Sunday, December 29, 2013

Christmas Reads

I have read...

Stones for Bread  by Christa Parrish (keep you posted. will review for Novel Crossing)

The Dressmaker by Kate Alcott (premise more interesting than the author's writing )

The Young Clementina by D E Stevenson (perfect. still. sunshiney look at love and loss and love in the years between the wars in a small English village)

The Atonement Child by Francine Rivers (read a bit too much like propaganda for me; but the writing was taut and I loved the guy )

Mad About the Boy by Helen Fielding  (LOVED! Bridget! Bittersweet! Maybe the best Bridget Jones yet)

An Elegant Solution by Paul Robertson ( Literary Christian fiction. Compelling .Erudite )

Little Girl Blue (The Life of Karen Carpenter ) (WHY NOT) by Randy L Schmidt ( my brother is always reading Musical biography; so I read this. And the Carpenter's Reader: ephemera  of articles and reviews and interviews)

Christmas at Claridges by Karen Swan (sweet)

Trading Christmas by Debbie Macomber ( short)

The Bookstore by Deborah Meyler

Currently reading:

Blackberry Wine by Joanne Harris

Seven Men by Eric Metaxas 

Still a week of Holidays left so keep you posted

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Theatre Review: Aladdin

Disney’s Aladdin is currently in its final weeks of its pre-Broadway engagement at the Ed Mirvish theatre.  I enjoy that Toronto is often a test audience for Broadway bound adventures because it gives us a bit of a sneak peek and allows the production team to tweak and experiment with the material, hopefully perfecting it.

c/o West Midland Theatre of our cast
I believe, from what I have heard, that the production  I saw last evening has come a long way since it first opened in early November: what with several changes undertaken; but, at the core, I really think that this is the weakest of the Disney fare to date.  With the exception of The Little Mermaid, I have seen all of their theatrical adaptations so far and because each story is so inherently built into a musical format, I have never been disappointed. But, readers, Aladdin just doesn’t work.  From the beginning you know that there is something off: in the timbre, the cadence of the tale expressed in opening bars by a trio of Aladdin’s friends: Babcack, Haseem and Omar--- playing the comic relief in a show already filled with it--- straight to the first major chorus number of Arabian Nights: which seems flat, with the wrong tone, the wrong colours, a busy stage and a set that just tries so hard.  In fact, an early moment for the set: it is so elaborately crafted that they use several devices which block the audience from it in order to switch scenes.  There are no seamless transitions here. There is a cute use of “split screen” and several, SEVERAL filler moments where the curtain ( in complete Persian tapestry motif) separates the audience from the action and filler reprises of Arabian Nights propel the action forward.

This production breaks the Fourth Wall like nothing I have ever seen before. Ever.  And it is so tediously mundane.  How many reprises and bridges and musical overtures set to the Arabian Nights can one audience handle ….? Apparently a lot. 

The songs by Menken maintain their Disney flare; but the new additions (with the exception of Proud of Your Boy which I understand was cut from the movie ) seem to be shoved in. There’s a radically horrible duet between Jasmine and Aladdin on the rooftop of Agraba and an equally horrible declaration of Jasmine’s independence sung alongside her ladies’ maids which, if I had been musically stronger, may have recalled the scene with Megara in the animated Hercules.

Kids, the first act drags. Drags has nothing has ever dragged before and they are trying so evidently to cleverly transpose the animated action to the stage.  But, the story as told in its original Disney context, does not loan itself to stage. Its too ambitious.  The plot changes they have replaced to save themselves from having to technically undertake …oh I don’t know… a giant snake or Aladdin sinking to the bottom of the sea are replaced with awkward sword-fighting numbers and THIS IS TOO EASY moments where Aladdin just happens to leave his lamp lying around. For a clever and charming young street rat ( and, face it, Adam Jacobs is delightful in this role and just perfectly animated and wonderful: armed with a great voice, dancing impresario and the whitest teeth I have ever seen ) to just leave his last wish around just seems…. Amateur. Easy.

Jasmine. Guys Jasmine. Yawn. ( Courtney Reed)And I was kinda hoping since she was so forced and, well, yawn-worthy that she would bless us with a gorgeously sweet and chimed voice with the timbre and quality that Disney seems attracted to when casting heroines. Nope. Nothing to write home about. I am not sure if this is a technical imbalance or if Jasmine just couldn’t keep up but Jacobs unconsciously drowned her out.

I got off on a tangent; so back to how draggy the first act is. Draggy.  Then, THEN! In a Christmas miracle, the genie appears and saves the trainwreck from flying itself off of the rails.  In all of my 32 years of theatre-going ( this is supposing  I went to the theatre as a baby, which  I didn’t ) I have never, EVER seen one performer turn a show around and make it not only watchable but exciting in the way the Genie does (James Monroe Inglehart).  We can’t just credit the writing of the role, either; it is the pizzazz he infuses into every movement and charismatic gesture.  The Genie loves the roar of the applause and the audience loves him. Thus, “Friend Like Me” becomes the saving grace of a show so quickly sinking I was recalling my viewing of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s equally bland Wizard of Oz early this year.

