Tuesday, May 26, 2009


by Giulia

Urban professional woman muses on why her love affairs went wrong and how the men in her life responded to her passion for cooking.

An author cover quote aptly describes it as "...sauce gone right and love gone wrong", while celebrity chef Mario Batali of Iron Chef fame describes it as "...a foodie's dream version of 'Sex and the City'..".

One of the best examples of wording and cover art capturing interest and complementing one another this reader has ever seen. Brilliant title, not only funny but perfectly conveys content. Scarlet background gives a nod to the tomato sauce implied in the title and one of the colors of the Italian flag (the author is of Italian-American descent). A single noodle is pulled out of a plate of spaghetti to form a heart shape - says all it needs to about interior. Apprentice Writer has never wished more that she knew how to incorporate pictures on her blog!

What Works
The author has a very easy-to-read style, engaging the reader in a flow-of-conversation style retelling of events in her life that slowly and organically draws one in till each new disappointment of the heart feels as though it happened to one of your own dear friends. The picture painted is of a woman who is almost to a fault warm-hearted and generous of spirit; it is not difficult to understand why men are attracted to her. The difficulty, apparently, lay in having those men make a permanent commitment, or else in discerning which men were worthy of her emotional investment in the first place. Giulia longs to establish a home and family; while genuinely happy for her siblings and friends who achieve this goal, she (and the reader) is honestly perplexed why it eludes her.

The book is divided into chapters each devoted to a different man, and peppers them with recipes that were symbolic of the relationship at that time. Beginning with her father, it is fascinating to see how the cooking changes over time. The recipes themselves sound delicious andsimple enough even for beginners to attempt. The funniest part of the whole book is the editorial comments added in the step-by-step directions:

"Pear Cake for Friends with Benefits"
"Ineffectual Eggplant Parmigiana: serves the 2 of you, plus the 3 other people you wish were there to help keep the conversation going."
"Don't overmix; this will make for tough cupcakes and you've suffered enough."
"Spaghetti with Arugula and Pine Nuts: If you want to double this recipe and make it for a boyfriend, that's your problem."

What Doesn't
The author suffers from that snobbish ailment afflicting New Yorkers and Londoners in particular: the belief that the whole reading world ought to understand the significance of specific restaurant-, street-, neighborhood-, etc. names. There is also too much preoccupation about what is hip or not for this reader's taste. But both of these points are relatively minor ones; the rest of the times Apprentice Writer thought 'Oh no!' it was not because of writing issues but life choices the author was about to make, which the reader could tell would end badly.

It is always easier to analyze someone else's life than one's own; for the author to lay her emotional life bare to the world was an act of courage, and the reasoning of how she came to the decision to chronicle it for public consumption was compelling.

Upon first glimpse of the author's youthful and attractive photo image, Apprentice Writer thought "Why is such a young person writing a memoir already?" The answer is: as a constructive approach to figuring out her life and moving forward in an ego-healthy way, perhaps allowing others to learn from her mistakes. If a tiny bit of 'Oh yeah? Watch me!' crept in it can instantly be forgiven, considering the patronizing reaction of her last, novelist boyfriend when she first floated the idea of writing a book:

"Lachlan dismissed my aspiration with typical writerly snobbery; 'Why would anyone want to be a writer?' he snorted, as if the vocation were a sentence he alone was stuck with for the crime of his brilliance."

Despite the repeated disappointments, the author has not become bitter. Her story (and recipes) are offered with a light touch. Her sense of humor and solidly positive outlook on life remain untouched; the reader sincerely hopes that she will soon be able to cook in her happiest manner: for more than one. Till then, she cheerfully goes on:

"Because cooking and eating well are my raison d'etre, I don't stop when there's no one else to feed...I've spent just as much time single as I have as half of a couple, and though I much prefer cooking for two than cooking for one, if one is all I have, I cook for her."

Friday, May 22, 2009

CHICKLIT: Missing Persons Report - UPDATE

Gentle Readers of this space may be aware of Apprentice Writer's sleuthing in the case of chicklit's apparent disappearance from the literary scene (if not, see here)

Today, a sighting in the (cyber)wild of that rare and shy beast - a recent chicklit title! It bore several signature markings: cartoon-like cover, refreshing color, reference to cosmetica, and clever title:


by Kyra Davis

Only the stilletos were missing - and judging by the cover girl's cool trenchcoat, they will no doubt be found safely tucked into the pages inside.

As previously observed with respect to chicklit's evolution:, this is not a 'pure' chicklit title, but a hybrid. CHICKLIT COZY, a new subgenre for Apprentice Writer.

If, like her, the gentle reader is eager to try it out, head on over to
Bella's Novella
for a giveaway.


If, unlike her, the gentle reader has already sampled a chicklit cozy - please share what you thought!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Reader Eccentricities

In a theoretical literary world, books would be judged solely on such factors as originality, quality of prose, believable characters, drama....

