Tuesday, September 24, 2013

'The Honk and Holler Opening Soon' by Billie Letts

I am a big fan of the book Where the Heart Is because it is so deliciously moving and sad and wonderful and romantic. More still, it is a snapshot, like Novalee’s or Moses Whitecotton’s in the dark room, of a life in Oklahoma so foreign to me: the landscape, the mobile homes, the southern vernacular. Most of all, because it is so gloriously heart-warming and poignant.

I think Letts has a way of ushering you into her world and sitting you down with a cup of sweet tea ( I learned the difference between it and iced tea recently ) and telling you about wonderful people’s wonderful lives. Now, these wonderful people are stricken with tragic circumstance, but they overcome to find community and home.

Home. Home is a major motif in Letts’ work. Indeed, reading The Honk and Holler Opening Soon on the weekend reminded me a lot of LM Montgomery. Not for similarities in cadence, tone or plot; but in the assimilation of home as a major ongoing theme. The Honk and Holler, a diner and greasy spoon in Seqoyah Oklahoma, becomes home for its wheel-chair bound owner, Caney, his adoptive mom MollyO, Bui, a young man late of Vietnam who is waiting for his wife to join him for a new life in the States and Vena Takes Horse, a beautiful Native American woman who is roaming, an injured dog in her care, trying to find a place to make ties. Nomads, wanderers, broken souls. In this sense, The Honk and Holler is very much like WTHI: in that it advocates community in the most unlikely places.

I really enjoyed the sparkly notion of home, the diner, of course being one conceptualization of it, and Vena’s ramshackle residence in an old school bus being another; but beautifully woven into Bui’s residence in a local church basement. A Buddhist, Bui sleeps in the church basement but not before appropriating the altar to practice his home religion. In return, he acts as altogether guardian angel for those who worship there: fixing lightbulbs, taking custodial duties with a resident joy, painting and helping out. When Bui suffers a tragic accident, his new family---of such different faith; but similar spirit--- takes care of him.

I love when Letts speaks to the best kind of religion: all full of action and love; blind to differences and inspired by the greater good of the community.

The Honk and Holler Opening Soon is a tale of heartache, the remnants of the Vietnam war ripple through the 1980s setting and haunt several of the main characters. The pages are awash with prejudice and betrayal; but in the end love is found. It takes a bit, it takes some soul-crushing moments; but Letts’ pen is swift and fast and I can sense her smiling, winking at us, ushering us in.

What a strong voice she has. Remind me not to wait 15 years to read another of her books.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Litfuse Blog Tour: The Courier of Caswell Hall by Melanie Dobson

from the Publisher:

An unlikely spy discovers freedom and love in the midst of the American Revolution.
As the British and Continental armies wage war in 1781, the daughter of a wealthy Virginia plantation owner feels conflict raging in her own heart. Lydia Caswell comes from a family of staunch Loyalists, but she cares only about peace. Her friend Sarah Hammond, however, longs to join the fight. Both women’s families have already been divided by a costly war that sets father against son and neighbor against neighbor; a war that makes it impossible to guess who can be trusted.
One snowy night Lydia discovers a wounded man on the riverbank near Caswell Hall, and her decision to save him will change her life. Nathan introduces her to a secret network of spies, couriers, disguises, and coded messages—a network that may be the Patriots’ only hope for winning the war. When British officers take over Caswell Hall and wreak havoc on neighboring plantations, Lydia will have to choose between loyalty and freedom; between her family’s protection and her own heart’s desires.
As both armies gather near Williamsburg for a pivotal battle, both Lydia and Sarah must decide how high a price they are willing to pay to help the men they love.

One of the reasons I  appreciate the Courier of Caswell Hall is that it delves into a period of history that I still feel is largely untouched in Christian historical romance.  C’mon, you guys, your revolutionary war years are fascinating: the espionage, the loyalists and the new americans, the rife and imminent threat of the French Indian wars still hot on your heels.  I find it really fascinating as a new world tries to emerge and the historical details in Dobson’s book reflect her obvious passion for history, and for this integral part of American history.

