Thursday, April 19, 2012

"Overseas" by Beatriz Williams

So because I am a glutton for punishment, I subscribe to LibraryThings advance copy giveaways. These are generally uncorrected proofs that a distributed to the kind of people who lurk on LibraryThing, namely people that publishers think will not only read the book but will be willing to write a review of it. These things are often a gamble because many of the books are written by first-time authors and the publisher is trying to get a sense of the reception of the novel before they go back for final edits. Inevitably this means that there are consistency issues in the text, which just drives me bonkers, but hey: a free book is a free book.

Most months I get a few of these and this month I received a copy of a book I have no memory of requesting, called Overseas by Beatriz Williams. The accolades printed on the front and inside covers are by authors I have never heard of, and the usual insincere note that came along with it from the publisher billed it as a "beach-read" for women who have loved books like "The Time Traveller's Wife". I was a bit put off by that because Audrey Niffineger is one of my favorite authors and I doubt many would call her novels "beach-reads".

In reading the back summary, I deduced that "Overseas" was going to be a trashy romance with some time travelling thrown in and I was correct. More surprising (possibly because I had such low expectations) it was not nearly as bad as I went in expecting. Not great, but not wretched--is that vague enough for you?

The plot of the story mainly revolves around the protagonist, Kate, a Wall Street Analyst, and her overnight romance with a billionaire tycoon, Julian Laurence, who in a bizarre story twist, turns out to be a captain from World War I, mysteriously transported through time. Seriously. I can't make this stuff up. Williams really oversimplifies the time travel aspect of the novel and doesn't waste elaborate explanations on it... the star of this novel really is the romance between the two characters, which is as expected.

Problems: Many. To be blunt I found the characters to be vastly one dimensional (Julian was good-looking and perfect, as was Kate when she wasn't shrilly flying off the handle during sudden and somewhat inexplicable emotional outbursts). Secondary characters were mainly caricatures that made you wonder if every woman on Wall Street was either a conniving bitch or a vapid socialite, while the men were mainly dogs, with Julian being the obvious exception. The book could have been substantially improved by doing away with about half the love scenes (it also would have helped length-wise... 456 pages is a bit much for a romance) and if they had to go so completely gaga over each other on every other page could there at least have been some sex? Am I alone on this?

Upsides: If I am completely honest... I totally devoured this book in a day. Yes it was trite, and clearly a classic case of a self-fulfilling fantasy on the authors part (did they really have to be rich AND pretty?), but it was a fairly original idea and she tried her best to wrap up all the loose ends. I didn't grow bored before the end or flip through any of the chapters, and I am generally not a fan of this genre. I may be biased because I do have a slight fetish for any aspect of time travel but I didn't think this was a complete waste of time.. I would be willing to read future books by this author to see if there is any improvement.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Spring Break Reading: The Hunger Games

In addition to writing papers and cramming for my mid-terms, I decided to use some free time during Spring Break to finally, FINALLY, get some of the books I've been meaning to read forever off my bedside table. With the movie coming out at the end of this month, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins moved right to the top of the pile. Since the books have been so talked about in the last year, I want to form an impression of the trilogy just in case the movie ended up a disaster. The trailer looks amazing and the cast is first rate but you never know...

Anyway, as I predicted, I was hooked by the second chapter. Come Tuesday and I was running out to Brookline Booksmith for books two (Catching Fire) and three (Mockingjay). All amazing. I finished the final book just this afternoon in a wave of tears... no further spoilers than that I promise!

I knew it was going to be a dark dystopian trilogy but one thing that was quite surprising was the violence--I'm talking non-stop, graphic, horrifying, all-out gore at many points of the books. In my mind the only thing that really makes these books YA is the fact that the protagonists are teenagers and maybe the fact that on the sex-end of things the plot is strictly PG. I'll be interested to see how the movie handles all the violence since the rating is listed as PG-13 (for what they call "intense violent thematic material and disturbing images... remember when PG-13 meant a bit of salty language?). I swear, if half of what went on in the book is going to be shown in the movie, I expect I'll come out fairly traumatized.

Nevertheless, I really enjoyed these books. The protagonist is at times as flawed and irrational as any teenage girl but also fearless and inherently likable. There are a lot of heavy themes going on in this series: about excess, power, class warfare, sacrifice... and I find myself spending a lot of time thinking about the characters--where they started and where they end up. I also have to give the author credit for managing to write in a love triangle where for once I really wasn't sure who to root for--and despite a lot of early predictions, I was still surprised by the ending. Perhaps I'll read the books again after I see the movie and see if I have a fresh perspective.

Happy Reading.

"Well, bravo!" gushes Effie Trinket. "That's the spirit of the Games!" She's pleased to finally have a district with a little action going on in it. "What's your name?"                                        I swallow hard. "Katniss Everdeen," I say. "I bet my buttons that was your sister. Don't want her to steal all the glory, do we? Come on everybody! Let's give a big round of applause to our newest tribute!" trills Effie Trinket.                                                To the everlasting credit of the people of District 12, not one person claps. Not even the ones holding the betting slips, the ones who are usually beyond caring. Possibly because they know me from the Hob, or knew my father, or have encountered Prim, who no one can help loving. So instead of acknowledging applause, I stand there unmoving while they take part in the boldest form of dissent they can manage. Silence. Which says we do not agree. We do not condone. All of this is wrong.                       Then something unexpected happens. At least, I don't expect it because I don't think of District 12 as a place that cares about me. But a shift has occurred since I stepped up to take Prim's place, and now it seems I have become someone precious. At first one, then another, then almost every member of the crowd touches the three middle fingers of their left hand to their lips and hold it out to me. It is an old and rarely used gesture of our district, occasionally seen at funerals. It means thanks, it means admiration, it means good-bye to someone you love. 

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Sad News for the Berenstain Bears

Sad news for children's lit: Jan Berenstain, co-creator of The Berenstain Bears died on Tuesday at age 88.

Who doesn't have fond memories of those books? I don't know about anyone else but my elementary school library was inundated with them. There were several televised shows made of them, first by NBC and CBS and later by PBS in Canada. When I was working as a nanny, the kids were just glued to those cartoons and strangely enough it was always reruns of the Canadian series.

The first of the books were published in the 60s and over the years the family evolved a bit.

Some of my favorite titles:

I think the more recent ones dealt with more modern issues but the kids I know still like some of these older ones better.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

New Lemony Snicket Series

Egmont is publishing a new "autographical" series of books by Lemony Snickett (pen name of David Handler) to be released in 2012. The series will be called the "All the Wrong Questions" series and will contain 4 volumes, the first of which is called "Who Could That Be At This Hour?" to be released this fall. In the U.S. the books will be published by Little Brown.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Why Every Entrepreneur Should Self-Publish

I promise I will be making regular posts to this blog again moving forward, but in the meantime I wanted to post this very interesting article I read about self-publishing this morning..

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Anticipated Fantasy Novels - Spring 2011

Okay yes. I haven't updated in forever. I suck.

Partly this is due to the fact that my reading has been embarrassingly of the escapist variety these last few months. I feel like I have a reputation to maintain :)--friends are constantly asking me, "what are you reading right now?" and I wish I could tell them it was something deep and meaningful. But the truth is, between working as much as I do, and all the projects I've taken on lately, I’ve been keeping it light in my book nook.

I’ve hit a reading slump—does anyone else ever feel that way? I’ve always been a big fan of simultaneous reading but there comes a point when you start and stop a few that just hang there, unfinished, until finally I kick myself and just read. Case in point, I’m currently stuck halfway though three amazing books:

“Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” by Jonathan Safran Foer

“American Gods” by Neill Gaiman

“Venus in Transit” by Shirley Hazzard

All amazing. I swear. It’s this slump I tell you. Suddenly they are all sitting there, bookmarked and accusatory on my bedside table. And the “To Read” list just gets longer and more daunting. At best I have only 60 or so more years to get cracking J.

With that being said, I am reading
, I’m just keeping it breezy. At the moment my pleasure reading mainly consists of fantasy novels, some with a supernatural theme running through them. I'm the first to admit that the paranormal fantasy genre has become a bit difficult to navigate ever since the advent of "Twilightmania" (ugh)--every woman out there seems to have decided to pick up a pen and write the next great vampire novel, which has resulted in a large amount of vapid dreck (snobby aren't I?).

On the other hand, after a lot of review scanning, I have managed to latch on to several fantasy authors, some new and some established, who have managed to do something new and interesting in their little corner of the fantasy genre.

The best is when you discover a great LONG series (of any genre). It gives you something to look forward to each year! I'm happy to say I have a good-sized list of authors whose books I pre-order. Some are so good that the wait until the next one is like agony (seriously… ask my friends, I moan about it a lot). Don't even get me started on a huge series like "Outlander" by Diana Gabaldon--almost three years between each book! Sometimes when I finish one I think I might die waiting.

Without further adieu, I give you my list of fantasy books to be published this spring that make me go "SQUEEEEE!!!!"


"City of Fallen Angels" (Mortal Instruments Book 4)
by Cassandra Claire

Publish Date: April 5, 2011

This is a fantastic series that a friend of mine turned me on to last year (thanks Jenny!). The series revolves around a girl named Clary who stumbles upon a magical group of warriors known as Shadowhunters, dedicated to eradicating demons. They come from a sort of parallel universe that exists at the edges of our own. I love this sort of urban fantasy style (a la Charles de Lint)--you know, the "if you squint a little and look sideways out of one eye you might catch a glimpse of the troll who lives under the Brooklyn bridge" sort.

You might want to lie down," Magnus advised. "I find that it helps when the crushing sense of horrible realization sets in.
-- City of Ashes (Book 2)

The Mortal Instruments was originally meant to be a trilogy but last year the author announced that there would be an additional three books continuing the story, as well as a prequel trilogy of which the first book has already been published (and enjoyed thoroughly by moi). The story is complex and never dull with plenty of action. Recently it was announced that they are casting an upcoming movie version, which I have mixed feelings about since this is technically a teen series. Other than Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings, they always seem to botch good fantasy when it comes to the movie version. Still, a good recommendation for readers of all ages—as in this is PG rated paranormal fantasy.

"Sarcasm is the last refuge of the imaginatively bankrupt."
-City of Bones (Book 1)


"Bite Club" (Morganville Vampires Book 10)
by Rachel Caine

Publish Date: May 3, 2011

Okay, this is one of those series that I avoided for a long time because it looked lame, even though it came very highly recommended by a bunch of my book groups. I finally came across one of Caine's Morganville short stories in an anthology of horror and it made me decided to give this series a chance. Man am I glad I did. This is a teen series that I recommend to a person of any age mainly because the premise is so darn creative. I also find her character dialogue spot on--it reminds me a lot of how people I know actually talked in their teens and early twenties, as in a lot of very sarcastic banter.

"No, not you two. Stay here." "Does he just not get how unfair and sexist that is?" Eve asked. "Men." "You really want to go first?" "Of course no. But I'd like the chance to refuse to go first."
- Lord of Misrule (Book 5)

Anyway, the gist of the series is that the main character, Claire, moves to a tiny town called Morganville in the middle of nowhere to attend a small college. I adore this protagonist mainly because she's an all-brain, nerdy MacGyver type--my favourite kind of chick! Claire has been accepted into college at age 16, which makes her a genius, but not very popular with her classmates. As a result of some bullying from fellow students, Claire is forced to look for off-campus housing and moves in with an eclectic bunch of misfits: Michael, Shane & Eve, who form the main cast for all of the books. The others soon enlighten Claire as to the true nature of the town--Morganville is run by a large group of vampires who control everything that happens in the town and everyone who resides there.

There is no such thing as unlimited trust. At some point, all beings with free will can, and will, betray you when you're no longer pursuing the same goals.

The crazy thing about the premise is that the vampires are fairly organized—still vicious killers—but choosing to live in relative harmony with the human, so long as they are obeyed. Every human donates blood to the cause and must be sponsored by a vampire "protector" to move freely about. The series probes some fairly dark themes when it comes to free will as Claire becomes more and more valuable to the vampires for her intelligence.

"You know, I thought you were a mousy little thing when I first saw you, Claire, but you're not, are you? Not underneath."
Oh, I am mousy," she said. "All this scares the hell out of me. But I don't know what else to do, sir, except try. Even a mouse bites."

The Dead Girls’ Dance (Book 2)

When the last book (“Ghost Town”) came out, one of the reviews I read said that every time they read one of Rachel Caine's books they thought there was nowhere else to take the story and yet in every subsequent book her plots take a turn that just shocks you—very apt. I'm highly anticipating this next book and I expect great things from her in the future.


"Dead Reckoning" (Sookie Stackhouse Book 11)
by Charlaine Harris

Publish Date: May 3, 2011

Yes, this is the infamous True Blood Series. What can I say? I love it. I picked up the first one before I had ever heard of the TV show—I thought it was interesting that they were set in Louisiana. I flew through the first one and took books 2 and 3 on the plane when I flew to London and then to Paris. By the time I landed I had finished them and was desperate for the whole series. Unfortunately for me, they hadn’t been published outside of North America yet and I had to wait until we were back in the U.S. to dash out and quickly purchasing them at our local Borders. I think I scared a couple of nice booksellers in England: “You don’t understand—I have to have this book!”

Nowadays I do watch the HBO version and I love the show, but the two can’t really be compared in any useful way. Aside from a very loose character basis, and a few plot points, the show and the original novels don’t have all that much in common.

I love the tone of the books, which has a certain wry humor to it and is told entirely from the perspective of Sookie Stackhouse, a telepathic waitress in the tiny town of Bon Temps (very fictional place that is meant to be close to Shreveport, Louisiana). At the start of the series, the existence of vampire has been public knowledge for a couple of years.

"You've reached Fantasia, where the undead live again every night," "For bar hours, press one. To make a party reservation, press two. To talk to an alive person or a dead vampire, press three. Or, if you were intending to leave a humorous prank message on our answering machine, know this: we will find you."

The premise is that vampires going public has been made possible by the creation of a synthetic blood substitute called “True Blood”. Sookie gets sucked into the supernatural world as her telepathy makes her a fairly valuable commodity in various power struggles between various supernatural groups (the series involves a veritable cornucopia of werewolves, fairies and demons). Poor Sookie always ends up in the middle of everything, and let me tell you, Charlaine Harris is not gentle with her protagonists.

If I was getting harder, it was in response to the world around me.
-- Dead and Gone (Book 8)

I don’t think a single book ends without Sookie having to seek medical treatment of some kind—beaten, bitten, tortured, the list goes on. The series started out more funny and suspenseful but there has been an increasingly dark progression as the story has progressed. I wasn’t sure the character was going to bounce back after this last book but I hoping she might get a bit of a break in the upcoming installment. Charlaine Harris has only signed on to do three more books and I’m pulling for a happy ending—no heroine has earned it more. As a warning, while the series is nowhere as raunchy as the show, there are some R-ish rated parts. Violence alone… *whistles*.

I'm supposed to be a Christian, but most days I don't feel like I can even presume to say that about myself any longer. I have a lot of mad left over. When I can't sleep, I think about the other people who didn't care how much pain and trouble they caused me. And I think about how good I'd feel if they died.

-- Dead in the Family (Book 10)


“Heartless” (The Parasol Protectorate Book 4)

By Gail Carriger

Publish Date: June 28, 2011

This series was a real find and it continues to tickle me pink. Three words: Victorian. Paranormal. Steam punk. Who the heck comes up with something like that? Gail Carriger, that’s who. It takes place in an alternate history Victorian England where supernatural beings are accepted as part of polite society—picture Jane Austen meets Bram Stoke. The main character, Alexia Tarrabotti, has three problems: (1) she’s unmarried at the ripe old age of 25, (2) she’s half-Italian (apparently a real stain on one’s character in Victorian England), and (3) she has no soul.

Miss Tarabotti was not one of life's milk-water misses--in fact, quite the opposite. Many a gentleman had likened his first meeting with her to downing a very strong cognac when one was expecting to imbibe fruit juice--that is to say, startling and apt to leave one with a distinct burning sensation.

-- Soulless (Book 1)

In this alternate universe, there are rare people, like Alexia and her father, who lack a soul. This renders her somewhat unsettling to most people and also renders any supernatural creature powerless and human when they come into contact with her. I love this character—she disturbingly forthright, frisky, and delightfully well read.

“I have died and gone to the land of bad novels.”

-- Blameless (Book 3)

These are books to make you laugh out loud. The pages are laced with what, after reading her blog, is probably Carriger’s witty personality coming through. Tons of steampunk trappings in these books: Alexia is even known for a special parasol she has designed for her that is bursting with crazy doodads, weapons and tools that can be used at a moment’s notice. Definitely a fun romp of a read.

Highland werewolves had a reputation for doing atrocious and highly unwarranted *things*, like wearing smoking jackets to the dinner table.

-- Soulless (Book 1)


“Naamah’s Blessing” (The Morin Trilogy Book 3)

By Jacqueline Carey

Publish Date: June 29, 2011

Another epic fantasy/adventure universe that I have loved for many years. I first read Carey’s Kushiel’s Dart Series, which is actually made up of two trilogies that tell one continuous story but split between two protagonists. The series is set in an alternate-history early Europe from the point of view of a young courtesan-come-spy named Phedre. Yes, the plot gets quite raunchy at times, but the plot is complex and incredibly large in scale—vast travel, espionage, violence and plenty of stunning plot twists. Phedre narrates the first three books, with her foster son, Imriel, picking up the story in the second trilogy.

When Love cast me out, it was Cruelty who took pity upon me.

-- Kushiel’s Dart (Phedre Trilogy, Book 1)

I began this third trilogy believing that the story would pick up again from where it left off and was fairly upset upon realizing that the new story was beginning from a point of time centuries past the end of “The Imriel Trilogy”. However, Carey continuous to be a fantastic storyteller and I was hooked on the new protagonist very quickly. This set focuses on a very different kind of protagonist and I was surprised that the author chose to focus this time of a woman coming from a culture and group of people that was quite vilified in the first series. I admire that she is interested in exploring all aspects of the world she has created.

We pay for sins we do not remember, and seek to do a will we can scarce fathom. That is what it is to be a god's chosen.

-- Kushiel’s Avatar (Phedre Trilogy, Book 3)

The protagonist, Morin, is of the Maghuin Dhonn, a feared and mysterious earth-dwelling tribe who worship a God that appears to them as a bear. Misfortune follows Morin throughout her life and she ends up journeying across the sea and farther in search of destiny. The Phedre and Imriel series had their protagonists traveling throughout Europe, Russia, Northern Africa and the Middle East but in the Marin trilogy the story takes place mainly on China and India, especially in the second book.

We speak of stories ending, when in truth it is we who end. The stories go on and on.

-Kushiel's Avatar (Phedre Trilogy, Book 3)

I still don’t know if I can say I like it quite as much as the very first trilogy, which I must have read a dozen times by now, but its nearly as enjoyable and I simply love a well-spun tale of adventure with a few raunchy highlights. I assume its redundant at this point that I tell you this is not a book for younger readers. Also not a book I would recommend to the easily offended.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

New Fantasy Novel by One of my Faves

So last week I bookmarked all the books I've been working away at in order to immerse myself in Jacqueline Carey's new fantasy novel, Naamah's Kiss. In a way this is the first book in a new trilogy but it could also be considered a continuation of her previous series--all set in a alternate ancient time in a land that bears close resemblance to Europe and it's numerous nations.

The previous novels in the series were divided into two trilogies: the first, narrated by Carey's first protagonist, Phèdre nò Delaunay de Montrève, a courtesan in a country called Terre d'Ange who is born marked by the gods and trained as a spy; it contains the novels: Kushiel's Dart, Kushiel's Chosen and Kushiel's Avatar. In the second trilogy the narration is continued by Phèdre's foster son and third heir to the d'Angeline throne, Imriel nò Montrève de la Courcel (they do love the long names), the son of an infamous traitor to the nation. The second trilogy contains the novels Kushiel's Scion, Kushiel's Justice and Kushiel's Mercy. All the books contain political intrigue, romance (and sex!), epic journeys and large and small scale battles. They really do hold all the best elements of a good fantasy novel combined.

I was a little sad when I realized that this new third trilogy was not going to contain any of the previous characters. I had really grown attached to both Phèdre and Imriel and they are only historical footnotes in this new book, but I still had high hopes for it since Carey never seems to let me down. Naamah's Kiss is set several generations past the end of the last of the Kushiel books, with a protagonist, Moirin, who is a descendant of the royalty of two different nations but who is raised by her mother's people, a wild and secretive clan of magical folk who worship a god who takes the form of a brown bear. Moirin's father was a d'Angeline priest of Naamah (the goddess of pleasure, if you will) and early on in the books she sets off across the ocean to find him. I should note that it is pretty obvious in Carey's books which nation is mean to represent which European region and Terre D'Ange (the focus of all of the earlier books) is definitely France while Alba, Moiron's birthplace, is Great Britain. The previous books have contained voyages to Skaldia (Germany), Aragonia (Spain), Hellas (Greece), Caerdicca Unitas (Italy), Menekhet (Egypt) and Khebbel-Im-Akkad (parts of the Middle East) to name a few, but Moirin eventually leaves Terre d'Ange to journey to a place that has only previously been mentioned in passing, the land of Ch'in, meant to represent China and much of the east. It seemed that Carey was striving for a different tone to this new offshoot of the series. Gone is the dark eroticism of the Kushiel books and instead the focus leaned more heavily on a sort of divine mysticism and Moirin's quest to fulfill her spiritual destiny.

I have admit I wasn't sure if I was enjoying the book for the first few chapters but I quickly became absorbed. Carey continues to have a knack for storytelling in all her books and the epic scale of the adventures she pens hasn't changed one iota. I very much enjoyed the character of Moirin though she's quite different from her d'Angeline predecessors--her people have become part of myth, shrouded in secrecy and feared by many.

Moirin is a beautiful and sensitive girl with good intentions mostly, but she is capable of wielding unthinkable magical power and many other characters in the book fear her no matter what good she does. One of my favourite aspects of her character is the fact that before she was sixteen years old she had never been inside of a building, she and her mother lived in a cave and rarely came into contact with people. As a result, Moirin is not at ease unless outdoors and finds life in ordinary society to be repressive to an unbearable degree. She has her people's gift (or curse) of being able to sense her destiny in a very literal sense, and she is driven by the demands of the gods of both countries. You really care for this character, odd as she is. I don't know if I've ever read book told from the perspective of such a profoundly lonely person, completely apart from those around her and generally misunderstood by all. Moirin does make some loyal and true friends but even they do not always completely understand her. On the other hand, gods and demons seems to have a certain fondness for her that is rather inexplicable and at times unfortunate. This is a must read for any fantasy fan.

To read more about Jacqueline Carey's works you can find information on her website.

The next installment comes out June of next year and I can't wait.