Thursday, March 31, 2016

Theatre Catch-Up

With my real job and tomorrow's release of Bachelor Girl's Guide to Murder , I am behind on my blogging.

I saw three shows recently.  First, a touring production of Beauty and the Beast  which is now scaled back somewhat from the dazzling 90s production and didn't do a lot for me.

Friends and I went to Tarragon to see You Will Remember Me which was a fascinating experience: mostly because the playwright and translator were there to flesh out their experiences with the piece in a post-show talkback.

c/o Torontoist

R.H. Thomson is pretty unbelievable as a French-Canadian history professor whose alzheimers is settling in quickly.  While his quick mind still holds to the past ( the very, very far gone past ), scribbles in his notebook keep that which is contemporary swirling around him.

It is a quiet play with calm sets and a small cast, largely resting on the fact that Thomson is brilliant. He really is.  He is magnificent and heartbreaking here.

But, what the play renders so beautifully is a snapshot of the threatening loss of cultural consciousness. A bold statement on the loss of the fervour of a Quebec Libre, Rene Levesque and past referendum.  While this Quebecois-surged piece might at first seem isolating to those unfamiliar with the material--- the themes of loss and a zealous nostalgia are universal.  Hence, when the playwright mentioned that it had played in Calgary and was perhaps finding its way to New York, I knew that the solid material would shine.

No intermission and a stark woodsy backdrop immerse you immediately in the content and do not let you go until the lights dim.  Perhaps one of the most interesting notes I came away with is how Thomson managed to inflect his voice and mannerisms with those of a man indigenous to Quebec without putting on an accent.   I am a firm believer that I would rather have no accent than an inconsistent one and while Thomson can probably do anything, this was one thing that stood out for me.
c/o postcity

Readers of my blog know I am a MASSIVE Soulpepper fan. We are so lucky that Toronto has such a strong theatre base and their ensemble pieces continue to dazzle.    I was familiar with David French's Canadian play but had never seen it and it is one of the funniest and most farcical spectacles I have ever seen on stage.   The audience was in an uproar surging the auditorium with an energy that flicked and pulsed the frenetic action on stage.    Oliver Dennis is a LONG time favourite of mine and he is perhaps the most scene-stealing character in this backstage drama about the anxieties and tensions rampant behind an opening production.

The cast used the space well: meandering through the aisles, the stage manager bellowing from the box above and the set was all 70s kitsch.    Alex Furber ( who we had seen in Anne and Gilbert the musical in the fall) played the ingenue role like a wide-eyed Greg Brady.

I am really lucky to live where I do:  in close proximity to festivals such as Shaw and Stratford and in the heart of Toronto which has some of the greatest theatre going.

In both of the aforementioned plays, the love for Canadian culture and its limitations and triumphs are paraded --- in Jitters over-the-top,  in You Will Remember Me subtle and sad.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Special Feature: These Farmhouse Bookshelves by Christie Purifoy

Rachel note: delighted to have the winsome Christie on the blog today.  Loved her book Roots and Sky: Christie is a poet and a luscious writer , also her blog and her instagram will change your life with sheer beauty !  I love following her 'These Farmhouse Bookshelves' feature and am happy to feature her here ..... 

photo c/o Christie's blog 
I’ve always heard you should write the book you want to read.
I’ve always thought, easier said than done.
I love to read everything from Virginia Woolf to Agatha Christie, but I don’t see myself following in either woman’s literary footsteps.

Today, I’m convinced the advice is solid but a little too broad. We can’t write every book we want to read, but our reading loves and our reading disappointments will point us in the right direction.
I discovered my direction when I realized how many of the stories on my bookshelves are told according to the pattern of the shifting seasons. These were some of the first books I learned to love, books like Tasha Tudor’s A Time to Keep which celebrates twelve months of seasonal traditions and Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden in which the drama of winter becoming spring is mirrored in the lives of two children.

One Christmas, I was given the heavy yellow boxed set of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books. I reread every one until the spines cracked and the pages splayed, but I read Farmer Boy most frequently of all. This fictionalized autobiography of Laura’s husband Almanzo tells its story according to the seasonal rhythms of a northern New York farm. From winter’s deep snow and popcorn by the woodstove to pulling a block of river ice from the icehouse for homemade ice cream in summer, Farmer Boy made me hunger for seasons I never fully tasted growing up in a central Texas prairie town.

