Friday, November 28, 2014

A few Quick Reviews

Yes, Please by Amy Poehler

Spicy, fun and anecdotal, the comedienne intermingles biography with humours vignettes and her own brand of eccentric, frenetic wisdom in this somewhat disjointed by thoroughly amusing read.

I read it on the plane back from Boston. It's lively, but kind of all over the place.

A Cliche Christmas by Nicole Deese
Adorable, spirited, snarky and sweet: A Cliche Christmas is perfect fare for those of you who, like me, love to fall into the endless supply of Hallmark and Lifetime seasonal movies. What happens when the script writer for a dozen of these cheesy cliche movies: complete with staged kisses and last minute holiday miracles, is confronted with a Christmas that looks straight out of the Snow Globed worlds she constructs? Georgia may be able to turn a Christmas trick on a dime with her words, but her heart has never been in it. Unfortunately, Lenox needs her: her Nan, a dish named Weston from her past and a town with a sick little girl who needs a revival of spirit. The faith elements are light, the dialogue is cute and snappy and the setting is perfect. At times sarcastic and subversive and always living up to the playful irony of its title, A Cliche Christmas is egg nogged bliss. A lesser writer may not have been able to pull of a sly wink, instead opting for purely saccharine fare; but Deese is a good wordsmith and expert craftsperson. This story put me in the holiday mood...and then some.

Brentwood's Ward by Michelle Griep

Michelle Griep excels at painting a well-rounded Regency world complete with rakes, mystery, wit and deceptive charm. Brentwood is a dishy rake of a hero, complete with a sardonic edge and a protective manner; whereas his lady fair is of equal footing and provides a nice counterpart to rapier wit and a marriage of minds. I have often wondered why the CBA didn't produce more regencies with a Bow Street Runner flare and the tidbits about the runners, early detection and suspense were an added dash to this perfectly-crafted romance. Griep not only excels at offering an acute verisimilitude of London society, she also paints it through conversation and the vernacular is completely believable. This is a smart and sassy suspenseful read that kept me wanting more and kept the reading light on way too late into the night.

Shades of Surrender by Lynne Gentry

Brilliant. Full of life, love and colour I find it hard to believe that an author can pack such a punch in such a short allotment of words. Part fairytale and parable and chockful of glorious attributes to Divine Design, not to mention symbolism aplenty, I was whisked into an ancient world to revel in its smells and taste its dust, to experience its flits of colour and fall hard for a man and a woman destined to be together. I really am marvelling at Gentry's wordsmithery in this. She does a lot with very little. She dives right in and develops characters and a well-realized setting and I was sorry when it was over.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Because Sometimes Fictional Characters Need Twitter Accounts

Happy Friday,

For fun and giggles, I have given my lady detective Merinda Herringford her own twitter account.

She will probably speak to things indigenous to her Edwardian Torontonian world as well as quote her heroes MC Wheaton and Sherlock Holmes

She is a bachelor girl, a cracker jacks sleuth and an all around hoot ( at least I think so )

and she wears trousers a lot. And bobs her hair. In 1910.

Silly girl!

FOLLOW HER @herringfordm

Monday, November 17, 2014

"Esther" by Angela Elwell Hunt

Bold brilliant and gorgeous, Angela Hunt has long been one of the most talented pens in the industry. With her revitalization of the Esther story she couples her prominent research with her keen understanding of the time’s customs and culture to weave a redefining and definitive fictional account of the Biblical tale.
Hunt’s Esther is unlike any you have ever read: edgy, violent, gritty, visceral, lustful and romantic, it is a tale of perverse anxiety and fettered hope. Its characters are as colourful as the kohl-eyed virgins in the King’s harem, while the battlefields are awash with the blood of men fighting for a cause they may not wholly understand.  Xerxes himself is not tamed to fit the ideal romanticism of a sentimental fairytale; rather he is a brutal warrior, insecure and horrible: impaling men and tossing women aside like a half-drunk goblet of wine.

But, the triumph of the novel rests with the two narrators: Esther (Hadassah), she who would be queen and Harbonah, the Eunuch who has the king’s ear.

You will live in Esther’s world as it rounds out in coloured glory. You will taste and smell and feel it. You will be revolted by lavish, wonton parties and chilled by the brutal execution methods. More still, you will be beguiled by a young woman who does not believe in her blossoming beauty as much as she believes in her well-trained mind. Her cousin Mordecai has offered her liberties unknown to women of her age and she is well versed in the scholarship of her people.

Her tale is one of heartbreak and despair, of promise and loneliness and of a woman burdened with the weight of the survival of her people.  You will recognize that Esther didn’t adorn her head with the crown easily and that the choices she made were often ones made on tinterhooks. 

Harbonah is one of the most unique and interesting narrators I have ever met and his sad plight is an interesting juxtaposition with his fierce loyalty to the King.  Having been raised alongside Xerxes, he understands the king’s heart in a way few do. His connection with Mordecai and his immediate sense of Esther’s indelible spirit are interesting.
Harbonah  was also of interest to me because his life was so hopeless and yet he was able to appropriate other people’s happiness to make up for the want of his own. Denied his own family, love and children, he was forced to watch all of these natural parts of life take place around him, thus, supplanting his own repressed and vanquished desires on those he cared about.   As the king’s ally, his promotion of the young Esther is one of the most pivotal moments of the tale.

I was pleasantly surprised to see Bethany (which often stays within safe zones) published a book so sensual, so  intellectually visceral and so brilliantly chock full of Biblical verisimilitude.  It is gritty, disturbing, lustful and not without its brand of sexual connotation; but it is realistic.   Hunt’s previous biblical fiction was devoured by me when I was a kid ( JOSEPH!) and it is just wonderful that this, one of the most well-rounded authors alive, has returned to a calling.  You will close the book empowered, hopeful and changed.

Its usage of consonance, alliteration and daring innuendo is brilliant.

Quote time:

“by the time the first citizen of Susa arrived on the inaugural day of the king’s banquet, fresh white cotton curtains canopied the garden”  (consonance)

“the choppy waters outside Salamis churned with bloated bodies, planks, flaccid sails and so many overturned ships that a man could almost travel from ship to shore by stepping on battle debris” (vivid)

“My heart constricted at being called a possession. The children of Israel had been slaves in Egypt and Babylon and Moredcai would not want to know that I had stumbled into slavery, as well. He taught me to be an independent thinker, restraining my thoughts only where the Law of Moses demanded that I rein them in.”

“Before I knew it, my pliant tongue spilled my secrets into the room. Like irretrievable feathers flying from a ripped pillowcase, they fluttered throughout the chamber and made the king smile…when I had hoped to please him in a far different way.”

“I met the king’s ardor with an inquisitive passion of my own.”

book provided by Bethany House for review through Netgalley. Publishes January 2015

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Remembering Remembrance Day by Guest Blogger Kat Chin

image smartcanucks

The Canadian government, in a fit of stoic solidarity and patriotism - in the aftermath of the tragic shooting of Corporal Nathan Cirillo in Ottawa at the National War Memorial earlier this month - is moving to make Remembrance Day, November 11, a national statutory holiday. (Alberta already recognizes November 11 as a stat holiday, but many provinces, Ontario included, do not.)

The bill was submitted by NDP MP Dan Harris in the wake of the shooting. An almost unanimous vote followed (only two MPs voted against).

I am a proud Canadian, and have a great interest in our country's military history. I have been to Vimy and Theipval, Beaumont-Hamel and am a staunch supporter of our troops and veterans. I whole heartedly thank those who gave the ultimate sacrifice so that we have the freedom we have today, and encourage others to do the same. Because I have such a profound respect for our armed forces, I admit I am at times envious of those who have a relative who fought in service of our country - whether it be in World War One, World War Two, Afghanistan or any other conflict in our history.

When I visited Vimy Ridge in 2007, it was an overwhelming experience to stand where so much Canadian blood was shed, and to feel the cold wind blow over the green grass that seemed so peaceful, but hid so much suffering. I ran my fingers over the names engraved in the Memorial, and I shed tears at the thought of so many young men dying far from home, for a cause they firmly believed in, regardless of age or creed. They believed in fighting for their country, for their families, for the land they called home, and many died scared on the ridge I stood upon, wishing only to stop the pain or see their mothers one last time.

I've visited the Canadian War Museum, and spent a whole day learning about people and places that are long gone or are far away. I have a very active interest in learning about World War One and World War Two, and our country's role in both wars. I think it's important to honour and commemorate those who served. I think it's important to educate young people about the way Canadians fought for their country, and the sacrifices that were made, especially as we are losing our veterans too quickly.

And that is why I feel trepidation with regards to making Remembrance Day a statutory holiday. Right now, in most schools, the days leading up to November 11 are filled with lesson plans styled around Remembrance Day, field trips to the War Museum and cenotaphs and other memorial sites, stories of those who served in the wars, and a general discussion about the purpose of remembrance. And then on November 11, most schools hold their own Remembrance Day service, bringing their school community together, or the teachers take their classes to a municipal service. This is so important.

And I fear that if Remembrance Day became a statutory holiday, these lessons would fall to the side. Yes, adults have the capability to play hooky and take an hour off work and attend a memorial service, but school children would no longer have to participate in their school's service and pay their respects as a community. Instead, they'd sleep in, or play video games, and the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month would pass by unobserved. Now, that's not to say that many parents would take their children to a service, many already do - they pull their kids out of school in order to observe two minutes of silence together as a family, and to bear witness to the ever dwindling number of veterans who stand in the cold, honouring their fallen friends and comrades from so long ago. And still, I think that those parents are the ones who would continue to encourage education and research into Remembrance Day in their children. It's all the rest who I'm concerned about. Would they see this new statutory holiday as an opportunity to show their children why November 11 is important? Would they begin taking them to memorial services? Would they stand in the cold November chill for over an hour and watch the laying of the wreaths? Or would they all cuddle in front of the television and watch various ceremonies, and discuss what was happening and why?

Or, would they take the new free time to catch up on the latest episode of The Big Bang Theory, or Survivor, or finish the laundry or dishes, or sleep in and make a lesiurely breakfast? Would they even remember Remembrance Day? I know that this is possibly "worst-case scenario", but if you read the comments section (and that's not something I generally advocate doing) of many articles about making Remembrance Day a stat holiday, you'll notice that most of those who disagree with this bill are TEACHERS, PRINCIPALS, EDUCATORS. They realize the importance of teaching new generations about the sacrifice that was paid for us.

Yes, Dan Harris, your fervour is appreciated and understood, we share it as a country, but I think it is misplaced. We should be striving to increase care for our veterans and those who return home from active duty. We should be providing more help to those with PTSD and those confined to hospital due to injuries. We should be supporting the families of those who are lost to us, or need help being reintegrated into society. Leave Remembrance Day alone and instead use this new patriotic zeal to further awareness of the support our troops need.

Supporting our troops does not mean supporting war, it means supporting those who are brave enough to put their lives on the line for ours. Supporting our troops means supporting their families and loved ones. Supporting our troops means remembering what they do and have done for our country. Supporting our troops means making an effort, not making a holiday. Lest We Forget.

Kat Chin is a stage manager and war historian in Toronto. Find her on twitter 

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Giveaway: Heirs and Spares by J L Spohr

from author's website 

One of my favourite reads this year was by FAR Heirs and Spares by the inimitable J L Spohr.

Such zest! such humour! such warm romance! such political intrigue. (read my review)

I have been waiting on pins and needles for the next book God and King which is available for pre-order right now!

J L Spohr is kinda one of 2014's best writing discoveries for me and I want to share the love.  She has been kind enough to offer a hardback copy of Heirs and Spares.

You can win it!

All I need you to do is share in the comments below why you want to read this fab book and promise (on good faith ) that you will tweet, facebook, tell a friend, tell a library about Heirs and Spares and God and King and you will have a good shot at winning.

There are fabulous religious and political tenets to the book and it is surged with the most perfect historical nuances.  I really believe all my kindred spirits will find something perfect therein.

It will for you become, as it was for me, the best of new book friends.

buy Heirs and Spares

pre-order God and King 

Visit J L Spohr online 

on twitter