Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Miracle on Regent Street by Ali Harris

Miracle on Regent Street is what would happen if Shop Around the Corner took Love, Actually on a date.

Evie is a sweetly good-natured stock-girl at the mythically nostalgic department store Hardy’s.  Hardy’s is her beloved: her parents met and wooed each other there, all good memories of childhood Christmases are confined in its spacious walls and its very essence reminds Evie of the eras by-gone she loves to recreate in decoration and wardrobe.  Though over-looked by the staff at the department store and known only incorrectly as Sarah the Stock Girl, Evie has formed a delicious type of family including the maven of the tea room and the delivery guy, Sam ( who has dimples --- you KNOW that's important to me ;) ).

When Evie learns, just before Christmas, that her beloved store may not make it through the holidays due to dwindling customers, she decides it needs a major revamp and makeover: one that will spirit it back into the past she loves. Using the glamour of Old Hollywood and her reverence for War Time fashion, Evie is like a little elf who sneaks in at night and revitalizes the department store from its minimalist and modern look to days of yore.  In turn, and largely without credit, Evie has overhauled the entire business and Hardy’s may make it after all….Evie’s love life, however, and her choice between a sweetly adorable teddy bear of a guy ( with a secret) and a dashing American who thinks she’s someone she’s not… may not be wrapped up with such a picture-perfect bow.

This is an adorable book, everyone. A co-worker snapped it up from a trip to the UK and brought it back to Canada before its anticipated release over our way. It’s a broad and breezy read tapered with an exceptionally acute sense of nostalgic fashion. It made me want to run out and buy a gold powder compact and brighten my lips a pearly, glistening red.  All of the ingredients you love in chicklit are right here --- including the fact that it is set in dazzling London weeks before Christmas --- but the department store family and scenario are what lend it a unique and colourful edge.

I quite enjoyed spending some time with these characters-- so choose a chilled March night, brew some tea, slink into an over-sized sweater and watch Evie come into her own.

Visit Ali Harris on the web

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Another blockbuster adaptation...

I know I never reviewed The Hunger Games on the bloggie here. I read the first book about 4 years ago and the subsequent two; but by then everyone was talking about them and I didn't feel I had anything to add to the pot....

This past week, I re-read the first book ( again I say, four years since I read it ) so that I could refresh my memory before I saw the film with friends yesterday.  It is a good book.  It is VERY fast-paced. It is a grade 8 teacher's dream-book for thematic enterprise.... characterization is great, even in minor  characters. DYSTOPIA FOR THE WIN.

The film: The film PROVES how strong an adaptation can be when the author of the novels works on the screenplay and consults on the script. Although this world was slightly different than the one I had in my head ( this is what happens with fantasy, n'est pas?) this is an EXCEPTIONAL adaptation. Friends who had not read the books, missed some of the major romantic elements and a lot of Katniss' motivations, as we are bereft of her dialogue in the novels and the inner workings of her strategic mind.... I, however, thought it was strong.

Also, because, as mentioned, I have never jumped on the "let's all blog about the Hunger Games" ship, I am Team Peeta.

And with that..... go forth and film watch.

[I'm not even linking to the books or imdb. You all know what this is.  You are inundated with it. I don't need to give you background information]

oh also..... Gale is ridiculously miscast in my opinion. But, I am not on his team, so who cares?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Accidental Bride by Denise Hunter

Cowboy Christian Chicklit? Does the genre even exist? Well, it does now thanks to Denise Hunter’s Accidental Bride: a whip-smart and sassy tale of Shay Brandenberger, a Montana rancher who is raising her daughter alone and Travis McCoy who left her high-and-dry at the altar when she was barely more than a teenager to earn fame and fortune on the Texan rodeo circuit.

In dire straits and threatened with the impending loss of her farm,  Shay begs God for a miracle--- what she didn’t bank on is Travis, a would-be guardian angel who steps in to ranch alongside her in the nick-of-time.

