Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Christmas Reading

So,  during my two week holiday from my real job I have been

a.) writing up a storm on A Lesson in Love and Murder 

b.) hanging out with my splendid family and my adorable 7 month old niece and aunts and cousins and doing family Christmas stuff in my little hometown of Orillia

c.) working through Endeavour with my parents


Only fun books ( although that's a bit of a lie because I have been doing a lot of research on the history of the Royal Northwest Mounted Police for Lesson in Love and Murder 

A few highlights:

I finally finished Clockwork Prince and Clockwork Princess by Cassandra Clare and I love Jem but I am #TeamWill but mostly I love Henry and Charlotte

I read  A Week to be Wicked and When A Scot Ties the Knot by Tessa Dare.  (note:mature subject in these ones, so be ye aware)
Tessa Dare's books are consistent in making me laugh (lobsters in When A Scot Ties the Knot) but there was some magic about Week to be Wicked. To be honest, I cannot remember the last time I stayed up til 3:30 in the morning finishing a book.  The magic of holidays.  

[from When A Scot Ties the Knot: Sometimes a woman doesn't quite fit in with her expected role. We do what we can to make our own way, carve out a space for ourselves."

And I laughed through every page.  This is an arresting book that will validate anyone who has felt out of place.  There are almost picaresque elements to Colin's ability to charm his way across the country: amidst gaming halls and brothels and highway robbers in order to transport Minerva across the border to Scotland and a Geology Society in Edinburgh.

A few quotes:

"When Minerva lost herself in a book, her late father had once remarked, a man needed hounds and a search party to pull her back out."

"Did I say disgusting? I meant enchanting. I've always wanted to go to bed with a primeval sea snail."

"Her eyes always caught that wild, desperate spark just before she did something extraordinary."

"Men never hesitated to declare their presence. They were permitted to live aloud, in reverberating thuds and clunks, while ladies were always schooled to abide in hushed whispers."

"You didn't destroy my dreams. You broke me out of my shell. There was bound to be a bit of a mess."

I also read a fun book called Beauty and the Werewolf by Mercedes Lackey because I love re-tellings of this fairytale. Also, there were some very hilarious lines in this book:


"Eat your soup and stop feeling sorry for yourself."
"I wasn't just being gallant. I already knew you were brave."

Another enchanting read was The Witches of Cambridge by Menna van Praag. I read and loved and raved about The Dress Shop of Dreams around the same time last year so I was delighted when Random House sent me an ARC of this new tale.   If you love Alice Hoffman and Sarah Addison Allen then this is the author for you.

A thread of magical realism is subtly weaved into women's fic with a splash of romance, familial relationships, bittersweet introspection on love and loss and a perfectly gothic setting of Cambridge and its university: home to several witches!

Luscious recipes with herbs to infuse delectable spells,  The Witches of Cambridge is a retrospective on art,food, love, romance and loss.  Love in its many facets of light and dark.

"It's as if his heart doesn't reside in his chest but sits,waiting and open wide, just beneath his eyes. And you believe that if you look long enough you'll fall right in."

There is such simple wisdom and universal truth in what Van Praag serves here and she does so with such a sly wink that you are lost in her languid prose, awed at how easy she makes it seem whereas really she is a master wordsmith.