Once Genie shows up with his pipes and his uncanny ability to move his broad build around the stage with surprisingly deft aplomb, I was given something to invest in. More still, the flat and dimensional and just too easy choreography that had everyone prancing around with their arms in triangles ( not unlike Jem practicing his walk like an Egyptian dance in To Kill a Mockingbird) was upgraded big time for an old-timey tap number complete with… COMPLETE with--- the most dazzling use of a self-aware Disney medley one has ever heard.

Genie brought the house down. Genie took the show and shoved it in his pocket and proved he is not only better than the material, he is so confidently comfortable as a performer he didn’t once try to emulate the great Robin Williams who vocally originated the  role. Sidenote for vocal origins: the gent who voiced Jafar in the movie plays Jafar here. Huh.

After intermission we are treated to a big Genie chorus number, Prince Ali, which is ---again --- salvaged mostly by the genie; but kudos to the elaborate costumes and the largest ensemble I have seen in a bit. Then the ante is technically upped by the miraculous feat of a flying carpet for the Whole New World scene.  This isn’t your mom’s Phantom of the Opera candle-boat, kiddy cats. This is one of the most impressive moments of stage brilliance, trickery and magic I have ever seen.  Jasmine is pitchy and boring; but darnit! Who cares, they are floating amidst the stars.

From there on in, you wait until the end when you know that the carpet will make an encore appearance ( why would they use that dazzling piece of magic just once ) and fall into one of the shoddiest plot denouements I have ever witnessed until the finale and the ultimate marriage and crowning of Aladdin as Sultan and the freeing of the Genie and all that.

Guys, Aladdin just doesn’t work.  It needs some major-re-writes. The production values are brilliant, the costumes, the cast ( for the most part) and often the staging are pure theatrical magic; but a show cannot ride on one outstanding Tony-calibre Genie performance and some cool magic carpet stuff.
I kept thinking about the Lord of the Rings musical : in all of its tedious and tawdry nonsense and how it seemed like SUCH a good idea and was so technically innovative but failed so greatly to tell any type of story.

I don’t know. I mean, I love Disney.. but this? This?

Toronto is exporting two things to Broadway in the New Year: Canadian Ramin Karimloo leading as Valjean in the revamped production of Les Miserables (just finishing its run here ) and Aladdin. Save your ticket money and invest in Les Miserables.


...This is one way to explain the Great Hiatus: with a wink and a smile

Monday, December 16, 2013


I am a few episodes of White Collar behind but I watched the dinosaur one last night and guys… GUYS! I have figured out what is going on

All season 5 it has been: WTF happened to Peter! It’s like he’s never met Neal before. He’s reverted to season 1 Peter.

There were two rational conclusions for why this has been so weird (it can’t be that they re-jigged the writing staff. I mean, NO!  any writers worth their proverbial salt would be as invested in the dynamic over the first four seasons as the rest of us).

The first: seasons 2-4 were all a dream.  This one holds some clout; but I wanted to dig a little deeper.

The second: okay. do you guys remember in Due South when Benny was hit by a car and got amnesia? Of course you don’t: cause unless you were a Canadian in the 90s you never watched Due South. Okay, I’ll recap:Benny ( the Mountie ) and Ray ( the cop) are bestest friends. Like, totally my first exposure to bromance. Like, the greatest and most devout partnership of all-time. But THEN Benny gets hit by a car while chasing a criminal HE LOSES his memory –for like an ENTIRE HOUR OF AN EPISODE! --- and he cannot remember who Ray is.



And it’s super heartbreaking but through the power of human will and Ray’s friendship, BENNY IS CURED

So, that leads us to PETER HAS AMNESIA! He doesn’t remember that Neal is his friend. In fact, HE HAS SELECTIVE AMNESIA which allows him to only remember certain instances when he was chasing Neal as a criminal: not the birthday cards and cookies, just the BAD STUFF. Not the hugs and the prom suits and the dinners, just the CRIMINAL NEAL IS A CRIMINAL WHO IS A CRIMINAL? THAT WOULD BE CRIMINALLY CRIMINAL NEAL WHO I CANNOT TRUST AND I FORGET THAT HE SAVED ME FROM KELLER AND THAT HE IS MY BESTEST FRIEND BECAUSE I HAVE SELECTIVE AMNESIA


Whew. Problem solved.

There were some cute moments when Neal and Peter FINALLY find the dinosaur :) the smiles and giggles and Peter gets VIP status to the museum

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Rachel Rants about 'A Bride for Christmas' Bad TV Christmas Movies with a Moral Conundrum

Okay so Christmas movies. Some have been cute “Very Merry Mix-up” and “Trading Christmas” and then there is A Bride for Christmas

I hate the Guy is bet that he can’t get girl/ Guy accepts bet and gets girl/ Guy falls for girl so calls off bet/Girl feels like she is actually a poker chip ( cause she is).  I HATE THIS PLOT DEVICE.

I hate it. I hate the "when women are poker chips" plot much to the amusement of some Douchebag's smarmy office buddies so I obviously hated this movie.

Anyways, Girl ( I’ll be darned if I can remember the character’s name ) has been engaged THREE times and never made it down the aisle. In her defense, every proposal has been some big hullabaloo and she hasn’t wanted to hurt the guy’s feelings or embarrass him ( Jumbo Tron. Movie TheatreMarquis. You get it)  I mean, seriously, I would probably say “yes!” in front of a million people too.  (Though maybe not because I HATE cliche engagement spots) So, she ends up walking down the aisle or almost walking down the aisle. 

