Friday, May 28, 2010
THE GIRL WHO CHASED THE MOON
Sarah Addison Allen
Contemporary Fiction with Fantasy Elements
Apprentice Writer posted recently on similes and metaphors that go awry. In such cases, the flow of the story is stopped while she re-reads to try and puzzle it out.
Sometimes, though, she stops to re-read for sheer beauty of what the author has created. Such was repeatedly the case with 'The Girl Who Chased the Moon' by new-to-her author Sarah Addison Allen. Here for your reading pleasure, some gems:
"(He) watched a whale of gray sky swallow the pink evening light."
"She always smelled like carnations from her florist shop when she came in from work. The scent ran ahead of her into the room, like an excited pet."
"I met up with Stella earlier (at the fair), but then her entourage got too big. Stella is like a comet collecting space debris as she passes."
"He was standing as still as stone, watching them with an expression made of ghosts and anger."
*heavy sigh of writerly envy*
Even better, the story as a whole is delightful - charming, natural, about real, recognizable characters in a small town. There is an element of light fantasy involved but it is an embellishmnt to the main story rather than the main plotpoint. With writing like this, TGWCTM will certainly not be AW's last Addison Allen title.
Tuesday, May 25, 2010
by Laura Kinsale
Historical Romance with Fantasy Elements
Premise: Shy British aristocrat with psychic talent enters marriage of convenience with impoverished Irish aristocrat of infamous reputation and politically risky friends.
Cover: Title - Admirably brief and descriptive of content, possible that it might not stand out among the plethora of titles including 'Magic' these days but that may be irrelevant given the amount of real estate devoted to author name relative to title. Clearly (and very understandably) this book is intended to sell on writerly reputation. Art - in a welcome change from nekkid anonymous manchest (as seems to adorn way too many bookcovers), an embracing couple with the man interested in the embrace and the woman multitasking. Embracing with her arms while either appraising the value of the distant twilit castle in her head, or else planning to put her barefoot status to good use by wading the adjecent river. Purple color, stormish sky and swirl of miniscule starbursts (which Apprentice Writer was very tempted to interpret as dandelion seeds) reflect the drama within. Overall - accurate and attractive but not especially memorable.
What Works: As with the previous two Kinsale novels AW has read, the aspect that stands out the most in this story is quality of writing; this is a much appreciated attribute to someone whose most recent DNF was due to the word 'sardonic' appearing three times in the first ten pages and a paragraph of breathless heroine admiration of the hero's eyes being followed by yet another paragraph of same.
UM has marvelous scene-setting, evocative details that intensified emotion without making it seem hyperbolic, natural-sounding dialogue. All serving to support the heart of the story: the description of how two very (with good reason) guarded personalities reach out to one another and develop their willingness to trust even when events seem to point to the wisdom of doing the opposite. Seeing them move past their preconceived notions and insecurities was a joy, and the scenes where each respectively chooses to stand by her man or his woman in the face of opposition were cathartic.
Inclusion of an unusual animal character has become something of a Kinsale trademark and UM is no exception. Given that the hero and heroine are brought together by mutual interest in horses it would not have been surprising if the special animal character were equine, but AW was delighted to find the recurring cameo role occupied by someone else: MacLasser, the redoubtable piglet. In her view, any author who can incorporate swine into everyday aristocratic life is worth reading.
Also unusual in a historical hero (at least those this reader has met) was Faelan's manner of dealing with stress. Rather than riding or boxing or drinking or playing cards or picking fights with blameless individuals, he plows fields, and doesn't give a damn when his friends tease him about his fascination with planting potatoes and oat crop rotation. AW found it endearing and a refreshing change.
Writing manuals warn newbie writers against including too much backstory, and exhort them to 'show, don't tell'. In general, AW appreciates that this makes novels more readably streamlined, less clunky. In this case, she wished for a bit more explicit detail. She didn't really understand the motivation of a dubious friend character to take actions that could bring massive destruction on the heads of the local population. While the motivation for the initial destructive interference in the hero's life on the part of the villain was convincing, AW didn't understand why and how the villain engaged in subsequent acts of hero sabotage.