Monday, December 14, 2015

The Ultimate Christmas Q and A with Melissa Tagg

1.)   Favourite Christmas Carol
Good King Wenceslas!
J/K I just wanted to see if I could spell Wenceslas correctly on the first try and weirdly, I totally did. My true favorite is probably Hark, The Herald Angels Sing. Or Joy to the World. Or, ooh, O Holy Night.
2.)   Earliest christmas memory
I’m honestly not sure which Christmas this is from, but I know I was super young (like, probably three or four, maybe five) and I have this memory of getting purple footie pajamas with a little embroidered Winnie the Pooh up near the top. My sister got matching ones. And I remember putting them on and rubbing my hands up and down the sleeves…so soft! Kind of a weird memory, but it’s the earliest Christmas one I’ve got!
3.)   Toy you remember wanting really badly and why
Oh my gosh! I was obsessed with wanting a white popple for several years. I had a purple one—a mini one. But I wanted the full-size white one. I don’t even know why because I look back now and think other colors are cooler. But whatevs. The childish heart wants what the childish heart wants.
4.)   Did you ever write a letter to Santa?
Possibly? I mean, I wrote a ton as a kid, so it’s very possible. But I don’t remember ever truly believing in Santa. (Which I suppose might sound sad, but believe me, I had plenty of imagination and whimsy as a kid.) So I’m not sure I ever wrote one seriously. If I did, it was probably a school assignment. And I probably asked for a white popple!
5.)   You can choose only one movie to watch every Christmas for the rest of your life, what is it ?
Easiest question ever! It’s a Wonderful Life. Hands-down.
6.)   Egg nog or cider?
Cider! Cider! Cider! Truthfully egg nog kinda grosses me out.
7.)   What is your favourite moment in One Enchanted Christmas?
Awww fun question. I have several but probably one of my favorites is this moment in chapter seven or eight, I think, where Drew is in the kitchen looking for an extension cord in a junk drawer and Maren comes in and is sliding over the hard floor in her socks (something I do everyday in my place) and she’s got tinsel in her hair and Drew just has this moment where he looks at her and for once, just does exactly what he wants…stops thinking about everyone and everything else and impulsively asks her out. Just like that. And then he accidentally pulls the drawer off its hinges and everything spills out. And I don’t know, something about that little moment felt real life-ish to me as I wrote it.
8.)   You can invite FIVE people from Stars Hollow for your Christmas party. Who do you choose?
LOVE! Honestly, I’m waffling on Lorelai because in many ways, I feel very similar to her and do we really need both of us there? So no one get mad at me, but I’m gonna nix her. And I’m gonna go with:

Luke (obvs)
Jess (OBVS)
Sookie (‘cause she’s hilarious)
Michel (also ‘cause he’s hilarious)
And the town troubadour
(Also, I really kind of wanted to say Max because the older I get, the more he appeals to me. But I don’t think he’s from Stars Hollow. I also waffled on Miss Patty in place of the town troubadour because, hello, amusement factor. But the town troubadour can provide entertainment, so he won out.)

9.)   Pick a reindeer.
Can I choose Buddy the Elf instead? J/K I think I’ll go with Cupid because to me Christmas is kinda romancey, so I don’t know, it feels fitting.

10.)Best TV Christmas special of all time

What if I told you I’m woefully under-qualified to answer this? I don’t watch very many Hallmark Christmas movies, for instance. I’m more of a classic Christmas movie girl. But oh, oh, wait! In the 80s there was a Muppet’s Family Christmas TV special. Loved it! And check it out…you can watch the whole thing on YouTube! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ojtGHXsTXmU 

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Theatre! Mini-Reviews: 'Cinderella' and 'Anne and Gilbert'

toronto theatre.com

The revival of this lesser known Rodgers and Hammerstein piece opened last week here on its National Tour after mixed reviews ( though a few Tonys!) on Broadway.

I knew nothing about the music or the adaptation of the story before I went .  I confess that I was disappointed with the book to the musical : some of the lyrics being forced to rhyme together while the secondary plots weren’t really developed at all.  While the orchestration was a dream, the lyrics were stilted and too often expected without the turn of nuanced phrase that contributes to the lasting impressions of other musicals by the pair like Sound of Music and The King and I.

That being said every single actor on the stage was top-notch, the voices soared through the beautiful Edwardian Mirvish theatre and the dancing was divine.  The costumes were slight of hand and really quite as magical as the subject matter and the sets of enchanted forest and glistening palace alike.    

An opulent musical with expert staging that just suffers from some lukewarm storytelling.  Cast and crew  nor composer to blame.

p.s. how does she do that dress change before the ball? I have no clue. Youtube has been no help.


We went off to Ottawa for this one! 

This is a musical that has become a staple in Charlottetown and Summerside during the summer: a sort of continuation of the favourite Anne of GG Musical which I am not afraid to admit I loathe.    This is a far more mature piece and actually a pretty close adaptation of Anne of the Island. Unlike other adaptations, and indeed the book itself, it really excels at digging a little deeper into Gilbert’s perspective.  While the first act was a bit scattered, I found things really tightened in the second when Anne and Gil, Moody and Josie end up at Redmond.  Here, Anne meets the equally luminous and flirtatious Philippa and her upper class beau Royal Gardner. All while Gil sits on the sidelines, hoping Anne finally catches up to him.

The staging was great: a sort of an elaborate puzzle with pieces that interlocked and spread apart. The costumes, too, were first rate and the choreography was great.   Musically, I was impressed at how the score was infused with the flavour of Maritime music.  This is not big, robust orchestra musical music: this is sweet and chime-like, making great use of the fiddle and, in some cases, crystalline voices.  The two strongest voices in the cast belonged to Anne (thank goodness) and Roy.  Though the actresses playing Marilla and Rachel Lynde both had fine voices and a marvelous duet. 

