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. [...]