Tuesday, November 22, 2016

STARRING CHRISTMAS and TRAVELS and BOOKS and oh my!

Friends,


I have, alas, abandoned you again.  But, with good purpose.

I have begun working on an entire new series and I have been traveling and visiting with friends from out of town and working at my day job and watching baseball and editing White Feather Murders and .... OH MY!


A bit of what I have been up to of late:


I went on vacation in ABU DHABI and DUBAI and met some amazing camels !





While there, we saw an amazing production of Les Miserables ( my 15th viewing and my 3rd continent!) on opening night at the Dubai Opera.   The composers, Boubil and Schonberg, were in attendance to celebrate.....




LES MIZ!




 I saw Cuisine and Confessions  at the Princess of Wales and was flabberghasted by the talent and acrobatics!


My friend visited from British Columbia and we had a fun time exploring Toronto and checking out the amazing sushi!, Le Papillon on Front Street and Cafe Moroc

 My friends Mel, Ben, Kate and I stayed at an adorable B and B in Leaskdale and attended LM Montgomery Day: a conclave of dialogue, lectures and reminiscences at the manse where her husband, Ewan MacDonald,  ministered for years.  We also hit up the amazing bookstore, Heron Books!
I also spent a weekend in Washington, hanging out with some amazing old buildings and statues!



And, in typical Rachel fashion, I have been watching as many Made for TV Christmas movies as time allows!


I am featured at Relz Reviewz today taking you behind the scenes of A Lesson in Love and Murder.   Speaking of which, it is currently on a 1.99 sale on all e-book formats! Grab it while you can HERE


Oh and Conductor of Light is available for FREE pre-order 


Over at Books and Beverages, you have the opportunity to win some Herringford and Watts 



Finally, and something dear to my heart, it is 1 week until my next book releases: a Christmas novella set amidst the magic of made-for-TV Christmas movies and co-written with my friend and author pal, Allison Pittman.

Starring Christmas  features two Christmas romance novellas ( magically connected) for one low price:





Falling for a Christmas Star Sam Medina has finally made it. A last minute casting change finds him en route to Toronto to star in the latest entry of the Serendipity Network’s annual Christmas movie extravaganza, My True Love Gave to Me. Finally, he will have the chance to shake off his reputation for supporting roles as the best friend or kind-hearted barista and prove that he is leading man material.

Merry Strathford is too busy for love. When she’s not pursuing a tenure track position in Medieval Women's studies, she’s serving plum pudding lattes at the Holly and the Ivy CafĂ©. Thus far, the only romance in her life occurs when she falls under the spell of her favourite made-for-TV movies. That is, until Sam Medina walks through the coffee shop door.

Suddenly, both Sam and Merry are living the romance of a Serendipity movie. But life isn't all snowflakes and sugar plums and real life ---and relationships---are far from cookie cutter shortbread.

Lone Star Christmas Lights
by Allison Pittman

Mari Medina is in love…with her neighborhood. She’s converted her historic ancestral home into a cool coffee shop and party space, with an apartment upstairs big enough to share with her mother. It’s a comfortable, safe existence, even if it lacks the spark to fuel her unsuccessful attempts to break into the world of writing romance. Still, she’s always on the lookout for a new taste to bring to her patrons.

Larsen Clarke had everything that comes with a successful career: a luxury apartment, a flashy sports car, and his pick of society women. When hardship strikes his family, he gives it all up, trading for a room in his brother’s home, and a venture into creating craft beer. He’s traded his expensive suit for a plaid shirt, and the only risk he’s willing to take involves bold Texas-based brew.

When Mari and Larsen meet, it’s a collision of retail and romance. She’s looking for a story, he’s looking for himself. Together, they just might find a little lone star magic.


Thursday, October 20, 2016

The Nerdiest Thing I have Ever Done

I realize I haven’t written in awhile.  I am sorry, blogger friends.
 
Here we are at the Wild Card game ( Throwback to JoeyBats' bat flip last year)

Sonja and I traipsed around BC for 10 days. It was amazing. I also checked up on Jem and Merinda all over the place in different bookstores.


I suppose part of it is because I went on holiday in BC with a bestie and we road-tripped to Victoria from Nanaimo while singing Amy Grant , and enjoyed Canadian thanksgiving, and finished a Herringford and Watts novella and worked on a Christmas novella, and did edits for Conductor of Light and did signings and library events for A Lesson in Love and Murder, and saw some theatre and opera and watched Signed Sealed Delivered  and enjoyed Toronto and went to a friend's wedding and saw a production of Jonathan Larson's Tick, Tick, Boom and also worked at my real job and read some books. And, of course, there was baseball.  I was even at the Wild Card game where my Blue Jays beat the Orioles and advanced further into the post season.