The Gentle Reader gets the point.

In practice, books are filtered through each reader's unique mental baggage, causing potential emotional over- or under-reactions . A parent of a child with Asperger's Syndrome might react to a book like Jennifer Ashley's 'The Madness of Lord Ian MacKenzie ' in a different way than another parent. A person whose family has been touched by suicide might read Nick Hornby's 'A Long Way Down' very differently than someone for whom the issue is distant.

Those are no-brainers - anyone can understand why mileage would vary when a large, real-life issue is involved..

Then we come to the differences in reaction Apprentice Writer calls micro-baggage.

Tiny idiosyncratic things that wield disproportionate power in how the reader sees the book overall. Pet peeves and preferences that act like lightning bolts, instantly upping or downing the general likability. One of the reviewers at 'Dear Author', for example, talked about how a book will start out at a 'B' grade before even any words have been consumed if the heroine is Asian, and then increase or decrease in final mark depending on how the story goes. Apprentice Writer's example of an automatic 'upper' is when the story or parts of it is set in an unusual location.

Then there is the converse. A blogger whose name/site is lost to the sands of time (doesn't that sound much better than 'Apprentice Writer's lacklustre memory'?) wrote about a book starting out with the odds against it when the heroine is described as not only red-headed but temparamental. Too great of a cliche for her to overcome.

Apprentice Writer's hangup - when authors use words incorrectly. These are people, after all, for whom "vocabulary, use of" is the main tool of the trade.

It seems natural to expect that authors would apply words with more skill, grace and knowledge that the average person.

Why then,

- .....is the term 'nauseous' (i.e. nausea causing) used so often in place of 'nauseated' (i.e. suffering from nausea)? Apprentice Writer can't count how many times she's read variations of a character announcing he/she feels nauseous. Why someone - especially a heroine in hot pursuit of a hero, or vice versa - would want people to know they have the power to make others sick to their stomach is a mystery.

- Are there so many authors who seem unaware of the existence of the word 'whom'?

- ....are plurals so difficult? The word 'phenomena' (plural) is used for a single instance of something in many, many books, rather than the singular 'phenomenon'. Granted, this is an exceptional case - but so is cactus/cacti, which most people seem to know, and which would have much less opportunity for book usage than 'phenomenon'. Same applies to millenia (plural)/ millenium (singular).

This is the kind of thing that bats Apprentice Writer out of the story and makes it very difficult to find her way back in. Once incorrect use rears its head, the whole rest of the story is colored. Because: even if the author was unaware - what about the author's authorly critique partners? What about those infamous copy editors publishing houses employ to terrorize manuscripts with their fine-tooth comb?

It is true that these are nitpicky sorts of things; yet over the years it has become clear that they have a uniquely strong effect on this reader. Since she recognizes that no-one is perfect, that no writer can command any language entirely, and that she should not cheat herself out of the benefits that may wait in the rest of the story, Apprentice Writer is trying to dial down the power of these hot-button kinds of words. She hopes self-awareness is the first step to recovery.

Gentle Reader - What about you? Any reading peeves or preferences?

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Non Laughter Reviews: BOOKCLUB

by Patricia Wood
Literary Fiction

Cognitively challenged man wins the lottery, releasing an explosion of opinions about what he should do next.

What Works
This was a very thought-provoking novel in terms of premise as well as literary strategies employed by the author to tell the story, written in first-person point of view. It opens with Perry describing his 'regular' life; working in a marina, functioning according to regular habits of what activities and what meals belong with which days of the week, utterly ignored by brothers and mother who live elsewhere and make him call them 'cousins' and 'Louise' so as to deny the true relationship. Perry was raised by loving grandparents, themselves struggling to cope after their son, Perry's father, embezzled money to abscond to the Caribbean, forcing bankruptcy of their shipyard and the premature death of the grandfather. Soon after the story begins, Perry's beloved grandmother also passes away, and the remaning relatives make off with anything financially valuable in the home and overturn the deceased's arrangements to have the house left for Perry by persuading him to sign a power of attorney. He moves into a small apartment above the marina with his few remaining mementos of his grandmother (a favorite dress, a dictionary, and a book of crossword puzzles - all of which he considers 'the good stuff' because of their connection to her) and struggles to establish new patterns for each day of the week. Supporting him, to the best of their limited ability, are his boss (a family friend of the grandparents), his colleague Keith (an uncouth, emotionally scarred Viet Nam vet), and Cherry, (an abused teenager who works as cashier at the corner store and whom he shyly admires from a distance).

Perry buys the winning ticket. The resultant fame creates all sorts of situations in which he must decide how to respond to suggestions and pressure from those who wish to exploit him as well as those who believe they have his best interests at heart. The choices he makes, the ones he doesn't, and the reasons why make for a very compelling story that forces a close look at what is valuable, the basis for love, whether there should be limits to independence, and how success and failure in life are judged.