Hunter’s an extremely fresh and confident voice in the Christian contemporary romance genre. She has a knack for describing every day ranch life: from founder’s picnics to bull-wrangling and square dancing to little wood churches with age-old hymns drifting to the rafters.  Into this alluring canvas, she peppers her plot with two independently strong and striking people who are bound to be together; but just need a shove in the right direction.

When Travis and Shay learn that they are, indeed, and quite ironically ( and more than a little accidentally) legally married, they try to live in the same house without acting on their growing rekindled attraction.  But, soon, this marriage of convenience leads the way for accidental midnight-run-ins, sweet faithful gestures, stolen kisses and a whole lot of spice.

If you are looking for a summery light fiction read then I definitely recommend this thoroughly unique addition to the genre. I especially liked any scene where Shay’s delightfully brash friend Abigail showed up with her knowing sarcasm and winsome words: some in good advice, some just in healthy attraction for Shay’s new helpmate.

Buy the book on Amazon
Visit Denise Hunter on the web
Follow Denise on twitter: @deniseahunter

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Moment of [Cover] Zen

I really love this cover. It takes me to my happy place.

The book (according to Dorothy Love's website is out Fall 2012

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Turnabout's Fair Play by Kaye Dacus

This is the last in the Matchmaker’s series by Kaye Dacus. The first two novels focused on friends Zarah and Caylor: single, professional and intelligent women  in their 30s who navigate the Christian Singles Scene and dating world while hoping to bump into true love.  The third, features plucky editor Flannery McNeill: who wants nothing to do with handsome charming men and, to put it bluntly, is waiting for the perfect dork. 

As is the over-arching premise in the series, a set of feisty grandparents intends to pair up their grandchildren in order to ensure that they are marrying amongst each other and into comfortable stock.  Sports marketer Jamie O’Conner and Flannery are the latest to be eyed by the wily elder generation as the perfect match.  But, when Flannery and Jamie notice a spark between their grandparents, the matchmaking tables are turned.

Dacus knows the editing and publishing world very well as is quite evident in the novel. As this is the world I work in I was immediately familiar with the space and meetings and obligations of Flannery’s everyday life.  Dacus also, as often mentioned, has a wonderful grasp on the experience of single women in their 30s in faith-based communities. Not just average women; but thinking career women with wonderful jobs, a lot of backbone and a reluctance to settle for anything less than perfect.

Flannery and Jamie’s story played out in a lighter, bouncier fashion than the first two love stories in the series.  There is a lot of tongue-in-cheek here as well as some great epistolary moments featuring emails between the four main players in the book.  It was bubbly and light and kept the pace flying.  I appreciated the extra characters, like Jack Colby, Flannery’s boss ( who seemed gay to me--- an interesting portrayal in modern religious fiction) and Danny, Jamie’s longtime friend.

What really stole my heart and kept it the contradiction between Jamie’s killer good looks and polished demeanor and his passion for Arthurian legends,  gaming and online fanfiction.  Jamie is hilarious in his pursuit of all things pertaining to the legendary Sir Gawain. In fact, we learn that he and Danny would dress up to appear at blockbuster film openings of King Arthur movies (not unlike those Lord of The Rings fans we all know and…erm… love(?) )

This book was snappy and sweet and I like when a geek in chic clothing sets out to find a girl and gets one who, in turn, is just as hopelessly geeky as he is.

Cute book! Fun time! Back to finish the Ransome series and you will all have some more Kaye Dacus on the blog

The Monkey's Raincoat by Robert Crais (mostly just to talk about quotes)

Have you read this? Read it. FUNNY STUFF!