Finally, the heroine repeatedly and for good reason reflects on fears of rejection once her husband learns of her gift in reading the minds and emotions of people and animals around her. By the end of the story, it's clear that he accepts and loves her no matter what, but given the number of times her fear was articulated it left this reader feeling vaguely unsatisfied that the couple didn't actually talk about it.
These are the kinds of things that make AW wish the author could comment on, either to learn where hints were dropped that AW may have missed, or to understand the thinking behind the choices made. Thoughts, Gentle Reader?
A romantic tale of people overcoming personal, social, and political odds to be together and do the right thing in a time of turbulence. Recommended for fans of romance and light fantasy (i.e. the story has an occasional extraordinary embellishment rather than being primarily about magic and such).
Monday, May 17, 2010
RUMOR HAS IT
by Jill Mansell
Humorous Women's Fiction
Sourcebooks, 2010 In Stores Now
Premise: Newly single young Londoner starts fresh in a small town where she soon learns that practically everyone is either subject or instigator of some form of rumor, forcing her (and all others) to choose whether to believe, refute, ignore, or repeat the pseudo-information.
Cover: Title - short and snappy, captures content. Art - bright, breezy, breath of fresh air all leap to mind. Though Apprentice Writer does not recall a single butterfly in the narrative, much less a herd of them, the feeling they and the nicely shod feet represent is accurate: upbeat tale of someone generally confident and young-at-heart. Altogether, an attractive, well-done cover.
What Works: In case AW has not mentioned it before - she is a bit of an armchairAnglophile. She adores her mental picture of picturesque villages, ancient buildings, overflowing flowerboxes, shopping in quaint little shops rather than big-box department stores, and ultra dry-witted joie de vivre (all gained from books and movies) so much she is actually a little afraid of making a real-life trip to the UK in case her preconceived notion is shattered.
AW is not proud of this head in the sand mentality, but it does explain how pleased she was to find this story reinforced her fantasy. It was her first Mansell novel. AW has no clue how this came to be given the entertainment value and long string of previous novels but now that she knows she intends to do something about that backlist.
She liked how the heroine responded to discovering that her live-in boyfriend had decided to dump her by moving out without a single word of warning. Instead of moping, she spontaneously decides to take a job as 'Girl Friday' in a small town where a friend lives. She moves in with single dad Max and his tween daughter Lou, to keep the house and Lou running on time while Max tends to his interior design business. This leads to occasional contact with the hero, a contractor, who responded to the accidental death of his fiance by becoming the town's much sought after Bachelor #1. Everyone, it seems, either warns the heroine off of him or sees her as a rival for his attention, causing a long-drawn-out process of her fighting her attraction to him which forms the main plot of the story.
But it was the subplots of the story that AW found most interesting (perhaps, because it was not possible to tell how they would end up). The shopowner harrassed by the ex-wife of her new romantic interest, the father shocked to realize that even though he is comfortable with the consequences of coming out of the closet, his child may not be, the actress buffeted by bad publicity. Max was AW's favorite character, for the way he interacted with everyone, and for the most poignant scene in the story; he figures out precisely what someone in a very difficult situation most needs to hear, and says it, regardless of how someone else thinks it is inappropriate.
What Doesn't: It is not hard to figure out why the heroine is attracted to the hero: good-looking, charming, successfully running his own business, kind to his still-grieving former in-laws, and the clincher: willing to put himself out for an animal that is neither attractive nor his. What's not to like? What wasn't so clear was what drew him to the heroine. They spend little time alone together and so don't have a chance to get to know and appreciate one another in a natural or relaxed way. Due to caution at first and misunderstanding later on, the heroine is goes from being standoffish to judgemental, unappreciative, and at times downright rude. His tolerance of all this was most puzzling, given that he had next to no fond memories of good times together between them to fall back on.
The resolution of the burned-by-false-publicity actress subplot also felt AW feeling ambivalent. On the one hand, the character is a sympathetic one and so the reader is pleased when she ends on a positive note in her personal life. But since this is a contemporary story rather than a historical one, AW very much wished...
....that the decision she made regarding her professional life could somehow have felt more like a contemporary solution rather than the more traditional "I'll let my man worry about making the money" view.
