June 29, 2013

Wanna Know Me a Little Better? ;)

Hi followers and occasional readers!

I am honoured to be the latest guest in Sunny Duvall's "Presenting a Blogger" series. Sunny is the sweet and proud owner of the Blue Sky Bookshelf

She posted her fun questions, and what I hope were my equally fun answers, here

I feel particularly exhilarated, since this is my very first interview - but not the last, I hope (hint hint - if anyone is interested, I'll be happy to do this again in the future. Especially if your questions are as good as Sunny's!).

June 27, 2013

Kimberly Sabatini: "Touching the Surface"

Title: Touching the Surface [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: None
Author: Kimberly Sabatini [Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Afterlife
Year: 2012
Age: 12+
Stars: 3/5
Pros: Different and inventive take on the afterlife. Conveys poignant imagery.
Cons: Connections and relationships among main characters are a bit hard to swallow. Displays some annoying details and repetitions (see review).
WARNING! Includes not one, but two hints at two love triangles. They're not what they seem though. If I was able to stomach them, you will too ;). Well, I guess. *shrugs*
Will appeal to: Those who like a quiet, visual book. Those who believe in second chances and the redeeming power of love...

Blurb: When Elliot finds herself dead for the third time, she knows she must have messed up, big-time. She doesn’t remember how she landed in the afterlife again, but she knows this is her last chance to get things right. Elliot just wants to move on, but first she will be forced to face her past and delve into the painful memories she’d rather keep buried. Memories of people she’s hurt, people she’s betrayed…and people she’s killed. As she pieces together the secrets and mistakes of her past, Elliot must find a way to earn the forgiveness of the person she’s hurt most, and reveal the truth about herself to the two boys she loves…even if it means losing them both forever. (Amazon)

Review: I have conflicting emotions about this book. While there are aspects of it I loved, they pose some problems nevertheless. The writing style bugged me a little too - but I will elaborate later. Let's start with a little background...
Elliot's afterlife is called the Obmil - and it's easy to figure out why. It is a kind of Limbo by all means, but its structure and rules are peculiar...also, most of the souls who get there won't leave for a higher realm, but will get a new chance at life in a new body instead, in order to complete their growth plan if need be. Apparently, one can hit the Obmil up to three times (Elliot herself is a Third Timer), but there's no mention of what is supposed to happen if a soul doesn't figure out her/his mistakes after the third visit. There's only a hint at having to deal with consequences if one lingers in the Obmil too much, but it comes from a character that might have something specific in mind...related to her personal experience. This will be clear by the end of the story - which is, by the way, where the concepts of Heaven and Hell are cleverly addressed and explained...or better, guessed by the characters. I loved the final revelation about them all and the roles they actually play at the Obmil, as much as I loved the author's take on Heaven and Hell, because it is a detour from our classic vision of the afterlife, and provides a fluid, antidogmatic (and antihierarchic) portrayal of it. Also, I loved how everyone at the Obmil has the power of creating different landscapes, according to their emotions and inner turmoils. This recurring theme will be masterly used in the last section of the book in order to create a satisfying - but nevertheless open - ending.
On the other hand, the different lives bugged me. Elliot and Julia are both Third Timers; in their first life, they were twin brothers who died together in their sleep at an old age. They came back as women and met through a divorce support group, becoming best friends. In this second life, Elliot (Samantha back then) died at forty in a plane crash, but we aren't told how and when Julia (Emma) landed in the Obmil again. In their third life, Elliot and Julia (dead at 17 and 19 respectively) have never met. This doesn't prevent Elliot from nicknaming her "Jules" when they're reunited in the afterlife, which is a bit weird, though they share a past in their other lives. But what I really find weird is the different sexes/ages/personality issue. For one thing, how can Elliot remember her past lives as a longevous bachelor and a cheated-on grown woman and still feel like the young girl she lately was? Won't the different lives and past experiences interfere? Though, as a matter of fact, Elliot doesn't remember her latest life yet - not really. And she's in the dark about the how and why of her latest death too. Like any other soul at the Obmil, she will need to undergo a series of Delves in order to regain complete self-awareness and deal with her mistakes, hopefully righting them in the process. [...] 

June 18, 2013

Diane Hoh: "Funhouse"

Title: Funhouse [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: None
Author: Diane Hoh [Goodreads]
Genres: Thriller/Mystery
Year: 1990
Age: 12+
Stars: 2/5
Pros: Clean, short book - an easy introduction to the genre for young, reluctant readers. No graphic descriptions...but see below.
Cons: Lacks substance. Requires suspension of disbelief on many levels.
WARNING! The outcome of the first "incident" might upset some youngsters.
Will appeal to: Those who are new to thrillers and mysteries.

Blurb: When the Devil's Elbow roller coaster goes off track, killing one teenager and maiming two others, everyone thinks it's just an accident...except Tess. She saw someone tampering with the track. Then another "accident" occurs in the Funhouse and Tess may have been the intended victim. (Goodreads. Forget the Amazon blurb...it gives you a false impression)

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. 
So, I bought this book a while ago because...who doesn't love funhouses? Also, the blurb sounded promising. What I got, though, was a simplistic tale, a typical '90s product I guess, because YA has drastically improved since then (despite instalove, love triangles, abundance of vampires/creatures and recurring themes derivative plots doing their best to destroy the genre...). Mind you, I should probably judge Funhouse as a child of its time, and it would likely rate much better if I did - but I can't. It's an OK book, nothing wack, but nothing that good either.
Tess is a teen with a problematic family - and here comes the first issue I have with this book, because it all seems a bit overdone. Her mother died when she was 9; her father remarried 4 years after; now his second wife Shelley has recently left him, and Tess is living with said stepmother because her father has very little interest in her - while Tess' brother, Guy Joe, decided to stay with his father despite not even liking him, because he's "his real parent" at least. Also, Shelley decides to go on a long vacation with a friend, carelessly leaving Tess alone in their isolated flat. Talk about bad parenting. Not to mention that Tess and Guy Joe's relationship can only be described as dry.
Tess' friends are fairly typical, and some of them don't even get enough screentime for us to really get to know them. What's worse, they can't seem to give Tess the benefit of the doubt when the roller coaster "incident" happens and she thinks she may have seen someone tampering with it. The police is even less willing to give Tess any credit, which is short-sighted to say the least. (...And where are the C.S.I. anyway?...). Especially since further "incidents" happen after the first one. But of course, the heroine must remain isolated and an easy prey for the villain (see also: stepmother going on vacation). [...]

June 08, 2013

Mary E. Pearson: "The Adoration of Jenna Fox"

Title: The Adoration of Jenna Fox [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: Jenna Fox Chronicles (1st of 3 books, but there's also a short story - read it for free here - that is chronologically book 1.5 in the series, though it only came out after book 2)
Author: Mary E. Pearson [Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Sci-Fi
Year: 2008
Age: 12+
Stars: 4.5/5
Pros: Deep, imaginative take on what it means to be human.
Cons: Very quiet book, if you're in for some action. On a deeper level, the ending sounds a tad too assertive (see review).
Will appeal to: Sci-fi lovers who don't need a post-apocalyptic scenario. Fans of ethical speculations.

Blurb: Seventeen-year-old Jenna Fox has just awoken from a year-long coma - so she’s been told - and she is still recovering from the terrible accident that caused it. But what happened before that? She’s been given home movies chronicling her entire life, which spark memories to surface. But are the memories really hers? And why won’t anyone in her family talk about the accident? Jenna is becoming more curious. But she is also afraid of what she might find out if she ever gets up the courage to ask her questions. What happened to Jenna Fox? And who is she really? (Amazon)

Review: Note: this is not, technically, an "offbeat" book. More of a mainstream one, actually. What can I say in my defence - once in a while, it happens ;).
Awaking-from-coma girls (and, very rarely, boys) are a common topic in YA lit. As a rule, they can't remember a single thing from their prior-to-accident life, or just very little. Parents and doctors do their best to convince them that everything's OK, and it's only a matter of time before they remember (...just to realize that no, not a single thing is OK). As a rule, they're not real amnesiac. Whatever the reason, they're simply not themselves anymore.
So, you may ask, why should I read yet another book that follows that pattern? Well, because this one is good ;). Because while fitting said pattern, Pearson came up with a personal, imaginative, disturbing twist on it. Also, please note this isn't a dystopian, or at least it barely fits the definition. The book is set in a future where certain branches of technology have advanced a lot, but this future is obviously not so far from our present. Everyday life is definitely average, and DVDs with vocal commands are pretty much the most state-of-the-art device we encounter - except the Big Thing around which the novel revolves. There aren't any conspiracies or rebel groups or the like. But under this quiet surface, something huge is boiling nevertheless...
We get acquainted with a 17 year old Jenna, who apparently got out of a coma a couple of weeks before and is slowly being fed facts and memories from her own past by her mother. Jenna's grandma, on the other hand, sounds distant and strangely resentful, for reasons the girl can't understand. Also, they have relocated from Boston to California, and Jenna's father is rarely at home. She has been given DVDs to watch, where her parents seem to have recorded pretty much her whole life (which is creepy, it goes without saying). But little said parents realize that the discs - with the aid of some incidents - will help Jenna uncover not only her memories, but also the truth they were saving for much later. If ever.
The novel alternates chapters of short, keen, insightful sentences with autobiographical pieces of poetry. Though Jenna states she can't remember a thing about her past, and she often muses about words and their meaning - to the point she has to look for them in a dictionary - her narrative is, of course, clear and rich, or there would be no book...Jenna consulting the dictionary is, however, an effective device that allows the reader to 1) explore key-words and rekindle their (multiple) meanings; 2) experience the world on Jenna's own terms. [...]

June 03, 2013

Book Blogger Confessions: Blog Events 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 :).

June 3 Question: Do participating in book tours/cover reveals and author guests post drive traffic to your blog? What type of problems have you encountered when hosting them? (please keep it civil - no names or calling specific people out) As a blog follower, are you ever turned off by these kinds of posts? How much publicity is too much?  

As a blogger, I've never participated in such events yet...so I can only put my 2 cents in as a follower of other blogs. Maybe I'm in the minority, because apparently most people get excited about cover reveals...but covers don't do anything for me. Yes, I can appreciate them and their relevance to the story they enfold, but to me a book is essentially a bunch of words on white paper...its appeal is exclusively content-related, and no clever or fine package will ever be able to draw me to it and make me like it more. While, on the other hand, a well-thought title will never fail to entice me and persuade me to look into a novel in more details.
An author guest post will get my interest just in case I already know said author from a previous book, or the guest post itself is about a book I have in my TR or NS (Not Sure) list. Unless the book title calls to me again, that is ;). I mean, if I don't know the author or book yet, but the title sounds promising in that it winks at my favourite type of contents.
Another thing I noticed is that there are massive cover reveals or book tours...a particular cover or book is out, and all the blogging world is revolving about it. Being the proud creator and owner of a blog called Offbeat YA, I would like more variety...how many new books are out in a week? surely more than one...even in a single day...but all blogs seem to focus on the same item...Who wants to adopt a stray novel? ;)

I've been honest...let's hope this won't be the beginning of my end LOL. Now, what about you?