Friday, June 29, 2007

The Mouse House Rules

After a month working for the Mouse, I guess it's about time I started blogging about it. We sell just about everything with Disney character on it -- from striped Tigger jumpers for babies to Tinkerbell jewelery for adults to Hannah Montana pillows. It's bright and colourful and aimed mostly at children, but with some adult toys thrown in, like our collectable snowglobes and coffee mugs.

I've found that working there is an extremely tiring, but not unentertaining experience. While adults do come in looking for merchandise for themselves, the majority of customers are accompanied by small children and babies. The store has especially wide aisles to accomodate the caravans of tricked-out strollers and carriages, but during our busiest times I often wish those aisles came equipped with traffic lights and crossing guards to manage the crush.

And the children. There are so many of them - and they're not all on their best behaviour (although I've yet to encounter a true monster) - but they've provided me with so much writing material on parenting that it's totally worth it. In a month, I've encountered so many different types of parenting attitudes, I could fuel a hundred stories. I've seen children kept on leashes, children with those tiny sandals that make a loud squeaky-toy sound with every step so their parents know where they are, children who are refused a toy by a strict parent only to receive it from the indulgent grandmother two steps behind. We've had parents ignore the "over three" warning on toy labels because their toddlers are "smart." We've even had unaccompanied children whose parents are shopping in the next shop over who've mistaken our store for a free day-care centre.

I've seen a few "don't touch anything, and I mean it" parents, but for the most part the spirit is one of indulgence and spoiling, with the difference being in the scale. Parents end up buying birthday presents, other kids' birthday presents, "today's a sale and who knows when everything'll be this cheap again and my kids will only be kids once" presents, "just shut up already" presents, "we're going to Disneyland so we might as well get the same stuff in advance here while they're cheaper" presents, and "my children literally have everything else in the store" presents. I kid you not, I had to guest-service a grandmother who couldn't find a birthday present for her twin grandsons because everything I pointed out, they had already. "Spoiled rotten, they are," she growled, with the annoyance of a bear who's found out someone got to that picnic basket first.

Sure, the kids are loud, but you can understand the parents' need to drop the cash when you see a kid's reaction to a particular toy. Kids five and over tend to scream their appreciation - usually the character's name rather than the type of toy itself - ie, a boy receiving a Cars bubble machine will not go, "Cool, a bubble machine!" but rather, "LIGHTNING MCQUEEEEEN!" or a girl with a new Disney Princess swimsuit will shriek, "CinderELLA! CinderELLLLAAAAAAA!" Toddlers, oddly enough, are quiet when they get presents, which probably explains why they are getting them in the first place. My favourite scenes in the store are when a parent introduces a doll or a stuffed animal to a baby or toddler, and it ends up being the Huggies version of Love At First Sight. If the toy is satisfactory, the child will go completely silent, take the toy in their arms, and hug it so tight while smiling at everyone as if she'd spent all, what, two and half years of her life looking for this one toy.

Of course, once she and her mom or dad get to the till it's another story - the moment they take that toy out of her hands to ring it in she'll start screeching like a cheap car alarm and the Cast Member on till will have to manhandle a toy coated in loving baby saliva to look for the UPC tag that seven times out of ten has already been torn off. Delightful.

And of course, there are the annoyances that accompany any job in retail. For instances, the irresistible temptation for customers to pick out a bunch of stuff, realize they don't want it, and leave it wherever the hell they want. Or customers who start a till interaction (which we can't close without voiding everything) only to leave it in the middle to go shopping for something else while a line builds up behind. Or customers who don't see the blue ribbons that mark where the till line-up should be, so they line up in an aisle and get pissy when they realize they have to go all the way to the back of the real line before we can serve them. Or the customers who line up after those aforementioned people and are even pissier.

Customers who smell bad (either bad food or too-heavy perfume).

Customers who let their kids run buck wild.

Customers who enter the store two minutes to closing time to "just browse."

Customers who bring in coffee, drinks, and food, and then leave said garbage in the store.

Customers who come in to the Disney Store (which carries only DISNEY BRAND PRODUCTS) asking for Dora the Explorer, Madascar characters, Shrek, and Spider-Man (???).

