Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Boston!

For the second time in a year, I  was back satiating my passion for BOSTON!  My goodness, by far my favourite US city!


I spent six days wandering the city as well as taking advantage of the amazing and quick commuter rail to head out to Concord to visit Orchard House (Louisa May Alcott's often homebase and the inspiration for Little Women)  and to visit Walden Pond, Thoreau's homestead and Ralph Waldo Emerson's house.

I love Boston.



Some of the reasons I love it:

Boston proper is a relatively small city (especially compared to Toronto) so it is so easy to walk around in.


The Common: Reading in the Common with an iced coffee while watching those Swan boats?  Love


The cobblestoned Freedom Trail.


Quincy Market and Faneuil Hall


The accents! To Canadian Rachel, most Americans have accents: but the Boston dialect is so distinctive and regionally specific----


THE NORTH END! Oh my goodness, I love the North End: site of Paul Revere's house and the Old North Church but also Boston's Little Italy---home to amazon cannoli and all manner of delicious Italian food at restaurants people line up for hours to get in.


Back Bay and Beacon Hill: the rows of red-bricked ornate architecture, the public alleys and Boulevards


THE PEOPLE: the people in Boston are so friendly. When I was there last autumn, stepping out of the airport, a woman used her Charlie Card to get me on the subway and rode past her stop to make sure I found the Back Bay station


The Green Dragon Tavern: I love the ambience and the ghosts of the rebel Sons of Liberty plotting their revolution


The Harbour: gorgeous! I mean, one moment you are remembering a ton of darjeeling was tipped over the side, the next you are gazing over at New England lighthouses


The people ( I think I mentioned this )


The Old State House and the Old South Meeting House: just walking Boston gives you a sense that you have peeled back a few hundred years



And SO MANY MORE THINGS


pictures! ( ever so craftily stolen from instagram)








I read great books in Boston

Finally finished Mad Miss Mimic by Sarah Henstra

American Eve: Evelyn Nesbit, Stanford White, the Birth of the 'It' Girl and the Crime of the Century by Paula Uruburu ( note: this non-fiction is UNPUTFRIGGINDOWNABLE )

Popular by Maya van Wagenen 

The Daring Exploits of a Runaway Heiress which was adorable and snarky 


I was at opening night of Newsies on its Boston tour stop and it was my first time seeing the highly anticipated Broadway show ( I have been stoked about it ).  Ironically, I am seeing it opening night here in Toronto.  Lots of Newsies for me!


Friday, June 19, 2015

'Caroline in the City' is on youtube and I am very ranty about it......



I was amused to find all episodes of Caroline in the City on youtube. I wasn’t a diehard follower but I had seen several episodes esp of the first season in high school and I liked the sarcastic bite of the humour mostly between Caroline’s cartoonist Richard ( who, clad in black and obsessed with existential poetry was a complete anomaly in 90s heroic standards) and Annie (the best character on the show, Caroline’s best friend and a dancer in Cats).

So, when I discovered it ( probably after thinking about it while talking to Allison)  I watched a few eps here and there on youtube, recorded from syndication on some British station as evident through the v.o. on the credits and enjoyed revisiting the 90s clothes, the 90s hairstyles, Lea Thompson’s dimples and the broadway references.   Note: there is a fab epwith David Hyde Pierce playing an accountant who wants to be in Cats. You should find it.


But then, the show takes a nosedive.  A nosedive.   I don’t know (and I have a barely working knowledge of this ) if it was taking cues from relationship triangles and disasters in Friends but it goes so way off the deep end and I GOT VERBALLY ANGRY last night.

ANGRY at a sitcom.  Why? Because I am an adult and I can.


Let’s recap the relationships in Ye Olde C in the C.  You may need wine 




Richard ---- morose, bitter artist turned colourist who has a thing for sunny Caroline but doesn’t realize it til Caroline almost marries Del---her poofy haired greeting card mogul.  Caroline doesn’t recognize this.  (note: my teenage self never realized that Richard is basically gay.  Now, it is blatantly obvious.  Regardless, Richard shoulda ended up with Annie or with Del.  Whomever.).

 Caroline----perky Wisconsin native with dimples who has her own single girl in the city comic strip. In the second season ---after a few mixed paths and almost-happens realizes that she loves Richard.  This is not done well. This is not done subtly. Culminating in her leaving Richard a message on his 
( hello 90s!) answering machine which his returned-from-Italy old girlfriend Julia erases.
 
sometimes Richard dates Lorelai Gilmore



Then Richard marries Julia!!!  After pretending to be married to Caroline.  This isn’t even some charming screwball comedy move from the 30s….

Then we get season three which, I swear, I may  not actually make it through:
Julia---- I HATE IT WHEN writers resort to a Julia.  The Men love B**ches Trope. I HATE IT!   The same guy who would fall for Caroline would not end up marrying ( and yet he does) the woman who albeit gorgeous, he left in Italy with his memories of backpacking.  It is  awful.  The two have no onscreen chemistry and the love triangle is so very sickening.  Julia is a horrible woman and she does dastardly things and we’re supposed to hate her but root for good girl Caroline to win Richard. But, who WANTS Richard now that he has proven terrible decision making skills? Who wants Richard to be the hero when he knows that he is susceptible to a gorgeous but horrible woman with a trust fund?

Not me.  Anything that was endearing and black and artistic and nerdy about him before is now just annoying.  And Caroline is annoying because she gives into Julia and I want them all ( except for Annie ) to fall off a cliff.


But the  show decides (cue from Friends?) to finally get Richard and Caroline together.    In the stupidest way possible.  The absolute worst writing of any “love” story ever.   And they keep poking at it with episodes soapily linked to each other in To Be Continued. It is so genuinely awful.

First, they have the entire ensemble in an unrealistic flashback bottle episode where they are all tied up by a marriage counselor.

Then they release Julia’s trust fund so Richard is no longer a starving artist and can paint in a penthouse.  This is disingenuous to the character who has spent seasons ALMOST getting his big break (in a funny and clever way). They just cash in their bored chips and GIVE him money. All that clever writing work. UGH!

He also doesn’t have to work for Caroline anymore which means they can’t have their daily domestic spats; nor can Annie show up from across the hall and engage him in a battle of sardonic quips.


They paint themselves into the worst corner ever and do you know how they get out of it?  ( I am rolling my eyes here): by having Caroline and Annie think that Julia has cheated Richard prompting Richard to follow his wife to Spain to confront her. Thereafter, Annie and Caroline also go to Spain and Richard almost gets trampled BY A BULL RUN ( oh how I wish he had).


And this was the episode I watched last night after a few pints with a friend and I WAS SO LIVID that someone ( a many someones, to be exact) made actual real live money and lots of it for writing this awful nonsense.  Like give me the money and make Richard get trampled by the bulls….

And it gets even worse…

Caroline and Annie  have apologized for their mistake and gone back to New York.  Richard follows Caroline because on his deathbed from bull trample ( he’s not even scraped) he re-evaluated his life and wanted to be with Caroline.


You two shouldn't be together. The cat deserves more happiness
And I didn’t get past this moment so I cannot tell you what happens next because I was yelling at my computer and because I love my MacBook Air so much didn’t want to  be inspired to throw it across my room in frustration.



