December 22, 2018

2018 Wrap-Up: In Which I Congratulate Myself

Hello my beauties!
Welcome to my last post of the year, where I will wrap my 2018 up. This was my first whole year since I started blogging when I scheduled all my posts and all my reading. And...it worked like a charm! I won't lie to you - it wasn't always easy. Some hard work was involved. Planning ahead was the easy part - it's what I'm best at. I ADORE filling Excel spreadsheets with all the things I mean to do. I REVEL in breaking books into page numbers and assign them to each day. I'm the best time manager I know (when housekeeping is not involved, that is). And I took great care not to overload, though most of the times, I realised that setting small goals meant that I not only was able to meet them, but even to double them. Like, I set my sight on reading 40 pages on a day, and I ended up reading 80, so that I ultimately found myself moving my daily goals up and up in my schedule. That's how, in July, I had FOURTEEN posts scheduled all through October, what with having planned ahead for Halloween (and I only lacked 3 of them to cover ALL the time slot in the middle).


Still, as I said, it was hard work. All through the year, all through the hottest summer in ages (a.k.a. the season when I was used to call it quits, blog-wise), I strove for productivity and consistency. I had set up a goal of one post a week, and even that was able to stimulate me to do better...to the extent that I managed to end the year with a total of FIFTY-NINE posts - which, in my situation, is a MASSIVE achievement. Now, I can't promise I will be able to replicate my success next year. You never know what kind of lemons life's going to give you. It's not always possible to make lemonade out of them. But I've proved something to myself, and now I know that, in normal conditions, it CAN be done. So, I'm ending this year on a proud and happy note, and I hope I can sustain it for the longest time.

Pt. 1: This Year in Blogging

As of today, I've been blogging for 6 years and a couple of months 😃.

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 17, 2018

Adrienne Maria Vrettos: "Burnout"

Title: Burnout [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: None
Author: Adrienne Maria Vrettos [Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Thriller, Contemporary
Year: 2011
Age: 12+
Stars: 3/5
Pros: Honest depiction of an imbalanced friendship. Realistic main character.
Cons: Lacks a strong emotional punch. Some events are a bit far-fetched.
WARNING! Alcohol abuse, rape intent, self-image problems.
Will appeal to: Those who have had at least a toxic friend in their life, or one who didn't love them as much as they did.

Blurb: On the day after Halloween, Nan wakes up in a subway car. She’s missing a whole day from her life. And she’s wearing skeleton makeup and a too-small Halloween costume that she doesn’t remember putting on. Nan is not supposed to wake up in places like this anymore. She’s different now, so far from that dangerously drunk girl who hit bottom in the Nanapocalypse. She needs to find out what happened to her, and fast. As she tries to put together the pieces of the last twenty-four hours, she flashes back to memories of her previous life. But she would never go back to her old friends and her old ways. Would she? The deeper Nan digs, the more disturbing things get. This time, she may have gone one step too far. This time, she may be a walking ghost. (Amazon excerpt)

Review: Before I bought this one, going by the last line of the blurb above and the two-line prologue on Amazon, I inferred it told the story of a dead character recalling/investigating her demise, so I was excited. It turned out that it wasn't the case, so I don't really get what the whole "ghost" reference was about (OK, I sort of understand the metaphor, but it sounded much more like a literal description to me). Then again, I don't regret reading this book, even if under false pretenses. I just meant to tell you - don't get fooled like I did...read this for the right reasons.

THE WRONG SIDE OF UNREQUITED

I shelved this book as Mystery/Thriller, and a mystery it is - with the main lead Nan desperate to uncover what she did the previous night, and more than anything, what happened to her best friend Seemy. But at its core, Burnout is a contemporary of the dark variety (albeit not at all as dark as it might have been) - a story of bad choices and the places they take you, and even more than that, a story about the length we go for a friend even when they don't love us as much as we do (or precisely because they don't). This was the aspect that resonated with me the most: while I've never been in a toxic friendship of the "bad influence" variety (and I wouldn't, because I'm one of the less influenceable people I know), I have been in a sort of unrequited friendship for a long while - until the friend in question set to size me down once and for all, and since I couldn't cope with that, we ultimately split. If you've ever loved a friend more than they did, and you've ever been aware of it (and hurt because of it), Vrettos captures this feeling perfectly. Then again, in a short book like this (less than 200 pages), emotions gets somehow constricted and lose some of the impact they could make...more of this in the next paragraphs. [...]

December 10, 2018

B.C. Johnson: "Daphne" (ARC Review)

Title: Daphne [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: Deadgirl (Book 2.5 of 4)
Author: B.C. Johnson [Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Supernatural, Urban Fantasy, Contemporary
Year: 2018
Age: 14+
Stars: 5/5
Pros: Strong, unique twist on classic mythology. Compelling writing.
Cons: Fast romance. It's not always easy to get one's bearings at the beginning of a chapter.
WARNING! Blood, gore and monsters.
Will appeal to: Those who wanted more of Daphne. Those who like unusual creatures. Those who like their human (but resilient) side even more.

Blurb: Daphne is one of the Keres, an ancient line of women from Greek myth. Part Fate, part battlefield Valkyrie, she can sense violence and death wherever she goes. After Daphne transforms into a monster and is taken away by her family at the end of "Deadgirl: Ghostlight," she finds herself on a journey of fear, flight, and self-discovery. Hounded by monster hunters and her own inner demons, Daphne must find a way to cope with who and what she is, or lose her mind and soul forever to the Beast within. Who's more dangerous: the hunters, or the monster? (Amazon excerpt)

Review:  First off...DISCLAIMER: I received this novella from the author in exchange for an honest review. And the author being B.C. Johnson, you all know I've been campaigning for his first Deadgirl book with all my might since 2012, when the original version came out. Also, B.C. Johnson and me have stayed in touch, if sporadically, for the whole time. I'm not what you would call a friend of his though, only a fan of his work. And an unbiased one. As usual, this review is the love child of my penchant for quirky, uniquely worded books and B.C. Johnson's ability to deliver them.

