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 😉.


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.


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:


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 💗).

October 18, 2019

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

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


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 to reveal 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).


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*


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...