Also went to Master and Commander weekend which was a Regency fest of food and fun featuring all manner of interesting discussions about Aubrey and Maturin. Held at Montgomery's Inn here in Toronto.



 
Instagram shot of Orillia over thanksgiving weekend. Lots of writing and autumn and baseball!


 Now,  I return to you to tell you about the Nerdiest Thing I have Ever Done

(one of them)

When I was finishing up at University about a decade ago ( I AM SO OLD), I was super into learning what the great writers I was studying read.   I discovered that C.S.Lewis and Chesterton both liked this historical novel called Precious Bane, published in 1924 and set in Shropshire during the Napoleonic Wars.

I ordered an edition and read it like eight times in a row (and not just because the vernacular is kinda impossible to understand at times). No, I read it because amidst its other brilliant treatises on nature and love, it showed what it was like to be a woman with plaguing insecurity and the belief of being unworthy of love… and it showed it in first person narrative.

Prue Sarn is born with a harelip and thus is obviously undesirable and clearly a witch.  Get out your ducking stools.  She knows she is terrible and cursed and born of the devil (and whatever other nonsense she is fed), but she still enjoys life and snatches at happiness when she can. She’s a good person. She learns to read and write, she works hard with her brother to preserve the family farm and she falls in love with an itinerant weaver who kinda weaves in and out of town now and then when there is work.


She replaces her would-be sister in law in a very weird ritual where she stands naked in the half-shadows in some strange Venus dramatization and she is appreciated for, well, being a hot woman because no one can see her harelip.

And she keeps falling for the weaver, Kester Woodseaves ( the names in this) and the language is gorgeous and Prue loves to read.   And she writes. She writes letters that her illiterate brother can’t throwing in some extra lines for Kester.  It’s awesome.

Also, she saves his life when he protests dog fights and the treatment of poor animals and is attacked by a dog.  Like, he’s a decent guy too.  And she knows it but she also knows that HE DESERVES A GIRL LIKE A LILY ( her words, not mine)


Anyways, life is hard for poor Prue despite the fact that she and Kester like to talk about dragonflies now and then and she still holds the slight promise that somewhere there is a cure for her.  There is death in her family and she becomes blamed for everything and is, of course, judged as a witch and stuff is terrible for a bit.

AND I LOVE EVERY FRIGGIN MINUTE of this, frankly, unreadable at times novel.

SO…. I learned a million years ago that PBS had done an adaptation in, like, 1989. Being a little kid, I didn’t care. But I started to care when I learned it was Janet McTeer and Clive Owen and stuff and I wanted so badly to see it.  So for years I keep surfing youtube and streaming sites and the public library and no one has it. Nothing. You can’t watch this illegally. You can’t watch this anywhere….
Screenshot-2015-03-19-05.39
okay thanks to the Silver Petticoat Review for also sharing my love, but also providing us with fuzzy images
(http://www.silverpetticoatreview.com/2015/03/20/why-precious-bane-should-be-the-next-classic-the-bbc-adapts/)


UNTIL, a random search the other day ( I was committed, guys, I would remind myself now and then to check check check), I discovered a site where I could pay them with paypal for a download avi file.   I was,like, TAKE ALL MY MONEY, please ( it wasn’t that expensive, the price of a movie ticket and I will watch it every day and get my money’s worth) and the kind people who run this rare movie service sent me a download avi file and I watched it and it was AMAZING

Image result for precious bane movie
Just get married already



It is so amazing. It is like word for word from the book and sometimes you have NO idea what they are saying and Kester gives Prue these long, lingering glances.


It’s really quite great and my time and perseverance paid off and that---that whole find, pay, receive download of esoteric very random old rare PBS adaptation is one of the NERDIEST THINGS I HAVE DONE 

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Books and stuff...

Busy times around here.

A few weekends ago, I was part of the Huronia Arts Festival which was fabulous. I also got to meet up with the lovely Aggie who did my publicity photos for Herringford and Watts
I read a bit from Lesson in Love and Murder


http://www.smyrska.com/



Last week, I was out at a conference for my real job all week: but I did get to sneak in a Jays game AND the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see Barbra Streisand

we're first in the AL East!


I am off to British Columbia tomorrow for a week of holidays and to hang out with a good friend of mine.... follow my instagram for pics


A few books:


Lynn Austin Waves of Mercy: this was, without doubt, one of my most highly anticipated books of the year....  I love this author so much and after a short foray into Biblical fiction, it is nice to have some vintage Austin with a multi-generational saga. I am on Lynn's launch team for this book, so you will see my full review and more about it closer to its release date.
The Devil in the White City: A Saga of Magic and Murder at the Fair that Changed America by [Larson, Erik]

The Devil in The White City by Erik Larson: I had to read this book in installments because it scared me so much.  I knew, of course, about H H Holmes and his mass killings and his depraved nature, but Larson is such an exceptional storyteller, that you felt his story unfolding as it does in a horror film, bristling the hairs on the back of your neck.

