Tuesday, December 30, 2014

'The Look of Love' by Sarah Jio

I really wanted to love this book. The plot sounded amazing and within the first few pages I knew that it was a read I could sink myself into. I loved our heroine, Jane, and her experiences ( and lack thereof )in the romantic department. I also loved the breath of magic realism that allowed her to experience and see real, true love in all of its forms ( eros, agape, etc., ---get out your greek, kidlets), as per a gift bestowed upon her from birth.

Through a year in her Seattle life, this kind-hearted florist is brought to terms with love: as she experiences it around her and touching those close to her.
Where the book fell apart for me was how long it took for her to see the love in each and how muddily it was typified in the several instances used for example. This was my first Sarah Jio book and I know she is popular and, after this I can see why. She has an easy style and a great way of cutting and pasting the everyday happenstances of live, sprinkling them with a dash of something ethereal and magical and fun. But, this plot just didn't work because of the minimal time allotted each romantic pair, some unbelievable coincidences patched up too quickly at the end and Jane's own romance. I wanted Jane to have some brilliant, mind-boggling chance at love. Instead, I was confronted with a moment or two with a man who leads her into a typical romantic type misunderstanding. [what we have here, people, is a failure to communicate]. Some good lines kept me reading as did the chance at resolution.

The epilogue was a nice touch and Jio excelled at getting into the minds and hearts of each of the several characters spinning in Jane's orbit. But, Jane's personal story wasn't enough to keep me going.

That being said, I sped through this book. It keeps the pages turning. To add, I know that I will be checking out Jio's other books!

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Friday, December 26, 2014

'Landline' by Rainbow Rowell

Whimsical, romantic and with an aching sense of nostalgia, Rainbow Rowell's Landline proves, yet again, this author's wide and brilliant range. Rowell has an indomitably spirited flair first established in Attachments and pursued in "Eleanor and Park" and "Fangirl." Here, Rowell delves into adult relationships and the romance threaded between television writer Georgie and her husband the artistic and somewhat prickly Neal. Their courtship and history is delved into when Georgie finds a way to communicate with Neal in the past. Using the now ancient relic of an old telephone, Georgie finds a way to re-visit her relationship in hopes of setting a path that will help her succeed as the wife and mother she has always wanted to be.

As per always, Rainbow Rowell has an unmitigated talent for stringing the right words in an order surprising, beguiling and oh.so.real.

"He kissed her like he was drawing a perfectly straight line. He kissed her in India ink."

There is something so recklessly romantic about the way she pens her tales and yet the romance is carefully set within the realistic. You can believe in these characters. You want to seep into their world and inhabit their spaces. She is also ridiculously, rambunctiously funny and witty and wise and her dialogue snaps, crackles and pops.

"Georgie, you cannot be jealous of Dawn---that's like the sun being jealous of a lightbulb."

To add, Rowell is just adept at making you ache and pine for people who would make the best of friends.

"But Neal kept rubbing his cheek into hers, and it felt so nice---all the soft and hard parts of their faces catching on each other. Cheekbone on brow. Jawbone on chin. Neal's skin was flushed and warm. His hands were holding firm. He smelled like bar soap and beer and fabric paint."

I suppose what draws me to Rowell is the realness of experience. Her words give magic to the ordinary and her deft touch colours in the lines of the commonplace. Yes, there is a lovely retreat to be found in the fantastical magic phone --- but that does little but plod the plot along. The real magic to the book is in the keen way Rowell sees relationships, paints her characters and inhabits their world with a sly, smart smirk that differentiates her from any other living writer.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

The Witch of Painted Sorrows by MJ Rose

Reader note: This book contains heavy sexual content, violence, spells and dark magic.

Possession. Power. Passion. New York Times bestselling novelist M. J. Rose creates her most provocative and magical spellbinder yet in this gothic novel set against the lavish spectacle of 1890s Belle Époque Paris.

