Wednesday, January 28, 2015

A Facebook Page and the Story behind The Bachelor Girl's Guide to Murder



If you want to learn a little bit more about the inspiration behind The Bachelor Girl's Guide to Murder, please go over to brilliant author Gabrielle Meyer's blog today and read my guest post 
(you can pre-order Gabrielle's upcoming novella as part of the Most Eligible Bachelor Collection from Barbour )


I also created a Facebook page specific to the Herringford and Watts series, all things Jem and Merinda and Sherlock Holmes and Edwardian Toronto.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Au Revoir: The White Collar Finale with special guest Gina Dalfonzo

Hi everyone!     I am a huge fan of White Collar and a huge fan of Gina ! Gina and I have been friends for years and this past year even went to Chicago together for the Dickens Fellowship Conference where we talked about everything and I basked in her decidedly incredible intellect.   Gina is great.

Gina and I talk almost everyday about everything...including White Collar.    Indeed,  weeks before the finale, we both surmised that Neal was gonna Sydney Carton it ( and he kinda did).

Anyways, I am thrilled to the gills and honoured and tickled pink that editor extraordinaire, Dickensian and all around amazing egg Gina Dalfonzo ( also the reason that the hero in my upcoming book is of Italian heritage) is here to walk us through ( WARNING: WITH ALL THE SPOILERS IN THE WORLD) the end of the best era ever.....




and now...GINA DALFONZO!

Eternally Running: The Problem with the White Collar Series Finale

First of all, let me get the good stuff from the White Collar finale out of the way.

1.     Neal is not dead.
2.     I repeat, NEAL IS NOT DEAD. For those who were seriously concerned that our favorite white-collar criminal was going to pull a Sydney Carton (e.g., Rachel and me), this was an enormous relief. Yes, one could quibble with how VERY convincingly he faked his death, but hey, it’s TV (and Sherlock has given us precedent for the hard-to-believe resurrection). He’s alive and that’s all that matters.
3.     . . . But he still got to perform a Carton-esque act of self-sacrifice, leaving his friends behind in order to protect them.
4.     How cute was baby Neal!? Yes, everyone who’d been watching the series for more than five minutes knew that Peter and Elizabeth were going to (a) have a boy and (b) name him after Neal. But it was still sweet to watch that play out.
5.     There were lots of nice little goodbyes and callbacks. (No Satchmo, though. :-( )




And now for the not-so-good stuff. My point of view isn’t shared by everyone, I know; there’ve already been some lively and fun debates over it. (Fun for me, at least, and I hope fun for everyone else involved as well!) But here goes:

I found the ending, with Neal’s return to a life of crime, deeply unsatisfying. At first I held on to a sliver of hope that he was going to do the security upgrade for the Louvre (How perfect would that job be for Neal? And it would have gone nicely with the Frank Abegnale reference in the episode) but this interview with Jeff Eastin scuttled that notion. After five years of character development and relationship-building, it felt as if the show simply pushed the reset button and put Neal right back where he started.

It’s especially galling because the show has focused so intently on the moral aspect of Neal’s journey: Could he really change? Would he? Is it enough to have a kind heart, as Neal certainly does, if you’re not willing to commit to the side of good?

With this finale, it seemed as if they simply shrugged off these crucial central questions and brushed aside the very premise of the show. In the end, Eastin says, it was all about “the chase” being on again. I know the idea came from the lead actors, but it was Eastin who accepted it and wrote it in. Bad move. His original ending, as explained at that link I gave above, would have left some ambiguity that might have been a little frustrating, but would have suited the ambiguity and complexity of the show’s themes up until now, and at least left the door open for real reform on Neal’s part.

Instead, we got Neal as Peter Pan. Forgive me, Rachel, I know you’re going to l hate that reference, but it fits. As another showrunner (from the great BBC Radio show Cabin Pressure) recently wrote, to end a show well, you have to ensure that the characters grow up. But Neal back on the run is Neal stuck in a permanent adolescence, eternally running from anyone and anything that might threaten to make him grow up . . . even his best friend who believed in his potential for good.