Remember how the best part of the Nero Wolfe series is Archie Goodwin--- well, actually Archie’s amazingly sarcastic lines?---- get ready to love Elvis Cole ( if you don’t already love Elvis Cole)

I have read Robert Crais sporadically; but had never gone to the beginning of the series and this is a strong debut and so edgy; even for its initial publication...And while Elvis Cole isn’t EXACTLY like Archie Goodwin, it’s that sparkly sarcastic quipping and delineating observation of character that drives the book at breakneck speed.

Elvis has a Jiminy Cricket collection and wants to be Peter Pan. He’s funny. So funny. So fresh. I immediately thought of Spenser; but found Joe Pike to be more appealing (if as reserved on the talking front) as Hawk.

There are a couple of things I especially like about Robert Crais. First, his background is in screenwriting so there is a palpably tangible tension to his action that plays very much like a film rolling in your mind’s eye. Secondly, and somewhat famously, though often offered, Crais has refused to sell the rights to the Pike/Cole novels as he continues to write them---preferring his readers to have their own imaginative conceptualization of his characters.  While this is somewhat contradictory of one who has worked so steadily in the television market, it just shows that he recognizes the dichotomy between imagination and adaptation and further proves that he is not willing to sell out. For me, this shows a lot of authorial integrity.

I am just about finished Taken: which is night and day from Monkey’s Raincoat: and the most recently released Pike/Cole novel. It burns rubber this book flies by so fast; but Crais whittles down prose with intention, he knows what descriptors to leave in and where the mind can easily paint a canvas he refuses to fill in.

Now, for a couple of quotes from Monkey's Raincoat I laughed at and loved:

"It's easy to sound good. All you have to do is leave in the parts where you act tough and forget the parts where you get shoved around."

“I took a deep breath and smiled sweetly. “I’m going to check around outside,” I said. It was either that, or hit them with a chair”

“The rich black of the canyon was dotted with jack-o’-lantern lit houses, orange and white and yellow and red in the night. Where the canyon flattened out into Hollywood and the basin beyond, the lights concentrated into thousands of blue-white diamonds spilled over the earth.”

“I woke up just before nine the next morning and caught the tail end of Sesame Street. Today’s episodes was brought to us by the letter D. For Depressed Detective”

Read this

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Happy International Women's Day

Happy International Women's Day ---to celebrate, I thought I would feature a woman who inspires me daily: my sister Leah.

Leah making some new friends
Leah is a professor at Tyndale University with a phd in Global Governance. She has dedicated much of her adult life to campaigning for education as a universal right.  She is so well-beloved in Africa, a continent she has traversed across doing research, working for CIDA and infiltrating with her passion for its culture and people, she has been affectionately known as Mama Africa.  Leah speaks Swahili and makes friends everywhere---with everyone. I have never met anyone with such a genuine love and zest for humanitarianism than Leah. She evokes Gandhi's immortal statement that we must be the change we wish to see in the world.

Recently, Leah was in Senegal under a taut political climate and there she was able to meet and befriend a Sengalese boy. She articulately recounted this experience.  Why Leah's experiences always stand out is that she goes expecting to be changed and allows it to happen. She does not approach a culture believing that she will be the change or inference it needs; rather, she becomes a vessel ready to be filled by the experience. If you go somewhere expecting to leave and indelible print, the result can be forced and can contradict the purest forms of  International Relationships in a developing world. If instead, you approach the situation as a blank, open page hoping to be intercepted by life-altering moments, then both parties will be positively effected by the ramification.

AMADOU  printed with permission by Leah McMillan
Yesterday I met Morninga on the street - a Senegalese man about my age who makes a living selling paintings, wood carvings, and various other artifacts.  His shop is directly across from the guesthouse where I'm staying, meaning that I was able to hang out in his shop for quite a while last night knowing that I could simply run back to my room when manifestations broke out (yes, it's more 'when' rather than 'if' right now).

Yes, he wants a white wife, but beyond that little barrier to our friendship, I really learned a lot from our chat.
Like all Senegalese at the moment, his shop was tuned into the radio.  It was blasting in Wolof (interspersed with the soundtrack from Chariots of Fire - no joke!) and he was able to translate for me the current tensions in the country.