I also very much appreciated how independent, intelligent and strong-willed our parallel heroines are.  Romance is, certainly, a part of their lives; but their convictions and moral compasses are the driving forces. Their willingness to obey God beyond human expectation and the rigidity of their circumstance.  When romance is granted them it is again a force for the independent: severing them from the apropos and ordinary.

I must confess that, at the beginning, the switch between Lydia and Sarah’s stories felt a little wobbly and forced to me; but the pairing did eventually find solid grounding.

Lately, I have been trying very hard to focus on what makes opening chapters so readable, memorable and fantastic. Here, we are dropped in the action immediately when Lydia goes for a stroll and finds a stranger. The premonition that this might be the enemy weighs heavily on the reader as she tries to do her Christian duty by nursing him to health while hiding him from her conservative father.  The familial tension, Lydia’s severed family ( the disappearance of her brother) and her political unrest of a world torn asunder are made immediately transparent.

There are edges of mystery on every page. The Courier of Caswell Hall is a bittersweet goodbye to the Summerside Press American Tapestry series. Readers should relish the unique setting, vivid historical canvas, and independent and incorrigible heroines who find love and adventure when the novel spins to a satisfying end.   I loved the battlefield sequences and the patchwork quilt of historical references including General Washington and Lord Cornwallis.  This is an exciting, edifying time period made illustrious when pitted against the beautiful Virginia setting of the novel.

If you’re into solid faith fiction with mistaken identities, the promise of love and tons of adventure, then look no further than here.

Litfuse Landing Page


visit Melanie Dobson on the web

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Guys: I am seriously reading this ... I am just a little behind :-) ( see previous ACFW post)

This week, the

Christian Fiction Blog Alliance

is introducing

Born of Persuasion

Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. (September 1, 2013)


Jessica Dotta


Born in the wrong century–except for the fact that she really likes epidurals and washing machines–Jessica Dotta writes British Historicals with the humor like an Austen, yet the drama of a Bronte.

She resides lives in the greater Nashville area—where she imagines her small Southern town into the foggy streets of 19th century London. She oversees her daughter to school, which they pretend is an English boarding school, and then she goes home to write and work on PR. Jessica has tried to cast her dachshund as their butler–but the dog insists it’s a Time Lord and their home a Tardis. Miss Marple, her cat, says its no mystery to her as to why the dog won’t cooperate. When asked about it, Jessica sighs and says that you can’t win them all, and at least her dog has picked something British to emulate.


The year is 1838, and seventeen-year-old Julia Elliston’s position has never been more fragile. Orphaned and unmarried in a time when women are legal property of their fathers, husbands, and guardians, she finds herself at the mercy of an anonymous guardian who plans to establish her as a servant in far-off Scotland.

With two months to devise a better plan, Julia’s first choice to marry her childhood sweetheart is denied. But when a titled dowager offers to introduce Julia into society, a realm of possibilities opens. However, treachery and deception are as much a part of Victorian society as titles and decorum, and Julia quickly discovers her present is deeply entangled with her mother’s mysterious past. Before she knows what’s happening, Julia finds herself a pawn in a deadly game between two of the country’s most powerful men. With no laws to protect her, she must unravel the secrets on her own. But sometimes truth is elusive and knowledge is deadly.

If you would like to read the first chapter of Born of Persuasion, go HERE.

Rachel's Adventures at ACFW

with Kaye Dacus on prom night
On the weekend I went to the ACFW conference in Indianapolis. It was my absolute first and I think, honest to pete, I will be tired for the rest of my life.

It’s not just the travel and the lack of sleep because you are up chatting with Jess Barnes ( although Anthony Howell wasn’t mentioned once), it is the energy of the place ( I have never been in such a large hotel with 600 other authors before) , the anxiety before the meetings, the “being on” and turning your brain on and being able to smartly ( or so you hope) assess the merits of your book while across an editor in a meeting room, and being able to remember names and, in my case, being able to apologize because “I know I’ve read your book I just cannot remember the title; but did it have a red cover?  That girl. On the front. Yah, her.”

My favourite part of the conference was randomly and unexpectedly bumping into authors I love.  You turn around: there’s SARAH SUNDIN, or GEOFFREY WOOD (he bought me a beer! it was amazing) or MAUREENLANG! I accosted Jenny B. Jones and Nancy Herriman who, poor lady, was trying to get an elevator.

