August 29, 2013

How Bloglovin' Ate My Blog (and Yours too)

OK, sorry, but I'm mad like hell right now. I casually typed "offbeat ya" on Google, just to see what would pop out after nearly a year of blogging under that very name...and my jaw dropped when I saw this:

My first thought was "What, someone named their blog Offbeat YA too?" (not on Blogger, of course...), which was a scary thought, up to a point. But what I saw after clicking on the above link scared me even more:

IT WAS ME ON BLOGLOVIN'. Only, I never signed up on there. And never even meant to either.

It was me on Bloglovin'...complete with a trail of 18 followers I didn't have a clue about.

While you wrap your mind around this paradox, let's step back for a moment. Surely you all remember the turmoil caused a few weeks ago by the supposed death of GFC. While NO ONE had EVER mentioned that GFC was supposed to go (actually, that would be Google Reader), a worldwide panic spread over. Coincidentally - but not by chance, if you ask me, because I think they rode the wave and started a campaign taking advantage of that very situation - there was plenty of talking about Bloglovin' those days, and suddenly everyone was setting up an account just in case. Bloglovin' wasn't by any means the only blog aggregator available...but it was pretty much the one in the spotlight - the one every blogger was signing up for. Being my usual not-happy-to-go-with-the-flow self (and I don't mean offense to anyone), I decided to investigate every possible way in which a blog could be followed, not because I was afraid of GFC disappearing, but simply because I wanted to offer more options to my would-be readers. In doing so, I read about Bloglovin' causing blogs to open in a frame instead that directly linking to them - like this:

PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE don't look at the banner where "reviewed" has been spelled out wrong for ages without me noticing *facepalms*

You have to click on the X in the upper right corner in order to be redirected to the actual blog address:

Now, this sounded so fishy, it was the actual reason why I decided to stay well away from Bloglovin'. It was not a number-of-hits matter to me...just instinctive distrust of the method. Also, I couldn't wrap my mind around the "claim" issue. Because - in case you don't know - even if you have registered an account, Bloglovin' requires you to "claim" your blog after doing so. Which is ridiculous, to say the least. It IS my blog already. I don't need to validate my blog property anywhere. NO SERVICE WHATSOEVER ASKS YOU TO "CLAIM" ANYTHING YOU CREATED ON THE WEB! (...On second thoughts, there's Technorati - but at least they wait for you to actually register before they ask you to do that!).

So I went on happily ever after, with GFC (that didn't die on July 1st of course), email subscriptions and a Linky account as following options (update, July 2017: I deleted the latter because it wasn't a thing anymore, if it ever had been...). Till I typed "offbeat ya" on Google, and the third search result was my blog on Bloglovin'. Which of course called for some action. [...]

August 23, 2013

A Reader's Quirks #2: Five Steps to Reading a Novel

I'm back with the second 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 :).

ARQ logo by digital artist Lissa

A quick reminder...everyone can comment on my blog, though this means for me to fight spam endlessly. But it matters to me that anyone can join the conversation. As for CAPTCHA...everyone hates I'm trying not to follow that path. At least till I can manage my spam ;).
This time I'm going to share my...


Because yes, there are a few different approaches. Lots of people fall in love with an enticing cover first thing. Lots stick to their favourite genre(s) and tend to read most of the novels that fall within it (or them). Lots are pulled by the most popular books. A smaller number, I guess, go by word of mouth (as in, advice from trusted friends/bloggers). Me? I'm a pain in the ass ;D.* Before a book comes my way, it usually has to endure a series of trials and pass them all with flying colours. Because yes, I have to spend my money on it.

* [I learned my lesson a couple of years ago - never buy on impulse. It often ends with less-than-3-star books for me].

So looking forward to this one!

