Friday, April 29, 2011


Sarah Addison Allen does it again

Reader, I love this lady’s books! Love them!

I also sort of love her. Just join her facebook page or read her random Sarah Addison Allen facts on her exceptionally amusing website and you will be charmed.

Allen writes for the everywoman. If you speak “girl”, you will LOVE Sarah Addison Allen. She pays attention to the slight magic that silvers every day experiences, she turns fairytales out of the ordinary and she crafts romantic twists, spins and turns that will send your heart thudding. Moreover, her recipe is made of the ingredients of normalcy. She makes you believe that this could happen to you and drives it home with characters, towns and instances painted with utter realism.

If you have a heart, a penchant to believe in the extraordinary and the slightest will to imagine the impossible, then Sarah Addison Allen’s well-defined characters make you believe that something is just waiting for you around a colourful corner--- in the same way it is waiting for them.

You cannot JUST read the Peach Keeper. Buy it and savour it, yes, but know that when you turn the last page that a.) you will go and thumb through the book to re-visit your favourite parts b.) you will immediately want to revisit Sarah Addison Allen Land and will be itching to get your hands on anything else she has written.

If you have read and enjoyed Alice Hoffman, Angela Carter, Fannie Flagg, Billie Letts , Cathy Lamb or Rebecca Wells, you will LOVE Sarah Addison Allen. I argue that she is the best of all because, like the best authors, she allows her personality drip through into every word.

There is something comforting about reading a Sarah Addison Allen book, something that spirits you to a time and place you are nostalgic for ( even if you never lived there), something that folds you in the relaxing aura of home. Care-free and shoes-kicked-off, you’ll sink into her story and not want to leave.

At the center of the Peach Keeper are two remarkable women: former high-school prankster Willa Jackson and socialite Paxton Osgoode. Though their paths have crossed numerous times in the small town of Walls of Water, North Carolina, deeply-hidden family secrets, twists of romance, and the excavation of the dark and disturbing past plaguing the renovation of the Blue Ridge Madam inn bind them together in a way that asserts and exhibits both of their strengths and weaknesses. Though starkly different, Willa and Paxton’s pasts, determination and flaws complement each other remarkably. You will see a little of yourself in each of these heroines ( as you will in all of Addison Allen’s heroines) and you will root for their triumphs and the romance that awaits each in the least likely of places.

This is a marvelous, engaging, curl-up-with-a-cup-of-tea book that will have you sighing for hours after you leave it.

At times painful, romantic, sparkling, mysterious and humourous, you will live for the characters and hope every last thread will be tied into a knot worthy of their happy endings.

Don’t worry---they will be.

Alongside my copy of the Peach Keeper, I received a Yankee Candle---peach flavoured and featuring the book’s delicious cover.

What a treat!

But, the best treat of all was the arrival of a new Sarah Addison Allen--- she’s a book drug if ever there was one

Follow the TLC Blog Tour here:

My sincere thanks to TLC for granting me the privilege of diving into a new Allen book!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

So THIS is what Lynn Austin Sounds Like...

Everyone in the world knows that I am a HUGE Lynn Austin fan.

Love her! LOVE HER! love her!

Consider this paragraph from my review of Fire by Night, my favourite of her reams of excellent novels:

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.

Yah. I love her work. I do! I do! Back when I had twitter ( if you all remember), I started a Lynn Austin #hashtag campaign just before the release of her novels. Good times. Very few people subscribed; but I persevered.

Annnnyways.... I discovered this interview with Bethany House today. Why this elates me? If I have read an author's voice for so long, I am always interested to hear what they sound like. I got to hear Ms. Austin's voice for the first time as she elaborates on the writing process, speaks to the moving Though Waters Roar, takes us through the development of While We're Far Apart and even hints at the book publishing in October. Listen to this!

What stood out for me?

Her discussions on:

Characters taking lives on their own

-The strange and providential intervention that kick-started her career

-The challenges of writing during the distraction of real life.

-Her belief that the intended message will get across without preaching to it in a blatant way.

-A bulletin board of templates

-Finding her interconnected themes ( which are always poignant, potent and moving) after writing large chunks of the novel.

I hope you enjoy as much as I did!

Sunday, April 24, 2011


“Easter Our imitation of God in this life -- that is, our willed imitation, as distinct from any likenesses which He has impressed upon our natures or our states -- must be an imitation of God Incarnate. Our model is the Jesus, not only of Calvary, but of the workshop, the roads, the crowds, the clamorous demands and surly oppositions, the lack of all peace and privacy, the interruptions. For this, so strangely unlike anything we can attribute to the divine life in itself, is apparently not only like, but is, the divine life operating under human conditions.” --C.S. Lewis

Christianity is a power religion. Christ has the power to re-create men from the inside out, as every man who has ever met Him knows. --Peter Marshall

