February 26, 2014

Kate Harrison: "Soul Fire"

Title: Soul Fire [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: Soul Beach (2nd of 3 books)
Author: Kate Harrison [Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Afterlife, Thriller/Mystery
Year: 2012
Age: 12+
Stars: 2.5/5
Pros: As with Book 1, peculiar, potentially killer idea. Book 2 benefits from being more rooted in reality though. Also, there's more action and more mystery.
Cons: As in Book 1, execution of said peculiar, potentially killer idea ends up being stretched beyond believability. Also, some things don't add up.
WARNING! Some underage drinking.
Will appeal to: Hardcore romantics who also happen to be ardent supporters of social networks and virtual reality.

Blurb: Alice Forster regularly talks with her dead sister, Meggie, in the virtual world of Soul Beach - an online paradise where dead teenagers are held in limbo. Alice has learned that if she can solve the mystery of someone's death in the real world, then that person is released from the Beach. Meggie needs Alice to solve her murder so she can be free, but as Alice is getting closer to discovering the murderer, the murderer is getting closer to Alice! (Amazon excerpt)

Review: The second installment in the series is more focused on Alice's search for Meggie's killer - and on her attempt at freeing Javier from the Beach. Surprisingly enough, this makes for a better book in my opinion. Or maybe not so surprisingly, since 1) I wasn't able to suspend my disbelief at the next level of experience that Alice was granted when on the Beach (see end of Book 1); and 2) her love story with a dead guy really turned me off, so I was happy to have other things on my hands ;). A statement like "Danny isn't the first boy I kissed, but this is the real thing" ends up being unintentionally comic, in her predicament. 
The book opens a few months after its predecessor, and almost a year after Meggie's death-day (which, coincidentally, is also the day Alice will turn 17). A couple of major things happen...the main suspect for Meggie's murder appears on the Beach, and a website called Burning Truths starts campaigning for his innocence, claiming that he didn't commit suicide out of guilt, like most people (and the police) think. Also, Alice's mother, fed up by her Internet addiction (though she still doesn't know what her daughter does on there...), ban her from going online. Just a couple of remarks here. 1) Alice's parents realised that she has been spending an awful lot of time on the net, but apparently, they never actually walked up on her talking with the dead kids in all those months...2) In Book 1, Alice's mother was spending the whole weekends online herself, logged into a site for mourning relatives...so her attitude sounds a bit out of character now. Also, I found both Alice's parents a bit dysfunctional (especially her mother). They grieve, they leave the house giggling for a restaurant dinner; they (well, the mother) are big on Alice coming to terms with what happens when the supposed killer is found dead, they (well, the mother again) don't even leave their bedroom the day after... [...]

February 18, 2014

Kate Harrison: "Soul Beach"

Title: Soul Beach [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: Soul Beach (1st of 3 books)
Author: Kate Harrison [Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Afterlife, Thriller/Mystery
Year: 2011
Age: 12+
Stars: 2/5
Pros: Peculiar, potentially killer idea...
Cons: ...whose execution ends up being stretched beyond believability though. Also, lead may generate mixed feelings.
WARNING! Some underage drinking. Sex on the Beach is mentioned.
Will appeal to: Hardcore romantics who also happen to be ardent supporters of social networks and virtual reality.

Blurb: When Alice Forster receives an email from her dead sister she assumes it must be a sick practical joke. Then an invitation arrives to the virtual world of Soul Beach, an idyllic online paradise of sun, sea and sand where Alice can finally talk to her sister again - and discover a new world of friendships, secrets and maybe even love...But why is Soul Beach only inhabited by the young, the beautiful and the dead? Who really murdered Megan Forster? And could Alice be next? (Amazon excerpt)

