Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Twin Reviews: DEBUT URBAN FANTASY


ROSEMARY AND RUE
Seanan McGuire
Urban Fantasy
Daw, 2009


THE BETTER PART OF DARKNESS
Kelly Gay
Urban Fantasy
Pocket, 2009



Premise:
1. Half human, half fae private investigator overcoming personal loss is forced to sleuth a magical murder among the fairy races living hidden in plain sight with people.

2. Human cop partnered with siren cop investigates magical narcotics among otherworldly races living openly with people.

Cover:
1. Standard UF blue tones and leather, but in a twist on the usual the leather is a jacket instead of pants, and the heroine looks remarkably covered, untatooed, and visible-weaponless. Even so, uncertain this would have caught Apprentice Writer's eye in the store on its own. Unusual and intriguing title, though, which is not explained until almost the very end. Too bad the next titles in the series don't follow botanical precedent.

2. Blue tones again, with cover girl back to regular UF uniform and pose. Pretty enough overall look, not quite memorable title. The aspect of the cover that stands out the most to AW is hard to see in this small image; the light-and-shadow background suddenly snapped into focus like one of those optical illusions where you first see one image and it suddenly switches around to something else. Whenever AW looks, she now sees the head and shoulders of a samurai type figure in the upper right corner, staring down the heroine's cleavage. Kind of funny, and maybe not a smart thing to do to a girl with a gun in her hand.

What Works
1. So much, starting with the name of the heroine (October Daye) and continuing on to the heroine herself, a so-called Changeling (as opposed to Pureblood Fae) who has suffered multiple losses and is engaging and wry, choosing to tough it out rather than feel sorry for herself. An excerpt that typifies Toby's persona, spoken after finding a mysterious object:

"Pandora was an idiot. I dropped (it), shuddering from cold as much as from temptation; as soon as (it) left my fingers, the burning died. Whatever it was selling, I wasn't in the market. I had enough to deal with without being pushed around by magical items that shouldn't exist."

Pluses continue with the rich worldbuilding. Apprentice Writer was fascinated with the complex descriptions of the various fae races, their kingdoms and territories, and most of all, with the concept of how they adapted to live invisibly to humans in tiny pockets of nature in the urban environement. AW's familiarity with fae elements to this point was extremely narrow, and limited mostly to Tinkerbell type images or possibly Elvish ones a la 'Lord of the Rings'. Very soon into the story, she realized that the fae inhabiting Toby's world are no laughing, benevolent forest creatures flitting happily about in the sunlight. They are stark, demanding, frequently tyrannical beings with very little tolerance for weakness or departure from their customs and expectations, beautiful and terrifying at once. Each inhabitant of this fae world has certain special gifts and the varying intensity of ability to perform magic; Toby is constantly challenged by the fact that she is relatively weak in magical ability, and so must compensate in smarts and sheer personality when dealing with those who hold stronger hierarchical and/or magical power. The combination of heroine, world, and utter originality (how many stories has the Gentle Reader read lately with the protagonist being turned into a fish for fourteen years?) won AW over, and she impatiently waits for the day the second novel in the series will be released.

A common development in UF stories is for the female protagonist to encounter a male character who antagonizes her yet with whom she must co-operate to resolve the external conflict, and in the process sparks fly between them. Another plus of this story is that something else happened with Toby instead. It will be interesting to see what happens in the next book in this regard.


2. Again, so much.
Kickass female cops abound in urban fantasy land, but Charlie Madigan is the first AW encountered who is also a parent. Not to mention, recently returned from the dead. Throw in a partner who is a siren (he wears a gadget on his throat to prevent people from hearing his real voice, which would make them powerless to resist him if left unmodified), plus various characters representing the races found in alternate levels of the universe (both Heaven- and Hell-like, if AW understood correctly) and we are back at the combination of heroine, world, and originality that AW loves so well.

And in terms of heroine love interest - again, this story didn't follow the usual formula. There were at least three characters who looked like they might be setting up for that role, but in each case matters went down a different road than expected. AW was happily surprised.

What Doesn't
1. AW has often mentioned her love of secondary characters and complex, layered stories. This story delivered in droves. Perhaps - a little too much. There were so many different types of creatures, each with their own appearance, culture, hiearchy, and individual behaviour, it was hard to keep track of. Some of those mentioned only briefly created frustration for those of us who would have liked to find out more about them (e.g. the alluring water horse, the troll). Similarly, the protagonist's backstory is complicated, to say the least; there were many points where AW became confused about what had happened when and why as Toby remembered bits and pieces. A little more clarity would have been desirable for this reader (though it is possible that readers who have more knowledge of the type of folklore involved may have had no problems).

That being said, this was the first in a series so it was to be expected that world building would be extensive, and it's possible to hope for more explanantion in volumes to come.

In the suspension of disbelief department, a couple of recurring and related themes grated: the heroine is repeatedly wounded (par for the course in UF) and keeps bleeding. And bleeding. And bleeding to the point of ludicrosity (yes, that's a word. AW just invented it). Which was made worse by the fact that through the whole book, which covers a period of three or four days minus the prologue, if AW recalls correctly, she eats a total of two sandwiches. At one sitting. Containing marshmallow fluff. There is mention of a lot of coffee, and two instances of magical healing potions, but please: if an author wants AW to believe her heroine can run, jump, sleuth, take a beating and bleed vast quantities, she/he better be providing more fuel than marshmallows or else explicitly writing in that changelings only require a tiny fraction of the calories an active human needs per day.

There were some other 'Why are you doing this the hard way, i.e. alone?' questions, but AW was willing to let these ride in the hope that they might sort themselves out in volume two.

2. Like October's world, Charlie's is highly complex. Which was all to the good, right up until AW became befuddled. This could still have been taken in stride, but was saddled with the fact that Charlie seems to have a heavily conflicted relationship with everyone around her. It became a bit much for her to reflect on problems relating to her ex-husband, partner, daughter, sister, parents of daughter's schoolmates, individuals involved in her medical history....to the point that AW wished for a single calm, angst-free relationship, even if it was with a pet or gargoyle. Her difficulty with people in general reached the point of ludicrosity (hey, if a word is newly invented, it should be used at every opportunity) in her relationship with her partner. Repeatedly, she neglected to speak to him about concerns and events, and took independent action instead of waiting for or informing him- which made no sense. When you are puzzled about behavior and meaning of otherwordly races and events, why in the world WOULDN'T you make use of the tremendous resource at your disposal that is an otheworldly being who knows about those others and is positively inclined towards you? In this blind and self-injurious insistance on going it alone, Charlie made AW equally as crazy as October did.

In minor but jarring 'What??' instances, there is Charlie's description of how the otherworldly beings chose to immigrate to Earth and mingle with humans in the major cities. So far so good. But then she specifies which ones - and they are all in the United States. Meaning what - that, say, Singapore, Mexico City, Paris, Tokyo, Bombay, Shanghai, Rome have all vanished? Or perhaps otherworldly beings for some obscure reason prefer English speaking environments? But then, why no Toronto, London, Sydney?

