Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Book 22 - Where the Truth Lies

My amazing friend Rocky sent me Where the Truth Lies almost two years ago, with a note indicating he'd read this book a couple of times, thought I would enjoy it, and encouraged me to give it a read.

I didn't.

It's not that I don't trust his judgment. Rocky knows me pretty well - better than most, I'd venture - but for some reason the cover didn't entice me, the story blurb on the back didn't grab me, and the rest of my TBR pile was filled with paranormal romance or Nora Roberts, the "safe" reads I'd come to lean on when time was of the essence.

I should have listened to Rocky.

Where the Truth Lies is one of the most compelling books I have ever read, and O'Connor, an up-and-coming journalist tasked with writing a tell-all book about a handsome showbiz team, is likely the most memorable protagonist I'll ever meet.

This isn't a complex plot. In fact, as Rocky and I discussed just last night, the story threads are pretty lightweight - an unexplained death, two potential killers, an interesting love triangle, and a sexy romp through show biz in the 70s.

On the other hand, the characters are anything but simple.

In O'Connor, author Rupert Hughes, has portrayed a tart, gutsy protagonist who will do just about anything to get her story. Not that I approve of everything she does - as a former Journalist, I was shocked, and sometimes disgusted, by how deeply O'Connor is compromised. But this is fiction, and O'Connor's moral code doesn't have to mirror my own.

Similarly, singer Vince Collins and comic Lanny Martin, are living the high life - on the edge. Holmes doesn't pull any punches with dialogue, scene description, even general attitude. I blinked in shock more than a few times at the sheer guts of some of the words.

But I kept reading. I read past the discomfort. I pushed through the saggy taffy middle (albeit small). I swallowed any debate about "broken" writing craft rules. Why?

Quite simply, Rupert Hughes IS the master of voice. I'll never question its importance again. I might even actually "get it" now - because O'Connor's is so distinct, so deliciously sassy and real, that I was utterly seduced from the very first page.

Monday, March 29, 2010

aMUSEing discipline

Immediately after watching The Ninja Assassin, I turned to my handsome husband and declared: I want to be a Ninja.

I've had some time to sleep on it, and of course, what I meant to say is that I want to be as good at something as this week's muse avatar Bi Rain is at being a Ninja...or fine tuning his almost 30-year-old body to such chiseled perfection.


That's what it all comes down to - whether you're training for the Olympics, learning a new martial art, trying out a new recipe, getting in shape...or writing a book. Practice and discipline. Not the kind of scary "yes sen-sai or die" discipline demonstrated in The Ninja Assassin, but certainly a commitment to 'get er done.'

Or in my case, that means sitting my ass in the chair after applying a hefty dose of Bum Glue.

In this really great movie, Bi and his fellow assassins must work through pain without flinching and intensive training without collapsing. They must consider their mortality without fear. Ok, so that's a bit more real-life drama - and blood - than the typical novel-writing process, but the lessons are similar.

Life shouldn't get in the way. Keep writing.

Practice. Practice. Practice.

Oh, and maybe try doing it in the dark - seems to work for the Ninjas.

The Book In My Bag Today: Where the Truth Lies, Rupert Holmes

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Book 21 - Horns

Have you ever wondered what people really thought about you? When stripped of societal niceties, is it possible your friends - and even your family - might not think all of those wonderful things you've been led to believe?

For Ignatius Parish this isn't a nightmare, it's a reality that begins the morning he looks in the mirror and discovers two horns protruding from the top of his head. At first he believes they aren't real, but rather a figment of his alcohol-fuzzied imagination. After all, he's never recovered from the violent death of his girlfriend and despite being cleared of guilt, he knows there are many who still think he killed her.

But he soon learns that not only are the horns real, they give him an eerie power that will help solve the mystery of his beloved's murder. Ig can make people tell him things - even the stuff he isn't prepared to hear.

In Horns, Joe Hill has created a protagonist that will make you feel sympathy for the devil. While the horns themselves could be cheesy, Hill's description is so vivid, and the emotional attachment so well done, I could almost feel them protruding from my own head. For the first couple of nights I went to sleep thinking of Ig - and awoke touching my head with trepidation.

Hill's first book, Heart Shaped Box (HSB) , was a New York Times Bestseller - but I almost didn't pick up Horns. Despite a fabulous first chapter, HSB failed on the follow through for me. I spent much of the book waiting for something to happen, and even though Hill is a great writer, the plot fell short.

