Friday, November 27, 2009

To Dance at the Palais Royale by Janet McNaughton

This book has been sitting on my shelf for years and I never picked it up. So, preparing for a bus ride to London for a long weekend, I tossed it in my bag and read it while waiting for the bus then finished it on the bus. It is a quick, lovely, languid read.

Aggie leaves her large family and domestic role as a housekeeper in Scotland to move to Canada in the late 1920s. Toronto's elite hanker after the idea of British and Scottish domestic workers and Aggie has no trouble securing a position in the Deer Park area of Toronto ( near St. Clair West and Yonge).

I live in Forest Hill ( very near where the Stockwood`s mansion would be fictionally set )and felt that I was transported back to a city I love in Aggie`s time. The streetcars rumbled, yes, but over tracks still primitive and new; Royal York on Front Street had not finished completion; Union Station ( which McNaughton describes as a hallowed, hollow cathedral ) stood loftily as the biggest building Aggie had ever seen and the mythical Sunnyside park near the harbour was filled with stands selling redhots; dance pavilions; mirth and merriment.

McNaughton spins us into a world of colour and prosperity in a booming post-war Canada. Aggie meets Rose, an indelible flapper; Rodney a posh Queens undergrad who shirks his father`s stock business to pursue history and Rachel, a domestic servant like herself sponsored by an upstanding man named Moshe: who saves her from the travesty of liquidation and hardship in pre-Nazi Poland.

This world: the markets and kiosks of Spadina when clashed with the ferries to Center Island; the upscale Rosedale mansions; luncheons at the King Edward and traipses around Eatons and Simpsons is a finely rendered friction.

McNaughton does well at painting the often invisible line between classes ( and the internal skepticism of jewish residents and other immigrants like Rachel) as Aggie weaves in and out with little more than a fancy dress and a few well-thought lies.

Having experienced all corners of bustling Toronto: prejudice, social injustice, women`s burgeoning roles, sexual awakening and a strengthening independence, she is able to carve her own world and leave her own stamp on the booming city: this includes meeting a wonderfully painted Newfoundlander named Will with a sing-song dialect and a lackadaisical way about him.

Each dialect from each of the worlds Aggie visits ( including her own Scotch dialect ) are perfect.

The story is brilliantly told and unfolds so subtly you are swept up in its simple beauty.

I heartily hope that McNaughton abandons the more stark and futuristic novels of her recent distopian fiction and returns to more yarns like this one.

Beautiful, historical, full of promise. Ending on a shrill, high note that even the lingering Stock Crash ( waiting around the corner like a tiger with teeth pried open ) can sever and mute.


Highly recommended

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

death to KINDLE

Dear Bloggosphere,

on the occasion of the Kindle being available in Canada:

Books were invented to be read. READ THEM! Open them, smell them, hold them. Run your fingers along their spines. Give them as gifts, covet and cuddle and coddle them. ….

Books: the platform of imagination, theory, critique, thoughts-taking-form ………. All scintillatingly fit into one harmless little square of paper and ink; of smell and light.

BOOKS Are TANGIBLE! Make your reading experience tangible. Hold your book! Run your fingers on perforated pages; feel the glassy, glossy imprint of a sheen sheet between your fingers.

Or, alternatively, buy a piece of technology and download your words onto an unfeeling ipod. Who wants to curl up with a fireplace, a candle, a blanket and ….an ipod?

This holiday season buy your books from bookstores! Read books! … not files….

Save pdfs and the like for work and blogging and, you know, internet things…..

Books are for reading. Read them. Buy them.

You can’t fit an electric file into a stocking. …. ( perchance you can but not much fun, is it)

This Christmas BOYCOTT the Canadian Kindle, walk into your favourite bookstore and buy a real book.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Fire By Night by Lynn Austin

publisher: Bethany House

rating: ****

Fire By Night may be my favourite novel of the year. This is a big statement coming from a bibliophile, I know, but when I think of Lynn Austin’s works I think of how they differ from my usual run-of-the-mill reading and reviewing. Though the second in the Refiner's Fire Series: each tackling a different perspective (north, south, slave ) of the Civil War, it can be read as a stand-alone.