To go from a larger-than-planetary perspective, with beings from realms beyond Earth, down to such a localized one, was inexplicable and threw this reader out of the story. The inexplicability continued in a later scene when Charlie describes a nightlife happening street where music of all sorts beckons humans and other alike. Again, so far so good. But when she specifies the various music styles on offer, they are one and all currently existing human ones. No mention of a style brought to Earth by the newcomers, or of human music influenced by off-planet styles. AW wasn't sure if this was supposed to demonstrate that Charlie has a narrow perspective, or maybe if she is not as open to other beings as she believes. Perhaps the second volume will clear this up.


Overall
Are Seanan McGuire and Kelly Gay twins separated at birth? Although these stories were very different from one another, there were nevertheless similarities in feel, pluses, and question marks in their debut works.

AW sought these titles out due to mega buzz.

She now agrees that these two authors are destined for a whole lot of well-deserved attention as rising stars on the UF horizon. AW was completely sucked into their worlds, and will most definitely read the next books in each series.

Also: she can't wait to get hold of the third debut author buzzing in what she thinks of as the New Wave in Urban Fantasy. Hooray -Kelly Meding's 'Three Days Till Dead' is winging its way to her as she cyberspeaks. These are happy times for fans of debut authors and creative new twists on the genre.

Learn more about the authors here:

http://www.kellygay.net Next up: Book 2, 'The Darkest Edge of Dawn'

http://seananmcguire.com/toby.php Next up: Book 2, 'A Local Habitation'


m.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Laughter Reviews: THE DEVIL'S CUB


The Devil's Cub

by Georgette Heyer

Historical Comedy
Sourcebooks, 2009



Premise: Bored sprig of nobility meets someone who doesn't bore him.

Cover: Gorgeous. Apprentice Writer has a weakness for covers showing detail of classical paintings. This one is perfect - she looks somewhat bemused, he's commanding the situation (in velvet coat, lacy jabot, shiny boots, and faultless hair despite having travelled to this tete-a-tete(a-tete, if one includes all participants) by horse. Who looks just as curious as the lady in what the lordling will do next.

What Works: Apprentice Writer believes this is what is called a 'Comedy of Manners'. A huge amount of the story rests on the lengths to which people will go to preserve the appearance of social expectations, while seeing just how close to the edge they can skate in terms of not actually behaving accoridng to those expectations. There is a lot of scheming about arranging the setting and timing of one's actions so as to force the hand someone else, and how to evade someone else's efforts to force one's hand. All very entertaining and somewhat exhausting-sounding for the reader, but AW supposes that people had to come up with some way to amuse themselves in the days before Twitter, Wii, and Youtube.

AW had some fun waiting to see how the author would make her come to like various characters she initially was not so sure about, most notably, the cub himself. Wildly indulged, extravagantly wealthy, insufferably competent and of course good-looking, Vidal spends most of his life proving to everybody (meaning his legendary father) that he Doesn't Give A Damn. This doesn't-give-a-damning reaches such intensity that he gets kicked out of the country. So, we have an egocentric spoiled only son, the mother who helped create the monster by hearing and seeing no wrong where he is concerned, and the father who likewise helped create the monster by being so legendary and, apparently, taunting his son with his pwn youthful exploits.

Good lord - what poor heroine would want to get entangled with such a family? Yet when she comes along, she holds her own magnificently, most notably in a scene that showed AW that one of her favorite authors, Ms. Loretta Chase, must be a Heyer devotee. The scene where Jessica demonstrates to Dain that she is decidedly unhappy about his treatment, impressing the hell out of him (fans know EXACTLY what this means) is one of AW's favorite moments of her entire reading career - and seems to be a homage to a superb scene in this story. For that alone, this story is worth reading. But fear not; there are many other wonderful bits as well, not least, how the cub's parents come around to making the reader like them after all.

What Doesn't: Yes, there is a highway robbery scene, and yes, there is a duel. But these are very brief bits of action in what is essentially a lot of talking and sitting around. Inside houses, at gaming tables, in carriages, on boats, with bottles - but all, unarguably, sitting around. Readers who like action and variation of setting may feel numb after awhile. Though the story supposedly winds its way through such places as the English Channel and Paris, it could just as well have been across some loch and into the next village. The reader gains no real sense of the various settings, neither landscape nor people nor food nor weather. It's all about the dialogue. Which is entertaining, and keeps changing up depending on who is in the scene, but it takes a certain type of reader to appreciate that, and readers who like more scene-setting and variation may find it wearing.


Overall: A wonderful read for those who love historical fiction, comedies of manners, and stories where it's all about the banter that brings a pair of opposites together. With the beautiful cover, this would make a lovely gift for the holiday season.

BUT DOES IT MAKE YOU LAUGH? Yes!
This is Heyer at full force, with two generations of her memorable characters playing off each other. AW shall enjoy reading the prequel, 'These Old Shades', the story of the cub's parents' more youthful days.

m.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Page 1: The Devil's Cub


"There was only one occupant of the coach, a gentleman who sprawled very much at his ease, with his legs outstretched before him, and his hands dug deep in the capacious pockets of his greatcoat.

While the coach rattled over the cobbled streets of the town, the light from an occasional lantern or flambeau momentarily lit the interior of the vehicle and made a diamond pin or a pair of the very large shoe-buckles flash, but since the gentleman lounging in the coach wore his gold-edged hat tilted low over his eyes, his face remained in shadow."


Georgette Heyer, "The Devil's Cub"

Next up: review.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Triplet Reviews: ANTHOLOGIES, Part 2

























Hello and welcome to Part 2 to of the Anthology Triplet Review. For Part 1 ('Must Love Hellhounds' & 'Queen in Winter') please scroll down.

Moving on to the third antho in the bunch:


FOUR DUKES AND A DEVIL (Historical Romance, 2009)
Cover: Liked the small details that came together to make something more than the first impression of somewhat bland house at twilight suggested. The devil's tail in the title was nifty, the red color contrast with deep blue twilight eye-catching, the smoke in the sky kind of cool.

The Irish Duke, Cathy Maxwell
Premise: Spinster who makes her living advising ton families on matches warns against suitability of Irish dukes, and is taken to task by one such.
Writing Style: Did not appeal to this reader.
World: Didn't engage, therefore didn't care to make an effort to suspend disbelief.
Prediction: Probably wouldn't seek out more from this author.