To me, that’s anything but a happy ending.

Gina Dalfonzo is editor of BreakPoint.org and Dickensblog, a devoted Peter Burke fangirl, and deeply grateful to Rachel McMillan for allowing her to express her views here.


  

 ***




Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Editing with Rachel: What Hills Would You Die On


 
I am currently working on the edits for The Bachelor Girl’s Guide to Murder ( I never call my novel by its name, to the point where I was sure that I would forget the title when I was meeting people at ACFW last fall. I only call it Jem and Merinda.  So, you guys, I will probably refer to it as Jem and Merinda now and then ;) ) as well as starting the first novella in the series.   I have a really lovely editor who lives in Oregon where it is warmer than here and they like football ( two of the things of my limited Oregonian knowledge).  

I am quite excited/scared with edits because, even though I knew they were going to happen, they are still the BING BANG moment where you realize your little treasure book is open for scrutiny and change.  It is, for me, one of the moments where I was all: Rachel, this isn’t just a hobby you have fostered for 20 odd years anymore.  In the same way the first time you query an agent or send out a formal proposal is a major crossing step. You cannot go back.  All of these things are monumental.

I am also quite excited/scared because they are when I can prove myself to be an author that people want to work with. I know that my book needs work.  I didn’t send out a perfect manuscript. Indeed, I don’t think one exists.  I sent out a manuscript that was the best I could make it while relying on the potential and marketability I hoped people would see, and relying on the amazing feedback I got from my agent. Now I have the opportunity to prove that as an author, I am one of the best to work with.  I want to take feedback seriously and put it into action. I don’t want to nitpick. Also, relying on the feedback I got from the previous manuscript I sent on submission which didn't find a home ( and is not as fun as Jem and Merinda, so we are all good with this).  I want to be an author people want to work with because I want to have a long and illustrious career in the CBA.

Because I knew these deep thoughts  would happen and because I wanted a book contract and because I felt deeply about my story, I prepared.   In fact, I felt so deeply about certain aspects of the story, when it went out on submission I chose two hills I would die on. Even before I sent the proposal out.


For all authors writing all manner of manuscripts, these conditions might change.  But, I think authors should have them.  Editorial influence is wonderful and editors serve an amazing purpose: to help you finesse your story to be the best possible. Indeed, part of why I choose to continue pursuing traditional publishing is because I want the guidance of an editor who has my interests and my novel’s interests close at heart.   You see, the editor relationship is a symbiotic one…. They want you to succeed because they want to succeed. You want them to succeed because they are responsible for your little cherished book.

I am making some anticipated substantive edits to the manuscript that was submitted and contracted as we speak and yet, I am delighted because we are not approaching One of the Hills I Decided to Die On.

My Hills I Would Die On: 1.)  The main setting of the novel ( my detectives move around ) would be Toronto.   Not any city in America, no matter how that might have changed its chances in the US-centric CBA.

2.)My Ray must be a point of view character in some way shape or form.  (He wasn’t supposed to be but when I started writing, he started talking to me quite intrusively and became a very important part of the tone as well as the unofficial voice for the thousands of immigrants I refer to).

When I met with editors at ACFW and when I anticipated that the conversation might come up with my agent or editors, I made sure that I had a sound and eloquent argument for why I felt so strongly about these two integral points of the series.   I wouldn’t budge on these things to the point where if they became a condition with an editor, I would strongly consider not accepting an offer.

You might be thinking, “well that’s quite smug and self –satisfied, Rachel, what right have you to demand conditions?  You are not even published yet!” You are right, fair blog reader, but I assumed the right when I wrote the work.  They are important to me and I believe authors have the right to the integrity of their art.  Nothing outstanding or nothing that cannot be refined and heightened. My editor can help me work on my two hills to make them the best they can be, but they were hurdles I strongly considered not jumping, if the time came.


