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..