Sandrine Salome flees New York for her grandmother’s Paris mansion to escape her dangerous husband, but what she finds there is even more menacing. The house, famous for its lavish art collection and elegant salons, is mysteriously closed up. Although her grandmother insists it’s dangerous for Sandrine to visit, she defies her and meets Julien Duplessi, a mesmerizing young architect. Together they explore the hidden night world of Paris, the forbidden occult underground and Sandrine’s deepest desires.

Among the bohemians and the demi-monde, Sandrine discovers her erotic nature as a lover and painter. Then darker influences threaten—her cold and cruel husband is tracking her down and something sinister is taking hold, changing Sandrine, altering her. She’s become possessed by La Lune: A witch, a legend, and a sixteenth-century courtesan, who opens up her life to a darkness that may become a gift or a curse.

This is Sandrine’s “wild night of the soul,” her odyssey in the magnificent city of Paris, of art, love, and witchery. -

I was completely in the mood for this book: which is thick and dark and magical and enchanting and suited the darkest night of the year.   A perfect Solstice book!   It is a treatise on liberty and passion woven with a deft pen that understands the complex nature of art, but also inserts a magical tapestry of precise historical authenticity.  Perfect escapist fiction, The Witch of Painted Sorrows features impeccable descriptions of artistry, witchery, magic and dark spiritualism set against the lush and unmistakable canvas of the Belle Epoque.  

It is romantic and savoury, especially upon Sandrine's encounters with the dashing architect Julien. While she is all romance and magic, he is all precision and atheism and the two clash in mind and spirit all the while against age-old sorcery, enchanted baubles, slick-cobblestoned alleys and spirits that go bump in the night.

Sandrine even dresses as a man in order to gain admittance to a renowned art school, her form and talent becoming more and more unmistakable as she realizes that her hand may hold the brush that spreads paint wide and colourful and evocative, but her spirit is melded with someone elses.

The descriptives are perfect, the sensual whiff of Parisienne culture and custom transformative.  Paris is as much a character as any dimensional human borne of Rose's pen.   Alchemy, The Picture of Dorian Grey, the promise of life eternal......all intertwined with the magic of a gorgeous, gilded era.

I enjoyed this sumptuous book immensely, though I do warn readers of stark mature and sexual content.   To add, those sensitive to dark arts may be off-put by Sandrine's possession by La Lune, the exorcisms she undergoes, and the uninhibited passions, wrongs and triumphs as La Lune attempts to find peace as a wearied soul.

Not for everyone, but perfect escapist fiction. If you don't mind some rated 18A content, then treat yourself to Rose's talented pen. 

note: I received this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

In which I Sign a Book Contract


so thrilled that you will get to meet my lady detectives, Jem and Merinda, for real.

Inspired by my passion for all things Sherlock Holmes, I am thrilled to the gills to be signing with Harvest House.   I have had the best time emailing with my fun new editor and plotting out the entire thing.

Three novels (beginning with the Bachelor Girl's Guide to Murder in early 2016 ) are coming your way.

But... you also get some Sherlock Holmes-sized novellas---starting in Dec 2015.

so stay tuned

Thursday, December 11, 2014

TV Review: The Red Tent

When I was in University I read The Red Tent and I loved it. I didn’t think of it as harmful. I didn’t think of it as revisionist. Rather, I thought of it as embellishing a slight snippet of scripture whose weight allotted for speculation and research. If you think about it, Biblical fiction does a lot to embroider and embellish and for the most part we embrace it. Probably my favourite Biblically themed novels of all time Ben-Hur and The Thief (by Stephanie Landsem) use Christ as a peripheral character whose essence is the center. Nonetheless, we assume Him into the life of characters that are highly fictitious. My favourite Old Testament re-telling “In the Field of Grace” by Tessa Afshar does the same with the Ruth and Boaz story, planting fictional seeds that allow the eventual coming of Christ to inhabit the pages.