People who cherish their book to within an inch of its life so that they are not open to suggested changes are probably going to find it difficult to let their book go out into the traditional publishing world. There will be changes and there will be things that need to evolve so that you can learn and grow as a writer.  The way I see it, I am JUST starting to be a writer because I am just experiencing that which I have always wanted--- the guidance and suggestions of a professional editor.  I wanted to work with an editor as much as I wanted a book contract.  Because I want to see what I can do with another person’s input and invisible thumbprint.

Indeed, I was willing to consider some of the changes suggested by an editor who said interest might be heightened in my work if I were to do things different in certain ones ( ultimately, we were offered a contract before it came to that, but I take all of those notes to heart). I encourage writers who are pursuing the track of traditional publishing to consider what Hills They Would Die On, WHY, and if they are important enough to fight for if need be.  Being reasonable, being educated and being a professional doesn’t negate your need to assert what is unique and integral to your work.

Also, I never had to die on my hills so it turned out relatively easy for me ( AND FOR YOU WHEN YOU GET TO MEET RAY AND TRAVEL BACK TO EDWARDIAN TORONTO!!!)



Next time on Editing with Rachel:  remember all those passes you had (rejection is a bad word)? They had feedback, USE IT!

and the Time After That: writing the book you want to and not the book you think you have to!

FUN new series(s)

Hi!

Over at Novel Crossing I have started curating Rachel's Raves which will be a monthly event wherein I gush about what I am reading and make you all read it, too!


I am now going to be a contributor to Edgy Inspirational Romance  ( which is fun) and I want to pursue topics on the Reading Experience, so meet me over there 


Wednesday, January 07, 2015

The Price of Privilege by Jessica Dotta

 the Price of Privilege is an exceptional conclusion to historical fiction which is shattering the metrics of CBA romance. An unreliable narrator, a Dickensian propensity for twisting, winding interwoven storylines, a winning and wonderful narration, heartbreak and drama.

Dotta has a winning way of cunningly revisiting the Victorian Gothic and lovers of Bleak House and Jane Eyre (whether coming from a background of faith or not ) will sink into this highly literary endeavour. The sheer verisimilitude, pitch-perfect dialect and tone and well-coloured tapestry of believable, dimensional characters puts Dotta at the top of the historical game. To add, she plays with convention---especially in the CBA sphere. Her heroine is not necessarily the protagonist, not all ends are tied up neatly, there are enough sly euphemisms to sink a ship and the humour is as steep as the pathos. The third installment is told with the same beguiling nod to the past with an upstairs-downstairs feel, portentous chapter endings and a brave conclusion that will shatter readers expectations. Even though Dotta writes in the past, I like to think this is the CBA fiction future. Smart, winning and without restriction, Dotta is a genius and master of plot and character.

Finally, readers will be surprised to realize that the last book is mostly comprised of a cloistered, actionless setting completely reliant on dialogue to inform circumstance and movement. Not unlike a tv bottle episode --- or a cozy mystery a la Agatha Christie, this was a nice, unique touch and suited the high class society in which Julia has become a pawn. Part Forsyte Saga, part mystery, all wonderment, political intrigue and topped with a dollop of romance, the Anglophile will adore this series. This is groundbreaking stuff. She doesn't talk down to the reader, she expects you to rise to her level. You will want to read and re-read and read again to make sure that you catch all the deft threads she has sewn to tie up this ornate and opiate yarn.

Stay tuned for my interview next month with Jessica over at Novel Crossing

Title provided by Tyndale for review 

visit Jessica Dotta on the web

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Christmas Catch-Up Reads Part II: First Frost and The Hardest Peace



