Sunday, October 31, 2010

Lightning Movie Reviews: One Word or More

Apprentice Writer is all admiration for bloggers who provide thorough, insightful, nuanced movie reviews. But today she takes a different approach: short and shortest. Choose your brevity!

One Word: Fabuloso

More: AW cannot understand why this got lukewarm reviews. She adored the humor, the music, the care with which gritty details of period London came to life, the perfect balance between Watson and Holmes (in contrast to all earlier versions in which Watson is a complete imbecile), RDJ's noteperfect over-the-topness. The only aspect that didn't work for her was the casting of Rachel MacAdams as Irene Adler. She has resigned herself to a grungy half-naked boxing scene in every Guy Ritchie film she sees, and forgives him for this indulgence because of how well he's returned to form after the lacklustre 'Rocknrolla' (she doesn't count the appalling 'Swept Away', because that wasn't really a Ritchie film. It was a Mr. Madonna film).

One word: Pointless.

More: Long-feeling film with Russell Crowe indulging a god complex and Leo DiCaprio begin a remarkably ineffective secret agent. No particular resolution, no message, utterly unconvincing romantic attraction subplot.

One word: Inspiring.

More: To watch this film, AW had to decide if her admiration for Nelson Mandela outweighed her distaste for Morgan Freeman. It did (despite the IRLcrossover irony of a scene where Mandela's character informs an interested lady that he is not a polygamist), and she found the story of utilizing every circumstance and unlikely hero for reconciliation rewarding. She also learned two things about the hitherto totally unknown-to-her sport of rugby: players can pass the ball only to the side or back. And teams are made up of astonishingly beefy men, having the size and shape of fully suited up American football players - but without the suit.

One word: Feel-good.

More: AW has liked Steve Zahn ever since seeing his endearingly non-competent criminal character in the excellent George Clooney vehicle 'Out of Sight'. Here he maintains his quirk and sincerity in a low-key tale of an average guy trying to figure out how to stay true to himself, despite the curves thrown by life, Jennifer Aniston, and Woody Harrelson.

and speaking of George....

One word: Excellent.

More: Clooney for President, Prime Minister, and anything else that needs smarts and thoughtfulness. If this doesn't score some Oscars, there is something very wrong with the Academy's sense of zeitgeist.

One word: Disappointing.

More: Not enough laughs, WAY too much tension for the younger set (which is, after all, the target demographic), villain from Toy Story 2 recycled, the only truly enjoyable bit Buzz Lightyear en espanol - this was a shameful cash-grab by Pixar by jumping on the 3-D bandwagon.

And what have you watched lately?

Monday, October 18, 2010

Quotes of the Day: Loretta Chase

One of Apprentice Writer's favorite novelists is Loretta Chase. This is not remarkable, as she is one of many, many readers' favorite novelists. Consequently, whenever she has a new novel out (which is not as frequently as some other authors) there is much excitement in the air, made up in equal parts of confident expectation of lovely writing, funny dialogue, memorable characters, and happy questions about how it will all mix together this time.

The latest is 'Last Night's Scandal', one in her ongoing 'Fallen Women' series, which AW rates higher than 'Almost a Lady' but lower than 'Lord Perfect', from which the two protagonists are taken. As other Chase fans have remarked: this novel doesn't quite reach the literary heights hoped for, but it's still a Chase - meaning well above average in the historical romance arena.

For AW's gentle readers, some bits that made her laugh:

(right before setting out to explore a dilapidated castle after dark)
" 'Trousers,' said Lisle grimly.
'You told me to wear something sensible,' she said. 'I should never be able to get into tight spaces in a dress.'
'You're not going into any tight spaces,' he said.
'For women, most spaces are tighter these days,' she said. 'In case you haven't noticed, our fashions are a great deal wider than they used to be. Most of my sleeves are the size of butter churns. I'm sure Great-Grandmama had an easier time getting about in hoop petticoats.'
'If you would stay put and let me do the searching, you wouldn't have to squeeze yourself into garments that were never designed to accomodate a woman's shape.'
'I see,' she said. 'You think my bottom's too big.' "

"...'If you're referring to last night, that was my nightdress,' she said.
'It looked like a shift to me.'
'You can't have seen very many, if you can't tell the difference.'
'I'm a man,' he said. 'We don't go in for the fine details of women's dress. We notice how much or how little they're wearing. I've noticed that you seem to wear very little.'
'Compared to what?' she said. 'Egyptian women? They seem to go to extremes. Either they're completely covered except for their eyes, or they're dancing about wearing a few small bells.' "

"A light knock at the door made him start. (He) opened the door.
Olivia stood before him. She was all in white, in a dressing gown with fluttery things on it, her hair tumbling about her shoulders in glorious disarray.
He pulled her inside and closed the door.
Then he changed his mind and opened the door and tried to push her out.
'Make up your mind,' she said.
'You come to a man's bedchamber dressed in your nightgown and you expect him to have a mind to make up?'
'We need to talk,' she said.
'Let me explain something to you. A girl who comes to a man's room wearing practically nothing is looking for trouble.'
'Yes,' she said.
'As long as that's settled,' he said. "

And finally,
"...' Why couldn't you stay quietly in London and write dramas for the stage?'
She began to wave her arms about. 'Why must women stay quietly? Why must we be little moons, each of us stuck in our little orbit, revolving around a planet that is some man? Why can't we be other planets? Why must we be moons?'
'Speaking astronomically,' he said, 'those other planets all orbit around the sun.' "

You go, girl!


Friday, October 15, 2010

Laughter Reviews: TAKE A CHANCE ON ME

Jill Mansell
Women's Fiction

Sourcebooks, October 2010

Premise: Permanent-, new-, and returned residents in a small English town wrestle with the meaning and limits of romance and parenthood.

Cover: Title - Generic sounding yet entirely accurate of content. Art - Pretty colors, images (animal sculpture, village street, winter tree and flakes) all relevant to story. Unique author font, cartoonish illustrations, and trademark butterfly all make this instantly recognizable as a Mansell story, further cementing the author brand in readers' minds. Overall - well done.

What Works: The back blurb gives the inaccurate impression that the story is all about Cleo, a young woman unlucky in love who has never left the village, and Johnny, the boy who made high school a misery for her, left to become a wildly successful in America, and has now returned. Their story nominally forms the beginning and ending brackets to the novel, but in reality this is about an ensemble cast - a writing choice that Apprentice Writer really enjoyed. More, she thinks, than if it had been a straight romance story about how 'girl meets boy and they end up together'. The story of how Cleo's sister Abby and her husband deal with the sudden arrival of an unsuspected biological child, how newcomer Fia turns away from her philandering husband and decides whom to turn toward, and how Cleo's buddy and neighbor Ash avoids entanglement with a young admirer while yearning for someone else, all had at least as much screen time as Cleo and Johnny.

It was refreshing that one of the point-of-view characters was male, and quixotic Ash was in fact AW's favorite character, closely followed by the teenager doing her cheerful and ebullient best to come to terms with a new dad, a new mom, a new village, romantic rejection, and a bewildering and utterly non-role-model-worthy old mom.

Also noteworthy were occupations. Though Ash's DJ and Fia's finding-a-new-life-by-becoming-a-professional foodster have been done many a time, Georgia's ironing business, Cleo's girl chauffeur, and Johnny's wire sculptor were all new to AW and she appreciated how each of these were worked into the plotline.

What Doesn't: The willingness of one character to allow herself to be exploited was both irritating in itself (if you write 'Doormat' on your forehead you can't be surprised if people walk on you) , and more than once felt fake, so as to set up a dramatic plotpoint later on. Yet even while she was annoyed with the self-sacrificing aspect of this character, AW could appreciate how the author showed the complexity and longterm emotional devastation of infertility.

Overall: An entertaining and thoughtful tale from the always reliable Jill Mansell. Good for the bathtub, the plane, or a lazy weekend.


Wednesday, October 13, 2010


Apprentice Writer likes hanging around with writerly-type people. As a rule, they are fun, creative, smart, and most especially, resilient. Anyone who isn't couldn't bear to endure the long, hard, dispiriting slog that is submitting one's work for publication.

So it is always a thrill when one of her writer friends reports success - in winning a contest, getting an agent, or the really Big Kahuna:


AW is delighted that two of her writing buddies have cleared this hurdle.

Tiffany Clare's debut book, SURRENDER OF A LADY, has just hit U.S. bookstore shelves. With settings in Constantinople (Turkey) and Corfu (Greece), it is sure to please historical romance fans looking for something different. AW looks forward to border hiccups being cleared so she can have the pleasure of purchasing a copy from a Canadian bookstore shelf, and enjoying those exotic locations. Ms. Clare is currently on blogtour to support her debut release. Learn more at her website and grog.

Vicki Essex just made her first sale. FIGHTING FOR HER LOVE features a mixed-martial artist heroine and as such is sure to please contemporary romance fans looking for something a little bit different. Until it is actually on virtual and IRL bookstore shelves, readers can enjoy reading Vicki's alternately funny and instructive blog. Vicki is celebrating her this next step in bringing her characters to life with a fab blog contest from now till end of November. AW loved the so-campy-they're-ultra-cool vintage Harlequin prizes. Learn more here.

Congratulations, ladies. Your success is mondo encouraging to us shlubs still toiling in Prepublicationland.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Quote of the Day

"Stealth Hit - a phrase seemingly used for novels on the bestseller list that aren't written by Stephanie Meyer or Dan Brown."

Sandra Kasturi, 'Signing Simians Steal Show', in The Toronto Star, 3 October 2010

(An article about 'The Ape House' by Sara Gruen, whose previous novel 'Water for Elephants' was considered one such stealth hit and whose latest is praised by the reviewer)

Friday, October 1, 2010


Regular readers of this space know that Apprentice Writer has recently struggled with lacklustre enthusiasm for sequel volumes of urban fantasy series.

Does the problem lie within herself, she wonders? Overall genre fatigue? Too great a familiarity with individual author style after the first one or two volumes? Can, perhaps, the dreaded 'sagging middle' of a book (which authors strive so hard to avoid after hooking a reader's interest with great beginning and closing on a rousing end) also transfer to a dreaded 'sagging middle' of a series, with great opening volume, fantastic planned closing volume, and possibly not-quite-as-strong volumes in between?

Being apparently incapable of walking by a UF title on her library's New Release table, AW found herself in temporary possession of DARK AND STORMY KNIGHTS, edited by P.N. Elrod.

Perhaps, thought she, the trick would be to find some new UF authors to read and love.

Ilona Andrews, A Questionable Client
First Line: "The problem with leucrocotta blood is that it stinks to high heaven."
A very Kate Daniels sentiment; her emphasis isn't on the astonishing presence of a mythological beast in her neighborhood, it's on her irritation at having to clean its body fluids off her boots after she cuts off its head. Good opener and fun story.
Premise/Author style: Liked and liked (but this was no surprise as the author is 1 of 2 from 9 with whose work AW was familiar).
Novella did its job? Yes - shall read more as Book 4 in series picked up again.

Jim Butcher, Even Hand
First Line: "A successful murder is like a successful restaurant: ninety percent of it is about location, location, location." Excellent first line.
Premise/Author Style: Liked and liked.
Novella did its job? Yes - would consider seeking out more of author's work.

Shannon Butcher, The Beacon
First Line: "There were ten rounds in Ryder Ward's Glock, but he was going to need only one."
Unremarkable first line.
Premise/Author Style: *snooze*
Novella did its job? No - uninterested in pursuing more of this author's work. Which is sad and unfair for the author in case she is much stronger at full-length than novella writing.

Rachel Caine, Even a Rabbit will Bite
First Line: "I got a letter from the Pope in the morning mail." Intriguing first line.
Premise/Author Style: Interesting /Competent but not so powerful as to draw in on its own.
Novella did its job? Partially. Not opposed to reading more, but didn't find self googling backlist either.

P.N. Elrod, Dark Lady
First Line: "My name is Jack Fleming. I am owned by a nightclub." Funny first line, creates positive anticipation.
Premise/Author Style: Premise had similarities to the Jim Butcher story so AW expected a twist at the end, too, was not forthcoming. Enjoyed the noir style.
Novella did its job? Partially. AW appreciated that the story was well-written, but she is not a vampire person so wouldn't seek out more.

Deidre Knight, Beknighted
First Line: "She'd nearly freed him on three separate occasions, coming so close that she could practically touch the mail of his armor." Creates interest in the story to come.
Premise/Author Style: Interesting premise, but style felt muddled and unconvincing. Multiple instances of brand-name dropping in what is supposed to be a future or alternate world were alienating. Didn't get the motivations and backstory of any of the three characters. Female protagonist had some oddly dim moments. Frustrating that not enough was made of what was an intriguing idea.
Novella did its job? No. Uninterested in pursuing more.

Vicki Pettersson, Shifting Star
First Line: "Skamar left her so-called Mediterranean-style apartment as she always did; after first sniffing the air to make sure there were no mortals about." Meh.
Premise/Author Style: Didn't grasp by time decided to stop reading / Was so difficult to grasp backstory and so uninterested in characters to make the effort to do so stopped reading.
Novella did its job? Might have, if had been hooked enough to find out, but now we'll never know...

Lilith Saintcrow, Rookwood & Mrs. King
First Line: "I need to kill my husband." Dramatic, but feels like it's been done before.
Premise/Author Style: OK/Competent overall and well-done in spots. Of the new-to-AW authors, she was most interested in this one due to following her online posts at the grog 'Deadline Dames'.
Novella did its job? Partially. The writing was fine, the story ended with a twist, but again, it is vampiric. If the author branched out into other territory would take a look.

Carrie Vaughan, God's Creatures
First Line: "Cormac waited in the cab of his Jeep, watching each car that pulled into the rest area on I-25 north of Monument." Seriously: not impressing in the least.
Premise/Author Style: Been done (in this antho, in fact) / Competent.
Novella did its job? Partially. Story was fine, but the content was werewolfic (as is the author's full-length work, of which AW has read the first of series). So AW doesn't anticipate reading more.

of 2 Known authors - this reader's expectations were confirmed.

of 7 Unknown authors - this reader is interested to read more of a total of 1.

It really is time to give UF a break and read something else.