December 23, 2019

2019 Wrap-Up: In Which I Stumble, but Don't Fall (and Ultimately Conquer)

Hello my beauties!
Welcome to my last post of the year, where I will wrap my 2019 up. This was another year of scheduling, both my reads and my posts. I had set up a goal of one post a week, like last year (where I was ultimately able to hit 59), but my not-so-secret aspiration was to have a total of 60 posts - 5 per month. This didn't seem like much to achieve in fifty-two weeks - I know people who can drop the same amount of posts in TEN (hello Sam πŸ˜‰). But for me, it was a huge goal. I decided not to overly stress about that number, but to do my best to reach it IF I could. On top of that, 2019 was the first year where I had to take a blog hiatus...well, two, if you count a couple of weeks in December (though I had both hiatuses covered with scheduled posts). And yet...I was able to go above and beyond! Read the whole story of how I stumbled, but didn't fall, and ultimately conquered my TBP (To Be Posted) list!

Pt. 1: This Year in Blogging

As of today, I've been blogging for 7 years and a couple of months πŸ˜ƒ.

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...plus a brand new off-blog, real-life section!

December 14, 2019

Parker Peevyhouse: "Strange Exit" (ARC Review)

Title: Strange Exit  [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: None
Author: Parker Peevyhouse [Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Sci-Fi
Year: 2020
Age: 14+
Stars: 4/5
Pros: Complex but believable VR setting, painted in mind-blowing details. Sometimes flawed, yet well-meaning and brave teens who will tug at your heart. Strong sibling theme. Twists and turns galore.
Cons: The ending feels a little rushed.
Will appeal to: Those who are fascinated by virtual reality and survival stories. Those who like books with a strong accent on family and a minimal amount of romance.

Blurb: Seventeen-year-old Lake spends her days searching a strange, post-apocalyptic landscape for people who have forgotten one very important thing: this isn’t reality. Everyone she meets is a passenger aboard a ship that’s been orbiting Earth since a nuclear event. The simulation that was supposed to prepare them all for life after the apocalypse has trapped their minds in a shared virtual reality and their bodies in stasis chambers. No one can get off the ship until all of the passengers are out of the sim, and no one can get out of the sim unless they believe it's a simulation. It's up to Lake to help them remember. When Lake reveals the truth to a fellow passenger, seventeen-year-old Taren, he joins her mission to find everyone, persuade them that they’ve forgotten reality, and wake them up. But time’s running out before the simulation completely deconstructs, and soon Taren’s deciding who’s worth saving and who must be sacrificed for the greater good. Now, Lake has no choice but to pit herself against Taren in a race to find the secret heart of the sim, where something waits that will either save them or destroy them all. (Amazon)

Review: First off...DISCLAIMER: this title was up for grabs on NetGalley (in the Read Now section). Thanks to Macmillan-Tor/Forge/Tor Teen for providing a temporary ecopy. This didn't influence my review in any way.

THE GREAT ESCAPE

I know that many readers who prefer contemporary and/or fantasy are intimidated by sci-fi. But with Peevyhouse's books (she has three under her belt) it's not the case. You're not fed theories or technical explanations of how things work. In this particular book, you're swallowed into a futuristic setting and a sophisticated digital simulation you don't need to know the rules of, and you're in for an adventure - AND a love story in the widest sense. I don't know if the kind of virtual reality depicted in this book could ever get developed (which is a scary thought, if you ask me, because it feels so mesmerising and, well, real), but what I know is, I was able to suspend my disbelief and enjoy the ride, and I never once questioned the hows and ifs and whys. I think the most notable aspect of this virtual world is that it replicates the alleged post-apocalyptic reality of our planet (the result of a nuclear fallout), and still there are patches of beauty and safe spots the kids connected to it were able to create, and powerful illusions, and impossible escapes (the "strange exits" the book is named after) - but you can escape only for so long before reality catches up with you. (Also, in case you're wondering, the author came up with a logical - if cruel - reason for adults not to be around...). [...]

December 08, 2019

Dawn Vogel (Editor) et al.: "I Didn't Break the Lamp - Historical Accounts of Imaginary Acquaintances"

Title: I Didn't Break the Lamp: Historical Accounts of Imaginary Acquaintances [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: None
Author: Dawn Vogel (Editor) [Site | Goodreads] et al.
Genres: Supernatural
Year: 2019
Age: 18+ (there's a story with explicit sex on page)
Stars: 4/5
Pros: Original, often unexpected, sometimes emotive spins on the imaginary friend trope.
Cons: A handful of the stories are a little harder than others to get into, or (in one instance) anticlimactic.
Will appeal to: Those who like to get surprised. Those who never really outgrew their imaginary friends and never will.