And then, of course - there's the big screen at the back of the store that plays the same hour-long tape of trailers, Lilo & Stitch sing alongs, Little Mermaid song clips, and Disney Channel advertisements. I've seen the Ratatouille trailer and behind-the-scenes clips about a million times - luckily, I still want to see the movie itself, and my experience at the Movie Theatre (which also played a 40-minute trailer video non-stop) helped me to ignore it.

But so far I'm loving it, the pay and hours are good, and so far I don't seem to be screwing up too badly. So I think I'll stick around.

Trailer Talk

Saw a few new movie trailers today - thought I'd discuss:

Bee Movie: Yeah, sure - the few couple of live-action teasers were funny, but they didn't really explain a whole lot about the movie. The new, animated trailer (the story: a honey bee wants to explore the world, go fig) looks great, visually - and I think I might even be interested in seeing it, despite the fact that Dreamworks' computer animated movies have a tendency to be shallow, toy-coloured, artificially hip pop culture gags that suck ass (see: Shrek 2, the reviews for Shrek 3, Madagascar, wait - who made Barnyard again?).

Another trailer that just came out is for Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium - which looks to be in the style of Willy Wonka but without the cumbersome literary origin to be true to in adaptation. Dustin Hoffman has weird hair, Natalie Portman is cute as a button, and thank God Jason Bateman's getting work after Arrested Development! Plus, it's set in a magical toy store - which I can relate to.

Not that my toy store is magical - unless you are referring to the magic of Disney. But man - it's hard enough running after babies and kids in a place that sells ordinary clothes, toys, and dishware - imagine doing it in a place where stuffed animals hug you and dragons breathe fire? Looks good, but it has the misfortune to be out on American Thanksgiving, and that's the time I'm devoting to obsessing over Enchanted.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

"A Princess of Roumania" by Paul Park

It's been a time-honoured tradition for little girls and boys in doorstop-thick fantasy novels to turn out to be princes and princesses in exile. They may have believed their lives were meant to be lived as orphans, pigkeepers, valley girls, or beggars, but whisk them off to a magical land, and they're suddenly royalty. Such fantasy tropes, like any other aspect of fantasy, can contribute to an excellent story when done well -- but they are done so often that the tedious, uninspired stories always outnumber the truly good ones.

Well, thank goodness for Paul Park, then. His A Princess of Roumania seems rote when described on paper. Miranda, an orphaned girl adopted by American parents from an orphanage in Romania, is whisked off to an alternate world, where she is really Princess Miranda Popescu, the one shining hope for alternate Roumania's uncertain future.

However, the punch of the story comes from the details that follow after the logline: Miranda, with her friends Peter (a troubled one-armed kid from school) and Andromeda (her outrageously popular, blond, BFF) are whisked into said alternate world only to discover that the supposedly "real world" of shopping malls, colonized American states, and a thriving United Kingdom was actually a fictional creation written by Miranda's aunt Aegypta and ninety of her best scholars to protect Miranda from her enemies. Romania's Communist despot Nicolae Ceaucescu, in a quirky bit of metahumour, turns out to have been named after Aegypta's enemy the Baroness Nicola Ceaucescu. The real world, it seems, is still sunk in a hellish 19th-century rut, the Germans are gaining power, and the British Empire has been all but annihilated by a tidal wave.

Meanwhile, the Baroness Nicola Ceaucescu, partially responsible for how Miranda and her friends were pulled out of the book Aegypta put her in, finds her problems mounting when Miranda does not magically materialize in Roumania (as Nicola planned), but instead arrives in a Massachusetts populated by savage British refugees. The impoverished and debt-ridden Baroness was set on selling Miranda to the Germans currently threatening Roumania, and with that avenue closed to her, tries to manipulate the Germans to disastrous effect.

So yes, Miranda is a princess -- one important enough to merit a host of baddies intent on her death or capture, as well as a covert league of allies loyal to her family. But Park adds so many bizarre, subtle details and plot twists (a murder mystery, a stolen gem, a boy who grows an extra arm that isn't his) that I have no idea what direction this trilogy is going in, only that it stands to be a good one, if this beautifully written introductory book is any indication.