So what have we learned?  A.) people who write throaway bull running episodes owe me money B.) I hate it when writers create a “love triangle” by having their heroine or hero end up with a jerky mean and evil person. WHY WILL WE LIKE THEM IF THEY MAKE POOR LIFE CHOICES AND FALL FOR HORRIBLE people?  C.) the 90s. oh the 90s 

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

book gush! Tiffany Girl by Deeanne Gist

Rambly Rambly Book Gush


I am going to go straight out and say that Deeanne Gist hasn’t always been a favourite read of mine. Not her writing ability, so much as her heroines and the conventional wrap-up and message of her stories.  But,I read them all. I guess because I saw some spark I knew might be one day fully realized.


I followed her from her Bethany House days to Howard and found that I enjoyed the Fair books more than I had her previous books. We are, thought I, on the right track. Maybe because she had moved away from ( there's nothing wrong with this ) a more conservative inspirational publisher and had a little more wiggle room.

Then, Tiffany Girl came along.   And this is the book that, I think, Gist was meant to write and it makes the statements I wish she had made throughout her entire fictional career.  You see, Gist’s previous romances hedged on the happy ending.  As was part and parcel of the demographic she was writing for and the convention she was writing in ( again, nothing wrong with this) but both present an odd paradox for a romantically inclined feminist.  I often find myself at a bit of a complicated odds in my reading life: for while I love romance, I am a bit of a complex contradiction, sad often that the heroine’s life really STARTS when she weds and the independence and spirit that saw her to that eventuality sometimes gets tucked under a carpet of domesticity.  Of course---and slightly tangential here---we have series like Thoene’s Zion Covenant where Elisa and Murphy are just as exciting to watch after marriage as before. Raybourn's City of Jasmine is another example of this trope working well. The same with the Scarlet Pimpernel, where the marriage off-sets a romance more dazzling than before. 
But, for the most part, the happily ever after sealed the deal with Gist’s heroines and I found myself thinking a bit of them had died.  The prose and story waltzed around the eventuality of marriage. Rightly so, as this was the focal point of so many women’s stories in historical periods.  But, I digress....

Here, Gist decides to invert the trope that she so long fictionally subscribed to and, in what I find a brilliant tongue-in-cheek colouring outside the lines ( brilliantly paired, here, with the artistry motif) she writes a treatise on the very thing that made her career: the romance ending in marriage.

Flossie is not your ordinary girl. Instead, she is believably complex. Like so many women she is torn between her desire for her husband and children as well as her passion for her art.  When she is offered the chance to be a Tiffany Girl: to work the stained glass for the grand exhibit at the Chicago World’s Fair, she grabs it at the reins.  (Note: this is brilliant because while so much fiction in the CBA market focuses on the actual fair, this is in the periphery ---art meant to be displayed there that gives us a bustling New York backdrop).    Despite the reservations of her parents, who have supported her interest in art and her artistic schooling to this point in hopes she would give it up for a husband and babies, she moves out to become a New Woman and takes up residence in a boarding house.

For the first half or so of the novel what we see realized is one of my favourite types of story:  an almost bildungsroman of a woman trying to fit into a mould that she is not meant for.  Flossie is certain that her intrinsic ideals are well-matched with the New Woman archetype and yet she is not a character who can be fit into a type. She immediately falls back on cordial hospitality: befriending the boarders and setting up little dinner parties and games.

Reeve Wilder ( note: by far Gist’s best hero and one of my favs of the year) is not under Flossie’s spell.  He thinks New Women are like to undermine and overhaul all that is sacred about motherhood, home life and family.  His dark and lonely past help realistically inform his distrust of this new model of women and he speaks out quite plainly against Flossie.  Yet, they are neighbours, and while he cannot advocate for her lifestyle, he is intrigued by the light that surrounds her, her artistic sensibility and the warmth that imbues every single person in the boarding house. 

There are charming scenes where Flossie pricks away at Reeve’s icy exterior just as there are scenes involving Reeve and an elderly widow --- where we get to see the true treasure behind the New Woman rant and spiels.


Both characters are --as I feel so often as a reader/ woman ---contradictions. Brilliant, befuddling contradictions as so many of us!  Real, fleshy human beings with hopes and flaws. Do they grow? Absolutely.
When Reeve begins writing a fictionalized serial about a New Woman, modeled on Flossie, of course, the book's ideologies slowly start to shift and its stern yet subtly woven statement begins to emerge.

Everyone wants a happy ending for the fictional heroine. And a happy ending for fictional serialized girl means giving up her photography business ( for what married woman can work!) and falling into marital bliss.  The editor basically tells Reeve he has set the story up for this moment. This trapping is the only seeming resolution for two characters of 1890s New York.    Of course, the readers expect the same.  But something has changed. Reeve has begun to understand why women want to make their own money, why women want to pursue their passions and leave their indelible marks outside of the expectations and industry of men.    Reeve has begun to see why Flossie wants what she wants.

The desire is not to overthrow him, the desire is for her to be herself—have her own passion and dreams.

In ingenious parallel, meta-fictional and fictional worlds collide and intertwine.

There is some confusion, some dancing, some spats, some cute moments and a few kisses ( much hotter, with innuendo-ed language that far outweighs any further descriptive) and the metaphor of doors being open and closed.

There are ups and downs as Flossie learns that her passion for her art and her natural skills are at odds with each other. She recognizes that she is average. Quite remarkable for a woman in a historical fiction novel, where we pride ourselves on women who break boundaries and excel. She does these things, yes, but on a small scale.

And Reeve....well Reeve.... learns what it is to let his guard down.  And he writes some more and she finds herself in his words – and not in words crafted around her caricature, where her flaws and contradictions are paraded, but in soft, dulcet tones.

And romance ensues.

Real, toe-tingly romance.


And we whirl and twirl and Blue Danube our way into a pattern that is so familiar and that is exhumed so expertly into marital and domestic certainty…..and yet….

Yet....

This book may have lost me if it had not been able to maintain its equilibrium between the two characters.  This book is romantic feminism at its best when it works with the often explored theme of shared marital finances.


Reeve and Flossie are not of a time period where they can shake the world to such extent it turns on its ear.  Reeve and Flossie are not of a time where women can work and still be married.  But, Gist is brilliant enough to assuage convention by carefully threading what true independence and collaboration mean.  And, for her, and for her characters, this is deftly interwoven in terms of money, earnings and how married couples divide property.    There are limitations, but these are not the days of pin money and rescinded property.

So she makes her statement and it is better still because it is historically plausible.   We know that Reeve and Flossie are part of a chugging motion that will echo into the future and bring us to the point where we are at today: a point where women with independent passions and means outside of familial life are advocated for as much as those who choose marriage and families.


I suppose ( and I thought of this continually while writing) , part of the reason I always read Gist’s books is because the historical accuracy and research is resplendent. From basketball to trolley assaults, she outdoes herself here. 

I also want to make note of the inspirational content.  Gist was indeed an inspirational author.  This is very much a general market book. There is nothing christian about this story. Save in its subtle themes ( i.e., Reeve pays Flossie’s debt at one point, anonymously and without wanting payment).   However, she keeps all *ahem* action behind closed doors.  That doesn’t detract from the sexual tension, though. It is palpable.   (okay, so there’s this hot scene where Flossie arrives in the middle of the night chilled to the bone from wandering in a blizzard and boarding house mate Reeve has waited up for her and he rubs her feet so they don’t get frostbite. And this is, like, the sexiest thing since Willoughby helped Marianne Dashwood with a sprained ankle or since Dick Dewy and Fancy Day washed their hands together in Under the Greenwood Tree)



QUOTES!


 "She did want that, there was no denying it. For years, all she'd ever dreamed of was growing up and becoming a wife and mother, but that was before women had any choices. Now they were earning degrees. They were asking for the vote. They were even securing jobs in professions never before accessible to them."