Blurb: Are they in our imagination, or are we in theirs? Mad Scientist Journal has brought together twenty-six tales of people with uncertain existence. These accounts range from cheerful to dark, stopping off at frequent points between. Imaginary friends share space with witches, monsters, nightmares, and maybe a few things that have not yet been dreamed. (Amazon excerpt)

Review: First off...DISCLAIMER: I have known Troy H. Gardner (one of the authors of this anthology) for 5 years and a half now, and I have both reviewed his collaborative books with Erin Callahan (another friend of my blog) and beta-read for him. I swear, though, that I'm going to be as honest about this book as I usual strive to be in my reviews. Also, he's only one of the many, talented names featured in here, none of which I'm tied to in any way.
Note: when we think of imaginary friends, we automatically think about children, early teens at best. In this anthology, people of all ages deal with their imaginary friends, and if a couple of the youngsters end up outgrowing theirs, most have gotten old in their company, or haven't necessarily stop believing in them altogether. Also because it turns out that these imaginary friends are *big shock* as real as they come.

OUT OF THE BOX

While I was going through these stories and taking notes for each of them, the most recurring word was "original". There are a few unforeseen creatures among the imaginary friends in this book (like a female devil and a dead goddess...and even a couple of A.I.s/computer interfaces), and a few "hybrid" ones (like ghosts - or sort of - and faeries), not to mention that some of them don't engage with their human in the way you would expect - but the real treat was that most of these tales were able to take me by surprise (When I Helped for the win!). Another interesting facet of this collection is that it occasionally manages to double as ethical narrative (End User Agreement, Fortress of Ash and Bone), ecofiction (Jack in the Matchbox, The Voice), even humorous analysis of poly/gay dating (See Me, Seen), and on top of that, to include neurodivergent characters (The Tutor, End User Agreement again). But even when they have us pondering, these stories never fail to entertain and bring us to unexpected places, plus melt a little piece of our heart here and there. [...]

December 01, 2019

Tooting Your Trumpet #7


Some people toot their own trumpet. I mean to toot yours. On the first Sunday of every month, I'm sharing your posts, your sites, anything interesting I stumble upon during my internet vagrancies. This month on TYT...
  • I'M TIRED OF GOODREADS CHOICE AWARDS (a discussion on Shealea's blog Shut Up, Shealea)
  • HAVE YA PRICES GOTTEN OUT OF HAND? (a discussion on Veronika's and Ruzaika's blog Wordy and Whimsical)
  • YA VS. NA: WHY IS IT SO HARD TO CATEGORIZE? (a discussion on Emily's blog Paperback Princess)
  • ON CANADA'S IDOLIZATION OF AN OLD WHITE MAN AND HIS RACISM (a think piece/discussion on Emily's blog - see above)
Please note: all the graphics featured in these posts are property of the blog/site owners, and are only used in association with their blog/site links.

    November 20, 2019

    Ryan La Sala: "Reverie" (ARC Review)

    Title: Reverie  [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
    Series: None
    Author: Ryan La Sala [Site | Goodreads]
    Genres: Supernatural, Paranormal, Fantasy
    Year: 2019
    Age: 14+
    Stars: 4.5/5
    Pros: Unique premise. Mind-blowing scenarios. Powerful cast. Puts queer characters front and center as heroes and villains.
    Cons: Over-the-top story that builds and builds up and hardly gives the reader any breathing space.
    WARNING! Some instances of brutal/unsettling imagery (including zoomorphic monsters). One brief sexual innuendo (no actual sex on page though).
    Will appeal to: Those who like adventures in alternate realities, normal kids with preternatural powers, and a logic behind it all - plus a strong queer rep.

    Blurb: All Kane Montgomery knows for certain is that the police found him half-dead in the river. He can't remember anything since an accident robbed him of his memories a few weeks ago. And the world feels different - reality itself seems different. So when three of his classmates claim to be his friends and the only people who can tell him what's truly going on, he doesn't know what to believe or who he can trust. But as he and the others are dragged into unimaginable worlds that materialize out of nowhere, Kane realizes that nothing in his life is an accident, and only he can stop their world from unraveling. (Amazon excerpt)

    Review: First off...DISCLAIMER: I requested this title on Netgalley. Thanks to Sourcebooks Fire for providing a temporary ecopy. This didn't influence my review in any way.

    WORKS LIKE A DREAM

    I went into Reverie expecting a wild ride through alternate realities (which I have to admit was my first hook - OK, I'm trash πŸ˜‚), a bunch of teen heroes saving the day (maybe even at a high cost, because we all know there's nothing like sacrifice to make a book more grand) and, well, a drag queen sorceress of course (because early reviewers couldn't stop screaming about her). And I did get all of that. But somehow, the book surpassed my expectations. The dreams made real were even more detailed and outrageous than I anticipated, the stakes higher, and the drag queen sorceress more flamboyant (AND terrifying)...while she was also able to surprise me with her metamorphosis - or more precisely, with the way she revealed her true nature. Plus, for a story so steeped into opulent, crazy dream-logic, the world-building was surprisingly well-thought. Under the reveries' flashy/deadly facade, under the protagonists' powers, under the villain's motives, there was a lot of rhyme and reason, and even some psychological ground - not to mention a spot-on take on the power of dreams. [...]

    November 15, 2019

    Reintroducing..."A Reader's Quirks"

    Hello sweeties!

    I've got news for you - though for now I'm simply (re)introducing a blog feature that won't go live until sometime in the new year. A while ago, I used to (sporadically at best) unleash my opinionated self in a post series called A Reader's Quirks. For some reason (OK, laziness) I have long stopped coming up with prompts for it, which resulted in my not having written a single ARQ post in more than one year (not to mention, the post before that was from 2015...). But when my friend Lissa from The Memory of Rain did a graphic giveaway, and she later informed me that I was one of the winners, my first thought was "I need a logo for my A Reader's Quirk series, and I'm going to start anew with it!" (yep, I didn't even have a logo for it. I can't design, and free digital art programs are of little use to me without an already existing graphic that I can tweak). So, Lissa designed this fabulousness (with just a couple of heads-ups from me, because she's awesome like that...she even incorporated the little books from my banner on her own accord!), and I'm proud to present it to you!

    ARQ logo by digital artist Lissa

    November 10, 2019

    Taste the Books: Review Morsels #16 Ryan La Sala, Parker Peevyhouse, Rob Rufus


    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 reviews - 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 πŸ˜‰. Just be warned - this feature will be VERY random!

    NOTE: I've fallen into a routine where I post a mini-review round every two months. However, I'm making an exception and posting one just three days after my latest because these are all NetGalley ARCs, some of which are coming out soon - the first on December 3rd - so I wanted to post my minis before I started to share my full reviews closer to pub date. Here's my official full-review calendar for them:

    Reverie by Ryan La Sala: November 20th

    Strange Exit by Parker Peevyhouse: December 14th

    The Vinyl Underground by Rob Rufus: February 10th

    So, here goes...

    November 07, 2019

    Taste the Books: Review Morsels #15 Seanan McGuire, Naomi Hughes, M.E. Kerr


    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 reviews - 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 πŸ˜‰. Just be warned - this feature will be VERY random! So, here goes...

    November 05, 2019

    Tell Me Something Tuesday: What Are Your Favourite Book Genres?

    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:

    WHAT ARE YOUR FAVOURITE BOOK GENRES?

    πŸ‘» AFTERLIFE


    If you've known me for a while (or even for a short time, really), I bet you won't be surprised to hear that my all-time favourite thing to read about are dead/undead characters, dead characters who are trying to contact the living, dead characters in an afterlife context...OK, dead characters πŸ˜‚. As I said in the introduction to my blog's Afterlife Room,
    [...] It's nothing morbid of course - I just love them reliving moments of their life, or trying to find out how they ended up dead in the first place. Or coming back to life sometimes LOL.
    Afterlife book recommendations:

    November 03, 2019

    Tooting Your Trumpet #6


    Some people toot their own trumpet. I mean to toot yours. On the first Sunday of every month, I'm sharing your posts, your sites, anything interesting I stumble upon during my internet vagrancies. This month on TYT...
    • GIRL HATE IN YA (a discussion on Inge's, Aly's, Ely's and Wren's blog Of Wonderland)
    • I DIDN'T BREAK THE LAMP (a short story collection featuring Troy H. Gardner)
    • 7 LIGHTER, NON-SPOOKY OCTOBER READS (a recommendation post on Veronika's and Ruzaika's blog Wordy and Whimsical)
    • IS BOOK BLOGGING BECOMING MORE UN-AFFORDABLE? (a discussion on Alice-Elizabeth's blog MarriedToBooksReviewsAndBlog)
    Please note: all the graphics featured in these posts are property of the blog/site owners, and are only used in association with their blog/site links.

      October 31, 2019

      Christopher Pike: "The Blind Mirror"

      Title: The Blind Mirror [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
      Series: None
      Author: Christopher Pike [Facebook | Goodreads]
      Genres: Thriller/Mystery, Sci-fi, Supernatural, Horror
      Year: 2004
      Age: 18+
      Stars: 5/5
      Pros: Tightly plotted, darkly atmospheric, with a brilliant and shocking twist. Effortlessly blends mystery, sci-fi and the supernatural.
      Cons: Rather dry writing. Lots of unpleasant (though almost always interesting) characters.
      WARNING! Some heavy gore (graphic cultist murders, among other things). Two characters get badly burned (off page). Hardcore Christians might find a certain aspect of the story deeply disturbing.
      Will appeal to: Those who like books that mess with their brain.

      Blurb: David, a twenty-eight-year-old artist, is recovering from a bad breakup with the mysterious and beautiful Sienna when he discovers a woman's dead body half-buried on the beach. Soon the dead woman is identified as David's ex-girlfriend, and he becomes the prime suspect in her murder. But Sienna can't be dead; she keeps leaving messages on his answering machine. And no matter how badly their relationship ended, he couldn't have killed her. In self-defense, David begins his own investigation, trying to find out who the dead woman really is and what's behind the satanic murder. David's search for Sienna and the truth about her disappearance take him from coastal California to New York City to Florida - and into the darkest night of his soul. (Amazon excerpt)

      Review: Christopher Pike seems to thoroughly enjoy blending the supernatural with sci-fi concepts - but to be honest, he also has a flair for it. Of course, if you don't like the mix to begin with, you might not be the right audience for this one. I have to say, though, that the sci-fi aspect here is not particularly daunting...more like haunting πŸ˜‰.

      GHOST IN THE MACHINE

      A book featuring an elusive ex-girlfriend who (allegedly) left without an explanation, and now is leaving messages on an answering machine - except she should be dead? You're probably thinking it's too dated to be worth a read. But to me, there's something to be said for the lack of technology. As much as I used to like CSI, I'm a sucker for books where cell phones, the internet, GPS and other modern devices don't make an appearance, because those stories are able to create a layer of mystery that is so hard to achieve nowadays, with basically the whole world at the top of your fingers. Even if I weren't a Christopher Pike fan, I would have wanted to read this book for the premise alone. The funny thing is, The Blind Mirror ended up being a whole different novel that I had envisioned after reading the blurb. But in a way, it was even wilder and more intense/deranged than I thought it would be, and I loved the completely unpredictable turn it took. [...]

      October 24, 2019

      Nova Ren Suma: "Imaginary Girls"

      Title: Imaginary Girls [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
      Series: None
      Author: Nova Ren Suma [Site | Goodreads]
      Genres: Contemporary with a Twist, Afterlife, Thriller/Mystery
      Year: 2011
      Age: 14+
      Stars: 4.5/5
      Pros: Creative spin on the mean girl/toxic sisterly relationship trope. Masterful use of magical realism, with characters who nevertheless feel deeply real. Evocative writing that never gets purple.
      Cons: The aforementioned trope, if you're not into it (though I'm not, and it worked for me here). The first chapters are a tad slow, and the ending won't give you straight answers.
      WARNING! Death by water, underage drinking, underage sex (though not actually described), talk of drugs.
      Will appeal to: Those who love a marriage between the mundane and the supernatural - with bonus surprises and characters who get under your skin.

      Blurb: Chloe's older sister, Ruby, is the girl everyone looks to and longs for, who can't be contained or caged. When a night with Ruby's friends goes horribly wrong and Chloe discovers the body of her classmate London Hayes left floating in the reservoir, Chloe is sent away from town and away from Ruby. But Ruby will do anything to get her sister back, and when Chloe returns to town two years later, deadly surprises await. As Chloe flirts with the truth that Ruby has deeply hidden away, the fragile line between life and death is redrawn by the complex bonds of sisterhood. (Amazon)

      Review: If you don't click with magical realism, this is not the book for you. If you do, you'll ADORE IG. I fell in love with Suma while reading The Walls Around Us, and I still have to find a book by her that doesn't make me spellbound.

      LOVE AND OTHER SORCERIES

      Caveat: I don't like mean-girl books. I don't like books about toxic relationships. But Suma's damaged girls - the ones that, more or less, populate all the stories she's written so far - I can't seem to hate. More often than not, they have some redeeming quality/reason for being what they are, or at least they're so human (maybe twisted sometimes, but human) that you can't help but empathise with them. I do love magical realism with all my heart though, and Nova Ren Suma is the queen of it. If Imaginary Girls didn't quite reach the brilliance of The Walls Around Us - my first Suma book - for this reader, it's not for lack of trying. Actually, the way IG combines an unhealthy but ultimately moving sisterly bond (that thing oh so very real) with impossible occurrences and inexplicable powers is a work of art, and both Ruby's character and her hold on the town - plus the main event around which the book unfolds and the ripples* it sends out - go far and beyond what you would expect. Because Ruby's small community may revolve around her, and she may be able to bend it to her will, and of course she will go to any length to protect her sister Chloe, but she's not magical, and even her ability is bound by rules (and, as it's to be expected, comes at a high price). The consequences of what Ruby did to protect Chloe get revealed bit by bit, and let me tell you, Suma's imagination goes wild. There's this one incident in particular that had me drop my jaw, because, of all the crazy things I was expecting, that one wasn't even on my radar.

      * If you've read the book already, you will have realised...the pun was intended 😁. [...]

      October 22, 2019

      Tell Me Something Tuesday: Would You Spend a Full Night Inside of a Haunted House if Someone Paid You?

      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:

      WOULD YOU SPEND A FULL NIGHT INSIDE A HAUNTED HOUSE IF SOMEONE PAID YOU?

      GHOSTS!!! For an afterlife novel junkie like me, the mere word sounds delicious (though my afterlife novels don't deal with ghosts only - most of them are literally set in an afterlife scenario, or are about people who come back to life...or un-life...you get the concept. But still...GHOSTS πŸ’—).

      October 18, 2019

      Cover Reveal: "The Infernal Machine" by C.W. Snyder

      Welcome to a special, Halloween-friendly cover reveal...

      Teaser!

      You know, as a rule, I don't do reveals. Well, I don't do mass reveals, or reveals for books that I'm not interested in. So, when I do one, you know there's a solid reason behind that.
      This time, we're looking at the cover for the new C.W. Snyder book - and I have a history with the author, since I reviewed the first two installments in his afterlife/fantasy/mythology series The Balance. So I jumped at the chance of revealing this particular cover...also because the book in question is on my TBR list. Of course it is. I wouldn't have revealed its cover otherwise.
      So, here goes...

      October 17, 2019

      Robin Wasserman: "The Waking Dark"

      Title: The Waking Dark [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
      Series: None
      Author: Robin Wasserman [Site | Goodreads]
      Genres: Thriller/Mystery, Sci-Fi
      Year: 2013
      Age: 14+
      Stars: 3.5/5
      Pros: Strong writing and handling of multiple characters. Well-crafted exploration of the hidden violence lying behind people's facade.
      Cons: Dark and gloomy. The premise is quite far-fetched.
      WARNING! Very mature content, with lots of violence, attempted rape, and even a child smothered on page.
      Will appeal to: Those who don't mind dark books. Those who like survival stories and (sometimes deeply) flawed characters.

      Blurb: They called it the killing day. Twelve people murdered, in the space of a few hours, their killers also all dead by their own hand...except one. And that one has no answers to offer the shattered town. Something is waking in the sleepy town of Oleander, Kansas - something dark and hungry. As the town begins a descent into blood and madness, five survivors of the killing day are the only ones who can stop Oleander from destroying itself. They have nothing in common. They have nothing left to lose. And they have no way out. Which means they have no choice but to stand and fight, to face the darkness in their town - and in themselves. (Amazon excerpt)

      Review: Robin Wasserman’s Cold Awakening is one of my favourite series ever, and heck, the woman can write - so I was fully prepared to love The Waking Dark, especially since the premise was screaming AWESOME! at me. The fact is, this is hands down the darkest, gloomiest book I’ve ever read…plus, there are other things that dampened my enthusiasm a bit. Hence the 3.5-star rating (originally a 3-star one, but upon rereading, I found myself liking the book more…).
      (Also, not all reviews need to be broken into three sections, and that's all right).

      SATAN'S PIT

      The only possible reason why TWD has been labeled as YA is the main characters' age range (13-17). In fact, this book is, essentially, a journey in the depths of humanity's dark side and latent violence, where - even taking into account the external factor that apparently brought out the worst in everyone - no one is truly innocent. Because the potential was there all along, and only needed to be tapped into. OK, I'm sounding cryptic as heck, so let's put it this way: the whole town of Oleander goes mad. It starts with a few individual, but in the end all the residents (with only the odd exception, that will get explained - or sort of) enter a spiral of full-blown violence. Much later, we'll learn that there's a reason for this...but is there? Can you really blame an external factor, or was it just the kick in the butt those people needed to let their worst instincts take over? It's an interesting question, especially nowadays, with more and more countries electing aggressive right-wing governments that are paving the way for violence and intolerance. What would you do if you felt like your worst deeds could go unpunished? Would your conscience hold up? In TWD, there's a more peculiar reason for the surge of violence (one that I didn't entirely buy), but the result is the same. Give people a push in the right (I mean wrong) direction, leave them to their own devices, and they will destroy centuries of civilisation with a single blow. "Scary" doesn't even start to define it. [...]

      October 10, 2019

      Barbara Stewart: "The In-Between"

      Title: The In-Between  [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
      Series: None
      Author: Barbara Stewart [Site | Goodreads]
      Genres: Contemporary with a Twist
      Year: 2013
      Age: 14+
      Stars: 4/5
      Pros: Original premise. Ambiguous and poignant story, with a surprising early twist and a subsequent, creepy crescendo.
      Cons: Gloomy atmosphere. Flawed main character.
      WARNING! Attempted suicide, self-harm, death of a parent, depression, fat-shaming, some ableism.
      Will appeal to: Those who like eerie stories and unreliable narrators.

      Blurb: Fourteen-year-old Elanor Moss has always been an outcast who fails at everything she tries - she's even got the fine, white scars to prove it. Moving was supposed to be a chance at a fresh start. But, when a terrible car accident changes her life forever, her near-death experience opens a door to a world inhabited by Madeline Torus. She is exactly what Elanor has always wanted in a best friend and more. But Madeline is not like other girls, and Elanor has to keep her new friend a secret or risk being labeled "crazy." Soon, though, even Elanor starts to doubt her own sanity. Madeline is her entire life, and that life is drastically spinning out of control. (Amazon excerpt)

      Review: A couple of random thoughts before I start...1) despite the protagonist's age (she's 14) and the lack of sex, this book is definitely dark enough to be shelved as "upper YA"; 2) there's an instance of "it's" instead of "its" in Ch.38. Just saying. *sighs*

      TWIST 'N' SPIN

      This is a difficult book to review without giving away the early twist and the final denouement...that is...the thing that's been building up for the whole time, and yet makes you do a double take in the end, because you hadn't thought that far ahead - or you simply weren't sure to what extent the concept of "unreliable narrator" applied to Elanor "Ellie" Moss. So I'll try to keep my review short (yeah, good luck with that 😜) and sweet. Ellie is a damaged character with a suicide attempt in her past, a weak father, a strong mother, and an ex-best friend who betrayed her (or was never a real friend to begin with). Her story walks a fine line between mental trouble and magical realism, under the guise of a supposed haunting, but not only (I can't be more specific because SPOILERS, but the "situation" I'm NOT mentioning has everything to do with the early twist, which I think was genius BTW). What I can say is, TIB plays with a few familiar themes/premises and manages to spin a fresh tale out of them. The "mental vs. paranormal" trope may feel overused at this point (and even predatory or detrimental in some cases), but this story elevates it to the next level. Also because (and this is NOT a spoiler) Ellie's mental issues pre-date both the first and the second twist, and the ending leaves the door open for an interpretation that doesn't rely on the main character's mental health (actually, that's the one I personally endorse). [...]

      October 06, 2019

      Tooting Your Trumpet #5


      Some people toot their own trumpet. I mean to toot yours. On the first Sunday of every month, I'm sharing your posts, your sites, anything interesting I stumble upon during my internet vagrancies. This month on TYT...
      • READ FOR GRACE (a book challenge on Lauren's blog Bookmark Lit)
      • IS ALL ART FANFICTION? (a discussion post on Rivka's blog The Orangutan Librarian)
      • IN DEFENCE OF GIRLY GIRL GENRES (a discussion post on Rivka's blog - see above)
      • LIBRARY LIFE: PHONE ETIQUETTE (a post on Shayna's blog Clockwork Bibliotheca)
      Please note: all the graphics featured in these posts are property of the blog/site owners, and are only used in association with their blog/site links.

      October 03, 2019

      Back to Black: Introducing the 2019 Halloween Backlist

      Pumpkin photo: free from Pixabay. Graphics: Offbeat YA

       Hello sweeties, and happy/scary October! 😱
       
      As I did last year, I'm spotlighting four old and/or old-ish books from the dark side this Halloween, one per week till October 31st itself. This is a smart (???) way for me both to cross a handful of books from my to-be-reviewed list and to celebrate the most beloved festivity in the book-blogging world along with my book-blogging friends. I will admit this series didn't get much traction last year (at least in terms of comments), but I'm a stubborn old lady, so I'm at it again 😜. Here's the plan, with dates, titles, authors and genres for each book...

      September 29, 2019

      Nick Scorza: "People of the Lake" (ARC Review)

      Title: People of the Lake [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
      Series: None
      Author: Nick Scorza [Site | Goodreads]
      Genres: Thriller/Mystery, Supernatural
      Year: 2019
      Age: 14+
      Stars: 3.5/5
      Pros: Puts a fresh spin on some classic supernatural/horror tropes, with a couple of surprises. Explores grief and daughter/father dynamics.
      Cons: Employs quite a number of such tropes. Side characters feel a bit underdeveloped. The final confrontation is a tad over the top.
      WARNING! Some gruesome deaths.
      Will appeal to: Those who like classic mysteries in a contemporary setting. Those who like sibling stories.

      Blurb:  Sixteen-year-old Clara Morris is facing an awkward summer with her father in the tiny upstate town of Redmarch Lake. Clara's relationship with her parents - and with life in general - has been strained since she lost her twin sister, Zoe, when the girls were eight. She soon finds that Redmarch Lake, where her father's family has lived for generations, is a very unusual place. The townspeople live by odd rules and superstitions. The town's young people are just as odd and unfriendly as their parents. Clara manages to befriend the one boy willing to talk to an outsider, but he disappears during a party in the woods. The next day, he is found dead in the lake under mysterious circumstances. The townspeople all treat this as a tragic accident. Clara isn't buying it, but she doesn't know what to do until she receives a mysterious note hinting at murder - a note written in the language she shared with her twin sister, Zoe. (Amazon excerpt)

      Review: First off...DISCLAIMER: this title was up for grabs on Netgalley (in the Read Now section). Thanks to Skyhorse Publishing/Sky Pony for providing a temporary ecopy. This didn't influence my review in any way.

      TWISTING THE (T)ROPES

      If you're looking for books that employ a minimal dose of tropes, here's your caveat: People of the Lake is not one of those books. The good piece of news is, it uses them to its best advantage, and throws in a couple of twists that - combined with the sisterly bond/grief theme, and a relatable heroine who doesn't try too hard and isn't your usual special snowflake - alone would be enough to make POTL worth reading. There's a lot in this book that feels familiar: a mysterious and creepy place (albeit a lake and not your usual forest), a virtually gated community, a string of gruesome murders swept under the rug, a headstrong teen with a strained relationship with her parents, a couple of reluctant sidekicks, a love interest, and other minor things. But the way Scorza weaves it all together and incorporates the deceased-twin theme into the story makes all the difference - along with the fresh mythology he builds his story on. [...]

      September 25, 2019

      Goodbye Cruel Summer - Hallo(ween) Sweet October

      ...This summer has been the pits, my friends. THE PITS πŸ˜“ 😫.

      I know it's customary for me to annoy you with my severe case of summer allergy every year, not to mention, to write posts where I'm embracing the fall with all my might. But every year it feels like the "happy season" is harder and harder for me to endure. It might be part old age creeping in, part summers getting more and more heated and humid and all things EEEEEW and AAAAARGH. Because, if summer of '18 was unrelenting and unforgiving, summer of '19 sure stepped up its game. In between June and July, we had a huge heatwave that lasted around 3 weeks (!!!) - then it rained, so we got a brief respite. But the second heatwave was just around the corner, and the third a few days later. It was hard to sleep properly (especially given my muscular problems - my legs always get crampy and/or achy in the heat) without air conditioning - we and the hubs usually put a big fan at the foot of the bed and make it rotate, but of course it's not much. Lunches and dinners have, more often than not, consisted of cold cuts, canned tuna/spam salads, the quickest things to cook we could come up with...and a few times, even ice cream (and I don't even have a sweet tooth. The hubs does, though...). I couldn't bear the very thought of eating hot meals, let alone COOKING them. And the house, it goes without saying, was a mess. So, basically...it's been a drag 😡.

      This would be a live footage of me this summer, if I only were a man and owned a cat...

      September 17, 2019

      Tell Me Something Tuesday: How Do You Handle Writing Reviews for Books that You Didn’t Love?

      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:

      HOW DO YOU HANDLE WRITING REVIEWS FOR BOOKS THAT YOU DIDN'T LOVE?

      Eh...the shortest answer would be: with care. And respect. Unless we're talking about a problematic book (I mean, a really, INFURIATINGLY problematic book, not one with a questionable thing of two), in which case I'd probably be...not lenient. Thank goodness though, I've managed to dodge such books so far - probably because I'm on a tight book budget, and when I can afford a book haul (always a hundred months later than pub date) I've read so many reviews that all the problematic books of the moment (or of the year LOL) have been exposed πŸ˜‚.

      September 10, 2019

      Tell Me Something Tuesday: Are There Authors/Books that Everyone Seems to Love but You Don’t?

      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:

      ARE THERE AUTHORS/BOOKS THAT EVERYONE SEEMS TO LOVE BUT YOU DON'T?

      As anticipated in my previous TMST post, I tweaked the original question a little...well...a lot πŸ˜…. Because it seems like I never tried a popular author or read a popular book only to find myself disappointed with them. Of course, I'm the champion of books no one has ever heard about LOL - so it makes sense. Also, more often than not, hype has the counterproductive effect to turn me away from things designed to be popular. So, I decided to tweak today's question like this:

      ARE THERE POPULAR GENRES/AUTHORS/BOOKS THAT EVERYBODY SEEMS TO READ BUT DON'T APPEAL TO YOU IN THE SLIGHTEST?

      September 04, 2019

      Taste the Books: Review Morsels #14 Rin Chupeco, Charles Yu, 'Nathan Burgoine


      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 reviews - 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 πŸ˜‰. Just be warned - this feature will be VERY random! So, here goes...

      September 01, 2019

      Tooting Your Trumpet #4


      Some people toot their own trumpet. I mean to toot yours. On the first Sunday of every month, I'm sharing your posts, your sites, anything interesting I stumble upon during my internet vagrancies. This month on TYT...
      • HOW TO USE TRELLO TO ORGANIZE YOUR BLOG (a post on Kelly's blog Another Book in the Wall)
      • TEEN INFLUENCERS BOOK BLOG DIRECTORY (a database on Kelly's blog - see above)
      • IS THAT A COMPLIMENT? (a discussion post on Sam's blog We Live and Breath Books, where she discusses tagging authors in positive reviews)
      • BLOGGING MISTAKES NOT TO REPEAT (a TMST discussion post on Heidi's blog Rainy Day Ramblings)
       Please note: all the graphics featured in these posts are property of the blog/site owners, and are only used in association with their blog/site links.

      August 27, 2019

      Tell Me Something Tuesday: Why Do You Read Blog Posts?

      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 DO YOU READ BLOG POSTS?

      Well...I was prepared to go above and beyond as usual, but I realised I don't need a ton of words to explain how I feel, so I'll keep it short and sweet this time.
      I know you don't believe me 😜.

      August 20, 2019

      Christopher Pike: "Thirst No.4: The Shadow of Death"

      Title: Thirst No.4: The Shadow of Death [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
      Series: Thirst (previously: The Last Vampire) (4th of ?? books)
      Author: Christopher Pike [Facebook | Goodreads]
      Genres: Urban Fantasy
      Year: 2011
      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 gets more mature - and darker - by the book)
      Stars: 5/5
      Pros: Original take on vampires. Plenty of kickass action and entertaining (if often bloody) moments. Blends urban fantasy with thriller, history (though just slightly in this specific installment), and more than anything, Eastern spirituality. This particular installment is top-notch horror, with a strong supernatural bone.
      Cons: If you're not into a mix of supernatural/spiritual/sci-fi, this one might not work for you (though it's done well). The open ending might not sit well with some.
      WARNING! Child death (they're evil and dangerous children though). Gore, violence and really creepy villains.
      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 is a five-thousand-year-old vampire, stronger and more cunning than her adversaries. But now she's trapped in the body of a newborn vampire and at the mercy of a terrible thirst. Worst of all, she's facing enemies whose fierce desire for domination grows ever stronger. The immortal race the Telar is threatening to release a virus to decimate humanity. But Alisa and her friends can't take down the Telar on their own, and they must turn to the mysterious organization the IIC for help. But the IIC has secrets of its own and may have ulterior motives. With two rivals and no one to trust, Alisa must rely on her dark side to defeat them. But it could cost her life, or her soul...(Goodreads)
      [Please note: "Alisa" is the main character's alias when she's undercover for some reason...or when it suits her, but her real name is Sita. I SO wish these blurbs called her by her birth name πŸ˜’]

      Review: This series is not perfect. And I won't shun its faults in this review. But for some reason, I can't bear myself to rate it less than 5 stars (except for Thirst No.3). 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...

      REACH HIGH

      Thirst No.4 takes off exactly where the previous installment in the series stopped - and yes, that one ended with a cliffhanger. In Pike's defense though, he rarely (if ever) does that - but you can't have a single book that's almost 980 pages long 😲 πŸ˜‚. (Or maybe Stephen King could get away with it, but I'm not sure. Or maybe he actually has already?). Anyhow, while I had a few pet-peeves against Thirst No.3, this one is my favourite installment in the series so far, if by a notch (I rated every one of them 5 stars except for No.3, and I couldn't have borne to give them a lower rating, but I would have rated this one half a star higher if possible. Yes, I'm complicated πŸ˜…). The whole series is spiritual/philosophical and full of (bloody) action at the same time, plus a successful blend of supernatural and sci-fi (not an easy feat)...but Thirst No.4 has the highest stakes, the creepiest villains (whether human or not), the steepest ethical dilemmas, the most unexpected twists, the scariest (and most creative) horror scenes - plus a whole afterlife section that probably would have made me biased toward it regardless πŸ˜‚. (Except I don't really think I'm biased - again, see my review for No.3). If the blurb makes it sound like half the conspiracy books out there (only with vampires - well, one of them, to be precise), it's just because you can't fit a quarter of of what happens here into a blurb...especially if you don't want to spoil things. [...]

      August 11, 2019

      Karen Healey: "While We Run"

      Title: While We Run [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
      Series: When We Wake (2nd of 2 books)
      Author: Karen Healey [Site | Goodreads]
      Genres: Sci-Fi
      Year: 2014
      Age: 14+
      Stars: 4.5/5
      Pros: Strong, mostly diverse characters with distinctive voices, often dealing with moral dilemmas and hard decisions to make. Never a dull moment, even when the pace gets slower.
      Cons: A few familiar tropes/premises.
      WARNING! Offscreen torture (but we also get a few glimpses of it) and rape. Some gruesome deaths.
      Will appeal to: Readers who care about the state our world is in. Readers who like a thrilling yet romantic adventure.

      Blurb: Abdi Taalib thought he was moving to Australia for a music scholarship. But after meeting the beautiful and brazen Tegan Oglietti, his world was turned upside down. Tegan's no ordinary girl - she died in 2027, only to be frozen and brought back to life in Abdi's time, 100 years later. Now, all they want is for things to return to normal (or as normal as they can be), but the government has other ideas. Especially since the two just spilled the secrets behind Australia's cryonics project to the world. On the run, Abdi and Tegan have no idea who they can trust - and, when they uncover startling new details about the program, they realize that thousands of lives may be in their hands. (Amazon)

      Review: I'm ordinarily all for books without tropes, or employing as little of them as it's humanly possible - but sometimes an author can breath new life into an old concept, or make up for a familiar scenario with a great execution. Both things happen in While We Run - hence my rating. (Also, for your information, this one is set in Australia, which is a nice change from your usual all-American scenario).

      A DIFFERENT ANGLE

      For books with such a meaty sci-fi premise, both While We Run and its predecessor When We Wake are, at their core, good old dystopians, but with an unusually strong SJW vein, dealing with ethical, environmental, and even political issues. And the latter is especially true about WWR, since its main character Abdi (who was Tegan's sidekick in When We Wake) is a Djibouti immigrate, whose politician mother has indoctrinated him since a very young age with the tricks of her trade. This duology may be built on a few tropes, but it's entirely its own thing, and one we rarely see in YA. Especially WWR, with its diverse lead and his peculiar outlook. Abdi is a thinker, an observer, even a manipulator if need be (but he questions himself and realises it's not ethical to act like that around friends). He's also an atheist, unlike Tegan and Bethari (and most of his family, not to mention country), and while believers might find him harsh, he's a fascinating, complex character with a conscience, if not a creed. And he does struggle with doing the right thing, or choosing the lesser of two evils, which makes him stand out among your usual holier-than-thou or (most often) one-track-mind characters. [...]