I love Chicago history and Larson did an exceptional, accessible and addictively narrative job of bringing its conception to life, threaded with the eerie and horrific murders than underpinned its grandeur.
The Secret Ingredient of Wishes: A Novel by [Crispell, Susan Bishop]

The Secret Ingredient of Wishes by Susan Bishop Crispell   If you like Sarah Addison Allen, you will love this book.  It's about a young woman who is finding herself and accepting her past in a quirky town peppered with eccentricities.  With the warmth characterization of Billie Letts and the narrative ease of Alice Hoffman,  Crispell spins a tale of magic and loss in an artful and beguiling way.   Rachel has an unusual secret: she can grant wishes.  What seems like a blessing is more often a curse as she navigates a new community and the first flits of love.   This is a book to savour, to press to your heart once you've sighed over a gorgeous line or two.   Like this one: "I've come to realize that life is much more fun if you think anything's possible."

I highly recommend this for the evenings yawning into Autumn. An author to keep.
(with thanks to netgalley for the review copy)



And finally,  A Lesson in Love and Murder releases tomorrow


A Lesson in Love and Murder (Herringford and Watts Mysteries Book 2) by [McMillan, Rachel]
From Goodreads Review:

"This was my favorite story so far in this fun series, with lively characters, snappy dialogue, action, adventure and historical figures in the mix. The quips and quotes at the beginning of each chapter, and in the footnotes, add the details needed to fill in references, and added narrative. Benny, the RCMP, was a sighworthy hero, giving Jasper a bit of competition, and shaking Miranda up enough to make it extra interesting. Ray and Jem had a lot to deal with for a newly married couple, and I found myself rooting for them, hoping they'd work it all out. Who hasn't struggled with money, family and communication problems? There are deeper issues underlying the fast paced storyline too, with political activism, domestic violence, faith struggles, and ethical dilemmas.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Catching Up on Reading: mini-reviews

THINGS I HAVE READ


A Perilous Undertaking by Deanna Raybourn:   This series is giving the Lady Julia Grey books a run for their money. I am dashed fond of Veronica and Stoker and I love the Victorian sensibility as well as the undercurrent of adventure.  Sure, there is detection, but I read these for the smart quips and budding romance between our two leads.   If you are in the mood for perfect escapism, then this is a world you can lose yourself in.  Also, Raybourn's voice is snort-worthily wonderful.  LOVE !
note: review copy received from Netgalley


Charlotte Bronte: A Fiery Heart by Claire Harman:  I really enjoyed this book and it is probably one of my favourite Bronte biographies I have read. My favourite aspect was the time it spent with Charlotte in Brussels while she worked for the Heger family.  People like me who consider Villette their favourite Bronte book are usually fascinated by Bronte's years in Brussels and the unrequited love she harboured for M. Heger and his influence on Paul Emanuel.  I really loved this. Quite readable with an academic style and some wonderful photographs and illustrations.



When Falcons Fall by C.S. Harris   I really love the Sebastian St. Cyr mysteries. Moreso for the characters and setting than the actual mysteries themselves.   Also, can we give a shout-out to Hero who is probably one of the best heroines in any mystery running today? I enjoyed how this book took us from London and into Shropshire with a cozier feel than St. Cyr's usual metropolitan adventures. A hefty dose of romance helps keep these on my must-read list.



Bella and the Beast by Olivia Drake:  I requested this on netgalley because Beauty and the Beast retellings are Rachel catnip but I failed to fall for this one.   There was a decided lack of chemistry and the entire plot while wonderful in theory fell flat.



An Untimely Frost by Penny Richards
I am always looking for interesting new historicals featuring lady detectives and Richards' latest was a wonderful yarn!   I love how the Pinkerton agency allowed women to step out of their traditional roles and into the world of deduction.    The Victorian Chicago setting also worked really well for me and I am always beguiled by a splash of the theatrical which is deftly interwoven here.   I must confess that it took me a little while to get into this one --- but that is often the case at a start of a series as I begin to sink my teeth into the world, characters and story.  This was another netgalley read.





Tuesday, August 09, 2016

In Which I have Neglected This Blog

Between work and finishing White Feather Murders I have been a busy duckling. Which means, blog, I have deserted you.

And I feel badly for that. So, I am sorry, bloggosphere


So, here are some random updates and things I have done:

In theatre news, I saw  Matilda: I really thought the production values were great but it wasn't my favourite thing ever. That said, there were a ton of kids in the audience that went mad for it, so I would bank on that being a draw!


Star Trek: Beyond- Honestly, this cast could just line up and sit on chairs for an hour and I would watch it.  We did see it in this new 4D panoramic thing that was super immersive and kinda neat. I am interested to see how this technology evolves.  Bones won this round.

adorbs.