She hasn’t had a lotta luck. The most recent guy is that Sargeant from Psych Buzz McNab who got the end of the Hallmark Hair budget on this and is a mechanic and really loves Girl.  Girl is all, Sorry! I don’t love you. Audience is all: WHERE DO YOU FIND THESE GUYS WHO ARE OBVIOUSLY SO WRONG FOR YOU WITH MIDDLE HAIRPARTS?

Then Girl meets a guy who has been bet by his friends – who are sure he is not the marrying kind--- that he can’t get a woman to say yes.  It’s all very underhandedly primate and Neanderthal and primitive and terrible. Guy is all: but she’s hot! And he hires her to decorate something because she has one of those ROM COM jobs that Mindy Kaling talks about .  And he falls for her cause she wants to eat a burger instead of Thai or sushi ( regular girl foods, I suppose) and is nice to dogs at a shelter and watches horror movies.

GUYS! We need to talk about this.  THIS IS WRONG!  I mean, I usually don’t read THAT into these things;but THIS IS A STATEMENT we have to stop making.

WOMEN (and men for that matter, I’m looking at you: How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days ) are not poker chips. You cannot barter a relationship and you have to stop COOKIE-CUTTER (here, because it is Christmas, in sparkly shapes like SANTA! And STARS!)  molding heroes and heroines into these boxes. The -cool-marriageable-girl because- she -eats -a- lot-of-non-"girl" food- and- watches- guy -things box and the Guy- who -is- a -rake- but- can -play -The First Noel -on- the- bar- piano -really- well box.

She starts to like him. They kiss and there are fireworks. In fact, she proposes to him!  But that won't last will it? that's not the way things should be in our neat little Hallmark boxes of fetid festive fare so INSTEAD they have to loop it so the big Bet reveal leaves the proposal ball in HIS court and he can---again---assume alpha stance.  God. Shoot me.

Yes, they get married at the end after she finds out she was bet on and he repents and she drags her wedding dress down the street all desolate and Buzz McNab tries to win her back but she gives away the ring he once gave her and her parents (HER PARENTS FOR THE LOVE OF GOD APPROVE OF THIS MARRIAGE) surprise her with a Christmas wedding to this douchebag who is no longer unmarriageable because he found a sweet and perfectly-toned girl who can scarf down fries like the rest of  the lads while jumping up at a scary flick

I just. I can’t.

I mean.

YAY! I've known this guy for two weeks and he's a Grade A Douchebag but he looks HOT beside my Christmas tree so WHE-BANG! I'm a Christmas Bride! 

Trading Christmas  did it right. It started with the cookie cutter molds ( Lacey from Corner Gas is all I HATE MEN!  And that hot guy with the dimples who played the teacher in Jake and the Kid  is all I DON’T WANT LOVE I AM WRITING A BOOK but they end up learning about each other AT CHRISTMAS and softening so that they blur the molds they are cut into and find a reciprocal and compromised love). I ended up buying and reading the novella. My first ever Debbie Macomber.

I can’t do it anymore.  Girl shouldn’t be condemned because she was too soft to turn a guy down in front of a million stadium viewers and thus is ostracized for bad choices and forced to become pawn to a stupid game.  It just makes me mad.

This isn’t just Bad TV Christmas movie of cheese and poor synthesized soundtrack composition and We Spent our Actual Budget on Cheryl Ladd so Amber from Clueless you get mediocre hair and makeup, no. This is something actually wrong with our society.   Death to this plot. It is not romantic and it is not festive. 

Monday, December 09, 2013

Guess what I'll be doing New Year's Day?

Finally, a REAL trailer for Sherlock Series III

First off,  make sure you go and re-read The Empty House to keep it all canonical. Project Gutenburg link

Then, watch this fabulous new trailer. WE GET MARY! WE GET MARY!

John's all: "I don't care how you faked it" and I am all " I AM DYING TO KNOW HOW YOU FAKED IT"

Friday, December 06, 2013

hahahha is this a record?

Had a Sound of Music viewing/mocking party on my fb last night and this chain made it to epic commenting proportions.  Did we break a record? 1194 fb comments! at least 20 contributors!

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Merry Christmas to Me

Now, I have already seen the acclaimed, bound-for-Bway production of Les Miserables 3x now but darnit guys! I am seeing it again because it was announced yesterday that Colm W. is returning to the stage to play the Bishop opposite Ramin Karimloo's Valjean for one night only.

I am not sure how many more times ( if any ) I will be able to see Colm on stage and he is a long favourite to see live so I bought myself a Christmas present: a ticket.

It's for CHARITY. It's gonna be EPIC and I bet we all get a few duets.   If you're in the Toronto area you should consider tickets:

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

The This is All I have Time for 'Frozen' review

Dear Blog,

We need to have a talk about Frozen. It is ADORABLE and it more than passes the Bechdel test and the central relationship is not a romantic one and the singing is Broadway fantastic and it is basically the Disney version of Wicked (complete with Idina Menzel) and there are some lovely little twists and Olaf the Snowman might be the best side-kick since the Genie in Aladdin

And it is so freaking adorable I want to go back right now. Which won’t work because I am at the office doing important things

But, really…. It is high time you went and experienced the warm fuzzies for yourself. Guys, ‘tis clever! SO clever and brilliant and bright and charming and ENCHANTED

The end.