Also in University, not long after reading the Red Tent, I attended a weekend of seminars designed to look at the Bible merely as a great piece of literature. For this, I set my faith and my pre-conceived notions aside, immersing myself instead in the beauty of translation ---from the Hebrew and Greek, through the Latin Vulgate and finally to the King James and the numerous translations we are familiar with today. From structure ( prose, as in the Message) and modernization (the NIV) ,we recognize that this is a tome that has undergone a lot of sieving and a lot of filtering. For me, what is important, is that the general message stays the same. The authenticity is in the feeling. The feeling is in interpreting it with the guidance of a Higher Power. The Bible is one book that is borne of relationship, of study and of personal conviction. That being said, like any other story I read and love, I look for the essence of truth and the intent when I visit interpretations of the story.

I revisited the Red Tent in its Lifetime incarnation and was, again, completely compelled by this embellishment of the Biblical tale. It didn’t change my set opinions on the story, it didn’t threaten my faith, it didn’t offend me. Rather, it seemed to make a lot of sense. Anita Diamant painstakingly researched the world of the women of Jacob’s tribe and here she inserts her own ideas and plausible event sequences to colour in the patriarchal lines. To add, it is just a gorgeous filmed and heart-wrenching story of family, of love, of suffering and of a woman strong enough to overcome injustice while still doing good to those around her.

The Red Tent is the eponymous name given the place where women during their monthly cycles and confinement and childbirth would retreat. Diamant admits there is no factual evidence for such a structure in the Biblical tale; but she makes a convincing argument that it was often a custom of many Middle Eastern cultures of ancient times and knowing that women in both natural areas were viewed as unclean as per later Leviticus law, makes a lot of sense. It is here that we are guided first and foremost to meet sisters Rachel and Leah and their handmaids Bilhah and Zilpah.

Jacob, as in the Biblical tale known to most, arrives to aid the farmer Laban and falls immediately in love with his beautiful daughter Rachel. Unlike in the Biblical story familiar to us, Rachel, scared of the act of love on their marriage night, forces Leah to wed in her stead with a veil covering her. Jacob and Leah consummate their marriage and Jacob enters into the family. Leahs gives him several sons, as per Biblical record, and Rachel, often barren, one golden boy named Joseph. Finally, Dinah, the daughter of Jacob and Leah arrives and it is her voice and life explored.

She is raised in the sphere of women in the Red Tent and eventually becomes apprentice to her mothers (especially Rachel ) who are talented midwives. Inside the Red Tent, everything is cloistered and shrouded in feminine sphere. While Jacob is adamant his offspring follow the faith of One God, the women still pray to idols of fertility and motherhood. For Christians and religious types who are interpreting this as blasphemous, I instead assert it is quite plausible given the time period and the known obsession with idols. [ I heard some banter on the internet where people were admonishing this aspect for being “un Christian” which is, face it, a little ridiculous considering there was no Christ for which to be Christian]


I get a little perambulatory here; but I did find that the story led me to do some forward thinking as one often does in the Old Testament while anticipating the sanctity and redemption of the New.

While the story has shifted and facts have been embroidered and in some factors re-imagined, I assert that the strongest themes of the miniseries and the novel are themes that believers should applaud: themes of grace and forgiveness. Usurping thoughts of revenge with magnanimous acts of benevolence. When Dinah witnesses Jacob reconciling with his brother Esau, her mother Leah bids her to mark the moment and remember it: for ( and I paraphrase) we can measure the quality and strength of a man by his ability to forgive. Later, in Egypt, upon her deathbed, Dinah’s mother in law begs for forgiveness for her ill-treatment of Dinah and for sequestering Dinah’s son. Dinah gives forgiveness. When Joseph, at this point vizier of Egypt sentences Dinah’s son Ramos to execution for an attempt on his life, he forgives by reducing the sentence to exile and sparing his nephew. Finally, as Jacob lays dying, Dinah gives the gift of forgiveness by tending to the father she had years earlier disowned.

Blood is a major motif:
the blood which brings life ( which can put believers in mind of the Cross and the ultimate act of life giving ) and the blood of the slain men in Shashem. Of sacrifice when Shalem and his King father are willing to offer the bride price of circumcision as per Jacob’s wish. Blood marring cloth otherwise perfectly spotless and white—Shalem provides Dinah with a snowy shawl on the night of their wedding which later, blood-stained, becomes reminiscent of another cloth marred with blood.