"Managing comes naturally to a woman. She has been managing homes since the beginning of time. But the quality we, of the stronger sex, assume she lacks is business ability. Yet this writer had an opportunity to sit with the head of the only shop of woman glasscutters in the world. She and the dozen young women who work under her direction made--without any assistance from men---the award-winning windows of the Tiffany's chapel.

"Their eggs are all in one basket, and when you've only one basket, it stands to reason that it had better be a good one."


"Instead, he found her mouth again and wrapped his arms clear around her. "Open your mouth, magpie."
"What?"
He kissed her, really kissed her. She made mewling sounds. She raked her fingers through his hair. She twisted against him. Bracketing his ears, she pushed his mouth away.  "I thought I was going to die during the photos!" 

"That's the whole point of being a New Woman. They don't want to be reduced to housewifery. They feel it would take away everything that is special about them."

"Well, now she really was a New Woman and also in love. Neither looked even remotely like her fantasies."



Monday, June 15, 2015

Happy Book Birthday: The Sound of Diamonds





Full Disclosure: I haven't finished this book yet; but I wanted to make sure I was drawing your attention to it.

I love featuring debut novelists and Rachelle Rea's passion for excavating the Reformation period in a genre and market that often fails to delve into this part of history is very exciting indeed.



From the publisher: 

Her only chance of getting home is trusting the man she hates.
With the protestant Elizabeth on the throne of England and her family in shambles, Catholic maiden Gwyneth seeks refuge in the Low Countries of Holland, hoping to soothe her aching soul. But when the Iconoclastic Fury descends and bloodshed overtakes her haven, she has no choice but to trust the rogue who arrives, promising to see her safely home to her uncle's castle. She doesn't dare to trust him...and yet doesn't dare to refuse her one chance to preserve her own life and those of the nuns she rescues from the burning convent.
Dirk Godfrey is determined to restore his honor at whatever cost. Running from a tortured past, Dirk knows he has only one chance at redemption, and it lies with the lovely Gwyneth, who hates him for the crimes she thinks he committed. He must see her to safety, prove to the world that he is innocent, prove that her poor eyesight is not the only thing that has blinded her but what is he to do when those goals clash?
The home Gwyneth knew is not what she once thought. When a dark secret and a twisted plot for power collide in a castle masquerading as a haven, the saint and the sinner must either dare to hold to hope...or be overcome.





(pick up a copy at Amazon) 

Rea captures the gritty depth and dark religious fervour shading the Reformation period.  She sprinkles her prose with an imaginative tint and ensures that she infuses her words with the right amount of romance and intrigue. 

Her spirit and passion for grammar and the written word are evident ten-fold in the parts of Sound of Diamonds I have had the privilege to read thus far.


 Rachelle wrote her first historical romance novel the summer after her sophomore year of college. Two years later, only a few short months after graduation, she signed a three-book deal to release that novel--and its sequels. Times gone by snatch Rachelle close. So she reads and writes about years long ago. 



Monday, June 08, 2015

Signed Sealed Delivered: from Paris with Love

Oh guys,  if you want the television equivalent of gooey mac and cheese then that is what SSD is for.

When you want to believe that the world is a lovely place full of lovely people with lots of integrity who wear their hearts on their sleeves---- then that is also what SSD is for.

It is full of the most delightful quirky characters: all relics of a time past who are trying to fit into a changing world.  They are endearing and loveable for their obvious eccentricities.


The POstables have returned.   Shane and Oliver ( he is, as you know, my ideal man ) and Rita and Norman.

This time their dead letter office mystery involves divorce papers that never arrived for a marriage on the brink of a terrible mistake.    As is the usual, the dead letter mystery parallels a major life event for one of the POstables: this time Oliver and is horribly annoying wife Holly who left him at the Post Museum ( how could she. I will never forgive her. You suck, Holly. DID YOU SEE WHAT AN AMAZING GUY YOU HAD!!! stupid Holly).

Anyways, Holly is back and Shane is pining.   Rita is swept away as Miss Special Delivery and Norman thinks he has competition to his owl-loving gal.

It's all so sweet I wanna wrap it up and put a bow on it.


SSD believes in love. And in marriage. And in tradition.
c/o Hallmark Movies and Mysteries
 It is a throw back ---as Oliver O'Toole is--- to a time of words and chivalry. To a time when society wasn't tripping over itself to move faster.

It is just delectable. A delectable ode to the written word.  Here, we have a new motif constructed in Holly's new penchant for poetry.  Her poems and Oliver's reaction to them are one of the highlights of a well-crafted hour and a half.


Previously, Signed, Sealed, Delivered was a series with hour-long episodes featuring a small post office mystery. Hallmark, since, has opted to explore a different format with several little self-contained films a year.


This works for me.  Anything works for me! ....As long as I get to hang out with my lovely POstables.


Marry me, Oliver. Marry me now!


For those of you who enjoy Shane and Oliver, you will get some darling moments. For those of you who also enjoy Rita and Norman, your heart will end up in your throat. OH MY GOODNESS!

With thanks to our friends at Grace Hill Media for allowing this Canadian to watch a media screener of the new film.





Thursday, June 04, 2015

Theatre Review: 'Titanic'

Here’s the deal: if Kat likes something then you know it has something going for it.

Ever since I’ve known her, Kat has loved the musical Titanic.   So I knew when it came to Toronto that a.) we had to go that b.) it would have something amazing going for it.

Kat is one of the most intelligent people I have ever met. So, she has no time for dumb stuff. 


Before I go further, let us make a few things clear a.) Titanic: the Musical is not as terrible as Titanic: the Musical sounds like it could be b.) it is a predecessor of the crappy James Cameron film. It has nothing to do with the film other than the fact that they are set on the same boat.


So I went in with the expectation that Kat likes it so it will have something going for it.

It had a ton going for it including one of the best Broadway scores I have heard in my lifetime.  Maury Yeston (Nine, Grand Hotel ) doesn’t just jukebox the heck outta some nonsense content. He goes deep, he goes big and there is not a note of anachronism in his rendering of whatever musical period he is invested in.

For Titanic, a welcome marriage of Celtic influence, Edwardian popular pomp (think Sousa) and mournful melody ( think Vaughan Williams) as well as a reverent hymn and ragtime and dance hall: music of the period is knit together in a smorgasbord of perfectly suited style.


It's going to hades, Mr. Andrews, but you get a darned good song outta it


The music is so clever (the lyrics, too, but more on that in a moment ) that even its “happiest” melodies have a portentous note.  It is rapturous to listen to how intelligent this all is.  And when you add the lyrics and the marvelous way he knits the quilt of the story (Stoker and Telegraph operator have a duet,  the classes are distinguished with a triad  of couples--a third class Irish lass and her fellow, a social climbing American wannabe, Isador Strauss of Macy’s fame and his wife), as well as the captain, the builder and the owner  create a sequence of musical vignettes.  All, of course, are tied together in the metaphor of a floating city or world. The metaphor of Titanic as a representation of civilization is a recurring motif and embroidered throughout with references not only to class structure but to men speeding ahead of its time. For one, it notes the pyramids( as an example of many).


To add, musical tropes made slightly minor recur. At one moment a theme promenades the grand and opulent  launch of a great ship, when the theme is revisited it evokes the frantic and harried frenzy of passengers spilling into the lifeboats. 