Apparently, on the Island ( where I will probably see it next summer) the auditorium at the Guild theatre is quite intimate.  The National Arts centre is a mid-sized theatre with great acoustics and allowed the production to breathe a little. It makes great use of its space.

Finally, if you’ve spent your life pining for boy-next-door Gil Blythe, this musical was written for you. It self-consciously parades the idealization of Gilbert, every school girl swoons for him and, obviously, even the stubborn Anne is not immune to his charms. 

But, without doubt, the price of admission was worth it for Ellen Denny whose Anne is at times heart-breaking and winsome who is never less than luminous and intelligent and who sings like an angel. 

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Giveaway and Cover Reveal: Of Dubious and Questionable Memory

Hey all!

Head on over to our friend Rissi's blog for a neat giveaway ( a copy of A Singular and Whimsical Problem and Bachelor Girl's Guide to Murder upon its release) and to learn more about Of Dubious and Questionable Memory: the first time we send Herringford and Watts state-side!

They go to Boston and Concord, Mass --- 2 of my favourite places in the world.

Also, how cute are these covers all in a chronological row?

Monday, December 07, 2015

What is Rachel Reading?: The Thomas Nelson edition

If you can crush on a publisher, I crush hardcore on Thomas Nelson.  They have brilliant marketing, gorgeous covers and some of my favourite voices. To add, they are taking wonderful risks and bringing out faith fiction with soft thematic resonance that is accessible across the markets.

A Respectable Actress by Dorothy Love 

Isn't this cover gorgeous? I cannot even handle it. Sheesh.  

When India Hartley is accused of murder, she must uncover the deceptions of others to save herself.
India Hartley, a famous and beautiful actress, is now alone after her father’s death and embarks upon a tour of theaters across the South. Her first stop is Savannah’s Southern Palace. On the eve of the second night’s performance, something goes horribly wrong. Her co-star, Arthur Sterling, is shot dead on stage in front of a packed house, and India is arrested and accused of the crime.
A benefactor hires Philip Sinclair, the best—and handsomest—lawyer in Savannah to defend India. A widower, Philip is struggling to reinvent his worn-out plantation on St. Simons Island. He needs to increase his income from his law practice in order to restore Indigo Point, and hardly anything will bring him more new clients than successfully defending a famous actress on a murder charge.
Because India can’t go anywhere in town without being mobbed, Philip persuades the judge handling her case to let him take her to Indigo Point until her trial date. India is charmed by the beauty of the Georgia lowcountry and is increasingly drawn to Philip. But a locked room that appears to be a shrine to Philip’s dead wife and the unsolved disappearance of a former slave girl raise troubling questions. Piecing together clues in an abandoned boat and a burned-out chapel, India discovers a trail of dark secrets that lead back to Philip, secrets that ultimately may hold the key to her freedom. If only he will believe her.

Quick take: I sometimes find that Love's narrative is at odds with the time period she writes in but I love the unique setting and characterization. A really clever and taut mystery lies at the heart of this book

Lydia’s job at the library is her world—until a mysterious patron catches her eye . . . and perhaps her heart.
Just months after the closure of the Chicago World’s Fair, librarian Lydia Bancroft finds herself fascinated by a mysterious dark-haired and dark-eyed patron. He has never given her his name; he actually never speaks to a single person. All she knows about him is that he loves books as much as she does.
Only when he rescues her in the lobby of the Hartman Hotel does she discover that his name is Sebastian Marks. She also discovers that he lives at the top of the prestigious hotel and that most everyone in Chicago is intrigued by him.
Lydia and Sebastian form a fragile friendship, but when she discovers that Mr. Marks isn’t merely a very wealthy gentleman, but also the proprietor of an infamous saloon and gambling club, she is shocked.
Lydia insists on visiting the club one fateful night and suddenly is a suspect to a murder. She must determine who she can trust, who is innocent, and if Sebastian Marks—the man so many people fear—is actually everything her heart believes him to be.

Quick Take: I was looking forward to this, especially because I enjoyed the characters in Deception at Sable Hill so much.  I also love a cozy mystery ---and a cozy mystery punctuated with books? the best.