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Son of God trailer

I absolutely LOVED The Bible miniseries. I think it was one of my highlights of 2013  and I was SO overjoyed to see this trailer at the movies today.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Author Interview: Katherine Reay

Katherine Reay's Dear Mr. Knightley is one of my favourite books of the year. Bar none. I knew immediately I had found a kindred spirit as DMK reminded me immediately of Daddy Long-Legs by Jean Webster and The Blue Castle by LM Montgomery ( you all know that is a fav of mine).  Katherine and I began having little chats on FB and then the book was released and I realized EVERYONE ELSE WAS DYING OF LOVE for DMK too!  My official review is posted on Breakpoint and  here is a Q and A Katherine Reay was kind enough to take part in :-)

And note: this is by far far NOT another Jane Austen pastiche. So don't you worry about having to read Knightley's secret diaries---capiche? capiche.
And another note: I AM SO PEEVED I never got the chance to meet her for REAL at ACFW --- rats! next year

Find her on Facebook

1.) Epistolary novels. Few and far between these days. What were some of the challenges of writing in this format? Some of the pleasures?

You are so right. It’s a highly under-appreciated form and keeping DMK in letters was my greatest challenge. Everyone who read it said it was “too tough,” and “wouldn’t sell.” Thomas Nelson never said that. *cheer* Now I will admit, a final edit change compelled me to write that last section outside a letter – great symbolism there – and it worked for Sam’s journey.

As for the pleasures – every writer should attempt at least one epistolary novel. They are so fun! Letters are unique – the reader almost feels like it presents a first person view, but it does not. It’s even better. There’s a delicious layer we see that Sam can’t – there is what she is willing to tell Mr. Knightley, what she tries to withhold and how she interprets events – any or all of which can look to different to us than to her. The epistolary format allowed me to really explore Sam’s limited perspective and twist it about occasionally. I especially loved playing with Mr. Knightley’s anonymity, Josh’s subtle selfishness and Professor Muir’s feistiness.

2.) Daddy Long Legs obviously informs Dear Mr. Knightley in lovely homage. Can you tell us about your reading experience with that--and some of your other favourite novels?

I fell in love with Daddy Long Legs when I was about twelve and never let it go. Other favorites? Obviously Austen – all of them. I admit Catherine Moreland bugged me for years, but we’ve reconciled and I call her a friend now. I also have a fantasy side to my personality, a mystery side, a non-fiction bent, a… I love to read. Tough to pin me down.

3.) What's next in the pipeline?

Lizzy and Jane is next and it’s in the editing process right now. It will be out next fall and I’m so excited. Lizzy had more humor and confidence available to her than Sam did. But she’s got some struggles ahead of her as well – can’t make life too easy on her.

This story has all the big guns: sisters, conflict, food, Jane Austen, Hemingway (threw you there, didn’t I?), love, and breast cancer. I know that last one is a bummer, but it’s a reality that so many of us experience either personally or walking the journey with family and friends.

Basically Lizzy and Jane is the story of a young woman, Lizzy, who has excised love from her life and, as she helps her sister through chemotherapy, she starts to put it back in – in all its wonderful and varied forms.

4.) If you could sit down with any author---dead or alive---and chat it out at Starbies, who would you choose?

So tough… I think today I would choose G.K. Chesterton. I’ve been digging into him a lot lately and there is such breadth, wisdom and joy in his writing. He’s also terribly quotable. I found this gem this morning: “Thanks are the highest from of thought. Gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.” Lovely. And this one is good too: “If a man does not talk to himself, it is because he is not worth talking to.” Very important for me as I am often my own best conversationalist.

5.) Can we be friends? Like, bestest watch-Emma-in-our-pjs-while-giggling-friends?
We’re well on our way already! We only lack a singular time zone, popcorn and M&Ms to dump in the bowl.

6.) Darcy or Knightley (please say Knightley. You can take him places and present him in a social situation without rolling your eyes or cringing at his lack of social aptitude)
Absolutely Knightley, no question. And while you bring up good points, there’s something else to consider… You can be yourself around Knightley. He will love you for who you are and not expect anything more. Darcy might look into your eyes someday and find them not so fine or your figure not so pleasing or your wit not sobright and sparkling. I don’t know about you, but that’s too much pressure for me.

7.) Have you read the Blue Castle? What did you think ;)
Okay… Seriously? I was absolutely blown away by the ending. I would like to go record here as stating that I did not even know about Blue Castle until last month. I have the Facebook conversations to prove it. J But the ending felt so much like the ending to Dear Mr. Knightley that my jaw dropped – fell to the floor to be hoisted up in awe. They felt the same! How is that possible?

8.) You do something amazing: you write a CBA novel while threading the themes of grace and Christianity subtly--making it one of those rare books that can be easily read by non-Christians who wouldn't usually pick up a Christian novel. Was this a conscious decision?
I so want to say that I’m just that brilliant – but that’s not true.  I will admit that when I tried to lay a more seeking heart into Sam, she rebelled and it came off heavy-handed and preachy. Now, that said, such a heart was not my original intention for her – I’m just saying that I did try it.