What Doesn't
The bookclub debate on the ending was lively, to say the least. Most readers reported at least an initial feeling of passionate unhappiness at what could be interpreted as injustice; however many, if not all, expressed satisfaction at how things turned out once they'd had an opportunity to think on it independently, and for sure after the author shared her reasoning for ending it the way she did. Yes, that's right. The author participated in our bookclub's discussion by telephone from her boat in Hawaii. COOLEST BOOKCLUB DISCUSSION EVER.
That reasoning was: did Perry make the best decisions? Maybe, maybe not. But that was irrelevant; the point was, that it had become important for him to make a 'big' decision completely on his own - and he did, so in that sense, he triumphed. And with that simple observation, eloquently pointed out by a highly-engaged activist for self-determination of people of all capacities, what some readers considered the book's greatest weakness transformed into it's greatest strength.

A quick, enjoyable, and thoughtful read from a point-of-view that rarely finds an opportunity for widespread expression. Bookclub members were almost unanimous in their final evaluation that they liked it and would recommend the book to others. What the bookclub members were definitely unanimous about was the positive experience of having the chance to interact with the author. Give it a try!

Monday, May 4, 2009

Non Laughter Reviews: KEEPER

by Allison Sinclair
Dark Fantasy

In a city uneasily shared between the Lightborn (people active in the day who accept use of magic and slowly disintegrate in prolonged dark) and the Darkborn (people who are blind, use echolocation to navigate, active at night because sunlight is fatal to them, and who abhor magic) a Darkborn physician performs a routine baby delivery and is sucked into a mystery with ever-broadening personal and political implications involving the fearsome, mutant Shadowborn (mysterious, monstrous creatures dwelling in remote regions).

What Works
Just about everything. Apprentice Writer thanks her lucky stars that she won an Advanced Reading Copy (thanks, Nalini Singh!) because she may never have picked this up otherwise, and the story is extraordinary. The worldbuilding is consistent, detailed, and fascinating (AW was well into the book before realizing that the darkborn characters are blind, for example, since their daily routines and activities are so naturally depicted. What do seeing impaired readers think of this story, she wonders?).

The characters are compelling. Multiple edgy relationships include a friendship between the doctor and his Lightborn neighbor who is not only female but a professional assasin; the tender bond between the doctor and his wife which carries a burdensome secret; the growing attraction between the wife and a legendary hunter of the Shadowborn; and indeed the whole complex relationship between the divided cititzenry of Minhorne with the hidden layer of spy network snaking through it.

The writing pulls the reader right along. The pacing is brilliant, with a mundane opening event which becomes anything but in a matter of paragraphs, and then keeps on picking up speed right up to the end with a brief reprieve before events continue to unfold in Book 2 - which, judging by the title, will be written from a Lightborn point of view.

What Doesn't
Can't think of anything.

A marvelous start to a new series. The Gentle Reader will hopefully forgive AW for indulging in a fangirl moment: she cannot wait to see what happens in Books 2 & 3. DARKBORN releases May 5 - AW hopes you'll run out to try it, and then come back to tell her what you thought.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

National Latino/Asian Heritage Month - Giveaways

Apprentice Writer is curious about the system of determination for National Months. Following the month to ponder humor in April, it now is reportedly the month to ponder Asian as well as Latino heritage. Excellent subjects, to be sure. AW would just like to know who gets to choose and what the thinking behind it is. She's funny that way.

Whatever the mechanism - heritage of any sort is something to be celebrated and explored. Literary Escapsim is doing so by holding giveaways for five sets of five books for each National Month (plus, another for Mother's Day, which is heritage of a whole different sort).

For those who are interested, perusal of the books involved points to the term 'Asian' being used in a loosely, given that all the titles have East Asian protagonists and/or subject matter. Varied and fertile geographical space for great stories, without question. But as a reader with West- and South Asia in the genetic/marital family tree, this was the latest of many occasions to sigh about vague description of Earth's largest continent.

Geopolitical distinctions aside: the stories sound wonderful. If you are like AW and delight in armchair travel and insight, head on over to




to get some great new TBR ideas - and maybe even win.

ETA: National Latino Month is also being celebrated at Luxury Reading:


and All About N:


Friday, May 1, 2009

Best and Worst of Cover Art

The annual vote to determine best and worst covers is on. Head on over to


and share your opinion!

It's a vivid demonstration of how beauty as well as ugly is in the eye of the beholder. Apprentice Writer won't tell you which cover she thought should win "Worst of 2008", except to say that it seemed to her to be the 'before' picture of an industrial-strength laundry detergent advertisement with the unlaundered person about to pass out from unfortunate odor.