And it goes even deeper.  Every lyric preludes what will happen.  For me, the most surprising and interestingly innovative duet is between Barrett, the Stoker, and Bride, the telegraph operator.  While Bride plunks out a message to Barrett’s love behind he sings of the loneliness made moot by Marconi’s world-bridging apparatus. The self same apparatus that will at once isolate and colonize the entire ship with hope and despair.  A lifeline when the Californian is near, a death-knell as it pats out the last SOS signal.     And yet this isolation juxtaposed with Barrett’s singing the imagery of heaven’s blanket foreshadows a starless, still night and the prayers of thousands facing the glass- shattered pricks of their icy deaths.



Another astonishing musical decision of Yeston’s was to forego the music history informs us was played on the voyage with his own similar composition.  The meters of his own hymn certainly reflect the hymns that would have been sung aboard ship while his version of the Autumn waltz( largely believed to be the last tune the band played as the ship sank ) has the same interesting measure and sequence as the original.



The musical is the best version of historical fiction: it creates its own world, populates it with actual personages and makes them more representation than individual character.  The characters here represent themes. Yeston doesn’t try to develop them---nor should he. They are already set in stone. Moreover, he rotates the carousel of the world so that stage and song-time is distributed in so many directions, it would do a disservice to funnel on one “lead” character.

This is a chorus piece. This is an ensemble dream.

The musical certainly captures the essence of the period and the event ( as mentioned, most pronouncedly in its musical setting) but from a deftly altered way.


The staging of the tour (late of Britain and now over in North America to make its rounds) is sparse.  You will use your imagination but the story, song sequences and sound make you feel as if your modern era has been peeled away.

There is a cacophony of eerie sounds and joyful robust resolutions. There is a layer of hope and dismal despair at once. The score, here, is a veritable feast. I cannot remember the last time I was this impressed by a Broadway score and surprised it took near 20 years from its debut for me to get my teeth into it.

It’s clever storytelling surrounded by majestic and magnificent music and, as it has nothing to do with effing James Cameron’s stupid film, you can go in satisfied and leave, as I did, with expectations exceeded.


 Also, everyone, the first 16 minutes of the show is brilliant storytelling. THIS is how you introduce character, theme and circumstance. It is how you establish action. Luckily, for musical theatre lovers, it is done in a brilliant and scrumptious way.





Sunday, May 17, 2015

'Dearest Rogue' by Elizabeth Hoyt



note: this book be le steamy. if that is not your type of romance, then you have been duly warned


Snortle! What a whizbang of a fun read. Taut with excellent prose and a flourish of humour, Dearest Rogue features one of the most beguiling heroines I have encountered in an age.

Lady Phoebe is blind but her lack of sight doesn't diminish from her whip-smart manner or banter with her body guard, the tortured James Trevillion. With her in his charge, James is able to look beyond a past that has forced him moody and imagine a fresh bright future with a woman who is more than his match.

Quick witted, funny and oh-so-romantic, Hoyt has established a compelling literary world that takes us from London to Cornwall with two fragile,vulnerable and complicated people. While Trevillion still bears the scars and limps of a tragedy years earlier, Phoebe has just adjusted to the last shade of light having left her waning sight. Together, they become each other's safest companion, most doting sparring partner and, well, something else, too ( I tell you, there is more than snark in this novel and a careful, prudish reader might want to tread with care).

This was my first Hoyt novel, provided by Netgalley, and I gobbled it up in pretty much one sitting. I felt that it presented us with a fabulous look at the regency world through the outlook of two unique characters.

Phoebe's blindness is not a limitation rather a catalyst for her working senses and a lesser pen may not have allowed us to "see" through Phoebe's world in such a deft and expert way. Hoyt, however, is indubitably a master and I cannot wait to check out her backlist.


A few fun quotes:

"Blindness had neutered her in the eyes of the world."

"Being kidnapped, after the first few minutes of absolute terror, was really rather boring."

"Really, sometimes it would be much easier if one were allowed to simply hit gentlemen over the head."

Trevillion: "He smiles every time he sees you, "he murmured quietly. Was he jealous?
Phoebe: "I smile every time I smell cherry pie."


Oh and then there is Phoebe deciding on the regency equivalent of a last minute road trip that she wants to try ALL THE BEER:

"If, after several tastings, I find I cannot stomach the beer, then I shall give it up. Often something tasted for the first time seems foreign to us--strange and off-putting. It's only after repeated tries that one realizes that this new thing, this once-strange thing, is quite familiar now. Familiar and beloved." 

"His heart had performed a coup d'etat over his mind and there was nothing more to be done about it"


La! the best! Go forth and read! 



Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Special Guest: Leah! on the Emirates Airline Festival Of Literature

L Polonenko


Rachel here: I am excited to feature my sister Leah on the blog today.  Leah made a guest appearance a few years ago when I featured her for International Women's Day .  Leah has a PhD in Global Governance, is a season
ed world traveler, has worked in the field of development for over 10 years and has a passion for promoting cultural consciousness but also providing tips for experiential travel with an ethical slant.

When Leah volunteered at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature, I asked if she would tell us a little bit about it.  You can find Leah's blog here.  Visit Leah on instagram. Follow Leah on Twitter 





***


READING THE THOUGHTS OF A STRANGER

Somewhere between the 45 degrees of mind-blowing heat of summer and the cold desert nights of December, the UAE has a perfect month called ‘March’.
In March, not only is the weather perfection, but it is guaranteed that the month will always ‘come in like a lamb’, as the saying goes because of this one uniquely brilliant week-long event:

THE EMIRATES AIRLINE FESTIVAL OF LITERATURE.

I know, I know.  If you follow Rachel’s fabulous blog, you already love books and have probably been to festivals yourself.  But there was something uniquely brilliant about this Dubai festival that should inspire all of us, even if we’ve been to a million and one book events.

At the festival, I was brought back to my 5 year-old days when I sat on my mom’s lap, proudly reading lines from a Little Miss book.  The festival brought me back to the greatest joy and power of the written word: its ability to connect and empower.


L Polonenko


ON CONNECTION…

The UAE is unique in that 19% of the population is Emirati, whereas 81% of the population is expats (thank you www.cia.gov - CIA World Factbook for this factoid).  The literature festival recognizes this unique opportunity:  both Arabic and English authors are widely represented, the majority of presentations/discussions offer translation, and there are authors from every corner of the globe to appease expats, but also to reflect the true multiculturalism that is the UAE.

What this meant is that I learned about the power of folktales to contribute to national identity by Qatari female author Dr. Kaltham Ali G Al-Ghanim, about the Icelandic culture of words from one of the country’s most popular authors Yrsa Sigurdardottir, about the resilience of Afghan women from Deborah Rodriguez, about the power of women in leadership by Emirati Sheikha Lubna al Qasimi, and about how Botswanan adventures are shaped through prose by Alexander McCall Smith.

Literature connects us.  It transports us to new lands we wouldn’t otherwise see, cultures we might not otherwise understand, and into the mind of an individual that represents a religion, culture, and experience that might not belong to us.  Literature connects us all.

ON EMPOWERMENT…

Words bring power.  The ability to write down your inner-most thoughts, to work through a particular topic, to give a voice to the otherwise voiceless…words are very powerful. 
Authors are sharing a piece of their soul, and putting onto paper how they see themselves and the world around them..

And what’s so intriguing about hearing from so many authors from so many walks of life is you realize that, in the end, writing holds onto that one amazing virtue - it gives people a sliver of our mind.  So the American turned UK dweller turned Emirates resident Liz Fenwick can introduce us to her love for Cornwall, so David Nicholls can share with us the interesting notions of a man writing about relationships and love, so that Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie can share her thoughts on modern feminism…

And we grow.  And we perceive.  And we learn through stories and struggles, fables and non-fiction, prose and poetry about worlds and cultures and people that we might otherwise not quite understand.  Or might not even know exist.  Or think about ever.