What I intended to do and what won out in the end – was the story of a young woman seeking for answers, a place to stand, a voice of her own, people to love and something to believe. And I think we can all relate to that. I truly believe we all believe something. Even if we say we believe nothing – that in and of itself is something.

So before I get too long-winded – Yes it was conscious and I am so deeply grateful it worked and Sam’s story speaks to people.

Friday, November 22, 2013

In which I am elsewhere ....


My review of The Book Thief ( which opens in wide release today) is up at Breakpoint 
My review of Melissa Jagear's A Bride for Keeps is up at Novel Crossing

Can I just please just note that The Book Thief was a hard review to film.... but I really liked it. Nice homage to the film.

Geoffrey Rush will rip your heart to shreds

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

30 deep thoughts on 'Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries'

1.)    Miss Fisher knows EVERYONE AND THEIR DOG so is always at the scene of the crime  because there is always a crime
2.)    Miss Fisher knows EVERYONE AND THEIR DOG so she always knows someone who is somehow involved/witness to/victim of said crime
3.)    Miss Fisher is always wearing red lipstick; except when she is in bed when she is not
4.)    Jack is always like: You! Get outta here!  But, then he relents because he LOVES HER
5.)    Hugh is always amused by Miss Fisher
6.)    Miss Fisher is amused that Hugh is amused
7.)    Miss Fisher has “not taken anything seriously since 1918)
8.)    Dot is the Catholicest Catholic
9.)    Hugh is the Protestantiest Protestant
10.) Burt and Cec are…. Ernie and Bert, Aussie style
11.) I never understand who Jane lives with—Miss Fisher? Miriam Margolyes? Where
12.) Butler’s name is Mr. Butler. Obviously
13.) Okay seriously. When does Phryne have time for her obviously excellent exercise regime. Have you seen her arm muscles?
14.) I want Miss Fisher’s cheekbones
15.) These Australians –well the higher class professional ones, like Jack and Phryne, don’t really sound Australian
16.) Where is Miss Fisher’s money from?
17.) Miss Fisher hooks up with EVERYONE!  Because she knows everyone --- some of them in the biblical sense
18.) If Jack and Miss Fisher do not end up together married and happy, I will seriously consider ending my existence
19.) I don’t wanna read these books because there won’t be enough Jack
20.) The way Jack looks at Miss Fisher.
21.) The way Miss Fisher looks at Jack
22.) The way Miss Fisher says Jack’s name
23.) The way Miss Fisher nonchalantly shrugs: “ I was attacked” and Jack is flummoxed and so concerned; but it passes over his face like a momentary shadow
24.) The shoes
25.) Her shoes
26.) Jack’s shoes
27.) Her HAIR!
28.) She  can fly a plane and scale a wall and her nails are perfect and she is always beautiful and brilliant
29.) Miss Fisher has a glossy sheen. Her whole being.
330.They had better kiss and get married

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Author Interview: CC Humphreys

You know those books that landmark and pinpoint a certain moment in your life?  Like a favourite song, they take you immediately back to a time or a place....
When I was in undergrad,  Jack and Ate were my literary boyfriends. I devoured the trilogy and waited FOREVER for the next release.  I was lucky enough to get an ARC of Absolute Honour (back when it was first published in Canada) and I think I just sat and looked at it and clapped.

The Blooding of Jack Absolute is one of my absolute FAVOURITE historical novels and as you all know I read historical fiction like it's going outta style, that says a lot.

Humphreys is an epically well-rounded author. In fact, I don't think he can write anything subpar or mediocre: from his YA forays to his exploration of the Anne Boleyn period to Vlad the Impaler and even to Constantinople and Shakespeare!  He kinda does it all.  The rest of us should just hang our heads in shame.

But for me, it's JACK! ... always Jack! And Ate, of course.  These books taught me as a developing writer ( far more in the beginning of my formative years when I first read them ten or so years ago) that the best books spark and sizzle with personality. That you should write what you love. It is so obvious that there is so much of the author in these books ---sense of humour, passion for Hamlet! and history and staged flourish-- that the books, in turn, are bright and sparkling and wonderful to read.  Ack! here I am again....waxing loquaciously about Jack and Ate...

this happens a lot, mea culpa.

Instead, CC Humphreys was kind enough to answer some questions !

1.) You paint a myriad of historical backgrounds in your fiction often featuring real-life personages from the times of Anne Boleyn, Vlad the Impaler, Shakespeare and---- in the Jack Absolute books---Richard Brinsley Sheridan. How difficult is it  to blend fact and fiction in this way and seamless integrate real-life characters into the action of the novel?

After you do a ton of research, you have to take a deep breath and just plunge in. I am a novelist, not a historian and my first duty is to tell a good story. That said, I do try to honor a real historical personage, basing my characterization of them on a variety of sources. However – and it’s a big however! – they are also characters at the service of my plot. As long as I feel I haven’t insulted them, or made them do things that seem implausible or simply wrong, I feel they are mine to use. Some of their descendents might feel differently though! Strangely, on my recent tour of ‘Jack Absolute’, I read at the Ear Inn, in New York City. The owner was a descendent of Sheridan – and he seemed rather pleased with the take I had on his ancestor.