“Continuing a short series of verse on Christ: Hard it is, very hard, To travel up the slow and stony road To Calvary, to redeem mankind; far better To make but one resplendent miracle, Lean through the cloud, lift the right hand of power And with a sudden lightning smite the world perfect. Yet this was not God's way, Who had the power, But set it by, choosing the cross, the thorn, The sorrowful wounds. Something there is, perhaps, That power destroys in passing, something supreme, To whose great value in the eyes of God That cross, that thorn, and those five wounds bear witness.” --Dorothy L. Sayers

Long my Imprisoned spirit lay,
fast bound in sin and nature's night;
thine eye diffused a quickening ray;
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
my chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed thee.
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed thee"
--Charles Wesley

Thursday, April 21, 2011

A Heart Most Worthy by Siri Mitchell

First off, I want to thank Ruth for sending this my way! Thank you, Ruth!
Next to Lynn Austin, Siri Mitchell is my favourite Christian writer in the historical genre and she gives us another strong offering in a series that focuses on fashion through the ages.

Here, the fashion theme is blatant: the story follows three young Italian seamstresses working for the formidable Mme. Fortier in 1917 Boston. The outside world is fraught with conflict: immigrants, anarchists, the Spanish Influenza, the American involvement in the Great War. Near home, Annamaria, Julietta and Luciana discover life and love in a delightful coming-of-age tale told in the style reminiscent of Montgomery or Alcott.

I should speak a little more to the narrative style. As proven in A Constant Heart and Love's Pursuit, Mitchell enjoys playing with narrative perspective in voice. In the glorious, INSPYs-winning, She Walks in Beauty ( which I certainly enjoyed reviewing and commenting on as a judge in the historical category ), it is ephemera: in society columns and newspaper clippings that informs Mitchell's unique narration.

I must admit that the voice in A Heart Most Worthy was grating on me at times: especially with consistent asides to the reader and with the same word ending a perspective and being used, in a slightly different context, to begin the next narrative point of view. However, I got used to it very quickly and it did not detract at all from my enjoyment of the story and its meticulous historical research. In fact, I am impressed by Mitchell's constant dedication to reinventing her story-telling technique. In a genre and market-place steeped in same-old, same-old tradition, it is nice that someone takes risk.

While Mitchell's narrative voice informs of many character triumphs and failings, it is still up to the reader to judge on their own while watching the action unfold.

There is plenty of action: from an assassinated count's daughter to a Romeo and Juliet love story between a young seamstress and the Sicilian grocer across the road to a passionate woman who skips confession to meet a sinister young man in questionable situations.

Mitchell handles the historical aspects, as always, with great fervour and respect and weaves them seamlessly into her tale. Moreover, she is true to the Catholic faith and tradition as it would have been the most prominent and lasting religion in the Italian Immigrant world. She is able to pursue great themes of faith and God's redemptive power in a religion not often at the forefront of evangelical Christian fiction ( Austin did this quite well with the Jewish faith in While We're Far Apart).

Perhaps my favourite thread in the story ( something I share with Books, Movies and Chinese Food's amazon review) is the developing love between Annamaria and the sweet grocer, Rafaello. In tradition, Annamaria, as eldest daughter, is expected to remain single, childless and devout to her family. When she meets the forbidden Sicilian grocer's son and begins a sweet, often wordless communication, she realizes that all of the dreams she has harboured guiltily for so long must become reality. She finds a voice, a backbone and the courage to attend to her own desires. Rafaello's devotion to her family, his enemies, is a great act of love (putting one in mind of the great sacrifice made in Love's Pursuit).

As per usual, I was delighted to have a new Siri Mitchell in my hands and I identified with aspects of each of the strong, different and equally amazing women and their plights in self-discovery and love.

Because I am such a massive Lynn Austin fan and because Austin excels at weaving multiple story and character lines within periods of history ( especially exploring a woman's place in a domestic sphere and in the greater sphere of historical significance), more than once my mind tried to conceptualize how she would deal with this experience were the plot submitted to her hand.

A great read and one I am sure will be seen on the INSPYs shortlist again.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Dear George Clooney, Please Marry my Mom by Susin Nielsen

Dear George Clooney: Please Marry My Mom by Susin Nielsen is a delightful middle-grade novel featuring a wonderfully spunky heroine. Recalling Judy Blume and Harriet-the-Spy, this coming-of-age tale is set in soggy Vancouver. A heroine whose mood and resoluteness is as steady as the steely-rain weather, Violet will steal your heart. Violet speaks right to us as she recalls the events that led to her director father leaving with the blonde bimbo star of a failed tv show. With their father living in Los Angeles with said blonde bimbo, Violet, her sister and her mother are left in a dilapidated house, scraping pennies and trying to get by. What’s worse, Violet’s mother insists on compulsive dating and when she sets her sights on the unfortunately named Dudley Weiner, Violet springs into action.