The Hardest Peace by Kara Tippetts 

Stark, real, vivid, painful and heart-breaking. Kara has a way of interweaving poetic lyricism with the harshest of pain and suffering. Never once depending on cliches or sugar-coating her experience, her words are a palette of infinite, wretched grace. This was a hard book to read: one that forces contemplation on how one might deal with this finite weakness and all too true illness. Yet, Kara has a warm, welcoming tone and a sense of humour to counter the din of despair. This is not so much a linear tale as one told in stitches and patches, fragments of story and truth and life lessons cut all too short before transforming into greater seeds of ethereal wisdom. I think all readers who have experienced suffering or disappointment on any level will appreciate the wise and open way in which Kara weaves her indelible tapestry of pain and strife. Putting me in mind of Philip Yancey's Where is God When it Hurts, Kara Tippetts has written a profound treatise on suffering. She sheds the greedy optimism which overtook "self help Christianity" a la Bruce Wilkerson and trades it for the defining and the real. Soundly grounded in theology and told with staggering faith, this book is one I shall not soon forget

(copy received by publisher in exchange for review)



There is something so remarkably indomitable to reading Sarah Addison Allen. It makes me giddy and my fingertips tingle. Here, she continues the lore of the Waverley family introduced in her debut novel Garden Spells. The characters and their temperamental apple tree, their lives and loves and rambling house ( which is as much a character as any flesh and blood) await the First Frost. First Frost, to happen on Hallowe'en, this magical year, is a time of expectancy and hope and glittering witchery. That premonition you feel as summer sinks into fall and the breeze whistles cold and brash foreboding the winter to come is magic in itself. Here, Addison Allen weaves it as the beguiling word-enchantress she is. Ripe with passion, love, forgiveness, redemption and the worn-old sepia photographs of the past, "First Frost" invites you back to a family you love and to a timeless tale of magic and humanity.

You will feel while reading this book and laugh and cry and experience something akin to peeking through a curtain to a group you desperately want be part of .

There is an inkling of outsiderness to experiences the Waverley clan and their circle; but are they not, themselves, outsiders too?

Magical read. She is at the top of her game!

(copy received by publisher in exchange for review)

Monday, January 05, 2015

Christmas reads catch-up Part I: Mist of Midnight, Me Before You, Dress Shop of Dreams, Unexpected Consequences of Love

I read a ton over Christmas Break  and I want to tell you guys about all the books because there were some great ones; but it is gonna take some time.
The last two Christmases, I was busy writing and writing and writing.  Two years of spending a lot of time getting a publishing career started.   Now that that is underway, I am back to my first love: READING ALL THE BOOKS



SO MUCH READING 




Lovely gothic setting complete with rumbling castle and military veteran turned brooding hero. It had the essence of Daphne DuMaurier with more than a sprinkle of Jane Eyre. Having long been enamoured with stories of the spices and mystery of the Orient, I appreciated the vivid tapestry of India interwoven with the British Colonial fervour.


As in her Tudor-set novels, Byrd is adept at interweaving taut verisimilitude with a crafty pen, a keen eye for detail and a favourable reading pace. Mist of Midnight starts at a slow trod but picks up to a fast gallop. You will speed, reader, through the final pages. Victorian gothic is a genre long close to my heart and while I did find that the Christian threads leaned toward being a little too overt ( especially in the case of italicized prayers), you can be darned certain I will seek out the next instalments in this promising series.


Feverishly romantic, stylish and sly, Mist of Midnight is an homage to yarns long past: where ladies were highly fashionable, witty and accomplished and the most desirable of men pitted familial honour with military service and just the right dash of mystery. The grandiose estates, the character depth and the secrets that keep our heroine's head turning hither and yon make this perfect catnip for lovers of BBC period pieces and all things Victorianesque.

(review copy provided by author)




This writer has been on my radar for quite some time now because everyone raves about this book. To add, there were months when you couldn't board a Toronto subway car without seeing the book's ads. The writing was great in a Marian Keyes meets Jane Green type of way; but I think that while the pace plotted and she did interesting things with the narrative, I was somewhat let down when it didn't live up to the high expectation I had.  Yes, the end packs an emotional punch; but you get used to the fist-in-the-gut because she plants it over and over again. Colourful kaleidoscope world of a castle-down and unique characters kept me turning pages.