Crush Du Jour Rating:
Thoughtful Adam
("Deceptively simple, original use of a tattered fantasy stereotype. A-.")

"If You Could See Me Now" by Cecelia Ahern

Yes, ladies and gentleman, this is the book I got at a bargain book store for the sole reason that I'd heard Hugh Jackman was going to be in a film adaptation of it. I hadn't read Cecelia Ahern before, but the idea behind the book appeared cool at first glance: a woman caring for her sister's child ends up falling in love with his imaginary friend (to be played by Jackman in the movie, I'm guessing).

Our protagonist, Elizabeth Egan, is a severely repressed control freak interior designer who specializes in calm, unthreatening colours and designs. Oh, and who obsessively cleans when she's bothered, which is a lot. Her rampant personal problems are related mostly to a series of over-familiar fiction tropes: 1) She wasn't loved enough as a child, 2) she's been secretly repressing a dark family secret, and 3) she's basically sacrificed any hope of a social life in her small Irish town due to her abusively selfish, alcoholic (and most likely mentally ill) sister Saoirse (pronounced Sear-sha).

Our other protagonist, Ivan (who bears a striking resemblance to Hugh Jackman...) is a professional imaginary friend. Yup - he has a boss and coworkers and meetings and everything. His last best friendship has recently ended (as most of his friendships are bound to), and he finds himself attached to a cute six-year-old named Luke. Luke's a pretty well-adjusted kid, considering that his mother Saoirse barely acknowledges his existance and his aunt Elizabeth (his legal guardian) has a pretty low tolerance for the chaos of childhood and child-raising in her rigidly ordered life.

At first, Ivan thinks this is just another case of play-with-kid, give-kid-tips-on-life, kid-stops-seeing-him kind of deal -- but that stops Elizabeth, an adult, starts detecting his presence. As Elizabeth eventually starts to see him, as well, Ivan realizes his assignment may not be to help Luke, but Elizabeth, overcome personal problems and learn how to adjust to life.

As a novel, If You Could See Me Now is a quick, easy read, but it's the kind of book where I think a movie adaptation might actually be a better fit for the story than the original novel. For one thing, there is a lot of redundant introspection in this book on Elizabeth's part, most of it dealing with her feelings of failure with her crazy-ass mess of a sister, her fears that she might fail Luke in the same way, and her unanswered questions about why her mother could never stay and take care of her for more than three weeks at a time. Her actions and reactions to events around her demonstrate these feelings and needs perfectly well, and a visual narrative would tidily eliminate the navel-gazing narrative that gets repetitive pretty quickly.

It might also make Elizabeth and Ivan's romance a little easier to believe. According to the description, Ivan's an unusual imaginary friend in that he looks like a slightly unshaven, adult man (most of his coworkers look like kids or pets) - but his narration reads like he has the mindset of a seven-year-old. It makes sense to his character, as he relates to kids very easily this way, and it's his job to be, psychologically, at their level, but this makes his suddenly adult yearnings for Elizabeth a little bizarre, especially as he describes his feelings for Elizabeth in his characteristic childish fashion ("Elizabeth is my most favourite," etc.).

The story's also painted with a fair number of broad strokes, and the narrative is hampered by a total dependence on unrealistic coincidences. There's a scene where Luke shows Elizabeth a picture he drew of his imaginary friend, and she's surprised that Luke's friend doesn't appear to be a child like himself, but a six-foot-tall man. She sees this as an odd fact, and then promptly forgets it, which seems uncharacteristic. Elizabeth is (repeatedly) described as someone who renounces all magic and imagination (as her own dreams never came true, *tear, tear*) so if I were in her shoes and found out my kid had a "secret friendship" with a strange adult, I'd have been at the police station asking for descriptions of nearby sex offenders faster than you can blink.