I was off from my real job last week and went up north to my little hometown to visit my parents. While I finished my manuscript and worked on another project, I did spare some time to catch up on some TV viewing:

Mercy Street reminded me a lot of Lynn Austin's Fire by Night. A strong-willed nurse in the Civil War gives us a glimpse at an upper-class Virginia hotel appropriate as a Confederate Hospital.  The cast is very strong and I was lured in by the historical excellence: the costumes, the references to the greater war at large, the characters

Endeavour Series 3:  I seriously think this is the best television series since Foyle's War (my favourite show of all time).  Shaun Evans is captivating and melancholy and the stories are so intricate.  This is akin to a poetic experience. The music, the cinematography of gold-tinged Oxford, the soft characterization. I love it.  I love Endeavour and Thursday! highly worth watching if you like psychological character pieces.

he is such a melancholy puppy

Grantchester Series 2  Sidney and Geordie fight and make up and then fight again.  The camaraderie and chemistry between the vicar and the policeman as well as the brilliant exposition of 1950s English rural life make this a must-watch

Signed, Sealed, Delivered: 

I caught up on some of the movies!   I love this show. I don't care about the plots ( or lack thereof) or the fact that none of these things would ever happen in real life.  I LOVE the characters. I am a character-driven reader and writer so it makes sense that I am a character-driven viewer. I love Oliver. Oliver is the perfect man. Oliver is trying so hard and his first "date" with Shane was to die for.  And SSD plays dirty pool what with its lemon curd cake and playing a Closer Than Ever tune. I can't even deal, guys.

just get married already, idiots.

Also, in bookish news, Bachelor Girl's Guide to Murder is on sale for all digital readers at 1.99

amazon

kobo 

nook



I also got some ARCs of Lesson in Love and Murder  which releases Sept 1


Wednesday, July 13, 2016

WHAT ARE YOU DOING RACHEL?

Well blog, I have deserted you for plenty of adventures.

Adventures such as book signings! Adventures such as the LMMI Conference in Charlottetown!

MORE THEATRE 


I GAVE A PAPER! 

Toronto Edwardian Adventures 


I have also been finishing a lot of writing!  The White Feather Murders, Conductor of Light and a top secret Christmassy project




And!!!! I got tickets to Hamilton in Chicago for next year!  SO EXCITED ( I have been listening to it like the rest of the world NON-STOP  *pun intended* )


<3




Thursday, June 16, 2016

Book Gush: 'From This Moment' Elizabeth Camden

Hi!

I am a gushy fangirl!


Part of the reason I make an idiot of myself fan-girling over Elizabeth Camden is that she validates everything I love about fiction.   In her heroines, I see proud and strong women who are very professionally-driven.  Her romances always unfurl with the heroes falling for the heroines because of their confidence and strength. In short, she uses fascinating historical detail to champion women in the working world. She makes me feel better about myself: my career, my choices, my strong nature and will.

While her heroines are never shrinking violets, so they still range from the optimistic to the steel-spined to the romantic to the troubled to the vulnerable--- often all at once.


Camden is especially brave in the way that she handles relationships that are not a traditional happy ever after. Braver still in how her characters express their limitations.  They may fall into each other's arms on a beautiful beach scene ( thanks, Romulus and Stella), but they also are honest enough to admit that they may fail even as they brush the possibility of a life together.

Indeed, this is one of the points I want to make about the power of From This Moment. The prequel novella Summer of Dreams is a resplendent companion piece featuring two supporting characters in Clyde and Evelyn.  Clyde and Evelyn's story ends happily in the novella only to find them separated and working through layers of confusion and miscommunication in this full-length book. While most romance authors enjoy tying up the neat bow of the happily ever after ending, Camden explores the after: two people who through time and circumstance have grown apart and who tragedy has given a new opportunity. Will they sever forever or find a strength that will bind them more closely than they imagined?

For readers of Camden's canon, they know that the troubles plaguing characters with histories of regret and guilt are part of what makes the flawed personages stand out so well on page.  No one in a Camden novel will ever grace its pages without the weight of the past.    Think of Lydia in Against the Tide, think of the abuse that Anna and Luke have both endured in Beyond All Dreams, think of Trevor's passion for medical study in With Every Breath.   In From This Moment, Romulus and Stella are both results of the past, as are Clyde and Evelyn.

I start, here, with the former:    Clyde and Evelyn  married young and recklessly in a whirlwind of excitement.  But Evelyn suffered the tragedy of the death of a child while Clyde was focused on supporting her with a remote job.   Both independent workaholics, the events of From this Moment recall all that has ripped them apart at the seams over a decade.

Their close association with Romulus has resulted in his taking two steps back from any relationship first, because his heart was broken and second because he has seen what can happen when you love.  Clyde and Evelyn loved deeply and it forged a tremulous gash in their makeup.