Perfect Christmas confectionary: all bubble gum light with some surprising romantic threads.  I love a dollop of whipped-cream magic in my fiction and when Sarah Addison Allen mentioned this book on her facebook page, I knew I had to pick it up. I read it basically in one sitting while falling head-over-heels for a guy named Walt: who bakes cherry pies and reads with a luscious legato made for late night airways. Cora, Cora's grandmother Etta, a kindly priest name Sebastian, a sweet-hearted detective and his passionate Italian ex-wife, Milly- a saddened widow--- and Dylan a late-night radio producer---are a village of fictional friends.  I loved the Cambridge setting and the rambles up to Oxford where an age-long mystery will be exposed.  Etta has an enchanted dress-shop: each garment has the ability to make a woman see the best in herself.  Each garment has the propensity to make a woman take a step towards changing her life.  To add, Etta can sew a little heart into a garment and turn a tap on to love: receiving, seeking, finding.  With strange, wistful codes, familial revelations and a scoop of magic,  this homage to books, to the past, to romance and to mysterys had the right balance of superb readability and fantastical fiction to make it to the top of my TBR pile.  I subsequently bought van Praag's previous two books 

I underlined some favourite passages:
"Walt has loved her forever, for nearly as long as he's been alive. He was four years old the first tie he saw her. It's his earliest memory. A simple, ordinary day made special and extraordinary by first love and first words."

"But he loves the empty hours best of all, when he can walk along the aisles and bask in the warmth of the books, their glittering gold letters, their stories softly pulsing between pages just waiting to be opened and read and loved."

"When Cora slips into the book, she forgets herself entirely"

"He sits back behind the counter and opens the door to other worlds: bookshelves transmute into swamp trees, floors into muddy marshes, the ceiling into a purple sky cracked with lightning as he floats down the Mississippi with Huck Finn. When he meets Robinson Crusoe, the trees become heavy with coconuts, the floorboards a barren desert of sand dunes whipped by screeching winds..."

Not only does van Praag paint a majestical, mystical story, she knows very well how entice readers with caramel-coated understanding. She beguiles you in because she is you. She knows that you are flipping open the pages of her book with the high hopes and expectations she has when she reads a book and falls into its world.  The author/reader relationship...the sly glances... the knowing wit establishes immediate camaraderie.  Welcome to my tribe, she asserts, I understand you and here is a whipped creamed ornate spectacle of love and books and Jane Eyre, of soft voices and hope and possibility.   



Give me a Cornish coast... please! honestly, while sinking into the multi-coloured lore of Sophie and Josh and the characters who pepper their mishaps and triumphs, I thought of how perfectly rendered this would be on the big screen.  Mansell is a flamboyant romantic: it spills into each of her pages-- her setting, the winding way in which her characters stumble into love --- her descriptive palette.   I enjoyed the eccentricity of the locals against the central love story.  A great, bubbly, thick fire-side read.  Mansell has a knowing wink to her.  I can tell that she loves writing her books as much as her readers enjoy seeking them out. 

(review c/of Sourcebooks in exchange for an honest opinion)

Sunday, January 04, 2015

A Sparrow in Terezin by Kristy Cambron

In the follow up to The Butterfly and the Violin, Cambron proves she is a mainstay in the CBA


In A Sparrow in Terezin, there were moments of lyrical genius and snatches of a poetic sensibility showing that Cambron has honed her skill in her sophomore novel. As in the first, the underlining themes of art amidst the atrocities of the Second World War and Concentration camps (here, Terezin: the ghetto and labour camp in Prague) is well-met with the characters' crises of faith and trust in their Creator. As in Butterfly and the Violin, I found that the modern frame was disjointed; but Cambron is SO adept at winding a historical plot: coloured with hope and pathos and strewn with snippets of unbelievable smart snatches of history unique to the CBA. Thus, I will always seek her out.


Kaja is well-met by a string of romance in British journalist Liam and while their attraction developed quickly---it did so strongly so I was eager to see how they played against each other in bomb-riddled London and then in the mire of central Holocaust. Cambron also surprised me with the character of Dane -- a nice companion piece to the work done by Kate Breslin in "For Such a Time" ( and I would recommend readers of one read the other for comparative experience). He was nothing if not a snatch of grace in the midst of horror.