There are also wonderful moments of grace and symbols of communion. Jacob’s mother, the oracle Rebecca who—in this adaptation is attributed for Joseph’s ability with dream interpretation---is often visited by impoverished pilgrims who wait for hours in the hot sun to provide her with offering and wait to hear their fortunes. Noticing their hunger, Dinah and Rebecca’s slave girl break bread and provide it to the poor standing in line. Grace is found when Dinah risks her life to descend into the valleys of Thebes and aid the life of an abused pregnant woman at risk of her own. Dinah, too, eventually accepts her gift of midwifery and despite the prejudice afforded the “Foreign Born midwife” and her stubborn pride at the occupation’s harkening back to her tumultuous past, she casts it aside to help the women in need. Even as it takes her to the castle yet again where she will deliver (unbeknownst to her) her brother Joseph’s first son.

There are people who are automatically going to look at the two major departures from the Biblical story ( here, Dinah is not raped inspiring her brother’s bloody revenge, rather she falls in love with the prince and marries without her father’s consent and Rachel and Leah not being ordered by Laban to trade bridal places when Jacob asks for Rachel’s hand). But by just looking at the creative license here and fostering and mulling on these supposed discrepancies, they will miss the beauty of a story that is knit with grace, resilience and, ultimately, the power of forgiveness over vengeance. There are not many more Christian themes than these. Instead of attacking stories that try to present moments of goodness and light amidst the magnanimous grandeur of the Biblically historical setting, we should look at how these stories might inspire eventual readership, scholarship and study. Diamant takes departures, but she does so respectfully and the intent and the outcome, not to mention the positive changes that can be wrought from this inspiring story, are something not to scorn but to praise.

Guest Post: Jaime Wright on being Done with book heroes....

Jaime's getting a little sick of the regular same-old book hero
(I am secretly hoping she likes my Ray when she meets him). As in all guest posts, opinions are those of the author)  A few Rachel thoughts: as an equalist, I don't always like the "aggressive, leading man" trope because I want men and women to be equal. What I like is confidence :) and what I like is strength in more ways than one. Some guys have physical strength--the type you see in the Rock, some guys have strength in swagger, like John Wayne--- but some guys have intellectual strength (Benedict Cumberbatch) and some guys have emotional strength --the strong, silent type. So what defines strength to you?   Jaime raises a good discussion point, and I would love to hear your thoughts.... )

From Jaime:

I’m done with book heroes. Seriously. What happened to them? They’ve all become … pasty. Ok. My husband tells me not to use all-encompassing words like “all” because it’s not an accurate representation of truth. Fine. Most of the book heroes have become … pasty.
I read a book the other day. The hero never argued, didn’t bite back, and when he finally snapped – he apologized. Apologized? Instantaneously? It was enough to curdle my toes and curl my stomach. So, I switched from inspirational fiction to general market. That hero ripped the woman’s corset off (which means he needed hands of steel because corsets don’t rip easily) and became as loving as a cave man on pre-historic crack.

Where are the real men in fiction, I ask? The ones who are temperamental, sweaty from labor (not other unmentionables), have pasts that haunt, grip, and wound, and are brutes. My husband is a brute. I love it. The other night I stubbed my toe and whined for about five minutes until he looked up from his book and said “seriously, Hon, get over it”. Love. That. Realism. Men are real. In so much fiction today, in that situation, my husband would have leapt from his chair after tossing his book five yards away from him. He would have cupped my wounded foot in strong hands, peeled my sock off, stroked my toe, and bandaged it. All while I was somehow perched in his lap. Then he would have moved in for a kiss, or an almost kiss, and then the chapter would end and leave you hanging.
That is not a real man. I’m lucky my husband even noticed I stubbed my toe.
Or maybe it is in your life. I suppose some sensitive souls exist. Maybe. Somewhere.
Is it just me? We’re even at the point of celebrating finely boned men, with cheekbones that demand blush, and skin that is more porcelain than a baby’s. (I’m hearkening Orlando Bloom in my head – don’t kill me). What happened to the strong, rugged Russell Crowe’s, or the husky-voiced Harrison Fords, or the suave, debonair Cary Grants?
I want to venture (*disclaimer: this is my personal theory, not based on statistics, theology, a college degree or anything more than two shots of espresso and a refill) that society has drifted away from the strong male for a primary reason:
1.      Female empowerment
Let me cut this down for you—and don’t bristle, I’m the queen of female independence. Still…

As women, in the 21st Century, we want our individuality. Whatever historical and societal issues exists, the fact remains, and will always be there: We don’t want to be ruled by the strong male. Dominance. Slavery. I call it the Cinderella-Effect. We want our dresses and the key to our cell, so if we leave the prince standing aimless and heartbroken, it’s because we wanted to. Ouch. Now that’s something to be proud of, ladies. Let’s weaken our males so we can be strong.
We daren’t marry the strong male type, or date, or even entertain the idea for fear he’ll lock us away and we’ll be scraping pumpkin off our shoes for the rest of our life. ERRR! Back up. The strong male type is totally misconstrued. If you want to hearken Scripture, it doesn’t even define the strong male as the ruler, king, or probably better termed, “the dictator”. It defines the strong male as the protector, defender, leader, and the one who takes the bullets. Well, hold up there. I’m a strong female. Horribly strong. I’m totally willing to take bullets for my family, defend and even lead. But there’s also something super attractive when the man steps up and says “I’ve got this”. Super attractive. And when he reinforces my talents, my intelligence, and my feminine strength, I suddenly don’t have issue with playing follow the leader. Because, in reality, he’s holding my hand and we’re in this together. Who doesn’t love a great team player? My husband empowers me. He is my energy-force-field. He stands behind me, cherishes me, and sacrifices for me. Now there’s a strong hero-type.
So back to fiction, now that I’m off my coffee-induced soap box and have now raised a thousand theological eyebrows. This isn’t intended to be an argument for submission vs. independence. It’s an argument for the man to be … well … manly, again. And that as women who want to be strong, we don’t emasculate the male into being stupid, weak-kneed, Ray Romano idiot-types. God created men, ladies. That includes the fact that they just might not kiss our boos-boos, apologize like sweet baby boy angels, and act all Victorian-gentlemanly. They just might outright chuckle when we trip and face plant. They might even forget to apologize because in their minds, that issue was done and over with three days ago, so why are you still stewing about it?

I told my husband I already have his epitaph set and ready for his gravestone. Get over it. It’s his favorite catch-phrase and it’s reality. He’s dead. Move on. Get over it. Have the life God intended and stop weeping over the grave that holds a lifeless body when he’s perfectly happy in eternity.
I digress. In short, my point is this: I miss the real male in fiction.
Can we write him again? Can we write the cowboy who forgets to tip his hat in the direction of the lady? Can we write the hero who rides a Harley with a blackened eye from a fist fight? And what about the Bible-preaching preacher who tells his parishioner to stop sinning because it’s just plain wrong—forget tip-toeing around the truth.

Bring back the MAN to the HERO.
That’s my cry.
That’s my plea.
Signed, yours truly,

And extremely independent female who appreciates a good, strong, Godly, aggressive leading man.

About Jaime: 

Professional coffee drinker Jaime Wright resides in the hills of Wisconsin writing spirited and gritty turn-of-the-century romance stained with suspense. Her day job finds her a Director of Associate Sales, Development & Relations. She’s wife to a rock climbing, bow-hunting youth pastor, mom to a coffee-drinking little girl and a Sippy cup-drinking baby boy, and completes her persona by being an admitted Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Blogspot junkie.

Jaime is a member of ACFW, enjoys mentorship from a best-selling author, and has the best critique partners EVER! (Yes, that's an exclamation point.) She was a semifinalist in ACFW’s 2013 Genesis contest and that alone encouraged excessive celebration over extra espresso with hazelnut syrup.

Find Jaime on the web

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Highlights of Allison ,Rachel and Friends Live-Facebooking Peter:Pan Live

Peter Pan:Live  was not nearly as mockable as I was hoping.  Not nearly as mockable as The Sound of Music: Live which was great content destroyed by awkward acting and pauses and staging. BRILLIANT, BRILLIANT mockery.

Peter Pan:Live is just bad content staged as a showcase for boyishly angular Allison Williams and very awkward Christopher Walken ( take a shot every time he forgets one of his lines .....) 

and it was SUPER boring.  Like, it didn't end.....forever....

and several friends showed up on the chain to diss and discuss.

And Allison and I were at our snarkiest......

And over on twitter, Broadway stars who loaned some respectability to Sound of Music: Live weighed in.........

And during commercial breaks we compared the differences between Canadian and American commercials while Ruth Anderson found us shirtless pictures of Jason Isaacs ( Hook/Mr. Darling in the movie from years back )

And when we couldn't take the ridiculousness on our screen, we improvised with Google images......

And then we found pictures of a shirtless Chris Walken and played up games on his name.....and Jessica Keller won the day with some DW.

And it was all fun and games until we realized it was NEVER GOING TO END.....

And then Kelly Rogers from Kailana's Written World made a cameo

And then Hillary swooped down with some Chris Messina to try and make us all feel better.....

And Gina (from Dickensblog) had a brilliant theory on the NBC musical casting process....

There are several recaps of the monumental event:

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Quirky Romances that Rachel Really Loves

I have been talking with my friends Hillary and Melissa about favourite romantic movies.   We talk a lot about everything and we always want to make sure we have all seen what the others love.

Here are a few quirky movies that just touch the romantic in me in some way shape or form. To add, they might not be overtly familiar to everyone .

Princess Caraboo:  loosely based on a true story, this whimsical tale is set during the prime of the Regency---Prince Regent and everything! ---involving a stowaway pretending to be a princess (she even has her own language) adopted by an aristocratic family.  Several believe she is a fraud, though, including a reporter with lots of gumption ( I love those!) played by Stephen Rea.

Sliding Doors:  I love love love this Choose Your Own Adventure tale and its quotable lines by the inimitable John Hannah ( seen here with gorgeous Scotch accent in tow).  In one life, Helen catches the subway train, in the other she doesn't and her life intersects letting you know what each path would hold.  Romantic, daring and sweet. GREAT hero.

Crossing Delancey:  a recent discovery of mine thanks to a post by Susanna Kearsley on facebook.  I watched it every night when I was in Boston recently in my hotel :) You can tell immediately that the screenplay is whisked from a stage play. The dialogue is so tight. Isabella works at a bookstore and is romanced by a pretentious author. All the while a man who sells pickles has his eye on her.  When a professional matchmaker and her Bubbe attempt to set her up, she learns a lot about herself.  Just a sweet, quiet exposition on ideals met and changed.  GREAT HERO!  knows himself. Has a Knightley-esque confidence about him.

The Giant Mechanical Man:  This is one that Ruth introduced me to and I have a thing for Chris Messina in this. He is so mesmerizing.  He plays Tim a talented street performer who bonds with Janice a meek and mild unemployed woman. They both try to maze through life with late night pie, silent films and menial jobs at the local zoo.  There's a real Chaplin-esque flair to this.

The Mirror Has Two Faces: my favourite romantic comedy of all time.   Jeff Bridges plays a stalwart math professor at Columbia who places an ad for a platonic relationship based on a marriage of minds and not sex and Rose, a spinster English professor ( played by Barbra Streisand) answers.  I swear I quote this film once a day.  Its exposition on the medieval conception of Courtly Love and its beguiling exploration of two people attempting to embark on a physically passionless relationship just hits me.     Observe how  subversive it is: using romantic cliches to make its point--- down to clips of Now, Voyager and Brief Encounter and the ironic use of a swelling Marvin Hamlisch composed soundtrack.

The Purple Rose of Cairo  My favourite Woody Allen film features Mia Farrow has a humiliatingly abused wife obsessed with the pictures.  One evening she finds herself so engaged in the "Purple Rose of Cairo" ( traditional 30s tripe with high-faluting talk, martinis and buried treasure), she finds herself dating the hero. Winsome, sweet, nostalgic and yearning.

Romantics Anonymous:  This sweet French confection focuses on two people with severe social anxiety disorders who find love  over their shared passion for chocolate.  It is almost awkwardly painful to watch at times; but resilient and exhilarating at others.

Cluny Brown: long time favourite classic of mine adapted from the equally quirky novel by Margery Sharp by director Ernst Lubitsch. It more than has his famous touch.   Cluny is a plumber's daughter who ends up at the prestigious estate of the Carmel family as war erupts. While she sets her cap on the boring local apothecary, the visiting impoverished and daring writer Adam Belinski (CHARLES BOYER!!!!!!!) sets his sights on her.   The euphemisms and innuendo are a mile a minute.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Am Writing: waiting to use that perfect, magical setting

It’s neat to be of the imaginative writerly ilk because I often think of myself as a piece of Velcro. The strangest things stick with me. Because they stick, I often keep them in a mental jar to be pulled out when needed. What I am inspired by may not necessarily winnow its way into my current scribbling project.
omgomgomgomgomgomgomg so purty

I knew somehow, somewhere, in some way since I was in grade 9 and first stepped in, that the Elgin and Winter Garden theatres would someday make their way into a fictional landscape of my crafting.

The Winter Garden is amazing and magical and romantic and breathtaking. I always jest that when people see it for the first time it elicits an immediate gasp of surprise and I am right. It is just one of the most lovely pockets in the great over-coat that is Toronto.

And with the ornate floral scenery of the Winter Garden tucked away, I saved it--- I saved it for something special. I scribbled and scribbled several books wherein the Winter Garden could play in. The main theatre in the building, the Elgin, and its gilt-edged proscenium arch and wrought-iron elevators and sheer Edwardian splendor were a wonderful place to creatively inhabit. But I never used it. I scribbled and wrote and scribbled knowing/hoping someday I would find a time to pull it out.

It would make the BEST spot for a romantic rendezvous or a meet-cute or one of those I know that You Know that You Love Me, I love You revelatory moments that make my fingertips all buzzy. It would make the best secret hideaway.

When I was white-boarding my lady detective novels I couldn’t get the Winter Garden out of my head. I was like: is this the story? Is this it? It fit. It worked. I plotted and played. But it wasn’t just working the setting it, it was deciding if the setting was worthy of the characters, fit them like a glove and vice versa.

It worked----


Except I had a teensy problem: the book I wrote was set before the Elgin and Winter Garden theatres opened. (they opened in 1913 by Mr. Loews, so I eventually catch up to it in my timeline) So, I sacrificed authenticity for creative license and le voila! Created my own double-decker theatres that are an absolute replica of the one of Toronto’s crowning architectural treasures. I don't do well at hiding it.  It is the most obvious descriptive comparison ever.

Then came the challenge of putting it in words. Stifling and pruning my wonderment of a place where the magnitude and scope of its singular brilliance can never quite be captured in writing:

“… slowly, clicking, buzzing, the theatre illuminated. A secret garden fairyland. Overhead a forest of plants, vines and leaves intertwined, the walls elaborately painted in woodland splendor, dried flowers hanging from the ceiling and ornamenting the wall sconces and lantern-holders. The colored lights specked the ceiling like rainbowed stars setting the beauty of the garland design incendiary”

So I relied on my loquacious hyper-sensationalized over-romanticism: “I held out my hand, deftly tracing the tender outline of a gold-embossed design on one of the pillars, sculpted like a tree, furrowing up to a painted night sky canvas at which the focal point was an embellished moon.”

Needless to say, research trips to steal into the crevices and backstage and up squeaky steps and over the fire-escape of this wonder-world were not hard for my die-hard romanticism to endure

The theatre became putty in my writerly hands and I cajoled and coaxed it into something that gave me giggles and elated glee.