And we can learn that Afghan women really are ordinary women living in an unfortunate situation. (Deborah Rodriguez)

And we can understand the need for all of us to resurrect our inner creative self. (Kathy Shalhoub)

And we can question our body image perceptions by understanding ‘beauty’ as defined in Botswana. (Alexander McCall Hill)


photo: L Polonenko

And we can wonder why we so quickly see differences between ourselves and others in reality, whereas in novels we seldom see divisions, but understand characters as if they are our friends or closest neighbours.

The Emirates Airline Festival of Literature was a wonderful event, but these take-home lessons were the most impactful.  To go back to your 5 year old self and remember how powerful it did seem when finally…after days of sounding out letters and making sense of funny symbols…you could…at last…read the thoughts of a stranger.

Interested?  Come next year, March 8 - 16.
Visit www.emirateslitfest.com for more details or follow @EmiratesLitFest

Organized by the Dubai International Writers Centre: diwc.ae or follow @diwc

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

What Late Night Episodes of 'The Flash' taught me about Perambulatory Writing

I am currently finishing the 6th ( and maybe kinda final) draft of A Singularly Whimsical Problem.   This is the first novella preceding The Bachelor Girl’s Guide to Murder  and will introduce all of you to Jem and Merinda.  Hopefully you will like them.

While this book is released before my first full-length novel, its action is set in a logical space during the course of the novel’s timeline.     As such, I don’t give you a lot of background information.

I don’t preamble. I just drop you into the world.

Hopefully, from the action and dialogue you will be able to establish

  • -        Character dynamics
  • -        Toronto’s social and cultural world
  • -        The tone of the books
  • -         Its personality

 
If I was the Flash I woulda finished this novella already

The end stretch of this novella has been very difficult for me and I have been over-caffeinated, underslept and manically trying to balance its writing with my daytime career ( which is, ironically, also busy).

Late at night if I wake up buzzing ( a common side effect of creative anxiety), I have been watching episodes of The Flash out of chronological order.


My first episode of The Flash was a very recent one and I could tell that a lot of plot functions had taken place and a few major twists about the big baddy had recently been revealed.  But, as in any good writing,  I was immediately sucked into the story without the backdrop or preamble because:
  •   I had an immediate affinity with the hero (he's the sweetest thing since Merlin)

  •  With minimal dialogue I was able to establish what the character dynamic was, who had rapport and who didn’t
  •       I was given a 360 degree view of the world of the fictional Central City it was set in
  •     I was given an immediate introduction to the tone of the show and its fun, zanily manic atmosphere 


I didn’t need to watch The Flash from the pilot to learn the origin story, how these people met and how Barry got his powers.  I didn’t need the preamble.  It was enough that I got the logistics of it, got the feel for it and, eventally, decided that this would make a repeat appearance in my crazy, anxiety-ridden 3 am wake-ups.

You’re not meeting Jem and Merinda from the time they meet.  This is not a Study in Scarlet.  But that’s okay. Many Sherlockians begin with Silver Blaze or, most famously, the Hound of the Baskervilles.

Watson gives you a bit of a line “It was the Fall of 1895 and I had just happened to stop in on my old friend Sherlock having missed the cheery Baker Street fires and…” yada yada yada.



Authors sometimes drop you into the cocoon of a world and if the writing is up to snuff you will catch on, latch on and fall in love anyways. 

Friday, May 01, 2015

Happy Book Birthday, Flash!

IT is FLASH'S BIG DAY

 


MY FAVOURITE DONKEY IN THE WORLD! (and there is some stiff competition!)

Publisher's Weekly named it one of the Top Ten Picks for Summer Reading!

And FLASH! is easy to find on Amazon


And I am reading Flash and loving him! He came in this cute little package from Tyndale:



About the Book

Flash is the story of a family (mine!) who desperately needed a sign that God still cared about us amidst our challenging circumstances. But the last thing we expected was for God to use a wounded, abandoned donkey to teach us lessons about faith, love and second chances.

This is a special story.

It’s a book that will move you, delight you, and inspire you to look at your life in a whole new way. It’s for anyone who has ever felt like giving up on their dreams, for anyone who has ever felt alone, and for anyone who has ever wished they could simply have a sign that God still cared about them. Flash will make you laugh, and ponder, and will even make you cry. It’s my hope that this book will be shared among friends – both people of faith, and people who are searching for faith – and that the message of second chances will bring hope to everyone who reads it.
And awesome people love his story:
Liz Curtis HiggsCharming, poignant, funny, honest—Rachel Anne’s journey with Flash the donkey is pure reading pleasure as she shares her family’s misadventures with their four-legged friend. She opens her heart to us as well, helping us learn memorable lessons about doing life with more meaning and purpose. Flash is delightfully different. I loved it!
Liz Curtis Higgs, Bestselling author of The Girl’s Still Got It

And then there's the donkey.... (look at that face)
flash3

About Flash

the stray donkey that showed up on the Ridge family's doorstep and never left

Stats: Adult Male, Gray-Dunn color. Standard height, wants to lose 10 pounds. Age is up for discussion.
Race: Has never won one. Ever.
Relationship Status: It’s Complicated
Interests: Loves to mosey, discuss philosophy over a late-night mound of hay, listen to jazz, sniff flowers, and bray for no apparent reason. Enjoys good conversation and is always up for an ear scratch. Likes to watch birds.
Employment: Coyote Patrol, Barn Management.
Favorite Classical Music: Grand Canyon Suite, movement III “On the Trail,” by Ferde Grofe.
Hobbies: Facebook and Twitter, where he keeps up with his friends and fans. (Although typing with hooves means depending heavily on auto-correct.)
Follow Flash on Facebook 
For videos and more, go to Flash's website 

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

What Rachel has been Reading

Hi Team!

Extremely busy of late what with two looming deadlines on my own books .
LET US READ!

However, I have done some reading!

Short and Sweet:


As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of the Princess Bride by Cary Elwes

This is a charming and warm and generous book by an actor who really cherishes his time on the set of one of the most quoted movies ever.  He remembers his experience as a young actor offered the chance to star in the adaptation of a book he loved with such reverence and its spirit is infectious.

Did you know Mandy Patinkin bruised a rib from laughing too hard while filming the Miracle Max scene?     Classic stuff in here with quotes and reminiscences from all involved.    "You've got to be careful with William Goldman scripts. He tricks you with good writing." --- and he does. Goldman, the novelist of the Princess Bride and the masterpen behind such classics as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid  makes it look easy. What's more, he loves his vocation and particularly this book.  Thus, he felt he was walking on broken shells when they took it to the screen. I don't blame him. "I think the film has endured because it was made with a lot of heart. And for that we really have to look at the creative and tender hearts of Goldman and Reiner. Both men are very different people who came from very different backgrounds, but they share one thing in common---they never lost touch in their hearts for storytelling.And in this film they were able to explore that love of storytelling a way they perhaps will never be able to again: the telling of the most extraordinary fairy tale/adventure story about storytelling that can now be counted as classic."

I think writers will find it interesting to learn how difficult the film was to market and its initial release was not met with the enthusiasm it now enjoys as a cult classic. For anyone who has ever had to write a book proposal for an not-easily-categorized novel, you will enjoy hearing how this multi-genre story was hard to pinpoint.

Purchased on Kindle


The Clockwork Scarab by Colleen Gleason: IS THE FIRST IN A SERIES STARRING SHERLOCK HOLMES' NIECE, MINA! and BRAM STOKER'S SISTER EVALINE

And somehow I JUST LEARNED ABOUT THIS?  what the.... people need to tell me these things.