William and Sera are tried, in modern times, with a burgeoning marriage and more problems than they can handle, and their frame ties up nicely with hope and solidity.

A great, fast-paced read that I flew through with expert historical cadence and heart-squeezing scenes ......

Visit Kristy on the web


with thanks to Thomas Nelson for the review copy

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

'The Look of Love' by Sarah Jio

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

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

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

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

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Friday, December 26, 2014

'Landline' by Rainbow Rowell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Thursday, December 25, 2014

The Witch of Painted Sorrows by MJ Rose

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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


Monday, December 15, 2014

BAD TV Christmas Movies: Angels and Ornaments

" I didn't know you wrote lyrics!" "I didn't have the music 'til you"

"As long as there's music in our hearts, we're all angels."


Angels and Ornaments might win this year's Christmas Magic Award for the silliest and most inane and annoying Christmas movie plot of the year. (Though Christmas at Cartwrights was pretty bad).

It has it all! An angel, a girl with a subpar singing voice, a Christmas ornament, a throw-back to WWII, actors with no chemistry and a eight dollops of lazy dramatic foreshadowing.

So Karin loves music and Christmas and is basically a friggin angel. She is played by the lady who faked her pregnancy on Glee. She works at the music shop with a guy who is in a lot of Stratford Festival productions. She loves him. He loves her. Even though she can't sing and is blind to the fact that he loves her, that she keeps dating a douchebag named Tim and still has a home answering machine like this is 1998.   Meanwhile, Harold--is an angelesque guy who is actually Karin's grandfather (!!!) and is returning to help her find her true love and the end progression to a song she cannot complete and the essence of a carol ornament she hangs on her tree.  He gets a job at the music shop too!  immediately! because there is so much economic upturn in New York City music shops these days! also, he has a watch so he can keep an eye on things in heaven or something. And, don't worry, he gets his wings or gets to be an angel or something.

The three of them talk a lot. For three hours.   I wouldn't call what happens here a plot per se; rather a bunch of strung up dialogue with intervals of Petrarch and Dickinson recitation.

As a background thing (again, not really a plot device, because, you know, no plot ) Karin wants to have the Christmas solo at church. But, she REALLY IS A TERRIBLE SINGER! so it goes to someone else. Except it doesn't because Stratford Guy (who would have to basically mortgage his music shop ) bribes the church with FREE INSTRUMENTS FOR ALL if Karin can sing the Christmas solo which he writes. The lyrics are kinda the Night Before Christmas and kinda not and the music is the UNFINISHED SONG THAT KARIN'S GRANDFATHER-GHOST-ANGEL wrote.


Also, there's a scarf and ornaments and mix-ups and a scrapbook and stuff.

And then it ends.

As Harold sees the fading image of his dead WWII era love.

And no one thinks it at all creepy that a dead grandfather is a matchmaker.



Sunday, December 14, 2014

In which I Sign a Book Contract

Hi EVERYONE!

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

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


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

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


so stay tuned


Thursday, December 11, 2014

TV Review: The Red Tent



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

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


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


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


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


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


***

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

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

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


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


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

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

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



From Jaime:

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


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

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

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


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

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


About Jaime: 

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

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


Find Jaime on the web

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Allison and Rachel's Christmas Movie Extravaganza

Round II

I HATE THESE MOVIES 


Some TV Christmas movies are saccharine or sappy or cheesy but I still love them.

Others just make me angry.
Like a Bride for Christmas ( which sends the entire world the wrong message).

Eve’s Christmas and The March Sisters at Christmas are not two movies I love to hate. They’re just movies I hate.

I HATE these movies ( remember Ebert and how he hated movies?  HATE HATE HATED them?)

You must realize, American Hallmark/Lifetime viewership that 99.9999 per cent of your Christmas fare is filmed over here in Canadia…most likely in April or May.  Because they are filmed over here there is a requisite amount of Canadian talent and locations needed. And because Canadian television stations are forced to play a certain quota of Canadian made television every day, the Canadian Hallmark and Lifetime crap is played and played and played.

