finished the last.

This is literary writing at its finest. Siri Mitchell breathes life and pitch-perfect Puritan dialect into her atmospheric story.

She also contemplates deep themes, pushes boundaries and develops characters so startlingly real you are surprised they are not sitting across from you.

Not every one is exactly who they seem and there is more than one surprise at the hands of this storytelling master.

I cannot ---absolutely cannot ---wait to see where Mitchell takes us next.

She is spell-binding.

I will read this until the binding comes apart, I assure you.

A wonderful complement to my first trip to Massachusetts.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Boston! and a Passion Most Pure

I am currently reading A Passion Most Pure by Julie Lessman (visit her blog here)

I had heard a lot about this novel --- mostly reviews stating that it pushed boundaries of Christian fiction.

It certainly is not your grandmother’s Christian fiction. There is plenty of---albeit well-regulated---spice and simmer.

It is incredibly fun to read and very atmospheric. Lessman does well to capture the Irish dialect and culture in Boston circa 1915. Also, she paints an interesting picture of a steno pool.

I am heading for Boston tomorrow for a trip. I have never been before and I am quite excited! It is quite apropos, therefore, that I am reading the first in the Daughters of Boston series in preparation.

I, of course, will remember Meissner’s Shape of Mercy when I visit Salem and the ARC I finished reading for Siri Mitchell’s breathtaking Love’s Pursuit ( stay tuned for a full review).

I am also quite looking forward to tracking down Orchard House in Concord: the home of Louisa May Alcott: a write whose works have greatly influenced my formative years.

Beyond Little Women ( quite popular in Christian circles for its great moral values and universal truths), I love Alcott’s Eight Cousins and Rose in Bloom: two novels I read at Christmas every year. I love traditions like this.

The BEST part of going to Boston ( besides the historical ambience and harbour and trips to the surrounding area and ANTIQUARIAN bookstores) is my reconnecting with my best friend: who moved from Toronto to Massachusetts to finish her doctoral thesis last August.

I very very much miss her and as much as I am looking forward to exploring and learning and taking lots of photographs, I am most looking forward to laughing with my friend and catching up.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

WaterBrook Blog Tour: Enduring Justice by Amy Wallace

publisher: WaterBrook

When I first saw this book, I wondered what it had to do with a Mother's Day tour: obviously the story, at first blurb, seemed not to correlate.

Enduring Justice is a book about love, justice, vengeance, forgiveness and healing and I reconciled myself to the fact that any story about a strong woman with a strong family and a possibility of redemption flows well with the ageless theme of mothers and their immediate resonance of love.

I have heard Amy Wallace compared to Dee Henderson, and if you enjoy thrilling, fast-past narratives with lightning action and a bit of romance on the side, then this is the perfect read for you.

Hanna Kessler ( the heroine of the two previous Defender's of Justice series: neither of which I have read), must face demons and confront issues of trust when a past incident resurfaces.

A deeply Christian novel, Wallace does well at combatting difficult issues such as rape, racism, pornography and child molestation. She does in a manner deeply-rooted faith and the reader knows that the light she sheds is a portal through which she is transposing God's Grace from reality to a fictional story. Wallace does well to show perspectives from both the heroine and criminal perspective.

In a poignant author's note at the end, Wallace reveals her own history of rape.

Her novel is a gripping message tied up in thrilling fiction.

Visit here to find out where you can get a copy of Enduring Justice and Amy Wallace's other novels online.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

random: the thinking girl's guide to coping with panic

This past week has been very stressful for me with work and with getting legal documents together.

I have had many moments mid-scrambling, where my usually effervescent personality and positive outlook have been challenged by all-too-human foible and circumstance.

I hate not having everything in order and not being prepared for things. I am a plotter, a planner, a to-do list maker.

On top of looming allergies and those horrible stress feelings you get when you find things are spinning out of your control, I have had to push through to get everything done and in order.

The week has been a bit of a blur. But, I realize in the midst of it, how fortunate I am. My job is high-pressure at this time of year but only because it needs to make a difference in literacy and I am grateful I work in a recession-proof area.

I have had boxes of gorgeous, shiny galleys show up on my doorstep and although an ARC by one of my absolute favourite authors will probably not be read until this scuffle is over, I recognize how fortunate I am to receive such lovely books from a range of publishers. (and I smile just itching to pick up my new ARC !!)

I had two wonderful laugh-til-you-cry conversations on Friday night: the first with my friend who I am in visiting in Boston next week ( she and I can laugh at anything and I couldn’t breathe I was chuckling so hard when I was yipping with her ) and the second with a friend here in Toronto: a giddy, late night conversation that had us in stitches.

I wouldn’t trade those moments for anything. My friends are my second family and few people are blessed with such a tight group as I am.

Though Saturday was spent plowing through work-ish things, I had a great night out on Saturday with another friend --- he and I just HAD to see Wolverine together. And had ice cream, too!

On Sunday I had brunch with a coworker and we caught a matinee of Earth: a movie that proved to me, beyond shadow of a doubt, that our universe and its creatures are spun into orbit by an attentive and loving God.

Book-reading was sparse but bookshelves were cleaned and organized and gave me a little happy hippity feeling: all those glossy covers waiting for their pages to be tilted back and their secrets to be revealed.

To counter the stress of this week, I have relied on some “in case of emergency” tactics. EVERYONE should have them for weeks like mine:

--the gym: it keeps me hopping and with a great ( albeit embarrassingly pop) playlist

--Road to Avonlea: this series is Canada’s Little house on the Prairie---poignantly nostalgiac and based loosely on two novels and an array of short stories by the subject of my thesis, LM Montgomery. The early seasons are charming and remind me of summer Sunday evenings in Goderich Ontario—where I spent my childhood)

--smarties!: Canadian m&ms

--phone calls to fantastic friends

--Villette: by Charlotte Bronte, this book is one of the most underappreciated over her works. It is a book which has that all-important familiar feeling. I like books that let me sink into them, recognize myself in them and take me to home. This is one such book

--The Blue Castle by LM Montgomery. As well as a few favourite Psalms, this book is my “panic attack” book. When things are seemingly unraveling at the seams, there is no book more empowering than Montgomery ’s fairytale of romance and emancipation. I think part of the book’s allure is its familiar setting. It is geographically positioned about ½ hour from the town where I grew up so Montgomery’s fresh, fragrant and poetic descriptions ( of which there are lots) remind me of the green and blue grandeur of home…. And the cottage in Muskoka where my family spent their summers. Add to that more than a dash of romance and an independent heroine and I am hooked. It is one of my favourite novels.

--BBC Miniseries: can anything cure any real life problem like a slip into the escapism of another time? This weekend’s pick was the most recent BBC adaptation of Tess of The D’Urbervilles. Of course, Hardy’s novel is full of pathos and tragedy, but it is beautifully filmed and I cried and cried.

I first read Tess ( I have read it numerous times ) in high school and I remember for the first time that I grasped the conceptualization of double standard.

I hope that you have a list of In Case of Emergency tactics to help you deal with any of the stresses that pervade our existence.

Happy Reading !