Thursday, March 15, 2018

Clarissa Harwood

Set in 1907 England, Clarissa Harwood’s debut historical novel Impossible Saints follows the competing ambitions and growing love between Lilia Brooke, an agnostic militant suffragette, and Paul Harris, a peace-loving Anglican clergyman.

Recently I asked Harwood about what she was reading. Her reply:
Lately I’ve read two works of fiction that are very different in genre and plot, yet similar in their masterful use of sensory details and setting. I’m always impressed by other writers’ abilities to transport me to a place so different from my own.

Island of Sweet Pies and Soldiers, by Sara Ackerman, is a historical novel set in Hawaii during WWII. Violet’s husband has disappeared, and she senses that her troubled daughter Ella knows something about his disappearance. The uncertainty of not knowing whether her husband is alive or dead is amplified by the uncertainty of wartime. When the American soldiers they make friends with leave to fight abroad, Violet and Ella are again left in a suspended state.

Island of Sweet Pies and Soldiers is much more than a war story. It is a story about many different kinds of love: maternal love, friendship, romance, love for animals, love for one’s neighbors: “in the islands, the Filipino, Japanese, Chinese, Portuguese, Hawaiian, haole, all managed to coexist.” One of the ways Violet and her friends show their love is through food. The pies alone will make your mouth water: who wouldn’t want to try chocolate honeycomb pie or sweet potato and coconut pie? Ackerman’s writing is as fresh as a Hawaiian breeze, immersing the reader in the lives of women who try to make sense of their disrupted world.

Rachel McMillan’s Love in Three Quarter Time is a contemporary romance novella about Evelyn, an American woman whose crush on Rudy, the Austrian marketing director of her firm, leads her to accept his invitation to work with him in Vienna for a couple of months between Christmas and Valentine’s Day. During her time there, she falls in love with the city but realizes that her heart may be deceiving her with respect to Rudy. Although she ends up with the right man in the end, Evelyn’s main romance is with Vienna. I dare you to read this novella without being tempted to book a flight there to sample the Viennese coffee, music, and architecture!

Readers who need an escape and can’t afford the airline tickets to Austria or Hawaii could do worse than read these books. Please excuse me while I try to find some Viennese coffee to drink with my chocolate honeycomb pie…
Visit Clarissa Harwood's website.

The Page 69 Test: Impossible Saints.

--Marshal Zeringue