Divorce stories are nothing new in middle-grade fiction; but this one was teeming with realism. Violet’s embarrassment, awkwardness and roller-coaster emotions clearly established the author’s validity. I felt what Violet felt and even at her most mischievous, she was endearing. Rather like Harriet the Spy ( and at times with similar antics), Violet has the ability to be synonymously charming and prickly. When Violet decides that George Clooney is the only man for her mom and begins writing him deliciously detailed letters, the plot really springs into action. These letters alone make the novel worth reading. Nielsen has perfectly captured the pre-teen voice. Violet’s first crush, aversion to affection, desperation to avenge her mother’s honour and take vengeance on her father’s actions were vital, lucid and real. I was stunned by how well the author possessed the thoughts and psyche of a typical 7th grader. This offering from Tundra has received critical acclaim. In fact, it was that acclaim that led me to pick it up in the first place. I am glad I did.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Mildred Pierce Review

I started watching Mildred Pierce on HBO a few weeks ago and only finished it last evening. It is a long and gruesome production, ticking solemnly by-- very much as I imagine the dirty thirties did--- with nowhere to go and little money to spend things on ( to paraphrase Scout in To Kill A Mockingbird). Adapted from the James Cain novel--- which I vaguely remember reading in the insurmountable pile of books I read in high school and uni. ---it focuses on an ambitious woman in an unambitious time.

Mildred is a talented cook with a resolute spirit and more than a healthy dose of pride ( which is almost interpreted as snobbery in certain situations). When she learns her husband is having an affair, she kicks him out and falls prey as the victim of unpaid scandal. Not so long ago, no, but still in the age where women separated from their husbands had little chance at livelihood--- less of a chance during a country-wide depression.

Mildred scrapes by to raise her two daughters: the more formidable being the ghastly Veda, a snake-like red-head who is always ashamed of her mother, her circumstances and holds a general disdain for anything in her path. Veda's somewhat of a musical prodigy and Mildred worships her as a younger version of herself and does everything she can to ensure her happiness and opportunity.

A chance job as a waitress brings out Mildred's entrepreneurial side and soon Mildred is selling pies, opening chicken and waffle restaurants and carving a name and future for herself.

Veda is becoming more and more abhorrent and nothing that her resourceful and smart mother does is nearly good enough.

Mildred is a sensual and smart woman and has a few relationships that seem questionable in the still guarded and moral society of 1930s America. The most notable of these is with a dashing, be-moustached Monty: who can only afford to keep electricity in one wing of his sadly dust-gathered mansion. Mildred also retains a passable relationship with her first husband and with a friend and financial advisor named Wally.

As Veda grows older, Mildred, too, becomes prey to her daughter's vicious and manipulative personality. Coiled in her own pride and love and blinded by her insistence that Veda is just a stern and ambitious woman like herself, Mildred fails to see what the audience and nearly every other character in the miniseries does: that the central tragedy of the tale his Mildred's steadfast love for her daughter.

An almost surreal confrontation between Mildred and Veda is backed by a playfully eerie piano tune: weaving a carousel of melody that brings to light the almost vaudeville-esque antics of Veda and her puppetry of all around her: from her mother to Monty, the almost-step father she always held a disturbing attachment to.

What perhaps is most interesting about the film is how the camera lens shows but part of the unravelling of each scene. We are kept in periphery: never seeing the full picture. You'll catch glimpses of characters through slices of open windows, in the reflection of a doorframe they pass by, behind a passing car.... you are an established outsider, looking into this strange and well-formulated world.

As Veda's musicality progresses and upon discovery of her ultra talent as a bonafide coloratura, so does music play into the grand opus of the tale. I enjoyed the musical selection and thought Evan Rachel Wood did a passable job at lip synching the words from the beautiful voice cast as her double. The well-known standard, "I'm Always Chasing Rainbows", becomes a potent theme song for the eponymous character and her stumbles and strifes through 1930s California.

The locations were beautifully scouted and expertly filmed. The interiors were meticulously detailed and everything seemed a perfect recreation of the past. The costume changes were extensive (especially for Winslet and for the dozens and dozens of extras) and I fell in love with a vintage style that seems to be creeping back into our modern world.

As mentioned, this is a very moderately-paced miniseries (this from the girl who loves Dickens and Masterpiece Theatre) and is very tame for HBO. Perhaps the melodrama, iniquity, passion and blood we expect from this broadcasting corporation, is riddled in the character's ulterior motives and the underlying feelings and thoughts we are but given a small glimpse into.

The darker side, the inhuman and savage side, is most clearly seen in Veda: a heartless creature who will stop at nothing to rip out her mother's heart.

I have not see the Joan Crawford adaptation in years; but can well say that this decides not to play up on the noir aspects its predecessor did. Instead, this Mildred Pierce strips the less-obvious yet still telling and poignant struggles and circumstances, nuances and dialogue from its source material, crafting a solid, if slow, evaluation on the highs and lows of parental relationships amidst quelled ambition.

BOOKS in the NEWS!

Thursday, April 07, 2011

why women love Mr. Rochester

I was fortunate enough to do a guest post at Booktalk and More about WHY WE LOVE MR. ROCHESTER ( because we do).....This is part of Ruth's All Things Jane series which is super awesome.