2.) What drew you to the Plains of Abraham for Jack's second (first chronological) adventure? This is a well-known subject for Canadian history students; but unfamiliar to a greater reading populous.

When I was at school (back in pre-history!) the battle was still well taught. But ‘empire’ as a concept has gone out of fashion, the negatives outweighing the positives. But it was so important in North American history – and just so dramatic! The last roll of the dice. The midnight climb up those cliffs (which I did as research, though in the middle of the day). Irresistible to Jack – and to me, of course.

3.) How does your passion for theatricality and your stage background (including the sword fighting! ) inform your literary choices?

Hugely. I always feel I create characters that, if they were ever to make it to the screen (and I hope they do!), would really stand out. Even the minor ones have something ‘to play’, some trait, some objective to pursue. Also, I love to advance the action with dialogue. I can hear my characters speaking the lines. As for swordfighting – well, I love swords, so love depicting them being wielded.

4.) You are  one of the few authors who can successfully transition between Young Adult fiction and adult Historical; are these writing experiences different? How?

They are – but not as different as you might imagine. Its all storytelling and it’s more in the choice of subject and character that they might differ rather than in the execution. I think teens are able to handle most things grown ups can. I don’t tend to linger much in my writing, but perhaps I do cut to the chase even more quickly in my YA books.

5.) Do you like Game of Thrones?

I actually can’t read the books. I tried but they are just too… scattered. I appreciate the skill of the world building but like to follow certain characters and hate to see them vanish for 150 pages at a time. I am hooked on the series – it distills it all down, and the acting and script are excellent.

6.) When do we get to see Jack and Ate again? 

Alas, Ate only makes a brief appearance in the next Jack adventure, ‘Absolute Honour’. Sad, because I love writing him. But if I get the chance I will definitely write more of the Mohawk. I have the sequel to the first novel a quarter written and he’s big in that.

Apparently you can buy a free preview on amazon kindle; but you don't want the free preview--- just buy the entire trilogy. now.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Litfuse Blog Tour: Snow on the Tulips

Confession time:  I really, really struggled getting into this book.  For me, the first three chapters read as over-writing and ( full confession) I just wasn't in the mood to go further because I have had a lot on my plate. I mean a LOT!

Now, that being said, I love the unique setting and original canvas --one that I think we can all agree is not often found in the CBA market. Further, from the get-go, I could tell Tolsma  had done more than her fair share of research. Her passion for this sparked from the first page.

It's difficult as a reader when you have eighteen things on the go to settle in and make yourself plod further with a book that doesn't immediately catch you---we have all had those moments I am sure.
So, fair readers, the most I can do for you at this interval is direct you to all the information you could possibly want about the book and leave it up to you to pick it up and soldier on.

From the Publisher:

A stranger’s life hangs in the balance. But to save him is to risk everything.
The war is drawing to a close, but the Nazis still occupy part of the Netherlands. After the losses she’s endured, war widow Cornelia is only a shadow of the woman she once was. She fights now to protect her younger brother, Johan, who lives in hiding.
When Johan brings Gerrit Laninga, a wounded Dutch Resistance member, to Cornelia’s doorstep, their  lives are forever altered. Although scared of the consequences of harboring a wanted man, Cornelia’s faith won’t let her turn him out.
As she nurses Gerrit back to health, she is drawn to his fierce passion and ideals, and notices a shift within herself. Gerrit’s intensity challenges her, making her want to live fully, despite the fear that constrains her. When the opportunity to join him in the Resistance presents itself, Cornelia must summon every ounce of courage imaginable.
She is as terrified of loving Gerrit as she is of losing him. But as the winter landscape thaws, so too does her heart. Will she get a second chance at true love? She fears their story will end before it even begins.

Litfuse Landing Page
Liz on the web

Monday, November 04, 2013

a Veritable Hodge-Podge of Things

 Guys, I have been off the radar here because I have been out doing lots of stuff.  My friend Sonja was visiting from BC and that was a good time.   I reconnected with a ton of people who got shelved due to  life being busy and the days are getting colder and shorter and the big tree is up at Queen’s Park.
I have been spending a lot of time in the distillery, in old town toronto, at the archives and in Corktown for research for my lovely new book that I am SO enjoying writing.  A lot of writing happens at Artisano and I love the King West staff for their multiple outlets and great wireless internet.

I have had numerous social butterfly shenanigans and have been enjoying my gorgeous city in the fall
I’ve also been writing and at the gym a lot ( the last time I wrote a book I put on 5 lbs. That is not happening this time ) and I have been--- oh yah! --- at my real job.

So blogging has been on the back-burner somewhat and I apologize. BUT WHO AM I TO KEEP SOME OF THE THINGS WORTH NOTING FROM BEING NOTED?