Having used it --- knowing that it was there – I am currently in the process of parading it out again as I write book II in the series and keeping it in my heart’s eye for book III.

It is not going to be analogous to my Jem and Merinda series. I know I will use it again. But I am glad I saved it, this ornate gold-mine, because once I had it as my mental putty I teased it with such aplomb.

It fits my plaything character puppets and their world and their desires. And they fit in it like they belong there—as they do in all of Toronto, cozying into its furrowed old-sweater folds.

Monday, December 01, 2014

Allison and Rachel's Christmas Film Extravaganza Day One: Merry Christmas you Wonderful Old Building and Loan

Today is the first day that Allison and I are going to be providing you with the best of the best and the worst and worst-best Christmas movie fare.

We both love Christmas movies and we cannot wait to navigate the Hallmark, the cartoons, the good bad, ugly and classics! Comedies! and Peter Pan: Live with all of you.

You’ll be here at A Fair Substitute for Heaven on Dec 1, 8, 14, 20, 26 and over at Allison's 4, 11, 17, 23, 29 

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. James 1:17

For me, the ultimate Christmas classic is a film that has been appropriated by the season. Long in the public domain, a film that had not specifically been made for Christmas is a beacon of remembrance for many.  One of hope, second chances, a Dickensian flare for a visiting angel and a sweet, resonating love story.  Indeed, its Dickensian tropes: from a small village adorned with the Christmas emblems made popular in the Victorian age to the snatching, creeping Scrooge-like Potter are easy for fans of the great British author to see.  Unfortunately, unlike Scrooge’s tale, Potter is left without redemption (horrible old spider that he is).  But fear not, for redemption is nigh and borne of sacrifice. Here, when George Bailey gives up his dreams of traveling the world and shaking the dust of Bedford Falls off his boots; when George and Mary disperse of their honeymoon money when there is a raid on the bank, when George steps up to Mr Potter in the stead of his absent-minded Uncle Billy who has lost the deposit.

I cannot even write of these moments without tearing up. 

Zuzu's Petals
Buffalo Gals 
the National Geographic Society
"George Bailey, I'll love you 'til the day I die..."

A love story not just between George Bailey and the sweet-faced Mary Hatch (Donna Reed) but a love story between George and Mr. Gower, the druggist overcome with grief at his son’s loss,  and George and the memory of his father,  George and Bedford Falls, the town he gives up everything for, George and his Uncle Billy, George and his brother Harry whom he rescues, sacrificing his hearing and risking his life .  To wit, it is also a love story between a community post-war and post-depression that needs something to believe in.  Some optimism subversive to the long-stretching clutches of the wily Mr. Potter.

It’s a Wonderful Life advocates thanksgiving and redemption and grace. But it also asserts a perfectly plotted narrative emblemizing the web that we spin and the lives that we touch.   For writers, this expert plotting and perfect characterization allow us to fall so deeply into Bedford Falls' spell that at the end, as George runs through the snowy Main Street unaccustomed to being treated as a stranger, so we, too, are surprised that our new friends are not embracing them. We know Nick Martini, we know Mary. We know George's mother. We know Annie the housekeeper. We know them all. We have seen them through George's eyes and subsequently have embraced them as he has. 

It also is expert in symbolism and technique. Consider George's family business: helping families build the homes that will become the foundations of the Christmas hearth gatherings and traditions so brilliantly evoked in the film's iconic closing scene. 

As a child I was taught that even those things not specifically crafted with Christian resonance, if good and pure, could be yet another emblem of the Maker’s craftsmanship and there is so much of the divine in It’s A Wonderful Life. More than the hokey “Every time a bell rings…” line that my brother Jared mocks every year; but ingrained in its stronger thematic resonance.

Share redemption, sacrifice and grace.  Harken back to a time when idealism reined supreme and Capra-esque optimism patched up a nation late of War.

It's a Wonderful Life also does well at infusing a carol that presents the whole of the Gospel message in its stanza. 

(and get all this goodness and light out of your system, ‘cause the Lifetime and Hallmark fare shall soon rear it’s wonderfully ugly head! )