I usually look for expert characterization, deftly-woven plot, some humour, some sparkle, some originality: some historical what-have-you in my historicals; some carefully-planted mayhem in my murder mysteries; the books that make me giggle and clap and gasp at their brilliance ( I have said before, I am an effusive reader). Lynn Austin ignites all of these things.

What makes Lynn Austin special to me ( for special she is ) is the fact that her works hit me on a deeper, spiritual level.

This is not mere infatuated emotionalism: the kind I reserve for the books I love, love, love. Austin validates in an erudite and carefully plotted fashion the role and journey of any woman of faith

Reading a Lynn Austin book for me is empowering: spiritually, emotionally, personally.

When her profundities surge through the page I am not just rattled in my usual “La! Such brilliance fashion”; but rattled, rather, to the core.

If I am having an off-kilter moment, if I am grappling at some truth in relation to Christianity if I am feeling, what with all my passionate opinions and strict independence, like I do not fit the mold of the ideal Christian woman ---Lynn Austin makes it okay.

As aforementioned in previous blog entries, Austin’s greater thesis ( what strings each of her books though splayed through different historical periods together) is the role of women : in the church; in history; as part of God’s master plan.

And Austin allows us to find malleability in these roles. Rather than dictate: This! is the ideal or This! suits a woman to her greater purpose, she extends and stretches and validates whatever a Woman chooses ---as long as---- and here is the deliciously jubilant caveat--- as long as your role aligns with the Master’s.

I can think of no more wonderful and empowered subservience.

In Fire by Night, two very different women stretch the bounds of society’s constriction and find God’s plan in anomalous ways: Phoebe clads herself in male attire and joins the army; prim and society-bred Julia finds greater purpose in working as a nurse.

Romance is involved, yes, but only ordained if it enhances the already well-established independence of the woman.

For example, Julia’s eventual suitor loves the traits ( her outspokenness, her defiance, her scorn of all that is “ societally” approved” ) that her previous and erstwhile suitor Nathaniel disdained.

Both women make up two parts of a whole: both strengths ( decidedly different and yet interconnected) allow each to establish God’s purpose.

This is not feminism, nor equalism so much as God-driven purpose .

A woman, argues the novel, can be any role: be it domestic, a “man’s role”; a servant’s role as long as she is aligned with God.

One such instance has Julia questioning her burgeoning station away from her heritage and upbringing. Having oft-heard her fiancé Nathaniel’s talk of God’s purpose, she rallies with a truthful cry to the extent of a question: Can’t women hear God’s voice and follow His purpose too? In a male dominated society, entrenched in tradition and war, Julia and Phoebe are caught at the turning of the tide. No longer, argues Austin, will women be content to stay underappreciated in the household, not when circumstance has forced them out to the front and to hone the God-given skills they were made for.

I have underlined and highlighted numerous passages in Fire By Night and, though a historical novel, I feel it is surged with the message that I needed as a young and independent struggling to find what God wants: be it through the traditional structure afforded women --- or by blazing a path, not as severe as Phoebe’s place in war but just as important.

Austin sends a much-needed jolt when it is needed most . Her arguments are sound; her message pronounced and strong and the fact that she is a gorgeous writer heightens her validity.

Yes, this is a compulsively readable novel of romance, war, adventure and coming-of-age and self. Yes, it has mystery and wonder and heart-pulsing moments but, to me ,it is so much more: it is Austin’s medium for empowering women: for rallying a cry with the oft-forgotten message that ( to steal from “Though Waters Roar”, her latest book): “God never expects us to be anyone but ourselves.” Phoebe and Julia; dimensional and flawed are walking encapsulations of this: God never asks them to surrender who they are but embraces each flaw, validates them and appraises their purpose--- no matter how far stretched, no matter how improper, no matter how unexpected.