I had lovely conversations with the stunning SarahLadd.  I giggled with Katie Ganshert and realized: wow! She’s a peach!  I hugged Kathleen Y’Barbo Turner a billion times.  It was authors---authors everywhere.

And, I, dear readers, am a total gushy fangirl.

Another highlight was meeting people I have long connected with online in person. Elizabeth Byler Younts (ARGH! LOVE SO MUCH) Sarah LoudinThomas( whose work I was a fan of before she had work to be a fan of ) and Melissa Tagg, Carla Laureano (girl crush!) and Joanne Bischof were highlights. My heart lifted when I saw them walk in a room. 
Joanne Bischof and I (totally stole this pic from fb)

All of the blogs I follow? The books and such ladies, Steve Laube, Chip MacGregor, the Litfuse Girls…. The list goes on…. They were all there! CELEBRITIES! And Frank Peretti was there too---but he scares the heck outta me….well, his books do.

AND REL MOLLETT who is sweet and sunshiney and whose genuine love of books radiates. I had such fun with her

---And Liz Johnson! Kaye Dacus! it was amazing

---the lovely Amy Haddock of Novel Crossing and WaterBrook who made me the best cookies I have ever had in my life 

I didn’t make it to one workshop. My appointments criss-crossed and I ended up having some last minute meetings; but I realized that this conference, for me, was not about taking in  in a school-like setting, it was about immersing myself in the culture.  The online world stretched out and social media ( which is a wonderful thing ) incarnated into this buzzed and elated atmosphere.

I came back with a very very very very long and arduous to do list as well as instant communication with my lovely agency on where to go next.  

In short, I have to write. A lot. There will be writing. A lot of it

Oh …and I went shoe-shopping with Allison Pittman ( who am I kidding. I think I paid the conference fare just to hang out with Allison Pittman. She’s my mentor, critique-r, encourager, drinking buddy, philosopher, sage, muse, wise, funny, half-of-my-undending-vaudeville-act, Texan counterpart. 

*All pictures I stole from other people’s facebook feeds because I have been too lazy to upload my camera pics.

at payless! with Le Pittman

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

ACFW prep!

So, I am off to my first ever ACFW conference. This year it is in Indianapolis and I am rooming with my friend Jess and pestering tons of my favourite authors and publishers.

Getting ready for the conference took a lot of work.
First, I had a prep call with my agent to ask dumb questions which she very wonderfully answered.  Then, I navigated around my goals for the conference ( the first and foremost goal was to jump up and down and hug people and socialize) and then I did all of the administrative work that it takes to get ready for editorial pitches.

this is my fav. image to pair with Sound Beyond Hearing

My first novel is currently out on submission; but my novel-in-progress is not the novel I anticipated writing next; but such is the way of the world.   So, I knew I needed to be armed with the following

  • business cards (my corporate ones from my day job wouldn't count)
  • writing samples of both the completed MS on submission and the MS in progress
  • one-sheets
  • the materials requested by the different editors I am meeting with ( they all wanted to see different things as befitted their agendas and their hope for the interview): including a proposal, a proposal and a first chapter, a copy of the MS, etc.,

plot of new novel!

this pic of the Ward captures a lot of the new book

The people at Staples and I have been very good friends!

Because I have changed my next novel and have been going in a different direction, I also had to re-vamp my one-sheet so that it features the completed novel and also gives a snapshot of the new novel.

Ye olde Sound Beyond Hearing plot 

I'll be in touch and keep you posted from the Conference 

Sunday, September 08, 2013

the Liebster Award

The Liebster Award from Rel:

Yay! Rel was kind enough to nominate me for a Liebster Award which means I get to answer fun things for all of you. I look forward to meeting Rel this weekend at my first ACFW conference in Indianapolis.....

1. What is the name of the most recent book you have finished and loved?
Okay, well, I kind of am terrible at blogging of late because I have been really busy working on a new novel; but Lori Benton's Burning Sky was a book I absolutely L-O-V-E-D. Someday you will read my thoughts on it. For now, just know that it was the bomb...

2. What is the 17th line on the 125th page of the book you are currently reading?
"Later I learned Etruscan, Greek, Egyptian, and Roman treasures were numbered amongst them"---I'm reading Born of Persuasion by Jessica Dotta.

3. When did you realize you were a true book lover?
In grade one we were given an assignment: if we read to an adult for a half hour every day we got stickers on the board and then won a shiny maple leaf pencil. I read a bit of Black Beauty to my mom everyday. I loved it. There was also the time in Kindergarten when I cried because I had to return Dr. Seuss' The Sleep Book back to the school library. Dad read it to us every night and when it had to go back I was devastated. Don't worry, this has a happy ending: I learned that the great thing about libraries is that you can sign the books out again....

4. What is your genre of choice? Why? It honestly depends. When I am reading CBA stuff, I prefer Historical and Historical romance because I just think it is one area that the industry really excels at and it includes some of my favourite author voices in the world of Christian Fiction. When I am reading non-Christian, I like classics, LOVE nautical fiction (PATRICK O'BRIAN) and British mysteries: Martha Grimes. Honest to pete, though, I also like fantasy and YA and literary fiction so it really depends on the mood I am in and what I have a taste for.

5. What is the name of your ‘comfort reading book’? (one you will pull out and read when you want something familiar)
I have a few: The Blue Castle by L M Montgomery, Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, The Extraordinary and Unusual Adventures of Horatio Lyle by Catherine Webb. If I am far from home, these books take me back. If I have a chill, they are my blanket.

6. Who has encouraged you the most in your reading pursuits? My aunt Annette really fostered all of my creative pursuits and outlets: classical music, theatre, opera, film. Her bookshelves were full of feminist tomes and musical history and classics like Jane Eyre, Emma and Manon Lescroart and I would steal them off her shelf. She gave me my copy of A Room of One's Own. But, I also enjoyed how much she cherished books. The first time she read Fugitive Pieces by Anne Michaels, she scrawled underlines in pencil of the most poetic nuances: "ropes of smoke" "bog boy", I really liked those tremulous little lines on the page. She did the same for The English Patient. My dad is also a huge bookworm: not fiction so much as history, theology and biography so I know he helped me catch the reading bug. He has books everywhere.

7. Your most memorable hero, and why?


Gosh. I don't even wanna start with this. Umm. Wow. Okay, well I am a big Sherlock Holmes fan so obviously he and I have a special relationship. But, I am going to say that Stephen Maturin from the Patrick O'Brian canon has really influenced the way I look at the wonderful dimensions of characters as painted and scripted on page. Maturin just fills me with some sort of soft reflection, some pensive pursuit of understanding every beguiling tenet of his multi-faceted personality. I ache for him and applaud him and champion him and long to steal inside his mind. He just is...well.... he's a modern classic, that's for sure.

8. If you had to swap lives with a character, who would it be and why? Valancy Stirling of The Blue Castle ---it's my favourite romance so I would be sewn into a perfect love story, I would get to hang out with Barney Snaith and I would get to live my days on a gorgeous Muskoka island which really floats my boat.

9. Do you alphabetise your books by author or title, on your bookshelves? by author

10. Why do you read? Because my life is not exciting enough, because I want to steal back two hundred years ago and smell and sense it, because I want to travel forward, because I want to creep into the recesses of other's minds, because I want to find other people who are just as anomalous as myself, because I want to find the antecedent to dreams and the answer to everything, because I want my imagination to talk faster than my brain can keep up, because I want to understand God and the universe, because I am not good enough on my own.

This is open to any reader of the blog. Join in and have fun.

Thursday, September 05, 2013


Hi friends,
I have been writing up a little storm.  Brain vessel overturned and spilled out all of these ideas and I don't want to LOSE ONE OF THEM

I mentioned earlier that the novel I am currently writing is set in TORONTO! Edwardian TORONTO! (so excited to write about my home/favourite place on earth)

Toronto in the 1910s and just before is very well documented in photographs and I was able to excavate history about its highest highs to its lowest lows: including the now-obliterated slum called St. John's Ward ( known as the Ward and which I kind of liken to NYC's Five Points) using photographs and maps.

IF you are so inclined to step into Edwardian Toronto, here are some of the things that are inspiring me: images and fashion, etc.,