Especially once Elizabeth starts seeing Ivan for real. The book leans her obliviousness on the shaky excuse that Elizabeth has rendered herself deaf and blind to fantasy, but the fact that it takes so long for her to put two and two together (Luke's imaginary friend = six-foot-tall Ivan --> Mysterious stranger = also named Ivan, also six feet tall and buff) strained my disbelief to the limit. She spends almost the entire novel convinced that Ivan is the concerned father of one of Luke's school friends, despite the fact that Ivan makes several attempts to correct her and that no one else in town seems to see him. Elizabeth just conveeeeeniently misunderstands everything Ivan and her friends and coworkers say about her conversations with apparently empty air. And those same coworkers and friends just as conveeeeniently misinterpret her one-sided conversations, so that she conveeeeeniently isn't ordered to endure psychiatric counselling.

It eventuallys gets to be too beyond belief. It's redeemed a little by the end, which keeps the novel from falling completely into the fairy-tale abyss, but it's Ivan who actually keeps the story going. Yes, his narration sounds a little youngish, but his observations are cute and his interactions and reactions to Elizabeth are quite entertaining. While I enjoyed the concept of a woman falling in love with an imaginary friend, the redundant description, poorly-explained dark secret, broad characters, and unrealistic happenstance kept me from enjoying the book completely.
Crush du Jour Rating:

Cute Hugh ("Sweet, funny...and I'll wait for the movie. B-.")

Movie Review: "Knocked Up"

There are plenty of times when I've walked into a movie theatre with high expectations for a movie, and I'm sorry to say there have been many times when I've discovered that my enthusiasm was wholly unfounded (I'm still scarred for life from watching Monkeybone). I'm ecstatic to say that this wasn't the case with director Judd Apatow's first movie after The 40-Year-Old Virgin.

In many ways, Knocked Up can be seen as the de facto sequel of Virgin. While Virgin taught us the wonders of (finally) having sex as we watched the blossoming of a chaste romance, Knocked Up follows up with a story about the results of sex turning into a somewhat less than chaste romance. Seth Rogen stars as Ben Stone, a character not dissimilar to his Virgin role as Cal. An illegal Canadian immigrant living in a pot-smoke-marinated house with a bunch of equally stoned-out buddies, Ben lucks out when he scores a drunken one night stand with ambitious E! News correspondent Allison (Katherine Heigl, in a refreshingly un-crazy-blonde role). His luck peters out when a misunderstanding results in Allison's pregnancy.

It turns out that under Ben's dazed, unshaven, chubby exterior beats a pretty decent heart, and he agrees to give it a go with Allison, relationship wise, for the baby's sake. It's not easy, and a great deal of the film's verbal comedy comes from the characters growing and changing and adapting to their partners. Along with Rogen and Heigl, Leslie Mann and Paul Rudd star as Allison's sister and brother-in-law, a couple who married due to pregnancy and whose fracturing relationship does not bode well for the direction Ben and Allison's is headed in.

There are a lot of similarities with Virgin, and most of them are good ones. Many Virgin cast members return (including Steve Carell in a neat cameo), along with alums from Apatow's Freaks And Geeks days. Like Virgin, the core storyline revolves around the hilarious, painful, but ultimately positive changes the protagonist undergoes to earn the love of a woman. Ben, with his perpetual drug use, unemployment, and dependence on a dwindling amount of Canadian government money, seems a far cry from being worthy of a glowing, blonde career woman like Allison, but of course, if he was a stud, there wouldn't be much of a movie, now would there?

And, like Virgin, the movie's concept succeeds because the characters, for all their crude humour and flaws, are genuinely likeable, realistic, and good-natured people. The reason Knocked Up proceeds past the first fifteen minutes is because Ben is willing to live up to his responsibilities and is capable of understanding the significance of fathering a child. There are far too many rom-coms out there that rely on the tired tactic of making their protagonists artificially quirky or uncharacteristically cruel or selfish in an effort to make the repetitive plots entertaining and interesting. Apatow, instead, takes a well-worn relic of a plot (opposites attract) and spices it up with relatable realism combined with blink-and-you'll-miss it conversational humour.

Plus, it's seriously funny. True, while there are visual gags aplenty, Knocked Up appears to be, before all else, a listening comedy. The characters talk to each other, articulately and at length, and people munching loudly on their popcorn while waiting for Rogen to be hit in the groin with a football are going to walk away sadly disappointed.

For those of us with ears open, this was a real treat.

Crush du Jour Rating:

Elijah's super-keen! (Translation: "Never doubt the soothing, sensual powers of dorks! A!")

"Golden Opportunity" rejected by Interzone

But I got an interesting personally written rejection. The editor encouraged me to send another story in November, but basically outlined that neither editors at Interzone wanted to accept fairy-tale retellings, for the reason that they receive so many, and so many are crap, and so many are basically the same story with different trappings, that even if they accept the really, really good ones, they're just going to get a billion more sub-par ones in the mail.

Which I can understand.

The editor said to feel free to send another story which is not (their emphasis) a fairy-tale retelling in November.

The first day I got this, I ranted, "It wasn't a fairy-tale retelling! It's an exploration of a fairy-tale trope!" And then I came to my senses. It doesn't matter what I think the story is - it matters what the editor thinks it is. If the editor identified it as a retelling, than my arguing over specifics isn't going to change anything. I'm still going to send it out somewhere else, but the question remains: where?

Sunday, June 17, 2007

More reviews!

Up at Green Man, the new edition's posted my reviews of The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror - Tenth Annual Edition, Jonathan Green's Unnatural History, Austin Grossman's Soon I Will Be Invincible, Amanda Hemingway's Sangreal Trilogy, and Ian McDonald's Brasyl. Whew! Be sure to go check them out, if you have the time.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Discussing VFS

Well, today I got a call from one of the advisors from the Vancouver Film School (basically where I'd like to be going after I graduate) and I was able to ask him lots of questions about how to get started applying there.

Which I apparently should, like, RIGHT NOW, even though I'm not planning on going until 2009 (I'm taking a year off work full-time to earn the tuition). Besides which, they get hundreds of applications a year but take on only thirty students per class (and there are three writing classes a year), so, yeah, it's competitive. But what was I expecting, really?

Some interesting things of note - the admissions process requires two references, and while at first I thought it was for writing, the advisor said no. My one-page film synopsis and writing samples would prove I was a writer, and yes, my published novella WOULD be a big draw on my application, but the references are actually supposed to be character references! Apparently, VFS is seen as an art school (although the advisor said that "art trade school" would be a more accurate description), so they've received lots of applications from people who are, shall we say, a little more "artistic" and off-the-wall than others. So the character references are just to make sure the students they pick will be willing to buckle down and work hard and are motivated about the entire process, not just the art side of it.

And while the tuition is high, a good chunk of it gets paid after I'm accepted, and the rest the month before I enter, so if I applied now, I could get 30% of it out of the way, and still have time to save up the other 70% in the next year. Still, though, it's going to be tough because I have to factor in living expenses, and I have to present a financial plan on my application - because everything's paid up front, the advisors at the school want to make sure the students are able to take care of themselves and won't be eating ramen while sleeping in a cardboard box while writing their screenplays.

It also happens that 2009 is the year my parents are going to have their Europe vacation - which means they won't be able to support me (physically and financially) as much as I'd hoped. Oh well - if I have to take out student loans, I will. But this means NO MORE SPENDING MONEY. Seriously. Save, save, save. I'll be a freakin' miser - that doesn't mean I won't spend anything, but I'll plan ahead the fun stuff I want to do over the summer so that it'll cost as little as possible.

It also means no more buying books, but that's won't be hard - I won a contest over at Dionne Galace's blog and I have three books coming in the mail for absolutely free!

And I still have that check from Cicada that hasn't come in yet.

BUT - I shouldn't worry too much. The advisor told me to be confident - he said that everyone applying to the school would be a good writer, so what I need to have to be accepted is the drive to be a screenwriter and a passion for film. He said that my educational background, my publications, my experience in journalism, and the motivation I'd displayed on the phone gave me a pretty good chance. So I'm thinking positive.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Film Review: "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End"

I can only hope that reviewing this film won't be as much of a chore as watching it was. While the experience of watching it was fun, because I went with a bunch of my friends from the Disney Store, the movie itself left a lot to be desired. This trilogy ends on a tired note, maybe even an exhausted one - and with the ending they give us it looks like Disney's only too ready to milk that dry teat even more.

In the last film, Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) kissed pirate Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) before leaving him to be eaten by the giant kraken. Now, she and Will (Orlando Bloom) and a resurrected Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), along with a host of sidekicks, must go to Davy Jones' (Bill Nighy) Locker (or the land of the Dead, or Tipsy-Turvy World, or whatever the hell that place was) and retrieve Jack Sparrow in order that he, as a pirate lord (where did this come from? Who does he lord over? He kinda sucks, and has always sucked, as a pirate...) can complete the Pirate Council Barbossa is planning.

See, the eeeeevil British Empire (led by Tom Hollander's Lord Cutler Beckett) got Davy Jones' heart-in-a-box in the second movie, and they're using it to control him into killing off every pirate they come across in order to free the seven seas. Davy's pretty effective at it, so Barbossa wants to assemble a Pirate Council in order to persuade the pirate lords to free Calypso - the goddess of the sea the pirate council bound to human form ages ago. Sure, Calypso might be pretty freakin' pissed about being bound for so long, but there's a chance she might just be angry enough to go up against the British too. Plus, Davy misses his girlfriend, someone in Jack Sparrow's crew is tattling to Cutler Beckett about where the Pirate Council is taking place, and apparently The Flying Dutchman (Davy's ship) is supposed to ferry the dead, but didn't, so that's why they're all fish people.


My thoughts exactly. The third movie is so stuffed with mythology and legend and subplots that there's no telling what the subject of the scene is going to be from one shot to the next. It's too full, because we're still carrying stories from the first and second movies, so we really don't need more subplots (Death-ferry Subplot, Calypso Subplot, Who Captains The Flying Dutchman Subplot).

Eventually, the movie seems to realize that, too - because by the very end, it jettisons pretty much every subplot not immediate to Jack, Will, and Elizabeth with cut-off, unexplained, unadorned endings that do not live up to their own elaborate set-ups. Looking for a dramatic resolution to Davy Jones' tragic love story? Sorry for the spoiler - but he doesn't get one. Neither does Calypso's release. Neither does the ferrying-the-dead-thing. And Lord Cutler Beckett, the film's villain, gets one of the lamest, most namby-pamby falsely artistic villain send-off I've ever seen. It was beneath his character, and just convenient to the film.

Visually, the film was stunning, I guess - but the story was just so terrible, so blatantly commercial and manipulative and obvious. I felt the movie was like eating nothing but candy when you're hungry for a meal - it only fills for a while, and at the end you're left with a hollow headache because you know what you ate wasn't at all good for you. So yeah, lame. Normally I go into more detail with my reviews, but I'm going to leave this one as is - because this movie isn't even worth the effort I'm spending on writing this review.

Crush du Jour Rating: Johnny says, "Why's all the fun gone?" (Translation: "An overstuffed sellout movie. D.")

"The Virtu" by Sarah Monette

In Sarah Monette's follow-up to the wonderful Melusine, The Virtu takes up where the first novel left off, but with a new tone, and some drastically changed character relationships. First off, Felix, one of the novel's two brother protagonists, is no longer insane, having being cured the novel before. He no longer sees monsters and animal-headed creatures instead of people, and while he is still tormented, it's mostly emotional and psychological.

His thief half-brother Mildmay, on the other hand, is now a cripple. While his broken leg was mostly healed in the previous novel by the same folks who fixed Felix, he still has a twinge and a limp that refuse to go away, which basically means the former assassin/cat burglar-for-hire will soon have to find a new line of work.

While the recovered Felix would just as well like to stay with the intellectuals, healers, and scholar-wizards who helped him, he knows they regard Mildmay as little better than scum, and he also knows that the Virtu (magical whatchamacallit that Felix and Malkar broke in the first novel) is still busted and that he might be the only one who can fix it, so it's up to him (and Mildmay) to make their way back to the city of Melusine and hopefully scheme their way into being allowed near the Virtu long enough to heal it.

On the way, yes, they undergo a series of adventures, make new friends (and enemies), and plot their way through the dizzyingly detailed world Sarah Monette has created. One of the best aspects of this book is the complex relationship between Felix and Mildmay that has blossomed now that Felix is cured. Even though they've known each other for less than two years, a fierce, brotherly love develops between them, a love that forces both of them to make some very difficult decisions regarding their futures. Felix, in particular, has strange feelings for Mildmay--while his arrogance shies away from the fact that Mildmay was present for most of Felix's debilitating madness, he loves Mildmay for sticking by him. He is also, much to his horror, sexually attracted to Mildmay, a fact he struggles to hide.

While Mildmay is determinedly straight, his bond with Felix is so vividly described that it makes his ultimate decision very believable. They're very different men, and they appear to squabble more than they make up, and Felix's treatment of Mildmay (in spite of his feelings) varies wildly between the compassionate to downright selfishly abusive, but in the end they emerge as very real, and intimately connected characters. Their separate narrations continue to drive the story along at a good clip (although the sequence where they explore an underground maze drags a bit).

I've found that the supporting characters are given more room to develop in The Virtu than Melusine. Melusine was ALL about the Felix-and-Mildmay-show, so I found most of the supporting cast to be a bit, well, convenient - they were conveniently present for the specific purposes they carried out and then they conveniently removed themselves to let Felix and Mildmay do their thing. In The Virtu they're given much more detail and character development, and in the end contribute more to the overall story than before.

I've also noticed that with middle (or second) books in trilogies (or series - I'm still not sure with this one), the conclusions tend to be a little hesitant, because the author wants to save some developments for the following installments. Monette does not do so here - the novel ends with a kick I wasn't expecting to see until the end of the trilogy (or series...), which makes me all the more hungry for the next book, to see what further complications and conflicts Monette can come up with to test Felix and Mildmay. This is an excellent, near-perfect example of a good sequel - in that in remains loyal to the material established in the first while providing new material of its own.

Crush du Jour Rating:
James is dark and broody - but intelligent. (Translation: "Fantastic follow-up. A.")

"Getting Rid of Bradley," by Jennifer Crusie

Ah, the magic of Jennifer Crusie - if there's anyone out there for me to thank for introducing me to the pleasures of romance, it's the Smart Bitches and her. According to the Bitches' website, this is one of her earlier novels, and while not as good as Bet Me, it's still pretty fun.

The Chick: Lucy Savage, a down-on-her-luck physics schoolteacher who took a risk in marrying Bradley Porter, only to have it blow up in her face when she caught him with a hot blonde, and then, when he stood her up for her own divorce. She's torn between doing the irresponsible thing now that she's a free lady, and relying on rationality since her previous lucky dip turned out to be a turd.

The Dude: Zack Warren, a rugged property crimes cop who's chasing an embezzler by the name of Bradley. For some reason, since he's pushing the deadly-middle-age of 36, he's terrified by the idea of settling down and aging, because he believes that love and mortality will eventually strip him of his instincts and lead him to a dissatisfied grave. He's eternally griping about both the old, slow badges on the force as well as the spunky, fresh-faced rookies.

The Plot: After overhearing Lucy talking about "getting rid of Bradley" in a restaurant, Zack follows her in the hopes of learning something about his perp, who's vanished into thin air. He grabs her, she (judging him to be a mugger by his rugged, sexy, delightfully irresponsible appearance) gives him a concussion with a physics textbook, and chaos ensues when someone shoots at them.

Zack thinks Lucy's the target, is convinced she's involved with the embezzler, and decides she needs police protection until the case is solved. Lucy, on the other hand, is equally insistant that as a mild-mannered schoolteacher, no one could have any possible reason to try and kill her while a perfectly good (-looking) police officer was standing right next to her. She is both appalled, and secretly elated, when Zack determines she needs police protection of a more personal kind, if you know what I mean.

The Score: Most of Crusie's good points are here - cute animals (a dog that tells jokes!), hilarious banter, entertaining secondary characters. However, while the story was interesting, I found Lucy to be the littlest bit annoying. While not TSTL (romance-speak for Too Stupid Too Live), her reaction upon being told by a professional police officer that someone is trying to kill her consists of: 1) Convincing herself that it wasn't a gunshot, but a car backfiring, 2) Trusting her physics-teacher instincts over those of a cop, and thus disagreeing with nearly everything Zack tells her, and 3) Disobeying Zack's orders to stay in the house not once, but several times, even after she learns that doing so results in hordes of cop cars converging on her house, and even after the mysterious Bradley (or Bradleys) begin making serious attempts on her life and property.

