Friday, October 30, 2009

Non-Laughter Reviews: VICTORIAN MYSTERY

(Book 2, Lady Julia Grey series)

by Deanna Raybourn
Historical Mystery

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

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.

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


Last days of October.

The Gentle Reader knows what that means.


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 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:
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....


....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.


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?


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.


Thursday, October 8, 2009

Page 1

"This is either the longest suicide note in history or the juiciest, dirtiest, most delicious confession you'll ever hear. Call me Canela. That's Spanish for Cinammon, but don't call me Cinnamon; that's a stripper's name."
Josefina Lopez, 'Hungry Woman in Paris'

"There are a few theories about my weight. One of them places the responsibility of my extra pounds on my reckless behavior: I eat too much. I don't exercise enough, I combine the wrong foods, I eat late at night, etc. The truth is that I watch carefully what I eat, I exercise every day, and I never eat carbohydrates past 7 p.m. So there goes that theory."
Alberto Ferreras, 'B as in Beauty'

Twin reviews of these novels tomorrow.


B as in Beauty
Alberto Ferreras

Literary Fiction? Chicklit?

Hungry Woman in Paris
Josefina Lopez

Literary Fiction? Autobiographical Women's Fiction?

1. Big beautiful career woman with self-esteem issues learns to capitalize on her unusual look.
2. Grieving, romantically-conflicted and family-challenged first generation American woman
seeks answers in French haute cooking school.

1. Very beautiful, with eye-catching colors and relevant title. Would have snared Apprentice Writer's attention if walking by in a store.
2. Gorgeous colors. Unusual, striking, and symbolic image which perfectly captures a key moment in the story. Fantastic title which reflects content exactly. One of the best covers AW has seen this year.

What Works
1. B, short for Beauty, is an appealing young heroine. Of Cuban-American descent, she is in an ongoing struggle on three levels: to navigate her way between her family's traditional expections while in the 'new country', to get ahead in her job in advertising, and to make peace with the fact that despite her best efforts, her body does not conform to current notions of feminine body ideal. Following a few chapters establishing the baseline of her life, she meets an enigmatic older woman who offers her the opportunity to see her body in a new way; through the eyes of men whose thoughts and needs regarding love are highly specific and out of the norm. Offering her services to these men sets B on a gradual transformation process. Watching her growing self-esteem touch off changes in her personal and professional life was enjoyable, with the reader rooting for her along the way.

2. Who (apart from Parisians) hasn't entertained a fantasy or two about leaving all one's troubles behind to run away to Paris and recreate one's life? And who (apart from - OK give AW a minute here, she's having trouble coming up with an exception) doesn't equate Paris with exquisite food and passion for eating? This reader was more than ready to vicariously live out her dream through the heroine's actions, and eagerly explored the legendary Gallic capital through Canela's eyes.
As a visible minority member in France, Canela lives through the immigrant experience all over again after doing so the first time following an immensely difficult transition to the United States from Mexico. Her descriptions and flashbacks to key childhood scenes are vivid, and show what she means by hunger, of the body and the soul. This is the author's first novel, and there are sudden, small moments peppered throughout the novel that seem gem-like in beauty and clarity. One such is the scene where Canela recalls the exhausting work of picking grapes with her entire family, holding a cluster of fruit in her hands as though it were a heart, and having this memory abruptly tainted by arrival of authorities to conduct a raid on illegal workers. All panic and flee, so that fear of discovery, physical hunger while waiting till it's safe to emerge from the hiding spot, blood from an injury, and sweet grape juice all mingle together in the child Canela's mind. A shining moment in the narrative, and one that shows the author's screenwriterly and poetess roots.

What Doesn't
1. For some reason (the trade paperback size? the artistic cover? the reading group guide?) AW began this story under the impression it was literary fiction but as pages turned, it felt more like Latina chicklit. To wit: first person (check), young, urban, single, female protagonist (check), label-conscious (check), works in publishing/marketing/some such field (check), relies more on friends than family (check), has evil ex-boyfriend or evil boss or both (check). All that was missing was the gay best friend.

Gentle Reader, don't misconstrue. AW does not dislike chicklit. To the contrary, she has been diligent in her efforts (recorded in this space) to track down the increasingly endangered beast in its natural habitat. It's simply that she could do without the more strident tropes of the genre. Simply inserting a Latina heroine where, say, a standard-issue British one would usually be, does not alter the fact that a genre stereotype remains a genre stereotype. Specifically, the evil, ultra-onedimensional boss seemed overdone.

At multiple points throughout the story, B feels the need to repeat to her employer that she does not agree to have sex with the clients, and the employer assures her that she need not do anything with which she is not comfortable. Given the facts that the meetings with clients take place at night, that B is paid handsomely (by the employer after being given cash by the clients), that she is expected to devote large amounts of time and money on appearance, and that she is taken to and from appointments by a male driver who assures her that he can extract her from situations just as soon as she signals she is uncomfortable, it is understandable that B finds the lines blurry at times. Little tip: if you are in a frequent state of anxiety due to constant checking where the line is drawn, YOU MIGHT WANT TO STEP BACK AND RE-THINK THE WHOLE SITUATION.

2. There was much to enjoy in this story. There was also much to stub one's reader toe on. First, the character of Canela herself. The story opens with her behaving badly during a funeral. Grief can take mourners in different ways so it was not difficult to overlook this opening , however Canela continues at times to act in ways that seem oddly young and/or ego-centric for the stage of life she has reached. This is not the same as acting selfish; a recurring theme is her despair that she felt unable to help her beloved cousin in a difficult life situation, and when presented with an opportunity to make a difference for another woman in dire straits, she jumps in with both feet. It was more a matter of not grasping her hypocritical actions (e.g. she remarks more than once that she hasn't heard from a friend who had to leave France abruptly, yet she herself took off for France without telling anyone where she was going and takes a very long time to communicate with family members to let them know she is alright, avoids talking to parents directly so as to avoid lectures, etc.) and also, disappointingly, the schoolgirl level at which the cooking experience seems to remain.

Being a fan of HGTV, and having recently read 'Julie & Julia' (in which an amateur chef chronicles attempts to cook all recipes in a classic French cuisine cookbook in a year), AW has this preconceived notion that people who go into the profession are filled with passion and creativity where food is concerned. And though there were a few times where this came through it mostly was when gastronomic and romantic (or perhaps more accurately, lustful) passion intersected. Canela doesn't enrol in cooking school because she loves food an admires French cuisine; she does so to obtain a legal document that will allow her to stay longer in France because she doesn't feel ready to go home yet. Consequently, it should perhaps have been no surprise that the school scenes describe worry about tests, jostling with fellow students, time running out - all things that could take place at any kind of school. AW missed the zing that goes along with people for whom food is art, who train themselves to heighten their senses in service to providing new taste experiences for their clients and families. In this context, she was taken aback at the sheer number of men who appeared to seek employment at the school for the purpose of gaining access to a never-ending stream of foreign student bedpartners (since emphasis is made on the fact the French cooking students don't enrol). Perhaps she should be more cynical?

She also missed smooth writing. The author's style felt choppy and confusing, with details and characters mentioned that at first were assumed to be designed to further the plot but then led nowhere. Like Canela, the author spent time in France at cooking school. It made this reader wonder if the writing style could partly be explained as autobiographical memory, with scenes given straightforward description of what took place at the time, rather than deliberate fictional build-up of one detail logically upon another so as to achieve a particular effect in the reader. Yet - the parts that worked, worked very well. Often in short snippets, such as clever chapter titles: 'Like Water for Canela', 'Last Mango in Paris', 'A Chicana in Paris'.

Apprentice Writer has read very little Latin-oriented fiction. She won these titles as part of a Hispanic Literature Appreciation Month prize, and eagerly dove in. Though she didn't click on every level with these particular stories, without question, the background of the heroines added depth and interest to tales of universal struggle of young women trying to find their place in the modern world. AW greatly looks forward to reading further titles exploring the Latin diaspora.

Learn more about the authors here:
Alberto Ferreras

Josefina Lopez

Monday, October 5, 2009

Author Q & A: EVE SILVER

Multi-genre author Eve Silver graciously took the time to indulge Apprentice Writer's curiosity about all things authorial. Take a look:

The cover of SbaS is lovely. Did you choose the title and/or provide input on art?

Thank you, but I can't take any credit. My editor came up with the title and the cover arrived already complete. All I had left to do was frame a cover flat and hang it on the wall. *g*

That must be quite a nice collection of cover art by now!

My favorite scene in SbaS is when Gabriel takes Catherine up to his secret room in the tower. Such clear and touching proof of his transformation. Which was your favorite scene?

I have a tough time picking a favorite scene from Seduced by a Stranger, but I'll choose a memorable scene that evinces the hero's first tentative steps toward personal growth. In this scene, Gabriel - the tortured, emotionally stunted hero - experiences the urge to comfort Catherine. Her pain and heartbreak reach the cold core of his heart, warming him and breathing life into emotions he had never imagined he possessed. Against his nature, he is drawn to comfort her and he pauses, uncertain exactly what to offer her.

In the dark hallway, Gabriel stood outside Catherine's door. She was crying. The sounds were muffled, as though she struggled to suffocate them into silence. Something inside him shifted and turned, an unpleasant and wholly uncharacteristic instinct of chivalry that insisted he step inside and offer comfort of some sort.

He had no idea how.

What did one offer in the face of another's pain? Here was a lesson he had failed to lesson he had never been taught. In the place where he had grown from boy to young man, there had been only lessons in survival. Hide behind an emotionless mask. Evade. Lie. Show only what they expected. The level of his suffering had been determined by his abilityto guess exactly what they wished to see and hear. If he was right, they left him alone. If he was wrong, there were all manner of tortures and deprivation. He had striven to be right more often than wrong. The sound of Catherine's sobs confused him. He wanted to comfort her as much as he wanted to avoid the necessity of doing so.

Copyright 2009. Eve Silver. All Rights Reserved.

Agreed, that's a good one too. Very powerful, when someone simply walks away.

Nightstand Inspection! What was the last ____ you read?

I have a towering pile on my nightstand, but here are a few of the recent reads that were real stand-outs for me. (Of course, I could probably type and endless list, but I'll try and be brief.)

Contemporary: Start Me Up by Victoria Dahl

Historical: What Happens in London by Julia Quinn and an advance read of For Your Arms Only by Caroline Linden.

Paranormal/UF/Fantasy: Dreamfever by Karen Marie Moning and Amazon Ink by Lori Devoti.

Mystery/Suspense/Thriller: Burn by Linda Howard and The Neighbor by Lisa Gardner.

YA: Demon Princess: Reign or Shine by Michelle Rowen.

Apprentice Writer has a soft spot for Michelle Rowen's reliably funny voice, also.

Who is your writing idol and why?

I have quite a list of writers I admire, but I'll share a few here.
- Linda Howard because no matter what direction she takes, I end up loving her books; she's pure genius. I'm embarrassed to admit I turned into a squeeing fangirl when I met her.

- Mary Shelley because she dug the foundations of a genre. (And shout-outs to Sherrilyn Kenyon, Christine Feehan, Maggie Shayne, Linda Lael Miller, and others who were the early explorers of paranormal romance.)

- Karen Marie Moning because she is the queen of foreshadowing and her imagination is wonderful.

- Shana Abe because she is a wordsmith.

- Kelley Armstrong because she is a brilliant writer in every genre she tackles, and because she is a gracious and lovely person.

- Nora Roberts because she is oh so savvy.

- Marjorie M. Liu because she writes where her heart takes her.

- Gena Showalter because she has fabulous unique ideas and because she's dedicated.

- Lori Foster because all these years later I still remember reading my first Lori Foster love scene...the one with the guy, the girl, and the fridge.

- Christina Dodd because she's talented and wise and shares her wisdom (check out the Squawkradio blog).

- Teresa Medeiros because she's funny as can be on Twitter (go forth and follow her!) and because she's always been one of my fave historical authors.

- Daphne du Maurier because her writing just pulls me right in.

- Sarah Waters because every sentence she writes flows like a smooth river.

- Lisa Kleypas because I adore her books and because she had the guts to take her career in the direction she wanted it to go.

- Kathleen E. Woodiwiss because she was the first romance author I ever read.

- Christopher Moore because there's no voice out there even remotely like his.

- Lisa Gardner because she scares me. And because she is generous with her knowledge of writing (check out her website for tricks of the trade).

I could go on and on because there are many wonderful authors who bring so much to the table, but I suspect you don't want this blog post to run for 15 pages! ;-)

Great diversity of reasons. Love it that Christopher Moore made this list - reminds me of the children's song "One of These Things is Not Like the Others.." And now I won't be able to rest till I find out about the guy, the girl, and that fridge....

Best piece of advice for aspiring writers?

Finish the book. You can't sell the book if you don't write the book. Get those fingers flying on the keyboard every day, even if it's just for a few minutes. If you only write a sentence or two, you're still a sentence or two closer to typing 'The End'. Polishing can come once the entire story is complete. Rewriting the first chapter over and over again won't get the story told - it will only get you a beautifully polished first chapter. So finish your story...the whole story. Then move on and tell the next story, and the next. Don't get hung up on a single chapter or a single manuscript. If writing is your dream, if stories whisper to you in the darkest hours of the night or while you're cooking dinner or walking the dog in the bright light of day, then tell your story, all the way to the end.

To sum up that advice: butt in chair, hands on keyboard.

*whistling oh-so-casually* *nudging uber-polished first chapters out of sight*

Anything else you'd like to share with Apprentice Writer's readers?
Thanks for having me, Maya, and thanks to the readers for reading! For excerpts, info, contests and more, please visit my website at

And there you have it. Wise words from a prolific, multi-faceted author. Upcoming on the horizon is OTHERKIN, a 'dark, gritty paranormal trilogy' to be released in 2010. Thank you, Ms. Silver, sharing your insights and the perfect gothic candidate for the RIP challenge.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Non-Laughter Reviews: GOTHIC

Seduced by a Stranger
Eve Silver
Romantic Suspense

Woman with haunted past travels to forlorn abbey in support of ailing childhood friend and is unsettled by enigmatic host.

Pretty colors with interesting lighting, in a welcome change from all too-frequent nekkid manchests it is the lady's back which is exposed. Title indistinctive, though with some mental gymnastics ("Do we ever really know the person we're with?") can be seen as applicable to content.

What Works
Apprentice Writer read this book for three reasons: As a classic gothic-type tale, it fit beautifully with criteria for the RIP reading challenge (see sidebar button); curiosity about the author's historical voice after enjoying her speculative fiction voice in 'Driven' (written as Eve Kenin); and the good fortune to have won a copy through a Goodreads early readers lottery.

She was not disappointed.

The restless mood of dread the author creates with the first scene permeates the whole story, with the reader ready to see malevolence lurking in every detail and villains foreshadowed with every new character. The historical voice was kept pitch perfect throughout, with not a single occasion of words, behaviours or setting details feeling out of place or time (not that Apprentice Writer is a great expert in judging these matters, but the thrown-out-of-the-story effect happens all too often even for historical laypeople). The story has every ingredient a Gothic-lover could want: secrets on all sides, mystery illness, whispers of poison, murder, secret passages, cemetary with mystery resident, alternate identities, gloomy manor with even more gloomy lake set on a languishing estate, and many a flickering candle.

The heart of the story explores the question of how two people who have survived past emotional damage by erecting walls around themselves can create a bridge to one another. Whether they will or not isn't a true question, given the genre; it's how they do so that is of interest. The backstory of the hero, when it finally is fed in, was of such a level of suspense and empathy for the character that it had to be read all of a piece, pages flying to find out what happened, breathless all the while. To avoid spoilerisms, suffice it to say that for the modern reader some details may seem utterly incredulous but are in all likelihood too terribly historically accurate.

The big climactic crisis scene had an especially pleasing ending, in terms of the two last statements the heroine makes to the hero right before the epilogue. They were delicious, one of AW's favorite parts of the whole story, and the Gentle Reader can take a guess in which direction they went through knowledge that among Disney princesses, AW loves Mulan best while Cinderella goes on her last nerve.

What Doesn't
In terms of the suspense part of the tale, AW was neatly led astray by a red herring, and didn't guess the full answer to the puzzle until quite close to the end. The final explanation of how things occured generally left this reader satisfied, with one exception which can't be detailed so as not to spoil it. Let's say it had to do with logistics, time frame, and staying true-to-character of the person involved. Perhaps there is a simple explanation for apparent conflict; AW hopes to put the question to the author directly.

The second area where AW would have liked a bit more detail had to do with a main character's reaction to learning of the extent of the villain's deeds and subsequent demise. The build-up to that moment was years and oodles of the strongest emotion possible in the making. The reaction to all that resolution felt gratingly brief, artificial, and understated. Perhaps a victim of tight word-count?

And those two minor instances were the sum total. So, altogether, very little to step on the reader's suspension-of-disbelief toes.

A satisfying tale of chills, emotion, physical and emotional survival, and the power of love.

The author graciously agreed to answer a few questions despite a looming deadline. Come back tomorrow to get a glimpse into the mind of a (sometimes) gothic author.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Page 1

"At the age of eleven, Catherine Weston was buried alive in a shallow, wet grave. Two months before that, she had stood in the cemetery beside the ancient stone church, clutching her mother's hand as the tiny coffin containing her brother's remains was lowered into the ground. All four of her infant brothers had been buried this way. Sent to the warmth and light of Heaven, her mother said. But now, on this miserable, gray October day, as the damp earth weighed impossibly heavy on her chest and forced her to struggle for every breath, Catherine realized her mother had lied. There was no light or warmth There was only the cold, pungent mud and the choking terror that made her heart beat so hard she was certain it would burst."

Eve Silver, Seduced by a Stranger

Come back tomorrow for Apprentice Writer's review of'Seduced by a Stranger'.

Thursday, October 1, 2009


With the unbribable assistance of junior apprentice writer #3, a winner for Apprentice Writer's first ever contest has been drawn:

JULIA (of 'A Piece of My Mind')

Congratulations. Please send AW your snail mail deets so your prize can be forwarded by the lovely people at Hachette.

Thanks to all who participated!

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