DOUBLE FACE

For a character whom we didn't see much of in the Deadgirl series (except in Book 2), Daphne sure is a pivotal one - and, Lucy aside, the most unique of the bunch. The blurb mentions her being "part Fate, part battlefield Valkyrie", but she also calls herself a Harpy at some point. Either way, she's a welcome detour from your usual supernatural creatures. But more than anything, it's her monster/human duality that fascinates the reader. A literal duality in this case, with the two entities (for lack of a better word) fighting for control. Like Lucy in Deadgirl: Ghostlight, Daphne will have an epiphany about herself that is, hands down, the best part of the story - heartbreaking and epic at the same time. Johnson is never afraid to have his characters suffer, yet fight (and sometimes win, if at a high cost) even in the face of despair, and each and every time, what comes out of it is a work of art, and of - sometimes funny, often tragic, always epic - beauty. [...]

December 06, 2018

Todd Mitchell: "Backwards"

Title: Backwards [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: None
Author: Todd Mitchell [Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Supernatural, Thriller, Contemporary with a Twist
Year: 2013
Age: 14+
Stars: 3.5/5
Pros: Fresh, well-executed premise. Great guessing game.
Cons: Lacks a strong emotional punch - though the very structure of the story accounts for that.
WARNING! Graphic depiction of suicide. Rape in the background.
Will appeal to: Those who like unusual premises, bookish puzzles, and stories about second chances - of the time-travel (but not sci-fi) variety.

Blurb: At the moment Dan's life ends, the Rider's begins. Unwillingly tied to Dan, the Rider finds himself moving backwards in time, each day revealing more of the series of events that led to Dan's suicide. As the Rider struggles to figure out what he's meant to do, he revels in the life Dan ignores. Beyond the simple pleasures of a hot shower and the sun on his face, the Rider also notices the people around Dan: his little sister, always disappointed by her big brother's rejection, his overwhelmed mom, who can never rely on Dan for help, and Cat - with her purple hair, artistic talent, and misfit beauty. But Cat doesn't want anything to do with Dan. While the days move in reverse and Halloween looms, it's up to the Rider to find out why Cat is so angry, and what he must do to make things right. (Amazon)

Review: As I already stated in the introductory section, this is NOT a sci-fi book, despite time travel being at its core. So you may probably enjoy it even if sci-fi is not your jam.

YOU AIN'T SEEN NOTHING YET

I'm fairly sure that you've never read anything like Backwards. Going back in time may be a pretty common book device, except I can't name another novel where not only the thing happens on a day-by-day basis - that is, every new day the narrator (the Rider) lives is, in fact, the day before, from start to finish - but the real protagonist (again, the Rider) is also unsubstantial and just a spectator at first; and later, when he tries to retroactively change what's to come, the flesh-and-blood character he's tied to (Dan) is oblivious of it - or even gets in the way. I know, this sounds like a mind-fuck...except it's easier to actually follow the story than to explain its logistics. Also, while the narrator tries to prevent a tragedy (that may not be the one we think it is in the first place) by slowly peeling layers of truth away and figuring how to influence things, we have our own mystery to solve - just WHO is the Rider, and how did he come to be? and are there any other entities like him? This makes for a fascinating read, even if Dan's everyday life is pretty average on the whole, and the Rider's interactions with...well, anyone are fairly limited at first. [...]

December 02, 2018

Christopher Pike: "Thirst No.2"

Title: Thirst No.2 [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: Thirst (previously: The Last Vampire) (2nd of ?? books | omnibus, reissued 2010 | contains the original TLV short novels: Phantom, Evil Thirst, Creatures of Forever)
Author: Christopher Pike [Facebook | Goodreads]
Genres: Urban Fantasy
Year: 1996
Age: 14+ (please note: for years it's been considered YA lit, but the human age of the protagonist would place it in the NA category nowadays, and the series get more mature - and darker - by the book)
Stars: 5/5
Pros: Original take on vampires. Plenty of kickass action and funny (if often bloody) moments. Blends urban fantasy with thriller, history, and more than anything, Eastern spirituality.
Cons: Requires more suspension of disbelief than Book 1. The blend of UF and sci-fi may not work for everyone.
WARNING! Abundance of blood, gore and violence.
Will appeal to: Those looking for a fresh approach to vampires, in what was probably the very first YA/NA series about them.

Blurb: What Alisa has desired for five thousand years has finally come true: she is once again human. But now she is defenseless, vulnerable, and, for the first time in centuries, emotional. As she attempts to reconcile her actions as a vampire with her new connection to humanity, she begins to understand the weight of life-and-death decisions. Can Alisa resolve her past and build a new identity, or is she doomed to repeat her fatal mistakes? (Goodreads)
[Please note: "Alisa" is the main character's alias in the first installment, but her real name - the one she'll go by for the rest of the series, when she's not undercover for some reason - is Sita. Also, the blurb just scratches the surface of what the second three books in the series - now repackaged as one - are about...to be precise, it only refers to Book 4]

Review: This series is not perfect. And I won't shun its faults in my review. But for some reason, I can't bear myself to rate it less than 5 stars. It's not author bias - there are a bunch of Pike books I rated 3 stars and even less. But if TLV/Thirst stills works its magic on me almost 20 years after I first read Book 1, and if I'm still peeling its layers after all this time, that should count for something...

I WANT TO BELIEVE

There's a fil rouge to all the Thirst series, and the French metaphor comes in especially handy, since the common denominator is all kinds of enemies (human or not) going after Sita's blood. And there's a corollary to this - Sita having to defend humanity from the havoc her blood could wreak on them. But the 4th and 5th original installments break this pattern (that will resurface in Book 6), focusing on two special births and the need to defend one of the infants from malevolent forces. Plus, for a while, Sita is human again, and for the very first time we see her bonding with another woman (like her apparent insta-love with Ray in Book 1, this could have a huge insta-friendship vibe, if there wasn't a century-old backstory to it). Since from the original separate book blurbs I knew she would go back to being a vampire, I enjoyed my ride with human Sita. In a way, it was even more interesting for me to have that version of her to explore and compare to the one we had known so far. Some things change, some are oh so much alike. It's SO hard to review this part of the story without spoilers, but what I can say is, your enjoyment of Phantom may depend on to what extent you're capable to suspend disbelief, unless the illusion that the title openly references has, indeed, a life of sorts (which I suspect is the case, given the multiple references to "the abyss" as if it were a place that could generate something more solid than a simple hallucination). It still poses a few practical problems, but like Sita with her predicament, we probably aren't to examine the story that closely, or it will blow in our face 😉. Still, even before I formulated my crazy (ingenious?) theory about what goes on in Phantom, I was invested in the story, and a certain part before the very end broke my heart. [...]

November 27, 2018

Tell Me Something Tuesday: Do You Procrastinate Writing Reviews?

Tell Me Something Tuesday is a weekly discussion post on Rainy Day Ramblings, where the blog's owner Heidi discusses a wide range of topics from books to blogging. Weigh in and join the conversation by adding your thoughts in the comments. If you want to do your own post, grab the question and answer it on your blog.
Here is what is on deck this week:

DO YOU PROCRASTINATE WRITING REVIEWS?

I bet you know the answer to this one 😄. I've been spending the last year and a half scheduling EVERYTHING that was supposed to go into my blog, so...
OF COURSE, I don't get many (digital) ARCs, so time is not really a factor for me. I can review most of my books when I please. But regardless, this year I even drafted two ARC reviews MONTHS ahead of pub dates...I want to have the book fresh in my mind when I write (that's why I reread even my old, should-know-by-heart-by-now books before I review them...).
Also, I've learnt that - just like any kind of writing - reviewing takes some discipline. Sometimes you don't feel "inspired", but once you set down to work, the creative juices flow. You could postpone the darned thing for ages and never seem to be in the right mood for it, but when you take the first step, something always happens. More often than not, something magical.

I love this man, BTW

November 16, 2018

C.W. Snyder: "Queen of Nod" (ARC Review)

Title: Queen of Nod [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: The Balance (2nd of 3 books)
Author: C.W. Snyder [Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Afterlife, Fantasy, Mythology
Year: 2018
Age: 14+ (it's marketed as NA, but since I don't have a NA section on my blog, I shelved it as YA. However, it's a complex and dark fable that will appeal to adults as well)
Stars: 4/5
Pros: As with Book 1, imaginative, multilayered tale weaving lots of literary and mythological references into a fresh story. Evocative prose.
Cons: The many (often disjointed) worlds and characters will set your head spinning, at least until a second read. Also, this one ends with a half-cliffhanger.
WARNING! Contains many elements of horror and gore.
Will appeal to: As with Book 1, both the young and the adult reader seeking a strong, dark-but-poetic example of revisited and enhanced tropes.

Blurb: Alice hoped to find peace after the death of the Red Queen. Instead, she faces a new foe: a plague of madness that threatens to bring Nod to its knees, shaking the foundations of the afterlife. Forced to flee from her home and abandon her throne, she is led on a journey that has the potential to remake or break her. From the forest world of the Fae to the expanse of the multiverse, Alice and Zee search desperately for a cure before it's too late. Along the way, they meet new companions and enemies - the powerful and deadly Magi, the changeling princess Maggie, and the Triad, a sinister trio of brothers who would stop at nothing to subjugate all they see. The fate of Nod hangs in the balance, and the key might just lie in the one place Alice has never dared to go - the depths of her own mind. (Goodreads)

Review: First off...DISCLAIMER: I received this book 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. All the books I've received from CQ so far have come with no strings attached, and it's always a pleasure for me to work with them and discover more (sometimes underrated) gems.

MIND OVER MATTER

The first installment of this series was a self-enclosed story - so the possibilities for the sequel were endless. What the author decided to do was challenge Alice and her friends with a deadly plague (because you can actually die more than once...otherwise it would be too easy 😉) spread by a new enemy, though a character from Book 1 resurfaces and ultimately becomes an enemy too. We meet an older (well, virtually, because of course one can't age in the afterlife) and stronger Alice in this book - and I'm talking about inner strength here, since her powers have a unique source (and a non-replenishable one at that), and she has to reach inside her mind and draw on her intelligence and willpower in order to use them. And mind you, your average powers are good and all, but this is a really refreshing perspective. Then again, Alice's own mind harbours an enemy, along with an old ally. For a while, the book alternates between her quest for help and her pursuit of the bad guys, and her struggle to eradicate the thing in her brain, making for some interesting scenarios (both gruesome and funny, also thanks to the ally who's along for the ride in Alice's head). [...]

November 13, 2018

Tell Me Something Tuesday: Why Should You Comment?

Tell Me Something Tuesday is a weekly discussion post on Rainy Day Ramblings, where the blog's owner Heidi discusses a wide range of topics from books to blogging. Weigh in and join the conversation by adding your thoughts in the comments. If you want to do your own post, grab the question and answer it on your blog.
Here is what is on deck this week:

WHY SHOULD YOU COMMENT?

Commenting is the heart and soul of blogging. That's not to say that, even if you're friend with someone, you have to comment EVERY. SINGLE. TIME they post. There can be times when you simply don't have anything to add to the discussion, or you simply don't have the time right after reading a post and later you get sidetracked. Not commenting is NOT a crime - and not reading every post your friends come up with either. So many factors can play a part in it.

November 03, 2018

Edward Aubry: "Balance of Mayhem" (ARC Review)

Title: Balance of Mayhem [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: Mayhem Wave (4th of 5 books)
Author: Edward Aubry [Facebook | Goodreads]
Genres: Urban Fantasy (the usual sci-fi angle is virtually nonexistent in this one)
Year: 2018
Age: 14+ (note: Book 1 was marketed as a YA/NA crossover. The series has progressively become more mature, and all the main characters have crossed from NA to adult by now - but the whole thing is absolutely teen-friendly)
Stars: 4/5
Pros: Action, cool magic, surprises, moral dilemmas, and kick-ass heroines with a sense of humour.
Cons: Amidst the action, there are patches of telling-not-showing.
WARNING! Some gore and mature themes (but nothing overwhelming).
Will appeal to: Those who like imaginative worlds, lots of twists and turns, strong female characters and F/F romances. Those who are looking for a fresh approach to post-apocalypse.

Blurb: For five years, Dorothy O’Neill has had someone else living in her brain. Strontium, the witch who sacrificed herself to save Dorothy and the two children in her care, saved her own consciousness by fleeing into Dorothy’s mind, a tactic she thought would be temporary. Despite the best efforts of the Council of Mages to regenerate Strontium’s body and restore her to it, that state of affairs is starting to look permanent. So, when an opportunity presents itself to Dorothy to free Strontium and have her own mind to herself again, it sorely tempts her. All she has to do is embark on a quest with Felicia Kestrel, an assassin who has been until this point Dorothy’s mortal enemy. Felicia seeks a scale from the armor of the legendary dragon Hypatia. She needs a witch to help her employ its magic, and claims it has the power to restore Strontium to her own body. Enlisting the aid of a pixie to protect her, and armed with a magical sword, Dorothy leaves her home, trusting that the woman who tried to kill her once won’t do so again. The quest for the Scale proves trickier than expected, with dangers beyond Dorothy’s experience, and the threat of an unknown enemy who apparently desires very badly for her to fail. Each step along the journey brings her closer to getting her life back and freeing her friend, but also brings new and contradictory information about the object they seek, and Felicia’s reasons for seeking it may be far more sinister than she has revealed. (Goodreads excerpt)

Review: First off...DISCLAIMER: I have been talking to the author on a few occasions since reviewing his previous titles (that is, all the books he's released so far). 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.
 
IT'S A WOMEN'S WORLD

There's no blaming Edward Aubry for not trying new things, or not spicing up a series even when it's got to its 4th (and penultimate) installment. Dorothy O'Neill - who we met as a child in Book 1, and through the series has grown up to become a 28 y.o. woman - leads an all-female cast here, except for some brief male cameo. Nothing as impressive as the female character amount in Mayhem's Children (the previous installment), but in that case, there was at least a male protagonist, and most of the girls weren't given more than a handful of lines (for plot reasons). This time, we follow a cast of women (and, huh, other female specimens, for lack of another non-spoilery term) in an adventure that starts off a tad slowly, but soon pics pace and thrusts us into a whirlwind of danger and secrets (and no, not your usual you-could-have-told-me-in-chapter-one secrets. Felicia has got her agenda, of course. And Dorothy is afraid that the matter will be taken out of her hands, so of course she doesn't tell anybody. Questionable, but understandable). I love how these women can kick ass and have soft spots/vulnerable angles at the same time, because it's real. It's not like they kick less ass because of that 😉.
(Mind you, this is not a "girl" book/series. We all know by now that "girl books" and "boy books" are a malicious fabrication of dust-covered, mold-smelling evil wizards, right?). [...]

October 31, 2018

Jeri Smith-Ready: "Requiem for the Devil"

Title: Requiem for the Devil [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: None
Author: Jeri Smith-Ready [Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Supernatural, Urban Fantasy
Year: 2001
Age: Adult
Stars: 4/5
Pros: Imaginative story with a foot firmly planted in the Devil's mythology. Well-balanced mix of evil, angst and humour. Non-graphic sex (if you don't like erotica).
Cons: Premise requires suspension of disbelief. A couple of incidents during Lucifer and Gianna's relationship, even more so. Demons crack a couple of rape jokes (one of them not aimed at women though). An animal gets killed.
Will appeal to: Supernatural lovers, even if not keen on romance. Romance lovers looking for the ultimate forbidden one.

Blurb: Set in modern-day Washington, D.C., Requiem for the Devil depicts the end of the Devil's ten-billion-year career. For the first time in his existence, Lucifer falls in love, and this event threatens to transform his identity and perhaps even his destiny. Gianna O'Keefe is the woman who drags him out of his ancient despair and points him toward possible salvation. Yet Lucifer's path from evil is neither straight nor smooth. Pursuing love means betraying his fellow fallen angels, the loyal friends who once followed him to damnation. Divine and infernal forces seem to conspire against his and Gianna's union. Lucifer's empire crumbles around him as he dares to defy the natural order and question his fate. (Amazon excerpt)

Review: You all know that I read very few adult books, and that even in YA (or the rare NA) I do my best to read books with none-to-minimal romance - and even less sex. I made an exception for Smith-Ready's novels though (well, this one and the WVMP Radio series so far, plus her YA standalone This Side of Salvation), because the premises were awesome...and the books lived up to them.
Fun fact: Jeri also writes romance under the pen name Avery Cockburn.

DEVIL MAY CARE

I went into this book with a thirst for the strange and deadly, so to speak. Some of my favourite books are the ones where characters defy natural laws (whether as undead, time travelers, alt-reality explorers, or supernaturally-powered entities) - so I didn't even mind that I had to sit through a love story to get that 😅. Now, on the one hand, the very idea that the Devil, after ten billion years, would fall in love for the very first time is preposterous. Plus, while Gianna is remarkable in more than a way, she didn't strike me as so unique that she might be the only creature in the whole world (and time) Lucifer could love. And yet...in the context of the story, and in Smith-Ready's capable hands (though this one was her very first book!), it worked for me. Yeah, me, the ultimate romance shunner. Of course, it helped that the prose was strong without being purple, and that the author made her research, delving into both the religious and the mundane visions/interpretations of the Devil's story (see the Acknowledgments section). And of course, novel-wise, the times were probably ripe for Lucifer to fall in love, since early on we're given hints that he's starting to get bored with same old, and deep down, he's itching for something more (not going to elaborate because SPOILER). So, you might infer that Gianna is the right woman at the right time in his ten-billion-year-old existence. Even though (or exactly because?), oops, she's catholic. [...]

LOVE IS HELL

In a different author's hands, maybe Gianna could have come across as a manic pixie dream girl - only with more depth than your usual ones - and Lucifer as your typical brooding (anti)-hero. But there's something in both that elevates them over trope status, and I think it's the mixture of introspection and humour which Smith-Ready endows them with - plus her firm handling of theological issues (or what I believe is a firm handle, because I'm not very knowledgeable when it comes to religion, so feel free to disprove me on that...though the author often weaves religious themes into her books - in the most open-minded of ways - so I'd bet she knows her stuff). I have to admit that parts of their relationship must be taken with more than a grain of salt (i.e., suspension of disbelief), and not only because he's the Devil (something Gianna is not even privy of till later in the story). There's an incident during their visit to the Grand Canyon that would probably have put an end to any sane relationship (at least, sane as far as the woman was concerned). And when Gianna finally faces the truth, there's another string of awkward moments (I can't be more specific because, again, SPOILER). Plus a lot of angst...for more than a reason. But, once again, the author manages to make you care for these two, and (except in a couple of instances) BELIEVE in them.

EVIL LAUGHTER

RFTD is not just a romance between the Devil and a mortal. There are a number of side characters, whether human (mainly Gianna's family) or taken straightly from Christian mythology (you could say they're Lucifer's own family), who get the story going and/or provide most of the comic (if evil-tinged) relief. Beelzebub, Mephistopheles, Belial, Moloch, Michael, Raphael - it's like watching an extended episode of Supernatural (except the show wasn't even on air yet when the book came out). I can't say if this novel would sit well with a true Christian (though, as I said, the author knows what she's talking about), the same way as I don't know how the show is received by observant viewers. I do believe that in the book there's at least an incident (so to speak) that would be hard for them to swallow, although it involves Lucifer and one of his comrades, so maybe they would overlook it.
On the whole, RFTD is a solid, well-written fantasy that you can enjoy whether you believe or not, oscillating between depth and humour, with an unconventional (if bizarre) romance and a satisfying (if not totally unexpected) ending. Which the author penned with a light, but beautiful touch, so there's that 🙂.

For more Adult books click here.

***

Note: this post is part of the Back to Black - Beating the Halloween Backlist series, an all-month event taking place every Tuesday of October 2018, featuring:
Thirteen Tales to Give You Night Terrors (Adult, Horror, Supernatural, Afterlife) by Troy H. Gardner et al. (Oct. 10th);
Shallow Graves (YA, Afterlife, Supernatural, Horror) by Kali Wallace (Oct. 17th);
Spellbound (YA, Supernatural, Thriller, Contemporary) by Christopher Pike (Oct. 24th);
Requiem for the Devil (Adult, Supernatural, Urban Fantasy) by Jeri Smith-Ready (Oct. 31st).

October 24, 2018

Christopher Pike: "Spellbound"

Title: Spellbound [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: None
Author: Christopher Pike [Facebook | Goodreads]
Genres: Supernatural, Thriller, Contemporary
Year: 1988
Age: 14+
Stars: 4/5
Pros: Original (and terrifying) premise. Intriguing cast of characters with distinctive voices. Potential mixed-race romance.
Cons: As interesting and strong as it is, the very premise requires suspension of disbelief. The black character's baggage might not sit well with someone (see review for details). An animal gets killed during an experiment.
WARNING! Blood and gore. The prelude of a would-be abusive sex scene.
Will appeal to: Supernatural/mystery fans who aren't afraid of weird stuff.

Blurb: They found Karen Holly in the mountain stream, her skull crushed. There was only one witness to the tragedy, Karen's boyfriend, Jason Whitfield. He said a grizzly had killer her. But a lot of people didn't believe him. They thought Jason had murdered her in a fit of rage. And now weeks have passed, and Jason has another girlfriend, Cindy Jones. And there are the new kids in town. Joni Harper, the quiet English beauty that Cindy's brother, Alex, cannot get out of his mind. And Bala, the foreign exchange student from Africa, the grandson of a powerful shaman. Together they will return to the place where Karen was killed. Some will die. The others will come face to face with a horror beyond imagining. (Goodreads)

Review: DISCLAIMER: I love Christopher Pike's novels (with a few exceptions, but still). Usually, the more far-fetched his books are, the better I like them. This is one of those books.

YOU CAN'T HANDLE THE TRUTH

This is the kind of book where the truth would stare you right in the face since the very first chapters, if the author didn't make sure that your mind refused to process it. I mean, there's definitely something amiss in a certain character, but physical impossibilities, and not getting all the answers straight away from the one person who has them, makes it so that you rule that character out as a culprit. Plus, the truth turns out to be so outrageously (and awesomely) weird that your average reader could have never connected the dots that way - at least before someone in the book finally spilled some dark secrets. To complicate the matter further, right from the start, there are two different crimes/mysteries going on, though we only realise that later. As far as stories go, this one is its own brand of mindfuck. [...]

October 17, 2018

Kali Wallace: "Shallow Graves"

Title: Shallow Graves [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: None
Author: Kali Wallace [Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Afterlife, Supernatural, Horror
Year: 2016
Age: 14+
Stars: 5/5
Pros: Strong, complex lead. Engrossing undead coming-of-age story, unpredictable and full of compassion. Unapologetically feminist. Blissfully devoid of romance.
Cons: The darkness is not tempered by humour or comedy, so it might not be everyone's cup of tea.
WARNING! Gore, tension and some disturbing images.
Will appeal to: Horror/supernatural fans who like well-rounded, morally grey characters.

Blurb: Breezy remembers leaving the party: the warm, wet grass under her feet, her cheek still stinging from a slap to her face. But when she wakes up, scared and pulling dirt from her mouth, a year has passed and she can’t explain how. Nor can she explain the man lying at her grave, dead from her touch, or why her heartbeat comes and goes. She doesn’t remember who killed her or why. All she knows is that she’s somehow conscious - and not only that, she’s able to sense who around her is hiding a murderous past. Haunted by happy memories from her life, Breezy sets out to find answers in the gritty, threatening world to which she now belongs - where killers hide in plain sight, and a sinister cult is hunting for strange creatures like her. What she discovers is at once empowering, redemptive, and dangerous. (Goodreads)

Review: SORT-OF DISCLAIMER: I have a strong bias toward books where the main character is dead or undead. Then again, I've read a few that fared under the 3-star mark for me, so you can probably trust my judgement 😉.

WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT MONSTERS

Shallow Graves is one of those books that creep on you. The story in itself, though interesting and punctuated by intense moments, is not its strongest suit - the main lead and the overall concept are. In an interview, the author mentioned the TV show Supernatural as a source of inspiration, but not in the same vein as Anna Dressed in Blood was clearly ripped off from influenced by it. Basically, she asked herself: "But what if all those monsters getting hunted don’t want to be monsters?" and in response wrote a book from the monster(s)' perspective, also exploring (via the main character) the forever-shifting boundaries between the once-human and the monster itself. Mind you - among this particular cast of characters, Breezy is the only one who used to be human. But compared with the "normal" people who chase them and claim to "help" them using violence and abuse, all while having their own secret agenda, even monsters have redeeming qualities. [...]

October 10, 2018

Troy H. Gardner et al.: "13 Tales to Give You Night Terrors"

Title: 13 Tales to Give You Night Terrors [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: None
Author: Troy H. Gardner et al. [Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Horror, Supernatural, Afterlife
Year: 2015
Age: 16+ (it's more of an adult book, but it can be read by mature teens, though a few stories are a bit heavy on horror)
Stars: 4/5
Pros: Revisits old horror tropes in a fresh way. Most stories are cunningly contrived, often with a nice twist.
Cons: Some of the tales have a surrealistic feel that may not be everybody's cup of tea.
Will appeal to: Readers who like both straight-up horror (though not of the extreme variety) and creepy atmospheres.

Blurb: Murder, mayhem, maniacs...Journey with us into the dark heart of horror as authors from around the globe reveal their deepest fears. We meet a pair of twins with a sick sense of humor, a troubled family tormented by ghosts, and a man who keeps a chupacabra as a pet. Plus a department store massacre, a terrifying costumed stalker, and much, much more. (Amazon excerpt)

Review: First off...DISCLAIMER: I have already reviewed works by two of these authors (Troy H. Gardner and Erin Callahan) in the past, that they sent me for free in exchange for a honest review. Also, I've worked with both of them as a beta-reader on a few occasions, and I especially have history with Erin. Nevertheless, I guarantee I'm going to be as honest as usual in my review.

STRANGER THINGS

Um...I might have another disclaimer to make...I'm not a horror expert. I mean, I've read a good amount of books with horror in them, but not books that revolve around horror. While reading these stories, I recognised some of the classic tropes of course, and IMO, they got a great makeover, or were given an interesting twist. For the rest, I only can trust the authors' willingness to produce original content. Oh, and this is an indie book, but the quality is (un)surprisingly good (because I'm firmly convinced that only those who have indie prejudice will find it surprising). Just a handful of (genuine) typos, the same thing I recently found more than once in traditionally published books 😏. Also notable that a couple of these stories are openly queer, which apparently is far from common in horror. This been said, here are the shorties I found more outstanding, for different reasons.
Crashing Mirrors is my favourite story in here. It starts as a classic teen comedy (with a queer twist) featuring two naughty twins intent on fooling everyone with the typical sibling switch. It ends with the most unexpected (and creepy) consequence to their scam. Warning: this one features some ableist/sexist language, that clearly serves the purpose of establishing the twins' personality.
Store Macabre is a surrealistic piece about a...should I say "possessed"? department store, where all the most shocking/horrorish stuff happens - more often than not amidst the weird detachment of bystanders - while an unnamed Assistant draws a heavy and mysterious sack to the 14th floor. While the deadly store is not a new idea, the story as a whole is imaginative, matter-of-factly absurd and tragicomical. I'm not sure I understood the ending, but after a second read, I'm not sure the ending is meant to be understood either 😉.
It's Different When You Have Your Own is as short as it is unsettling. I can't say I liked it, but one thing's for sure: I'll never forget it. Which may be either a good or a bad thing 😂. Now I wish I knew how the author got the idea. Horror doesn't necessarily resides in blood and deadly creatures... [...]

October 03, 2018

Back to Black: Introducing the 2018 Halloween Backlist

Pumpkin photo: free from Pixabay. Graphics: Offbeat YA

 Hello sweeties, and happy/scary October! 😱
 
This year, I'm attempting something I've wanted to do for a long time. Every October since I started my blog, I kept seeing my fellow bloggers celebrate Halloween with their posts. Now, while I don't really observe the festivity (so to speak) IRL, I've been toying with the idea of joining the virtual fun with a series of blog posts myself, also because I DO enjoy dark things in my reading (except the brand of body horror for which Stephen King is renowned. Sorry guys, I tried). This resolution was stated in my Goals for 2018 post as well, as it was the intention of reviewing more backlist this year (well, so far, I haven't be able to squeeze many old-ish novels in my review plan for the year - but hey, still better than the ZERO of 2017...😏). So, I decided to accomplish two goals at once, and to spotlight four old and/or old-ish books from the dark side this Halloween, one every Wednesday till October 30th itself. Here's the plan...

September 28, 2018

Patrick Ness: "More Than This"

Title: More Than This [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: None
Author: Patrick Ness [Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Dystopian? Sci-Fi? Afterlife? None of that? It depends on how you understand it...
Year: 2014
Age: 14+
Stars: 3.5
Pros: Fascinating, heartfelt story that makes you care for the characters. Unapologetic, yet sweet representation of a gay relationship. Prose that manages to feel deep and rich despite its simplicity.
Cons: You peel layer after layer and you're left with virtually nothing under them, except the very message the title already conveyed.
Will appeal to: Those who like mindfucking books where getting the message is more important than actually believing in the story.

Blurb: Seth drowns, desperate and alone. But then he wakes. Naked, thirsty, starving. But alive. And where is he? The street seems familiar, but everything is abandoned, overgrown, covered in dust. He remembers dying, his skull bashed against the rocks. Has he woken up in his own personal hell? Is there more to this life, or perhaps this afterlife? (Amazon)

Review: This is one of the rare books I managed to get not long after it came out - just a few months. And all this time I have struggled with writing a proper review for it...I did a mini that I probably should leave alone, because I'm not sure I can articulate my thoughts better in a long review, even now - but writing detailed reviews is a compulsion for me 😂. So here goes...

THE BOY WHO DROWNED ON EARTH

The first section is GREAT, and while reading this book for the first time, I was sure it would be a 5-star one by the end. I understand that the aforementioned first section is not for everyone, because it's all about Seth waking up from...whatever his alleged death was, trying (unsuccessfully) to make sense of his situation, tending to his basic needs, exploring the place, asking himself questions, meeting (or not meeting) a few animals, feeling alone, dreaming painfully vivid and detailed snippets of his past. But I would have happily read a whole book about that - the whole darned 472 pages of it. The mystery was compelling and fascinating - while I loved the feeling of slowly peeling its layers along with Seth, I was also excited to live in that world for as long as it took to get real answers. Personal hell (as Seth himself believes)? Post-apocalyptic world? Coma dream? Or something else entirely? Plus, I loved his dreams/recollections/whatever they were, and not just as means to unlock the mystery. There's a solid, engrossing yet quiet YA contemporary wrapped into the mystery of Seth's awakening - and when I say "quiet" I mean "unglamorous", not "uneventful". There's a love story, and a friendship story, and a betrayal story, and a family story - and raw, real pain. There's a unapologetic, yet not graphic at all, sex scene between two boys, which is first and foremost a LOVE scene. And finally, the writing is solid, engrossing yet quiet as well. But...this was when the book shifted. [...]

September 21, 2018

Christopher Pike: "Thirst No.1"

Title: Thirst No.1 [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: Thirst (previously: The Last Vampire) (1st of ?? books | omnibus, reissued 2009 | contains the original TLV short novels: The Last Vampire, Black Blood, Red Dice)
Author: Christopher Pike [Facebook | Goodreads]
Genres: Urban Fantasy
Year: 1994-1995
Age: 14+ (please note: for years it's been considered YA lit, but the human age of the protagonist would place it in the NA category nowadays, and the series get more mature - and darker - by the book)
Stars: 5/5
Pros: Original take on vampires. Plenty of kickass action and funny (if often bloody) moments. Blends urban fantasy with thriller, history, and more than anything, Eastern spirituality.
Cons: Sort-of instalove (though redeemed by its peculiar premise). Insta-friendship too (though with a lovely, nerdy character). Multi-talented heroine who may annoy some readers.
WARNING! Abundance of blood, gore and violence.
Will appeal to: Those looking for a fresh approach to vampires, in what was probably the very first YA/NA series about them.

Blurb: Alisa has been in control of her urges for the five thousand years she has been a vampire. She feeds but does not kill, and she lives her life on the fringe to maintain her secret. But when her creator returns to hunt her, she must break her own rules in order to survive. Her quest leads her to Ray. He is the only person who can help her; he also has every reason to fear her. Alisa must get closer to him to ensure her immortality. But as she begins to fall in love with Ray, suddenly there is more at stake than her own life... (Goodreads)
[Please note: "Alisa" is the main character's alias in the first installment, but her real name - the one she'll go by for the rest of the series, when she's not undercover for some reason - is Sita. Also, the blurb just scratches the surface of what the first three books in the series - now repackaged as one - are about...to be precise, it only refers to Book 1]

Review: This series is not perfect. And I won't shun its faults in my review. But for some reason, I can't bear myself to rate it less than 5 stars. It's not author bias - there are a bunch of Pike books I rated 3 stars and even less. But if TLV/Thirst stills works its magic on me almost 20 years after I first read Book 1, and if I'm still peeling its layers after all this time, that should count for something...

NOT THAT KIND

Sita is not your usual vampire in many ways - which gives her a different agenda than your average fanged creature. She can tolerate the sun, though it slows her a little; she can go months without feeding, though she needs blood in a bad way if she's injured; she doesn't need to kill her victims, since she can make them forget their encounters with her - though kill she does when someone pisses her out big time; and she's got lots of other quirks, big and small. Most of all, though, she hasn't created one of her kind for centuries, because of a vow she made to Krishna when she was a very young vampire. Now, you can wonder how Krishna factors into the vampire equation - but it would be a long and spoilery answer if I told you. Just rest assured that he does, and the inclusion of elements of Easter spirituality into a vampire story is not as far-fetched as you may think. Disclaimer: I'm not Indian. I'm in no way an expert when it comes to Hinduism. It's not my place to say if this is a case of cultural appropriation - though I know for sure that Pike has always been earnestly fascinated by Eastern spirituality and has studied it closely for years (as he explained in many of his Facebook posts). What I can say is, the inclusion of these aspects and the way they shape Sita's story is one of the most interesting and fascinating facets of this series. [...]

September 16, 2018

A Reader's Quirks #6: The Peter Pan Syndrome

I'm back with a new installment of my random feature about the who, what, where, when and why of reading, where I talk about my own relationship with books/genres/authors, and ask my visitors to do the same if they feel so inclined. This could have been easily turned into a meme, but there's a reason why it didn't...I still don't see myself as an established enough blogger to host yet another meme. Even those with an impressive number of followers aren't necessarily overwhelmed with participation, so I'm not going there just yet. This doesn't mean "A Reader's Quirks" won't be promoted to meme status one day, should it be the case. It's all up to you, really 🙂.
A quick reminder...everyone can comment on my blog, spam or not spam. It matters to me that anyone can join the conversation. As for CAPTCHA...everyone hates it...so you won't find it here. Relax and breathe 😉.
This time I'm going to talk about...


THE PETER PAN SYNDROME

The title above is meant to be humorous...of course. I'm an adult who reads YA, so I don't believe in the Peter Pan Syndrome. And yes, that's an oxymoron - thank you very much, Certified Proper Adult who have stumbled upon this piece. I know you're probably itching to put me in a box and label it "hopeless case". Or "charity case" maybe?
I'm an adult who reads YA. Among lots of adults who read YA. Every one of us has got a valid reason for that, and several - often excellent - posts have already been written about the subject. So that's not what I'm going to do here.
But I have been musing lately. Coincidentally to being an adult who reads YA, I'm also an adult who hardly reads the fiction that is meant for her anymore. Unless it's a quirky book about time travel or paranormalcy or futuristic technology and the likes. And while I'm a die-hard fan of adult mysteries, I only love the classic ones (Agatha Christie, Ellery Queen, John Dickson Carr, Rex Stout), so it's not like I'm buying new books in the genre.
So, I've been basically asking myself, not why I read YA book, but why I hardly read adult fiction anymore. And this is what I came up with...

September 09, 2018

Taste the Books: Review Morsels #10 Ilsa J. Bick, Han Nolan, J.R. Rain et al.


Intro


Hello beauties!

Welcome again to my own brand of mini reviews! I never thought I'd do minis, until I recapped a few of my long reviews in some digest post in 2014, and then guest-posted 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...

September 02, 2018

Seanan McGuire: "Down Among the Sticks and Bones"

Title: Down Among the Sticks and Bones [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: Wayward Children (1st of 5? books)
Author: Seanan McGuire [Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Supernatural (technically it would be Portal Fantasy, but since I don't have a Fantasy Room on the blog, I decided to shelf this one as Supernatural - that's the closer I could get)
Year: 2017
Age: 14+
Stars: 4/5
Pros: An imaginative look-in-reverse at one of the most common fantasy tropes. Explores themes of gender issues and roles, and validates all the different shades in which femininity comes.
Cons: It's difficult to accept that kids would feel at home in such a harsh, unforgiving world.
WARNING! A vampire who sounds like a sexual predator; a murder; some gore.
Will appeal to: Everyone who's ever felt out of place, but doesn't necessary dream of a happier world than the one they live in...

Blurb: Jacqueline was her mother’s perfect daughter - polite and quiet, always dressed as a princess. If her mother was sometimes a little strict, it’s because crafting the perfect daughter takes discipline. Jillian was her father’s perfect daughter - adventurous, thrill-seeking, and a bit of a tom-boy. He really would have preferred a son, but you work with what you've got. They were twelve when they walked down the impossible staircase and discovered that the pretense of love can never be enough to prepare you [for] a life filled with magic in a land filled with mad scientists and death and choices. (Amazon excerpt)

Review: I have already detailed, while reviewing Book 1, my love/hate relationship with this series...if you need to brush it up, it's in the last paragraph of my EHAD review, "BOOK OF (SELF) RULES". So take my ratings with a grain of salt - there's a lot to love in these stories, and they ARE unique, which is a great achievement in itself. With that out of the way, let's get to the actual review...

WHAT WOMEN WANT

Some reviewers have lamented the heavy-handed approach to Jack and Jill's home life description in the first quarter of the book - all the telling-not-showing and whatnot. I have to confess I didn't particularly notice it, though I do understand where they're coming from. As a (dark) fable - and a short one at that - I think the omniscient narrator style suited the book...and I say "the book" because it doesn't really stop once the sisters find their door. Also, Chester and Serena (while of course an EXTREME example of bad parenting) are the epitome of all the wrong assumptions, the nonsensical expectations, the rigid roles that society - and, yes, family too, sometimes - tries to force upon us from a very young age. I also found interesting how, even if the twins would switch roles if they could (which they will do once in the Moors), those roles would come with nuances their parents (or society) can't even begin to comprehend. Like, Jill would still like sports and spaceships and superheroes, only in a fancy dress (Part II, Ch.7). To be honest, the first section of the book is my favourite, with all its social commentary and validation of all things female, whichever form they take. And if it's hammered upon us a little, it's just because we STILL. DON'T. LISTEN. ENOUGH. [...]