Broken relationships, fallacies, limitations and pride:  these are bold things to explore in Historical Romance but Camden, with a swift brush and a ponderously gorgeous grasp of prose ( not to mention a perfect realization of late 19th Century Boston), does so, consistently, with aplomb.

Perambulatory musings aside, let's get to the heart of this rather shakingly good book.

Stella is a talented artist who has long enjoyed correspondence with Romulus, editor and part owner of Scientific World.    Romulus has long pursued her to work for him and the hints of an epistolary banter is magnified when the sparks fly on their first meeting. As much as Stella wants to use her artistic talent, so she is afraid of being side tracked from her true purpose in Boston: to uncover those responsible for the death of her sister.  Said to be a drowning, Stella suspects that Gwendolyn's proximity to corruption at the heart of the city's political core may have led to her murder.

Romulus, fascinated by Stella's confidence and pride ( they both sport considerable egos, especially when one-upping each other) helps her meander her way around some of Boston's higher echelons. In return, she does some splendid work for him.   Together, they find themselves entangled in a maze of deceit and tragedy, childhood mistakes and uncertain futures, all pitted against the fascinating engineering of the Boston subway system.

I must add that alongside the many, many virtues of a Camden book is that her heroines never need to be rescued and often rescue themselves. This is most pronounced at a climactic scene where it would be an easy-set up for Romulus to ride in on a white horse, but he doesn't need to. In turn, there is a sequence where Evelyn rescues Clyde.  She plays with gender supposition and undercuts with such a staggering and strong sense of gender equality my fingertips tingle.


There are so many delicious things about this book: one is the slow thaw of two characters who, lets face it, aren't the darlings of the page from the get-go. They are both flawed, proud, conceited and stubborn as all get out.  When contrasted with the supporting relationship of  Clyde and Evelyn who show pride and limitations in their own way, you wonder if anyone will ever find their happy ever after.  But that is the brilliance of Camden.  She gives you a little bit of a shaft of light here and there: a night listening to music and stuffing subscription letters into envelopes, the sanctuary of the memory of hummingbirds, a few key insights into a friendship long established while Stella is welcomed into the group.

Like little breadcrumb trails, she flings you pieces of the character's inner-workings and relationships much in the same way she gives you just a fling here and there of the eventual realization of the most intricate mystery. When all is revealed, you will first audibly gasp then secondly laugh at HOW SMART SHE IS for writing this.


Camden's penchant for verisimilitude and her obvious passion for painstaking historical research are well on display here.

When it comes to world-building, few authors have such a keen handle on the female professional experience in the late 19th Century.     I am fascinated by her heroine's intelligence, I am hopeful by the hero's acceptance of their confidence, I am glad when a preternatural kinship sometimes riddled with the conflicts of the story are smoothed out and all is well that ends well.

(note: I especially enjoyed the attention paid to fashion in this one: Stella is a very fashionable woman and Camden extrapolates on this well. Romulus also is quite dapper).


QUOTES:

"They would either get along smashingly or be tempted to kill each other on sight."

"Beneath his fine black suit, he wore a vest of lavender silk shot with threads of gold. Only a man of immense confidence could wear such a colour and still appear to be the most masculine man in th world."

"It was in ordinary places that the human spirit was unshackled and free to enjoy the gift of life, transcendent in a way that was almost holy"   <--yes she does make a quick stop at a pub for cabbage and beef a religious experience

"To date you have displayed the manners of a common wood tick, but I live in hope"

"Excitement illuminated his face as if a live electrical wire had flared to life inside him"

"Ouch," Romulus said, "Two split infinitives in one sentence."

"He even smelled divine, like piney soap and the crisp scent of starched linen."


"The last thing Stella wanted was to join the ranks of pitiful women trailing after Romulus with forlorn hope in their eyes. But she wasn't a pitiful woman. She was a strong one who was willing to fight for what she wanted. And she wanted Romulus White."

"If women don't band together, we'll fall beneath the stampede of men."

Monday, June 13, 2016

Theatre Update

Alright, it has been awhile since I touched base on the performance side of things.


shakespeare in love 


Like a long time! I am trying to think what I need to recap you on.


I left half-way through a production of If/Then because neither the music nor the plot and characters grabbed me.   I did enjoy seeing Anthony Rapp, though


The Judas Kiss was a brilliant adventure for renowned actor Rupert Everett: who embodies Oscar Wilde in a warm and funny way.  The contrast between the Wilde of the first act and subsequently the Wilde of the second, post-incarceration, is remarkable and displayed in Everett's tone and body language.  Perhaps the most alluring aspect of this play, to me, was the way it incapsulated the language and wit of a Wilde play, appropriating it to tell his story. The rhythms and nuances were quite deft and wonderful.