Today, I live in an old farmhouse in Pennsylvania, and that long-ago hunger is satisfied in snowflakes, daffodils, zinnias, and fiery maple leaves. More than that, the hunger and its fulfillment became the dominant themes of the book I wrote about our first year in this beautiful, crumbling old house called Maplehurst.

The book is Roots and Sky: A Journey Home in Four Seasons. Here are a few more of the “four seasons” books that inspired my own:

A Country Year: Living the Questions by Sue Hubbell is a classic of this genre. Once, Hubbell was a married city-dweller who worked as a university librarian. In middle age, she finds herself living and working alone as a beekeeper on a remote farm in the Ozarks. These essays are quiet, contemplative, and slow, but they are also sharp, witty, and observant. I love this book because it reminds me that one of the most important things we can do in this life is to know a place, to love it well, and then invite others to see it through our eyes. That place might be a northern city or a Midwestern mountainside, but I know that I am richer for having seen the Ozarks through Hubbell’s eyes.

First published in 1967, TheShape of a Year by Jean Hersey is a vintage gem. I think I bought my hardback copy for one dollar plus shipping. It’s worth fifty times that.
Hersey was a garden writer, and this book observes the four seasons on her rural Connecticut property with curiosity and joy. This is a book all about the simple pleasures of the seasons. There is less human drama here than in Hubbell’there is always something happening.
s chronicle, and some might complain that nothing much happens, but Hersey knows what everyone with eyes to really see the world around then has discovered:

I love every memoir in Madeleine L’Engle’s series of Crosswicks journals. The IrrationalSeason, ostensibly book three though these don’t need to be read in order, begins with Advent and is shaped by the traditional calendar of the western church.
I appreciate L’Engle’s commitment to asking difficult questions. What I discover in all her books – but in the Crosswicks journals most of all – is that unknowing is not a scary place to be. L’Engle shows us that we can sometimes experience God’s presence in more beautiful and more comforting ways when we take the time to sit with the questions we do not have answers for.

Also, L’Engle’s family home, Crosswicks, has been described as a “farmhouse of charming confusion.” That, right there, is everything I hope for my own home. We have the confusion down pat. The charm is a work in progress.

Christie on the Web:

These Farmhouse Bookshelves (blog feature) 

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Book Gush: 'Promised to the Crown' by Aimie K. Runyan

from the publisher:
In her illuminating debut novel, Aimie K. Runyan masterfully blends fact and fiction to explore the founding of New France through the experiences of three young women who, in 1667, answer Louis XIV’s call and journey to the Canadian colony.

They are known as the filles du roi, or “King’s Daughters”—young women who leave prosperous France for an uncertain future across the Atlantic. Their duty is to marry and bring forth a new generation of loyal citizens. Each prospective bride has her reason for leaving—poverty, family rejection, a broken engagement. Despite their different backgrounds, Rose, Nicole, and Elisabeth all believe that marriage to a stranger is their best, perhaps only, chance of happiness.

Once in Quebec, Elisabeth quickly accepts baker Gilbert Beaumont, who wants a business partner as well as a wife. Nicole, a farmer’s daughter from Rouen, marries a charming officer who promises comfort and security. Scarred by her traumatic past, Rose decides to take holy vows rather than marry. Yet no matter how carefully she chooses, each will be tested by hardship and heartbreaking loss—and sustained by the strength found in their uncommon friendship, and the precarious freedom offered by their new home.

guys guys guys! I loved, loved, loved this book! Loved it!   LOVED IT!   Seriously, loved it.

17th Century: France was a major power who wanted to extend their influence by populating and securing New France.  The King offered young women of various stations a dowry and an opportunity. Called The Filles du Roi these women of breeding age and strong constitution would sail to North America, marry the settlers already colonizing this brave, treacherous land and increase the population for the good of their home country.

The Filles du Roi have always fascinated me as we studied them in school.   Peeling back the curtain on the indubitably harsh and trying circumstances forging a life here in Canada amidst its terrible winters and harsh terrain, my imagination sought out romantic prospects.  It’s not unlike an early form of “The Bachelor.”

These women were marriageable commodities, yes, but also strong.  The women who survived were the ones who grabbed life by the reins and decided to use this strange new opportunity to secure a sense of purpose and happiness. For other women, what better way to escape?

