Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Looking Back: 2010 Entertainment

It is The Law! in Bloglandia that bloggers must create end of year lists. If you don't, they send your posts off to black holes in cyberspace and give all your contact information to spammers and trolls. Or something.

Being an upstanding and lawabiding cybercitizen, here Apprentice Writer's EOY list in no particular order.

Most Enjoyable Historical Debut: Rose Lerner, 'In For a Penny'. Sympathetic characters that not only grow but do so believably, and a plot that refreshingly is as much about the group of people surrounding the two main characters as it is about those characters themselves. Ominously, Ms. Lerner is a Dorchester author and will see her follow-up book distributed as ebook only rather than print. Hopefully she has gained enough presence not to suffer unduly from Dorchester's 'reorganization'.

Most Disappointing Junior Movie: Toy Story 3. Way too much tension for the target demographic, too few laughs, this was Disney/Pixar making a grab for the 3D cash cow.

Book that Started Well But Could Have Been So Much More: Audrey Niffenegger, 'Her Fearful Symmetry'. A Ph.D. who doesn't toss aside his more snoozeworthy dissertation subject when the real thing comes along? An undertaker with no curiosity about Very Odd requests? A cemetary bigwig who witnesses something Impossible and says only 'How improper!' (or something to that effect) and that's it? Suspension of disbelief broken to the degree that the book was finished purely for the sake of finding out what happened to infinitely more appealing subplot characters.

Most Enjoyable Movie Seen This Year but Released Last: Sherlock Holmes.
RDJ and Jude Law in top form - come on! What's not to like?

Most Thoughtful Movie Seen This Year but Released Last: Up in the Air

Book that Managed to Live Up to Its Hype: Kathrynn Stockett, 'The Help'

Most Ongoing Guilty Reality TV Pleasures: Top Chef, Next Iron Chef, Amazing Race, So You ThinkYou Can Dance (US & Canada)

Most Missing-in-Action-in-Canada Guilty Reality TV Pleasure: Project Runway

Most Eagerly Anticipated Books Released This Year But Inexplicably Haven't Gotten Around to Yet (AKA longest Category Title, AKA Most Grammatically Incorrect Category Title):
Dark Road to Darjeeling, Deanna Raybourn (historical mystery, Book 4 in a series)
The Iron Duke, Meljean Brook (steampunk, Book 1 in a series)
Lightborn, Alison Sinclair (dark fantasy, Book 2 in a trilogy)
Towers of Midnight, Brandon Sanderson & Robert Jordan (high fantasy, Book 13 and second-to-last in a series)
Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, Helen Simonson (literary fiction, standalone)

Worst Movie: For a long time, the most likely contender was From Paris with Love , which offended cinematically and geopolitically in equal measure. John Travolta channels old Schwarzenegger movies by shooting wildly all over the place while in various forms of motion and having pretty much every bullet hit a target while scads of adversaries miss every time despite dispensing a revolution's worth of ammo. More oddly, EVERY SINGLE ONE of the vast quantities of people he kills are members of visible minority groups. Considering how often parts of Paris have burned due to racial tensions in recent years, this was an astonishingly unfortunate visual image. Does France really need cinematic entertainment that sends the message that visible minorities are criminal scum that deserve eradication by over-the-hill megalomaniacs?
Apprentice Writer thinks not.

Then along came Baby on Board. This utter waste of celluloid was mean-spirited, distasteful, and most of all 100% unfunny. AW is entirely unfamiliar with Jerry O'Connell's previous work (who, by the way, wins this year's award for Worst Haircut for a Male Character) and had only seen 'Bowfinger' (which she really enjoyed) of Heather Graham's work, so she can't tell if this film is representative. But she has been a fan of John Corbett's since his 'Northern Exposure' days and was sorely disappointed to see him as, perhaps, the biggest culprit in this execrable mess. Mr. Corbett - what has happened to you??

Most Unexpectedly Fun Movie: 'Killers'. After the drudgery of 'The Ugly Truth' (Katherine Heigl and Gerrard Butler have NO chemistry), 'The Bounty Hunter' (Jennifer Aniston and Gerrard Butler have NO chemistry), and 'Love Happens' (Jennifer Aniston and Aaron Eckhard have NO chemistry), AW was not expecting a whole lot from this Katherine Heigl/Ashton Kutcher vehicle but she actually really liked it. Maybe the problem with the others was Gerard Butler and Jennifer Aniston?

Most Promising Book Currently Reading: Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jamesin. Holy Gripping Storyline, Batman - this fantasy gives new meaning to the terms 'multi-layered' and 'don't treat the reader like s/he has no intelligence'. Beautifully written, but wow do you ever have to pay attention to what's going on. And it's book 1 of a trilogy, so if the beginning momentum holds up, it looks to be a promising start to the new reading year!


Sunday, December 19, 2010

Non-Laughter Review: BENEATH THE 13 MOONS

by Kathryne Kennedy
Sourcebooks Casablanca
December 2010 (reissue)

Premise: On an aquatic planet ruled by access to a narcotic root, individuals from opposite ends of the political spectrum have an opportunity to increase their own paranormal talents and influence their whole society if they co-operate.