Before he became a father of the Christian Church, Augustine of Hippo loved a woman whose name has been lost to history. This is her story.
She met Augustine in Carthage when she was seventeen. She was the poor daughter of a mosaic-layer; he was a promising student and with a great career in the Roman Empire ahead of him. His brilliance and passion intoxicated her, but his social class would be forever beyond her reach.  She became his concubine, and by the time he was forced to leave her, she was thirty years old and the mother of his son. And his Confessions show us that he never forgot her. She was the only woman he ever loved.
In a society in which classes rarely mingled on equal terms, and an unwed mother could lose her son to the burgeoning career of her ambitious lover, this anonymous woman was a first-hand witness to Augustine of Hippos’s anguished spiritual journey from religious cultist to the celebrated Christian saint and thinker.
Giving voice to one of history’s most mysterious women, The Confessions of X tells the story of Augustine of Hippo’s nameless lover, their relationship before his famous conversion, and her life after his rise to fame. A tale of womanhood, faith, and class at the end of antiquity, The Confessions of X is more than historical fiction . . . it is a timeless story of love and loss in the shadow of a theological giant.
She met Augustine in Carthage when she was just seventeen years old. She was the daughter of a mosaic-layer. He was a student and the heir to a fortune. They fell in love, despite her lower station and Augustine’s dreams of greatness. Their passion was strong, but the only position in his life that was available to her was as his concubine. When Augustine’s ambition and family compelled him to disown his relationship with the her, X was thrust into a devastating reality as she was torn from her son and sent away to her native Africa.
A reflection of what it means to love and lose, this novel paints a gripping and raw portrait of ancient culture, appealing to historical fiction fans while deftly exploring one woman’s search for identity and happiness within very limited circumstances.

Quick Take: this is literary historical fiction at its best. A deft and nuanced look at women's roles in ancient times as well as a gorgeous tapestry of philosophy and love.  This was a surprising voice for me and a brilliant addition to Nelson's growing and varied book program. 

“Why won’t you just tell me what’s in that cake?” I’d been trying to get Laine’s recipe for years. We all had.
When all else fails, turn to the divine taste of hummingbird cake.
In the South you always say “yes, ma’am” and “no, ma’am.” You know everybody’s business. Football is a lifestyle not a pastime. Food—especially dessert—is almost a religious experience. And you protect your friends as fiercely as you protect your family—even if the threat is something you cannot see.
In this spot-on Southern novel brimming with wit and authenticity, you’ll laugh alongside lifelong friends, navigate the sometimes rocky path of marriage, and roll through the outrageous curveballs that life sometimes throws . . . from devastating pain to absolute joy. And if you’re lucky, you just may discover the secret to hummingbird cake along the way.

Quick Take: if you like Fannie Flagg, Billie Letts or The Divine Sisters of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, you will enjoy this winsome Southern novel which paints with talented aplomb a pitch-perfect women's sphere.  The voice is refreshing, the characters buoyant and believable: why, you feel like you will look up from the pages and see them there across from you! 

Note: I received all of the above with compliments from the publisher.

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Happy Book Birthday A Singular and Whimsical Problem

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I am ALL over the place this week promoting  A Singular and Whimsical Problem and it is so much fun to have a book out in the world.

release dates mean your sister and brother-in-law
send you a poinsettia bouquet + a balloon to your
Please go to iBooks, Kobo, Kindle or Nook and pick up a copy!  It's less than the price of a gingerbread latte at Starbies and the size of one of the original Sherlock Holmes adventures in the Strand!

you can read my 2 part interview on Novel PASTimes (includes giveaway)

you can learn about my favourite Christmas reads (Sherlockian and otherwise) on Thinking Thoughts as part of the Spread The Christmas Joy series (includes giveaway)

you can see who I would choose in a game of Date, Marry, Kill featuring Lestrade, Sherlock and Watson at Melissa Tagg's blog (again with the giveaway)

over at Christen Krumm's blog I am talking about the 6 authors I would most like to have dinner with (among other things) BONUS: see who would play Merinda in a movie! (whoa! another giveaway)

I rank the 5 best (and worst) made-for-tv Christmas movies at Deanna Raybourn's blog

Learn about my inspiration for Herringford and Watts at Breakpoint

Learn about my insane publication schedule at ICFW

At Coffee Cups and Camisoles, I tell you all about my leading man Ray DeLuca 

And don't forget to enter my giveaway! It's so easy! you just have to leave an online review. ANY ONLINE REVIEW

release dates also mean your parents come all the way to Toronto and take you to dinner at a fav italian place and give you a bouquet of holly