This is frakkin' adorable. A perfect marriage of steampunk and mystery and even time travel.  The writing is snarky and light and bright with recognition of its famous inspiration in a cunning and compelling way.   It takes broad liberties: Mina is MYCROFT'S DAUGHTER while  Evaline is Bram's sister who is ALSO A VAMPIRE HUNTER and HOW CUTE IS IT THAT HER NEW HOLMESIAN PARTNER IS MINA JUST LIKE IN DRACULA? OMG!

and they are commissioned for secret assignments by IRENE FRIGGIN ADLER and it just a revisionist London of my dreams.  Very charming and very witty and very, very funny:
"Her eyes were dark and her face was pretty in an arresting way." Mina notes of Miss Stoker on first meeting, "The sort of girl young men would find attractive. The sort of girl who danced at parties and shopped and laughed with her friends and who knew just what to say when she met an interesting young man. The sort of girl who had friends."

I love the smart vulnerability of the book. And I LOVE Mina! She is all Holmes. Charming! Delightful! Her scenes with a particularly dashing Scotland Yarder are only rivalled by her new partner's scenes with a delicious young Cockney-accented street-smart kid named Pix.

I just cannot wait to read the next.

Purchased on Kindle



I wasn't a fan of the first installment in Shelly Shephard Gray's Chicago World's Fair mystery series. But the second offering peaked my interest due to a review I read.

Deception at Sable Hill is a lighter mystery with undercurrents of a much darker subject. While the "Slasher" of Chicago, during the time around the World's Fair, preys on society ladies, so recently abused heiress Eloisa fights with a life meted out for her--- of lavish parties and eligible gentlemen--even as she believes that she has been soiled for it by the sinister deed of Douglass Sloane. Her interactions with Sean Ryan of the police department and his investigations into the identity of the Slasher introduce her to a world heretofore barred from her. Their developing relationship--including Eloisa's visits to his sister's work for women fallen on hard times--- is the heart and soul of the story.

This is a mystery, yes, but a light one. Instead it is a carefully wrought music on class construction and the layers of society. We have all read enough cross-the-tracks love stories to keep us going for years; but this one particularly stood out because its development is so intricately woven and so beautifully realized.


"It's just me," Eloisa feels out of place when she visits the Home for Women, I don't have much experience with any of the things they are struggling with. All I do know is that I am hoping to do something. ...Whatever I can."  

I just love the honesty in which Eloisa is able to approach the judgment inferred on her social status. 

Review copy provided by Zondervan

Friday, April 10, 2015

Writing is Super Hard

throwback to working on substantive edits last year about a month before the book went on submission 
During the winter my editor ( who is very lovely and fortunately gets the intent of my project) and I conversed a lot about the original draft of the manuscript. In said draft, half of the viewpoint was in first person and the other half in third.  Yes this actually happened. Yes we sent it into the world like that. Yes I still got a book contract..... inconceivable. 

I never intentionally set out to accomplish this, it just happened. Especially the more Ray DeLuca fought the girls for space on the page ( #characterproblems) .  I love my first person, I do. But I also found I could widen the scope of the book with third person.    Editor asked me to choose either first or third for the whole novel.    As this wasn't one of the hills I was going to die on, I agreed. Also, I compromised and negotiated so that the three novellas accompanying my books will be told in Jem's sprightly first person narrative. I love her voice, I love crawling into her mind. I love the way she sees the world.

The others---- omniscient third.



Well. This means an entire rewrite of the entire novel, obviously, with a completely different slanted POV.    I could have easily said "Sure! let's do them all in first person ....!" but I had already started writing snippets of the subsequential books and had cast my net wide. I knew I needed more than Jem quoting other people for pages as Watson does in the Holmes' canon.   Face it: it gets super tedious and I would much rather see the action through Holmes and Watson's eyes and not, I dunno, Grimsby friggin' Roylott or that Mormon in Study in Scarlet.

So, I sat and thought .........

oh Thom Crom, I feel your pain!!! #unamused

It is a gargantuan task.   But it is a voice that feels natural to me as a writer especially as I am at the point where I know the characters, their mechanizations, their motivations and their ultimate ends so well.


I decided --- bereft of my lovely Jem's first person in Bachelor Girl's Guide ----to pretend that I was still hearing her. That she was the one who was recording. That the action was very much a result of her inference, influence and seen through her perspective. She is, for those of you familiar with Scandal in Bohemia--- my Boswell. And I am lost without her. You may not see that on page, but this trilogy favours Jem.  It is still Jem's world and Jem's view of her friends and Jem's blend of idealism, romanticism and adventure that peppers the page.

I *Wolf Hall-ed it


I decided to go through and immediately cut out any unnecessary scenes.  What would be the use of working them into a different voice and perspective if they were probably going to end up on the cutting room floor? snip snip.


Then, I made a list of my favourite scenes. The scenes that I wanted in the novel and counted them: how many switched from first to third mid sequence? How many fell naturally into Jem's over-arching narrative or action?   I kept those.

Ephemera: My book is very much a cornucopia of snippets --- newspaper headlines and quotes from two fictional authorities--- MC Wheaton to represent Merinda and her talent for deduction, Dorothea Fairfax, to weigh in on how Jem is clashing with the ideal model of an Edwardian bachelor girl.

How could I use these to cut and paste action, condense and realign?

Then, I let myself play.  I picked a few scenes and just played. I played with voice and tone.  I played with dialogue. I played with dialogue tags and how often I interfered with the flow of my characters' babbling. I played with inference. I played as if I was a master marionette puppeteer and I was wiggling the strings on my happy little people.


And then I drank a lot of wine.  And I am drinking wine and revising to this day.

The End.

*Wolf Hall: novels by Hilary Mantel in which Thomas Cromwell is everything and everything is Thomas Cromwell and seen through Cromwell's intense gaze .

When a Rake Falls Spotlight


Rachel note: I read this book in a Netgalley review copy and really loved it. It was sprightly and spirited and had all of the humour and passion I expect when I read romances of the time period--- Loved the unique competitive streak and the way Orr immediately plunges you into the action of the novel..... Enjoy the sneak peek.....


When a Rake Falls
By Sally Orr
Sourcebooks Casablanca
The Rake’s Handbook, Book 2
Historical Regency Romance
April 7, 2015
ISBN: 9781492602149
$7.99 Mass Market Paperback

About the Book

He’s racing to win back his reputation
Having hired a balloon to get him to Paris in a daring race, Lord Boyce Parker is simultaneously exhilarated and unnerved by the wonders and dangers of flight, and most of all by the beautiful, stubborn, intelligent lady operating the balloon.

She’s curious about the science of love
Eve Mountfloy is in the process of conducting weather experiments when she finds herself spirited away to France by a notorious rake. She’s only slightly dismayed—the rake seems to respect her work—but she is frequently distracted by his windblown physical magnificence and buoyant spirits.

What happens when they descend from the clouds?
As risky as aeronautics may be, once their feet touch the ground, Eve and Boyce learn the real danger of a very different type of falling…

Praise for The Rake’s Handbook:
“Orr debuts with a charming romp. The witty repartee and naughty innuendos set the perfect pitch for the entertaining romance. Though there are serious themes and carefully researched historical details, it’s the banter and sensuality that are sure to enchant readers.” --RT Book Reviews, 4 stars

Buy the Book
The Rake’s Handbook: Including Field Guide (Book 1)
Amazon | Apple | B&N | BAM | !ndigo | IndieBound | Kobo

When a Rake Falls (Book 2)
Amazon | Apple | B&N | BAM | !ndigo | IndieBound | Kobo

About the Author
Sally Orr worked for thirty years in medical research, specializing in the discovery of gene function. After joining an English history message board, she posted many, many examples of absolute tomfoolery. As a result, a cyber-friend challenged her to write a novel. Since she is a hopeless Anglophile, it's not surprising that her first book is a Regency romance. Sally lives with her husband in San Diego, surrounded by too many nerdy books and not enough old English cars.