Cover: Title - Intriguingly worded, accurate of content, and displayed in a lovely purple cartouche with cool font. Art - Sourcebooks' love affair with the nekkid anonymous manchest continues. Though Apprentice Writer despises this fixture of romance covers, honesty compels her to state it gives the potential reader fair warning of what to find in these pages, including the mullet wafting in the breeze. AW personally wished that more of the gorgeous background had been visible. She would have loved for the bakers dozen of moons (obscured by the chest), and the partially submerged trees backlit by diffuse sunlight (obscured by various text bytes), to be shown in full on the back cover or maybe in a stepback. Overall: representative of content.

What Works: Would-be writers are often instructed to start their stories with a 'hook'; situation so fascinating or action so gripping that the reader can't help but read on to find out more and get 'sucked' into the story. This novel takes that advice to heart, opening with a woman so desperate to save her village from a killer fever that has struck down her lifemate and child that she risks all to kidnap a healer only to realize that he is heir to the royal throne and she will likely die en route from overdose of the narcotic she uses to enhance her powers to 'See' through the waters. Definitely not a boring opener or ho-hum stakes.

Even better: the world is marvelous. Thirteen moons that exert different types of tidal pull on the waters, villages and palaces alike built in trees, amazing plant life ( including some you can crawl into with interesting results) and animals, aboriginal beings who can mindmerge and be seen or invisible at will, an entire society built around a controlled substance (much like the spice in the classic 'Dune' series)... A lot of imagination went into creating the setting for the story. It reminded AW a bit of Pandora from the recent movie 'Avatar', if the trees had been surrounded by water and the indigenous people less blue.

What Doesn't:
'But AW,' says the Gentle Reader, 'after that kind of intro, what could possibly have not worked?'

Sadly, multiple aspects. Nothing about this book was average for AW; she kept shooting back and forth between elements she loved that those she unloved. Such as:


- Pacing. After a rocketing start with high stakes kidnapping (hooray!), the two main characters proceed to spend most of the next 100 pages in a boat feeling physically attracted to one another and covering this with verbal sniping (boo!).

- Writing. One of the most fun and creative things about sci/fi and fantasy is the opportunity to create variations in language and expressions to go along with invented worlds. Here, there were scenes in a remote smuggler village (yay!) where the inhabitants say things like 'sexy', 'get it?', and 'boyfriend' that tore this reader out of the story (boo!). There were instances of cliche, both in word choice (people 'tense' and 'freeze' a lot, garments 'fit like second skins', the hero frequently 'threw back his head', etc.) and in genre stereotype, such as the heroine thinking during a life-or-death pursuit situation how much the hero's eye color and hair swishing make her presumed-to-be-lost sexual desire reawaken. There was one (presumably unintentional) comical instance when the frequent romance genre use of 'paling' of a character's face to signify emotion shown rather than told was applied to an animal. This would have been OK except that his skin is covered in scales.

- Character Development. It's nice when there is some, and when it is roughly equivalent if there is more than one main character. In this case, the reader starts off with pleasant sense of curious anticipation about how the author will bring together a woman who is fiercely independent, resourceful, and talented but poor (yay!) with a man who is fiercely proud, privileged, talented, but not entirely closed-minded (double yay!). In practice, far too much space is taken up with the character's growth stalled at thinking/saying to/about each other that one is a 'water rat' and one is 'arrogant' (boo!).

The hero does start to come around and show notable improvement through his association with her and others of her background, but the heroine took far too long to make not enough mental/emotional progress for this reader. It made what was interpreted as independent spirit and fortitude early in the story look more like pig-headedness and reverse snobbism as the novel progressed. Frex: when the hero says he loves her, she thinks and tells him with absolute conviction that he has no idea what love is - without ever having inquired about his previous romantic involvements. Or, for that matter, non-romantic love experiences. It made her endless accusations to him of arrogance sound like the pot calling the kettle black.

- Internal Logic. The conflict between the main characters hinges on the impossibility of their relationship, given her pariah status and his princeliness. Yet when he arranges their wedding within a day after returning to the palace (royal wedding and true love: hooray!) there is no peep of protest, including from his parents, who promptly disappear again from the remainder of the book (boo!). Wildlings (born outside the royal family with unusual powers) are supposedly 'hunted' as the heroine's mother was, yet the heroine is almost entirely ignored by the palace dwelllers. The hero supposedly has enemies at court, yet after a very long time of doing nothing while the heroine is in proximity, they suddenly make their move through her at a highly unlikely time when she is not, that seems calculated purely to emphasize the romantic connection. Etc.

- Sacrifice of other elements to serve the romance. This was the aspect AW had most trouble with because she so yearned for more description of the fantastical world. For the first time ever, a member of the royal family spends time in a hardscrabble swamp village (hooray!) Yet rather than experiencing it through his eyes, it is summarized as '...these past few weeks, hunting and working with your people, I've come to realize they're my people too' (Boo!) The heroine has succeeded in bringing a healer, thus saving the village from mass deaths, yet apart from her immediate in-law family, there is neither reaction from anyone else, nor interest on the heroine's part on how others have fared under the hero's treatment. The only non-family villagers mentioned are two women who remain nameless, who serve solely to make the heroine jealous of the attention he bestows on them. The couple travel to the palace (hooray!) where the heroine has precisely zero curiosity in what the prince does or where he goes all day (boo!). She learns the aboriginal people and animals have astonishing unsuspected knowledge and powers of the mind, but categorically dismisses their efforts to make contact with her because she doesn't like their encouragement of her relationship with the hero, etc.


AW was desperate for more page time devoted to worldbuilding and less time to the push-pull (literal and figurative) between main characters. The gentle reader may ask: Can a satisfying balance between the two be achieved? Yes! For excellent examples of believable emotion with richly detailed worlds, take a look at Ann Aguirre's sci-fi 'Sirantha Jax' series, Alison Sinclair's dark fantasy 'Darkborn' series, Ilona Andrews urban fantasy 'Kate Daniels' series and rural fantasy 'Edge' series, and the queen of them all: Sarah Monett's dark fantasy 'Doctrine of Labyrinths' series. All excellent at providing relationship-building and believable alternate settings in equal measure.

Overall: Rather than fantasy romance, which was what she had expected, AW would describe this novel as Romance, capital 'R', with some fantasy elements.

Consequently, 'pure' romance fans would probably find it more to their liking than this reader, who struggled with unfulfilled expectations about what fantasy novels entail, and with the cover quote that promised '.....will give adult lovers of Harry Potter the fix they've been missing.'

The only thing that could be considered reminiscent of the Potter world were the rare occasions Harry and Lord Voldemort connected with each other's minds for brief flashes of time. But that occured in such a different way that it is a tremendous stretch to compare the two, meaning AW is at a loss to understand why the Potter parallel was even drawn.

She will, however, watch 'Avatar' again, and imagine how the movie could have been enhanced if the Pandoran trees had been in a swamp with treecats and narwhals, subject to the tidal pull of thirteen moons, if the antagonistic groups had socioeconomic rather than ethnic differences, and so on and on.


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Austen Love

Thursday December 16th is Jane Austen's 235th birthday.

Well not exactly, but the rate at which Austen-inspired paranormal tales seem to be flying off the shelves these days, once can almost imagine it in a literal, undead sense in addition to the anniversary sense.

Whether the Gentle Reader prefers Jane in her original author persona, as a sleuth, or possibly a vampire slayer, every taste can be satisfied on Thursday.

For the classically inclined, Sourcebooks is offering free ebooks of Pride & Prejudice, Emma, Persuasion, Sense & Sensibility, Northanger Abbey and Mansfield Park for one day (Thursday, natch).

For the experimentally inclined,there are free ebooks of ten Austen variations, also on Thursday.

Because everyone can use a little more of Mr. Darcy.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Challenges in the New Year

We've arrived in the season.

Of cookies and snow-shoveling related back injuries, you ask?

Of 'Best Books of Read in the Past Year' and 'Best Books to Read in the New Year', Apprentice Writer answers.

In this vein, two Reading Challenges the Gentle Reader may be interested in

'The Women of Science Fiction', hosted by Dreams and Speculation, features a female-authored novel each month, with participants choosing whether to go along with one month's choice or all twelve and the end-of-month online discussion for each one. When AW checked, 115 bloggers were already signed up.


'The Women of Fantasy', hosted by Jawas Read Too! , likewise features a female-authored novel each month, with participants choosing whether to go along with one month's choise or up to all twelve and the end-of-month online discussion for each one. When AW checked, 96 bloggers were already signed up.

AW herself applauds the Dreamer's and Jawa's aim to stimulate interest in these authors' work but will not take part in all 12x2 dual reads/chats. This is because, no matter how stellar the grouped novels may be, trial and error has shown her that she does not do well with reading too long in any one genre. She needs to mix things up to retain her interest. She will, however, unbend enough to add a few more of the tasty-looking featured titles to her TBR.

Gentle Reader, what about you? Any interesting lists or challenges floating around your corner of cyberspace?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Yes, Please

First Impression: Ho Hum
Second Impression: Where have you been all my life??????????

One supposes the happy bookcase owner would have to select very heavy books else they'll all go flying whenever the secret chamber is revealed....

Friday, November 26, 2010

Paraprosdokian Sentences

Gentle Reader: Don't you just love them?

Or are you like Apprentice Writer and had to google 'paraprosdokian'? It means figure of speech with unexpected ending.


'Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.'

'The early bird might get the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese.'

'I used to be indecisive. Now I'm not sure.'

'Always borrow money from a pessimist. He won't expect it back.'

'I saw a woman wearing a sweatshirt with 'Guess' on it, so I said 'Implants?' '


Monday, November 22, 2010


Persia Wooley
Historical Fiction
Sourcebooks, November 2010 (reissue)

Premise: Princess Guinevere moves from childhood in the harsh realm of Rheged to bride of High King Arthur of Camelot.

Cover: Title: Not very informative in itself, but makes more sense when put together with 'Book One of the Guinevere Trilogy' and 'The Legend Begins....' subtitle. Art: Very pretty with dull moss green background and leaf accents which do an excellent job of highlighting the silver foil font and lovely image of a classical painting. Overall: well done, eye-catching.

What Works: When Apprentice Writer first discovered Mary Stewart's trilogy of the Arthurian legend as told through the eyes of Merlin the Sorcerer ('The Crystal Cave', 'The Hollow Hills', 'The Last Enchantment'), she was indeed enchanted by the power of the story and the author's marvelous writing. Both hold up to rereading many years later. She was less enamored of Marion Zimmer Bradley multi-POV version in 'The Mists of Avalon '. So it seemed Persia Wooley's approach could go either way.

AW was pleased to find that she enjoyed this variation (or more accurately, the first third of it) very much. Seeing developments through the eyes of Guinevere - female, without magical gifts, raised with expectations of high work ethic and duty consciousness despite well-born status, surrounded by wellwishers from birth yet unspoiled, natural, and likable - rather than through the eyes of Merlin - male, with supernatural powers, raised without physical ease or affection, brilliant, mercurial and a lifelong outsider - gave the story an entirely different feel, rhythm, and emphasis.

The author is skilled in bringing the Dark Age of Britain to vivid and compelling life. Alongside the protagonists, the reader is swept into a time when daily life was more elemental: poor weather means reduced harvest means starvation in winter; lower birth rate or unusual illness means fewer defenders during border skirmishes means possible takeover of the kingdom and being carried off into slavery; etc. It was fascinating to see how logically this very low margin for error meant that different spiritual beliefs - including those we can recognize as superstitions now, but were considered a matter of life-or-death urgency then - permeated individual and community life. The way that Christianity made inroads into an island filled with Druid culture and references to magical and fae beings was another interesting facet to the story.

The very fact that the main brushstrokes of the legend are so well-known (no one is going to be surprised at the love triangle, the infertility, the fact that ambitions compatriots throw obstacles in the way) piques the reader's curiosity as to a 'new' author's taken on when and how to weave in the first mention and then first appearance of each main character. It was cleverly done in this book, with Lancelot's name mentioned far in advance of any actual screen time, and more intriguingly the Lady of the Lake with her soothing and lyrical name in such contrast with sinister-seeming first mention in Guinevere's childhood. Good anticipation-planting.

What Doesn't
The author engages in a series of flashbacks and flashforwards in the beginning of the book, between the time of Guinevere's departure from home to marry Arthur and childhood scenes that brought her to that point. Presumably this was done to create a sense of heightened drama, but for this reader, it was an unneccessary and distracting tactic. AW would have preferred the tried and true simple chronological approach better.

This is also a book better suited to readers who appreciate a gradual buildup rather than a lots of action and high narrative tension throughout; this is only the first installment in the trilogy, so many of the 'meaty' developments so well-known of the legend are not touched on yet here. AW had no problem with this, but mentions it so that the gentle reader would be aware and can make her/his own decision accordingly.

A lovely addition to the library of historical fiction enthusiasts,
a nightstand occupant which no-one would be embarrassed to be caught with,
a gift candidate for book-lovers on the gentle reader's holiday list.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Monday, November 8, 2010

Book Grading Systems

Gentle Reader: How do you grade your reading material?

There are many systems out there. The minimalist thumbs up or down, the maximalist 0-100%, and everything in between: 0-7 colors of the rainbow, 0-10 punctures of the vampire's fangs, empty dish - full banana split with cherry on top, etc. etc.

Some reviewers are ruthless in sharing their true thoughts about a novel's flaws, and occasionally, it's strengths - which would seem to render the rare praise they do bestow all the more valuable. The Simon Cowells of book reiviewing, to use a metaphor well past its sell-by date.

Some reviewers seem to follow the infamous instructions issued by some authors who shall remain nameless that reviews MUST be 'nice', because mentioning perceived flaws is 'mean' and mean, apparently, is bad (which would seem to diminish the usefulness of these reviews as they tend to be non-stop, all out gushery). The Paula Abduls of book reviewing, to use a metaphor even further past its sell-by date.

Who does that leave to be the moderate Randi Jacksons? Well, people like Apprentice Writer.

As the regular Gentle Reader will know, Apprentice Writer doesn't assign a rank to the reviews posted here. She is however an avid Goodreads hound, which operates on a system of 1 (did not like) to 5 (it was amazing) stars. Here is how it pans out:

3 stars ("liked it") is AW's default rating. She chooses to see this not as wishy-washy, but logical: she woulnd't pick up the book to read if she didn't expect to like it.

This means, a book really has to work at going up to 4 ("really liked it") or down to 2 ("it was OK") from that 'safe' spot. And it has to be spectacularly good or horrendous to move to 1 or 5. which she bestows with great care.

Let us draw a veil over the atrocities that must take place for 1 star to be bestowed. But what, exactly, does a book have to do to get those rare 5 stars?

It has to satisfy all these conditions:

- Great story, with sense of true satisfaction at the end
- Great characters and/or characterization (these are not always the same thing)
- Impressive writing that sweeps her along
- At least one line that is brilliant enough to be included in her quotation collection
- Must be sure that will want to re-read it in future.

The last condition is one that many books that made it all the way up to 4.5 stars stumble over, falling right before the finish line. For the record, here a cross-section of titles on AW's Keeper shelf:

Crocodile on the Sandbank, Elizabeth Peters (humorous historical mystery; first in a series, set in Egpyt)

The Silver Pigs, Lindsey Davis (humorous historical mystery; first in a series, set in Imperial Rome)

Life of Pi, Yann Martel (contemporary literary fiction)

Mr. Impossible, Loretta Chase (historical romance)

White Oleander, Janet Fitch (contemporary literary fiction)

Lessons in French, Laura Kinsale (historical romance)

Good Grief, Lolly Winston (contemporary literary fiction)

Fall on Your Knees, Anne Marie MacDonald (contemporary literary fiction)

The Big Over Easy, Jasper Fforde (alternate reality mystery)

Private Arrangements, Sherry Thomas (historical romance)

The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kinsolver (contemporary literary fiction)

The Sweentess at the Bottom of the Pie, Alan Bradley (mystery)

A Fine Balance, Rohinton Mistry (literary fiction)

Gentle Reader - How about you?

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.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Blogging with Flair

The 3rd annual edition of Book Blogger Appreciation Week (, founded by Amy of, has just concluded. Apprentice Writer participated and had loads of fun in the first two years, and isn't quite sure how she missed signing up this year.

No matter; even non-signupees can make the rounds and find out such things as what one book each participant nominated as a 'Forgotten Treasure' that somehow didn't get the press it deserved when first published, reciprocal interviews introducing another participant, etc.

The part that AW is always charmed by is the creativity not only of blogpost content (and wow, are there ever a lot of smart, erudite bloggers out there*), but of the blogs themselves, so much so that AW wishes she had waited for more of an earnest effort from her own muse when setting up this blog. Here a tiny sample sprinkling of bloggers with undisputed flair:

Title Flair:
Musings of an All Purpose Monkey (Wins for best melding of unboring & self-confident)

Phantom Paragrapher (Apprentice Writer is a sucker for clever alliteration)

Perpetual Pageturner (Ditto)

Lit Snit (Short, Sweet, Fab!)

Semicolon (Exactly!)

The Lost Entwife (With excellent Tolkien quote in place of slogan)

Bermudaonion (Love it, particularly because blog has nothing to do with cooking)

The Literary Omnivore (So much more elegant than AW's usual "I read all kinds of stuff")

Slogan Flair:
Tony's Reading List: Too Lazy to be a Writer, Too Egotistical to be Quiet

Stella Matutina: Books and Stories and Musings, Oh My!

Title & Slogan Flair: Total Win!
Books, Movies and Chinese Food: The Idea for a Perfect Evening

Whimpulsive: It's Not a Word, but it Should Be

Gentle Reader: Come across any memorable Blog Titles or Slogans? Please share!

* Here one such snippet that made AW laugh:
"...It seems that very, very few people have read Guy Gavriel Kay's LORD OF EMPERORS, a book that moved me to tears with a chariot race. (Lots of books move me to tears; few do so with sporting events)." Stella Matutina


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

NonBook Reviews: 'The Deal' & 'Couples Retreat'

The Toronto International Film Festival is in full swing.

As always, there is much nuanced analysis about which pic having it's world premier (or almost premier) will be the next Oscar darling (odds favor 'Black Swan'). As always, the closest Apprentice Writer will get to the screenings or megawatt stars will be perusal of the daily snark celebrity photo spreads.

Memo to A-listers: Hey, we know we're not Venice or Cannes. That does not mean it is cool to wear tees and jeans for your walk down the Toronto red carpet (looking at you, Ewan McGregor), frocks fit for library browsing (Helen Mirren), or outfits that could double for duty as a bank teller (too many to mention). At least we can rely on Nicole Kidman to demonstrate how glam lipstick and really well-groomed eyebrows are done.

In the spirit of cinema, some thoughts on two comedies. Yes, AW is aware that these are one and two years old respectively, and yes, that is the promptitude with which she typically sees films. Deal with it. She has.


2008, Directed by Steven Schachter

AW had never heard of this little gem before stumbling across it late one night when she had rare monopoly of the remote control. She's been a fan of William H Macy ever since 'Fargo' ("You're darn tootin!"). Comprised of 2 parts rumpled mess, 2 parts guileless blue eyes, and six parts chutzpah, he is perfectly cast here as the formerly famous movie producer who is so far down and out that he has nothing to lose when a screenplay and news of an action star's religious conversion almost literally fall into his lap on the same day.

As a lark, he sets out to see how far he can work the Hollywood system in creating a movie out of nothing. Playing off anything and anyone who comes his way, including studio exec Meg Ryan, he makes the viewer continually question how far off from reality many of the 'behind the scenes' scenes really are. AW had no expectations going in and ended up really enjoying it, with the exception of a bit that smacked too strongly of men casually exploiting the power of female sexuality for their own purposes.

Who should see it? Fans of quiet humor, quirk, people who liked the idea of 'Get Shorty' but thought it was too over the top.


2009, Directed by Peter Billingsley

AW is not a big fan of Vince Vaughan or Jon Favreau. She is, however, a big fan of Jason Bateman and Jean Reno (Gentle Reader, if you have not see 'The Professional', please: stop reading and go do it now). Throw in geography that is probably on the bucket list of the majority of people (AW cannot believe that she is alone in this), and the interesting premise of 'How do long married couples stay together?' in contrast to the usual 'How do couples get together in the first place?' and the balance tipped in favor of watching. Was it worthwhile?

The answer to that question can probably be divided along gender lines. For AW, the gymnastic extremes to which suspension of disbelief needed to be stretched, the ludicrous difference between the ultra fitness of all the women in the movie (MUCH displayed) contrasting with the average fitness cross-section of the men, the broadness of the humor, the unneccesarily cutesy details (each couple wearing different colored Mao suits during counseling sessions - Why????), the shallow/juvenile quality of several solutions to arising challenges - all combined to eclipse the blissful daze of looking at French Polynesia. Mr. AW on the other hand didn't seem to have a problem.

Who should see it? Fans of loud humor, people who like Vince Vaughan or Jon Favreau films, viewers who don't demand too much plausibility from their stories.

But does it make you laugh?
The Deal: YES
Couples Retreat: NO for AW, YES for Mr. AW

Thursday, September 9, 2010


Apprentice Writer is suffering a reader ailment.

She 'discovered' the Urban Fantasy genre some time ago. If she has understood correctly, stories in this niche involve no-nonsene protagonists who deal with decidedly non-everyday realities by discovering or unleashing their super-human talents. As a rule, tremendously creative world-building is involved, and it is this aspect that usually draws AW's interest - as opposed to straight Paranormal tales, which also involve non-regular humanoid beings, but seem more narrowly focused on the romantic attraction between characters. That isn't enough to hold AW's interest; not helped by the fact that she is not a vampire-, werewolf-, or zombie person.

AW has now read enough speculative fiction & UF novels to discover a pattern: being highly impressed with the creativity of a debut book, and then reading the second and having lukewarm rather than excited anticipation for the third.

To wit:

Gail Carriger's 'Parasol Protectorate'
(Victorian steampunk romance: female protagonist is soulless)
Enjoyed the humor and contrast between stuffy society rules and outrageous situations in the first a lot, liked the second but was more irritated by author style idiosyncracies.
Read the 3rd? Yes, but more because of weak resistance to a beautiful cover than anything else.

Stacia Kane's 'Unholy Ghosts'
(Dystopia: female protagonist is a government-employed witch)
Loved the carefully thought out world of the first, second held AW's interest but developed opinion that the series is better described as horror than UF.
Read the 3rd? Undecided. AW is really not a horror person. Yet, anti-hero secondary character is compelling.

Ilona Andrews' 'Kate Daniels'
(Alternate universe: female protagonist is an uber-trained killing machine)
Loved the energy and dry protagonist attitude in the first and second, both elements still good in third but became irritated by third new group of antagonists introduced in as many books with not enough depth of understanding of where they came from, how they work, why they're such fanatical opponents. Gives the series Jackie Chan syndrome, i.e. no one cares that the bits in between fight scenes range from silly to absurd, because they're just empty filler for the main event.
Read the 4th? Yes, but not rushing out to get it.

Seanan MacGuire's 'October Daye'
(Urban fantasy; female protagonist is half fey, able to move between human and fairy worlds)
Delighted with exquisite world-building and alternate races in the first, which was still good in second, but became seriously irritated with heroine herself.
Read the 3rd? Undecided.

Claire Delacroix's 'Guardians of the Republic' (Dystopia, female protagonists are members of different social classes in a totalitarian big-brother society)
Loved the worldbuilding and suspense of the first, felt somewhat dissatisfied when the nature of the story dwelt heavily on relationship of protagonists in second where this reader really wanted more detail of the society.
Read the 3rd? Yes, since the female protagonist promises to be the most interesting yet.

Jennifer Estep's 'Elemental Assassins' (Urban Fantasy; female protagonist is an assasin with magical ability)
First and second held reader's interest, yet somehow, not inciting a 'When is the third one out?' reaction.
Read the 3rd? No strong opinion either way.

Then there are the series in which AW liked the first and yet hasn't moved on to the second in the series:
Kat Richardson, 'Greywalker' (Urban Fantasy; heroine has capacity to see and move in next world after a brief period with no vital signs)
Devon Monk, 'Allie Beckstrom' (Urban Fantasy; heroine has magical ability)
In these two cases, the matter is actually one of author skill that may be too good - the protagon ists' stuggles with headaches and nausea, as the price they pay for their abilities, seems to induce same in this reader.

Gentle Reader: What's your advice? Should AW grit her teeth and keep going? Are any of the next in these series not-to-be-missed keepers? Or should AW simply give UF a break and go to historical fiction 0r mysteries for a year?


Monday, September 6, 2010


Apprentice Writer is fortunate to have talented friends. One such is Tanya Freedman, who not only writes a mean book proposal but takes the mystery out of the process for those of us who don't. For the curious, she is holding a seminar on September 14:

  • Have you ever wanted to write a non-fiction book?
  • Have you got an idea that you want to test in the market?
  • Do you want to know how to get that book published?

Writing a book can be therapeutic or just plain fun and with proper help, the results of writing a book can be very lucrative!

Getting the idea down in writing can be daunting.

If you or any of your colleagues want to know how to go about writing a non-fiction book proposal, or how to test your idea on the market, I can help.

I’m a published non-fiction author. I will –

Ø Help conceptualize your idea into a saleable proposal, complete with structure and style

Ø Suggest and research the best publishing route

Ø Help you etch time into your busy life to start writing your proposal and book now

Ø Coach you to write the cover letter for targeted literary agents or publishing editors

If you want to “pay it forward”, please send this email to your contacts, friends and family, who have always wanted to write that book! Or even if they're just curious.

Check out my website for details on "Writing and Selling Your Book Proposal". I'm offering a seminar packed with all the resources needed to create, complete and send out an irresistible book proposal.

For more details on the resources you will receive at the seminar please go to:

Let me, the Book Proposal Mentor, help you transform your ideas into publication!
Tanya Freedman

Sunday, August 22, 2010


Holly Denham

Sourcebooks, August 2010

Premise: After finally getting her man and a chance at a great promotion, London working girl comes close to losing it all due to scheming colleagues, misunderstandings in love, and eccentric family members.

Cover: Title- Corresponds to Book 1's title and is a tongue-in-cheek nod to that chicklit juggernaut on this side of the Atlantic: 'Sex and the City'. Art - in shades of girly purple, with iconic cartoony figures and a cover girl pose that says 'talking to friends while at work', there is no mistaking this as anything other than neo-chicklit. Altogether, this cover gets full marks for accuracy.

What Works:
Apprentice Writer enjoyed the original 'Holly's Inbox', the aptly named Bridget Jones for the e-generation, and found to her happy surprise that she enjoyed this one just as much if not more due to Holly's increased level of maturity and take-chargeness.

For those unfamiliar with them, these books are written entirely in epistolatory form similar to the original Bridget Jones, however instead of a diary the medium is email. This is one the one hand brilliant, allowing as it does for the reader to 'see' from multiple viewpoints (the heroine, the love interest, the parents, the colleagues, the rival, the open and secret admirers) rather than just the single one of the diary-owner. It is also, on the other hand, an incredibly risky thing for an author to do. Anyone who has ever surfed the internet and witnessed the almost daily flaming explosions of people becoming vastly offended by something someone else posted and responding in ever-escalating kind knows that it is very, very difficult to consistently get one's true message across in the truncated form so beloved of blog commentators and texters. Without the context of body language, voice tone, volume, and chance to backtrack if it looks like someone misunderstood, as happens in personal conversation and in 'regular' novels, there is a tremendous amount of room for faulty communication - most especially with the rapidfire exchange made possibly by today's technology. It would have been much harder to have a flamewar in previous times, when the hotheaded remarks were tempered to the eternities it took for post to go back and forth.

Yet, in what is no small accomplishment, the author pulls it off. The reader gets a clear sense of the underlying personality and motivations of the characters through the flavor and content of their writing style. And in what may be the most remarkable writerly accomplishment of them all, the writer does so while being male. Holly Denham is the pen name of a man who runs a temp agency (if AW has understood correctly). AW learned this after the fact, and did not suspect while reading Book 1. Well played!

AW was also much entertained by how the author worked a real-life, much publicized public relations snafu into the story. Further details cannot be shared due to spoilery; suffice it to say that it made AW laugh when she heard about it in real life, and it made her laugh again when she recognized it here. What she did not think about at the time of the original incident was how the consequences would play out for the staff involved, and the possibilities of that fallout are explored here.

What Doesn't:
The antagonist was a bit over the top for this reader's taste, and resolution to the romantic problems felt a tad rapid (though not entirely implausible in method.) Wanted to see a little more grovelling on the love interest's part after putting Holly through such a horrible emotional wringer. That's about it. Not much to grouch about in a full-length novel, and did not detract from overall enjoyment.

An entertaining, satisfying romp taken straight from headlines and zeitgeist of the new millenium, well worth the time for any fan of chicklit or romantic comedy, and readers who liked Book 1. Those who may feel faint at the door-stopper size of the volume, take heart: it is a actually a super-fast read due to large amount of whitespace on each page devoted to email formatting.

But does it make you laugh? YES!
Apprentice Writer's expectation of Britlit of any genre is that there will be eccentric secondary (or, for that matter, primary) characters and plenty of them. This novel does not disappoint. Holly is the endearing 'straight man' to many equally endearing oddballs, and she never, ever, makes them feel like embarrasing goofs no matter how questionable their choices may be. We should all embrace the 'Live and let live' philosphy so well, and with such good humor.


Saturday, August 7, 2010


Today, a look at three debut novels, all coming-of-age stories in which the protagonists share first-person voice and family dysfunction. Apprentice Writer has no idea why the cover images are such different sizes; this wasn't supposed to be a statement on relative quality.

GODS IN ALABAMA, Joshilyn Jackson Literary Fiction, 2005

SIDEWAYS, Jess Riley Women's Fiction, 2009

APOLOGIZE, APOLOGIZE, Elizabeth Kelly Literary Fiction, 2009

1. Alabamian returns home after ten years to confront old ghosts and deal with current family pressures.
2. Middle-American kidney disease survivor goes on a road trip to celebrate life and seek answers to some significant questions.
3. Eldest son of a wildly eccentric/wealthy East Coast family struggles to define himself and build relationships while buffeted from all directions by differing expectations and judgements.

1. Title - Captures the overarching theme excellently, the small g in'gods' is significant, even though traditional religion with a capital R plays a role as well. Art - eye-catching, dead-on accurate in image of woman traveling, in every sense of the word, in a rural environment.
2. Title - Short and evocative = very good. Art - the rustic track and flipflops (as in opposite of urban background and stilettos), make it very clear this is not chicklit.This is the story of a thoughtful woman, taking her time to wind her way in whaterver direction the route may show. Well-done.
3. Title - Confuzzling until one reads the story and realizes that it is a compulsion the protagonist seems to feel all his life. Art - water and dogs are a constant background presence, so the images are accurate, but they convey the impression that the story is primarily about the relationship between people and dogs. Or dogs and dogs, for that matter, neither of which is accurate. Could have been done better.

1. Apprentice Writer kept encountering rabid enthusiasm for this author's work, and decided to give the debut a go. She almost stopped reading relatively early on due to some extreme and puzzling flashback behavior on the part of the heroine, but stuck with it - and was richly rewarded. What a wonderful, complex, sometimes-stark-yet-sometimes-funny story. The heroine, Lena, had a tremendously rough early childhood. Her mother was always on the fragile side emotionally, but when her husband dies of cancer she unravels completely, giving herself over to depression and pill addiction with the consequence of extreme emotional and physical neglect of her daughter. Her Aunt Florence is described as 'roaring' into town to rescue them despite her own recent tragedy of losing a son, and 'roaring' is pretty much how Aunt Florence takes charge of everyone around her from that moment on, her common sense and bossiness literally saving Lena's life as well as her mother many times after. Lena the survivor, Florence the warrior farmwife, and Burr the sharp-witted but sweet-natured lawyer boyfriend were all wonderful, thoughtful, flawed yet appealing characters, slowing dancing closer and closer to the truth of what drove Lena away from her home for ten years. The unraveling secrets twist and turn in a way that made AW read ever faster.
Did this book do its job? HELL YES! Apprentice Writer closed this book with a profound sense of satisfaction at the story's well-roundedness and ending, thought about Lena, Burr and Aunt Florence for days, looks forward to glomming the author's backlist, and, for the first time in her life, longs to visit Alabama.

2. AW loves road trips, whether in real life, books, or movies. Add to that excellent basic device a heroine who has the guts and humor to summarize her situation with "I'm the Beirut of health!" after being nearly killed by kidney disease, and who decides to escape her overprotective older brother to get in her car and go where the whim takes her, and you have the ingredients for a great story. As the trip goes on and she acquires travelmates, the life questions she tries to seek resolution on escalate from near-universal (looking up a former boyfriend to see how he's doing without me and if there's still a spark) to rare and heartbreaking (one last bid to find the mother who abandoned her in childhood). The story is unpredictable and the ending refreshingly non-Hollywood.
Did this book do its job? YES! This was a lovely, thoughtful, appealing story of a young woman who gets a raw deal and responds to all of it with poise, grace, and smarts. AW will eagerly look forward to the author's next title.

3. This book was an impulse choice when AW walked by a display table that proclaimed "The World Needs More Canada!" and offered all Canadian authors. AW could only agree, and the quirkiness of the title and backcover blurb convinced her.
Evaluating the novel itself was a bit perplexing. On the one hand, the author is wickedly good at unique simile and metaphor construction. AW's copy is dogeared with pages she wants to return to for additions to her quote collection. On the other hand, it was often difficult for this reader to understand how different scenes or chapters built on each other. It was also frustraing how the protagonist, and several secondary characters seemed to remain much as they were from the start, with negligible development.
Did this book do its job? Qualified yes. Though AW would have liked more clarity by the end of the story, the author's amazing talent with deft description will make this reader sift future titles for all the shining turns of phrase embedded within.

1.(Lena calls home after a delay on the road: "Hey, Aunt Flo -"
"Are you all right?"
"Yes, I'm-"
"Are you hurt?"
"No, we're fine, but-"
"Hold, please," Aunt Flo said. I heard the clatter of the receiver being dropped on the counter on her end...
"Gladys? It's your daughter. she must be calling you to tell you she is dead and in hell and to ask you to dip your finger in the water and cool her tongue, as she is tormented in flames. Surely she is dead and in hell, because nothing else would explain her not showing up and not even calling you, her own mama, to keep you from pulling out all your hair with worry. I am so sorry she is dead and in hell, but at least they have phones there."

"Married," said Florence in a dire, deep voice."You got married. Well. Thank you so, so much for calling to tell me this...Anything else you want to tell me? Is your new husband that your family has never met an ex-convict, for example? Or are you just knocked up?"
"...I'm not pregnant, and he's not a convict. I told you, he's a lawyer. but I guess I should tell you he's black."
Finally she said, "What do you mean, he's black? You mean he himself is black? A black man?"
"Yes. by black, I mean he is black."
"I am hanging up now Arlene. I will take this up with you and your secret black husband when you arrive."

2. "...the San Rafael Desert..(makes) my soul sit up and rub her eyes: vast, empty plains stretching for miles back to rugged cliffs and brick-colored buttes, sagebrush and grasses eking out a thirsty existence in the ditches, gregarious sky overwhelming in its blue clarity. The road unspools before us, endless white lines running together into an albino snake."

"You know how people always seem to see the Virgin Mary in a burrito, or in a stain on an underpass highway?..Ned and Cassie have collected numerous objects that have a) been spiritually imprinted with a visage from beyond, b) fallen into a puddle, or c) been crushed by a portly ass at some point in history. These curiosities, shelved helter-skelter in the tiny shop, include items like a bath mat with a Joan of Arc-shaped stain and a piece of driftwood allegedly in the shape of Ganesha (if you held it at arms length and squinted while running at high speed)."

"...I wouldn't (do that) even if you paid me with money still warm from George Clooney's front pocket"

3. "(The estate) was famous for its heritage rose gardens...leave it to (my grandfather) to take a thing of beauty and turn it into a military operation. To this day, the rose is my least favorite flower - I think of it as a scented hand grenade..."

"(Your grandmother) was skinny and mad, a veritable vibrating hairpin."

"It was clear to me (my political activist mother's) real purpose in attending (the party) was to meet Robert Redford, which isn't to say that her entrance wasn't any less reminiscent of a Bolshevik charging the palace on foaming horseback...(I watched) in dismay as she chased down a prominent CEO, running him through with her verbal pitchfork. Before the night was over, just about everyone in the place had sprung leaks..."

Recommended for
1. Fans of skilled, multi-layered writing, memorable characters, stories of family and couple dynamics.
2. Fans of road trip stories, friendship and sibling dynamics, non-formulaic endings.
3. Fans of superb characterization, one-liners, readers with a high tolerance for non-linear progression and ambiguous endings.

Learn more
1. Joshilyn Jackson. Also maintains a funny blog. Latest: 'Backseat Saints'
2. Jess Riley. Also maintains an entertaining blog. Next work's title unknown.
3. Elizabeth Kelly - could not locate a website or blog. Next work's title unknown.


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