I realize that she has absolutely no idea why anyone would want to harm her, and that the book wouldn't be nearly as entertaining (or long) if she meekly said, "Yes, officer" and curled up on her couch for three days, but after a while I kept thinking, "Girl, think!" She does learn eventually, though, and it's to Crusie's credit that she doesn't abruptly switch from defiant rational teacher to panicked damsel in distress -- she's much more willing to accept Zack's help, but she's still not going to take all his shit.

And as for Zack - I liked him, in general. He's remarkably patient with Lucy, even when she gives him a concussion (from a textbook) and hurts the bones in his feet (by slamming her front door on them) and drives him absolutely up-the-wall insane with her cuteness and her three dogs and her nice house and her insistance that he learn how to cook. I was a little put off by how often he repeated his personal mantra ("Settling down, aging, death," "loss of instincts leads to death," "love equals maturity equals settling down which equals death," etc. etc.) because he flushes it down the tube pretty quickly once he becomes acquainted with Lucy. I felt he was being a bit of a drama queen with it, and was pleased when he finally shuts up about it.

Ultimately, the book's a fun, quick read - the mystery goes in surprising directions, and the biggest surprise of all is that Lucy's hubby Bradley doesn't turn out to be the villain he's been made out to be. Of course, he's still completely wrong for her. The novel does an excellent job through hints and subtle suggestions that Bradley was still a damaging presence to Lucy's personality and spirit, even if he wasn't explicitly abusive. And of course, the book's dashing finale cements Lucy and Zack's made-for-each-other status quite competently. While not my favourite, Getting Rid of Bradley is still a fluffy, light-hearted piece of entertainment.

Crush du Jour Rating:

Patrick's a hot cop! (Translation: "Predictable, but fun and oh-so-sexy. B.")

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Submitted "Parasite: A Love Story"...

...To Clarkesworld Magazine. Nice coverletter and RTF attachment and everything. I haven't had the time yet to submitting "House Hunting" for critique, but once I do, I think I'll send that out, too - and then I'll have four stories in the aether. Huzzah!

Monday, June 04, 2007

The Cross That I Must Bear

These, in short, are the books I have to hurry to read. Oh, what a sad, woeful fate has been given unto me. See the tears? See the tears?

Rejected by Flytrap, books, and a contest

But I got some comments on this one - the editor said he loved the title of "Parasite: A Love Story" and that my writing was "nice." He also said the story wasn't the right feel for Flytrap, so now I'm all embarrassed. Let's face it, I'm just going to have to set up a fund so I can order copies of these magazines. I've read copies of most of them, but I went with my gut for Flytrap and now I'm afraid I might have made that rookie mistake of sending something completely wrong to them. I hope I didn't - I hope it just wasn't the right tone for it.

Anyway, I'm now going to have to find a new home for "Parasite: A Love Story," but that won't be so hard. I'm sorry I haven't been updating as much as I'd like -- believe me, reviews of Knocked Up, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, and Melusine are all forthcoming, I swear -- but my two jobs have been keeping me really busy. I have two ten-hour days this week (five hours for one job, five hours for another) and about three nights where I won't be home until midnight. Ah well, it's money, isn't it?

Also - I just received a big ol' sack (not even kidding) filled with books to review from Green Man, and I bought about five books at the discount book place by the university because the departing massage therapist at my receptionist job gave me a gift certificate, so I have about thirty-two unread novels on my shelf. To read by August (when I start reading my University novels). Shame on me. Shame, shame, shame. But at least I've got a new reading system - a one for them, one for me system. One book to review, then one fun book for me - unless it's a series.

I also entered a contest over at Dionne Galace's blog. It's in the comments section - and I had to write a 200-word fight scene between two romantically involved characters. Basically, I put a fantasy twist on it (as I do with nearly everything) - I think it's pretty good. The webmistress will pick the best three (or four) and then people vote. So if mine (AnimeJune's) gets picked, you'll all vote for me, won't you? Please please?