March 26, 2013

Mike Lancaster: "0.4" (or "Human.4")

Title: 0.4 (U.S.A.: Human.4) [0.4 on Amazon - Human.4 on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: Point 4 (1st of 2 books)
Author: Mike Lancaster [Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Sci-Fi, Dystopian
Year: 2011
Age: 12+
Stars: 4/5
Pros: Unique premise. Gripping, thought-provoking story that sucks you in. Told in a peculiar way (via audiotapes; reason is explained at the end).
Cons: Rather short novel that doesn't leave much space for character development - though I guess it isn't supposed to, given the nature of the story itself. Laconic writing, with very short sentences.
Will appeal to: Those who are in for a different dystopian - not of the usual post-apocalyptic variety, but more of a creepy, wondering-where-we-are-heading-for type.

Blurb: Kyle Straker volunteered to be hypnotized at the annual community talent show, expecting the same old lame amateur acts. But when he wakes up, his world will never be the same. Televisions and computers no longer work, but a strange language streams across their screens*. Everyone’s behaving oddly. It’s as if Kyle doesn’t exist. Is this nightmare a result of the hypnosis? Will Kyle wake up with a snap of fingers to roars of laughter? Or is this something much more sinister? Narrated on a set of found cassette tapes at an unspecified point in the future, Human.4 is an absolutely chilling look at technology gone too far. (Amazon - from the Human.4 version)

*Reviewer's note: actually, the strange language only affects computers, while TV screens remain blank...

Review: Note: despite being published with two different titles, it is the same book. I linked to the respective Amazon pages for the two versions because of the blurbs and reviews being different; but as for Goodreads, apart from the blurbs (taken from the Amazon pages I mentioned), the reviews are of course identical - so I didn't bothered :).
Before getting onto the actual review, a short note on the titles. Without giving too much of the plot away, I can say that 0.4 works better than Human.4 to me for that very reason - it is less spoilery. At a certain point of the book, someone comes up with a theory about what the mentioned 0.4 stands for, and only later do we get the right explanation. Human.4 is probably more suggestive in terms of attracting potential readers, but on the other hand, when I came across the title 0.4 for the first time, I had to know what the book was about - so I guess that one works too.
I actually devoured this novel - couldn't wait to know what would happen next. And on closing the book, I was seriously giving it 5 stars. Then some apparent inconsistencies popped up in my mind, and my rating dropped to 4 stars. Then I read it again and realised that everything made perfect sense, but the writing started to bother me a little, mainly because of the predominant use of very short sentences. I also realised I wasn't particularly invested in the characters, thought this is understandable, since the book is quite short, which doesn't leave much space for character development. (And I assume Lancaster wasn't really going for it in the first place - this isn't a character-driven story). Finally, the novelty (and subsequently, the excitement) had worn off, because all the big secrets were out by then. But the fact is, this book was able to excite me enough to make me overlook all those aspects at first. Ultimately, the story is so creepy and thought-provoking, I couldn't exempt myself from giving it 4 stars. It is, indeed, a great take on technology and its connection with humanity.
The blurb above doesn't do justice to this novel. Of course, it couldn't be otherwise, or the story would be royally spoiled. The fact is, what happens immediately after the talent show is far more creepy than everything you can imagine after reading the blurb - and still it's only the prologue for a much creepier occurrence. Also, 0.4 isn't set in a distant future, but in the present age - and though what happens has, let's say, a transcendental premise, still the story sounds so rooted in reality, because of our increasing dependence from technology, up to the point where we get virtually fused with it. [...]

March 18, 2013

Book Blogger Confessions: Blog Design Edition

Book Blogger Confessions is a meme that posts the 1st and 3rd Monday of every month, where book bloggers "confess" and vent about blogging-related topics. This meme is hosted by Midnyte Reader and For What It's Worth. So click on the link(s), grab the logo and jump right in! Let's get to know each other a little better :).

March 18 Question: What is important in design for the blogs you follow? What features/elements do you appreciate? What are big turn offs?

IRL, I love both black and strong colours. But they don't often translate well on a web page. There has to be a balance of sorts. One thing I can't stand are clashing colours...or colours that are too similar to one another, so that sometimes you have to squint or to highlight the words in order to read. Also, I refuse to read anything in very small fonts - I don't even make the effort.
I like well organized things. A review blog may be an excellent chance to discover new books and I like it when the blogger - besides listing books and/or authors - provides an overview of the different genres featured in her/his blog, with links to the pertaining reviews. I did it myself on here - hope it helps!
My firm belief is that anyone should be able to comment, regardless of the type of her/his account. Even those who don't have one, or choose not to use it and prefer to comment with their name only. Since comments can be moderated, I don't see a problem with that. And of course, unless you get a hundred comments a day, it would be polite to acknowledge said comments. If one doesn't, I usually don't come back, even if the blog really interests me.

It's your turn! Please remember this is not a place for bashing or pointing your finger at other bloggers - other than that, you're welcome to share anything :).

March 12, 2013

Author Interview: J.H. Walker ("Rewrite Redemption")

I'm hosting my very first interview today! J.H. Walker, author of Rewrite Redemption, kindly agreed to be my guest and do a Q&A session for my blog. Thank you J.H. for taking the plunge and being the first author to undergo my questions ;). Before we get to know this fine lady a little better, here's a spotlight on her debut novel...

Title: Rewrite Redemption 
Series: TBA
Author: J.H. Walker
Genres: Time Travel, Paranormal Romance
Year: 2013
Age: 14+
Available on: Kindle
Rewrite Redemption on Amazon | on Goodreads

Blurb: She’s sixteen. He’s seventeen. They don’t know each other…at least not yet.
She has a secret and her whole life revolves around keeping it. Every few months and with little warning, she simply disappears, pulled into the past for hours or even days. She’s terrified it will happen in front of someone, changing her life forever. So far, the only witnesses have been her parents, and that didn’t end well. She has no control over it and no idea why it happens to her.
She wants answers.
He has answers - at least he understands what’s going on. He has a secret, too. He’s part of an organization that goes back in time to rewrite reality. But he also has a problem. He broke the organization’s number-one rule by altering his own timeline. As punishment, he’s been blocked from time travel, which is most unfortunate. Because the changes he made to his timeline, accidentally resulted in disaster for his family. A disaster he’s now prevented from repairing. No one can travel beneath the organization’s radar except a Shadow. But they’re rare, so rare he’s never even met one.
Then he moves to her town.
Rewrite Redemption is a YA love story with paranormal/sci-fi elements. (Amazon)

Interview: I met J.H. Walker via a discussion on Goodreads, and we chatted about the weight of romance in YA books, along with her debut novel Rewrite Redemption, in a series of private messages. Since her book was out in those same days, I mentioned the possibility of an interview for my blog, and J.H. graciously accepted, despite me only being a budding blogger and this being my very first interview... 

So, first off, thank you J.H. for agreeing to a Q&A session on Offbeat YA! Would you like to introduce yourself?

Hi. My name is J.H. Walker and I've just debuted my first YA novel. Thanks, Roberta, for hosting this interview. 

Let's start with the mandatory question...what prompted you to become a YA writer? 

I was a great pretender as a child. I grew up in a very strict household that valued conformity and strict adherence to a rigid ideology. Right and wrong were absolute. Freethinking was wrong, and not allowed. On the outside, I conformed. I had no choice. But inside my head, I created very different worlds and those worlds saved me. I believe this was the foundation for my over-active imagination. As for the YA angle, I’ve always loved stories that go beyond the bounds of reality. YA is far more accepting of make believe than the adult market.

Besides, everything is so much more intense in the young adult world…the euphoria of a first love…the sorrow of a first heartbreak. It all entails so much more passion. Intense feelings can happen rapidly when you’re young, and they can be all encompassing and overwhelming. Reviewers cry, "foul, insta-love" and sometimes they’re right when it happens out of nowhere. But there are occasions where intense feelings happen fast and furious over something small that elicits your attention or bonds you to someone. Love comes in many forms. You can love ice cream. You can love a rock band. And when you’re sixteen, you can meet someone and fairly quickly feel something quite intense. I remember. Is that love?

Well, it certainly isn’t love as defined logically by an adult and run through adult filters. It’s not the kind of love that sparks and grows from honest evaluation and time spent together. It’s not the kind of love that will probably withstand hardship or even last very long. And you certainly don’t want to make any life decisions based on it, ha. But I say it is a kind of love. Perhaps you can call it a practice love. And maybe it only lasts a month, but while it’s happening, it can be quite profound and very real to the person feeling it.

I love the YA world. Even though it’s been a long time since I was a teen, I remember those years in all their intensity. Books helped me make it through my teen years. It’s only natural that I try to give back to something that gave me so much.

According to your bio, you've led quite the life. To what extent your peculiar experiences helped you shape your first novel?

I’ve had a lot of experiences both positive and negative. Hopefully, I’ve learned from them all. My life has opened my eyes to an incredibly diverse world. I’ve learned to search hard for the truth and not just accept what is thrown at me. My intense curiosity has often taken me beyond what meets the eye. These things have increased my awareness as one of the inhabitants of Planet Earth. That makes me cognizant of the imprint I leave as an author, which means that as I shaped my novel I was very careful of the messages it included. [...] 

March 04, 2013

Having to Decline Awards

I would like to thank Summer Khaleq, who nominated me for a Liebster Blog Award...(check out her blog here)...but because I'm such a goof, I've never made it clear that this blog was supposed to be award-free. I guess I'd never have expected to be nominated for anything, because I've only been blogging for a fairly short time. Anyway, the problem is, it's difficult for me to keep the blog running as it is, what with my primary job and the secondary one...what's it called...oh yeah, housekeeping ;D. As for the award thing, I like to give thoughtful answers to the questions, just in case someone is actually interested in what I have to say LOL. The naked truth is, I don't have the time to keep up with awards and such. That's why I'm only participating in one single meme, aside from usually producing only three or four reviews a month. So, I apologize for not opting out of awards before, but I'm doing it now. Again, thanks to Summer for nominating me, and don't forget to check out her blog!

March 02, 2013

Sandra Scoppettone: "Playing Murder"

Title: Playing Murder [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: None
Author: Sandra Scoppettone [Blog | Goodreads]
Genres: Thriller/Mystery
Year: 1985
Age: 12+
Stars: 2/5
Pros: Easy to follow. Nice, well-drawn setting. Lead has a pleasant voice.
Cons: Many themes are touched but not analysed. Characters are mostly sketched, though not total stereotypes.
Will appeal to: Mystery lovers who don't mind an old-fashioned story. Fans of sibling rivalry tales.

Blurb: When one of the players in a murder game is killed, seventeen-year-old Anna and her twin brother realize that their circle of friends may conceal a real murderer. (Amazon)

Review: Sort-of-disclaimer: I read the Italian translation of this book, so I can't really judge the writing style. Also, I don't know if any parts of this novel have been cut off in my version. 
Since the above blurb is really lacking, here is a short recap of this novel. Seventeen year old Anna (the lead) and her family move to a small town in Maine, after Bill (Anna's twin) stole some money at school because he wasn't able to deal with his own problems. Despite having a boyfriend (Tony) at home, Anna falls for the popular boy, Kirk, whose family helps running a restaurant owned by her parents. When Kirk is killed during a game, Bill is charged with murder, and Anna tries to clear his name, opening a whole can of worms in the process.
I decided to buy this book after reading Trying Hard to Hear You from the same author - which I loved. Also, that novel was even older than this one, and still managed to be great IMHO. But unlike his predecessor, Playing Murder, while a pleasant little read, suffers from old age. My biggest peeve against the book is the fact that it touches many themes - from teen angst to sibling rivalry to domestic abuse - without examining any of them in depth. We sympathise with Bill because he made a mistake out of teen angst, and now he has to bring the stigma. We sympathise with Anna, who is mad at him for said mistake, especially because it is the main reason for their family to relocate. We sympathise with another character that I won't name (no-spoiler policy) for being abused from a very close person. But none of these issues is actually brought to the next level - mostly, they are touched but not delved upon. [...]