No so with Horns. I bought the book after reading the first chapter (I know...but gamble I did), a single paragraph that enticed me to pay for the hard cover. The plot is rich with parallels and subtle messaging and peppered with the kind of creepy gore that would make his Dad proud. (Sidenote: Though Hill is Stephen King's son, he has made it clear he would like to stand on his own writing merit. He does so, and then some.) Not being a fan of snakes in the first place, I was morbidly fascinated by one of the creepiest scenes in the book - picture Ig and more than a hundred poisonous vipers. Even as I think of it now, I shudder.

Hill's love of music is conveyed in this book with often subtle brilliance. One liners, adapted from popular rock lyrics, stand out with comedic grace, making me laugh out loud. You can even pick up some great rock-and-roll trivia if you're paying attention.

Which I was. To everything, including seemingly effortless wordplay.

Although Ig is a little like the protagonist in HSB, Hill distinguishes between each of his other characters but provides a thread of commonality and reveals a little of the devil inside. Every one of us.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Mental Gym Gone Wild

Back in college, my friend Ryan and I formed our own writer's group. Just the two of us.

We each had positions at the student newspaper (me, news, Ryan, sports) but we met every Wednesday for lunch, often at the Cheesecake Factory, to hand out new assignments and critique previous weeks' work.

The rules of our sessions were fairly simple - choose one of three assignments, write up to 2,500 words, and provide gentle, constructive feedback on previous writing. If you missed a deadline, you had to buy lunch - though, I remember Ryan paying for most of my cheesecake, despite rarely missing an assignment.

Somewhere in my file cabinet, I have most of the writing that came from those sessions. Ryan was a fabulous writer - I can't begin to imagine how amazing he might be today (ahem...how's that book coming Ry?). Back then, I thought Ryan's assignments were tough - the He-Man of my weekly brain fitness regime.

In retrospect, I think I got off easy. While flipping through Mental Floss magazine, I found a list of 10 Ridiculous Feats of Literature. The following are examples of Mental Gym assignments gone wild!

Did you know that Gadsby by Earnest Vincent Wright was written without the letter E? Not because his typewriter didn't have one, but because he thought it might be challenging. No kidding. I haven't read the book, but he apparently wrote a wedding scene without using the words "bride" or "ceremony" - and there isn't a single "the" in the manuscript. To limit temptation, he actually tied down the letter E on his keyboard.

Impressive. I remember that being one of Ryan's assignments for me - though not the one I chose. I couldn't write a paragraph without the letter E, never mind an entire novel. Gadsby was 260 pages long.

The infamous NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) in November and the 48-hour novel writing contest in September, are creative ways to jump start your motivation. But could you write 843 poems - overnight? Indian spiritual master Sri Chimnoy did on November 1, 1975. Transcedence Perfection was written in 24 hours. Sri claims meditation is key for unlocking the creative floodgates. I'll have to try that.

After studying with Steve Berry, "write tight" is pretty much tattooed on my brain. In his workshop sessions, we often took pages of writing and turned them into paragraphs, illustrating how not to pad stories with fluff. Of course, Ernest Hemingway took tight writing to the extreme when he penned a captivating tale, complete with beginning, middle and end - all in six words.

For sale. Baby Shoes. Never Worn.

Today, this work has inspired countless 6-word memoir and story competitions.

How about you? Any mental stretches you'd like to share?

For the complete list of literary feats, or for other primarily useless but always fun facts, ridiculous stories or life-changing information, I recommend picking up Mental Floss or visiting www.mentalfloss.com.

The Book In My Bag Today: Horns, Joe Hill

Monday, March 22, 2010

An a"muse"ing way to melt snow

It's snowing in Edmonton. Again.

I should know better than to fully welcome Spring at this time of year, particularly after facing far too many March months that went "out like a lion."

When I finally fell asleep last night, snow was the furthest thing from my mind (demon horns were, but that's a whole different blog post...).

So when I woke up to the snow white carpet outside my window, I decided to throw out all preconceived notions about who might wear this week's muse mask and pulled out the big guns, the hottest of the hot.

Which is why I've cast Cam Gigandet for the role.

I recognize he isn't everyone's cup of tea - and I'm fine with that. The less competition, the better, really (grin). But after watching New Moon this weekend, I considered asking Rob Pat or Taylor to sign up for duty, then realized that's kind of creepy (so young!), and truthfully, I've always been on Team James.

A pity Edward killed him off in Twilight.

The Book In My Bag Today: Horns, Joe Hill

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Book 20 - Stolen

Still riding the adrenaline rush of finding a new author to adore, I dove into Stolen, eager to get to know werewolf Elena and her boyfriend Clayton better...especially Clayton. Did I mention he's pretty darn fine?

But I admit, I didn't whip through Stolen with the enthusiasm I tackled Bitten. Not that there was anything wrong with the writing - Kelley Armstrong has phenomenal talent. She's one of those writers that could probably make the phone book compelling.

But there was far less Clayton in this book, eliminating much of the raw sexual tension I loved in Bitten. And...oddly, the introduction of other supernatural beings, like demons and vampires, took away from my new-found admiration of werewolves.

Elena spends most of the story in captivity, a secret compound where some truly bizarre people are researching the...talents...of each inhuman race. Accompanying Elena are a couple of witches, a half-demon, a vampire, a "mutt" and an all powerful sorcerer - and with few exceptions, I couldn't really latch on to them as potential recurring characters.

The facility is funded by a millionaire who enjoys hunting the supernaturals when they've stayed their welcome - a well-done antagonist. His interest in Elena allows the reader to get a stronger sense of her backstory, and of course, fall more in like with her. I do like her, very much - so I'm a bit reluctant to start book three, which I understand is more about Paige, an apprentice witch rather than Elena, and, uh, Clayton.

Though the pacing is slower, Stolen is still a great read and Kelley is fast becoming one of my favourite authors.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Achy breaky heart

Everything happens for a reason.

My brain knows that. It's my heart that sometimes doesn't want to listen.

The logical side of me understands the rush of meeting a new friend and connecting with them on a level you would never have believed possible until that person. But the far more vocal emotional side of me can't reconcile the heart ache that comes when that person is no longer part of your every day world.

In my novel Heartless, Jagger isn't the best judge of character - it's part of the reason she sucks at her job, at least in the beginning. I can relate - in the shady-character judgement category, I'm a definite #fail. But even after shedding those *toxins* I can't seem to fill the void they've left, despite some pretty amazing people in my life.

Truthfully, it isn't the bad eggs I miss the most - not when I'm being rational.

I recently reconnected with my high school best friend after more than a decade of stubborn non-communication. Our friendship ended over teenage drama, fairly typical, I suppose. We had some good times back then - we bonded over music, concerts, rockstar crushes. In some ways, it's what we still have in common today. Not enough of a thread to rekindle the intensity of our high school bond, but enough to put the past behind us and start over. A new friendship. Different, but no less important.

The reconnection has been fun - but it's also forced me to reminisce about other relationships that have slipped away over the years. Some, I can accept. Many of those friendships were formed in haste, or on unstable common ground, or perhaps, more likely, due to my personal poor judgement.

But some weren't. And those are the people that make me wish for a time machine, to go back and stop the proverbial last straw. Sometimes the ache for that "lost kinship" is so strong, I feel my heart crack. Cliche, I suppose.

And yet, as someone once said, nothing is random. Not even those losses.

My brain knows that. But please don't tell my heart. I just don't think it understands.

I miss you, D.

The Book In my Bag Today: Stolen, Kelley Armstrong

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Diary of a maiden voyage

My boss would kill me for saying this, but in addition to the overall health benefits of cycling to work, a two-hour voyage provides numerous opportunities for multi-tasking. Before you join in her rant about safety and focus, please consider the following:

Biking provides a close-up perspective of Edmonton's streets. Now, when I hear people complain about the pot holes, uneven roads, or speed bumps, I'll speak up instead of blinking in naivety.

Navigating the city's streets-and-avenues grid system on two wheels helps to hone my long-forgotten geography skills. It pays to know east and west, north and south. A compass might also be beneficial, but why take away ALL of the challenge?

There's no study that I'm aware of, but cyclists must be better mathematicians. Eighty second avenue, minus 28th avenue, equals 54 blocks remaining...and at about 56 revolutions per block, that's just over 3,000 leg pumps until I stop - or fall over.

Cyclists are also great driver's ed instructors. Yes, crazy lady in the jeep, I know your vehicle goes four wheeling, but inner city curb hopping isn't cool. And Mr. Smart, I know you're just "yittle" but I have no desire to be your speed bump.

I can also practice my gratitude wave for those gracious enough not to run me off the road (you know who you are) - and mutter threats to the jerks in Tonka Trucks who think they own the road. Yes, I do see by the proclamation on your bumper that your balls ARE bigger, but they won't help you suffer the wrath of my handsome husband if you knock me off my bike. Just saying.

Biking, particularly long distances, allows you the opportunity to listen to those songs you skip when the "forward" button is not buried under a layer of moisture-wick clothing. Who knew I liked BrokenCYDE?

And, cycling provides a compelling reason for me to don that Nike sports wear and assess whether I really can "Just do it."

I'm also strength training. Not only in the traditional sense, but also by demonstrating my pack rat nature. In the bag strapped to my back, I learned I can carry: a hair straightener, styling products, make-up, a change of clothes and shoes, my lunch, a generous water bottle, a paperback, my moleskin notebook, pens and pencils, my wallet, a hat, house keys, my bike lock and four elastics.

Street biking is excellent prep for Spin class. Except when you have the psycho instructor whose idea of a good time is "waterfalls" - a long trek to the peak of a steep hill, and then out-of-control speed on the downhill. Twice.

Outdoor cycling is also wonderful for facing your fears. Attempting to cross a bridge with no bike lane, in rush hour, is only marginally more frightening than staring down the steep decline at 103 street and questioning if your squeaking brakes need oil or are simply ready to give out.

And of course, time spent on the bike is wonderful for mental paperwork - like plotting a scene, creating a to-do list, or coming up with blog posts.

Next outing, I plan to catch up on my reading (downloading an audio book onto my iPod right now), practice my photo skills (I did not take the featured pic, but COULD have if I'd had my camera) and, if I'm feeling ambitious, I'll attempt to chew gum at the same time.

The Book In My Bag Today: Stolen, Kelley Armstrong

Monday, March 15, 2010

The strong, hopefully silent muse


I'm concentrating.

What do you think's going on behind Colin Farrel's smoldering dark eyes? Is that a shark's tooth around his neck, nestled against his, um, firm chest? And that tattoo...what do you think he would say about it if I asked him?

I wouldn't. Ask him about it, that is. Because while Colin Farrel is easy on the eyes, he's best when he doesn't speak. It's not that I don't appreciate his accent, but the Hollywood bad boy has a history of sticking his foot in that sexy mouth.

Which of course makes him the perfect muse avatar.

It's all about focus this week. Taking advantage of the time I've got to write. Making sure my crit partners get their pages, ensuring I hold up my end of the bargain. No more whining about lack of inspiration. No more letting "life" get in the way. Solid writing time. Every day.

The last thing I need is for Colin to start debating with me, allowing some potential doubt to seep in. Not while I'm in Genius Mode, that's for sure.

But if he wants to pop into my dreams, or my peripheral vision, to give me a silent pep talk, who am I to stop him?

The Book In My Bag Today: Stolen, Kelley Armstrong

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Book 19 - Bitten

My BF has never given me reason to doubt - Karen has impeccable taste in literature. And while we've followed each other's recommendations with little hesitation, I found myself resisting before reading Kelley Armstrong's Bitten, despite Karen's enthusiastic assurances that I would "love" it, along with everything else Armstrong has written.

Perhaps it was the idea of werewolves. Before Bitten, my knowledge of them extended to Twilight's Jacob and the delicious work of my friend Tielle St. Clare. Despite having little trouble with the thought of romance between vampires and humans, I've struggled with...wolves.

Silly, silly Dawn.

Bitten has sat untouched on my shelf for months, partially because I was afraid of cracking the spine on one of Karen's precious paperbacks. But then my handsome husband came home bearing gifts one afternoon - three books, all by Kelley Armstrong. He claims to have chosen them after "reading the backs" and figuring they'd be something I like. So with two of the people I trust most in the world urging me to give Kelley a chance, I relented.

Oh. My. God.

I whipped through Bitten, captivated by the author's voice. Somehow, Kelley made "werewolves in Toronto" seem like the most natural thing in the world. I believed Elena's desperate attempt for life away from the Pack, her desire to cultivate human relationships, maintain a normal job. I could even picture her painfully changing from beautiful girl to beast, taking cover in the city's ravines in her quest to feed the inevitable hunger.

And when Elena is called back by the Pack leader to solve a horrifying mystery, I felt her conflict. Stonehaven represents everything she has tried to escape, including the magnetic pull of her werewolf lover, Clayton.

And oh what a pull he has. Despite feeling sorry for Elena's Canadian boyfriend, wild dogs (ahem) couldn't have kept me from Clay. He possesses that necessary mix of gentleman and rogue, a charming bad boy with a killer physique and animalistic lust.

Werewolf lust.

So not what I expected to enjoy - and yet, I've barely closed the book and am already reaching for the second, Stolen.

The reader in me is excited. But my writer side is having a total geek-out moment. Kelley's "voice" is distinct to be sure, but she does everything else so right I'm slightly slack-jawed at the accomplishment. The sensory description is beautiful and so detailed I can almost feel Elena go through the change. Crisp, fun dialogue moves the plot forward, and while there are fewer swoon-worthy moments between the love interests than other books in this genre, the chemistry, the brotherhood, and the sense of family provides enough emotional angst you don't need false promises of "forever."

In Bitten, Kelley has allowed the reader to suspend disbelief. To think, that just maybe, your next-door neighbour might be slipping into the ravine at night to hunt rabbits and bay at the moon.

That's amazing fiction, folks.

The Book In My Bag Today: Stolen, Kelley Armstrong

Friday, March 12, 2010

A day of domestic bliss (Just ONE)

Suzy Homemaker and I have an agreement - she stays out of my way, and I sure as heck don't get in hers. I made it crystal clear to my handsome hubby, long before I walked down the aisle, that if he wanted "that" kind of girl, he might want to keep looking.

I don't bake just because. I cook to survive. And cleaning is a four-letter-word uttered once a week, when the music is blasting and I've reached the end of my procrastination limit. (Or I have no choice but to empty the dishwasher because there are no more forks.)

But every once in a while I get this unexplainable itch to go all domestic or something. The "change" often happens when I'm overcome with love for my hubby (hey, we've been married less than a year, so I can stay sappy for a few months yet) - after all, he's made indescribable changes for me.

While love is the catalyst for my heart-shaped banana bread (pictured above - yes, I made that. I know, I'm still patting myself on the back), I've discovered, begrudgingly, that Suzy might be on to something after all. Baking can be kind of therapeutic. It isn't quite the cure for all that ails you, but I've learned today that it can help you work through hurt. Betrayal. Frustration. Even sadness.

I began my day with a monumental "to-do" list, tacking on the things I knew would lift my spirits. Like reading (OMG, I'm totally obsessed with Kelley Armstrong this week), working out (marathon training, here I come), and writing. But it wasn't those traditional perk-me-ups that have lightened my heart today, but rather the apple crumble I made for my husband's desert, or the banana bread I baked for his lunch tomorrow.

By the time I dug out the vacuum cleaner and the windex, I'd already begun posting love notes around the house.

My home smells like fresh baked goods. And air freshener. Laundry soap. And candles.

It smells like home.

And here, in the safety of its (clean) embrace, I can deal with the crap of the outside world.

PS - Don't get too excited, Suzy. I suspect tomorrow you'll go back to being a bitch :-)

The Book In My Bag Today: Bitten, Kelley Armstrong

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Book 18 - Whiskey Sour

Whiskey Sour is a tight - super tight - thriller featuring a gritty, older cop named Jacqueline "Jack" Daniels. I loved it.

Jack is on the hunt for the Gingerbread Man, a lunatic whose killing ritual will leave a nasty taste in the back of your throat. Not quite the "scarier" than Hannibal Lecter villain the book jacket promises, but still unique.

For some reason, everything about Whiskey Sour is a little atypical. J.A. Konrath has the writing chops - and then some - to carry off a strong, believable female protagonist. Her "baggage" is expected, and the role of "tortured hero" is well done, without the over-the-top sprinkles that could have made her whiny.

She isn't. Not in the slightest. Not when the Gingerbread Man leaves a deadly bag of chocolate treats in her vehicle, not when he kidnaps her, not even when he shoots her the first time. She's a tough chick, without being overbearing, and she's raw with a dusting of compassion. Konrath could write the book on creating sympathetic characters.

At only 275 pages, there's little room for fluff. The murder scenes have just enough description to picture the gore, but Konrath knows when to pull back, leaving room for your imagination. He uses his "novel real estate" well, with not one extraneous word. The dialogue is crisp, often humourous, and always intentional. Not surprisingly, I've asked my muse to study Konrath's style.

Whiskey Sour is the first in the Jack Daniels series - and for that I'm thankful. I think it will be a while before I tire of this refreshing protagonist.

Thanks Karen for lending me this winner - thankfully, the spine was already cracked. xo

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Book 17 - The Hunger Games

Perhaps no book has taken me on such an emotional roller coaster ride as the Hunger Games.

My stepdaughter and I began reading it together - until after the second chapter when I choked getting the words out. She'll probably never stop teasing me for crying, just like she'd never admit a tear gathered in the corner of her eye as well.

The Hunger Games is a potent story of survival and love. It's about beating the odds, rebellion, and facing fears. And it's a book I'm sure I'll read over and over again.

The story is set in the dystopian future, where the world has been virtually wiped clear of civilization. Twelve districts remain, each at different levels of poverty, and all under Capitol rule. To survive, residents from each district must develop skills (like hunting) to feed and clothe their families.

Unless of course someone from your district wins the Hunger Games.

Each year, 24 youth are selected through the reaping, a type of macabre lottery, and then pitted in a giant arena while the rest of the world watches a grand fight to the death. It's like Survivor, but instead of being voted off the island, the losers are carried by hovercraft to their graves. The sole victor earns a year's bounty for his / her entire district.

Author Suzanne Collins expertly navigates the reader through a series of twists and turns designed to fuel your emotions. Katniss is a formidable protagonist, and you can't help but feel her fear, her anger, and her will to survive. She is a hero worth championing, though not without her flaws, and despite her vulnerabilities, Katniss is one of the strongest YA protagonists I've ever read - a refreshing break from young girls who seem to need their "boyfriends" for empowerment.

The Hunger Games explores many themes - war, violence, society's fascination with watching people suffer, the differences between the rich and the poor, and even, the power of love. It does not flinch.

But it will make you turn the page, and when you hit the end, you'll already be reaching for the second in the series.

Thanks to Jan and Donna for turning me onto this fabulous book. Easily one of the best YA novels I've ever read.

The Book In My Bag Today: Whiskey Sour, J.A. Konrath

Monday, March 8, 2010

The many (sexy) faces of my muse

Johnny Depp has many faces.

With the exception of a few, I've fallen for all of them (you have to admit, he's creepy in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, though brilliant).

I watched 21 Jumpstreet, and Cry Baby, Edward Scissorhands and Benny and Joon. I've also seen Pirates of the Caribbean (all of them) and some of Depp's darker films, like Blow, From Hell and Secret Window.

No question he's one hunky guy.

But more than his movie-star looks, it's his versatility that continues to amaze me. He's been my muse avatar before - mostly because he leaves me breathless, but also because he seems to have a good handle on balance. His family life is fairly protected from the paparazzi, and back when he could have been cast as simply a heart throb, he recognized "looks" weren't enough - and became, arguably, one of the finest actors in the world.

He's also one of my idols.

I had the pleasure of seeing him in action again this weekend, acing the role of the Mad Hatter in one of my favourite childhood books, Alice in Wonderland. My Mom used to call me Alice when I was young, her little dreamer. Because of the sentimental attachment I have to the book (and her nickname), I worried how it would play out on the screen.

I shouldn't have stressed. The combination of Tim Burton, Helena Bonham Carter and Johnny Depp just works - after all, was it not this team that nailed the screen adaptation of my other favourite book, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory?

Burton created an amazing on-screen world, filled with fantastical scenery that made me want to write fantasy again (or at least revisit some of the scenes in Jack of Hearts). Helena Bonham Carter absolutely rocked it as the Red Queen - I can still picture her heart-shaped lips shouting "Off with his head", and each time, I get a little tingle in my belly, as though reliving my childhood. (After reading AiW I used to wander around the house shouting "off with her head." Sadly, this threat was generally met with eye-rolling.)

But of course, in many ways, Johnny was the show stopper, his portrayal of the Mad Hatter a cross between the quirky Wonka and the sexy Jack Sparrow. As a youth, my focus was always on Alice, so much so, I'd forgotten the tremendous role of the Hatter. Of course, Johnny makes him memorable now.

And so, when I awoke this morning still thinking of both the Red Queen and the Mad Hatter, I had little doubt as to whom should be cast as muse avatar for the week. Versatility is Johnny's speciality - and I could use a whole lot of that right now.

Besides, he's hot.

The Book In My Bag Today: Whiskey Sour, J.A. Konrath

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Say cheese

I understand the importance of checking your attitude at the office door, but a couple of Japanese companies are taking a "mandatory smile" policy to the extreme.

According to the February 2010 issue of Popular Science magazine, 500 or so employees of the Keihin Electric Express Railway in Tokyo lined up in front of a camera to be judged by the company's Omron Smile Scan software. The program measures facial movement and rates smiles from 1-100. Big Brother much?

If that isn't bad enough, a whole slate of behaviour-recognition software will someday pick people out of a crowd for insufficient perkiness. Not sure what happens if your smile has accidentally turned upside down, but I doubt they'd consider a jolt of java an acceptable fix.

Smile Scan did its "creepy evaluative thing" in more than 100 Japanese businesses and organizations, but if you're looking for an example that hits much closer to home, consider this: Last year, Sony applied for a patent on a mood-detecting device for its Playstation 3. I can only imagine the gaming implications that might have.


The Book In My Bag Today: The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Book 16 - Ceremony in Death

JD Robb always impresses me.

I've read many of the "In Death" books a couple of times, including Ceremony in Death. And each time, I'm reminded of how much I admire not only Nora Roberts' writing style, but also her ability to pump out so many great books a year. Never mind the annual "In Death" installment, but also her yearly romantic suspense novel or the latest in a romantic trilogy. (Sidenote: I love Nora's trilogies!)

If you don't know, the "In Death" books are futuristic mysteries featuring LAPD cop Eve Dallas and her handsome husband Roarke. In Ceremony in Death, Eve is faced with witches and satanists - and her ongoing personal demons. I love how effortlessly Roberts/Robb weaves in backstory while keeping the story's pace. In this book, the fifth in the series, Eve and Roarke's relationship continues to deepen, as does Eve's ability to handle all of the relationships in her life.

Although Eve is a cop, somehow the books never read like police procedurals. Amen.

To say much more would either ruin the plot, or confuse you if you've not read the first book in this series, Naked in Death. While each novel could stand on its own, I wouldn't recommend starting in the middle of the series. The character arc are executed with brilliance - but it's best to know from where the character started before seeing where he/she ends up.

I'll return to JD Robb again soon. I'm building up that library slowly while I soldier through another read. It's already March and I'm only on book 17 of my 100 Books in 2010 challenge. Thankfully, Karen's lent me a couple of gooders (yes, that is a technical word.) Now to fit it in with my crazy workout schedule. Oh, and writing, of course.

The Book In My Bag Today: The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins

Monday, March 1, 2010

The golden muse

Was yesterday's Olympic gold medal hockey game a nail biter?

My heart - and stomach - would tell you that's a gross understatement. My pulse raced through what has to be the best match I've seen in a long time, and by the time "Sid the Kid" scored the winning goal in overtime, I questioned if I might need CPR.

It is with both relief and sadness I acknowledge the end of the Olympics (I've got to focus on something other than sports at some point...) Our athletes performed with excellence, breaking a few records, capturing Canadian hearts, and demonstrating sportsmanship, dedication and professionalism. I could have selected any of them to star as muse avatar this week - and even contemplated recasting Jon Montgomery (good grief that man is spectacular.)

I chose Sidney Crosby instead. Though his performance throughout the Olympics was steady, he didn't display the usual play excellence for which he's known. Nash, Neidermayer, and of course, Luongo, were the names most announced throughout the tournament, even in the gold medal game.

But when it mattered most, Crosby reminded us all of why he's one of our shiniest Canadian stars.

This morning, he's Canada's golden boy - and I suspect he'll be a little busy (or very tired) but I'm ok with that. I've made excellent progress with the current WIP and Sid the Kid is youthful and energetic - he'll multi task.

Besides, it's unlikely I'll get much writing done today - my heart's still in recovery mode. Congratulations to all of our Canadian athletes, and to Vancouver for hosting a memorable and inspiring Olympics. I am truly proud to be Canadian.

The Book In My Bag Today: Ceremony in Death, J.D. Robb