We LOVE to show Eve’s Christmas ‘cause it is chock-full of Canadian stuff: locations (they even get married like in a frakkin canoe ) and Canadian “celebrities” who spend the other 11 months of the year serving me Starbucks.

Eve’s Christmas is just awful.  It is a cliché upon cliché plot of a Christmas star and a magical chance at re-living life.  But it isn’t even delightfully cheesy. It’s just dumb. And with no makeup or hair budget.

And IT IS SO CANADIAN!



From the budget production values to Being Erica as the quirky friend. To the synthesizer music that I am sure some David Foster wannabe thought was gonna launch his career.

Anyways, Eve is a b**ch (there is a theme to the movies I hate hate hate and it involves the heroines being insufferable b**ches). She is a big corporate something or other with a bad hairclip to keep her stringy dry 90s severe hair subdued and a typical 90s business suit. This film was, however, not 90s but filmed in the mid-00’s. That’s okay. Canada is always a decade behind.

Eve (Amber from Clueless) is planning a ski trip with her douchebag boyfriend. Eve hasn’t been home in a billion years ( as is usual of these cookie cutter corporate women who have ambition and careers so must be SOULLESS enough NOT to go home at Christmas).  One night she gets drunk with Being Erica and sees a couple happy and a glint of something shines underneath her bad eyeshadow.  Leaving the bar she runs into a homeless guy who is actually an angel and thinks she should change her life.Then she goes home and drinks more and watches home movies. Then she falls asleep and the Christmas star transports her back to whenever ago in her small town.




IT IS SO BAD!

Eve cannot adjust to Old Eve in her Old Small Town. “ I made tofu!” “What’s that?” “ Can you make me a cappuccino?” 

And then, as is kinda  a Hallmark/Lifetime Trope, there is a karaoke scene. However, obviously there wasn’t a budget for song rights because they spent it on the Christmas Star CGI so Eve and Being Erica sing.

And lo and behold she runs into the guy she was going to marry. The most nondescript feminine looking Canadian guy ever.   And their romance is rekindled. AND SHE IS STILL A JERKFACE ---but now a jerkface who sometimes squeezes out a tear or two.

I HATE THIS MOVIE
Anyways, in the end she gives up her corporate life and decides to stay with him and they get married just before Christmas in a canoe –or by a canoe--- in a lake that isn’t frozen over because this is DECEMBER , people and no lakes freeze over ( I HATE THIS MOVIE )

And Being Erica and all the happy useless tv movie archetypes: the nice parents Eve is ashamed of, the rowdy high school girls, the lady who owned the diner, rejoice!

Then Eve wishes on the same friggin’ Christmas star for life to always be the way it is and she wakes up in her 90s era purple silk sheets and bwahhh?  WAS IT A DREAM?  Nope, nondescript feminine looking guy is there beside her and she gets to be married AND be a corporate b**ch and remain as unlikeable as she was in the beginning.

Merry Christmas
 
I refuse to post a picture of this awful movie. So here's REAL Jo March

The March Sisters at Christmas

There’s not a lot of things I can say about this since thelast time I got mad at it.

Except I want to highlight that I am sick of b**chy girls getting love and happiness at Christmastime.  There is no female in the universe more likeable and relatable than Jo March until the Lifetime claws get into her.

The only new perspective I have now is  I was in Concord last month and it is a darling town and when I saw some of the stock Concord footage they used to supplement the actual filming locations ( which were probably either Oakville or BC) , my heart was aglow.

I HATE this movie. I hate this movie for what it does to a delightful classic. I HATE HOW UNNECESSARY it is.  Do you want a Little Women Christmas?  JUST FRIGGIN WATCH LITTLE WOMEN! I love the June Allyson version and the Winona Rider one. Pick one. DO BOTH! Just don’t watch this festering piece of holiday over-ripe goo.

I HATE THIS MOVIE





Recap: