Friday, November 9, 2012


It occurred to Apprentice Writer today that she has not stopped in here in a long time.

This is because she is currently ensconced in a hugely intensive course of study and barely has time to shower, much less wax poetic (or some such) over books and movies.

Please bear with her as she becomes more educated, and hopefully, more employeable.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Top 10 Older Books Not to be Forgotten

Bridget of "The Broke and the Bookish" hosted a Top 10 Tuesday with this topic.  Apprentice Writer interpreted "older" somewhat loosely; here her picks:

1. Shades of Grey, Jasper Fforde
Wildly creative novel of a world where the class system is organized according to ability to see colour.  Readers may be more familiar with the author's equally creative Tuesday Next series or Nursery Crimes   series, but though this first of a series has it's moments, it is more thoughtful and less comedic than the other two.

2. The Crystal Cave, Mary Stewart
The first in a trilogy about the most famous wizard of all, Merlin, and his relationship with King Arthur.   I read this as a teenager and the author's lovely writing and compelling voice had a huge impact on me.

3. The Chrysalids, John Wyndham
Read this in middle school.  Was my first taste of dystopia, a genre I still enjoy.

4. White Oleander, Janet Fitch
Loved this novel that asks some hard questions about mother-daughter relationships and how parenthood is really defined.  Great book club read.

5. A Fine Balance, Rohinton Mistry
A beautifully written, gut-wrenching novel about living under dictatorship and why the caste system must be dismantled.

6.  A Suitable Boy, Vikram Seth
The antidote to the previous novel, also set in India, much easier to read by virtue of taking place post-dictator and with middle-class characters rather than those on the fringes.  Though I think it's important for people to inform themselves of hard realities (such as described in AFB, above) I also think it's important to realize that in such complex societies such as India, it's not all misery all the time.  ASB demonstrates this very enjoyably.

7. Foundation, Isaac Asimov
My first science fiction title, many years ago, and I loved it.  Now reading with my boy, after he accepted the idea of absorbing an Asimov novel in book form after  seeing the Hollywoodization of another Asimov title (I, Robot).

8. Life of Pi, Yann Martel
Was blown away by this most unusual tale.  When the big reveal happened at the end, I went straight back to the start to look for the clues I'd missed.

9. One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
First novel I ever read set in South America.  Was swallowed up by the world, which seemed so exotic to my teenaged self.

10. The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver
Powerful story about the very different ways members of a family react to moving to Africa.

There you have it, Gentle Reader.  Agree/disagree?  What would go on your top ten not to be forgotten list?

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Pleasures of Reading

Everyone knows you are supposed to read to your children to foster all kinds of good brain / education / learning attitude type things.

So, sure, Apprentice Writer read to her children, when they were little and not so little.

What very many people don't know, however, is the exquisite delight of having your children read to you.

Apprentice Writer has developed the habit of having junior apprentice writers #1 & #2 read to her from the breakfast bar as she goes about cooking the family dinner.  In this way, she is re-reading the Harry Potter books, and, at long last, the great classic 'To Kill a Mockingbird'.

It is so much fun to rediscover an old favorite through new, youthful eyes, and to be able to interpret a tale with a teenager!  Highly recommended.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Summer Popcorn

Apprentice Writer has been having more of a retrospective than progressive reading summer this year.  Since she has been doing more rereading of old favourites than new reading of unknown novels, she hasn't much in the way of book reviews to offer.  Instead, here some minimalist summer popcorn reviews.

SUMMER LAUGHS (the good kind)

Wild Target 
One word:   Yes!
More:  Emily Blunt is one of Apprentice Writer's favourite actors, and she is in top form here as a petty criminal who gets in over her head.  Rupert Grint channeling Ron Weasly as a muggle petty criminal, Bill Nighy as a prissy master assassin, and Rupert Everett as an art-loving antagonist are all just icing on the cake.

(Off topic question:  How does Bill Nighy always get paired up with romantic interests so much younger than him?  It's like it's written into his contracts or something.  Look at "The Girl in the Cafe" and even the Pirates of the Caribbean films as cases in point.)

One word: Scenic.
More:  The latest in the so-called Princess movies has quite possibly the best-looking animation AW has ever seen, though she was only able to understand what was being said due to her children's frequent viewing of the Shrek movies.  There are many funny bits, a great re-do of a key scene from Tarzan, and the most feminist ending of any Disney princess movie.

SUMMER LAUGHS (the unintended kind)

Cowboys Vs. Aliens
One word: Please.
Granted, the title makes it clear from the start that strict scientific realism should not be expected.  AW can accept that.  What she can't accept is when a fantastical/futuristic type story's own internal logic is flagrantly abused.  There is a scene when characters summarize what they know of the aliens' potential weaknesses, which boil down to:  they see better at night than day.  This observation is made during the day (i.e. when the humans are at an advantage).  Do they use this and attack?  No, they wait till night, when they hold celebrations with huge bonfires - apparently, to make it easier for the aliens to find them.  Very funny.  But this wasn't supposed to be a funny movie.

One word:   Non-credibility.
More: Zoe Saldana, to put it charitably, is slender.  The kind of slender that non-charitable individuals might call borderline anorexic.  This figure makes the cat-burgler  parts of the movie seem believable, but the climactic mano-a-mano fight scene with someone much taller who outweighs her by fifty odd pounds ridonkulous.  Yes, AW realizes that slighter people can do amazing things against larger opponents if they are quick enough and have proper training - but not, she thinks, if the opponents are just as quick and have the same training.  It looked like a Ryan Lochte/Ye Shiwen situation all over again. But the non-intentional humour came in when the protagonist disregarded the wise advice of Kate Beckinsale's vampire character from the otherwise dreadful movie "Van Helsing", who observes: "If you're going to kill someone, kill them.  Don't' stand around taking about it."


London Boulevard  /  Drive

One word:  Argh!
More:  Colin Ferrel and Ryan Gosling's characters have more than a little in common with one another. They are both struggling to do what they consider the right and moral thing, against heavy odds. They can both be very frightening if they consider the situation justified.   They are both of such calibre and strong nerves that strangers can recognize their quality in very short order.  Why, then, does it ultimately take so little to bring them down?  AW was practically beside herself, yelling "ARE YOU KIDDING ME???" at her television screen at key moments in each film, unbelieving that Ferrel's character didn't take steps against something so basic, and that Gosling's character (who was fully aware of a particular character's modus operandi) put himself so actively in the way of risk.  The frustration was so intense it compromised AW's appreciation for two such strong performances, given that the choices were the depressing conclusion that the characters could have avoided certain situations, or the equally depressing conclusion that the message of both films ultimately was that evil will weigh you down no matter what.
AW figures both actors owe her a great comedic performance right about now.  Another "Crazy Stupid Love" and a bit less intense "In Bruges" will do nicely, thanks very much.

What about you, Gentle Reader?  Seen any of these films?

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Quote of the Day: WRITING

"You're not a writer!"

"Yes, yes I am a writer."

"Blogging is not writing.  It's graffiti with punctuation."

(Doctor character to independent journalist-type character, in Contagion)

Wednesday, June 27, 2012


Apprentice Writer is fascinated by the phenomenon of identical twin movies.  You know, the ones thAT seem to share the same DNA in terms of logline yet seem worlds apart in execution.  Examples previously reviewed in this space were the drudging No Strings Attached vs. the unexpectedly entertaining Friends With Benefits.

Today's Installments:  In one corner, The Change Up.  In the other Crazy Stupid Love.

Both involve a devoted husband/father figure suddenly plucked out of his regular role (one by body-switching magic, the other by spouse who chooses to separate) and plunged into the role of free-to-look-at-other-women bachelor (one by landing inside the form of single best friend, the other by being taken under the wing of mega ladies man).  It is no doubt clear to the Gentle Reader which one Apprentice Writer liked and which one she loathed.

The problem was not casting, given that she likes all four male leads.  She has no clue whether Jason Bateman or Steve Carell actually are dads in real life, but she completely accepted them in those roles.  She is also very fond of Ryan Reynolds and Ryan Gosling, and no, it's not just because they are fellow Canucks.  It's because she thought RR did a great job in The Proposal and RG did a great job in any movie she's ever seen him in.

The problem also wasn't premise, because she is willing in the case of books and movies to accept story-based paranormal phenomena (although, it must be said, the method by which the body change occurs is stultifyingly juvenile and if AW had taken this as an indication of the quality of the film as a whole and stopped watching at that point she would have saved herself time and grief).

The problem was lack of good story, lack of good dialogue, lack of charm, and most importantly, lack of any sort of likability of any of the characters - all of which CSL had in abundance.  Apprentice Writer predicts that the scene between Emma Stone's character Hannah and Ryan Gosling's character Jacob (if you've seen the movie - you know the one) will become as iconic as Meg Ryan's in When Harry Met Sally.

The only part of TCU which AW liked was the following instruction from bachelor character to dad character about to embark on the singles scene and trying to make himself look good:  "This is called hair product.  Too little and you look like a pedophile.  Too much and you look Persian."  This made AW howl, because she is married to a Persian man. Though he is innocent of gel excess, she has been to many a party where other Persian men were guilty.  This cracked her up, not just because it was true, but at the indication that the Persian community (at least, in Los Angeles) is so sizeable and certain habits so well-known that Hollywood believes the joke will have meaning for mainstream audiences.

The only part of CSL that AW didn't like was the speech ending scene (just like she didn't like speech ending in Scent of a Woman), because of the sermonizing speech, because there was absolutely no reason for the babysitter and her parents to be at that graduation, and because of the squick factor of how things ended between the son and the sitter.  But she loved that things did not end in black and white for the married couple, and that the bachelor character didn't try to justify himself to the dad or go overboard in trying to be convincing about character change.  It made sense for his character, and it was good for the movie. It is, perhaps, significant that even Mr. Apprentice Writer recently quoted the movie during a mutual shopping trip when he urged AW to "...Be better than the Gap!" which made her laugh.

Altogether, AW is left with the certainty she will watch CSL repeatedly, and with the question:  which movie developed the concept first, and which one piggybacked? Was the original conceiver rewarded with the superior film, or did the hijacker actually do a better job with the pirated premise?

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Insults of Note

Ever since Monty Python's Flying Circus famous insult culminating in "...and furthermore you smell of elderberries!", it has become a mark of honour to come up with a noteworthy insult.

Apprentice Writer would like to nominate one:

"The problem is, your head has the proportions of a styrofoam peanut."

Ryan Gosling's cool bachelor character to Steve Carrell's uncool divorced dad character during sunglasses shopping, in Crazy Stupid Love.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Of Love & Raptors

One of those great real-life-but-sounds-like-a-movie stories:

Falcons need help with their love life.

Just ask Dr. Jane Goodall, of the unimpeachable wildlife knowledge credentials.  One of the many books she write talked in part about the alarming plummet in raptor populations worldwide due to pesticide etc. use, and how tremendously difficult it is to help falcon pairs with their dating life so as to increase chances   of breeding.  The very funny scene in recent animated movie "Rio" when the macaw pair didn't take to each other and got some help from scientists to set the mood, with a disco ball and Lionel Richie's "Say You, Say Me", is apparently not all that far from the truth.

It turns out some falcon couples can manage just fine by themselves, after all - if they have a secret weapon.  That secret weapon is choice of real estate.  Turns out, "location, location, location" is just as important for our feathered friends as it is for us.

A falcon pair decided to nest, of all places, on a concrete windowsill of mega-publisher Harlequin's corporate headquarters in Toronto.  Not romantic, say you?  Think again, say the pair.  They've now produced chicks Blaze, Amorata, and Mira and have a twitter & live cam following #harlequinfalcons.

Love conquers all, as Harlequin's unofficial motto may always have been, including - or maybe especially - for species hovering at extinction.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Tweet of the Day

Seen at Twitter:

"Let's have a moment of silence for all those people stuck in traffic on the way to the gym to ride stationary bicycles."

This delights Apprentice Writer as much as a newspaper photo she once saw of a large building in background with "GYM" sign, and in foreground a staircase going up to it (empty) as well as an escalator (full of people carrying their workout duffle bags).

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Quote of the Day

"I know what you're thinking.  It makes a crunching sound.  And the answer is no."

Anne Hathaway's character Emma, in "One Day"

For the curious: Emma is anticipating just-good-friend Dexter's suggestion after they've just discovered the French beach they're lazing on is a nudist one.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

1 or More Popcorn Reviews

There hasn't been any popcorn around here for awhile. Time for a new batch of movie reactions, minimal or more according to the Gentle Reader's preference.

Conan the Barbarian:
One: Urgh.

More: Apprentice Writer thought that any update of the Arnold Schwarzenegger atrocity would have to be an improvement. She thought wrong.

Blue Valentine
One: *sniffle*

More: So, so sad! So, so well-acted! Every moment onscreen for Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams both is utterly believable, and utterly tragic, in this story of an everyday blue-collar couple struggling to be a family. The bewilderment and emotional pain of wife, husband, and child is so clear and so heartbreakingly everyday AW almost couldn't bear watching. She had to self-medicate with a feel-good fluffy movie immediately after.

One: Girl-Self-Empowerment

More: AW approached this warily, feeling mistrustful of the mega-accolades surrounding this female-centric comedy. Happily she did end up liking it, though she could have done without the toilet humour that seems to have made up a large part of what audiences apparently felt made the film noteworthy. She liked Kristen Wiig as the protagonist, Rose Byrne as the stealth villain, and Melissa McCarthy as the ultimate girl-self-empowerer. The character she liked best, though, was Chris O'Dowd as the police officer. This was a surprise given how much AW loathed and despised his character in "The Crimson Petal and the White". An indication of his talent as an actor, and Ms. Wiig's talent in screenwriting.

Sherlock Holmes, Game of Shadows
One: Hurray!

More: Not quite as hugely entertaining as the original, perhaps because of ginormous expectations to live up to, but still roaring good fun.

Our Idiot Brother

One: Warm-and-fuzzy.

More: Paul Rudd goes both out of character (who knew the ultimate clean-cut guy could do grunge and shleppy?) and at the same time stays even more intensively in character (the ultimate good guy who deserves happiness and to get the girl) in this comedy about family (as opposed, it should be noted, to "family comedy"). AW had some genuine laughs that outweighed the too-rushed-and-therefore-unsatisfying resolution.

No Strings Attached / Friends with Benefits

One: Snooze / Laugh

More: Two movies with the exact same premise hit the market at the same time: what are the chances? AW is interested in who stole from whom creatively purely to figure out whether the very clear loser/winner demarcation corresponds to creator/copycat roles. NSA suffers from complete lack of chemistry between the leads and complete lack of charm in the story, whereas FWB has both, and a funny little self-satirical story-in-story as icing on the cake.

What say you, Gentle Reader? Agree? Disagree? Share your popcorn views.

Monday, April 2, 2012

REVIEW: The Singles

by Meredith Goldstein
Mainstream Women's Fiction
April 2012

Premise: A wedding causes five single invitees to evaluate their lives.

Cover: Title - Simple, direct, effective. Art - Very pretty and reflective of content, with the gold metallic lettering cleverly calling to mind the rings (i.e., life partners) that the novel protagonists don't have. The theme of social pressure for people to couple up literally forms the centre of attention.

Overall, well done and attractive.

First Sentence Test: "Twenty-nine-year-old bride-to-be Beth Eleanor Evans, a slender, freckled, strawberry blonde whom people called Bee because of her initials, stood in front of the whiteboard she'd purchased that day at the Target off Route 103."
Did this make AW want to read on? No

What Works: Weddings seem like a hot topic right now, fascinating to far more people than just those intending to tie the knot in the near future if the multitude of wedding reality shows and are any indication. This novel, and the earlier "Girls in White Dresses", seems to ride the wave.

Why? Why are weddings intriguing for people not directly participating? As a person who was, yes, sucked into regular viewing of one or two of those shows, please allow Apprentice Writer to voice her theory: it's the expanding effect weddings have on the psychology of onlookers. No one (at least, not in this novel) remains within their regular emotional parameters prior and during the wedding. Their highs get higher and their lows lower, and it can be tremendously addictive entertainment to have a window on what happens under those circumstances. As such, AW was sold on the premise of this book.

She enjoyed the ensemble approach, with events looked at through the eyes of multiple characters rather than just one point of view. AW also liked how each POV character had clear strengths and weaknesses; there were none who skewed heavily to the "good" or "evil" side. AW would like to think that this realistic and balanced approach has something to do with the author's background as a newspaper etiquette and advice giver, a perspective that would tend to encourage the view that a) we all have our personal issues to work through, and b) one need not ever given up on anyone completely. This is how the characters come across, and AW appreciated it.

What Doesn't: AW received an Advance Readers Copy, and therefore has no way of knowing how much of the manuscript that finally went to print may have changed and improved. That being said, the authorial style and voice didn't always entirely flow for her. Run-on sentences (as from first page, above) were not uncommon, as was a tendency to repetition: "She was blinded just a few seconds later by a vicious, almost blinding fluorescent light."

AW disliked the biological reality descriptions included in some scenes for two reasons; it seemed to her that the point could have been gotten across without going into as much detail, and also, it seemed to underline how the choices of some characters kept them at what seemed like a high school/college level rather than people moving on and establishing themselves in their professional lives. It is true that often, individuals may be moving forward in some parts of their lives while feeling as though they are stuck in others. This is a common and relatable phenomenon for many if not most readers. But characters such as the woman who accepts and swallows an unknown pill from a near stranger and then (against advice) drinks steadily without eating gets no sympathy when things start going wrong.

Overall: A slice-of-life novel about people trying to find their post-college groove and figure out the age old question of how or even whether to find a partner that manages to make the reader, whether single or partnered, feel their status is valid.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012


Tawna Fenske
Contemporary Romance
Sourcebooks, March 2012

Premise: Non-believer accountant agrees to run her mother's psychic business while she is in hospital, meets neighbour who runs a bar with male exotic entertainment.

Cover: Title - Belief (what it's based on, how it changes) is the theme for the whole story, so this title makes a lot of sense. Art - Dreadful. Apprentice Writer hoped the cover would change from the Advanced Reader Copy she received, but judging from the Goodread listing it didn't. Blurry background beachy boardwalk has nothing to do with anything, foreground couple look like they spend too much time in a subpar tanning salon, and the tarot card in the woman's hand looks badly photoshopped. AW's unsolicited advice to the author: insist that future covers be done by artist responsible for fellow Sourcebook Author Amy Thomas' debut, which was one of the best ever by this publisher.

What Works: AW liked the premise, which promised much potential in the form of a straight-laced, super pragmatic character who moved across a continent to get away from her new age, paranormal-open upbringing being forced to masquerade as a psychic or risk seeing her mother go bankrupt. Equally promising was the conflict between modern day heroine and hero who makes a living by having men get naked. As novel building goes, the author came up with a great pair of sources for narrative tension.

AW also really liked the hero. Amiable and believable as he strove to build up his business, look out for his naive ex-brother-in-law, and work through some issues leftover from marital breakup. He also got all the best lines:

"You don't understand,"she slurred. "Psychics don't exist."
"Oh. Okay. Well, then, you're a pleasant figment of my imagination."


"Chris is a normal guy. A safe guy. A wholesome, healthy guy," (she said).
"You make him sound like a salad."

What Doesn't: Often in romantic-comedy type stories, the secondary characters are exaggeratedly one-dimensional. This serves a purpose for the sub genre, and AW accepts this. Even so, she had some trouble with how often and persistently both the hero's dates and his exotic dancers were shown as stupid.

She also struggled with some of the heroine's behaviour. AW couldn't quite buy the straight laced accountant heroine drunkenly falling off tables and smacking the dancers on their behinds. Especially when it felt like she was judgemental about the hero's dates having a specific pair of physical assets. It made the former out of character, or the latter hypocritical; either way, it distanced this reader from the protagonist.

What AW Changed her Mind About: AW is not fond of popular culture references in novels. Partly because half of the time she is unfamiliar with it and then spends the rest of the story irked that she's missing something, partly because of how often they make the book seem passé. Her favourite illustration of the latter is a character who wished for a relationship as romantic and committed as Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston.

So when the many glam rock band names and song titles started and kept on coming, she was not impressed. However she warmed up to them more as it because clear that rather than mood-setting window dressing, they were a integral part of the plot.

One of the criticisms of the romance genre is that it relies too much on stereotypes. There is some truth to this, and fans of the genre will laughingly talk about favourite and least favourite
tropes. AW's view is that she gets impatient with seeing the same situations over and over, but adores it when an author manages to tweak it in a new way. One overused standbys involves the heroine stumbling or starting to fall and the hero saving her. AW is DYING for a heroine to catch a stumbling hero, for once, or for the hero to try and actually miss.

So the Gentle Reader can imagine that when this heroine is - wait for it! - saved from a fall by the hero, it was not a high point. However, when the heroine had been in the same type of situation three times by page 40, AW decided this met the criteria of successful stereotype tweak and it moved from "Doesn't Work" to "Works".

Overall: Breezy and lighthearted, this is an example of the kind of story usually described as "romp" with the term "hijinks ensue" attached. If the reader usually enjoys that type of story, including exaggerated secondary characters and physical comedy, then this is a good choice.

Sunday, February 12, 2012



Amy Thomas

Travel Memoir

Sourcebooks, February 2012

Premise: Writer lands dream job in Paris and tracks down elite bakers and chocolate artisans in her spare time while musing on mid-thirties single life.

Cover: Title - Apt and amusing, gives a clear idea of what to expect from content. Art - the cartoony graphics of birds-eye-view of a Paris city map is highy appealing in coloration and retroish style that calls to mind the haute wrapping the equally haute edibles get wrapped in. Perhaps the best cover Apprentice Writer has seen from this publisher to date. Well done, Sourcebooks art department!

First Sentence Test: Did "I guess you could say my story began with a bicycle and some bonbons " make this reader want to continue? YES!

What Works: Like many others, advertising writer Amy Thomas was in possession of a full-on Paris crush. Unlike many others, she was handed a fairy-tale opportunity not only to live there for a year, but to work in an elegant flagship store on one of the most upscale streets. The reader immediately engages with her as she leaps at the chanc.e,happily putting herself in the author's shoes and looking forward to exploring the glittering city like no mere tourist can.

Paris has a way of making one's passions rise to the surface. For Carrie Bradshaw, another transplanted New York single girl (referenced in the text), it was designer boutiques for couture clothes. For others, it might be masterpieces in art museums, exquisite restaurant meals produced by a country that raises food preparation to a kind a religion, or city squares and architectural monuments that played a part in history.

For the author, it is all about sweets. Architecture, "regular" food and fashion are all mentioned but only in passing, as a distant backdrop to the real focus. Carrying on a habit developed in New York, she tirelessly seeks out and samples the city's best in baked goods and sweet treats. The pleasure she derives, the care with which she identifies ingredients and painstakingly developed baking techniques, the way she shows how love of exquisitely prepared food translates to the bigger picture of love of life and intensifying relationships with family and friends, all inspired AW to go on a mini sweet neighborhood exploration trip of her own.

There has a storm of recent headlines about a Food Network celebrity whose cooking involves large portions with much fat, salt, and sugar. After being diagnosed with diabetes the celebrity struck a deal to endorse a brand of diabetes medication. This seeming encouragement to eat in an unhealthy way and then profit financially from resulting poor health translated to bad optics for the celebrity.Hence the question:

Is this sweet-obsessed book a wolf in sheeps clothing, luring readers into self-destructive behavior by literally sugarcoating damaging consequences? AW is happy to report a clear "No". Yes, the author is open about her particular tastebud weakness. But throughout her time in Paris, she lives in a sixth floor walkup, travels everywhere by bicycle, and is frequently satisfied with a single, sublime bite (in contrast to the super-size portions on offer in much of North American fast food culture). Choosing tiny portions has at least as much to do astronomical prices in Paris as with self control, but the message is clear and much repeated in the text: if you want to taste all the best that bakers and chocolatiers have to offer, you must be willing to exercise a lot and know when enough is enough.

There comes a point when the honeymoon phase wears off and a some tough realities set in, both in terms of how extraordinarily difficult it is for a foreigner to crack the nut of French aloofness, and for an ongoinginly single career girl to respond sincerely and graciously to friends moving on to milestones of marriage and children. Though the author's thoughts on the impossibility of having it all aren't revolutionary, AW found them refreshing. Both in terms of her honesty, and because of her low tolerance for travel memoirs that make it seem automatic for people to go to another country and before you can say "Sacre bleu!" be surrounded by newfound friends-for-life, eating delicious food one has cooked oneself for the very first time while laughingly having the best time ever, and for good measure, stumbling upon the impossibly good-looking love of one's life (AW is looking at you, Julia Roberts in 'Eat, Pray,Love'). Newsflash: that's NOT how it happens (unless you are a Disney cartoon princess, or Julia Roberts).

What Doesn't: Fact 1: The author's sweet-based writing background (as opposed to her professional writing background) is in the blogosphere, where writing occurs in bite-sized (Ha!), frequent, of-the-minute snippets. Most of the time, blogposts are not really intended to stand the test of time and transcend the actual moment they are written in.

Fact 2: The food services industry is precarious, the restaurant and cafe business even more so. New places open and close all the time, often with a tragically short interval between the two.

These two facts combined to create a weakness: it seemed that the author didn't attempt to amplify her blog style into a more big picture style that would lend itself to longer-lasting impact, such as by emphasizing the occasions when she spoke with the actual bakers about their career and passions, the provenance of the ingredients, the process of recipe invention, etc. Those occasions where among the most enjoyable of the book. But they seemed to take a backseat to emphasizing specific business names and street addresses both in Paris and New York. The inevitable result is that the book would have an unneccesarily shortened shelf life, as the amount of attention paid to helping the reader find specific places means it grows ever more quickly out of date as the business close or move.

Think this is a petty criticism? Consider: between describing chef, bakery name, and street address in the text, plus at each end-of-chapter summary, plus city lists at end of book, some businesses details are mentioned three times. Four, if you count the illustrated maps. This struck AW as overkill.

She was also surprised by the seeming disconnect between the author's admiration for chef talent (e.g. the anecdote about industrial made croissant dough taking half an hour to prepare in contrast to one boulanger's investment of thirty-four hours for a single batch) coupled with the lengths to which she would go to obtain the end products, on the one hand, and the lack of mention of her own baking attempts. Sure, some people are better at tasting and describing than they are at producing themselves. It simply seemed that since it would be natural for someone with such a pronounced passion to give it a whirl themselves, it would be worth a bit of explanation as to why it didn't happen in this case.

Overall: A charming, easy-to-read weekend book jaunt to inspire one's own neighbourhood search for most delectable mouthfuls.

AW notes this is the second enjoyable travel memoir set in France she has reviewed for this publisher; if this is a trend, she welcomes it.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Cover Art Snark & Author Self-Mockery: Woot!

Apprentice Writer appreciates people who don't take themselves too seriously. She flat out adores readers who like a genre but can recognize the over-the-top elements in it. She got a does of both from the lovely and talented Scientist Gone Wordy, who made AW snort tea at breakfast with a link to author Jim C. Hines' reflectionss on urban fantasy/scifi cover art.

He doesn't just opine. He conducts research.

That's right. He tries to recreate cover poses.

Bravo to Mrs. Hines for having a spouse with the chutzpah to post the far-from-pretty results.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Notable Quotes

From "Wicked Appetite", Janet Evanovich, 2010, p. 1

"I graduated (from culinary arts school) in the top ninety-three percent of my class, and I would have graduated higher, but I flunked in gravy. My gravy had lumps in it, and that pretty much sums up my life so far. Not that it's been all bad; more that it hasn't been entirely smooth."

Apprentice Writer thinks this is an excellent little bit of opening characterization. The summary skillfully depicts the protagonist as "Average Girl Next Door", with neither an especially privileged nor deprived background. The choice of gravy, of all the thousands of potential foodstuffs available, is a brilliant metaphor to reinforce the Everywoman concept. Compared to flunking, say, escargots (denotes haute cuisine) or casseroles (denotes cooking on a budget), gravy seems both middle of the road and bland. Certainly not representative of paranormal excitement or forbidden men thrill, precisely what our cupcake-baking, gravy-failing Girl Next Door is about to run into. So with this opening paragraph, the author has set the stage for upcoming dramatic tension and collision of very different worlds.

Even funnier than the gravy is " the top 93%". This means that only 7% of the whole class had worse marks than she did - not exactly the kind of thing one usually highlights. Gotta love a heroine with the chutzpah to draw attention to such scores.

Well done!

Monday, January 2, 2012


Happy New Year, Gentle Reader. May you not be eaten.

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