Catch of the Century, Sophia Nash
Premise: Governess travelling with three young charges is stranded on the road; passing Duke acts as Good Samaritan.
Writing Style: Drew AW in.
World: This story was trundling nicely along, looking to be AW's favorite in the bunch, when disaster (readerly speaking) struck. WARNING! SPOILERS!
Hero and heroine are chugging away in their mutual but unacted-upon attraction, when she leaves the ducal manor to go in search of the boys who are exploring the grounds. The Duke happens upon her (quelle surprise) and agrees that it would be good to find them given that there is a lake nearby. Then the pair of them in effect say to themselves "But oh, wait, before we go check if they are busy drowning themselves, we have just enough time for our first nekkid encounter!" END SPOILER WARNING!
These are people the reader is supposed to relate to, sympathize with, root for? AW thinks not. Clearly the heroine is an abysmally bad governess, and he apparently believes in some version of "I'm a Duke, so above other people that I needn't concern myself the potential of contributing to three premature juvenile deaths by negligence since I did my duty earlier in not leaving a young lady by the side of the road." This little bit of 'What the hell???' made this book almost turn into a wallbanger right then and there, but that would have been unfair to the remaining authors whose stories were not yet read.
Prediction: AW is utterly conflicted about this. On the one hand, the egregious plot development. On the other, she had enjoyed the story up to that point. On a glass half full basis, AW would do a ten page test of another work.

Charmed by her Smile, Tracy Anne Warren
Premise: Debutante seeks the assistance of one man to manipulate another.
Writing Style: Didn't engage.
World: Wasn't drawn in, felt impatient both with the heroine's manipulativeness and the hero's being attracted to her.
Prediction: Will probably not seek this author out again.

The Duke Who Came to Dinner, Elaine Fox
Premise: Island resident and newcomer are brought together by canine antics.
Writing Style: Pleasant, easily readable.
World: Was refreshing to have a contemporary thrown in the mix (the Duke in question is a pet), and the story was sweet, but ultimately, not especially stand-outish enough to make AW rush off to her local bookstore to keep the reading experience going.
Prediction: There was enough here to warrant a ten-page test in a longer work to see if it compelled more.

Devil to Pay, Jeanine Frost
Premise: Loner vampire comes to the aid of a human trying to commit suicide to protect others from his actions when he is demonically possessed.
Writing Style: Flowed well enough.
World: Though the trouble the hero finds himself in was certainly compelling and roused sympathy, somehow, didn't quite believe in how fast the couple made a connection and didn't quite get drawn in to the story. As with the Singh story in MLH, this was a case of writing that was good but not good enough to surmount AW's aversion to vampire stories. Fans of this genre would probably like it a great deal more.
Prediction: Will probably not seek out more from this author unless she were to begin writing about another type of character.

TALLY
# of authors AW will definitely seek out based on these short stories,
(in brackets, # AW would give benefit of the doubt in form of a ten-page test of another book)

Must Love Hellhounds - 2 of 4 (plus 1)

Queen in Winter - 2 of 4 (plus 1)

Four Dukes and a Devil - 0 of 5 (plus 2)




Read an anthology lately that AW should try next?

m.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Triplet Reviews: ANTHOLOGIES, Part 1




Alpha Heros and Literary Escapism decided to hold a Short Story/Anthology Reading Challenge.

Since Apprentice Writer recently powered through three of those babies, she decided to give it a whirl.

Here's AW's idea about anthologies: they are supposed to give readers who are unfamiliar with an author's work a taste of his/her writing style, and whether the subgenre or fantasy world appeals. So in theory, if the reader likes a specific new author he/she will be motivated to go out and buy a full-length novel, and if he/she doesn't like that new author - no harm done, it was a small page commitment. So the test here will be: was the story enough to make AW seek out more?

Of the THIRTEEN author collected here, AW had previously read a total of TWO. An almost perfectly clear anthological landscape. Here we go:

MUST LOVE HELLHOUNDS (Paranormal/UF, 2009)
Cover: Did nothing for AW. Apparently, hellhounds are particularly unattractive Rothweilers, and the women who take them for walks have spotlights shining out of their crotchal areas.

The Britlingens Go To Hell, Charlaine Harris
Premise: A pair of elite female bodyguards escort a thieving client to hell and are caught.

Writing Style: Didn't appeal.

World: Some imaginative details (loved the dust monsters) and the idea of elite female bodyguards was intriguing, but ultimately some parts of the story torpedoed willingness to suspend disbelief and left no desire to explore this author's world(s) further. Hellhounds played very minor role.

Prediction: Probably won't read this author again.


Angels' Judgement, Nalini Singh
Premise: Guild hunter about to be promoted teams up with loner hunter sent to terminate serial vampire murderer.

Writing Style: Zipped along effortlessly, showing the author's practice at the short story format. Yet despite story tightness and good alternation between action and quieter moments, AW didn't feel drawn in or engaged with either main character. This may have been due to:

World: AW really isn't much of a vampire person. There has to be something else compelling about a story for her to become interested if they form a large part of what's going on. In this case, the angel aspect just didn't make up for it. Hellhound was irrelevant to the plot.

Prediction: From this story alone, wouldn't read this author again. However, she is incredibly popular, especially with other authors who praise her worlds, characters, and writing skills. On that basis, Probably would read this author again.

Magic Mourns, Ilona Andrews
Premise: Shapeshifter with childhood issues teams up with shapeshifter with partner issues to investigate who is controlling a hellhound (among other things).

Writing Style: Loved it. Was rooting for the heroine on multiple levels from page 1. Was so engaged didn't care about the author apparently giving in to the temptation of overpacking the suitcase so it bulged to point of bursting. Whole lot of characters and things going on here, but forgave all and trusted that things will be better integrated with each other in full-length format.

World: Fascinating.

Prediction: Definitely yes. The first volume in this series is already on AW's night table.

Blind Spot, Meljean Brook
Premise: Former CIA-operative turned butler seeks kidnappee with employer's seeing-impaired nephew.

Writing Style: Loved it, but AW already knew that, this being one of the two authors whose previous work she had read. Very nice to be confirmed in belief authory goodness.

World: Consistent, not overwrought, a very imaginative and convincingly written bit about how the hero's special ability is applied. Good example of how other elements make up for presence of vampire characters. Best story of the bunch, not least because the hellhound has some truly hellish qualities and plays a central role.

Prediction: Definitely, AW will keep reading this author! She is quite excited about the upcoming steampunk debut.

QUEEN IN WINTER (Fantasy, 2006)
Cover: Very compelling. Beautiful color combos, lovely arty image, great use of snow. Best cover of the bunch.

Whisper of Spring, Lynn Kurland
Premise: Elf princess is abducted, her brother and non-elf prince mount rescue mission.
Writing Style: Didn't engage.
World: Didn't believe.
Prediction: Probably won't seek this autor out again.

When Winter Comes, Sharon Shinn
Premise: Sisters must flee their home and evade pursuers when one gives birth to a baby with magical powers in an anti-magical world.
Writing Style: Compelling. The reader could sense the characters pain, anxiety, and yearning for a better place and emotional connection.
World: Believable. Felt like the story grew naturally, wasn't forced into premature shape due to short story contstraints.
Prediction: Definitely will read again.

Kiss of the Snow Queen, Claire Delacroix
Premise: Seer sets out to rescue a sorcerer and is aided by a spirit voice from another time.