I encourage every one to find a Christian author who speaks to them in this way---- for you’ll soon realize ( as is so wonderful and such a jubilant anomaly in the trade) that they are being directed by a much higher purpose to propel you to what you might need to hear: be it through theology, fiction, letter, prose ….

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Friday, November 06, 2009

FUN FALL READS: a WaterBrook Blog Tour

Happy Fall!

Happy November!

Our friends at WaterBrook ( a company to which I am quite partial) have a great initiative for Christian Book Bloggers called Blogging for Books ! Great incentive! Great alliteration! Sign.Me.Up.

So, they sent me fun fall reads at a perfect time: just before two weeks of extensive travel across my great country where I spent meals and evenings wiling through the best and brightest of Christian chicklit:

Two Melody Carlsons = One Tamara Leigh= FALL.FUN.FUN.FALL.

First, off Leaving Carolina by Tamara Leigh:

Leaving Carolina is a colourfully spun charmer sure to delight chicklit fans. I must confess, my interest in the book was heightened by a character spotlight featured in Relz Reviews: wherein gardener Axel is compared to Russell Crowe in my favourite film, Master and Commander. One moment of Russell Crowe with a roguish queue a la Lucky Jack in the movie and I was willing to be whisked away.

The wonderfully alliterative Piper Pickwick is a top notch PR person in glamorous LA who shines at ironic out the wrinkly problems of the elite. Having shed pounds, half of her name ( she now goes by Wick) and her accent, Piper is reluctant to return home to unearth some seedy family secrets and come to the rescue of an aging uncle. Established and successful, these legal matters threaten to excavate a past she wants to stay buried.

Piper soon begins to see those around her in a different light, has more than one sparkly moment with the gardener and uncovers who she is and who God wants her to be.

Endearing moments, bittersweet recollections and a subtly blooming romance are sure to entertain.

A bright and breezy read which fans will find followed in Nowhere, Carolina .


What Matters Most: a Melody Carlson for the younger fry:

From The Editor:Sixteen-year-old Maya Stark has a lot to sort through. She could graduate from high school early if she wants to. She’s considering it, especially when popular cheerleader Vanessa Hartman decides to make her life miserable–and Maya’s ex-boyfriend Dominic gets the wrong idea about everything.To complicate matters even more, Maya’s mother will be released from prison soon, and she’ll want Maya to live with her again. That’s a disaster waiting to happen. And when Maya plays her dad’s old acoustic guitar in front of an audience, she discovers talents and opportunities she never expected. Faced with new options, Maya must choose between a “normal” life and a glamorous one. Ultimately, she has to figure out what matters most.

From Rachel: Maya was spunky, spirited and sounded quite a lot like teenagers her age. She struggles with self confidence, acceptance and, yes, boys but ultimately discovers grace and compassion.

And then:

Limelight Melody Carlson of a different generation. From Rachel:A Norma Desmond-esque story about wilted fame and beauty and uncovering truth inside. At times heartbreaking ( a once adored star abandoned by a willing throng and reduced to a home for the aged) and uplifting as our sassy heroine with spirit and vigour turns her heart inside out and replaces desperate nostalgia with current contentment.

Says the Editor: Claudette Fioré used to turn heads and break hearts. She relished the glamorous Hollywood lifestyle because she had what it takes: money, youth, fame, and above all, beauty. But age has withered that beauty, and a crooked accountant has taken her wealth, leaving the proud widow penniless and alone.Armed with stubbornness and sarcasm, Claudette returns to her shabby little hometown and her estranged sister. Slowly, she makes friends. She begins to see her old life in a new light. For the first time, Claudette Fioré questions her own values and finds herself wondering if it’s too late to change.

As the holiday season approaches, I am sure these titles will come in handy as stocking stuffers. Cross of a few avid readers on your list and pair them with a great book under the tree!

I would like to sincerely thank WaterBrook/Multnomah for sending review copies of the aforementioned.