Review: I had high expectations for this one. (Original take on) afterlife novel? Check. Murder mystery? Check. Just my kind of stuff. So I decided to dismiss the tendentially cheesy covers as insignificant (also because, based on the cover only, I wouldn't have read that gem called Sweethearts by Sara Zarr). In addiction to that, being my usual have-to-read-the-complete-series-together-or-nothing self, I waited for the last installment to come out and bought the whole package without a second thought. Which, for someone who's always refining her TBR list, was proof of an unwavering commitment. After all, the Goodreads reviews were highly favourable, and the pet peeves someone occasionally mentioned weren't supposed to mean much to me.
Well, before I account for my disappointment, I just mean to point it out that this book is narrated by Alice, the dead girl's sister, but also gets the odd chapter where the unknown villain speaks. The first one of which I read on Amazon, and it made me think the book was better executed than it would have seemed to me later.
OK, the first problem I encountered was the massive amount of acronyms. I had to look most of them up on an online dictionary, but honestly, that wasn't my main concern (also, it's not Mrs. Harrison's fault that I'm Italian, and thus not familiar with them). It's just that I had never come across a book that spotted all those many. Around 20 of them or more in a 256 (small-size) page novel - too many, really. Not the biggest of deals, but still.
Then, there was Alice. At first I sympathized with her predicament - on one hand, Megan's tragic death had obviously struck her hard; on the other, finding that she could still talk to her via an exclusive website/social network for dead kids was of course a startling discovery, and having to live a double life because of that was distressing. But when she began to act like her own life was rubbish and the Beach was her reality of choice - even hinting at the supposed appeal of being dead herself in order to be reunited with her sister - she lost me. Also, do you need to have a boyfriend in order to feel compelled to apply make-up or (even) comb your hair? Is this the message Soul Beach passes to young girls? That if you're grieving but dating someone in the meantime, you have to make an effort to look decent, while otherwise it's acceptable not to? Because no one - from Alice's parents to her best friend Cara - really questions that. Of course, Cara tries her utmost in order to help Alice revert to her usual self...but never says anything about her going around like a crumpled bag - which, apparently, is the case. [...]

February 13, 2014

Adrienne Stoltz & Ron Bass: "Lucid" [new title 2014: "Let Me Wake"]

Title: Lucid*  [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
   *new title 2014: Let Me Wake
Series: None
Author: Adrienne Stoltz & Ron Bass [Adrienne on IMDB | Adrienne on Goodreads | Ron on IMDB | Ron on Goodreads]
Genres: Contemporary with a Twist
Year: 2012
Age: 12+
Stars: 4/5
Pros: Pulling, refined prose. Vividly painted leads and sidekicks (most of them, that is). Killer idea behind it all.
Cons: Two love triangles for the price of one (but the book is so good, you'll probably be able to condone that. Like I did...). Some over-the-top or too convenient situations. I was able to spot a couple of typos, but nothing majorly annoying.
WARNING! An underage sex scene (though not at all graphic) told in retrospect.
Will appeal to: Contemporary fans who are in for something different. Not contemporary fans who are in for something different. Everyone who likes to go in deep and get surprised.

Blurb: Sloane and Maggie have never met. Sloane is a straight-A student with a big and loving family. Maggie lives a glamorously independent life as an up-and-coming actress in New York. The two girls couldn't be more different - except for one thing. They share a secret that they can't tell a soul. At night, they dream that they're each other. The deeper they're pulled into the promise of their own lives, the more their worlds begin to blur dangerously together. Before long, Sloane and Maggie can no longer tell which life is real and which is just a dream. They realize that eventually they will have to choose one life to wake up to, or risk spiraling into insanity. But that means giving up one world, one love, and one self, forever.(Amazon excerpt)

Review: You know me by now, don't you? I hate swoony romances, love triangles, all the stuff. So, how come I read a book with plenty of romance and not one, but two love triangles (or the likes) and didn't throw it across the room? On the contrary, this turned out to be 4-star material for me. Crazy, isn't it? I guess I owe you a convincing explanation ;).
See, there are two girls. Or only one. Or no girl at all. Let's say, there are two stories, because of that much there is evidence. Each story, of course, has its own main character - both female and 17 year old. Apparently, the two of them dream each other's life. Their lives even mirror each other loosely, though they (the lives...but the girls too) couldn't be more different. Right from the start, some small details leak in and out of each life - just enough to alert the reader that the two characters are related somehow. The real question is, how? are they both real? or only one of them is? or...are neither? is there someone else behind them? (Which is not just one real question but a bunch. Oh, well. Maybe I can write but I can't count).
On one hand, Sloane - the student - feels more real because she lives quite the normal life, the one you can relate to more easily. On the other hand, Maggie - the actress - is the one with the shrink, the one who makes up stories about people, and (I may be wrong, but this is how it sounds to me) the one who doubts her own realness more. Which makes up for her having the more glamorous life, and therefore posing as the major suspect when it comes to being the fictitious one...supposing one of the girls is not real. Which I didn't necessarily imply ;).
I don't know if the author duo split the work in two, or collaborated through the whole book, or took turns in revising each other's chapters. What I know is that Bass is a LA screenwriter, and Stoltz his long-time writing partner from Mystic, Connecticut - coincidentally, Sloane's home town. So I suppose she had her say about the setting for Sloane's story, while probably (just my educated guess) Bass took care of the NY sections. Anyway, the chapters flow seamlessly, and while the two girls maintain their peculiarities and do have different voices, their streams of consciousness manage to sound alike enough when it comes to the basics. [...]

February 08, 2014

Rambling on a Saturday (In Between Laundries)

So, have you ever noticed a pattern in your life? Like, it only stops raining in the weekends - so you have to tend to your laundry instead of enjoying a couple of days of freedom/rest/reading. Because that's precisely what happens with me. In alarming timely fashion.
No, that's not mine - but the resemblance is striking.
[Image source]

But of course I refuse to let it interfere with a sneak into my pages. Both the read and the written ones :).
I've been up to some really exciting stuff lately - e.g., synchronizing my Goodreads book tags with the ones on my blog. This is one of the most illuminating examples of how I don't have a life. But on the other hand - of course - I do have lots of book lives, which is comforting...up to a point.
I've managed to read all the books in my latest haul, and alas, on the whole they were not as spectacular as the previous ones I purchased. We're talking about...
  1. ...a couple of 4 star specimens: Thirst No.5 by Christopher Pike and All Our Yesterdays by Cristin Terrill (reviews to come);
  2. ...three books I gave 3.5 stars to (which is still good as far as I'm concerned, but of course, not mind-blowing): Fox Forever by Mary E. Pearson (my review here), Absent by Katie Williams (my review here) and Backwards by Todd Mitchell (review to come);
  3. ...an item I haven't made up my mind about yet: More Than This by Patrick Ness (review to come...when I have processed what I just read);
  4. ...a disappointing trilogy: Soul Beach by Kate Harrison (again...reviews to come).
I thought I had refined the art of carefully choosing a book, but alas, it looks like said art might need further improvement. On the other hand, for some of the above books there weren't tons of reviews, which is exactly the first requisite that qualifies them for my blog (although I occasionally review more popular books when they fit my bill). And no one of those reviews mentioned the things I wasn't able to stomach. I'm hinting at the Soul Beach trilogy here. Too many loose ends and convenient/unbelievable incidents. Granted, I'm probably the pickiest reader in the known world, but this series (and an afterlife one at that! you know me and afterlife, right?) was so disappointing. Serves me right for buying the whole trilogy package, instead of just trying the first installment before deciding to commit myself to it.

"Just DARE tear us apart."
[Image source]

As of now, I'm rereading Lucid by Adrienne Stoltz and Ron Bass. I'm aware that most of you probably read this one when it came out - that is, a year and a half ago. Which is pretty ancient in terms of review books. But I 1) "only" read it twelve months ago; 2) have had some different blogging priorities till now; 3) decided this wasn't meant to be an in-vogue blog the very day I set it up. So yeah, review to come in a few days. And Soul Beach series critiques coming shortly after. In between laundries, of course.
Have a nice WE!

February 01, 2014

What's New: "Deadgirl" Gets a New Chance at Life + Sequel

I guess you may have gotten the message by now, though I, oh, so subtly weaved it into my posts. Yes, I'm addicted to Dead Girl Books. Or better - to Afterlife Novels, which happen to be about dead girls 99% of the times. You may also have vaguely heard me mention a book called, indeed, Deadgirl, by B.C. Johnson.

Finally, you may have picked up my casual remarks about it waiting for a reissue and its sequel being in the making. Because it's not like I laid much emphasis on the subject. I just about...
  1. reviewed Deadgirl back in May;
  2. spotlighted a future reissue of the book + sequel in the same month, after chatting up [in a completely innocent and professional manner, I swear] the author on Goodreads;
  3. expressed my longing for said reissue + sequel in a round of Parajunkee's "Book Blogger New Year's Challenge" ("The Books of 2014 You Won't Miss") nearly a month ago;
  4. warmly mentioned the book again in the latest installment of my feature "A Reader's Quirks" ("You, Irresistible Afterlife Novel") a few days ago. (Later note: I revised the mentioned post. Here's the new link).
Really, I have showed such self-restraint on the matter. I would be surprised if you noticed me mentioning it at all.

Now, I'm so sorry, but I have to drop another little hint about it. Because B.C. Johnson graciously contacted me on Goodreads to let me know that Curiosity Quills Press picked up Deadgirl for a reissue, and even optioned the sequel. He explained it's going to take some time for it to come out again, because of such, you know, flimsy details as re-editing, marketing, cover art, etc. But finally Deadgirl is going to get resurrected :). And to tackle new challenges. So I advise you already...you don't want to miss her comeback.

And no, B.C. Johnson (the guy in the pic below) hasn't bribed me in order to promote his books...yet ;P.

    He only offered me a beer.

    Stay tuned for more info about the Deadgirl re-release and sequel...because she's worth it.

    Till next time...