STEP 1: CLEVER TITLE (hinting at something up my alley)

Most of the books I've read (or I'm positively sure I want to read) started their journey with a clever, alluring title
. I would browse through Goodreads (or other sites occasionally) and read titles like Anna Dressed in Blood, Deadgirl, Touching the Surface, How to Say Goodbye in Robot, Lucid, Man in the Empty Suit, Soul Beach, The Lost Girl, All Our Yesterdays...Some of them seemed to allude to my favourite genres/themes (like Afterlife or Time Travel); others were simply...evocative. Very few of them have turned out to be misleading.

...and to this one too

STEP 2: INTERESTING BLURB (promising a treat)

Of course, once the title did its job of drawing me, it's up to the blurb to make me stay. Thought-provoking sci-fi, new takes on the afterlife, not-overused multiverse plots, characters who don't fit in...But if I only read something that goes like “lonely girl endowed with powers falls for new, mysterious schoolmate who holds the key to her diversity” or such, I flee. Same for love triangles (though I can tolerate a small amount of them if need be) and lurve-driven plots. [...]

August 11, 2013

Jutta Goetze: "Luna-C"

Title: Luna-C [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: None
Author: Jutta Goetze [Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Contemporary
Year: 2001
Age: 14+ 
Stars: 4.5/5 OK, I've been rereading this one a few times, and it gets to me every single one of them. I can't be nitpicky with a book like this. 5/5 (2016 update)
Pros: Peculiar writing. Honest storytelling. Different setting (Australia - both the country and the city).
Cons: Most characters are potentially clichés, though Goetze manages to infuse them with life and make them genuine.
WARNING! Sex and drugs are present, though the first is written tastefully, without explicit details. Someone goes through an abortion. A character dies.
Will appeal to: Those who love music/tales about struggling to make it in the music business. Those who love coming-of-age stories. Those who love a different, often evocative prose.

Blurb: A behind-the-scenes look at what life in a 1980s band was like and how tension between members make it harder to succeed. Phoebe and Dale are country girls and best friends who both want to make it as singers and together join a big-city band. The two undergo a series of mixed emotions as they experience the thrill of performing, the love of music, the excitement of finding themselves, and the pursuit of dreams. (Amazon excerpt)

Review: This book marks my first encounter with an Aussie writer (...well, technically not, because Goetze was born in Africa - but since she was later raised in Australia, I suppose I can call her that). While I have some knowledge of New Zealand authors (I even did my thesis on Janet Frame), I didn't know what to expect from an Australian one. And well, it was a pleasant surprise. As with most NZ lit, the landscape is almost like an added character here. The writing is vibrant and evocative at the same time, never ornate but still poetic. There's a candour in this tale - in all the meanings of this term - that is matched by the characters' (even the most damaged ones) relationship with the outside world. Basically, it's the story of two country girls and friends (Phoebe, who wants to become someone; Dale, who can't help trying) trading their uneventful, frozen-in-place life for a spot in a band and a shot at fame. Which is probably the oldest tale in the civilized world, but Goetze does succeed in painting it new - and giving it the required 3D. 
As Goetze herself states, "Luna-C started life as a script for a mini-series", and it's inspired by her own on-the-road experiences with a real performing band. Stylistically, the novel alternates first-person, present-tense chapters (in which we follow Phoebe) with third-person, past-tense ones (where we see things from the perspective of Dale, Ric, Jayne, and on one occasion, Dan - though there are two main characters more, Buddy and Lou). Incidentally, every chapter is titled after a 60s', 70s' or 80s' song. With the exception of Dan, who's a manager of sorts for Luna-C, all the aforementioned characters are members of the band. One of my slight pet peeves against this book is how said characters are a bit "typical" - the troubled front man, the damaged, addicted singer, the manipulative would-be manager, the happy-go-luck bassist, the down-to-earth drummer. And of course, two girls who want to make it in the music industry...though I wouldn't really call those "typical", at least by nowadays standards, since they've got very little in common with current talent-show contestants. Both Phoebe and Dale - though very different individuals - share a genuine appreciation for music, regardless of it being mainstream, and are willing to pay the price it takes (i.e. "work hard") in order to get "up there". Needless to say, only one of them has got what it the other will recycle herself as a publicist, trying to generate hype about the band and to land them a recording deal - in order to cope with her own frustration and out of love for the music...and the man behind it. [...]

August 10, 2013

Kate Spofford: "The Art Kids"

Title: The Art Kids [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: None (but there is a companion novel, featuring some of the secondary characters in TAK and titled after one of them: Bethany Caleb. Look for it: on Amazon | on Goodreads)
Author: Kate Spofford [Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Contemporary With a Twist
Year: 2013
Age: 12+
Stars: 3/5
Pros: Heartfelt and genuine. Refreshing, because of the art-related setting. Faces crucial themes without wallowing in angst.
Cons: The main secret doesn't hold for long - though this won't probably detract from your reading pleasure. Large amount of (often idle) details in the first chapters. A few annoying attitudes. A few mistakes slipped through revision. 
WARNING! Some characters deal with depression and self-harm; others do drugs or get drunk.
Will appeal to: Those who are into visual arts (especially painting). Those who have an introspective streak. Those who know what a close friend is. Those who feel inadequate. Those who don't quite fit in.

Blurb: Sophie thought her senior year was going to be the best. That was before the new girl Laney arrives in her art class. Now, instead of good times hanging with her friends, everyone is acting strangely. Paul is angry all the time, Kevin and Jenna aren’t quite the perfect couple anymore, and everyone is ignoring Evan. Sophie knows there's something different about the new girl. Something that seems to be tearing her group of friends apart. When Evan starts dating Laney, it looks like the end of the Art Kids… but maybe Sophie isn’t seeing the whole picture. (Amazon)

Review: First off...DISCLAIMER: I received this novel via the Making Connections YA Edition group on Goodreads (ARR # 303 - I think there are still copies left currently, if you are interested) in exchange for an honest review. Also, the author is on my Goodreads friend list (due to our sharing an interest in a certain writer's work), but this didn't influence my review in any way.
It's difficult to review this book without giving away something massive. I have probably spoiled it enough already just by using the "Contemporary With a Twist" label. On the other hand, while I'll admit that I was able to uncover the big secret pretty early in the story, this didn't deprive me of my reading pleasure...I'd go as far as saying that it was someway enhanced, because I was able to get deeper into the story, knowing what I knew. Anyway, I only got part of the secret right. I will entertain you with my original assumption at the end of this review (and don't worry, the big spoiler button will prevent you from accidentally stumbling into it, though I won't even address the differences between my original theory and the ultimate truth...).
First off, TAK is split into four parts (plus an Epilogue) with catching titles: Abstract Idea, Mixed Media, Still Life and Self-Portrait. They serve the purpose of describing four different art assignments the class is given through the year, but on a deeper level, they also give us powerful clues about the main character's state of mind and predicament. The book is probably set in the late 90s, because neither cell phones nor PCs are mentioned (or to be more precise, PCs are at one point, but they're also dismissed as "unnecessary" by a parent). Another reason why I date this book to be from the second half or said decade is something that happens toward the end...and that I can't mention because of my no-spoiler policy. Anyway, I didn't even noticed the technology issue at first, because TAK deals with timeless problems and struggles teenagers have to face, regardless of the time frame.
The Art Kids (or Art Freaks, as they are mercilessly called by the popular clique) are a group of high school friends who take part in the Art Club as an extracurricular activity. We follow Sophie (the narrator), Evan, Roger, Paul, Kevin, Jenna and Jeff, plus a few of their classmates, during a whole school year (with some flashbacks thrown in the middle). Also, in the very first page, we are introduced to a character whom Sophie calls "the new girl" (only later we are to discover that her name is Laney)...I can't really say much about her, because it would spoil the novel big - anyway, it's clear from the start that Laney and Sophie share a history of depression and self-harm. Spofford does a good job in not revealing the reasons behind Sophie's state of mind and self-destructive streak early in the novel - reasons that actually date way back, well before the "incident" that will be revealed in the last pages. [...]