Writing: Was the most experimental, in that the story starts out in fairly classic high fantasy style, very historic and fairy-tale feeling, and the spirit who speaks to her sounds contemporary.

World: Interesting, with the split in 'era sense' perhaps making it not as easy to fall into the world as would be the case with a story that was either purely modern or classically fantasy.

Prediction: Would read this author again based on interesting approach. (Actually am doing so at the moment - the dystopian 'Fallen' series).


A Gift of Wings, Sarah Monette
Premise: Bodyguard and recuperating wizard are stranded in a mountain inn during a snowstorm and solve a murder.

Writing Style: Loved it, again not a surprise as AW picked up this antho due to this author's inclusion.

World: Similar to and yet distinct from the world created in the 'Doctrine of Labyrinths' series. It was intriguing how gender role reversal was worked in, with the female character, a professional soldier/mercenary, the physically and mentally strong one, and the male character still suffering from psychological abuse inflicted on him.

Prediction: Definitely will continue to read this author.



Please come back for Part 2 of this Triplet Review tomorrow.

In the meantime - is the Gentle Reader familiar with any of these anthos? Agree? Disagree?

m.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Twin Reviews: THE GLARING ABSENCE




PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT
Julie James
Contemporary Comedy
2009

NOT QUITE A HUSBAND
Sherry Thomas
Historical Romance
2009

Premise
1. Colleagues vie with one another for a single partnership position in their law firm.

2. Estranged spouses making their way from India to England are caught in the midst of a bloody uprising.

Cover
1. Very nice. Playful, colorful, the protagonists shown a equals and clothing giving the sense the story will involve the workplace. Alliterative title does the same. Well done.

2. Meh. Seen this type of thing countless times before. The title works, though.

What Works
1. Apprentice Writer came into this story with high expectations after enjoying the author's debut effort a lot. She was not disappointed. The story of how the perfectly matched protagonists (who, of course, see each other as perfectly matched antagonists) play a game of legal tennis with ever rising stakes that was very entertaining. The reader has no doubt how the story will end - it's the way it gets there that captures one's interest.

2. This author has a gift of creating unusual characters who are drawn to each other precisely because they stand out from their peers, but who are kept apart for large and convincing reasons. No misunderstanding an eavesdropped conversation between the second under-butler and the disgraced scullery maid who is really a duchess spy, no attempt to sacrifice one's own happiness because one is not Good Enough to be the partner of the eighth-in-line-around-three-corners heir of Bottomsup-Hippowich-Lowerrubberboot. The issues the protagonists have are squarely with one another, and resolving the problems in an authentic way, for the story and for the contemporary reader temporarily sent back through time, is an art at which this author excells. The reader suffers emotionally along with the characters in the most wrenching and enjoyable way.

At a talk AW was fortunate enough to attend, 'Desperate Duchesses' author Eloisa James spoke about her fascination with what happens after the wedding, and writing about marriages in trouble. AW agrees. Vast quantities of novels follow the couple on the way to the wedding, and end the story when vows are spoken. Those kinds of stories can certainly be entertaining and fulfilling, but so can stories about how the couple goes about keeping the love alive year after year, or fighting their way back to it after it has suffered a devastating blow. This seems to be developing into a theme for Ms. Thomas. None of the three couples in her published work to date stayed together after first getting together. It is a topic on which she writes tremendously well.

What Doesn't
And here we arrive at the reason for this post's title.

WARNING! MODERATELY SPOILERIFIC!

The Gentle Reader will have gathered that Apprentice Writer is a huge fan of both these authors. Here's the "but":

When you love, love, love an author, it hurts much more to find a flaw than would be the case with an author you merely like.

There is an early scene in PMP where the hero tries to gain an advantage by excluding the heroine from a meeting with a star client. He does this by holding the meeting at a golf course which bars female members. AW thought this foreshadowed a later plot development where the hero and heroine would join forces to take legal action against the misogynistic dinosaur.

NEVER HAPPENED.

What kind of a 21st century hero belongs to a gender-exclusive golf club? What kind of 21st century heroine - specializing in gender discrimination cases, no less - doesn't have a problem with this? For that matter, how did the senior partners at the law firm, who make their money on reputation for handling gender discrimination cases, not have a problem with this?

The disconnect between the hero's action and facing no consequences colors the way AW looks back on the whole story.

In NQAH, hero and heroine are enroute from a remote location in the Indian highlands as the attention of local people grows increasingly hostile, until the point they are forced on a panicked horseback dash through a gathering army to make it inside the gates of a British fortress. They then spend the next few days in fear for their lives, the wounded hero acting as sharpshooter while the surgeon heroine patches patients up round the clock. As regular readers of this space know, AW is sensitive about various pitfalls related to India as a setting; while there is no significant individual character of Indian descent in the story, thankfully, the protagonists don't act or speak in a patronizing way towards the local people, and the heroine makes no class- or ethnic- distinctions in the manner or promptness with which she treats her patients. So that was all good. Here's the 'but':

Neither during the long siege, nor after, does either character spend even a moment thinking about the motivation for the attack and whether it was justified.

AW is not asking for a complete analysis of all the economic, political, social, and cultural antecedents. She also recalls the hero pointing out to his politician brother that he himself is not cut out for politicking. Fine. But, come on - not even the tiniest little observation or question? "There are hundreds of people outside these walls dedicated to ending my life to prove their unhappiness. I wonder what made them so angry, and if I would be as passionate in their place?"

But nothing, neither from him nor the heroine, who are both supposed to be extraordinarily intelligent, educated, thoughtful people. It reached the point, when the heroine resolves to be less of an emotional automaton, to engage more and be interested in others, that AW found herself talking to the character (never a good sign), as in "You missed the boat, baby! Had the most perfect opportunity, and walked right by!"

Perhaps the Gentle Reader thinks this concern is exaggerated. Try this: separate the word 'Indian' from 'Highlands' and insert 'Scottish' instead. Can anyone imagine a novel with Scottish protagonists and British army forces in which the Scottish quest for independence and freedom isn't depicted as tragic, noble, justified? In which these sentiments aren't even mentioned? Could a novel be set in Revolutionary America with opposing British forces where the sentiments of the subjugated people aren't mentioned? AW doesn't think so.

END SPOILER WARNING

Overall
Will AW continue to read books from these authors?
Of course. It's Julie James and Sherry Thomas. Who not only possess compelling novel voices, but great blog voices as well. See Ms. Thomas' thoughtful piece on the state of the publishing industry here, further to AW's earlier posts on Drama, Freshly Squeezed.


But does it make you laugh?
1. Yes! The reader can rely on this author for laughs.

2. Question needs to be rephrased as: But does it keep you entertained?
Yes! Apprentice Writer usually reads half a dozen books at a time. She abandoned all others without a second thought when she began NQAH, and powered through till the end, transported by this author's reliably gorgeous prose and bullseye skill at touching the heart.

Learn more about Julie James and her upcoming title 'Something About You' here.

Learn more about Sherry Thomas and her upcoming title 'His At Night' here.


m.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Non-Laughter Reviews: LITERARY FICTION


ROOFTOPS OF TEHRAN
by Mahbod Seraji
Literary Fiction
Penguin, 2009

Apprentice Writer's first guest review! Her guest reviewer is none other than Mr. Apprentice Writer. He was chosen for this distinguished post for two reasons: 1. it is still November, and AW is in a last-days-of-Nanowrimo frenzy, and 2. Mr. AW was born in Tehran. Presumably not on a rooftop, but close enough that his interpretation of the novel could have more depth than that of his spouse.

A little context: AW won a copy of this novel during Book Blogger Appreciation Week from the wonderful 'Literary Escapism' site. She showed it to Mr. AW, who at first made no particular reaction. For the Gentle Reader's information, Mr. AW is NOT a leisure reader. Apart from what he is required to read for professional reasons or child homework support reasons, his reading material is pretty much exclusively formed by the newspaper and the odd technical manual. Novels do not come into play. Imagine AW's astonishment when he finished this book within a very few days after beginning it.

Here is what he said:

"I was ready to find flaws in the author's accuracy of descriptions but all the little details of everyday life sound authentic. From the way the teenaged boys talk to each other, to the description of the houses, to the expectations people had of each other. It was amazing how well written the story was, given that the author only left Iran at age 19.

I think this is a worthwhile book not just because it tells a good story in a well-written way, but because it can help people from other countries to get a better picture of what life in Iran was like, as opposed to all the terrible news footage that forms many Western viewers' picture of Iranians. I also think that it shows that love, and relationships between boys and girls/men and women, are quite different in other places than how things work in the West.


I read the story in three days and would immediately have started the next by the same author if it had been published."


Learn more about the author and the book here.

m.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Library Writer in Residence Programs



Any Gentle Readers out there also aspiring writers?

Apprentice Writer's suggestion of the day for you:

Investigate whether your public library runs a Writer-in-Residence program.

The Toronto Public Library does, and the current author holding the position is Deborah Cooke, also writing as Claire Cross, also writing as Claire Delacroix. Her oeuvre includes historical romance, chicklit, paranormal, fantasy, and dystopia. Her residence program includes panel discussions with industry experts to which the public is invited, blogging about various topics related to publication, and perhaps most enticing for us amateur scribblers, a manuscript critique opportunity (first fifity pages).

The author currently holding the position for the Richmond Hill Public Library is Barry Dempster, whose oeuvre includes poetry, short stories, and novels. His residence program includes a series of workshops, and also the tempting manuscript critique opportunity (first ten pages and synopsis).

Apprentice Writer had the good fortune to have her manuscript excerpt accepted for critique by Ms. Cooke, and spent an excellently helpful hour in the resident writer's library office, high above the North York public performance space and beneath Mel's Bells (an inside joke for Torontonians - Mel Lastman was a mayor of North York, a Toronto burb, and the library is in the same tower as the former North York City Hall which is crowned by a bell tower). Ms. Cooke provided a large amount of micro- and meta- comments about Apprentice Writer's manuscript, and the question of what to do with it now that it's complete. The most memorable of which was "This is good," and "You are not wasting your time," to AW's great relief.

Apprentice Writer now has renewed energy to work through another revision, and see the many-times-read words with fresh eyes. More importantly, she has completed (!) her query letter for sending out into the cold, harsh world of publication reality. Report forthcoming.

If you'd like the opportunity to speak with a Toronto-based author, editor, and/or literary agent, consider attending the public lecture tomorrow night. For info as well as a link to Ms. Cooke's blog, click here.

For info on the Richmond Hill program, click here.

At best, you could receive specific, helpful input on your work. At least, you would spend time with authors -who remain, in AW's opinion, some of the smartest and most interesting people anywhere.


m.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Freshly Squeezed Drama, Second Helping


Uproar ongoing.

For those not following this modern economics/public relations/social media lesson tweet by tweet or post by post, here is the bare minimum of what took place further to events in Apprentice Writer's previous post.

The Boards of Directors of the romance writers, mystery writers, and science fiction writers groups were unanimous in making pubic their strong and swift rejection of Harlequin's decision to open an arm (variously described as self-publishing and vanity press, depending on the speaker) for writers whose work was not up to Harlequin's regular publication standards.

Some of these organizations implemented immediate consequences regarding future recognition of Harlequin authors, some extended a deadline by which they hoped to hear from Harlequin about steps it might take to modify the new venture.

Harlequin issued a statment in which it expressed surprise at the negative reaction, and subsequently announced its decision to remove the Harlequin name from the venture.

For some blogosphere commentators, this was acceptable.

For others, it was too little, too late, considering two ongoing sore spots: Harlequin's original plan to include a reference to the service in standard rejection letters, and Harlequin's original fee structure for the service which are described without exception as much higher than industry standards. As of this blogpost, Harlquin does not appear to have made further public statements regarding these aspects.

Perhaps further developments will be handled behind closed doors, now that the initial storm has passed. Or perhaps this week will see further steps and counter-steps reported in the media.

Until then, Apprentice Writer passes on the following thoughts, shared by people with a helpfully enhancing point of view:

- According to an author-friend with background in Fortune 500 companies: when a company is working on an innovation, everything is very hush-hush and it simply does not occur that input is invited as this would ruin the scoop. Rather, the company anticipates which groups might have concerns, prepares responses dealing with those concerns, and after it unveils its innovation, expects that those groups will approach them and thereby bring about a discussion to lead to mutual satisfactory solution for both. According to this business practice, Harlequin would have expected writer groups to approach and consult behind closed doors, in theory leading to a happy (or at least, tolerant) faces all around.

But the writer groups didn't play it that way. Whether or not that was a good thing is for each onlooker to decide. Apprentice Writer's highly unscientific survey says opinions seem pretty much fifty-fifty on this.

- According to a friend 'on the inside', it seems many layers of employees at Harlequin had no idea this was in the works. That may include editors, and certainly the company's published authors, of which those tied to the Harlequin Historicals line were arguably the hardest hit since their double H logo could be and was easily confused for the Harlequin Horizon one. Something they could have warned upper management about.

- According to L'esprit d'escalier, the breakdown of fees is worth a very close look. For anyone thinking of making the leap to publication and interested in specific figures of what it can take on the road to get there, this is essential reading. Really, Gentle Reader who is also an Aspiring Writer - go look at this.

- The single item EVERYONE agrees upon:

Holy jaw-dropping numbers, Batman! How did they come up with these figures???



m.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Bored? Have some Drama, Freshly Squeezed!

Apprentice Writer's endurance march on wordcount has been sidetracked in the last few days by fireworks in Romanceland.

For those unaware: Harlequin Publishing, a giant in the industry, decided to open a separate arm for those aspiring writers whose manuscripts were deemed not good enough for Harlequin but who still wanted to see their book in print. Harlequin created the 'Harlequin Horizons' brand amid somewhat confusing information about what exactly the brand affiliation and author benefits would be, announced the imminent discontinuation of it's longtime editorial service-for-hire, and announced that rejection letters would commence inclusion of a notice about the new service.

Uproar ensued.

Apprentice Writer has neither the energy nor eloquence at this moment to uncross her eyes and wax poetic. Instead, some links for a crash course on Harlequinfail as it has been described:

For a comment thread about a lightyear long, with with some participants in favor but mostly not, take a look at Smart Bitches Trashy Books.

For an amusing comment on the comment thread, take a look at The Examiner.

For comments from a Harlequin lead hand, and discussion about the difference between self-publising and vanity press, take a look at Dear Author.

For an opinion from other press, take a look at the New Yorker.

For an opinion on what this means to authors and publishing in general, take a look at author Sherry Thomas.

And, if you have time for only one link which clearly breaks the nature of concerns down:

An excellently clarifying cross-section by author Jackie Kessler.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Laughter Reviews: NO WIND OF BLAME


NO WIND OF BLAME
Georgette Heyer

Classic Mystery

Sourcebooks, 2009



Premise
Host of country house party dies unnaturally; all present have reason to welcome this development.

Cover
Very pretty. Great chartreuse color, not overdone. Don't entirely comprehend the title but it is irrelevant, anyway; it is the famous author readers come for, and her name is understandably more prominent than the title. The cover girl looks like a quintessential flapper with her marcelled hair, sleeveless dress, and smoke-curling cigarette from the days when smoking was still considered sophisticated. The only surprise is that she holds it barehanded rather than in a cigarette holder or with elbow-length gloves.


What Works
This was Apprentice Writer's first Heyer mystery, and what fun it was. The assembled characters and how they bounce off each other were wonderful: Russian prince, disingenuous daughter, belligerent schemer, neglected wife, husband on a tight leash, noble admirer, sensible poor cousin, irate villager who refuses to accept supposed innate superiority of the rich and titled - all encountered by the mystery reader before, but all well done, and all deserving of the question 'Or is he/she?' following description of their surface persona. This means the question "Who had the motive and possibility to do the deed?" transforms into "Who of the plentiful supply of people with motive and possibility was the most likely?"

The country house, the grounds, the dower house tucked away out of sight, the household rituals and pets - all can be easily visualized. But it is the character descriptions and little bits of interaction between them that typify the story most and where it shines:

"Mrs. Carter stretched out a plump arm to the toast rack She was a large woman who had enjoyed, in her youth, the advantages of golden hair and a pink-and-white complexion. Time had committed some ravages with both these adjuncts...Artificial light was kinder to her than the daylight, but she never allowed this tiresome fact to worry her...she never put on her corsets until fortified by breakfast. (Her niece) had never been able to accustom herself to the sight of Ermyntrude's flowing sleeves trailing negligently across the butter dishes and occasionally dipping into her coffee..."

What reader could dislike a character called Ermyntrude? Certainly not this one.

"Vicky came in some little time after the tea table was spread. Mary had little patience for poses, but had too much humor not to appreciate the manner of this entrance. Vicky was sinuous in a teagown that swathed her limbs in folds of chiffon, and trailed behind her over the floor. She came in with her hand resting lightly on the neck of the dog, and paused for a moment, looking round with tragic vagueness. The dog, lacking histrionic talent, escaped from the imperceptible restraint of her hand to investigate the Prince."

Etc. If this type of description appeals to the Gentle Reader, by all means pick up this story. If it makes the Gentle Reader impatient and long to get on with the clues and crime instead of the crumpets, it may be that a different sort of mystery may be better for them. But for Apprentice Writer, the mix was right.

What Doesn't
The copyright of this book was registered in 1939, and reflects a bygone social system and language. Some readers may need more time than others to become accustomed to dialogue saturated with class consciousness and putdowns of varying subtlety aimed by almost everyone at almost everyone else, linked to focus on appearance, lack of it, wealth, lack of it, intelligence, lack of it, social ambition, lack of it, conformity to gender stereotypes, lack of it.... The Gentle Reader gets the picture.

Taken literally, it presents a picture of a world the modern reader (or perhaps, simply the non-British one) would find difficult to relate to. It is AW's understanding, however, that the author is known for her satirical skill; viewed in that light, the characters' relentless snippy comments towards others coupled with utter certainty of their own superiority becomes a very telling criticism of such attitudes, and thus in reality, a strength of the novel.

Overall
A most entertaining story for a rainy afternoon with a pot of tea. Great for fans of British house parties, Oscar Wile's zingers, and the era of Hercule Poirot.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Visualize This



Apprentice Writer is part ninja, part monkey, part stairmaster cyborg.
What on earth, you say?

AW will tell you.

Or more accurately, Chris Baty will tell you. The father of the global phenomenon of National Novel Writing Month (which outgrew the 'National' adjective many years ago) sends pep talks to the tens of thousands of participants at strategic times. The most recent such motivator urged lagging participants (that would be AW, not those credibility-challenged imbeciles whose wordcount bars changed color to signify 50k achieved on Day 2) to write in thousand word sprints, imagining a staircase of a thousand steps.

Adieu, Gentle Reader. AW has laced up her running shoes and is set for (keyboard) exercise.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Peace on Earth





Today is Blog Blast for Peace Day in the blogosphere.

Bloggers from all over the world are sending their desire for peace into the universe today. Join us by visiting the hundreds of bloggers taking part in this beautiful event.

Just CLICK on Blog Blast for Peace and you will discover
a world where hope reigns,
hands reach across the globe in friendship
and voices rise in glorious harmony.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Austen Critique, via Contemporary Historical Author



Austen fever shows no signs of abating. Neo-Austen titles are not decreasing, and now go further than extrapolations on how characters fared after the original 'The End', or'What If? explorations different forks in the road (Apprentice Writer is currently reading one such, and will review shortly). Most recently buzzed about titles branched out into truly unexpected territory. Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, anyone? Must a hostess observe regular etiquette when having afternoon tea with zombies?

Amid all this fanfare, Apprentice Writer was much entertained by a recent Austen description. It was offered by a historical character written by a contemporary author in a Victorian setting. Convoluted, but funny. Take a look:

"I went in search of Allessandro. I finally ran him to ground in the library, gamely working his way through 'Pride and Prejudice'. I nodded to the book. 'How are you enjoying Jane Austen?'

He waggled his hand from side to side. 'She is a little silly, I think.'

Now I was more certain than ever about my decision. I could not love a man who did not love Jane Austen. 'The great Duke of Wellington though her the greatest literary talent in all of England.'

He smiled politely. 'Perhaps she improves upon second reading."

Deanna Raybourn, 'Silent in the Sancturary', p. 497

Friday, October 30, 2009

Non-Laughter Reviews: VICTORIAN MYSTERY



SILENT IN THE SANCTUARY
(Book 2, Lady Julia Grey series)

by Deanna Raybourn
Historical Mystery


Premise
Christmas house party is interrupted by murder; guests all seem to have secrets of their own.

Cover
Very pretty - mysterious, retro, and upper-class invoking, in blue tones to contast the previous volume's red.

What Works
How Apprentice Writer loves this series. Book 2 picks up where Book 1 (Silent in the Grave) left off, with the widowed and recently-almost-murdered heroine Lady Julia Grey recuperating with a long visit to Italy to spend time with two of her many brothers. The author's debut novel is widely quoted when the topic of excellent first lines come up, and the one here is no slouch either:

"Well, I suppose that settles it. Either we all go home to England for Christmas or we hurl ourselves into Lake Como to atone for our sins."

Back to England they go, taking the whirlwind-courtshipped Italian bride of one brother, an Italian count harboring feelings for Julia, and a high maintenance Italian hound for good measure (Julia has a talent for acquiring stray animals by accident) along and picking up a flamboyant sister on the way. Returned to the ancestral home - an enormous, ancient, deconsecrated abbey - they find a large and diverse party already gathered, including their imperious father the Earl, two impoverished distant cousins, a nouveau-riche manufacturer and his servant, a man of the church, an elderly aunt, and, certainly not least in Julia's eyes - the enigmatic and magnetically attractive Nicholas Brisbane, special inquiry agent. Who has brought his new fiancee.

Julia is shocked, both by the change in his status and choice of intended, a woman she repeatedly describes as unintelligent and uninteresting. In the vastly entertaining (to the reader) custom of British house parties, murder most foul soon rears its ugly head, and Julia and Brisbane are off once again - alternately sleuthing together, trying to outsmart one another, and sharing the occasional kiss, all while observing the customs and conventions of an aristocratic Victorian setting in which they are, of course, snowed in. A disappearance, spectacular jewel theft, and not one but two hauntings are thrown in for good measure. All tremendous fun, and the return of a Gypsy presence adds an extra layer deftly serving multiple purposes. The Roma characters, together with memorable servant characters, family members, and animal characters which are unique yet whose every mention serves a purpose beyond endless gushing pet love (AW is looking at you, Kristan Higgins) all seem to be Raybourn trademarks, and AW enjoyed it all immensely.

What Doesn't
AW had to think a little on this one. Finally, she came up with the following:
Julia has a TSTL moment straight from a teenage horror movie of doing the silliest possible thing when she suddenly realizes an identity - and goes, in the middle of the night, alone, and without telling anyone her suspicion - straight to the possible villain's room. Since she is roundly chastised by her father, Brisbane, and most of all herself, though, AW was able to live with this.

Then again, there was the moment AW questioned Brisbane and Julia's sleuthing procedure. Murder is committed (most foully! *heh*) but in response, bedrooms are only searched, and that even secretly. Except for questioning the person who partially confessed and whose story has huge holes, there is no one-by-one interview of all present to recount movements and alibis. And, shades of the wonderful movie 'Gosford Park', it doesn't occur to anyone even for a moment that any of the servants might be involved, either directly or as an accomplice. On both counts, Hercule Poirot would roll in his grave.

AW will admit the possibility that she has been unduly influened by previous Brit murder mysteries seen or read, and that despite absence of both noted points, the story unrolled well.

Overall
A delicious installment of the story begun in Book 1, with Julia's first person voice fitting the tale very well, her increasing determination to be her own person and achieve productive rather than merely decorative ends (as was the typical lot of an upper-class woman of the period) a joy to behold, and the very slowly developing relationship with Brisbane as delicious as ever. Bring on Book 3 (Silent on the Moor)!

The Fine Print
AW read this as part of the Reader In Peril Reading Challenge. She availed herself of a library copy.

Learn about the author here

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

NOVEMBER APPROACHING: Insanity Warning


Last days of October.

The Gentle Reader knows what that means.

NATIONAL NOVEL WRITING MONTH.

Yes, Apprentice Writer has signed up for the '30 Days of Literary Abandon' again, armed only with a snippet of an idea culled from, of all things, a newspaper article announcing the kickoff of a restaurant critic's new food column, and the story of how he and his first guest met. That's all that was needed to commit to writing 50,000 fresh new somehow-or-other connected words. No plotpoints, no character outlines - heck, no character names! - none of that. It's the month of writing dangerously, after all.

Even better, last night AW attended a coffee-house get-together (what in the world would literary types do without coffee-houses, those Boardrooms of the vocabulary rich and wallet poor?) of fellow Wrimos in York region. It was a mixed bunch: male, female, student, day-jobber, midlifer, married-with-kids, not-yet-dating. All with two things in common.

Tendency to laugh a lot (there was many a sidelong glance from other patrons, and the occasional barrista).

Eyes shining with the light of excitement at their utterly unique, kick-ass literary idea that each could not wait to plunge into. Atomic koalas? Time travel philosophy? Quest in the BC interior? Leprechauns? Innercity ecocults? Brunch journalism? You bet.

We all signed our NanNoWriMo contracts ("..pledge to leave our work unmolested by Inner Editors...to let our innate creativity and brilliance free rein...." etc.) and planned to meet again in a week's time so as to bolster fading enthusiasm and brainstorm plot stoppages.

AW will be working on her Nanovel most Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings between 9:30-11:15 at the Richmond Hill Central Library on the second floor at one of the south-looking solo window tables. If you like - please join her.

Or join the overall insanity: www.nanowrimo.org
Wrimos of York region have a thread on the 'Forums: Canada: Ontario: Elsewhere' board.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Multi -Genre Lightning Reviews - FOUR FUNNIES AND A FUNERAL

Finished books are stacking up - time for another quickie round of main impressions.


Funny #1: OBAMAS BLACKBERRY by Kasper Hauser
This very funny collection of textmessages to and from the world's most famous man were imagined by a comedy troop. Arguably the best centre on Arnold Schwarzenegger's offer to go after the worlds most infamous man ("....Listen to me. With a parachute, some Red Bulls and a crossbow I could capture Bin Laden in 24 hours. I could even do it naked. I will grow my hair long for this...."), but exchanges with Bill and Hillary Clinton (whose handle is HBomb), Queen Elizabeth, Oprah Winfrey, Sarah Palin the outgoing President and others amuse also. The authors do a nice job of supposing what some of the more human manifestations of adjusting to being a new President must be ('To Grounds Maintenance: I'd like to mow the White House lawn. ' 'K. Will have to attach secret-service sidecar and gun mounts.'....). Even the icons on the Blackberry pictured on every page are entertaining: a donkey and elephant corresponding to the big American parties, the First Lady's face, and a mushroom cloud. Not every textmessage is a comedic success, and as a Canuck AW didn't recognize all the names involved. But no matter - this slim hardcover volume is easily read in one sitting, and would be great in a doctor's waiting room or as a gift.
But does it make you laugh? Yes, yes, yes!


Funny #2: GODDESS OF THE HUNT by Tessa Dare
This debut author has received much buzz in the blogosphere with back to back to back releases, three months in a row. These historical romances have a reputation for being light-hearted and funny. Apprentice Writer eagerly tore into the first of the trilogy, and was happy to find that she enjoyed the story. She did, however, feel that it was almost like reading a story and it's sequel in one volume....

MINOR SPOILER WARNING!!!!

....with the clear dividing line being the wedding. Beforehand, when the action takes place in the heroine's childhood home during a house party of age-mates, the tone is indeed lighthearted and often amusing. Afterward, at the hero's own home with just the two of them (and a mass of servants, of course) the feel becomes not dark exactly, but certainly significantly more serious and all drama.

END SPOILER WARNING!!!!

The story is well-written in terms of why difficulties exist and are overcome, and the couple convincing in terms of being a good match for each other - so those parts all work. The midpoint change in tone was something that took a little while for AW to get used to. She will be interested to see how the trilogy continues, but is now more aware of the fact that describing these stories as 'romantic comedies' may be misleading. (Not that they were necessarily represented to her in that manner. It is quite possible that AW developed that impression all on her own.)
But does it make you laugh? Yes, with qualifications.

Funny#3: HOLLY'S INBOX by Holly Denham
This nouveau-chicklit novel is Bridget Jones for the online generation. Holly is like Bridget minus the cigarettes and weight obsession and Becky Bloomwood minus the credit cards and shopping addiction. But instead of diary entries (Bridget) or letter entreaties to bank managers and creditors (Shopaholic), the reader learns about her hapless life through email exchanges with colleagues, friends, family, business contacts. All the classic chicklit ingredients are present: eccentric/demanding parents, quirky friends (including the requisite gay male best bud), urban setting, battles with higher-ups at work, evil/more successful rivals - and it all works. Though there is the rare moment when Holly seems to act like a schoolgirl rather than a professional woman, and there was a sudden out-of-character bit revolving around the best girlfriend (which made AW wonder if this was a setup for the next novel), the novel as a whole was a lighthearted success despite causing near wrist-strain at close to a whopping 700 pages. They fly by, though, because of the enormous amount of white space due to the email format utilized.
But does it make you laugh? For this reader - absolutely.

Funny#4: LOVE CREEPS by Amanda Filipacchi
This novel was an impulse buy, going exclusivly on the quirky cover (chartreuse green background with three black-and-white cartoon characters watching each other through holes cut into newspapers) and it's description as 'comic surrealism'. That it certainly is. It took AW a little while to get used to the deadpan, way-over-the-top style and story, but once she adjusted she enjoyed it a lot. The story opens with the heroine despairing of having lost all passion in life, and noticing that she has acquired a stalker. Thinking that stalking is an act of passion committed by a person obsessed with the object of their desire, she decides to imitate the behavior in an attempt to reawaken passion in her own life. She chooses a victim at random, and begins stalking a strange man. The story skips between points of view of the three people in this chain as the stalking direction goes backward and forward among them, and alliances form and shift. Added on are some secondary characters just as comically surreal as the protagonists, including a psychiatrist whose own form of professional stalking reduced him to streetperson status and who analyzes the patterns of behavior among them and can't stop himself from getting involved. Altogether, the novel is a fascinating 'what if?' kind of story.
But does it make you laugh? Yes, for those readers who appreciate the author's style. First page test recommended.



...and a Funeral (well not really but Apprentice Writer couldn't resist the 'Four Weddings and a Funeral' tie-in. Characters do meet their demise, but if memorial services actually took place they happened off-stage)

THE NIGHTWATCH by Sergei Lukyanenko
A cover blurb describes this extraordinary paranormal/fantasy novel as 'Harry Potter in Moscow'. Turns out, that's not quite accurate, but it was enough with enthusiastic recommendation from a cyberfriend to overcome AW's initial resistance due to belief that it was a vampire tale (the prominently featured fangs on the cover didn't help). There are, in fact, such creatures within, however they play a minor role. More central to the tale are 'regular' humans who have varying degrees of power to practice magic, and delve into a mysterious and almost sentient parallel universe. But even those abilities are secondary to the primary focus of the story: the hero (and others) trying to distinguish right from wrong, good guys from bad guys, greater from lesser evils on an ongoing basis because in real life, things are NEVER black and white. We all function in varying shades of grey, morally speaking, and pinpointing which is the overriding principle to uphold at any given moment is a never-ending puzzle and strain. The parallel world is organized into the Nightwatch, and the Daywatch (the title of the sequel), forces dedicated to upholding order and inciting chaos, respectively, with infractions by individual agents requiring compensation of the other side. The philosophy the author spins is highly thought-provoking; this was the first novel by a Russian federation author written after the fall of Communism which AW has ever read, and it was fascinating to get a taste of how a rapidly changing and sometimes anarchic social environment can influence literature. AW loved it despite not entirely smooth writing style, which she chalks up to bumps in translation.
But does it make you laugh? Not at all, but does it ever make you think.

Gentle Reader - Familiar with any of these titles? Please share!


Friday, October 16, 2009

Halloween Timetaker

Halloween Fan? A few minutes on your hands? Enjoy(ed) those little calendars sold at Christmas time when you get to open one window per day for a chocolate reward when what you really wanted to do was rip them all open at once?

Romance Junkies' Haunted House is the place for you.

A delightful house that you tour to click on all manner of objects and denizens, leading to all sorts of possibilities of prizes. Books of various nature (ebook and print, historical and contemporary, romantic and mysterious, fantastical and literary), candy, other items... There are also a few so-called wrong turns, including an invitation to compose a poem about the Haunted House ghost (who looks like the butler). Great fun.

If you compose a poem for Fred the ghost, please come back here and share it with us!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Whither Romantic Social Media?

Recently, the following rmantic fiction grogs (group blogs) gave notice of final curtain:

The Soapbox Queens (group of authors)

Romance Vagabonds (group of aspiring authors/readers)

Love is an Exploding Cigar (group of authors)

Romance Novel TV (group of reader/reviewers and guest authors)

In the blogosphere's natural course of events, blogs come and blogs go. Nothing new about that.

What struck Apprentice Writer this time was the question: what led these faithful bloggers to close shop, and more interestingly (is that a word?) - have they really departed to have more time for writing or other personal projects, or is this another sign of the rising dominance of the almighty Twitterverse? Have blogs and grogs concentrating on, say, fantasy, mystery, or litfic gone through similar changes?

*ponders*

Monday, October 12, 2009

In Which Apprentice Writer is a Techno-Doof

Gentle Readers,

Apprentice Writer made her two previous posts right before dashing away for a long weekend which did not include wifi. She returned to discover that due to her non-techiness, the order of appearance was reversed -

ergo, the 'Latina Heroine' Twin Reviews post appeared first, with the one promising reviews 'tomorrow' posted second.

Evidently, it is time for AW to lean on her blogsavvy friends again.

Apologies.

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