Connect with Sally Orr

Excerpt from WHEN A RAKE FALLS
London, 1825
Lord Boyce Parker felt a sudden urge to sing. The brisk morning air, the glorious sunshine, and the presence of a hundred or so excited gentlemen milling around him could only mean a remarkable day ahead. Boyce knew he’d be mocked if he broke out in song, but sometimes happiness just bubbled up from somewhere down in your toes and overwhelmed a fellow. “My candle burns bright—-”
“Goes without saying you learned to sing by reading a book,” said George Drexel, one of Boyce’s oldest friends. “Right now I could be in bed with the lovely Widow Donhurst. Instead, I’m standing here amongst the rabble of London, far too early for any sane man, following another one of your bacon--brained schemes.”
Boyce ignored him and kept his gaze fixed on the balcony of Stainthorpe House. Yesterday, the Earl of Stainthorpe had placed an advertisement in all of the newspapers inviting London’s finest bachelors to gather in Royston Square. Although the details in the advertisement were few, it hinted fame and five thousand pounds might be gained by winning one of several “challenges.” As the son of a wealthy marquess, Boyce had no need for the money, but he longed for a chance to impress his father. “It’s not my bacon--brained scheme; it’s the earl’s. Cheer up. You will be the friend of the victorious Lord Boyce Parker.”
Drexel turned to glare at the pressing horde of eager young gentlemen behind them. “You don’t even know what the old man’s challenges are. They could all be a hum, like a scavenger hunt to find his great--uncle’s tricorne hat or his aunt’s lost poodle.” Drexel dressed in somber colors without fancy cravats or fobs, so his words had the gravity of a humorless man no one would willfully cross. This morning, his rumpled clothes, dark whiskers, and obvious lack of sleep—-no doubt due to a long night of amorous adventure—-made him appear grumpier than normal. “I hardly think the earl’s tomfool challenges will make you famous.”
“You don’t sound cheerful.” Boyce grinned at his old school friend. “I’m confident the earl’s challenges will be significant and my assured victory will pave the way to restoring my father’s esteem.”
Drexel spat on the ground. “Chasing your brother’s fame? Richard is a glorious war hero. I’m sure winning some silly challenge won’t compete with his elevated consequence.”
“You’re wrong. When my name is printed in the newspapers, my father will have to speak of me with the same admiration he gives Richard.”
“I don’t think winning a challenge will change the marquess’s opinion of you—-”
“Look.” Boyce pointed upward.
The Earl of Stainthorpe stepped to the edge of his balcony overlooking Royston Square. “My friends, I understand there are no great men left in England.” Silver wisps of hair escaped the earl’s old--fashioned queue and blew over his forehead, but he ignored them as he squarely confronted the men below.
The audience surged forward and yelled retorts to the earl’s audacious remark.
Boyce had arrived an hour early so he would be close enough to hear his lordship’s every word. But if this hubbub continued, he might not catch what the earl had to say. He turned to the man yelling behind him. “I’ll give you a pound, my good fellow, if you can shout louder.”
The man smiled and shouted.
“Definitely not louder, unfortunate loss indeed,” Boyce said. “Now I suggest you hush and let his lordship speak.”
Standing two steps behind his master, the earl’s butler vigorously rang a handbell to gain the attention of the boisterous crowd.
“The earldom of Stainthorpe owns numerous and diverse holdings,” the earl bellowed. “Therefore, upon my death, my daughter will be the richest woman in England.”
The crowd cheered.
The earl waited for them to settle down. “What I’m trying to say is, Lady Sarah Stainthorpe needs a husband. But so far, none of the Eligibles paraded before her will do. She refuses to marry and claims all the gentlemen in London are rogues, dandies, or worse. The point is, she’s a bluestocking and might fall in love with some bloody…a poet. I tell you, my friends, that Byron fellow has a lot to answer for.”
As the youngest son of a marquess, Boyce was considered an Eligible. Only, Lady Sarah had rejected him, and all the other Eligibles, seconds after they had presented themselves at Royston House—-an unfortunate circumstance, since he believed Lady Sarah would make an excellent wife and a very pretty one too. After a moment of reflection, he realized every lady of his acquaintance would make a pretty wife. One or two may have a feature some might call “unfortunate.” Nevertheless, he always found something pretty in every female countenance.
“Are all the gentlemen I see before me rogues or dandies?” the earl shouted. “Of course not. One or two maybe, and several of you are shockingly loose in the haft.” His lordship pointed to a young man wearing a violet greatcoat, hanging by one arm on a streetlight. “Especially you, sir.”
With his free hand, the man doffed his top hat.
“Yes, I mean you,” the earl said. “My condolences to your poor father.”
All of the Parker men possessed a fine figure, so he knew even a poorly tailored coat hung well upon his shoulders. The many compliments he received had gained him a reputation as an expert in masculine fashion. Therefore, Boyce felt his lordship should show more sympathy to a man wearing a lamentable violet greatcoat, since the earl wore an old square coat and baggy breeches.
“Where was I?” The earl paused to scan the crowd. “Besides an obvious bone--breaker or two, you gentlemen are the embodiment of the character traits that make Englishmen the greatest people on earth. So I am challenging you—-the finest Englishmen alive—-to a race. A race to Paris!”
The crowd cheered.
“This is not a race where the winner arrives first,” the earl said. “No, it is a test to discover the gentlemen who possess England’s greatest traits.”
“Gin drinking, gov?” someone shouted.
The crowd laughed and called out a few additional “traits.”
The earl ignored their comments. “And I mean English character traits—-not British. That country was some tomfoolery created by meddlesome politicians. This is a race for Englishmen only. Now, my race will have five challenges and five winners. Each winner will win a prize of a gold cup and five thousand pounds.”
The mob erupted in huzzahs; top hats flew into the air.
Under his sky--blue waistcoat, Boyce’s heartbeat escalated. This race presented him with his best opportunity to distinguish himself. He would win at least two of the earl’s challenges and earn a reputation as a prime example of English manhood. “Huzzah!” He too threw his beaver hat in the air.
The butler rang the handbell for a full minute before the crowd settled down.
The earl held up his hands. “Here are the details of the five—-count them—-five challenges. You have one month to reach Stainthorpe House in Paris. Each gentleman will write about his journey and provide the name of a witness. The man whose travels provide the best example of an English trait wins a challenge. Once the winners promise to spend the remainder of the summer in our company, they will be rewarded with a gold cup and five thousand pounds. With such excellent examples of true English manhood escorting Lady Sarah around Paris, she must certainly fall in love with one of you unlicked cubs.”
The assembled men danced in circles. Each one of them was probably dreaming about how he would spend his winnings.
Eager to hear the details, Boyce frowned at the clamorous riffraff behind him. The earl was right; they all appeared to be a lot of rag--mannered coves, so he gained complete confidence that he could best any of their English traits—-whatever those traits may be. Once he reached Paris, Lady Sarah would discover he was the finest of fellows and they would fall in love. Women seemed naturally to favor him over other gentlemen—-wonderful creatures, women.
The earl’s voice boomed across the square. “What are the character traits that make Englishmen so great, you ask?”
The young men below the balcony tendered several improper suggestions.
“No.” The earl waved his hand. “Not physical features. Traits like courage and intelligence. So the challenges are thus: The first gold cup will be given to the gentleman who represents English courage. We are the country of Nelson, so bravery and courage course through every one of our veins.”
Someone shouted the nature of what was coursing through his veins.
