December 22, 2016

2016 Wrap-Up: I Did Little with My Blog, Except I Didn't

Hello my beauties!
Welcome to my last post of the year, where I will wrap my 2016 up (though it would be better to pretend it never happened to begin with LOL). I failed at a lot of things this year, but a selected few did manage to put a smile on my face notwithstanding...

Pt. 1: This Year in Blogging

As of today, I've been blogging for 4 years and a couple of months. With various grades of success LOL.

This is what happened on Offbeat YA during the year, broken down by number of posts, events I took part in, books I reviewed, authors I interacted with and discussion posts I wrote...

December 14, 2016

Fifty Shades of Life

My dear friends, my occasional readers,

there's no way to break the news gently, so I'll just drop the bomb and run: I'm turning 50 today.


Okay...most of you were already aware of my age, with more or less accuracy. The thing is, every time the first number of said age changes, it feels like a big deal - even when the second was a 9 already. Also, 50 is, well, kind of imponent. I'm not saying "scary" on purpose, because well...I'm not scared, to tell you the truth. I don't even look 50 - except maybe when I'm really tired (regardless of having my make up on). I'm beginning to have eyesight trouble when reading small print, and I have a few minor health problems, AND I tire easily - but all that comes with the package. I'm just...well, sad that I've come so far and still I have accomplished nothing in life (maybe one day I'll explain to you how and why, but for now rest assured I'm not whining...just telling it like it is). BUT I made this blog...and as small as it is, I'm proud of it. And I met a few great people through it, both authors and blogging friends. Some of them are 30 years younger than me, but they get me on so many counts - or gladly put up with me at least 😉. Not to mention, they keep me young...they're like my hyaluronic acid, at least for the inside 😜. Yes, YOU. I mean YOU.


So, I had plans for celebrating my big fifty on the blog with some cute and/or funny event, except I failed at it...like I failed at everything this year, blog-wise. Now, with "everything" I mean writing an acceptable number of posts and engaging more with the blog community - I have been talking with the same old friends, which is great, don't get me wrong, but I meant to broaden my horizons a little, and instead...gosh. Time. Issues that kept gnawing at it. And fatigue. This is only my 35th post this year, and how many of them were reviews? I'm afraid to look. So...I don't know. I want to keep blogging. I want to blog more and better. I just need to find a way to do that. I hope my life will revert to normality next year (and "normality" still was stressing enough), but even if it doesn't...I'm not quitting. I just need to find a balance. For now...please put up with me, you wonderful people 😘.

November 29, 2016

Edward Aubry: "Prelude to Mayhem" (Blog Tour Review)

For the blog tour calendar click here. (Note: the one above is an alternate cover featuring Glimmer the pixie :))

Title: Prelude to Mayhem [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: Mayhem Wave (1st of 4 books...with plans for a fifth)
Author: Edward Aubry [Facebook | Goodreads]
Genres: Urban Fantasy, Sci-Fi
Year: 2016
Age: 14+ (note: it's marketed as a YA/NA crossover. But to me it covers all the spectrum from teen to adult)
Stars: 4/5
Pros: Quirky and audacious blend of post-apocalypse, technology and magic. Characters who are easy to empathise with.
Cons: The blend I mentioned might not work for everyone.
WARNING! A couple of strong scenes, where blood flows freely and monsters creep over dead people. A character making an inappropriate joke about male physiology to a teen girl, who properly scolds him and leaves him ashamed. Some F bombs.
Will appeal to: Those who are looking for a fresh approach to post-apocalypse.

Blurb: In the ruins of his world, Harrison Cody follows a mysterious voice on the radio as he and his pixie sidekick travel on foot across a terrifyingly random landscape. They discover Dorothy O’Neill, who has had to survive among monsters when her greatest worry used to be how to navigate high school. Together they search for what remains of Chicago, and the hope that civilization can be rebuilt. (Amazon)

Review: First off...DISCLAIMER: I have been talking to the author on a few occasions since reviewing his previous title, Unhappenings - which I also rated 4 stars. Moreover, I am a semi-regular reviewer of Curiosity Quills titles (like this one), but if you look back at my ratings, this never prevented me from being unbiased.
As I stated in my disclaimer, Edward Aubry already published a book called Unhappenings. But that wasn't his first book - an earlier version of this one, called Static Mayhem, was. If you are curious about the whole story (which is also inspiring for every struggling writer out there who despairs of ever being published), you can read my interview with the author.

BOLD NEW WORLD

At present, post-apocalyptic stories are all the rage - and of course, the more they saturate the market, the harder it gets to spin an original tale. But though the core of this particular story dates back a couple of decades, it managed to stay fresh. The bold mashup of subgenres/elements (from time shuffles to supernatural occurrences, from magic to technology) is, I think, quite unique - I only encountered something similar (minus the time issue) in The Bad Rescue of Devon Streeter (now renamed Riven) by B.C. Johnson. I have to admit a few moves are bolder than others (like talking dynosaurs with a German accent and a polite attitude 😆) and some readers might find them a bit over-the-top. But Harrison - the character who manages to experiment the vaster array of strange encounters - either relates to them in a sympathetic manner, or comes to accept this new reality in a way that pretty much normalizes it for us too...well, to a point at least 😉. I'll go as far as to say that Harrison might be a symbol of the best America, the one that I hope will rear its head again - the one that learns to trust and welcome the stranger, no matter how alien they look at a first glance. If you look past the face value, Harrison's bond with Glimmer - an opinionated, wise-cracking pixie with a heart of gold - can be read that way. [...]

November 13, 2016

James Wymore et al.: "Windows into Hell"

Title: Windows into Hell [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: None
Authors: James Wymore [Site | Goodreads] et al.
Genres: Afterlife
Year: 2016
Age: I think it's marketed at an adult audience, but to me, it can be read from 14+
Stars: 4.5/5
Pros: Imaginative and thought-provoking. Most of the stories are cleverly connected via the general setting, and/or by common themes or characters.
Cons: Because of the above, most of the stories don't have a real ending either - you need to look at the whole picture. Also, one of them is told in epic poem form (and a shorter poem is included in another story), so you need to have a specific taste for it.
WARNING! A few stories deal with violence/gore or mention rape and suicide.
Will appeal to: Those who love to speculate on what's next. Those who think of life as a long lesson. Those who are in for a bunch of tales that will haunt them.

Blurb: What happens after we die? Mankind has speculated through the ages that a few righteous or lucky people go straight to heaven. Or so we've come to believe. Good or bad, our journey doesn't end at death. For most of us, the afterlife begins in an office where an overworked and underappreciated demon decides our long term fate. Life is messy, it’s easy to miss one of the crucial lessons. In order to accommodate our unique shortcomings, a myriad of custom fitted Hells wait with open arms to teach us. No cliché fire and brimstone here, except as decorations. Besides, that would be the easy way out. Yes, there is a way out. All you have to do is learn one simple lesson. That shouldn't be too hard, right? (Amazon excerpt)

Review: First off...DISCLAIMER: I received this anthology from Curiosity Quills in exchange for an honest review. To be more precise, I specifically requested a review copy. That didn't affect my opinion and rating in any way. Here goes...
If you're familiar with my blog, there's no way you didn't noticed I'm addicted to afterlife stories. What you may not know is that I rarely enjoy short stories. I'm not sure if it's because I don't get enough time to become invested in the characters, of because I'm only completely satisfied when I spend a few hours in a book world, or because I'm not impressed by the ending of something that has barely started, so it usually fails to deliver a punch in my case. But I got a very strong vibe from this anthology. So I jumped aboard, and...well, if you're usually wary of short stories too, don't let it deter you from giving this book a chance. Some of these stories will haunt you for life. You must have the patience of connecting the dots and not asking for easy answers, but it will repay.

A CHANCE IN HELL

This collection is explicitly inspired (and partly modeled after) A Short Stay in Hell by Steven L. Peck, which in turn pays homage to The Library of Babel by Jorge Luis Borges. The main concepts are that 1) Zoroastrianism is the true religion, so that anyone who dies out of that faith automatically goes to hell, no matter what they accomplished in life; 2) hell is not at all what it's cracked up to be - better (or worse?) yet, there are a number of them, and the demon bureaucracy will steer you toward the most appropriate one. Not to mention that there's always a way out if you're willing to learn your lesson and try hard enough...or is there? Of course, the choice of Zoroastrianism is not casual, since it's the less popular among the old religions nowadays, so it makes for an ironic starting point - good and evil doers are paired together, and those who were sure they would be saved are not. Also, fire and brimstone are just for show, but there are worse hells than burning for all eternity. By the way, I've never really felt the weight this word "eternity" bears before I read this book. *shudders* [...]

October 30, 2016

The Witch Is Back - Just in Time for Halloween!

Hi my dearests!

A quick post because I need to regroup a little ("regroup" became one of my favourite words lately. Maybe because it's fun that you can "regroup" even when being all alone ;D).

So, I've been on a nice, refreshing hiatus all month long. Slacking off, really. And not even ashamed (much).

 

October 01, 2016

October Plans (or Lack Thereof)

Hi my sweeties!

I, um, have a confession to make...I might go on a small hiatus this month.


I was congratulating myself for being so brave this summer - posting once a week even without a weekly meme forcing me to do so (like the Summer Blogger Promo Tour in 2015). And I did mean to keep on course...I even wanted to do my own Spooky October this year. But the thing is - no, the things are...
  1. I have a few books to read and review, but since they are in PDF and I don't have a portable reading device, I can't do the most of my time. One of them I requested from the author (Crash Alive by Christopher Kerns), so I feel even worse at the thought of delaying the read any longer (well, I've read half the book, but still), not to mention my promised review - but I just can't keep up with everything right now...Yes, I know, I need to invest in a notebook, so that I can read and write everywhere and everywhen - but it just isn't possible for now :( ;
  2. I agreed to beta-read the latest baby of Troy H. Gardner - which, if you don't know him, is Erin Callahan's writing partner for the Mad World series, and (among other things) the author of a funny and diverse contemporary on Wattpad that you all should totally read;
  3. I also agreed to write a guest post for (in strict alphabetical order) Ruzaika and Veronika at The Regal Critiques (to be featured in their own Spooky October), and I want it to be special, just as they deserve it to be...;
  4. Family/work reasons. Nothing major, but I'm finding it difficult to stay afloat, especially because...
  5. I'm tired. My body is tired. My mind is tired. Right now, the latter just wants to post funny (?) comebacks on Twitter, and play silly escape games on the net during working hours (without finishing a single one ever).
So, I basically need quiet reading time before I try and find more writing time. I need to recharge. I need to have no string attached for a little while. I need time (and a clear mind) to comment on my friends' and blogging buddies' posts. I need to feel the spark. Just a little rest, and I'll be good as new...

(One of my favourite Freddie offstage moments! ♥)

September 23, 2016

Why Intersectionality in Books is Important to Me: a Guest Post by Guinevere Tomas

I’ve struggled a lot with how to approach this post.


As the conversation for inclusivity in books, but not just books, but mirrors in media or all forms of entertainment, shifts and will continue to, I don’t think I need to tell people we need more inclusion in books.

But I think when it comes to inclusion we stop at one identity. Most people are an intersectional group of identities and are not able to survive as one without the others. When Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, the scholar who created the term in 1989 coined it, I don’t think she could’ve been prepared for just how important it would be now, and how we approach conversations about being marginalized today.

It’d been difficult to express how different feminism treated women versus being a person of color, as if they were two separate issues. This is something I’m understanding more now, that it is difficult to say my struggle with identity has been separate, when I have no choice but to walk through life with each one.

September 19, 2016

Susan Koefod: "Naming the Stars"

Title: Naming the Stars [on Amazon | on Goodreads] 
Series: None 
Author: Susan Koefod [Site | Goodreads] 
Genres: Contemporary with a Twist 
Year: 2016 
Age: 12+ 
Stars: 2.5/5 
Pros: Interesting premise. Doesn't rely on stereotypes. Tries to convey a message about self-image and self-esteem. 
Cons: Execution is a bit confusing and not always consistent. Characters are not explored to the fullest.
Will appeal to: Those who like coming-of-age stories with an underlying mystery and without romantic undertones.

Blurb: 16-year-old Mary-Louise (note: it erroneously says "19-year-old" on Amazon) comes home from swimming lessons one day to find she is absent from family photographs, her bedroom has turned into a linen closet, and all of her possessions have disappeared. More troubling, her family goes on as if she never existed. The only person in town who can actually see her is a boy she calls Fish, a YMCA swimming instructor, but Fish is hiding from a troubled past and the person he sees is entirely different from who she thought she was. The teens discover the photo of a spirited, beautiful young woman photographed many years before - Pearl - who exactly resembles the girl Fish sees. The truth about Pearl's identity is the key to discovering why Mary-Louise has disappeared and why Fish left home. (Amazon excerpt)

Review: First off...DISCLAIMER: I received this novel from Curiosity Quills in exchange for an honest review. To be more precise, I specifically requested a review copy. That didn't affect my opinion and rating in any way. Here goes... 
This is one of those books where you recognise a potential and understand the author's good intentions, but that fall a bit flat for your tastes. We all have read at least one of those...well, more than one, I'm sure. I feel sad not to be able to rate it higher - but then again, the execution has to count for something :(. 

I'M NOBODY! WHO ARE YOU? *

It's difficult to write a review for NTS without giving away the whole twist. It's even difficult to categorise it. You can say it's a contemporary novel with magical realism elements, because that's how the story unfolds - but the ending puts something new on the table...or maybe not.
Mary-Louise is an insecure teen who entertains a couple of hobbies/interests (swimming and playing the saxophone) and has her heart in neither. She has a habit of introducing herself to anyone - even family members - as if afraid of slipping through the cracks. Which is precisely what happens to her one day. The only person her mysterious invisibility doesn't seem to affect is Fish, a boy she knows via her swimming lessons, who in turn has a couple of huge problems of his own. The biggest chunk of the story revolves around Mary-Louise and Fish's unusual interaction, and the lessons they learn from each other while they're trying to crack her mystery. I really appreciated how the author didn't weave a romantic plot around the two of them, neither did she make Fish "hot". He and Mary-Louise are indeed connected, but in a way that will only come clear in the end (BTW, this doesn't ultimately rule out a romantic connection, but doesn't affirm it either). And the path that goes there is full of mystery and philosophy, but avoids your usual girl-meets-boy scenario - of which I was grateful. 

* from a poem by Emily Dickinson [...]

September 09, 2016

Why Ratings Give Me a Headache (Sometimes)

Hello my stellar beauties! (OK, where did that come from? O_O).
(From the equation stars = rating, probably. I guess my subconscious was trying to tell me something...).


OK, here's my confession for today: a couple of days ago, I went and changed a handful of my old ratings. Nothing major, just half a star more here, half a star less there. But the thing is, I felt that I needed to do it, or my present and future ratings would be taunted. Here's the whole story...

September 08, 2016

Matthew S. Cox: "Nine Candles of Deepest Black" (ARC Review)

Title: Nine Candles of Deepest Black  [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: None
Author: Matthew S. Cox [Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Supernatural, Horror
Year: 2016
Age: 14+
Stars: 3.5/5
Pros: Strong mix of supernatural and horror. Characters with authentic voices. Great development of a sibling relationship.
Cons: A little heavy on the descriptive side. Some aspects of the supernatural plot are a bit derivative, or leave too little to the imagination (e.g.: the demon).
WARNING! Blood, gruesome deaths and spiders in all sizes.
Will appeal to: Supernatural/horror lovers who can appreciate a coming-of-age story with a strong accent on family.

Blurb: Almost a year after tragedy shattered her family, sixteen-year-old Paige Thomas can’t break free from her guilt. Her mother ignores her, doting on her annoying little sister, while her father is a barely-functioning shell. He hopes a move to the quiet little town of Shadesboro PA will help them heal, but Paige doesn’t believe in happiness anymore. On her first day at school, a chance encounter with a bullied eighth grader reawakens a gift Paige had forgotten, and ingratiates her into a pack of local outcasts. For weeks, they’ve been trying to cast a ritual to fulfill their innermost desires, but all they’ve done is waste time. After witnessing Paige touch the Ouija board and trigger a paranormal event, the girls are convinced another try with their new fifth member will finally work. Once the darkness is unleashed, it’s not long before they learn it will give them exactly what they asked for - whether they want it or not. (Goodreads)

Review: First off...DISCLAIMER: I received this novel from Curiosity Quills in exchange for an honest review. To be more precise, I specifically requested a review copy. That didn't affect my opinion and rating in any way. Here goes...
I'm a strong believer in reading a book at least twice in order to do it justice with my review. And sometimes I even like it more the second time around. This is one of those times.

INNER POWER

Paige has always been a loner, living in the shadow of her older sister. After tragedy striked, she was devastated - and now she's only going through the motions, occasionally lashing out at her little sister who, in turn, idolises her. She looks Goth without even trying, so she decided to embrace it. A witchy look, you think? Maybe, but Paige is far from being your stereotyped little necromancer. Cox does a great job in that he doesn't introduce her as a magic-endowed character; the things she can do (which were first triggered by her love for her older sister and the sense of an approaching tragedy) are actually revealed bit by bit, and Paige herself doesn't know the extent of her powers until they are put to the test. Hers is a coming-of-age story as much as a magic-gone-wrong one, where her efforts to revert the deadly effects of a spell she acted as a catalyst for go hand-in-hand with a journey to make her family whole again - though it's missing a vital piece - and finally empathyse with other people. [...]

September 05, 2016

Book Spotlight: "Naming the Stars" by Susan Koefod

  Curiosity Quills Press presents:
"Naming the Stars" by Susan Koefod


Today marks the release date for Susan Koefod's YA novel "Naming the Stars". It's contemporary with a magical realism angle (the kind of book I call "Contemporary with a Twist"). While waiting for my review (which should be up in a couple of weeks), here's the book ID...

August 28, 2016

Alison Goodman: "Singing the Dogstar Blues"

Title: Singing the Dogstar Blues [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: None (but there's a companion short story/follow-up, The Real Thing, featured in the new edition of this novel, and first published in Firebirds Rising: An Anthology of Original Science Fiction and Fantasy. Also, here you can read the original story that later would morph and expand into STDB: One Last Zoom at the Buzz Bar. Note: don't let the original story scare you away from the book. They have very little in common...)
Author: Alison Goodman [Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Sci-Fi
Year: 1998
Age: 12+
Stars: 4.5/5
Pros: Full-fleshed, snarky, deliciously flawed, resourceful heroine. Adorable co-protagonist. Unconventional friendship. Lots of humour. Tackles themes of identity and gender/sexuality without making them "issues".
Cons: There's no use in racking your brain about the premise/reveal. It just is. Also, the smartest readers would probably solve one of the mysteries early on.
Will appeal to: Sci-fi fans. Not sci-fi fans too, if they like humour, unusual pairings and coming-of-age stories.

Blurb: Seventeen-year-old Joss is a rebel, and a student of time travel at the prestigious Centre for Neo-Historical Studies. This year, for the first time, the Centre has an alien student: Mavkel, from the planet Choria. And Mavkel has chosen Joss, of all people, as his roommate and study partner. Then Mavkel gets sick. Joss quickly realizes that his will to live is draining away. The only way she can help Mavkel is by breaking the Centre's strictest rules - and that means going back in time to change history. (Amazon)

Review: Oh boy, another tought one. Because in this novel there are not one, but two mysteries - largely interwined - and I shall make sure I don't spoil either of them for you. Shucks.

RIGHT ON TIME

First off: you don't have any prejudices about reading a book that is nearly 20 years old - do you? Well, maybe you don't, but come on...you regularly get distracted by new, shiny books, and/or new, shiny books that everyone and their hamster is reading - so what chances does a book written in 1998 have? Well...to its credit...I honestly don't think this particular book reads dated. It has a pretty strong timeless vibe to me. Which maybe should come as no surprise, since it deals with time travel ;D. Maybe a certain detail might have been written in a slightly different guise nowadays (more on this later), but all in all, STDB can easily be enjoyed by readers who weren't even born when it came out. Short book premise: Earth has developed time travel in the recent past, while Choria - Mavkel's planet - hasn't. For once, it's aliens who need human to teach them advanced technology. Cool, isn't it?

GENDER BENDER

I decided to give this book a try for two reasons: 1) time travel (my number-two obsession after dead-not-dead characters); 2) a supposed male/female friendship story (and an unusual one at that) without romantic undertones. I use the word "supposed" because it turns out that Mav (like Joss calls him) is not a "male" alien. "He" comes from a planet where both sexes cohexist in the same body (though Chorian physiology remains a mystery through the book - see: the humorous description of Mav's bathroom), and he's actually referred to as "it" until he becomes Joss' partner in the time travel academy. Only then the two of them agree on using the male pronoun, for the following reasons: 1) the obvious one: "it" is a pronoun used for objects; 2) Joss - when Mav asks her - admits being the kind of gal who would choose a guy as a sexual/romantic partner...so Mav basically argues that, since they are a pair now, she might as well have a male (though, I'll add, totally platonic) partner. The whole thing would probably have been played out a little differently now - maybe (just my guess) Mav would have been addressed as "they/them". I don't know if this detail is enough to turn genderfluid readers off this book, but the thing is, there's no judgement os disrespect for "alternate" sexualities in STDB. Quite the contrary. For example, Joss' mother is bisexual, and her ex long-time female partner, Louise, has a new family with a same-sex lover; also, Louise and her new partner have a son thanks to a sperm donor, who is actually involved in his kid's life. Goodman even took the time to weave a heartfelt memorial to all the AIDS victims into her book. [...]

August 22, 2016

Lindsey Roth Culli: "This Above All" (ARC Review)

Title: This Above All [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: None
Author: Lindsey Roth Culli [Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Contemporary
Year: 2016
Age: 12+
Stars: 3/5
Pros: Original premise. Funny and heartfelt. Likeable main character, with a clear, pleasant voice.
Cons: The last third of the book takes a dive into tropes land.
Will appeal to: Those who like theater/acting. Those looking for a coming-of-age story.

Blurb: When sixteen-year old Piper is cast as Romeo in her school’s production, she’s as surprised as everyone else. Not only because she’s a girl, but also because she’s from one of the region’s most notorious ultraconservative families. But when the school principal demands that the part be recast “appropriately” or the show cannot go on, Piper faces a choice: become the figurehead to appeal the principal’s decision or accept the message the administration’s ultimatum sends to the school’s gay students, including her new friends. Namely, that they should be ashamed of who they are or whom they happen to love. (Goodreads excerpt)

Review: First off...DISCLAIMER: I received this novel from Curiosity Quills in exchange for an honest review. To be more precise, I specifically requested a review copy. That didn't affect my opinion and rating in any way. Here goes...

OFF TO A GOOD START

I have a confession to make: I'm a sucker for stories about teens performing (Fame, anyone? I grew up with it, as this post reveals). Also, in this case, a girl cast as the male lead in a school production was a hell of a premise. Especially since Piper comes from an over-religious, ultra-conservative family. But when I started on the book, I found out that TAA was somehow exceeding my expectations. For one thing, we are thrust mid-action (or better, mid-acting), with Piper auditioning for the main female role in Romeo and Juliet, all while her inner monologue gives us enough backstory about her and her family without sounding info-dumpy. I could practically smell stage dust :) - and I took an immediate liking to Piper's voice. Her passion for acting, and Shakespeare in particular, dates back to when her deceased mother read "secular" books to her younger self - books that, of course, are frowned upon (to put it mildly) by Piper's pastor father. The author is able to convincingly shape a character caught between her family's and church's expectations (and the kind of God she's been taught to believe in) on one side, and her consuming passion for all things theater on the other - which, in turn, will lead her to question her whole upbringing and the dogmas surrounding it. [...]

August 16, 2016

A Round of Appreciation

I don't know what's gotten into me. After I spilled my 10+1 secrets a couple of weeks ago, I realised that not only I am no longer afraid of being a little more personal with my posts, but I indeed NEED to. Of course, there's a valid reason for it...it's not like I really have someone to talk to in real life. I managed to go from lonely child to lonely teen to equally lonely middle aged woman with zero friends - especially the kind of friends you REALLY talk to, the ones who know your real self and your deepest thoughts, the ones whom you can bare your soul to and who bare theirs to you. On a level it's a relief, because I've never been that good at the sharing-everything game - which, of course, it's one of the reasons why I've never had THAT kind of friends in the first place. I am, essentially, a very private person...at least when it comes to certain sensitive matters. What happens at home stays at home - especially if it involves, say, your family or your significant other. I can't allow myself to talk about things that implicate someone else than me. I've never been the kind of girl who goes to the bathroom with her pairs (um, gross?). I've never been one to follow trends or - goodness forbid - to CONFORM. And apparently, I haven't had much luck with finding kindred spirits. This is why, for all purposes, I've been friendless all my life.

August 11, 2016

GL Tomas: "The Mark of Noba" (Blog Tour Review and Giveaway)


Title: The Mark of Noba [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: The Sterling Wayfairer Series (1st of 4 books)
Author: GL Tomas [Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Urban Fantasy (more precisely, Portal Fantasy)
Year: 2015
Age: 14+
Stars: 4/5
Pros: Unconventional approach to girl-meets-boy and chosen-one tropes. Reversed stereotypes. Funny moments. Diverse characters.
Cons: The worldbuilding is a little confusing. What I thought a pivotal theme in the book gets abandoned later (that's the most I can say without spoiling anything). This is a debut book, so the writing still needs strenghtening.
WARNING! A few references to male physiology and making out.
Will appeal to: Those who like modern fantasy with a solid comedy undertone and a role reversal.

Blurb: Sterling Wayfairer has one goal for his senior year: make his mark. But things don’t go as planned when he starts to encounter his mysterious classmate Tetra. Tetra not only has answers to the recent disappearances, but Sterling will soon find that making his mark isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Sterling discovers he shares a spiritual bond with Tetra, and that only their power has the ability to stop the malevolent evil they face. They must work together or risk the destruction of their world. (Amazon)

Review: First off...DISCLAIMER: I have been friends with the authors since I was still a newbie blogger. Therefore, I was reluctant to review their work, for fear of either being perceived as biased or hurting their feelings. But after reading the unedited version on Wattpad, I realised there wasn't any need for me to tiptoe around this book - I found a lot to like, so I thought I'd just review it as if I had stumbled upon it by chance. Also, turns out that GL Tomas are able to handle criticism like the best of them ;). Bottom line: being virtual friends with the authors didn't influence my rating in any way :).

I BEG TO DIFFER

The first thing you notice while diving into The Mark of Noba is that the male white lead (whose POV we get in the first few chapters) is not your average teen. And I don't mean it in the sense that he's MORE - on the contrary. Sterling is insecure, a bit clumsy, and doesn't excel in any sports (actually, he hardly plays any). Also, he has to tend to his schizophrenic mother more often that he would like to. Now, my description might make you think he's the classic nerd with no friends and a house full of books, but nope - not even that. Actually, he does have a couple of friends who are far more popular than he is, but hang out with him no matter what - and his favourite reading material seem to be Playboy magazines ;D. I found Sterling relatable precisely because the authors weren't trying hard with him - he sounded like a normal, flesh-and-blood teenage boy, which was refreshing. As it was refreshing how TMON managed to reverse the classic cute-new-boy-at-school-tells-girl-she's-a-chosen-one trope. Here we have a new (black) girl, Tetra, who comes from a world called Noba and is going to turn Sterling's world upside down with her revelations. Also, she kicks ass. Sterling will need a huge dose of extensive training in order to do that ;D. [...]

August 06, 2016

...In Which I Spill My Secrets

Hi sweeties!
So I thought that - with almost 4 years of blogging under my belt - I'd hit you with a few relevant (but also funny...I hope?) facts about myself. I've seen posts like this around, usually in the TTT meme. I know, I lost a chance to get visitors by not joining the proper TTT when it was around - but you should all know by now how much me and memes don't get along ;D. So, here goes...ten of my quirks, plus a bonus...

1. I would do ANYTHING to have naturally curly hair - the curlier the better - even give all my Christopher Pike books away (...I can hear everyone say "OOOOOH!"). I've been perming my hair once a year (cutting the old bits away) since I was 15 or 16, but of course, it's not the same. Oh, in case you're wondering, I have a nice and healthy mane :). And I'm VERY MUCH AWARE that it's unpopular to have, let alone LIKE, curly hair. It's one of the reasons why I love to wear mine that way (like in my avatar, only much curlier). And I do wear it proudly, because it says I'm wild at heart and I can't be tamed.

This is Brian May from rock band Queen (well, the back of his head) in the '70s. ENVYYYYY.

July 30, 2016

Robert Schell: "The Mariner King"

Title: The Mariner King [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: Temporal Affairs (2nd of 3 books)
Author: Robert Schell [Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Sci-Fi, Time Travel, Fantasy
Year: 2016
Age: 12+
Stars: 3/5
Pros: Well written, with a few fresh ideas. Fantasy and science blend nicely.
Cons: Everything happens so fast...Like I said, a few fresh ideas, but their potential often remains unfulfilled.
Will appeal to: Those who like time travel aimed at the past. Those who are in for a mix of historical and fantasy.

Blurb: Caroline’s junior year at Diaz High School was hard enough. Her best friend Tony was behaving oddly, and she was suffering from a mystery illness that had claimed the life of her older sister, Elizabeth, years ago. If that weren’t enough, Caroline gets kidnapped by a time-traveling would-be god.
For N’Nae, daughter of the Adjunct King of Atuaxan, eking out a living in a small city-state at the tail-end of an Ice Age was challenging enough. But she was also expected to comport herself in a manner befitting her station, which entailed sacrificing her life for the good of the kingdom. And then the Shadows from another Universe appeared.
Now Caroline, N’Nae, and Tony are drawn together into a conflict in which the combatants must warp reality itself to do battle: the stakes are no less than the survival of life on Earth itself. (Amazon excerpt)

Review: First off...DISCLAIMER: I received a copy of this novel from the author in exchange for an honest review. This didn't influence my rating in any way.

FANTASY FLIGHT

For the record, I read and reviewed the first installment last year (link at the end of this review), and I have to say that the sci-fi aspect is less prominent in this one. Yes, of course time travel is the core of this series, but in Book 2 the fantasy/magic angle definitely steals the scene. What I mean is, while time travel is the reason why Tony and Caroline have their adventures, those are firmly rooted in alternate historical fantasy. I'm still putting this one in my Sci-Fi Room because 1) it has a sci-fi premise and 2) I don't even have a Fantasy Room, since I don't usually read fantasy. Sorry for any inconvenience.

OUT OF TIME

There are a few interesting ideas in this book. My favourite? Well, without giving too much away, not everyone is necessarily linked to a particular time frame. You can always land back to your native time stream, but what if you don't have one?...How can it be, you ask? Well, suffice to say, it can. The book explains the logic behind it, and the consequences (because OF COURSE there would be consequences) that ensue from such a state. This is actually a pivotal point in TMK, and it links back to something that was mentioned back in Book 1 and left hanging. [...]

July 21, 2016

Author Interview: Edward Aubry ("Unhappenings")

Hello my darlings! 
Today I'm sitting (well, from across a whole ocean) with US author Edward Aubry, whom I've only recently discovered via his adult book Unhappenings (my review here). Edward was so kind as to reach out to me after I reviewed it - I tossed an interview proposal, and he gladly accepted. Now, I know that usually people are wary of reading interviews with authors whose work they aren't already familiar with, but believe me, Mr. Aubry has a few interesting (and even unexpected) things to say about writing and the birth of a novel (or series). Also, with my questions, I tried to spotlight the most peculiar aspects of his catalogue, and I hope to steer some new readers towards his books, present and future!

Before we get to know Edward Aubry a little better, here's a spotlight on his ongoing debut YA-NA series...

Static Mayhem's
(now Book 2 in the Mayhem Wave series)
original cover
Title: The Mayhem Wave (4 books Edit: 5 books!)
           Book 1: Prelude to Mayhem
           Book 2: Static Mayhem
           Book 3: Mayhem's Children
           Book 4: Balance of Mayhem (new!)
           Book 5: Mayhem's Reign (ex Book 4)

Author: Edward Aubry

Genres: Sci-Fi, Dystopian, Fantasy

Year: 2016+

Age: 14+

Release: From Nov 26th 2016 (1st book)

Prelude to Mayhem (book 1 in The Mayhem Wave series) on Goodreads

Blurb for Prelude to Mayhem: In the ruins of his world, Harrison Cody follows a mysterious voice on the radio as he and his pixie sidekick travel on foot across a terrifyingly random landscape. They discover Dorothy O’Neill, who has had to survive among monsters when her greatest worry used to be how to navigate high school. Together they search for what remains of Chicago, and the hope that civilization can be rebuilt. (Goodreads)

Interview: So, first off, thank you Edward for agreeing to a Q&A session on Offbeat YA! Would you like to introduce yourself?

Sure! Hi everyone, I’m Edward Aubry, author of Unhappenings and the soon to be released Mayhem Wave series. By day, I teach high school math. I am currently at work on my sixth novel, with plans for many more.

July 17, 2016

Nova Ren Suma: "The Walls Around Us"

Title: The Walls Around Us [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: None
Author: Nova Ren Suma [Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Contemporary with a Twist, Supernatural
Year: 2015
Age: 12+
Stars: 5/5
Pros: Engrossing story (or stories) told in a lyrical prose that never feels overdone. Surprise ending in a magical-realism vein that still feels very rooted in the story - and emotionally satisfying..
Cons: May sound confusing to some. One of the characters is NOT likeable - though the author does a great job making us experience her feelings. 
WARNING! Some violence, both graphic and implied. A sex scene (not overly graphic).
Will appeal to: Those who love ballet. Those who love prison stories. Those who don't necessarily love either, but can't resist strong - if flawed - leads, and ghosts, and magical realism.

Blurb: On the outside, there’s Violet, an eighteen-year-old dancer days away from the life of her dreams when something threatens to expose the shocking truth of her achievement. On the inside, within the walls of the Aurora Hills juvenile detention center, there’s Amber, locked up for so long she can’t imagine freedom. Tying their two worlds together is Orianna, who holds the key to unlocking all the girls’ darkest mysteries. A supernatural tale of guilt and of innocence, and of what happens when one is mistaken for the other. (Amazon excerpt)

Review: I love this book. Can we leave it at that?
Um, I suppose not. Maybe you want my reasons for loving this book. Also because, hello? this is a book blog - set up in order to REVIEW books. It's just that...it's hard not to spoil this one. Harder that with any other book I've reviewed in almost four years. And mind you, I'm not saying that TWAU loses its charm once you've read it for the first time and discovered all its secret. NO. EFFING. WAY. I'm just saying that I have to do this book justice and still let you go blind into it, which is a challenge. Well, OK, I'm up for a challenge. I CAN DO IT I CAN DO IT I CAN...*repeats self-motivating mantra* 

OFF TO A GREAT START

I always read the opening pages on Amazon when I plan on buying a book. No mindblowing story idea can convince me to read a book if me and the writing don't click. And boy, this one. Mind you, I don't do flowery prose. And TWAU doesn't have it. This is writing at its best - lyrical and poignant (but also raw when needed...I mean poetically raw...if you get what I'm trying to say) without turning into an exercise of style. This novel has one of the strongest first chapters I've ever read, for three reasons:
  1. it's told from a choral perspective, in a first-person plural which is fresh and powerful;
  2. it thrusts you knee-deep into the action;
  3. have I mentioned the writing already?

CUTS BOTH WAYS

The story is told in alternate chapters, by two narrators: up-and-coming ballet dancer Violet and juvenile detention center inmate Amber. And despite what you may think of them, BOTH girls have been through their own private hell, and are still stuck in there. Because yes, there's also a hell in wanting something so desperately that your whole life becomes your goal, and everything gets blown out of proportion, until you snap and do the unforgivable. It should be easy to hate one of the girls and to pity the other. But then again it isn't, because your heart will ache for both of them, AND of course for the third girl, Orianna. And even for all the other inmates at Aurora Hills. Because here's the fact: sometimes there's guilt in innocence, and innocence in guilt, and there's always pain in being human, whether you're at fault or not. And Nova Ren Suma makes us feel that pain - oh so bittersweetly. [...]

July 07, 2016

Why I Don't Suffer from ARC Envy (I Swear I Don't)

...And now you're thinking "the hell you don't".
Have I ever lied to you, my friends? my enemies? my in-betweens? The hell I did :).
In my little corner of the net, I rarely catch wind of bookish-blogging drama - usually, I hear about it from fellow bloggers who have a much more massive follower count, both on their blogs and on their social media accounts. Anyway, it sounds like ARC envy is, indeed, a thing. And you know, I don't understand.


Mind you, I do realise that ARCs are a symbol of blogging success. Not to mention, potential readers are usually more interested in your reviews if they are about ARCs. Not to mention, the lucky fews who do get the same ARCs probably bond over them. But if you want the truth, ARCs have their own minuses - besides NOT being the end of the world, one way or another (that is, either because you got one or because you didn't). And here is why one can NOT suffer from ARC envy...completed with my beloved song-title headings ;).

June 25, 2016

Taste the Books: Review Morsels #2 Matthew S. Cox, Alison Goodman, Jeri Smith-Ready


Intro


Hello beauties!

Welcome again to my own brand of mini reviews! I had never though I'd done minis, until I recapped a few of my long reviews in some digest post in 2014, and then guest-posted with some shorties for a blogging event in 2015. And Karen from For What It's Worth started praising my short recs/recaps :). Just to be clear,  I'm NOT taking a break from writing long review - no such luck LOL. But while I'm making up my mind about a new book I've read, or in case I want to draw attention to some old ones I've already reviewed, I might as well give you the short version ;). Just be warned - this feature will be VERY random! So, here goes...

June 16, 2016

Christopher Pike: "Strange Girl"

Title: Strange Girl [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: None
Author: Christopher Pike [Facebook | Goodreads]
Genres: Contemporary with a Twist, Paranormal
Year: 2015
Age: 14+
Stars: 3.5/5
Pros: Peculiar story (though...see: cons), heartfelt and honest.
Cons: ...But Pike already wrote something similar (see: review). Characters sound oldish and a bit stiff. Some incidents sound contrived. An abusive behaviour is "almost" condoned.
WARNING! Some sex but mostly implied. Hints of violence. An abuse story recounted without details.
Will appeal to: Those who are in for a mystical journey working its way around a series of real-life occurrences.

Blurb: From the moment Fred meets Aja, he knows she’s different. She’s pretty, soft-spoken, shy - yet seems to radiate an unusual peace. Fred quickly finds himself falling in love with her. Then strange things begin to happen around Aja. A riot breaks out that Aja is able to stop by merely speaking a few words. A friend of Fred’s suffers a serious head injury and has a miraculous recovery. Yet Aja swears she has done nothing. Unfortunately, Fred is not the only one who notices Aja’s unique gifts. As more and more people begin to question who Aja is and what she can do, she’s soon in grave danger. Because none of them truly understands the source of Aja’s precious abilities - or their devastating cost. (Amazon excerpt)

Review: Apparently, a few months ago, Christopher Pike joined Wattpad (well, Simon & Schuster had him joining Wattpad) with the sole main purpose of advertising this book (the first 6 chapters can still be read on the site, BTW). I'm saying this because he used to be on there every day or so until the book came out...then, silence. Well, to his credit, he did post all of Remember Me (I mean the first installment) and a great advice-for-aspiring-writers series, too. Anyway, I'm digressing. What I'm trying to say is, either S&S had him cornered, or he did think Strange Girl was his best book like he went on repeating, or probably both - but he talked like this novel was special and deserved special attention. Well, this is the pre-review I posted on Goodreads after reading Strange Girl for the first time...


I've reread this novel since then, and unfortunately, I still feel the same way. I honestly can see where Pike is coming from. But I'm still, honestly, not thrilled. Here's the good, the bad and the ugly about it.
(...Psst...just in case you don't know, or you're too young to remember - The Good, the Bad and the Ugly was an Italian movie starring Clint Eastwood...and it came out the year I was born. Actually, the day after I was born. Erm).

THE GOOD

  • As far as young adult books go, Strange Girl is unprecedented. Though Pike is used to weave Eastern spirituality into his novels (from Remember Me 2 & 3 to, more notably, the Thirst series), this is the very first time that he has a character embodying not only some of its concepts, but a transcendental entity. I have mixed feelings about the result, but I can see that he tried hard and earnestly to walk the fine line between what he calls the Big Person and the Little Person. And though I can't say I love Aja, there are at least a couple of beautiful scenes where she tries to explain her inner truth. Then again, to be honest, I'm not a spiritual person, so the book as a whole might reach a different audience better.
  • There's a strong accent on friendship in this novel. I really like how Pike never shuns pairing boys and girls together as best friends. There's also a gay character, who is not particularly developed, but at least his sexuality isn't made a big deal of - plus he later conveys the normality of gay marriage and paternity.
  • Music plays a big role. The main character Fred and his friends are in a band, and love for music is portayed in different ways, none of which à la "I-want-to-be-a-teen-idol". OK, it may not be a popular concept among nowadays teens, and someone might say that Pike is not in tune with them - but it's refreshing to meet characters who actually have a passion for music instead of a craving for being on TV, and it's healthy for young adults to be exposed to them. [...]