Tuesday, December 30, 2008

So long, 20008

"As prisoner #18330-424 (Lord Conrad Black) might say, it's been a farrago of a year, a cornucopia of the diabolical, the excruciating, and the interminable.Worse than a Saturday afternoon at Ikea. That bad."

So says Lynda Hurst of The Toronto Star on the political/social landscape of the past twelve months. To wit:

Canadian politician Stephane Dion on sovereignity in the Arctic: "We cannot win against the Americans (or) the Russians. And we are too civilized to shoot the Danes."

Italian politician Silvio Berlusconi on Barack Obama: " (He is) handsome, young, and tanned."

American politician Sarah Palin on foreign policy during a television interview: "We must not, Charlie, blink, because, Charlie, as I've said, Charlie, before, John McCain has said that - and remember here, Charlie, we're talking about John McCain, who, Charlie, is John McCain and I won't be blinking, Charlie."

Words to ponder.

But the words usually pondered in this corner of cyberspace are those found between two covers, uttered by fictional characters. After twelve months of reading, which authors made AW glad to sacrifice sleep and punctuality? Whose characters, scenes and snippets of dialogue remained with her after weeks or months had passed? Who made her sigh with admiration and yes, a teensy bit of envy at the sheer level of beauty and consummate writerly skill contained in favorite sentences and paragraphs? From whom did she learn the most? In no particular order:

Sherry Thomas (historical) - both debut release ‘Private Arrangments’ and follow-up ‘Delicious’, for the excellent good fun of the secondary romance in PA and making the "food = so much more than mere physical nourishment" scenes so evocative that she had to get up and find something delectable to munch every time she read a chapter.

Bonus: one of the best author blog titles in cyberspace: ‘Plotters and Manipulators United’. (Runner-up for best author blog title: suspense writer Deanna Raybourne's 'Blog A-Go-Go')

Joanna Bourne (historical) – for making AW go back after the utterly unsuspected bombshell half way through ‘My Lady Spymaster’ to marvel at all the clues peppered throughout the text that she had missed.

Bonus: an interesting, readable author blog with helpful advice for the writerly inclined.

Meredith Duran (historical) – for not only setting a rip-roaring debut novel (‘Duke of Shadows’) in one of AW’s favorite settings (India) but doing so without falling into any of several common novel-in-South-Asia traps (discussed here http://apprentice-writer.blogspot.com/2008/04/inspiration-india.html).

Bonus: approaching the matter with such passion that the author will be conducting doctoral research in the sub-continent.

Sarah Monette (dark fantasy) – Quadruple threat: vivid, original, edgy, unpredictable writing. The first books of the ‘Doctrine of Labyrinths’ series blew AW away.

Bonus: reading the author’s livejournal makes you smarter, but not in an obnoxious way. Thoughts on Kafka, Freud, Jung alongside very funny observations about television’s ‘Crusoe’, comments on identity of applesauce, etc.

And, lest the Gentle Reader think AW condones gender exclusion:

Jasper Fforde (alternate reality) – The ‘Thursday Next’ and ‘Nursery Crime’ series are so creatively out of the box that the term ‘alternate reality’ is a hopelessly inadequate label.

Bonus: this author’s titles will never suffer from being slapped with an anonymous manchest on the cover (as foisted upon a number of his colleagues on this list).

Gentle Reader – What about you? Which authors made you happy to be a reader in the past year?

Monday, December 22, 2008

Genre-Hopping Lightning Reviews

Apprentice Writer's reviews have been thin on the ground lately. In the interests of playing catch-up to start the new year with a blank (or, at least, blanker) slate, some less than exhaustive thoughts:

THE VIRTU by Sarah Monette
Dark Fantasy

'The Virtu' is Book 2 of the Doctrine of Labyrinths series (Book 1, 'Melusine' glowingly reviewed here earlier). It continues where the first left off, with the dual protagonists on an island famed for its healing sorcerers, across the Empire from their magical city-home of Melusine. The story tells of their journey and what happens when they return to a place where many are, to put it mildly, unhappy with them. This very bare description (vague to avoid spoiling the gradual discovery of readers who have not read Book 1) can't begin to convey the deftness with which the author juggles first-person narration of the two heros, so very different from one another in background, personality, status, and skills, and how numerous details from the first book turn out to be puzzle pieces for the second rather than simple window-dressing.

Protagonists, secondary characters, plot, villains of various intensity and world-building are all rich and convincing. But the single most impressive element is that AW could never, ever predict what would happen next. She abandoned her usual practice of reading half a dozen stories at once to devour this one non-stop, and needs a break to breathe and digest all the amazingness before plunging into Book 3, 'The Mirador' (Book 4, the final installment, will be published mid2009 as 'Corambis').

Was the book flawless? No. The extreme power imbalance between the two heros was overdone (something that will hopefully even out in the next installment), there was a big logical break in one of the labyrinth scenes, and the almost complete lack of basic gratitude in this world became increasingly irritating: Felix not only solves an ancient puzzle but performs a monstrously huge act of magic that no one else could - and receives only a few bland notes of congratulation in recognition. Mildmay's streetsmarts and hardwon combat experience saves his entourage over and over yet he receives no acknowledgement and almost all characters feel free to continue to boss him around as a dull-witted thug. These annoyances weren't deal-breakers, though, and didn't stand in the way of the flying pace of the story.

DRIVEN by Eve Kenin

'Driven' is part of the 'Shomi' imprint of speculative fiction designed to appeal to youngish readers with cutting-edge, genre-bending themes and manga-type covers. It is set in a post-apocalyptic Siberian world with an all-controlling economic power that rules the transportation corridors, miserable have-nots clinging to the fringe of survival, rebels living in secret cells, ice pirates preying on everyone, and a few in-betweeners trying to negotiate their way among the rest. The heroine is one such, a trucker with special capacities trying to stay a step ahead of remnants from her difficult past. The hero (or is he a villain?) is equally mysterious. The flavor of this fun, quick read reminded AW a little of the also enjoyable 'Grimpsace' by Ann Aguirre.


This debut novel is tagged as urban fantasy romantic suspense girl power comedy. After that kind of buildup, AW expected a whole lot. Sadly, it went partially unfulfilled, leading to a question of whether the story may be the victim of its own cover promises.

Apart from the Tolkien oevre, AW has read very little elf-oriented literature, so she looked forward to this story. And in the end, it was the elf portions of the tale that were most interesting; their capabilities and limitations, traditions and adaptations to urban sprawl crowding out their natural woodland habitat (as though they are some kind of tall, long-haired raccoons).

The parts that didn't work so well for this reader included the relationship between the first-person heroine and the hero elf. He was intriguing, but it was never quite clear what drew him to her so powerfully. Perhaps the fact that she was his very first human contact was enough? Also, the only funny detected were the brief running gag bits related to a taxicab driver's mistaken impression that the heroine is a terrorist. Call her stringent, but AW believes that one running gag does not a comedy make. Finally, the suspense portion was tied to a fascinating rogue elf who didn't get nearly enough screen time. He was by far the most interesting character, and AW wished he had been explored more fully (as well as the hero's elf parents, not at all welcoming of a potential cross-ethnic daughter-in-law).

UNTOUCHED by Anna Campbell

AW very much wanted to like this book due to enthusiastic recommendation from a friend, and the author's likable online persona. It was not to be. This contributed to AW's long-held suspicion that she is simply not the audience for 'pure' romance.

The newly-widowed and destitute (but of very old and influential family) heroine is mistaken for a prostitute and kidnapped, taken to a remote estate and left bound on a table for the hero to discover. He has been imprisoned here for many years since childhood episodes of what was interpreted (and brutally treated) as madness, but may have been food-allergy related reactions. His evil uncle now controls the family fortune in his stead, and is naturally loath to give it all up for something as inconvenient as returned sanity. Yet he must keep his nephew alive or lose control to the hero's heir - hence the female companionship now provided. How the pair fall in love and overcome the odds to break out of their prison forms the rest of the story.

The premise was interesting, the hero sympathetic, the bond between the protagonists genuine, their ill treatment vivid. Yet the heroine felt increasingly irksome (culminating in a TSTL moment in the big crisis finale scene), AW skimmed longer and longer portions (including the lengthy, multiple love scenes), and matters reached the point where she was just plain not entertained enough to suspend disbelief on some points she would have let go under other circumstances (How did the hero manage to become a leading botanist if he was imprisoned and neglected from the age of thirteen? If he was able to have his scholarly articles published in scientific journals, why would he not have been able to figure out a way to communicate with outsiders about his situation? Why would the uncle have allowed him to own a dog that responds to his commands alone and can attack henchmen? If he is such a deadly marksman, why would he have not used that rock-throwing skill and his attack dog to escape the two jailers before? etc.)

Many other readers were pleased with this book, as well as the author's first, and count the days till the third is released at the end of this month. AW believes her reaction proves that if she is going to pick up a title with 'romance' in the tagline, she should make sure there are other ingredients in the mix (suspense? action-adventure? comedy?) to increase the chances of a no-holds-barred happy review.

Gentle Reader - Have you liked or loathed any of these titles? Please share.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Contemporary Fiction & Semantics

Smart Bitches, Trashy Books & Dear Author run an occasional 'Save Contemporary!' campaign whenever they come across a title they particularly love. At the moment, it's this one by Victoria Dahl. Apprentice Writer thought the sprout was clever and the book cover attractive - so here it is. Maybe she'll even get around to reading it.

But here is her question:

Can somebody explain the politics of labelling commercial fiction?

For this reader, confusion abounds.

- Chicklit, as a category, is reportedly dead. Apparently, no agent wants to represent it, no publisher wants to buy it.

- Does this mean there will be floods of 'humorous women's fiction' on the market? Consider: during a recent drop-off of non-keeper books at the used book store, AW was informed that chicklit wasn't moving, so the usual practice of 10% credit against printed retail price didn't apply. The UBS owner was unmoved by AW pointing out the 'Women's Fiction' label on spines in question; in her eyes it all came under the unprofitable chicklit umbrella.

-Does this in turn mean there will be floods of chicklit and women's fiction 'light' writers who will now label their work simply as 'contemporary'? Will new employment opportunities be created for page-count police, who confer security clearance of legitimate vs. fake contemporary writers according to how soon in the story the love interests meet, and what proportion of total word count is devoted to h/h interactions and love scenes?

Just asking.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Geographical Writing Procrastination

Do authors who live in tropical locations produce more books than those who live with winter?

Apprentice Writer spent an hour and half shovelling snow today. Fresh air, exercise, toddler playing alongside, fat, drifty snowflakes muffling sounds - all very picturesque, but there goes this morning's writing session. And this is only the start of the shovel-season.

E.E. Cummings thoughts on the matter:

The snow doesn't give a soft, white damn whom it touches.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Notable Quotes

Apprentice Writer adores when an author takes a familiar concept - in this case, dread of what is about to happen - and expresses it in a way she has never encountered before.

From THE VIRTU by Sarah Monette, (dark fantasy, Book 2 in a series)

"The future felt like a herd of buffalo stampeding straight at me, and all I wanted was to get out of the way."

Monday, December 1, 2008

Post Nanowrimo Blues/Celebration: TAG & NON-LAUGHTER REVIEW

The 1st of December. How Apprentice Writer has longed for and feared it. Ambivalent much? Yes indeedy.

November gone up in smoke, thirty days that never ended at the same time as they screamed past. Did AW reach her goal of 50K? She did not. But it doesn't matter: all but one chapter of her WIP is now locked and loaded on the hard drive. This is very, very good. Almost on to the terrifying part of the process called Sending your Baby out to Languish on Slush Piles Everywhere. Fun, fun, fun!

To distract herself, AW is catching up on neglected cyberlandia responsibilities:

1. Bookworm Meme
Passed on by Julia at 'A Piece of My Mind':

Open the nearest book to page 46. Write out the fifth sentence on that page, and also the next two to five sentences. The closest book, not the coolest, or the one you think will sound the best. THE CLOSEST.

From DELICIOUS , by Sherry Thomas:

"The chocolate custard sat on a small table, glossy, serene, entirely indifferent to his laughable internal struggle. He dug in the tip of a spoon, destroying its smooth surface - and released a coil of rich, dusky odor.

Chocolate. He'd never had chocolate before he came to live at Fairleigh Park, but when he was seven someone had given him a shred of paper that had once been wrapped around a piece of imported chocolate. He'd pressed the wrapper to his nose and inhaled as deeply as his lungs allowed, dreaming of chocolate enough to bury him. Her custard smelled like that, a good smell made mythical by fervid imagination and true hunger."

A perfect little capsule of a reason why AW adores Sherry Thomas.

Any gentle readers who feel inspired to play - please let AW know of your excerpt!

2. Non Laughter Reviews:

DARK NEEDS AT NIGHT'S EDGE (Book 3: Immortals After Dark)

Kresley Cole

Vampire warrior of the superbad variety is drawn back from insanity by a jazz age ghost trapped in her New Orleans mansion.

Generic and (to this reader) uninteresting. Must be thankful for small mercies of obligatory manchest at least having a head attached, and some sort of trenchcoat around the edges.

Why Read
Won in a raffle and had encountered a fair amount of praise for this author and series.

What Worked
The author has created a fascinating urban fantastical world, comprising so many races with complex ties to one another that the story doesn't even begin until the reader has thumbed through a multipage glossary. Built great anticipation for what would happen.

Current conventional wisdom as it that when a novel contains (or is all about) a romantic element, there must be a powerful reason for the intended couple to be kept apart so they can fight to overcome the obstacle for their Happily Ever After. In this case, the challenge is a whopper: he is vampire assassin, so far-gone in self contempt due to being turned into what he hates most (he had dedicated his pre-turned life to fighting against vampires in his native Estonia) that he is in near-constant states of rage. His condition and murderous rampages have deteriorated to the point that his three brothers, also all vampires (of the not-so-superbad variety) stage an intervention and capture him for a sort of detox program and also to hide him from all the paranormal beings who want him dead. It takes place in the ghost Neomi's abandoned mansion, and he is, of course, the only one in the eighty years since her murder at the hands of a spurned fiance to be able to see her. The gradual way these two physically and emotionally wounded souls form an attachment to each other was the main strength of this book. Believable and touching. How will suicidal hero and incorporeal heroine manage to get togehter? They do, of course, but the manner leads straight into:

What Doesn't
Up to the moment that Neomi investigates how to get her bod back, the tone of the book was dramatic, melancholy, with a sort of light historical touch feel. The change in pace with the introduction of witches etc. who arrive to grant Neomi's wish was shocking to the point of offputting, due to the strong emphasis placed on humorous contrast (wording of their business card, manner of speech, etc.).

This may seem an odd thing for a comedy writer to complain about, especially since some of these aspects really were funny. Gentle Reader, imagine how strange it felt for AW to object to successful humor insertion. But it was just too jarring, broke the previous mood completely, and created curiosity about the new kickass (literally) characters which was then - insult to injury - not even satisfied. Here are all these marvelous, unique, unpredictable female characters - given hardly any attention. It was maddening, with the only possible consolation to imagine that their stories might be explained more fully in other installments of the series.

Apart from lack of exploitation of the paranormal raw material, AW's main difficulty with the rest of the book had to do with target audience; the story is so strongly focused on maintaining the narrative tension between the two main characters that other elements are sacrificed. For readers whose main goal in reading is the emotional rush, this probably doesn't matter. For readers like AW, it does. Conrad's brothers are captured; he allows weeks upon weeks to go by without a single attempt to find them,only taking action when he wants their help to rescue Neomi. After becoming corporeal and leaving her prison for the first time, Neomi goes to a huge, festive paranormal gathering (yay!) which has barely begun to be descibed before events transpire that send her straight back home (boo!) and she doesn't mind. Not one scene is devoted to Naomi walking around New Orleans thinking about how it has changed in 8 decades, and what little description there is of how her transformation feels (an interesting experience, one would think) is exclusively devoted to how it relates to Conrad (especially puzzling due to Neomi's repeated condemnation of her mother spending her life oriented to the man who abandoned her). This focus goes so far as to make things miraculously disappear: in a climactic, claustrophobic scene, Neomie's fear goes into overdrive when insects find their way in to her imprisoned spot. Yet when Conrad releases her, the talk is all of flowing hair and rose petals. What did she do, eat them?

This is an author who does not lack in imagination or storytelling verve. In this reader's view, some more balance would have made the story much more satifying and complete.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

"I Know What a Scoundrel Wants"

We interrupt this Nanowrimo-inspired blogging hiatus to bring you news of a fab contest, hosted by Ann Aguirre (whose excellent GRIMSPACE was reviewed here earlier), known to create inspired buzz. She does so now on behalf of Carrie Lofty, whose debut novel,


will release with Zebra's Debut Authors program (i.e. titles at a special introductory price) on 2 December.

Apprentice Writer has considered Ms. Lofty on online friend for some time now, having chatted with her about all kinds of things since before 'Scoundrel' was a twinkle in the author's eye. In fact, her inbox probably still has the message that said something like "I watched 'Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves' last night and had this great idea for a Will Scarlett story...."

Fastforward, and here we are: that idea developed, written, shopped, agent aquired, sold, and converted to concrete, tangible form. Magic!

AW is deleriously thrilled for Ms. Lofty and can't wait to get her hands on her personal copy - even though she much preferred the original title REDEEMING WILL SCARLETT and thinks the cover leaves much to be desired.

Oh, well. But the important part, between the covers, leaves nothing to be desired. Great writing, lovely hero, strong heroine, unusual time period - this one has it all. Go check it out.

Look for Carrie Lofty at http://www.carrielofty.com/ and at http://www.unusualhistoricals.blogspot.com/

And for all the details of the Scoundrel contest (mondo prizes!) stop by Ann Aguirre's blog:

Thursday, November 20, 2008

LOL Regencies

We interrupt this Nanowrimo-inspired blogging hiatus to bring you a good laugh.

Janet Mullany, author of RULES OF GENTILITY, was inspired to create a new LOL category.

Do yourself a favor and head over to "Risky Regencies", to witness gems such as Jane Austen's work process as she concocts one of the most famous literary quotes ever.


Ms. Mullany is also sponsoring a LOLRegency contest, so Gentle Readers with more photoshop skillz than Apprentice Writer can participate in the merriment. And, in case anyone was wondering: AW feels no guilt in having found this contest by surfing rather than upping Nanovel wordcount, since a) surfing can feed creativity, proven by this excellent idea, and b) Ms. Mullany herself confided that the idea was born while she was Nano-procrastinating! Hey, if it works for funny published authors, it can work for AW.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

It's Here!

November !


Apprentice Writer is about to set off on the chase for her 50,000 words, to be bagged and brought to the weighing station at National Novel Writing Month Headquarters by midnight 30 November.

Her computer is ready; keyboard polished and space bar reattached after junior apprentice writer #3's repeated detachments.

Her snacks are ready; purloined from junior apprentice writer #1-3's Halloweeen stash.

Her outline is ready; printed off in color coded glory (green for plot developments, red for MC growth, orange for recurring motifs, blue for sublplots).

Her laundry is done and her house is vacuumed; but let's not look too closely at dust-collecting surfaces, shall we?


(a word from our sponsor: due to circumstances beyond our control, blogging will cease for the month of November, and recommence, new and improved, in December. Adieu!)

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Book Promotion: Good Ideas

Paranormal author Meljean Brook has a book coming out on the same day as the vote for American President. In the brain of the average person, this would release a response along the lines of : "What an amusing co-incidence." In the abnormally fertile brain of Ms. Brook, it released a response of: "What a great opportunity to have some fun with my readers, praise the work of established and cutting-edge authors I admire, and extend an invitation to travel a little deeper into the Guardian universe!"

Helping others flex their voting muscles in preparation for the big day, Ms. Brook calls it.

Brilliant buzz idea, Apprentice Writer calls it.

Readers can vote on pairs of old skool/ new style books at her site, and get a chance to win those books as well as titles from her own backlist. All leading up to the newest story: Demon Bound.

Gentle Reader, if you have not encountered this universe - take a look, then if you're so inclined please let AW know what you think!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

National Novel Writing Month - Halos!

The terror, it is almost upon us.

No, not Halloween - though that is without question a terror to be reckoned with. The pumpkins that must be obtained and artistically carved! The slimy, stringy pumpkin guts that involves! The rock and a hard place pressure of treats that are dentistically approved and those that your juniors want you to buy! The parental desire to outfit juniors in fantastic costumes vs. the reality of having sewing/crafting skills only equal to scribbling some kitten whiskers or pirate stubble on their dewy skin with an old eyeliner pencil and slapping a hat on their heads!

The terror of which Apprentice Writer speaks is Nanowrimo, scheduled to spring out of the starting gate for the 10th year next Saturday, November 1st. Thirty days of literary abandon, as the site (http://www.nanowrimo.org/) proclaims. Thousands upon thousands of novelists around the globe racing the clock to produce 50,000 fresh words despite the obstacles placed in their paths by real life, fatigued fingers and brains, and worst of all, nefarious inner editors.

It's not easy to throw an annual literary online party for such a large crowd. To manage the site, fund the Young Writers Program (which brings the Nanowrimo movement into schools, nurturing a whole new generation of novelists), and create and supply libraries in remote East Asian villages (done in past years; not sure if will happen this year), the site founders appeal to participants each year to consider making a donation (however modest). Those that do see a halo appear next to their online name on the message boards.

Wrimo Jamie Grove, who blogs at HOW NOT TO WRITE: If you're reading this, you're not writing. Obvious but True, had a brilliant idea.

He not only donated himself, but after encouraging others to do likewise and receiving messages about willing hearts but cash-poor wallets, decided to give away some halos.

At http://www.hownottowrite.com/nanowrimo/nanowrimo-halo-giveaway-30-halos/, he describes what wrimos need to do if they'd like a halo but can't quite swing it this year.

He also posts about all kinds of topics of interest to aspiring wrimos. Go take a look.

Gentle Readers: Planning to participate in the madness this year?

Monday, October 20, 2008

Experiment: THE BIG H, Report #3

As someone with no Harlequin/category experience, Apprentice Writer decided to read six titles from the 'Harlequin Historical' line (which publishes 4 titles per month) concurrently to see if patterns develop.

Chapter One

5/6: End by page 22 (which is actually page 15, since text always starts on page 7)
The only one that didn't was first published in UK, where format may be different than North American guidelines

5/6: Hero & Heroine meet by page 5
The prize for speed of bringing the parties together goes to the Tudor title (A SINFUL ALLIANCE, Amanda McCabe) where the very first line reads,

"Her quarry was within her sight."

In the only book where the main characters didn't physcially meet by page 5, the heroine thought of the last time she saw the hero. So: in 6/6 titles, there is some connection between the love interests from Chapter 1 on.

5/6: Leap into action/main conflict of the story
Slow buildup doesn't seem a common theme, with a clear preference for heading into the drama without delay. Bells peal in warning of Viking attack by page 3, a kidnapper appears before the heroine by page 2, the heroine gears up to carry out an assasination from paragraph 1.

4/6: Detailed description of physical appearnce of heroine and/or hero within first 3 pages
Apparently, it is important for devotees of this line to know early on and thoroughly what the main characters look like - and not just in terms of historical costume. Half the titles made a point of mentioning large stature/broad shoulders of the hero, with the prize going to the Regency title (A MOST UNCONVENTIONAL MATCH, Julia Justiss) by working it in at word #3. A third of titles made use of the 'looking in the mirror' ploy to describe the heroine. For two of the titles, it is worth mentioning that there was a good reason for describing physical appearance in such rapid detail; in the Restoration title (THE ABDUCTED HEIRESS, Claire Thornton) the heroine's facial scars play an important role, and in the Tudor title the heroine is in disguise.

6/6: England as main or secondary setting
AW chose the titles for her experiment via a super-quick sift through a literacy street-festival pile, simply searching for different time periods. So the 100% British result is a surprise, especially given that a number of the main characters are of other backgrounds (Danish, French, Norwegian (?), Russian). If AW ever decided to run Experiment II, she would make a point of checking whether other geographies are available, and how hard it is to find them relative to the English juggernaut.

If publishers offer what sells, then does that mean people of non-English descent are not interested in love among their ancestors?

Things that stood out:
One of the risks a reader takes when developing a fondness for a particular genre is coming across repeating themes so often they become irritating or even stereotypical. It's great when authors not only recognize this danger, but have fun with it. From the Regency title (THE VANISHING VICOUNTESS, Diane Gaston):

"She and Eliza had devised all manner of ways they might meet (Lord Tannerton), none of which they'd dared to carry out. Too bad they had not thought of being caught in a gale on a ship that broke apart and tossed them in the sea."

Sometimes, redundancy lies not in the similarity of theme from author to author, but repetition of words too soon or pointlessly doubling up on meaning. From the Viking title (TAKEN BY THE VIKING, Michelle Styles) scene where a man is cut down:
"...staining the golden sands deep red." Three paragraphs later: "...the golden sands would be stained red.." A few pages later: "...his blood spilt on the golden sand."
Gee, I wonder what color the sand is?

There follows a battle scene, wherein one group "advances forward"(as opposed to advancing backward?) and a warrior's "tongue licked his lips" (in case anyone thought he might lick with a different part of anatomy).

AW is very fond of authors who manage to build up a certain expectation and then take the reader somewhere else. From the Tudor title, in a scene where the heroine is impersonating an employee in a brothel to approach a patron:

"...the sounds of laughter and moaning, the whistle of a whip for those with more exotic tastes. Marguerite hoped that was not a Russian vice. Baring her backside for the lash would surely reveal her dagger."

AW loved how indicative it is of the heroine's character that she doesn't fear the pain or object to the nudity; it's the target realizing she's an agent that worries her.

Gentle Reader - any thoughts on the math or interpretation? Any readers of Harlequin Historicals who can shed some light?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Laughter Reviews #21


Orphaned preschool teacher is reunited with her Harley-riding grandmother on the eve fo her 30th birthday and learns she must save a biker coven with her unsuspected demon-battling powers.

Eye-catching and attractive in color and graphics. Gives a pretty good idea of what to expect from content.

What Works
There were many original elements to this story. Apprentice Writer can honestly say she has never encountered a griffin shapeshifter hero, a septugenarian biker coven,or a talking dog (child-oriented movies excepted) before. There is a lot going on in terms of how many types of characters are packed in a short space of time, ensuring fast pace and low chance of reader becoming bored.
Those are good things. Yet AW couldn't help but wish that these new-to-her topics could have been explored a little more. The mythical beast shapeshifter hero was intriguing, but there no exploration of how his dual nature impacted on the relationship, with the heroine interacting with (and annoyed by) him solely in his human form and almost no use made of the fact that he could fly. The concept of a Harley-riding coven relying heavily on roadkill and drawn to a casino river-boat was unique, but there was no backstory on how it developed nor the almost exclusive female focus, with but a single male coven member and no mention of or curiosity about, for example, the heroine's grandfather (as might be a logical question with the sudden appearance in one's life of a never-before-met grandmother). There was no plot opportunity to find if the heroine could hear other animals speak, or whether other people heard her dog too.
Much of this was no doubt for the sake of maintaining fast pace. Maybe curiosity will be satisfied in future stories.

What Doesn't
Over and over, the characters act and react in puzzling ways that threw this reader off. This is most pronounced with the heroine, who tolerates being ripped from her life and tossed into extreme situations by a grandmother who gives her very little information to work with and never explains why she's been absent all these decades. Perhaps Lizzie's acquiesence, to her grandmother and the belligerent and at times outright physcially abusive behaviour of her biker friends, can be explained by the psychology of a person with abandonment issues who suddenly finds a family member. But her pattern of accepting poor treatment from the grandmother and then indulging in negative overreaction to the hero's supposed faults (as though giving him the dose her grandmother deserves as well as his own) grew tedious. It reached martyr complex level in a scene where she chastises herself for failing her grandmother who "...had shown her nothing but honesty and respect." No, actually. She showed neither, and Lizzie's inability/refusal to recognize this made the story clunky.

To be fair, matters improve a little towards the end of the book. For this reader's taste, it took too long to get there.

This debut author writes with verve and imagination. It will be interesting to see what she comes upwith next, especially in the publicity department. Who could resist finding out their own personal biker name at the author's website? Certainly not AW, who wears her moniker Spaghetti Neck Stella Wheeliegig with pride.

But does it make you laugh? YES (with qualifiers)
Much of the humor seems to center on roadkill and the hygiene/fashion-challenged nature of the coven. A little of that goes a long way. Due to the mismatch between expected character reactions and how they really react, some of the humor may also not have struck as intensely as might otherwise have be the case. But the parts that worked well were very enjoyable, mostly from the 'fish out of water' angle of a straight-laced, slightly obsessive-compulsive preschool teacher forced to deal with mile-a-minute new paranormal challenges to her concept of reality. At one point she wonders, not even sarcastically,

Did he know of another hideoutnearby? If werewolves ran Shoney's,

perhaps a dragon BBQjoint would be just the spot, or maybe a

Denny's run by leprechauns.I'd even be open to a mermaid water

park. "Where in the world of weird creatures are youtaking me?"

"Motel 6."

The hight point of the story may have been the depiction of hell. The scenes of final confrontation with the fifth-level demon, while rescuring someone from the second level of hell (AW kept waiting for an elevator joke) were highly creative, and the demon, a sort of world-weary mad scientist, gets the best line.

Did Apprentice Writer laugh as much as promised by cover blurbs? No, but she will read this author again to enjoy the sheer richness of imagination.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Triple Tag

It is Banned Books Week, during which the American Library Association draws attention to the issues of literary freedom and censorship by publishing their annual list of the ten books that drew most complaints during the past year, and the hundred books that drew the most complaints ever. Complaints of American origin, ApprenticeWriter presumes; it would be interesting to know if the Canadian Library Association maintains such a list, and whether it has different books on it (note to self: find out).

Apprentice Writer has been tagged by cyberfriends Ciara (of 'Ciara Stewart', http://www.ciaralira.wordpress.com/) and Thea (of 'The Book Smugglers', http://www.thebooksmugglers.blogspot.com/)

Books Apprentice Writer has read in red:

1. Scary Stories (Series) by Alvin Schwartz

2. Daddy’s Roommate by Michael Willhoite

3. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

4. The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier

5. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

6. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

7. Harry Potter (Series) by J.K. Rowling (enjoyed very much)

8. Forever by Judy Blume

9. Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson

10. Alice (Series) by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

11. Heather Has Two Mommies by Leslea Newman

12. My Brother Sam is Dead by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier

13. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger (didn't care for it)

14. The Giver by Lois Lowry

15. It’s Perfectly Normal by Robie Harris

16. Goosebumps (Series) by R.L. Stine

17. A Day No Pigs Would Die by Robert Newton Peck

18. The Color Purple by Alice Walker

19. Sex by Madonna

20. Earth’s Children (Series) by Jean M. Auel (liked the 1st, not the 2nd, stopped there)

21. The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson

22. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle (excellent)

23. Go Ask Alice by Anonymous

24. Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers

25. In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak (charming picture book; why in the world is it banned???)

26. The Stupids (Series) by Harry Allard

27. The Witches by Roald Dahl

28. The New Joy of Gay Sex by Charles Silverstein

29. Anastasia Krupnik (Series) by Lois Lowry

30. The Goats by Brock Cole

31. Kaffir Boy by Mark Mathabane

32. Blubber by Judy Blume

33. Killing Mr. Griffin by Lois Duncan

34. Halloween ABC by Eve Merriam

35. We All Fall Down by Robert Cormier

36. Final Exit by Derek Humphry

37. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (sobering, intelligent dystopia)

38. Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George (recommended with age qualification)

39. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

40. What’s Happening to my Body? Book for Girls: A Growing-Up Guide for Parents & Daughters by Lynda Madaras

41. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

42. Beloved by Toni Morrison

43. The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton

44. The Pigman by Paul Zindel

45. Bumps in the Night by Harry Allard

46. Deenie by Judy Blume

47. Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

48. Annie on my Mind by Nancy Garden

49. The Boy Who Lost His Face by Louis Sachar

50. Cross Your Fingers, Spit in Your Hat by Alvin Schwartz

51. A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein

52. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (depressing dystopia)

53. Sleeping Beauty Trilogy by A.N. Roquelaure (Anne Rice)

54. Asking About Sex and Growing Up by Joanna Cole

55. Cujo by Stephen King

56. James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl

57. The Anarchist Cookbook by William Powell

58. Boys and Sex by Wardell Pomeroy

59. Ordinary People by Judith Guest

60. American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis

61. What’s Happening to my Body? Book for Boys: A Growing-Up Guide for Parents & Sons by Lynda Madaras

62. Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume (recommended)

63. Crazy Lady by Jane Conly

64. Athletic Shorts by Chris Crutcher

65. Fade by Robert Cormier

66. Guess What? by Mem Fox

67. The House of Spirits by Isabel Allende

68. The Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline Cooney

69. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

70. Lord of the Flies by William Golding

71. Native Son by Richard Wright

72. Women on Top: How Real Life Has Changed Women’s Fantasies by Nancy Friday

73. Curses, Hexes and Spells by Daniel Cohen

74. Jack by A.M. Homes

75. Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo A. Anaya

76. Where Did I Come From? by Peter Mayle

77. Carrie by Stephen King

78. Tiger Eyes by Judy Blume

79. On My Honor by Marion Dane Bauer

80. Arizona Kid by Ron Koertge

81. Family Secrets by Norma Klein

82. Mommy Laid An Egg by Babette Cole

83. The Dead Zone by Stephen King

84. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

85. Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison (complex, fascinating)

86. Always Running by Luis Rodriguez

87. Private Parts by Howard Stern

88. Where’s Waldo? by Martin Hanford (delightful time waster; why in the world banned??)

89. Summer of My German Soldier by Bette Greene

90. Little Black Sambo by Helen Bannerman

91. Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

92. Running Loose by Chris Crutcher

93. Sex Education by Jenny Davis

94. The Drowning of Stephen Jones by Bette Greene

95. Girls and Sex by Wardell Pomeroy

96. How to Eat Fried Worms by Thomas Rockwell

97. View from the Cherry Tree by Willo Davis Roberts

98. The Headless Cupid by Zilpha Keatley Snyder

99. The Terrorist by Caroline Cooney

100. Jump Ship to Freedom by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier

And way back in September, cyberfriend Julia (of 'A Piece of My Mind', http://www.julia-mindovermatter.blogspot.com/) tagged AW for a husband meme. Gentle Reader, all you ever wanted to know about Mr. Apprentice Writer:

1. Who said "I love you!" first?
AW is embarrassed to say she can't remember. Somebody must have said it to someone because we celebrated our 2oth anniversary this February.

2.Who does the dishes?
AW does the lion's share due to being in strategic range of where dishes are dirtied more, but in the evening it's whoever isn't the person putting the juniors in the tub.

3. Who pays the bills?
Mr. AW. AW is hopeless with numbers and money. Sigh.

4. Who sleeps on the right side of the bed?
Right now, that would be junior apprencite writer #3. Whenever a junior came along, Mr. AW departed due to his worry that he might accidentally roll on the baby in the night

5. Who cooks dinner?
AW cooks more often (again, by virtue of spending more time in fridge- and stovetop vicinity) but Mr. AW cooks with more passion. One of his fantasies is to attend one of those month-long cooking classes in the middle of an olive grove in Tuscany. AW on the other hand cooks because she lives with hungry men, but by nature she is more of a baker.

6. Who drives when you're both in the car?
Both, unless it's at night. AW has terrible night vision.

7. Who proposed?
Mr. AW, by presenting AW with a self-created abstract painting rather than a ring. AW was wildly impressed with this evidence of artistic talent and sensitivity. The fact that it was false advertising is gradually dawning on her as he has produced zero paintings since.

8. Who has more siblings?
AW is the eldest of two. Mr. AW is the second of four boys. So, at 3 juniors, we are exactly in between what we grew up with.

9. Who wears the pants?
We both think we do!

Whoever wants to play along - Tag, you're it!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

EXPERIMENT: The Big H, Report #2

Time periods and opening hooks, united again:


"The gale roared like a wild beast."
Diane Gaston, 'The Vanishing Vicountess'

"Leaning one broad shoulder against the wall, Hal Waterman exchanged an amused glance..."
Julia Justiss, 'A Most Unconventional Match'


"What's wrong, Father? Is it bad news?"
Claire Thornton, 'City of Flames: The Abducted Heiress'


"Even thoug it was Witches' Night, the first time the door latched rattled..."
Carol Townend, 'An Honourable Rogue'


"Her quarry was within her sight."
Amanda McCabe, 'A Sinful Alliance'


"Annis pressed her lips together."
Michelle Styles, 'Taken by the Viking'

Julia and Wylie, you intrepid historic mix- and matchers, you both win a prize for playing along. Let Apprentice Writer know which of these six titles strikes your fancy, and she will send them to you after her experiment is done.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

EXPERIMENT: The Big H, Report #1

Much is made of opening hook in lectures for aspiring writers eager to learn their craft. "You only get one chance to make a first impression", "Bookstore browsers decide whether to buy based on the first paragraph", etc.

So would a book from a line with less than the average number of full-length novel pages (<300) be more likely to start off with a strong hook, and would it reflect its time period from the get-go?

Gentle Reader - you decide. Try and match each opening the correct epoch :

a. Viking
b. Medieval
c. Tudor
d. Restoration
e. Regency
f. Regency

1. "Leaning one broad shoulder against the wall, H. exchanged an amused glance with E. as they watched the bridegroom pacing in front of the hearth."

2. "Even though it was Witches' Night, the first time the door latch rattled R. was not alarmed."

3. "A. pressed her lips together, trying to keep her head from moving as her maid plaited her hair."

4. "The gale roared like a wild beast. Under its savage attack, the ship creaked and moaned and begged for mercy."

5. "Her quarry was within her sight. M. peered through the tiny peephole, leaning close to the rough wooden wall as she examined the scene below."

6. " 'What's wrong, Father? Is it bad news?' J. asked. Instead of replying, J. continued to stare at the letter in his hand."

Apprentice Writer will confess that she wouldn't be able to place any of these excerpts, except to guess that the quote referring to Witches Night would be from one of the earlier time periods. In terms of hook, she would have to give this round to #4. Fixing hair, leaning on walls, reading letters, house noises and watching others unobserved can't really compete drama-wise with threatening shipwreck and drowning of large numbers of people.

Answers in comments later today.

Monday, September 29, 2008


There are many, many readers whose primary consumption involves the products of that mighty modern empire, Harlequin. Its global expansion, in geography and width of subgenres, is astonishing. Ask a non-romance reader what they think a romance novel is all about and chances are, that person will picture something resembling one of Harlequin's monthly category books, with a specific type of cover and title.

Apprentice Writer has never been drawn to category books, though she hasn't really figured out why. Some time ago, she won a book after enjoyable online chat with the author , and only realized it was a Harlequin title when it arrived in the mail. The story was set in an intersting period, had likable main characters, and for AW's taste was too short on plot developments and too long on introspection, with an ending that felt very quickly resolved for the number of times hero and heroine declared it could never happen. Was this a reflection of that particular author? Or was it a reflection of the tight wordcount and plot requirements set out for this line?

Is it fair to judge an entire line based on one book?

The answer, obviously, is no.

Yesterday was the annual Toronto WORD ON THE STREET celebration of all things literary. Harlequin's tent offered hundreds of titles with all proceeds donated to adult literacy charities. And voila: in between juggling junior apprentice writers #1-3, an experiment was born.

AW scooped up five Harlequin Historical titles, each from a different time period. Her plan is to read them concurrently and see what happens. Will plots follow a pattern? Will heros and heroines seem popped from a template? Will author skill result in uniquely memorable stories?

Tomorrow: Report #1.

Gentle Reader: are you a Harlequin fan? Why or why not?

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Non-Book Reviews

Twin Reviews: YOU MEAN THAT'S IT?

Lust, Caution
2007, directed by Ang Lee

Apprentice Writer struggles to find words to express how much she felt frustrated by this film.

Directed by the respected Ang Lee, preceded by megabuzz, set in a fascinating time/place combination about which AW knew nothing and was eager to explore, with the still stunningly beauteous Joan Chen in a secndary role and the highly convincing young actress Tang Wei as heroine - it had all the elements of a fabulous film. And parts of it are. The premise is intriguing: a group of drama students in Japanese occupied China during WWII plan to assassinate a powerful Chinese collaborator via an illicit relationship with a young woman.


After all the pedigree and period costume and much-touted non-chronological sequence is stripped away, though, the overriding messages this viewer was left with were that women in groups like to gossip about shopping, and women individually secretly enjoy being dominated and physically abused, so much so they will sacrifice principles and people if someone flashes impressive enough bling.

Even without the female-negative messages, Apprentice Writer would have been unhappy because of the seeming total lack of movement in the sociopolitical context of the film. By the time end credits roll, the Japanese remain firmly ensconced in Shanghai and Chinese collaborators continue collaborating blithely on, as if the whole drama of the past couple of hours (for the viewer) and years (for the characters) made not the smallest blip. Which may, perhaps, have been the Big Point, but for AW it was all tremendously frustrating.


Having said all this, AW will concede that Tang Wei is an actress she hopes to see again, and that this film raises the silent, meaningful glance to an art form.

No Country for Old Men

2007, directed by Ethan & Joel Coen

Another movie reaping reams of praise and armfuls of Oscars, AW approached it with great anticipation. Ultimately unfulfilled.

A Texan hunter stumbles across the gory scene of what appears to be a drug deal gone wrong: human and canine corpses strewn about, large load of suspicious powder packets in pickup truck, and some distance away another corpse guarding a case containing wads of cash. A psychopathic killer meanwhile has been psychopathically killing, is called in to retrieve the goods, and the chase is on.

With the possible exception of Woody Harrelson's character, the acting was convincing. In Javier Bardem's case, riveting, despite sporting the worst male cinematic haircut since the teenager in "Little Miss Sunshine". The dialogue was convincing, the cinematography and pacing fine.


What left AW scratching her head about the accolades was in part, the feeling that she didn't really get anything out of it. Was the concept that it's risky to butt in on a drug deal gone bloodbathedly wrong news to anyone? Was anybody surprised that Tommy Lee Jones is good at playing crusty old curmudgeons? Is it really not possible to predict that someone described as a 'psychopathic killer' will be a little unpredictable and it might not be best to attract their attention?

And what left AW ultimately frustrated was the open ending, in a bad way, of the whole story. (The contrasting example of open-ended in a good way would be the Tom Hanks' movie "Castaway".) In the final confrontation between villain and innocent bystander when a challenge is issued to stand by choices rather than hiding behind the facade of chance, the viewer cannot be sure what choice was ultimately made. In another type of movie, that could have been a thoughtful and even satisfying cinematic decision. In this case, it nullified even the parts of the movie that AW thought were well done. Or perhaps this is just one of the those movies that you need a Y-chromosome to understand.


So, tell us, Gentle Reader: have you seen either of these films? Agree? Disagree?

Monday, September 22, 2008

Expressions of Strong Emotion

One of the things writers need to decide when creating characters is how they will express strong emotion.

Will it be a surface description?
"Frothmeister beheld the damage, and cursed."

Or will it be explicit?
"Frothmeister beheld the damage, and said (insert phrase of choice)."

If explicit, will it be some oft-heard phrase, or will the author take the delicious opportunity to be creative in a manner that reflects that particular character?
"Frothmeister beheld the damage, and bellowed 'Seeping slough of a half-giraffe, I'll thwortle those gronzites till they float!"

Sci-fi and fantasy writers have greater than usual opportunties for this sort of thing due to alternate world- and races- building that is part of their genre. The trick is for the reader to be able to figure out what is meant by a totally new-to-them word, via clues of context and personaltiy. In Ann Aguirre's GRIMSPACE, the characters eschew the regular version in favour of a different F-word: "Frack." There was a whole lot of fracking going on.

This was fine since it was clear from the first what was meant and why the characters felt it was called for. What threw Apprentice Writer out of the story was the sudden insertion of a conventional f-bomb. Why this change? Was it a typo? Was it an intentional contrast to the previous expression, for some purpose Apprentice Writer couldn't fathom from the text? Whatever the reason, the inconsistency brought the pace of the story to a crashing halt for this reader.

Then there is the opportunity provided by characters who have special interest in language. Daphne, the heroine of Loretta Chase's MR. IMPOSSIBLE, is a brilliant linguist, fluent in living and dead languages. And what is the expression of choice for this vocabulary-gifted character? "Good grief." A surprisingly conventional choice. Perhaps, intended to reflect Daphne's restricted nineteenth century social position.

In Sherry Thomas' PRIVATE ARRANGEMENTS, the heroine has a larger-than-life personality and does nothing in half measures. Her expression of choice is "Crumbs!", which amused Apprentice Writer very much as it made perfect sense that the tiny, broken bits of dust leftover from anything would be regarded negatively from her tycoon, big-picture perspective. It made perfect sense for her character.

Then we come to Apprentice Writer's current #1 favorite expression of strong emotion, taken from Joanna Bournes' MY LORD AND SPYMASTER, in which a hardened old spy learns of something surprising and responds,

"God's avenging chickens!"

Apprentice Writer defies any reader not to laugh. This is the second of Ms. Bournes' "Spy" books; the same character made a divine fowl reference in the first one too, but AW was so intent on blazing through the most excellent story that she didn't take the time to write it down. One can only hope that there will be a new and wonderful chicken expression in each of Ms. Bourne's books to come.

Gentle Reader, what unusual expressions have you come across?

Friday, September 19, 2008

Book Blogger Appreciation Week, Day 5

Today is the last official day of Book Blogger Appreciation Week, and many a raffle prize has been ruffled, and many a Blogger of Distinction Award distincted. To see how the voting went, and perhaps get some new ideas of where to look for reviews, industry buzz, and like-minded readers, take a look at a preliminary list created by Anna at

OCD, Vampires, and Amusing Rants, Oh My!

Also, there are still many prize draws crossing many genre borders open at BBAW mastermind Amy's blog till Sunday, take a look:

My Friend Amy's Blog


Thursday, September 18, 2008

Book Blogger Appreciation Week, Day 4

Today, two more bookblogs of note:

The Novel Challenge

Tagline: The Place to Find Your Next Challenge

This is a great place for readers searching for an online reading community. Many is the reader who doesn't know anyone in their real life circles who shares reading tastes. Courtesy of the internet, and this blog founder - voila, problem solved.


And here, a blog with a most creative review style - haiku:

Fyrefly's Book Blog

Tagline: Sparking Your Literary Interest


Creative and fun!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Bookblogger Appreciation Week, Day 3

Today's feature: blogs that encourage the Gentle Reader to broaden horizons.


The Book Mine Set

Run by John who is based in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories (in other words: Arctic, for those who may not be aware), this blog is currently hosting the second annual Canadian Book Challenge. It runs for a year and involves participants committing to read 13 Canadian books (i.e. by or about Canadians/set in Canada), one from each province and territory. John has a handy list broken down by geography for readers who are still seeking something for their 'Saskatchewan' slot, say, or want to round out their 'Newfoundland' one. So far Apprentice Writer has ticks for:

Alberta - (to be filled!)

British Columbia - Wayson Choy, "The Jade Peony"

Manitoba - Carol Shields, "The Stone Diaries"

New Brunswick- (to be filled!)

Newfoundland/Labrador - (to be filled!)

Northwest Territories-(to be filled!)

Nova Scotia - Anne Marie MacDonald, "Fall on Your Knees"

Nunavat-(to be filled!)

Ontario - Margaret Atwood, "The Robber Bride"

Prince Edward Island- Lucy Maud Montgomery, "Anne of Green Gables"

Quebec - Yann Martel, "Life of Pi"

Saskatchewan -(tobe filled!)

Yukon -(to be filled!)

All titles read so far highly recommended.


Next, a blog with similar concept but broader application:

Book Around the World

Bonnie describes the goal: "The world has many countries. Let's "book around the world" and find at least one excellent book for each country in the world. The book should help us learn something ABOUT that country and not just be one written by somebody who lives there."

The sidebar lists a host of countries which link to reviews on books for that country.

Apprentice Writer thinks this is a brilliant way to promote the concepts of global village and world citizenship. So far, her personal literary world collection includes the all continents but Antarctica. But even that is sort ofcovered by making an appearance on her WIP, "Cupid and a Suitcase". Time to collect more individual countries!


Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Book Blogger Appreciation Week, Day 2

Today, a few blogs that caught Apprentice Writer's fancy due to most excellent names:

The Tome Traveller

Tagline: Globetrotting with My Nose in a Book


Apprentice Writer likes the clever play on words, and broad range of genres reviewed.

Fashionista Piranha

Tagline: Because a Good Book is the Perfect Accessory


As is to be expected, many books reviewed deal with fashion (has Apprentice Writer mentioned that she adores 'Project Runway'?), but not solely restricted to the world of apparell. And who can resist a blog with 'Piranha' in its name?

A Platypus with a Book Walks Into a Bar...

Tagline: A Literary Journey


A Platypus! This masterstroke of imagination clearly needs no explaining as to how it managed to charm Apprentice Writer.

The Toasted Scimitar

Tagline: Like in a Fantasy Pub, you get lots of Information and Opinions here. No Tavern Brawls, Unfortunately.


An informative fantasy genre review site, with a sense of humor (judging by the site contributors' bios). Always a plus in Apprentice Writer's view.

Gentle Readers, any other sites with excellent names you 'd care to share?

Monday, September 15, 2008

Book Blogger Appreciation Week

Ladies and Gentemen, welcome to the first day of Book Blogger Appreciation Week!

In the words of Amy, BBAW's mastermind:

"The gloom and doom news tries to tell us that reading is dead, we say look at our addiction. We transform reading books from solitary activities to shared conversations through our blogs. We carve out extra time to share book club tips, interview authors, and learn about the technical aspects of blogging. Our blogs are like a part-time job and the only payment is the pleasure we get when someone takes us up on a recommendation. This week, you will hear from the other side...the people our blogs help promote. And you'll get the chance to enjoy the reality that what we are doing is making a difference. You will have the chance to win books and prizes, the opportunity to speak out and the chance to make a difference in the lives of others. And we'll celebrate the blogs chosen by the book blogging community as the best in their categories. It's going to be so great!"

Find more info, plus a ginormous list of bookblogging participants and a mega-list of raffle prizes here:


Apprentice Writer applauds Amy's appreciation- and community-building initiative. In recognition of the massive co-ordination and thought putting together this week took, Apprentice Writer will not have fun exploring many new-to-her sites, but feature some for the Gentle Reader's pleasure every day this week.

Please get in the spirit and mention others you feel may be undiscovered treasures!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Historical Romance Heroine - A Definitive List

Anna Bowling of Unusual Historicals has penned a tongue-in-cheek list of historical romance heroine characteristics. Very funny.

Go, enjoy:


Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Batman a la Jane Austen

Too good not to share -

Cara King, of the Risky Regencies site, has penned (keyboarded?) one of the funniest pieces Apprentice Writer has read in a long time, containing the doubtless soon-to-be-immortal phrase "...unbending suit of petroleum derivatives."

Go, enjoy:


Saturday, September 6, 2008

The Delicate Art of Title Creation

Coming up with the perfect title for one's masterpiece is, as any writer will tell you, not so easy. For authors of some publishing houses, it is not even an option, conferred as their titles are by mysterious editorial/marketing powers-that-be. Some ubiquitous title word inclusions have come to have the power to signify instantaneously what the book's genre or subgenre might be: "savage", "sword", "scoundrel", and "billionaire", to name a few. (Having strung together the previous words, Apprentice Writer is now overwhelmed with the urge to write the first chapter of "The Savage Sword of the Billionaire Scoundrel.")

In some cases, however, one wonders whether the author/publisher took even the briefest moment to consider how the title might sound to browsers who aren't steeped in the subject matter. There are some mighty peculiar but seriously intended titles out there, a phenomenon celebrated by the


Over the years, the finalists and prizewinners have included many a humdinger. Apprentice Writer laughed muchly at such gems as

"Big and Very Big Hole Drilling"

"How to Avoid Huge Ships"

"Proceedings on the Second International Workshop on Nude Mice"

The Diagram Prize (aside: why diagram? Is it meant ironically, considering that there are usually only words and no pictures in a title?) is a British creation, unsurprising in a culture that prides itself on eccentricity. In this vein, one learns that the origin of the competition was as a means to break up boredom plodding down the endless aisles of ginormous (AW can personally attest) annual Frankfurter Buchmesse, or Book Expo, and that the actual title conferrer is not the person to receive a reward, but rather the person spotted and sent in the winning title. It all makes delightfully whimsical sense.

To read an entertaining article on the subject, go to

As the author notes, "...Oddness is in the eye of the beholder." Wise words to ponder.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Laughter Reviews #20


Unbridaled by Eileen Rendahl

There Goes the Bride by Lori Wilde

Bride makes a mad dash out of her wedding and then tries to figure out why as she deals with life and extended family.

Bride arranges for her own kidnapping during her wedding when she can't figure out how to deal with life and extended family.

Clever title. Cartoon-like drawing of a bridal gown in a trash can - good fit between image and content.

Clever title. Partial image of departing woman in gown and veil, wearing a running shoe. Strictly speaking this is more reminiscent of the Julia Roberts movie "Runaway Bride" than the book's content, but it nevertheless underscores the title and gives the gist of the premise.

What Works
Despite her near-ludicrous departure from the ceremony, Chloe is not a ludicrous or impulsive person. She is a thoughtful person doing her best to deal with (to put it mildly) highly complex family dynamics and emotional baggage; her efforts to understand what made her take such uncharacteristic action take the length of the book, and are convincing.

The aspect Apprentice Writer liked best of Delaney's story was the striking cover.

What Doesn't
One of AW's pet peeves is being forced to endure speaking accents for the length of a book. Just tell her when a character is first introduced that he/she speaks with a Scottish brogue or a French throatiness or a German consonant roll. Please don't make her endure endless rounds of "Och!", "Zees!", "Vich vay?", etc. This was made all the worse by the Cajun character not only persisting in his torturous accent, but made to look like an uneducated slob as well, with references to habits of urinating in the heroine's flower garden, not washing hands, leaving garbage strewn about, etc. These details were not only perplexing (they added precisely nothing to the story) but, one would imagine, unwelcome from a Cajun person's point of view given the length of time they have settled in the American South after being hounded out of more northerly parts of the Continent some centuries ago partially due to prejudices against French-speaking Acadian people. Depressing to think these generalized negative views followed them south and still persist so long after. But to be fair, this was a minor irritant; all other elements of the story worked well for AW.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for TGTB. Despite being competently written, the story never came together for this reader in a way that made her engage with a single character or care what happened. The best explanation that AW has is that she read the whole thing as a writer, rather than a reader. She was never able to lose herself in the story, because the sense of recognition of how the component parts were manufactured was so strong. Paranormal element - check, hero and heroine from opposite ends of social ladder and large/small family situations - check, secondary female characters lined up to be heroines in upcoming installments of the series - check, opening hook providing a dramatic moment taken from the final climactic scene - check, first meeting done in a memorable and romantic sparks flying manner - check, many long passages of hero and heroine angsting about why they were attracted to one another but couldn't be together - check. Perhaps the story would work better for readers who don't write themselves. Or like stories with much, much introspection. AW is more of a 'get on with the action' kind of girl.

AW first encountered Eileen Rendehl's name as one of the "Literary Chicks", a now-disbanded grog (group blog) of women's fiction authors. This story was a thougtful, unpredictable, satisfying read about people one might encounter in daily life.

The claim to fame of TGTB was that as a mere concept, it had the power to unleash a bidding war for movie rights. If AW recalls correctly, there were at one point eight parties competing to secure the option before the book was even written. How can a reader resist such a story? So AW purchased the book with mucho anticipation. Though in her view the story did not live up to the clamor, she has nothing but admiration for an author who can inspire such industry reaction, and who has a few dozen printed titles under her belt.

But does it make you laugh? YES / NO

"Unbridaled" is not a laugh-out-loud, mile-a-minute story. It is quiet slice-of-life tale with moments of wry humor, such as when the heroine is called a 'wetback' by some bar patrons and wonders to herself whether she should point out what the correct ethnic slur would be in her case. AW would look forward to reading other books by this author.

"There Goes the Bride" has moments that seem intended to be funny, but didn't work that way for this reader. The way the hero and heroine meet, a wardrobe malfunction at an amusement part, the zany outfit choices of a ghost - all felt too manufactured. Based on her Two Book Rule (reading at least two before deciding to bypass an author permanently) AW would read the second in the Wedding Veil series.

Monday, August 25, 2008

SHOMI Contest

Interested in the new SHOMI line from Dorchester?

What's that, you say?

How about: cutting-edge, genre-crossing, speculative action adventure reading entertainment.

The stories range from apocalyptic tales, to time-travel, to cyber-reality, to manga-inspired showdowns.

Apprentice Writer's list of must-reads includes

HIDDEN by Eve Kenin

DRIVEN by Eve Kenin

COUNTDOWN by Michelle Maddox

The Book Binge is having a month-long spotlight on this new line, and challenging readers to give it a try. As an incentive, the Bingers are giving away a seven-book Shomi library.

Take a look atBook Binge: **CONTEST ALERT** I Showed You Mine, Now You Shomi Yours

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Lightning Reviews x 3


by Sarah Monette

Why Picked Up: On recommendation from a friend at 'GoodReads', and was absolutely blown away. A Ph.D. in English doesn't always translate to a compelling or elegant or convincing writing style; in this case, however, it did in spades. No scene was overwritten, not once did the reader confuse which character held point of view due to clear and adept distinction between education level, personal experience, and personality of protagonists. The author is a master of the most basic writerly rule of all: 'Show, don't Tell'. The story takes place in a world with unfamiliar calendar, currency, time measurement, languages and slang, social order, etc. etc. but the story hurtles ahead in full expectation the reader will grasp what is going on. Somehow, it works.

Cover: Another of the bare-chested male variety, but this one thankfully has a head, and for a change, is facing away and looking over his shoulder. Both the multi-colored tatoos running up to his elbows and his red mane are critical to the story. Apprentice Writer wouldn't particularly have been drawn to this cover without word-of-mouth, but neither does it repel her. The title itself gives precisely zero clues about the content; Apprentice Writer kept wrongly thinking of 'Melisande' (as in, the French ballet) instead.

Thoughts: The author tells this first of a series of connected tales in dual first person, through the eyes of Felix the wizard and Mildmay the cat burglar. Both live in the magical city of Melusine, a Dickensian place with a brutal suvival-of-the-fittest philosophy that forces everyone to live by whatever wits and skills they have or be trampled. Despite his strength as a wizard, ties to the brother of the Lord Protector (somewhat like a king), and dwelling in the priviliged area of the Mirador (inhabited by the upper class/wizards), circumstances expose Felix to a physical and psychological sadist who commits crimes that severely destabilize the city and then pins them on Felix. Due to abuse suffered and spells cast upon him, Felix cannot tell anyone what truly happened, and keeps slipping back and forth across the fine line of madness - made all the worse by attempts of various parties to punish him and force him to give up information.

Like many in the Lower City, Mildmay was sold to a brutal and exploitative Keeper in early childhood and has grown up with underworld talents and internal as well as external scars proving the high cost of staying alive. Despite the horrendous things he was forced to do, Mildmay (known as the Fox due to his red hair) has somehow developed an innate sense of justice and decency. Fleeing the city, the two main characters' paths eventually cross and make them journey across the empire together. They meet many human and magcial creatures along the way in their search for political sanctuary and healing for Felix. When the story ends, there remains many a loose end; but at 477 pages, it is understandable that author chose to bring this instalment to a close, and at an emotionally satisfying and significant moment.

Based on this book, seek out this author again?
Apprentice Writer cannot recommend this book highly enough. Be warned: Though the abusive scenes are not explicit, it is nevertheless always abundantly clear what is going on. AW's friend described it has 'hardcore', and AW took care not to leave the novel in a place where her children might pick it up.

by Julia Ross

Why Picked Up: Had seen the author praised by other authors in cyberlandia.

Cover: Bland landscape. Generic title. AW would never have picked this up on her own.

Thoughts: The author is indeed talented at evocative description. She described objects, landscapes and people in ways this reader had never encountered before. This is a wonderful talent, but AW is of the school of thought that a person's greatest strength can also be their greatest weakness; in this case, there came a point when she wished there might not be quite so much description of everything all the time.

The story involves a highly influential British arisocrat rescuing a young woman from drowning. She turns out to be a courtesan who claims to have committed a murder she can't quite remember and from who the rescuer must distance himself lest he be tainted by association with her crime. He, however, is convinced that she has been wronged and was only defending herself. Thus the two journey across England incognito, to evade her assailants and puzzle out who and why really committed the murder.

The story is entertaining and well-written, and the characters engaging enough (apart from the heroine's much-repeated refusal to provide information about what happened or accept assistance growing very tedious). Reading was fine up until the ending, when there was a triple blow to this reader's suspension of disbelief. The first two (having to do with reaction of noble families to liaisons of their firstborn sons with couresans, and manner of a rescue) were of a nature that Apprentice Writer was more or less willing to tolerate for the sake of the story and the drama provided. The third, however, made her snort "Oh, please. Enough already." It involved the same biologically so-improbable-it-should-be-impossible pet peeve that diminished AW's enjoyment of Elizabeth Hoyt's The Raven Prince.

Based on this book, seek out this author again?
The author writes well and overall the story was entertaining. She would not mind reading more, but other works will not fly to the top of the TBR list.

by Anne Gracie

Why Picked Up: Kept encountering author's name in cyberlandia.

Cover: Rose petals, a letter, a necklace. Title clues reader in that it is part of a series of 'Perfect's from this author. Apparently, this is the (or one of the) last of the series, and the aspect that binds them - protagonists being taken in by a non-relative and trained as servants despite their aristocratic background, or something like that - was not quite clear to this reader.

Thoughts; A perfectly (ha!) pleasant, quick and breezy read. Pairings and ending can be seen a mile away but that's not the point of such a story: it's how the characters get that that matters, not the final destination. And as promised, there were funny bits.

Based on this book, seek out this author again? Similar to above, AW enjoyed the writer's style and wouldn't mind reading more, but the story wasn't unique enough for further works to kick other books out of its path on the way to the top of the TBR pile.

Any Gentle Readers have an opinion on these stories? Please share!

Blog Archive