A trio of women and a supporting cast of nuns, lovers, brothers, enemies, townspeople, husbands, populate the exceptionally written Promised to the Crown which is by far my favourite read of 2016 thus far.    Painstaking research, a lyrical tongue and an impressively sure handle on each of the three distinctive narratives as they intertwine and intersect are just a few of the reasons Runyan has weaved such a luscious canvas.

Rose, Elisabeth and  Nicole  forge a lasting friendship. For this is a woman’s space and what better way to celebrate International Women’s Day than with an example of women who were the stronghold and survival of a new populous.   There is a decidedly feminist aspect to a tale that could easily fall into a puddle of straight domesticity. For while women were very much homemakers and baby carriers, they were also the backbone of a culturally and socially developing society.   A favourite thread followed Elisabeth who marries Gilbert, a baker, because he will offer her equal business standing in his enterprise.      

Each woman is fully developed from their treacherous sea passage and the nods over their shoulder as they look behind on the life they leave: sometimes trailing its tragic ramifications with them.  From their earliest days in Quebec: entertaining suitors with pastries and cider to their marriages and growing families, Runyan has developed a woman’s sphere.      

I gobbled this book up: it had funny, strong moments and tragic, painful sighs of moments.   It perfectly adapted a foreign historical experience to a readable, accessible page.   Runyan sets you back centuries so you can smell the crackling hearths and feel the tang of the settling winter.   I cannot remember enjoying a historical experience this acutely … not for a long, long time. 

I really encourage you to expose yourself to a time period in history not often pursued in fiction. Runyan's research make her the perfect authoritative pen to transpose this experience to fiction and you will not be disappointed.   Friendship, romance, hardship and adventure dot each fabulous page! 

Pick this one up!  Amazon

my thanks to Netgalley and Kensington for the review copy 

Monday, March 07, 2016

Author Q and A : Cheryl Honigford

Recently, I read an e-galley of The Darkness Knows which is a fabulous start to a mystery series featuring a winsome radio star and Private Eye duo in 1930s Chicago.

I was delighted that Cheryl agreed to answer a few questions. I know my blog readers will love the zest and snap of the dialogue, the romantic tension and the intricate murder---not to mention the amazing setting !

1.) Most agents and publishers like a good "hook" when considering a novel. What was the hook for THE DARKNESS KNOWS?

It’s October 1938, and radio is king. Vivian Witchell is determined to be a star, and with her new role in the popular detective serial, The Darkness Knows, everything she’s dreamed of is finally within her grasp. Until, that is, Viv stumbles upon the body of the station’s biggest, and most reviled, actress in the employee lounge. Clutched in the dead woman’s hand is a threatening letter that targets Viv as the next victim. Suddenly, Viv’s biggest worry isn’t remembering her lines, it’s staying alive.

2.) One of the things I loved about the book was Viv's insistence on a career: despite her upbringing and the pressure from her society-obsessed mother to marry. The Darkness Knows did a wonderful job of painting a woman's plight in a "modern" society with some very traditional views still at the helm. Even though a new world was on the brink, warring women's roles were still a major issue. Was this an intentional layer in the story and something that you can see yourself exploring more in the next novels?

Yes, this was definitely intentional. You can’t get very far into research for the period before realizing what a woman’s role was supposed to be in 1938. I collect vintage women’s magazines and some of the ads are amazing. Dishpan hands were supposed to be a woman’s greatest worry, and don’t get me started on how they were using Lysol then… (Google it if you’re curious and not too squeamish about your lady bits.) Women didn’t have “careers” in 1938. They may have had jobs, but only if they absolutely had to and only until they found a husband. Then they were expected to promptly quit that job to take care of hearth and home. (In fact, that’s what the actress Vivian is replacing at the beginning of the book has just done.) Vivian can see how limiting this is and her becoming a secretary and then a radio actress is an attempt to buck that claustrophobic social structure (and infuriate her mother). To be fair though, Vivian’s wealth and social standing give her a lot of advantages that most women simply did not have then – like the luxury of being able to go to secretarial school out of spite. This theme of female independence will continue to be explored in the series – especially with the lead up to WWII and all that will mean for women’s changing roles in society.

3.) Radio Actress meets Sardonic yet good-hearted ( and dashing!) Private Investigator: How did these two characters come to be?

Well, Vivian was around first and then when I got the idea for her to be starring in a detective serial I thought it would be fun to play her off of an actual detective (and contrast that with the fictional detective ideal in The Darkness Knows, the radio serial). When Viv meets Charlie everything she thought she wanted flies right out the window - in a good way. J Their relationship is very much inspired by the Nick and Nora sort of bantering couples of 1930s screwball comedies.