The earl continued without hesitation. “The second gold cup will be given to the gentleman whose journey represents classic English sportsmanship. Any Englishman alive can out hunt, out fish, and out ride all other races of men. So to win the second cup, some outstanding feat of sportsmanship will rule the day. Extra consideration will be given to the best example of a journey completed under difficult circumstances.”
Boyce huffed. “Well, his lordship is wrong. The true nature of English sportsmanship is not victory over adversity, but our support for the dark horse and sense of fair play. We are, by nature, a generous people.”
Drexel slapped him on the back. “For once I agree with you. But considering your history in the field, I suggest you don’t try for the sportsmanship cup.”
“Sportsmanship can be demonstrated by means other than fishing or shooting every magnificent creature—-for example, by boxing or gaming. I practice my pugilistic skills at Jackson’s twice a week now. You cannot tell me his place is not full of sportsmen. Or how about when a fellow loses a fortune gaming at White’s and faces his loss with the grace and good humor of a gentleman? That’s sportsmanship under pressure, if you ask me.”
“Yes, but the earl believes boxing is for professionals and only women play cards.”
Boyce widened his eyes. “In my opinion, his lordship’s definition of sportsmanship is rather limited.”
The handbell sounded again before the earl continued his speech. “The third gold cup will be given to the gentleman whose journey best exhibits loyalty to the king or service to a lady.”
One man yelled, “I’d be delighted to service all the ladies on my way to Paris.”
Others in the crowd shouted similar generous offers.
“If you do so, sir,” the earl replied, “you will be shown the door. Loyalty means old--fashioned manners, being polite, and keeping your distance from your betters. Of all the challenges, I believe service to the Crown is the greatest honor any man could desire. And considering the manners I’ve witnessed here today, I’d say the challenge of this cup will remain unmet.”
Jeers filled the air.
Boyce wondered how a fellow could show loyalty to the king in a race. He supposed a gentleman might salute the king’s profile on a sovereign with every step of his journey, but dismissed it as an absurd notion. No, he’d be better off trying to provide a service to some lady.
His lordship nodded, and the handbell rang again. “Now quiet down. The fourth cup will be given to the man whose journey provides the best example of our English intelligence. We are the land of Newton and Davy, so the greatest brains of civilization are English. Except for that da Vinci fellow and one or two Greeks, but we can afford to be generous and let the rest of the world have a little luck now and then.”
Boyce elbowed his friend. “Yes, yes, that’s the cup for me. Bet I’ll win too. What do you say, fifty?”
“Agreed,” Drexel said. “I will also wager by the end of this whole flummery, Lady Sarah will reject all the winners out of spite. I would, if I were her.”
Boyce refused to believe Lady Sarah would object to any of the winners, once she knew them well. The lady wanted to be married, didn’t she? “No, no, young women are full of tender affection. I have never met one who did not want to fall in love and make her family happy.”
Drexel rolled his eyes. “I suspect that is because there are so many unmarried ladies dangling after you, you cannot imagine one refusing. And from the stories I heard yesterday, I’ll wager that if I throw a pebble into the crowd at the next assembly, it will hit a widow who has, or wants to be, in your bed. And believe me, those ladies are not expecting marriage.”
“You’re being vulgar in public,” Boyce said. “All of the widows I have ever…met were delightful. Deep in their hearts, they want to be married again, I’m sure.”
“So why haven’t you married one of these delightful ladies?”
“Never understood how fellows choose one to fall in love with.”
“If I know the marquess, the best way to impress him is to give him grandchildren. My father becomes unhinged with even the thought of grandchildren.”
“Grandchildren? Grandchildren are far in the future. A great public achievement is my best and only chance to regain my father’s respect. You’ll see. When I am crowned the victor of more than one challenge, my achievements will be the toast of London. Then all of England will think of me differently. I will no longer be just one of the seven anonymous brothers of the war hero Richard. Worse yet, if people do recognize me, they remember I’m the Parker son who published a scandalous book and then received the cut direct from his father—-his own father. After my victory in the challenges, everyone will have to refer to me as the intelligent, courageous Lord Boyce. Don’t you understand?”
Drexel winked at his friend. “Tell me, which of the great English traits do you represent best? Sounds like only Service to a Lady, and believe me, your service is the wrong type as far as the earl is concerned.”
“Ah, that’s my secret. But you will be a witness to my victory, won’t you?”
After pulling off his hat, Drexel took a full minute to smooth the beaver nap on the brim. “I’ll consider it.” A wide smirk broke across his dark, handsome face. “You’ve persuaded me to join the race too.”
“No!”
The handbell clanged, and everyone faced the balcony again. “Gentlemen, there is one last challenge, the fifth cup. Since this was my daughter’s idea, perhaps in jest, you never know with females, let us call it the Lady’s Favorite.”
Shouts and laughter rose from the rabble.
The earl leaned forward over the mob. “Perhaps there are no gentlemen in England, and my daughter is right?” His lordship waited until the crowd quieted. “Lady Sarah has a funny notion that the greatest achievements of the English race are their sense of humor, wit, and eccentricities. I mean, now really, she is fond of Sheridan’s plays.” The earl held up his right hand to quiet the laughing crowd. “For this cup, Lady Sarah will be the final judge.”
The mob tendered several humorous jests of questionable wit.
The earl coughed several times but remained unmoving. “So there you have it. The five greatest English traits are courage, sportsmanship, intelligence, wit, and service to a lady. Now to business. I expect all who plan to take up the challenges to gather in our vestibule below. There, we will compile a list of the participants. You do not have to choose which cup you aspire to, and you may switch to another challenge at the end of your journey. Finally, you may win more than one challenge. Oh, and you must provide an acceptable witness. Anyone who observes your achievement and can testify on your behalf may be an official witness. The only exclusions are people who cannot be trusted, like paid companions or dear old mums.”
Several groans were heard, and one person clapped.
The earl nodded in the direction of the man who clapped. “Good man. The race will officially start after I stop speaking and will end a month from now on the second of July. On that day, you will present your written story describing your journey to Stainthorpe House at Rue de la Chaussée-d’Antin. There, I will choose the five best stories for each challenge, and those finalists will be asked to recite their adventures aloud. Indeed, everyone here today will be invited to attend this party and hear my pick of the winners. Lastly, the five thousand pounds and gold cups will be presented at the end of the evening. It goes without saying that the victors will be appropriately recognized in all of the newspapers.”
Boyce elbowed Drexel. “Yes, yes, my father reads every paper.”
The crowd’s cheers erupted again after the mention of the winnings.
The earl held his arms out. “I tell you, my friends, I’m excited about this race. To help defray the cost of your journey, any man who takes up our challenges will receive a hundred pounds after reaching Paris.”
Shouts and applause echoed around the square.
“Gentlemen, gentlemen, Lady Sarah and I look forward to hearing the adventures of England’s finest men. I am positive that once my daughter is acquainted with you fine fellows, she will fall in love. With such excellent examples of the greatness inherent in the English, how could she not? We also anticipate the pleasure of your company during our summer in Paris. The only other thing I can say is…” The earl lifted his quizzing glass to his eye and scanned the crowd. “Ready, steady, go!”