In Senegalese culture, if you're talking with someone or a group of people for a while, you must take 'taya', small little cups of traditional tea.  So, as we were chatting away, his brother, about 12 years of age, came into the shop and offered me and Morninga the taya.  His brother, Amadou, only speaks Wolof, but I was able to say the few small words I now know.
He laughed at my butchering of his language, we became friends, and he left Morninga and I to continue our chatting.

This morning, Amadou was on the street and again I chatted with him - small greetings ('salaams') to start the day.

About an hour and a half ago, I was coming home when I ran into Morninga and Amadou again.  I entered Morninga's shop and again we began to chat, as I learned more about the political tensions in the country.
So, again, Amadou left and came back with the taya.

As I was getting ready to leave, Amadou began to say something to his brother in Wolof.  Morninga immediately began taking a painting off display and rolling it.  "Amadou wants to give this to you as a gift."
I quickly replied, " No, no, it's too much."  This painting was a fairly large size and could honestly get him quite a profit, especially living across from a guesthouse with so many tourists.

Morninga quickly interjected that this was a very special moment because it was the first painting Amadou had ever made.

In Senegalese culture it is rude to refuse a gift, but I felt very embarrassed, so I inquired further.
Why was he giving me such an honour with this special gift?!

Amadou, through Morninga's translation, began to explain that normally tourists simply walk by without greeting or stopping.  Amadou liked that I was kind to him, that I took time for the taya, and that I remembered him even the next day in the morning.  He saw me on the street playing soccer with other kids and talking to everyone and he could tell I had a kind heart that didn't care about the difference between black and white people.  I was so kind he wanted to do something special for me.  All this out of the mouth of a 12 year-old! 

Obviously I began to tear in the shop.
Then Amadou, a Muslim boy who has never in his life touched a woman outside his immediate family gave me another special honour - I got a hug :)  It was a VERY awkward hug...but a hug nonetheless.
I told Amadou that I will hang his painting in a special place in my home so I remember to pray for him everyday.

I'm not writing this story to brag about myself.  There are so many times when I rush through life too quickly, when I don't take time to greet people, to smile, to really get to know every person I meet.
But I do write this story to share with you about a little boy named Amadou.
A little boy who was wearing the same ratty t-shirt (labelled 'Burberry') two days in a row.  A little boy who probably owns nothing else to wear.

A little boy who found it in his heart to give me one of his most precious possessions - the very first painting he ever made.
Coming from an artisan family, this is probably his life's profession, especially given that he speaks only Wolof and no French (an indication that he doesn't go to school).  And I have the privilege of hanging his first painting in my home.

And you know what he wanted in return?  Nothing.  Absolutely nothing.
He didn't ask for money.  He didn't as for "un petit cadeau".  He didn't ask for a visa.  He didn't even ask for me to marry his brother.

I dropped down on this country for merely a week, taking away so much, and giving back so little.
If you read the media out of Senegal right now, you'd think that this was a chaotic country, with thousands of angry, conflict-causing, rioters.  Boistrous.  Hateful.  Violent.

But in the short time I've been here, the Senegal I know is the one displayed by Amadou.  Caring.  Generous.  Thoughtful.
As I hear of teargas and grenades, as I hold onto the backseat while my car departs from the burning wreckage of protester barricades, as I run from stones thrown by protesters...

As the media makes sure that all of the above is the only story out of Africa...

I clutch my painting, I tear over dinner, and I remember...
Africa is not just politics, war, famine or hardship.
Africa, in its purest form, at its very heart, is Amadou.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

A Menu for Romance and A Case for Love by Kaye Dacus


So, I think you all remember I bought a 3-1 Brides of Bonneterre set at a Christian bookstore about a month ago and I read Stand-in Groom right away.

Well, I just finished Menu for Romance and A Case for Love: featuring friends and family to the Guidry family: a prominent aspect of the mythical town of Bonneterre, Louisiana. Indeed, Bonneterre becomes a character of its own: a Cajun-laced spicy sphere of historic buildings, Southern charm, delectable dishes, sticky heat, sprawling plantations and a plentitude of events and weddings to be planned, by Anne Laurence nee Hawthorne (of Stand-in Groom) and Meredith Guidry and Major O’Hara, planner and chef alike.

I really enjoyed spending time in the world of these characters. The plots of each novel in the trilogy were easily usurped by the friendly nature of the characters. At more than one point in each tale, I was surprised not to look up and find myself sitting across from one of them over a glass of sweet tea.

 A Menu for Romance softly etches the slow-blooming love story between Chef Major O’Hara and event planner Meredith Guidry. Unbeknownst to both of them, they have each harboured a mutual flame for 8 years; however Major’s complicated family life and Meredith’s certainty that Major is attracted to the beautiful news reporter, Alaine Delacroix, keep their paths from crossing until much, much later in the story.  Like all good romances, you know before the characters do what will bring their eventual happiness and you wait, on baited hook, for them to catch up. Elements I appreciated about this story include the amount of knowledge Dacus displays about culinary arts and cooking shows.  I found all of these scenes in Major’s world to be authentic. Further, Major’s mother suffers from Schizophrenia and the compassionate scenes involving her care at a supervised facility, Major’s terms with his mother and their mutual love of John Wayne movies was a treat to read.

A Case for Love finds beautiful Alaine Delacroix at odds with charming lawyer Forbes Guidry when she understands that the Guidry enterprise might be over-taking her family business, she tries desperately to quell her developing interest in the charming lawyer in order to secure her family business and name. Several misguided turns, misunderstandings and a few ballroom dancing lessons help pave the way to eventual happiness. The strongest element of this novel is the characterization of Forbes. I must confess when I first “met” him in Stand-in Groom, he rubbed me the wrong way. I think this was intentional on Dacus’ part and she carefully fleshed him out into a fully-realized sympathetic character in the third novel. While he didn’t capture my heart to the extent Major O’Hara and George Laurence did (perhaps, like his romantic counterpart Alaine, because they both seem to physically represent the “traditional” movie-star couple), I did enjoy reading his ups and downs in the dating world. In fact, the dating world is explored more closely here than in the previous two novels due to one of Forbes’ successful enterprises: an online dating site called Let’s Do Coffee.

I really enjoyed the ballroom dancing sequences and the careful way Dacus coupled dance skills with the talkative and sometimes clashing relationship of Forbes and Alaine.

I am now working through the last two novels in the Ransomeseries: so Dacus will pop up on this blog again soon!

Happy reading all!

Saturday, March 03, 2012

The Merchant's Daughter by Melanie Dickerson

Over a year ago, I was thrilled to read and review The Healer's Apprentice by what I found to be an essential voice for the Christian teen market. I will be the first to say that the Christian market is decidedly lacking in strong fiction for teenagers; but Dickerson is changing that and she is a welcome voice. Like The Healer's Apprentice and its soft re-telling of the Sleeping Beauty tale, The Merchant's Daughter re-positions the Beauty and the Beast story in feudal England. The titular merchant's daughter, Annabel, becomes conscripted servant to Lord Ranulf le Wyse,  a harsh, enigmatic master to whom she is indentured to serve to pay a family debt. 

Ranulf le Wyse is a very Byronic figure who immediately put me in mind of Edward Rochester.  Due to an accident years earlier, his hand is disfigured, his face blighted with a scar and his blinded eye hidden behind a patch. Ranulf is the beast figure in the story: a worthy and brash counterpart to the beautifully-spirited Annabel.

This is a delicious love story; but not only because it believably metes out the growing attraction between the lord of the manor and his fair servant. Dickerson does well at infusing the novel with the Christianity which would have been prevalent to residents of this era and sphere. For example, the Holy Writ is available only through the Latin Vulgate. The denomination is completely Catholic and women are scorned for reading: especiall scripture. Annabel, having been once a wealthy merchant's daughter speaks and reads numerous languages and, as part of her servitude to Lord le Wyse, reads daily to him from his own treasured copy of the Bible. 

Often characterized in several of the re-tellings of this tale, is the role of an enchantress or seductress who serves at the initial fall of the Beast figure. Here, we learn that Ranulf is a widower once seduced by the beauty of one who did not love him; rather his station and monetary value.  To further emphasize the temptress motif, Dickerson does well at reminding the reader of the garish view of women during these primitive times.  Women, as preached by the priest at the pulpit, were seen to be the fall of man, seen to be deceptive forces, even more so if blessed with the beauty of one such as Annabel. Ranulf muses: "Beautiful women weren't to be trusted or allowed into a man's heart when that man was less than perfect. He'd learned that lesson well." At one point the priest explains how dangerous reading is to a woman: "I am not sure your motives are pure. A woman reading the Word of God? Are you able to interpret the Scriptures? You aren't even dedicated to God. Never said your vows. Nay. You are to rely upon your priest to give you the interpretation  of God's Word. I will tell you what you need to know."  As you can see, Annabel is victim of a patriarchal word where men were not only to be the studious conveyers of the scripture, they were in charge of interpreting it for women and the common public.  This is years before Luther and years before the veil was torn to allow for a public personification of the Holy Word. Annabel's desire to draw closer to the faith that has been represented to her in her minimal encounters with the Bible is often thwarted by the separation marring her to her position and her sex. 

Indeed, the greatest beauty found in the story is the pure-hearted nature of Annabel and it is this, rather than the physical grace of her movement and countenance that ultimately wins the hand of the Lord. Their relationship becomes further secured when they share the Holy Word together: Annabel thirsty to learn more about Christ in writing (so much so that she considers entering a nunnery just to be near it).

The research in this writing is wonderful and you really do feel like you peel back centuries to step into Annabel and Lord Le Wyse's time. I also found the descriptive writing and imagery to be a beautifully-woven tapestry; an apt canvas for Dickerson's renewal of a fairy tale.... like this sentence: "...she once again caught sight of the sky, which had bruised blue and purple with clouds and threatened rain"  or "...his shoulders swayed, like a hewn tree just before it collapses."

The faith in this book is well met with the time period, as mentioned. But, is rather inspiring as well. "How wonderful to know that Jesus didn't condemn women like the priest did. Even with a sinful woman, He didn't rant about how evil she was."  Nearing the end of the novel, Ranulf and Annabel discuss my favourite portion of the Bible, found in Romans 8:1 and the the theme of condemnation and Christ's atoning grace intercepts again.

For those who are familiar with the Disneyfied portrayal of the story: there is a rose, there is the sacrifice of Ranulf to put his love for Annabel before his own desire to keep her.... it goes on and on in a colourful carousel and the pages will rapidly slip between your fingers.

I found this to be even stronger than The Healer's Apprentice and I cannot WAIT until Dickerson's next tale.

Go read her blog
Buy the book

ORILLIAN books in the NEWS

While I have lived in Toronto for over a decade,  my hometown is Orillia, ON. where my parents still live.

Excitingly, a young up-and-coming author with Harper Collins Canada is also from Orillia.  I remember meeting Matt in passing and I wish him all of the greatest success on his new book.

I plan to read The Carpenter when my review schedule dies down a little bit and will let you all know if, indeed, it elicits the comparison to Mystic River, so boasted by the enthusiastic editor.

GO ORILLIA!  ...and fiction that shows apt shadier sides of Leacock's Sunshine City.

Read about The Carpenter in The National Post
Purchase on Amazon
Take a closer look at the Harper Collins Canada page