Overall: The current crop of online reviews for this title contain intriguing fodder for the question 'What is chicklit, and is it dead?', with opinions ranging from RHI being a classic example of the best the subgenre has to offer, to reviewers liking RHI 'despite' it being chicklit, to referring to it as romantic comedy because calling it chicklit would be 'almost insulting'. The Gentle Reader will not be surprised that AW has an opinion. Or four.
1. 'Rumor Has It' does fall under the chicklit umbrella.
Ticks on the checklist include:
stylish shoes on cover (with all that implies),
cartoon-drawing cover (ditto),
young, single, urban, female protagonist (who we know will NOT be single by 'The End')
multiple mentions of fashion brand names,
protagonist is very tight with friend(s) and distant with family,
there is a booze-influenced plot development.
2. Falling under the chicklit umbrella is not a negative thing.
Apprentice Writer is extremely fond of well-done chicklit. It was a Brit invention, and therefore no big surprise that the Brits, in her humble opinion, still do it best. The problem is that this subgenre, perhaps more so than others, has unfortunately come to be associated not so much with the examples of the well-executed variety, but with the flood of bandwagon-jumper-oners that seemed to be all pink covers and dim, materialistic stereotypes, so that its fans (much like romance aficionados) seem compelled to offer excuses to avoid negative judgment from readers who think of themselves as somehow loftier. Having said that,
3. Classic chicklit is an increasingly rare beast in the current publishing climate.
Hence AW's description of RHI at the top of the post as 'humorous women's fiction'. Hence also AW's kudos to Sourcebooks for continuing to provide these kinds of titles for the public when, for example, behemoth Harlequin discontinued its Red Dress Ink line.
4. RHI also falls under the women's fiction umbrella.
Ticks on the checklist include:
third- rather than first-person voice,
exploration of some decidedly non-shallow topics, including serious illness and homophobia. This story is not all lipstick and cocktails.
But does it make you laugh? YES
In a wry, 'I know people just like that!' recognition kind of way.
Learn more about the author here.
Publisher Soucebooks has generously offered two copies for Apprentice Writer's readers. To win, comment on the review or answer the question:
"Have you ever been the subject of a rumor, and what did you do about it?"
The Fine Print:
1. U.S. and Canadian addresses only please, no P.O. boxes.
2. If your profile does not lead back to an active blog, please leave a non-spammable way to get in touch.
3. Bonus entry for recommending another Jill Mansell novel for AW's TBR pile and explaining why you chose that one.
4. Bonus entry for following, either here here on on Twitter (MayaWriter) and then telling me about it.
5. Contest closes 30 May 2010.
Sunday, May 16, 2010
Wednesday, May 12, 2010
Monday, May 10, 2010
Apprentice Writer is a great admirer of the well-placed simile and the original metaphor.
Occasionally, she needs some help to interpret same. In this vein, a quote from "First Comes Love, then Comes Malaria: How a Peace Corps Poster Boy Won My Heart and a Third World Adventure Changed My Life" by Eve Brown-Waite. This is a breezily written, appealing travel memoir with a terrific cover (both title and art) and a lot of honesty about the author's feelings and how she dealt with the conditions she found in various places.
Where AW became stumped was a chapter dealing with the phenomenon of reverse culture shock, returning to one's homeland after a long time spent in a place that is very different:
"Reverse culture shock hit me like an avalanche and I responded like a fart in a blizzard."
AW was doing fine up to "avalanche". It was the second half that caused puzzlement.
Is there some evident-to-others relationship between avalanche/blizzard/fart that AW missed?
Is this a reference to relative noisiness? To the involuntary nature of the body function? But then again - avalanches and blizzards could be considered plenty involuntary, too.
AW is now about half way through the story, and will admit that her readerly anticipation is heightened by the thought that more such original comparisons will pop up.
Gentle Reader - Thoughts?
Sunday, May 9, 2010
With the impartial and expert assistance of junior apprentice writer #3, the following winners were chosen:
Winners, please send your deets to mayamissani AT yahoo DOT ca
Non-winners, a new giveaway will pop up soon.
ETA: Maria, the email addy you left does not seem to be valid. Please send your postal address to above or provide a new email address where I can contact you.
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