4.) Your Chicago is to die for (okay pun intended)! So sumptuously painted with just the right amount of historical detail. I totally wanted to be at the masquerade at the Palmer, by the way. Did you intentionally use it as a starring character in the Darkness Knows or is that something that organically happened?

I wanted to be at that masquerade too! I love Chicago and I love that time period - and I think both are woefully underrepresented in fiction. I live in the far suburbs these days, but I spent 7 years in the Lakeview neighborhood and really got to know the city. I love history, in general, so even before I got the idea for this book I had already catalogued all of this random information in my head about the history of the city and the architecture. I really loved researching the details of the time period. It meant a lot of staring into old photographs and imagining how things looked, smelled, sounded. It was a different world, and I would give anything to sit in on a live broadcast of The Darkness Knows. So I guess, the answer is to your question is both - Chicago as a main character was organic and intentional at the same time.

5.) I wondered if you could give us any hints as to where we'll find Charlie and Viv next!

Book #2 (Fall 2017) is set a few months after The Darkness Knows - at Christmastime 1938. Vivian stumbles upon something that flips everything she thought she knew about her beloved (and now deceased) father on its head. Think Capone, speakeasies, and all of the shady activities that go along with that… Expect more radio station intrigue (especially with Viv’s star on the rise) and more historic Chicago detail woven throughout. And of course, Charlie is there to antagonize Viv and help her get to the bottom of things.

Thursday, March 03, 2016

Author Q and A : Jaime Jo Wright


I have our friend Jaime Jo Wright answering a few questions about her new novella The Cowgirl's Lasso  part of The Cowboy's Bride Collection. You can buy the compilation here

Jaime ( in my own words) is a super spunky caffeine-addicted workaholic who may be wonder woman. Don't believe me? This woman is a power house manager and writer and wife and mother to two adorable kids.  She has an insatiable spark about her: be it in person or print  and is a delight on social media. 

I am so thankful she took the time to chat: 

1.) The book that made you want to be a writer ( if one )

Jane Eyre and then The House of Seven Gables, by Hawthorne. Both were the epitome of romance and dark and deliciousness. I devoured them, and then determined to be like their authors one day.

2.) Your best Starbucks experience

When my barista brought me a sample, then after delivering them to everyone in the shop, gave me the rest of the samples and then returned a few minutes later with a free grande "sample". They know I have a problem. :)

3.) How do you juggle working full time, raising two kids and writing?

I don't.
LOL I don't know. Sometimes I wonder if I'm imbalanced. A lot of writing sprints. 15 mins here, 30 mins there. I have to make my kids first and then write. Oh yeah. I'm married. Hmmm... better figure that into the equation ;)

4.) Is there a historical period you have not yet attempted in fiction that you would like to?

Yes! The '20's or '30's. I love that era. I just bought my first flapper dress actually this week. I look quite grotesque in it, but I shall wear it with pride to a gala this Friday and pretend I know how to Charleston

5.) Any insights into your research process?

I read. Lots of books. Fiction and non-fiction. I love looking up old newspaper articles. They're full of interesting stories because back then, they actually wrote interesting stories. Like the most recent one where the family watched their twenty-something daughter get struck by lightening as she fed the chickens in the chicken coop. They said her bobby pins melted to her head. I know. ew. But oh so fascinating.

6.) What was the most challenging thing about writing a novella?

It's ridiculously hard to write a decent story in 20,000 words. Cause really? Who falls in love THAT fast? I wanted my romance to be somewhat realistic. So it was difficult to have time pass and a relationship establish to the point of pledging lifelong love without seeming like she was being abducted into some subservient, domestic role and forced to fall "in love". LOL

7.) Any advice to writers who are not yet published on the agent and editorial experience?

Oh gawsh. Nothing can be more painful than that journey. There's so much self-doubt. My best piece of advice is learn to take constructive criticism and apply it. I see too many get hurt feelings or make justifications as to why they wrote what they did and why it's good how it is. No one means to say you're a bad writer, but if agents and editors (especially them!) give you feedback, use it! That's invaluable and it makes you teachable. They're in this career field after all, because they know how it works. So be humble enough to know that maybe you don't really know.

Find Jaime on the web

On Twitter