Theatre-adjacent and performance wise, I had the opportunity to hear Kathleen Battle two weeks ago through a cycle of Negro Spirituals and backed by a marvellous choir.  Roy Thomson Hall was the perfect setting for her resplendent voice and she was a performer on my bucket list.  She has a haunting away of wrapping her instrument around haunting metrics. I loved it.


Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder is one of the smartest, funniest shows I have ever seen. I am actually going back I liked it so much.  It is based on the British black comedy Kind Hearts and Coronets and features Monty Navarro: an impoverished man mourning the death of his mother who learns she is a distant relative of a wealthy and titled family.  He picks off his relatives in rather ingenious and hilarious ways to climb to the top of the pecking order.   The staging is  wonderful and the Gilbert and Sullivan-esque musical numbers pay homage to the Edwardian music halls with perfect musical setting.



I was in Stratford this weekend ( I hope to return again this summer)


A Chorus Line is a passion project of famed Stratford choreographer and director Donna Feore.  Stratford's production is the first time Michael Bennett's estate has allowed a professional company to perform the show on a stage that is not a proscenium arch.

A Chorus Line is familiar to me as is its music, but I have never seen it performed live. A complete contrast to the opulent mechanics of a show such as Gentleman's Guide, the stage is black with only lights and mirrors to create the world of a Broadway theatre on one day of audition eliminations.     It is one of the best musicals I have seen at Stratford, mostly because there were no weak links in the cast. Everyone was talented vocally and in dancing with a few stand-out solos. The orchestra was also amazing.     It is a very effective piece: highlighting vignettes of auditioning dancers and digging into their backgrounds, only to have them fade into one seamless and un-indvidualized line at the end.

(note: if you haven't seen the documentary Every Little Step it is worth the watch for anyone interested in Broadway).


Yesterday afternoon, I went to Shakespeare in Love at the Avon (which I prefer to the Festival Theatre, sorry ).  Tom Stoppard ( a brilliant playwright) also dabbles in Hollywood and the film made for sensible theatrical pursuit.  Unfortunately, despite the costumes, staging, music ( extra points for the troubadours and performers on stage ) the two leads failed to have any chemistry at all which undercut the smarter and more alluring parts of the feminist historical tale.  I, of course, love the trope of a woman dressing as a man in order to pursue a man's world but I didn't buy the two leads as really grasping the mouth-dropping and unexpected and blatantly forward story they were telling.

It did, however, remind me how wonderful Stoppard is: interweaving Two Gentleman of Verona and Romeo and Juliet with his own lines--their cadence and exposition worthy of the Bard.





Thursday, June 09, 2016

Book Gush: 'The Beautiful Pretender' by Melanie Dickerson

Unless you are a book on Toronto in the Great War, early 20th Century munitions or the War Measures Act, I have not been reading you for the past few months.


Fiction and reading for pleasure has been replaced by my researching and working on The White Feather Murders .
So, I was delighted to take a brain break and start reading The Beautiful Pretender as my subway read to the real job the last few days.



(note: if you are expecting any kind of eloquence, I direct you elsewhere.  Herein, you shall be privvy to my squeals and bouncing in my chair and finger-tip tingling delight! )




Guys!!!  THIS BOOK! THIS GUY!   YUMMO!

The sexy "we're hiding in a false wall behind a book case and there may be beetles but let us hold each other for body warmth!"

The kinda-maimed-Beast-like-guy who saves the HEROINE from WOLVES !


The dresses and historical detail. THE BALLS!  The Queen Esther trope of having a man in a position of power audition women to be his lady for life.


I die, Horatio! 


Basically, Reinhart is Rachel-catnip and is by far my favourite Dickerson hero since the gruff and gentle Ranulf in The Merchant's Daughter who I am still pining for.

Now, The Beautiful Pretender  is tied with the aforementioned for RACHEL'S FAVOURITE MELANIE DICKERSON BOOKS


I guess you guys want some plot or recap.

Avelina is ladies' maid to beautiful Dorothea. But Dorothea is a bit of a *ahem* scandalous woman and has found herself with child and unmarried having run off with a knight ( this is totally a story I would also read, fyi ). This is rather inconvenient because Dorothea was to be on a medieval episode of the Bachelor and go to Thornbeck Castle for two weeks to audition as bride to the Margrave of Thornbeck: one of the king's favourites and a powerful political alliance.

The Earl of Plimmwald demands that Avelina go in his missing daughter's place.  Avelina is all: but I am a servant.  Earl is all: I don't care and you better not get him to choose you but find out if there is a threat to Plimmwald or I will hurt your family and not give you pork.


Avelina goes.  While there, she is resplendently unique and herself and befriends another auditionee, Lady Magdalen, while slowly thawing the cold exterior of THE HOTTEST TORTURED MARGRAVE IN THE HISTORY OF UNSHAVEN TORTURED MARGRAVES!  His brother died, he has a mad woman ( and secret ) in the West Wing and he doesn't believe a woman can heal a soul fettered by the wounds of the battlefield.