On the theatre front: I saw Les Miserables again ( YAY! )

I also saw Mozart’s Abduction from the Seraglio as performed by the always-amazing Opera Atelier accompanied by the always-amazing Tafelmusik. I really noticed the clash between the cultured Europeans and the “uncivilized”  Turkish moors this time around: Konstanze is reading complete with specs
from the beginning while Blonde is seen to write.  The primitive moors on the other hand, especially the torturously-minded Osmin are instead perpetuating the stereotypes so rampant in Commedia dell’ Arte of ultra comedic violence and exaggerated movements.
The Seige of Turkey by the Viennese propelled Mozart’s 1782 piece: the opera being the most widely performed of Wolfgang’s in his lifetime.  There is a ton of historical resonance here and puts one in mind of that gorgeous little scene in Amadeus where the Emperor proclaims that there were just “too many notes”

The Royal Agricultural Winter Fair!  Went Friday! Had a blast! Tried some good beer, ate a yummy Italian sandwich, held a three month old Nigerian dwarf goat named Daisy.

Daisy and Rachel
I went to the New Zealand/Canada Rugby game yesterday which probably woulda made a lot more sense if I knew anything about Rugby.  The best part was the Haka: the traditional Maori tribal dance performed by the New Zealand team at every game ever.   Besides that, it’s a lot of huddle-huddle-huddle-fall over- huddle-huddle-huddle-fall-over. Sometimes they pile on top of each other.  I don’t get it . We lost. But the company was good.

Last week’s White Collar  was stupid

Does anyone watch Reign? I am thinking of watching an episode so I can laugh myself silly at its inauthenticity.


When Calls the Heart complete with screenplay by Michael Landon Jr. is a sappy, kinda-retelling of the Janette Oke book by the Hallmark channel. This might have been a LOT MORE FUN if it actually stuck to Wynn and Elizabeth’s story. But, guys, it doesn’t: a lot of it is framed by this new girl—Elizabeth’s niece, who tosses her Edwardian curls over her Edwardian gown and holds her chin up defiantly and wants to be an INDEPENDENT WOMAN ( even though she is scared to hysteria by a mouse).  As is,  there’s no Wynn-in-red-serge on the prairies, no Elizabeth and Wynn surviving a fire… basically it coulda been awesome ( as in awesomely cheesy) but it wasn’t. But Wynn and Elizabeth looked the part.

Celeste in the City was on ABC Family late one night on the weekend ( but earlier because we set back our clocks ) and it is pure tv movie GOLD! In fact, it is really gearing me up for all the crappy Christmas movies I anticipate watching. So, this girl Celeste who is pretty in a “I am wearing glasses and hiding under baggy sweaters a la She’s All That” kinda way moves to New York to start a job as a writer for some magazine and upon arrival learns that her apartment is a hovel but she has a CUTE neighbor who is played by Ethan Embry, whose dimples and receding hairline should be in everything.  She also has a gay cousin ---Xander from Buffy who helps her find herself in several makeover montages with his ultra stylin New York friends.  Meanwhile, Celeste thinks Ethan Embry is cute but  (I AM SERIOUS ) because he likes champagne and is an interior designer she thinks he is gay ( even though he wears overalls with nothing underneath, sings karaoke badly and rides a skateboard which make her generalizations a little odd to her). Ethan helps her decorate her apartment with leftovers from this studio and it is LE AWESOME.   She repays him by setting him up on a date with Xander.   Ethan Embry is all “WHAT! How can you think I am gay?  I am so into you!”  -àthis is an actual plotline

Anyways, she starts trying to move her way up the corporate writing ladder by fraternizing with this slimy boss while the typical Hallmark keyboard soundtrack clangs mournfully in the background.

I mean Ethan’s cute, Xander’s helpful, CELESTE IS DUMB!

She ends up with the right guy and well….. there it is .

I bought the new Sense and Sensibility by Joanne Trollope and mean to read that soon. Guys, my reading. Holy Cow! So behind.  Umm, I have also been dipping into the Bachelor Girl’s Guide to Everything: which is like an early 20th Century how-to and is quite delightful. I am also wading through a ton of CBA book reviews I am behind on.

I am too lazy to provide links for these things.

Next week I am off to Halifax for a Rachel-cation and cannot wait to be back in my favourite province.

My new book ( the one I am ploughing away on ) is  quite a lot of fun! 

Friday, October 18, 2013

guys.... white collar is back

Did you all watch White Collar last night?

of course you did because WHY WOULDN'T YOU!

anyways, it's all the ANGST and the PETER'S HEART IS BREAKING BECAUSE HE IS DOING THE TOUGH LOVE THING and Neal is all " but I thought you were proud of me" and the whole thing is DISTRESSING and  I just... I just... and Neal's dad is gone and his emotional inference is branded on the rest of the series forevermore and PETER CAN YOU STOP THINKING THAT NEAL is detaching his anklet for any other reason than HE WANTS TO SAVE YOU FROM PRISON

Also, if all of this whole "sign unofficial deal with Hagan and go to Hades for it and the darkside with Peter being framed" blows up, then I blame Elizabeth.  Because she is all pouty kryptonite for Neal who will do WHATEVER IT TAKES WHEN YOU ASK HIM TO DO WHATEVER IT TAKES!

ELIZABETH, you don't tell NEAL to do whatever it TAKES when it comes to Peter.  HE WILL NOT COLOUR INSIDE THE LINES

too many feelings.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Les Miserables: the new Powell production Round I

I saw the new production of Les Miserables running in Toronto for my first outing last night and because I am such a junkie, I may write about it again; but I wanted to note a few things that have changed in the production we all grew up with.

Les Miserables, in the golden age of the evolution of Blockbuster musicals, was always rather minimalist: what with its apt use of a revolve and the jigsaw pieces of the barricade and a few flashes and smoke  and fog machines as well as some expert lighting being the whole of its special effects.

Here, Powell has upped the ante- though still keeps the focus on the story and not on the things that go “bang” on stage with firecrackers…thank the Lord.  He has fleshed out a lot of the sets: from the factory where Fantine loses her job, to the ships where the Lovely Ladies prowl for prey to the gardens and house front at Valjean and Cosette’s digs at 55 Rue Plumet.  When we do get to the barricade scenes, we are looped into a narrow scope that ultimately feels like we are looking down the barrel of a city street. The students using everything from chairs to a spindling wheel to separate us, the audience, from their National Guard foe.

Powell uses several of Hugo’s own illustrations to give us a glimpse of industrial Paris: the technique is most enticing when it depicts sequences such as the rush through the sewers or Javert’s magnanimous ponderings on that infamous bridge above the Seine, the stars overhead like pinpricks in the black night he cannot rush from.

When the film first came out, I mentioned how beguiled I was that it added snippets from the literary source material evaded in the musical.   I really found the moment between Valjean and Petite Gervais ( the young ruffian he steals a sou from ) to be amplified here.  More still, the candlesticks and crosses are more present and front.   Character-wise, our cast excelled at directorial changes that saw a burgeoning closeness and paradox between (an excellent) Grantaire and Gavroche.  Gavroche is pained by Eponine’s death to the extent that those who recognize their familial relationship ( they are both Thenardiers) will be appeased. 

The orchestration is fabulous. Every melancholy, thematic and robust layer of the score is stripped and built and stripped and built, peeled back with the focus on a single strain of an instrument: powerful and swelling but never taking away from the prime voices.

Which leads me to Ramin Karimloo: our celebrity, Canadian-raised Valjean.  He is magnificent.  His literal youth allows for a ferocious Valjean at the beginning—before his conversion—and his heartfelt way of emoting everything with the resonance of pure and unadulterated compassion seeps through.  His initial bond with Cosette is charming.   I just cannot speak highly enough of him in the role.   And, for a girl who saw Colm Wilkinson on stage in the role several times, I was flabberghasted that Karimloo’s Bring Him Home could almost pre-empt Wilkinson’s definitive version. Karimloo’s voice –which in previous scenes has been seen as grating, over-powered, over-bearing, controlled, breathless and passionate—is pure and ethereal: a glistening tone that hushes the audience and lingers with the sweet pitch of his held last line.  This is a magnificent exercise in offering: Valjean, palms outstretched to heaven, tasting every word as it slips his lips and falls on Heavenly ears.  

Our Eponine was also of note. Melissa O’Neil has a great, thoroughly pop-styled voice that has influenced so much of Broadway of late; but her tomboyish demeanor and simultaneously tragic and light countenance propel her in fluid movement around Marius and  the stage. When she is finally fatally wounded, the duet A Little Fall of Rain is more than once truncated by her authentic moans and frightening groans of pain.  It was really authentic; more visceral than sweet and perhaps pounded the audience into the stark realization that this is not a romantic story: this is one of an unhappy soul hungering for the life her beloved can (and won’t) give her.

The Thenardiers are problematic for me because of their deprivation of any comic entitlement in the story. However, I know well that Boubil and Schonberg were in dire need of comic relief so, as per usual, they ham their way with guttural roars and a lot of physical comedy.  They “Sweeney Todd” it, as it were.

The One Day More choreography: synchronized marching, with slight feature of all of the characters winding round the plot’s intricate carousel is here amplified again: a fabulous maze that you don’t want to end, the harmonies blazing with the full effect of the orchestra. Good Lord people, I loved the film; but this feeling can never happen on screen. It needs to be experienced live.

Javert. Gah. Javert. What a dish of a role.  Earl Carpenter is all stoic and rigid with his voice as powerful as his presence. His suicide scene is one of my favourites of the story.    Here still, as before, the contrast between legalism and grace is vast and moving.   Valjean, touched by the Bishop of Digne’s act of unwarranted redemptive love is spun into a vortex of caring, of belief, of faith and humanity: moved by grace so that it propels his life.   Javert, as steadfast in his belief of God and righteousness, is a product of legalism and rigid law. When grace is offered him by Valjean he cannot fathom how he can live with it. Throwing himself off a bridge and sinking at the precipice of his thought that Valjean holds dominion.
Old Testament God. New Testament God.

The orchestra is brilliant. Cosette is no longer swathed in that ugly black dress ( no matter how source authentic it was for a time ) and all is well.

Seeing Les Miserables is a religious experience because the story is so drenched in redemption and grace.  You can’t shy or shirk its religious overtones, all gloriously central and propagating the life of the converted Valjean, so it is best to just run with it and let it over-take you

Dazzling new production. Seriously fast-paced; but loaning it a sense of visceral urgency, an energy mirroring the student’s fervor for change and the precipice of this cast of characters on the brink of something brilliant and light and that only Heaven can intercept with the replacement of the sword for ploughshare. 

Here's a  nice interview with Ramin.   He grew up like every Canadian---wanting to be a hockey player; but then ... then he saw Colm Wilkinson as Phantom: