Wednesday, June 30, 2010
July 1 is the day we Canadians celebrate the Maple Leaf and all it signifies.
Apprentice Writer will enjoy BBQ and fireworks with Mr. Apprentice Writer and all the junior writers, cut off from the interwebs for an extended long weekend at the lake.
For your viewing pleasure, some splendid exemplars of that quintessentially Canadian beast, the proud and noble (as the classic beer commercial says) Beaver.
Sunday, June 27, 2010
Today, a trio of rapid reviews of farflung historical romantic adventure, from a trio of authors for whom these are second-ever releases, and whose covers all subscribe to the philosophy:
"Torsos essential, faces irrelevant!"
ROMANCING THE PIRATE
Michelle Beattie, 2009
Cover: Great title, luscious color, pose straight out of the final scenes of 'Pirates of the Caribbean 3' - this is one enticing cover, sure to draw in readers who pass by in the store.
Content: Besides hero and heroine finding their way to one another, the story has added layers of lost identity and pursuit of missing family members on top of battles on the high seas. Apprentice Writer enjoyed the dramatic tension, and loved it that the heroine strove for independence rather than waiting around for a man to 'save' her when the chips were down. It was disappointing, though, that after the heroine was introduced with the intrepid profession of blacksmith, so little was done with it. When she boards the hero's ship, for example, there is zero mention of her showing any interest in the weapons and ironware on board - despite the interest a regular passenger on a vessel with a high probability of being attached by pirates could be expected to show - let alone someone who assesses quality of same for a living.
Characters from the author's first title appear, but this second book can be read as a standalone and Apprentice Writer had no problem following along.
Recommended for: Fans of historical romance, POTC devotees, and armchair Caribbean travellers
Author Info: http://www.michellebeattie.com (no info found on upcoming release)
Kate Noble, 2009
Cover: Title a nice follow-up to debut book's 'Compromised', art with very nice color and movement.
Content: AW loved the author's writing style in 'Compromised', and 'Revealed' follows suit. It was all shaping up beautifully - hero and heroine antagonize each other at first, he is NOT socially powerful and well regarded, there is an intriguing, maladjusted brother whom AW very much hopes represents sequel bait, and an excellent bit about a social rival who has unanticipated depths and complexity - so much so that this looked to be a 5/5 star read. The final grade wobbled a little for three reasons: a) there is an episode of 'accent speak' with the particularly unfortunate addition of making one of the words the foreign language speaker utters in his own tongue during an English sentence a ludicrously simple one ('very') which he would have known how to say in English with 100% guarantee, b) suspension of disbelief was shot to hell (that is a pun, for those who know the story) half way through in terms of how a key development took place, and c) when the wronged hero is vindicated, the character doing the 'mea culpa' speech chooses to say it not only in public (which should be utterly out of character with his profession) but in a street in outside a burning building while people and key evidence are trapped inside and chaos is going on (which should be utterly out of character with common sense).
Still: there was enough here, in unusual elements told in an engaging way, for AW to very much look forward to the author's most recent release, 'The Summer of You' , just arrived in stores.
Recommended for: Fans of historical and/or espionage stories, Julia Quinn-like writing, and London season/country houseparty tales.
Author Info: http://www.katenoble.com
HIGHLAND REBEL Judith James, 2009
Cover: Title - Hard to tell if refers to hero or heroine. In AW's humble opinion, the word 'highland' appears in way, way too many titles to signal 'New and fresh story!'. Art - AW will concede that the sky being either of a sunset or burning nature is eye catching, and that the nekkid chestal area is in small mercies framed by some degree of shirt. But oh, what a tremendous, cliche-generic letdown this cover is after the high-impact splendour that was the author's first, 'Broken Wing'!
Content: There is an oft-repeated bit of writing advice that hero and heroine of a story should have diametrically opposed motivations and goals, so as to create dramatic tension. Boy howdy, is this ever the case here. The protagonists are from such different backgrounds, with such different short- and longterm aims in life, that the reader wonders early and often how they will ever manage to reconcile all the forces tearing at them. Those forces themselves almost form a character of their own - AW was very interested to learn of all the real-life historical figures and events which the author wove so skillfully in, and marvelled at the quick wits it took to retain fortune and titles (sometimes, even one's mere neck) in an era when monarchs succeeded one another in revolving door fashion, with courtiers falling in and out of favor between breakfast and lunch.
Though both excelled in painting memorable characters and depicting sincere emotion, this second title felt very different from the author's first. The third, 'Libertine's Kiss', is scheduled for upcoming release, and AW suspects it will continue to show this author's remarkable versatility.
Recommended for: Fans of straight historical fiction as well as historical romance, afficionados of stories set in Scotland or Ireland.
Author Info:http://www.judithjamesauthor.com/ (Does not seem to have been updated recently; AW wonders if there is some fluctuation going on. First book was published by Medallion Press, second by Sourcebooks, a quick check on Amazon shows a beautiful cover for 'Libertine's Kiss' with a Harlequin logo attached. What's up?)
Thursday, June 24, 2010
MY ONE AND ONLY
MY SISTER'S KEEPER
It has been observed more than once that awards shows are very happy to make use of people with comedic talents to host the ceremonies, but not so happy to actually include stellar comedic performances among those worthy of the industry's highest awards. The prevailing explanation being that for some reason, people who are good at producing laughter aren't pulling off as difficult or meaningful a feat as people who are good at producing tears.
The Gentle Reader can guess what Apprentice Writer thinks of that.
Yet it has struck her more than once what gutwrenching dramatic performances comedic actors are capable of (grammar police: yes, yes, that participle is dangling. Let it have some fun already.)
In AW's view, Jim Carrey's finest performance was as the bewildered Everyman, ignorant of his celebrity status in 'The Truman Show'.
Will Ferrell's best was as the obsessive-compulsive bureaucrat grappling with parallel realities in 'Stranger Than Fiction'.
Bravo to those casting directors who saw dramatic potential in those actors, and those casting directors who added a pair of female comics to the list.
Renee Zellweger, of everlasting (and well-deserved) Bridget Jones fame, gave a lovely, poignant performance as a mother determined to find a new father for her sons in 'My One and Only'. After the utterly forgettable 'New in Town' (and it pains AW to say that, given her deep love for Harry Connick Jr.), it was a welcome change to see Ms. Zellweger in the role of a mature character, dealing with adult situations and emotions, rather than yet another twenty-something bumbler. She does that very well, but enough already.
She plays a woman in the '50's who decides she simply won't tolerate her husband's philandering any more, takes one suitcase and her teenaged sons, and leaves - without any marketable skills or support system. She is given many male characters with whom to interact and in an interesting and effective move, the well-known ones act against type. But not for a single moment does the viewer lose track of the fact that this is a film about the female lead. The ending has a nice little twist that takes the story out of fiction and into biography.
And in further proof of Ms. Zellweger's ripeness for understated performance, the best lines in the whole film go not to her, but to one of the husband-candidate characters. His big fatherly-advice-giving scene to the teenaged narrator involves a recommendation to keep a sweater handy because understanding women is about temparature control: they are always too hot or too cold. If you can fix that, you're all set.
Joan Cusack is a marvellous comic actor who has made a career of playing the quirky sidekick or best friend. AW's favorite is the fabulous 'Grosse Point Blank' where she plays executive assistant to her equally fabulous brother John Cusack's assassin for hire character. For some unfathomable reason she has not had a big break playing a lead herself, but it is wonderful to see her now being considered for dramatic parts.
AW has never read any Jodi Picoult books, which are extremely popular among general fiction readers, but have a reputation of being emotionally manipulative (according to some readers). AW was unsure what to expect going in, given the heart-rending subject matter (childhood cancer) and how her like of Abigail Breslin balanced out her dislike of Cameron Diaz. In the end, neither Breslin nor Diaz made much impression despite being the main characters - the magic Breslin had in 'Little Miss Sunshine' seems to have rubbed off, and Diaz was as painfully unconvincing as ever.
It was the secondary characters who stole the show: Jason Patric as the stoic, hypo-verbal firefighter in the impossible situation of having to choose which of his children needs a father most at any given time, and having to choose when to be a parent and when to be a spouse. Evan Ellingson as the attention-deprived, learning disabled son. Sofia Vassilyeva as the terminally ill teen, whose performance was so convincing AW wondered if she had personal experience with life-threatening conditions. And most of all, Joan Cusack, in the small but pivotal role of judge tasked with determining whether to grant an eleven-year-old medical emancipation. AW believed every word, every facial expression, and thought this performance (with those of the other secondary characters) made the movie worth watching despite a twist the viewer can see miles away and a tediously pat ending.
Hooray for actors who prove that far from being shallow, talent in comedy springs from a deep understanding of the painful challenges of life!
Gentle Reader- seen either of these movies? What did you think? Should AW read a Jodi Picoult book?
Monday, June 21, 2010
Apprentice Writer continues her dissection of what makes a book unfinishable for her.
The latest premature goodbye was bid to a contemporary romance, the second book of an author who maintains a smart and likable online presence, and whose books received a lot of buzz and very healthy publicity push. AW didn't attempt the first, partially due to hating the cover and partially due to lukewarm reviews, but the second cover looked good and the premise was promising.
Why did she stop?
1. Three uses of the word 'sardonic' in the first dozen pages
= author not living up to job requirement to impress with deft vocabulary.
2. Multiple references in same amount of space to how good-looking the hero is
= we get it already.
3. One paragraph about the heroine's notice of the hero's eyes, followed immediately by another paragraph on same
= proof of line editors being sacrificed to budget cuts in publishing houses?
4. The coup de grace: it is small-town girl heroine's first night in New York City, where she knows nothing and no-one but a colleague she met just that day who has brought her to a bar, where they soon become separated. She meets the hero, and without knowing ANYTHING about him (even his name) she agrees to go home with him - without even having the courtesy to inform her colleague that she's leaving, simply instructing the bartender to pass on the message
= in AW's world, this is not the bartender's job, and this is truly a TSTL heroine. AW will forgive many character flaws, but not stupidity on such astronomical level.
And that is how this book became a wallbanger.
Gentle Reader, was AW too harsh? Justified? What led to your latest DNF?
Monday, June 14, 2010
Laughter boosts the immune system.
Apprentice Writer has spent far too much of her precious time lately chasing down an evening bag to go with her gown and shoes for an upcoming family wedding.
She will leave it to the Gentle Reader to deduce how she feels about the whole subject, courtesy of
Thursday, June 10, 2010
CHANGELESS (Parasol Protectorate Book #2) by Gail Carriger Steampunk Paranormal 2010
A LOCAL HABITATION (October Daye Book #2) by Seanan McGuire Urban Fantasy 2010
1. In a Victorian Britain where supernaturals are integrated into society and government makes use of superhuman gifts, preternatural Lady Maccon investigates a baffling outbreak of forced mortality among vampires, werewolves, and ghosts.
2. Half human, half fae Toby Daye travels to a politically disputed Fairie duchy and becomes embroiled in serial murder investigation.
1. Title: perfect twin to Book#1's 'Soulless' and bullseye hit on content. Art: The good - dirigible in stormy weather, blue toned banner script, top hot and 'glassicals' (as eyewear is called). The not quite as good - in contrast to Book#1 where heroine's parasol and pose were jaunty and intriguing, here she looks stiff and unnatural, with odd facial expression and overplucked eyebrows. Hopefully Book#3 will return to an edgy profile. Overall: would make AW stop in a bookstore for a closer look.
2. Title: becomes clear late in the story why this is relevant to content; personally, AW would have preferred another botanical title similar to the unusual and memorable Book#1 title (Rosemary and Rue). Art: menacing figure is 100% false advertising, Toby's grumpy, pinched and hungry looking appearance 100% accurate. Overall: AW would walk right by in a bookstore.
1. As was the case in Book#1, this sequel is rollicking good fun. Stuffy, rigid etiquette coupled with antiquated, persnickety language in absurd contrast with the extraordinary characters, events and at times action-adventure feel make for much entertainment. Language is also noteworthy in other respects; this author rises to the heights of J.K. Rowling in terms of amusing names (servants Floote and Rumpet, business Shersky & Droop) and she has a way with vivid description:
"Lady Maccon declined with horror. Brussels sprouts were nothing more than underdeveloped cabbages."
"The handle (of the parasol) looked like something that might top an ancient Egyptian column, carved with lotus flowers - or a very enthusiastic pineapple."
"...she pulled out a small vial. 'Poison?' 'Certainly not. Something far more important: perfume. We cannot very well have you fighting crime unscented, now, can we?' 'Oh.' Alexia nodded gravely. After all, Madame Lafoux was French. 'Certainly not.' "
"This was the kind of woman who took her tea black, smoked cigars after midnight, played a mean game of cribbage, and kept a bevy of repulsive little dogs. Alexia liked her immediately. The woman shouldered a rifle with consummate skill and pointed it at Lord Macon. Alexia liked her less."
"The color scheme and general appearance (of the bedroom) reminded Lady Maccon of nothing so much as a damp, malcontented squirrel."
In their review of Book#1, Apprentice Writer's esteemed colleagues The Booksmugglers were dismayed on two levels; that one dirigible mention did not a steampunk novel make (if AW understood correctly), and that Alexia and Connall were too close in physical similarity to another literary Victorian couple, Amelia Peabody & Radcliffe Emerson (of Elizabeth Peters' superb Egyptian historical suspense series). As premier reviewers of speculative fiction, the Booksmugglers are much more knowledgable than AW about that oh-so-difficult-to-define beast, 'Steampunk' . Perhaps this was a good thing, as AW had no purist qualms about the novel's classification. But for those who read for the gadgetry, AW is pleased to say that there is much more present, applied, and sometimes copiously explained in 'Changeless'. The gadgets were all very cool and AW loved how Alexia became engrossed in how they all worked.
In terms of Alexia/Connall vs. Amelia/Emerson - if the Smugglers had not pointed it out, AW is not sure she would have spotted the potential for comparison in 'Soulless'. But with introduction of an Egyptological element and Alexia's use of a custom parasol in the way Amelia uses her many-pocketed acrchaeological clothes, it is impossible not to see this supernatural couple as an homage to Peters' iconic sleuths. AW had no problem with it, except for one detail (see below).
2. As in Book#1, the worldbuilding and diversity of fae subcultures and abilities was excellent - highly imaginative and convincing. By far the most compelling characteristic of this series.
The author also has a way with one-liners:
"I was under the impression that things were stable. That could change at any time, of course, and there's always a risk of small-scale civil war in Faerie - it's something to do when you're bored and immortal."
"....'You even scare the landscape.' 'It probably remembers us from yesterday and doesn't want to be enchanted again. The inanimate can have a surprisingly long memory.' "
"...We could probably have done without our (human) disguises...(if) the desk clerk saw us undisguised, he'd think he was looking at a kid playing Star Trek games and a giant Tinkerbell knockoff with PMS."
"...sometimes the best way to deal with the Luidaeg (was to) just keep saying the same thing over and over until she gets fed up and gives you what you want. All preschoolers have an instinctive grasp of this concept , but most don't practice it on immoral water demons. That's probably why there are so few disembowelments in your average preschool."
AW's favorite character from Book#1 - Tybalt, King of the Cats - showed up again to her delight, but not enough to satisfy. Hopefully he'll have more presence in the next installment. AW liked him not only for himself, but because she got a good laugh out of the inversion of the stereotype. One of the most cliche yet ongoingly, frequently used metaphors used in romance novels of all persuasions is to liken the hero's graceful/muscular/silent/deadly/(insert adjective) movement and/or appearance to that of a big cat. It struck AW as funny to have a character flat out be one.
1. One of AW's most pet of all peeves is for dialogue of characters whose first language is not English to be written 'in accent'. Her reasons:
- puzzling out what they're saying rips her out of the story,
- it is NEVER successful, as AW has never heard French/German/Italian/etc. people speak precisely in the cliched manner accepted for those language groups,
- it is lazy, because a person speaking English as a second language usually doesn't just pronounce words differently but uses different sentence structure and conventions as well, and more often than not this isn't reflected in their literary speech when the 'shortcut' of abysmal accent cliches are applied,
- the ONLY reason that AW can come up with for an author to choose to have a character speak in language accent cliche is to make that character look slightly ridiculous, and/or to have a recurring opportunity to emphasize their 'differentness' from the protagonist. The underlying motivation for both potential reasons have an ugly xenophobic feel to this reader. No matter how good the book, inclusion of accent-speak automatically lowers AW's Goodreads grade by at least half a star, even if the non-accent-speaking characters are, for the purposes of the story, xenophobic.
How to handle a non-native speaker character instead, then, the Gentle Reader may ask?
Simple: The first time the character is introduced, describe him or her as having a (insert language) accent, and then either remark that the character's sentence structure otherwise follows English patterns, or else write the characters subsequent dialogue in the applicable sentence patterns. For an example done well, look at Joanna Bourne's 'The Spymaster's Lady'
//general rant over
It was AW's unpleasure to find accent speak not only for French, but with an occasional dollop of Scottish as well. In the case of the French characters, the icing on the cake was its complete redundancy since almost every (!) mention of the two characters involved included an explicit reference to their nationality. This endless repetition of defining attributes and adjectives occured in matters of dress, personality, and speech patterns as well (i.e. not just the speech pattern in natural dialogue [which is fine] but the protagonist remarking upon the particular speech pattern). It reached the point where this reader seriously asked herself if the author truly felt her audience had memory deficiency problems and needed to be 'helped' along like this. If it weren't or the at times intricate machinery explanations, this style would have felt too close to insulting reader intelligence for comfort.
Finally, there was a disconnect between the secret strategist role assigned to the heroine and her poor performance as a sleuth. Repeated assassination attempts are made with almost no effort made to investigate who would have had the means or motive and who could be excluded from suspicion, and went against the image built up of the heroine being unusually intelligent.
2. Toby, likewise, did not impress this reader with her sleuthing abilities this time around. She enters a closed community, and does not figure out what is going as bodies pile up left and right until there are a total of 3 of the original group left. Apprentice Writer thinks that even with her complete lack of detective ability, she would probably have been able to figure out the culprit once only that few remained. It was not a good reflection on the competence of someone designated a Knight and sent on the mission specifically due to supposed investigative skill.
But this reader believes there an extenuating circumstance, if somewhat dubious. The Gentle Reader who saw AW's review of Book#1 will recall her credulity being strained by Toby performing all kinds of physical feats (including bleeding vast quantities) while eating a total of two marshmallow sandwiches over the course of about three days. Toby's eating disorder appears even more pronounced this time around; though practically every page seems to mention her drinking coffee, her actual ingestion of food was, IIRC, one donut. If AW's total caloric intake over several days consisted of coffee and one donut, she' be grumpy and not her best at making logical deductions either.
Sequels to highly original debuts both show continued author skill at worldbuilding and deft turns of phrase, while leaving room to hope that protagonist sleuthing skill will rise with experience.
Monday, June 7, 2010
Everyone in cyberspace will be indebted to you for observing the following small behavioral modification:
DO NOT BEGIN YOUR POST WITH AN APOLOGY!
WE DO NOT CARE THAT YOU MEANT TO POST YESTERDAY / THIS MORNING / "MORE OFTEN", AND DIDN'T BECAUSE SOMETHING CAME UP / YOU WERE UNMOTIVATED / YOUR LEFT BIG TOE HURT.
IF WE STOP BY AND YOU HAVEN'T POSTED SINCE LAST TIME, GUESS WHAT: WE DEAL WITH IT.
WE WANT THOUGHT-PROVOKING, ENTERTAINING, RELEVANT CONTENT, NOT BORING EXCUSES. PLEASE DON'T WASTE OUR TIME.
- When a blogger anticipates being away for a specific period of time (whether days/weeks/months) and shares what that time frame will be - in which case, apologies still aren't required as this information is shared upfront,
- When health/natural catastrophes strike - in which case, apologies still aren't required as a brief explanation (at whatever point is feasible for the blogger) will fully suffice as all readers will understand and sympathize,
-When there has been a extended unexplained absence and the blogger returns - in which case, apologies still aren't required (unless content had been promised and not delivered) as a simple "I'm back!" will do.
Wednesday, June 2, 2010
Tuesday, June 1, 2010
With the able and impartial assistance of junior apprentice writer #3 (who is getting quite good at this with all the practice she's getting) the following winners were drawn:
Confetti! Applause! Jubilation!
Winners, please send your deets to
mayamissani AT yahoo DOT ca
Non-winners, don't despair! Another giveaway will pop up sooner or later.
Confetti! Applause! Jubilation!
Winners, please send your deets to
mayamissani AT yahoo DOT ca
Non-winners, don't despair! Another giveaway will pop up sooner or later.
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