OMG!  But .... then... Avelina speaks her mind and is gentle and is even playing the game so that her friend Magdalen can win the Margrave's love and this unintentional "hard to get" act just makes her more appealing.  And someone tries to sabotage her horse saddle and he catches her! And someone tries to throw her off a balcony --- AND HE CATCHES HER !

and there is a lot of physical being and touching and caressing and holding in this book and I feel warm like a cup of mulled cider with the spicy pheasant they always seem to be eating.


Also, Avelina likes cherries which are sweet and tart and that is just a stroke of character genius!

Also, private tunnels and false doors and hidden dungeons and lots of PLACES FOR THE MARGRAVE AND AVELINA TO HIDE AND HOLD AND SNUGGLE when the palace is under attack ( but I will leave that for you guys to find out)


Also, there is Odette and Jorgen and we love those guys from a previous book ( but you can read this standalone)


What we have here, kittens, is a beautifully-rendered world, lush with moral pragmatism, gorgeous language and a romance unfurling in the trope of preternatural kinship.  These two are equals! And I love that she loves him but wants what is best for him and he loves that ( may I mention again) HE SAVES HER FROM WOLVES

and he has a big library.

QUOTES:

"If my mother has taught me anything, it's that a woman must demand respect."


"And even though this love was painful, it was worth it to remember how the sight of him and the sound of his voice had made her heart beat faster, that feeling of wanting what was best for someone else even if it broke her heart."


Tuesday, June 07, 2016

OF DUBIOUS AND QUESTIONABLE MEMORY

If you have yet to purchase the most recent installment of the Herringford and Watts series, you really should!

I think it is a heck of a lot of fun and features some of my favourite things in the world: like lemon jam, Little Women, and Boston






Ne'er-Do-Wells of New England—You've Been Warned!
 
Merinda Herringford and Jem Watts are never lacking for mysteries of the curious and commonplace, but lately business has been a little less curious and a lot more common.

With only missing jewelry and a kidnapped rooster on the case docket, Merinda is bored stiff. Jem welcomes the reprieve as she settles into married life, attempting to learn the domestic skills that have cunningly evaded her as a bachelor girl detective.    

The lull in business is short-lived when a telegram arrives from the detective duo's suffragette friend, Martha Kingston, detailing the mysterious disappearance of a school chum's sister in Concord, Massachusetts. 

No sooner do Jem and Merinda arrive in the States to investigate than they find themselves embroiled in a world of strange affairs, purloined letters, and a baffling mystery whose clues lead directly to Orchard House, the homestead made famous by its long-time resident, Louisa May Alcott.

At Orchard House last June

READER REVIEWS: 

What is better than Merinda and Jem coming to America? Not just any part of America but where Louisa May Alcott lived. With the returning women detectives, I couldn't wait to see them solve this mystery. From a lost rooster and a missing woman to problems adjusting to life as a newlywed, Merinda and Jem took me another adventure, which I willing went along with. The main problem I had with this novella was that it was too short. The pages zoomed by, and before I knew it, the story was finished, and the mystery solved. I really can't wait for the next book A Lesson in Love and Murder. Write faster, Rachel!!!


At Walden Pond last June 



Such an enjoyable read! I have loved following these richly written characters and watching their story unfold. The consistency with which the author writes, from language to location, truly transports you back in time. I have absolutely loved walking the streets of 1910 with Herringford & Watts!

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

In which I was in Chicago

So, I have been rather silent on the blog: but with good reason.

My galleys for A Lesson in Love and Murder were due and I have been feverishly working on The White Feather Murders.

Busy, busy.


I did, however, get to steal away to Chicago for the latter half of last week.

I arrived on Wednesday after a bit of a gong show of a trip over there. We left Toronto early in the morning, arrived in Chicago, couldn't land because of fog, circled and circled about and finally returned to Toronto.

I spent most of the day in the Porter lounge at Billy Bishop writing White Feather. When I finally did get to Chicago I was excited to see all of the sites that I hadn't seen in two years since my last trip there ( especially because I had written A Lesson in Love and Murder  during the interim --- about 80 per cent of that book is set in Chicago).

My friend Sonja ( from Vancouver Island) joined me and we stayed at the W City Centre Hotel. It was fab: like this psychadelic disco castle.

We took a long ramble about and I gaped up at the amazing architecture and found dinner at Pizano's on State Street.  Score for us, it was half-off bottles of chianti.


The next day, I was pretty packed with all things bookish at Book Expo America.

I met the Harvest House crew for breakfast and then headed over to Book Expo at McCormick Place.   It was a zoo! I signed a few books and met a few readers and spent some time with my amazing editor.




A long day of bookish goodness later and Sonja and I were back prowling Chicago. We had dinner at the Emerald Loop and then cocktails at The Palmer House.  Note: I am obsessed with the Palmer House. It's where Jem and Merinda stay when they are in Chicago and you really, really, really must spend time there if you are in the Windy City.

Friday saw us out and exploring again....
Sonja is a professional photographer, so part of her vision for her portion of the trip was to use Chicago's gorgeous hybrid of historical and modern architecture to create a visual narrative.   Because she had a friend ( me!) along with her, I modeled for a lot of the shots.  

We spent a wonderful day getting pics at the El stations and perusing Marshall Fields and the Tiffany Ceiling (now Macy's), exploring the river and shooting near the Palmer.  After work was done for the day, we headed for cocktails at the Signature Room in the John Hancock Building where we were afforded amazing views of the city.  After which, we found dinner at Quartino which is one of the best restaurants I have ever eaten at in the States. The food was amazing, the wine was amazing, the wait staff was amazing ( thanks for the free limoncello! ).   After which, we left the W behind and headed to an air bnb in Lincoln Square to spend the rest of our Chicago weekend.

A new neighbourhood and new digs ( with a gorgeous swath of print! --- I love print!) , our borrowed apartment was cozy and gave us an entirely different feel for an interesting new neighbourhood.  On Saturday morning we wandered through the square which is home to several families with small children and inched through a street festival.   Lincoln Square ( unbeknownst to me previously) is a largely German area of Chicago and it was interesting to see that cultural influence.

A quick El ride in to the city proper and we were freezing along the river thanks to a quick temperature drop. Nonetheless, we took an Architectural Tour on the river before wandering the streets again and stopping at this adorable little wine bar.    Dinner was at Bistronomic--- a to-die-for French place on Pearson Street. Thereafter, we procured tickets to Disenchanted: a Disney musical spoof reclaiming a feminine space for princesses.


Sunday morning was a lot of packing followed by brunch at Le Cafe in Lincoln Square before she took an uber to O'Hare and I took an uber to Midway.


Chicago is an incredible city. It reminds me a lot of Toronto. I fell for it two years ago when I visited for the annual Dickens Fellowship Conference and was very lucky to spend more time there again.
The preservation of Victorian and Edwardian architecture and the on-going beautification process (started in the early 1900s on the magnificent mile and beyond) help establish one of the most alluring historical cities in the US.



Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Guest Post: 1910s Cinema and the Strong Heroines in those Films that led to A FRONT PAGE AFFAIR by Radha Vatsal

Rachel note: delighted that Radha Vatsal took time to talk about cinema in the 1910s:  Kitty Weeks' first adventure is one I loved  ( it is very Jem and Merinda approved!) and I so appreciate Radha taking the time to visit A Fair Substitute for Heaven today. 



Capability “Kitty” Weeks, the protagonist of A Front Page Affair, is a reporter for the Ladies’ Page of the New York Sentinel in 1915.  She’s dying to report real news but that’s the prerogative of the men who work at the City Desk or in the Newsroom. Still, Kitty is inspired by the strong, active heroines she sees on screen in the movie theaters.  These women—actresses like Pearl White, Kathlyn Williams and Helen Holmes—portrayed athletic, independent and intelligent heroines who were hungry for adventure and took matters into their own hands when necessary—and this was before women even had the right to vote.
I learned about the action film heroines of the silent era during my graduate studies at Duke University.  The 1910s saw a spate of silent film serials released, all of which featured women playing the lead in action roles.  These films showed women involved in mThe Hazards of Helen (1915).

atters far outside the home. They moved into the territory that we might now associate with male actors. They chased villains in cars, rode horses, flew airplanes, ran down hillsides chased by huge boulders, and emerged from dangerous situations basically unscathed. They were tough and also happy-go-lucky, and their films were popular both in the US and around the world.  Here’s a clip of Helen Holmes in

I thought they needed to be put into a story and the way I did that wasn’t to make an action heroine the protagonist of my book, but rather, to make an action heroine, specifically Pearl White, Kitty Weeks’s inspiration as she pursues her journalistic investigations.  In a later book in the Kitty Weeks Mystery series (A Front Page Affair is the first) I hope to have Kitty directly interact with Pearl or another silent-era film star.  Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, for instance, were very influential in persuading ordinary Americans to support the country’s entry into World War I.  Kitty Weeks will be there, watching it all unfold.  You can read more about the forgotten silent-film heroines of the 1910s in an article I wrote for TheAtlantic.com, and see images about them and other aspects of life in the 1910s on the World of Kitty Weeks Tumblr.




Radha Vatsal is a writer based in New York City. She was born in Mumbai, India and has a Ph.D. from the English Department at Duke University. Her debut novel, A Front Page Affaircomes out this May from Sourcebooks Landmark. You can write to her at radhavatsalauthor@gmail.com or friend her on Facebook.