Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Gaspingly Funny, the Hogwarts Edition

Apprentice Writer braves the crashing waves of the cyberocean, surfing hither and yon to bring the Gentle Reader amusement (or as Mr. Apprentice Writer puts it: 'Stop procrastinating about what you're really supposed to be doing, already!').

On a pitstop at Angieville she took a detour to the livejournal of one Cleolinda, movie reviewer extraordinaire, who has distilled 'Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince' down to its screamingly funny essence. Apprentice Writer hasn't even seen the movie yet and wheezed with merriment.


*Warning: depending on your work or kids, may not be work- or child-safe*

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Notable Quotes

Two favorite quotes from recent reads:

"His eyes were like ping pong balls released underwater."

Amanda Filipacchi, 'Love Creeps'

(Comic Surrealism: The story explores stalking, counter-stalking, pre-emptive stalking....)

"I smelled like a rained-upon, nervous sheep."

Julie Powell, 'Julie & Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously'
(Parallel Memoir: A contemporary woman recharges her life by building a project on a famous chef's book and philosphy; due for imminent cinematic release )

Original, vivid, funny. How Apprentice Writer loves that triple threat.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Big Show at Hearts 'R' Us

This past weekend saw the culmination of another Rita ceremony at the Big Show among the professionals in the genre that gets no (literary) respect: romance. 2000+ romance writers descended upon Washington D.C. to celebrate, network, and reward themselves for another year of hard work, and in many cases, success: in a dismal publishing environment, books with romantic content saw sales increase.

And how did Apprentice Writer's predictions go about who would walk away with the Oscar equivalent in the subgenres she's been known to meander?

Let's see:

Best First Book
Her One Desire by Kimberly Killion (historical)
No Good Girls by Jean Marie Pierson (light women's fiction)
Oh. My. Gods. by Tera Lynn Childs (YA paranormal)
Passionate by Anthea Lawson (historical)
Private Arrangements by Sherry Thomas (historical)
Strangers in the Night by Kerry Connor (category)
The Secret Soldier by Jennifer Morey (category, suspense)
Your Roots Are Showing by Elise Chidley (light women's fiction)

The only title in this cross-section of genres which AW read was 'Private Arrangements' and she loved it with such passion and conviction that she was all set to be 100% certain it deserved the Rita. Then - she learned of 'No Good Girls' and 'Your Roots are Showing', two books set to resurrect smart chicklit, and was torn; perhaps there should be a Rita each for best first book, historical division and contemporary divisions? Then - she learned that 'Passionate' is partly set in Tunisia. Northern Africa! How cool and unusual and deserving of being encouraged! Even greater tornity. All for naught: the winner was 'Oh.My.Gods.' Somehow, AW doesn't feel an overwhelming desire to rush out and buy it. Not fair to the book, but it is the victim of AW's unfulfilled anticipation. That's the way the whimsical reader cookie crumbles.

Contemporary Single Title Romance
No Good Girls by Jean Marie Pierson
Not Another Bad Date by Rachel Gibson
Out of Time by Samantha Graves
Snowfall at Willow Lake by Susan Wiggs
Sweet Talk by Susan Mallery
Tall Tales and Wedding Veils by Jane Graves
Twenty Wishes by Debbie Macomber
Your Roots Are Showing by Elise Chidley

AW has not read one of these titles. Not one. It gets worse: she has not read a single one of these authors, period. Perhaps time to do something about that? Maybe start with the winner, 'Not Another Bad Date'?

Historical Romance
Duchess by Night by Eloisa James
In Bed with the Devil by Lorraine Heath
Private Arrangements by Sherry Thomas
Seduce Me at Sunrise by Lisa Kleypas
The Edge of Impropriety by Pam Rosenthal
The Spymaster’s Lady by Joanna Bourne
To Seduce a Sinner by Elizabeth Hoyt
Where the Heart Leads by Stephanie Laurens

This looked to turn into a cagematch for AW's affections, with 'Private Arrangments' and 'The Spymaster's Lady' going at it head to head. Given her enjoyment of the 'Desperate Duchesses' series, had she managed to read Book 3( 'Duchess by Night' ) by now it could well have become a three-way fight. AW has never really caught on to the huge fan-love for Elizabeth Hoyt's work, or Lisa Kleypas, or Stephanie Laurens, and has not read Lorraine Heath at all. And in the end, it was another unknown-to-her author and story walking away with the prize: 'The Edge of Impropriety'. Stunningly beautiful cover, though.

Novel with Strong Romantic Elements
Last Dance at Jitterbug Lounge by Pamela Morsi
The House on Tradd Street by Karen White
The Paper Marriage by Susan Kay Law
The Shape of Mercy by Susan Meissner
The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley
Tribute by Nora Roberts
Where Serpents Sleep by C.S. Harris

One can almost hear the Gentle Reader saying, "But in this category, AW, your very own after all, you must be 100% well-versed and knowledgable!" The reply Gentle Reader would receive is "Nope. Have not read a single one of these titles, and what's more, authors." Shocking, indeed. Exactly what HAS Apprentice Writer been reading all year??? Obviously, works that fly below, beside or above RWA's radar.

This great little list of titles has the pedigree to push to the top of the TBR. AW wonders whether the other authors contemplated whether it was worth attending the ceremony when they learned they were up against Nora Roberts, whose 'Tribute' won the prize.

Regency Historical Romance
Duke Most Wanted by Celeste Bradley
Mr. Cavendish, I Presume by Julia Quinn
My Lord and Spymaster by Joanna Bourne
The Dangerous Duke by Christine Wells
The Edge of Desire by Stephanie Laurens
Three Nights of Sin by Anne Mallory

Of these titles, AW has read the twin to 'Mr. Cavendish, I Presume' (which she has been told more than once is exactly the same book), 'My Lord and Spymaster', and 'The Dangerous Duke'. She enjoyed all three. If pressed for unimaginable reasons to choose only one, she'd have to go with the Bourne title - and lo and behold 'My Lord and Spymaster' won! Hooray! Huzzah! Hip, hip!

So let's see: of five categories, AW correctly predicted a grand total of ONE.

Perhaps she should shelve any notion to earn her future living as a bookie.

GENTLE READER - thoughts on wins? Losses? Which of the many AW has not read which she really should pick up?

Monday, July 13, 2009

Non-Laughter Twin Reviews: ANN AGUIRRE

WANDERLUST (Book 2, Sirantha Jax)
Science Fiction

BLUE DIABLO (Book 1, Corinne Solomon)
Urban Fantasy

Former space jumper takes on new role as galactic ambassador whom various factions jockey to influence for their own reasons.

'Handler' (gains impressions from touching objects) assists former love to locate his kidnapped mother.

What Works
Apprentice Writer very much enjoyed Book 1 in the Sirantha Jax series, Grimspace, and her hopes in this second installment were, happily, mostly fulfilled. There continues to be action and unusual characters aplenty, with the greatest satisfaction deriving from Velith's reappearance (an insectoid bounty hunter and easily the most intriguing character from Book 1). There is a nice twist at the end of this installment which AW did not foresee. In terms of character development, sailing is not smooth for Jax and March who finally became a pair previously; both experience inner damage that threatens their relationship in a realistic and intriguing manner: March in terms of emotion, and Jax in terms of physical health. Added great dimension to the story.

Setting and premise for 'Blue Diablo' were doubly appealing. The heroine, nursing a broken heart and body newly healed after the last professional collaboration with her former love went disastrously wrong, hides from him and vindictive criminals they brought to justice in a Mexican pawnshop. Utilizing his own gift of luck, Chance tracks her down and persuades her to join him in rescuing his mother from occult-curious kidnappers. Their seach across the border into Texas leads them to others with gifts and/or varying levels of awareness of things that go bump in the night. The depiction of how special gifts come at a personal price at the same time as they provide rewards was very well done - all talented characters suffered mentally or physically, sometimes profoundly, due to use of their abilities. The story was less about them having a gift, per se, and more about the circumstances under which each decided that application was worth the inevitable damage.

What Doesn't
When Jax is appointed to the role of ambassador early in the story, it seemed like a fantastic way to achieve character growth and avoid rehashing previously trod ground. Alas, this opportunity was not always taken. Both Jax and some secondary characters seemed sadly lacking in making the leap to that next level. WARNING: MILD 'Wanderlust' SPOILERS!

During a flight, crew error causes turbulence and Jax wonders if it is linked to a plot to captureVelith. Rather than taking the next logical step and wondering if it is a plot to capture her, the human symbol of the newly fragile political system , she puts it down to her usual paranoia. This was startlingly dim, given that it wasn't the first attempt at interference with her group. Following a discussion about possible interstellar war with billions of human casualties, Jax goes on about how much she loves hot chocolate (or 'choclaste' as the synthetic space variant is called) since it makes even such destruction better. If it hadn't been for the previous lack of role-awareness, AW might have put this down as a kind of black humor coping mechanism in the face of overwhelming responsibility. As it was, it came off as so shallow that AW began to sympathize with those who originally doubted Jax' fitness for the ambassadorship.

Later, it becomes clear that her movements are being controlled so she disguises a strategy session as party in her mechanic's room. Dina - who supposedly spent years flying with a mercenary crew doing untold amounts of shady things, and is now knowingly on a ship belonging to an even more shady crew - fails to put even the most elementary two and two together and grouses about a) being overrun and b) her spleen about Jax getting romantic with a new male character. That she couldn't put the pieces together without help, and couldn't imagine that the previously attacked ambassador rated a bodyguard (in which capacity she had misinterpreted Jax and Jael together) was not only annoying but should have been heavily unlikely given her upbringing in a royal household. When Dina fails Jax yet again, by refusing her request for help in putting together a wardrobe befitting high-level public appearances (something for which Dina would have been trained and Jax has utterly no experence) AW was more than ready for the mechanic to be 'spaced' as Jax suggests for another less than competent character.

And, on a'What the heck happened?' observational note, the way the characters cursed changed from Book 1 to 2. Whereas previously 'frack!' was the expletive of choice, here it was replaced with the conventional f-bomb. To AW personally, this seemed another sadly lost opportunity, other planets and societies being unique places to show new linguistic inventions.



Aw's biggest non-working element was a purely subjective one, which other readers could consider a plus. In a word: Zombies. AW is so not a zombie person. She would not have picked up the book had she known. But by the time they arrived, the end of the book was in reach so read on she did.

Every protagonist is a mix of strengths and weaknesses; Jax is certainly not flawless. But for this reader, her specific blend of flaws somehow felt easier to live with than Corinne's, if that makes any sense. Corinne is hypocritical about her ex; whereas she drives to another town and stays there overnight with a male character she finds attractive (partly to advance the case and partly to antagonize Chance), when he asks to meet alone with an attractive woman (in order to advance the case) she takes the car and in a jealous fit abandons him in a potentiallhy dangerous situation for the sake of retaliation. She is not the best of house-guests; letting her hosts pretty much cater to her, grousing when they don't express sufficient sympathy for her most recent hurts even though moments before, they threatened to kick out a police officer for failing to treat her with proper respect, and feeling free to invite outsiders in for meals without checking with the hosts ahead of time whether it would be acceptable.

By the time that an ever-available overseas character popped up who was mysteriously able to supply all needed information they themselves couldn't obtain in the same geographic area as the villains, AW suspected that the Corinne series is not for her. By the time a certain element is revealed at the end about the kidnapped mother, AW was certain of it.


Ms. Aguirre is a prolific author, continuing not only with these two series but branching out into paranormal as well. In what may be her most appealling attribute, she is extremely supportive of other authorsl; AW 'discovered' the peerless Meredith Duran through Ms. Aguirres one-woman promotion long before Ms. Duran's name became synonymous with 'rocketing star' in the historical romance world.

Various comments in the blogosphere hint at a possible divide between series supporters, along the lines of those who like the Jax books not necessarily enamored of Corinne and vice versa. AW found this to be true. She will stick with Jax (next up: Doubleblind), leave Corinne to another audience (next up: Hell Fire) , and look forward to taking a look at the first paranormal title once available.

Gentle Reader - What say you?
Jax or Corinne? March or Chance?

Both? Neither?

Read another review here.

Learn more about this author here.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Young Adult Fiction

One of Apprentice Writer's regular refuelling stops in cyberspace is 'The Booksmugglers'. Ana and Thea read a range of fiction, and always provide thoughtful, cogent reasons as to why they do or don't like their smuggled selections. AW may not always agree with their ratings *KOFF how-can-anyone-fail-to-see-the-splendor-of 'Melusine' or 'Darkborn'! KOFF, KOFF* but she must admit that the smugglers handle their stash thoroughly and have a knack for inviting discussion without dissing any dissenting views.

This month, the smugglers turn their spotlight on Young Adult Fiction - a pool where AW has done very little dabbling since the time she personally passed the target age demographic. Her sum total of experiences is as follows:

- The Alice Trilogy ('Alice, I Think', 'Miss Smithers', 'Alice MacLeod, Realist at Last') by Susan Juby are some of the most screamingly funny books she has ever read.
- The Harry Potter collection, which AW loved except for the final installment which in her opinion left too much open and contained one whopper of an unexplained injustice.
- The Captain Underpants series by Dav Pilkey, introduced to her by junior apprentice writer #1 and which inspired her manuscript subtitle ('An Epic Novel of Love and Home Improvement'),
- 'Wicked Lovely' by Melissa Marr. AW fell in love with its gorgeous cover, but gave up reading halfway through. This was not so much because of active dislike, but because it was due back at the library and she could not summon enough interest in the main character to expend the energy to renew it. All that endless, unrelieved angst. Maybe this was a generational dividing line thing?

So, all told, YA seems like an area where AW could do with broadening her horizons. The smuggler's upcoming YA week promises to do just that.

Gentle Reader - any exceptional YA titles you'd like to share?

Friday, July 3, 2009

Generation Gap. Part II

Further to the 'apps' method of figuring out which side of the generation divide you are on -

Apprentice Writer is much struck with further dividing lines.

Gentle Reader - do you TWIT? E-READ? CELL?

AW suspects her own "No" answer may need to be reassessed soon. Her Very Good Reasons why she has not embraced these tidal-wave technologies:

Twitter: avoiding due to fear of yet another addictive time-suck
E-read: dedicated e-reader is low on 'most urgent purchase' list and threatens to be hard on the eyes
Cellular phone as message centre: AW's cellphone is of the very basic variety, used for actual speech (yes, it's true - cellphones can be used for talking to another person, not just texting/surfing/games/movies/camera!)

Yet signs of being left behind, like an LP in a cassette world (wait; that's too old) -
like a walkman in a discman world (still too old) -
like napster in an itunes world (getting better) -
have conspired to poke a hole in AW's "comfortable-with-my-level-of-technology-thank-you-very-much' bubble. To wit:

- big author news is broken on Twitter rather than the blogosphere,
- reader contests are held exclusively on Twitter,
- some bloggers seem on a trajectory of decreased time blogging and increased time tweeting
- Twitter shows itself far above a shallow time-killer by profoundly affecting the way people protest totalitarian regimes
- the longstanding slow simmer between romance writers published in print vs. e-presses reaches a full boil with a recent statement from the president of Romance Writers of America and perceived-to-be exclusionary policies for the 'big' industry awards
- Dorchester issued an open call for unpublished authors to submit serial chapters in a contest with a publishing contract as prize, with reader voting to take place via cellphone.

The writing is on the wall.