February 17, 2020

A.S. King: "Still Life with Tornado"

Title: Still Life with Tornado  [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: None
Author: A.S. King [Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Contemporary with a Twist
Year: 2016
Age: 14+
Stars: 4/5
Pros: Original, bold premise. Honest, profound exploration of pain and trauma (albeit initially blocked/disregarded by the characters). Validation of teens' feelings and issues.
Cons: The main character's dry, sometimes self-deprecating quips may not sit well with everyone.
WARNING! Domestic abuse. An inappropriate relationship (barely on page).
Will appeal to: Those who want to look at all-too-real teen problems through a surreal, but exactly because of this, sharper-than-average lens.

Blurb: Sixteen-year-old Sarah can't draw. This is a problem, because as long as she can remember, she has "done the art." She thinks she's having an existential crisis. And she might be right; she does keep running into past and future versions of herself as she wanders the urban ruins of Philadelphia. Or maybe she's finally waking up to the tornado that is her family, the tornado that six years ago sent her once-beloved older brother flying across the country for a reason she can't quite recall. After decades of staying together "for the kids" and building a family on a foundation of lies and domestic violence, Sarah's parents have reached the end. Now Sarah must come to grips with years spent sleepwalking in the ruins of their toxic marriage. As Sarah herself often observes, nothing about her pain is remotely original - and yet it still hurts. (Amazon)

Review: If you're familiar with A.S. King's books, you know what you're getting into 😉. If not, but the blurb didn't scare you all the same, you're probably well-equipped to enjoy this one, especially since it's definitely more accessible than I Crawl Through It - if you can suspend disbelief.

ALL THE DIFFERENCE

Honest confession: I usually don't fare well with straight-up contemporaries, even when they don't involve romance. I need a unique premise, or better, a unique angle, when I read a story that deals with everyday's problems, or coming-of-age, or family, or all the things you can find in a contemporary book beside romance. That's why I love A.S. King's YA novels - she's able to keep me engrossed in what, without her peculiar brand of magical realism/surrealism, would be "average" stories about "average" issues (of course they're not average, but common enough that you feel like you don't need one more specimen sometimes). She's able to add a fourth dimension to teen (and sometimes adult) pain, and to filter it through a lens that, instead of making it look blurry, actually sharpens every little detail and ensures that it matters. How many books about self-questioning teens with a toxic family and an equally toxic school environment are there? And yet, Sarah - despite coming in a few different versions from different times, or because of that - is unique. Maybe even more than in her other books (though I have only read three of them so far, but still), King makes sure that she is...and that she matters. That, even when Sarah reflects on her problem at school that started it all, and tries to see it in perspective on the backdrop of her family's implosion, the same problem matters. The author makes an excellent point about teens (and especially teen girls) being dismissed as "whiny" when something eats at them that adults deem as not important enough - or at all. That's why we need a King in our life - and all her Sarahs. [...]

February 10, 2020

Rob Rufus: "The Vinyl Underground" (ARC Review)

Title: The Vinyl Underground [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: None
Author: Rob Rufus [Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Contemporary, Historical
Year: 2020
Age: 14+
Stars: 3.5/5
Pros: Vivid portrait of an era. Teen protagonists who feel real. Focus on friendship and coming of age (though there's some romance involved). Music fuels the story.
Cons: Messy parent-child dynamics and conveniently clueless adults.  Some inconsiderate choices.
WARNING! Verbal and physical abuse (racially charged, for the most part). Unchallenged drug use. Underage drinking.
Will appeal to: Those who appreciate a story walking the line between teen adventure and social/historical commentary.

Blurb: During the tumultuous year of 1968, four teens are drawn together: Ronnie Bingham, who is grieving his brother's death in Vietnam; Milo, Ronnie's bookish best friend; Ramrod, a star athlete who is secretly avoiding the draft; and Hana, the new girl, a half-Japanese badass rock-n-roller whose presence doesn't sit well with their segregated high school. The four outcasts find sanctuary in The Vinyl Underground, a record club where they spin music, joke, debate, and escape the stifling norms of their small southern town. But Ronnie's 18th birthday is looming. Together, they hatch a plan to keep Ronnie from being drafted. But when a horrific act of racial-charged violence rocks the gang to their core, they decide its time for an epic act of rebellion. (Amazon)

Review: First off...DISCLAIMER: I requested this title on Netgalley. Thanks to North Star Editions/Flux for providing a temporary ecopy. This didn't influence my review in any way. Also, please note that this is an uncorrected proof - I was able to spot some (genuine) typos that are most likely not to find their way into the final version 🙂.
Fun fact: to match the book, all the headers for this review are US song titles from the '60s.

THE TIMES THEY ARE A-CHANGIN'

1968 was a pivotal year in most of the Western countries, but there's no doubt that the US - with the Vietnam war draft, the still very much current segregation and Martin Luther King's assassination - were one of the hottest spots at the time. And probably more than anywhere else, music - rock music - embodied the spirit of protest of the young generation, or at least their restlessness. Now, I'm in no position to know firsthand, but it seems to me that TVU captures the feeling perfectly - that of a nation losing its (mostly fake, apparent at best) innocence, and being forced to come of age. Against the backdrop of the draft scare and of his uncertainty about the future, Ronnie - along with his friends - finally sees the bigger picture, and realises that not taking a stand against injustice is just as bad as being part of it. Music itself, for him and the whole Vinyl Underground, become less of a hiding place or a cure for heartbreak, and more of a rebellion flag and a way to make a statement. But it also plays a key role in the story...a role that, of course, I'm not going to spoil 😉. [...]

February 04, 2020

Tell Me Something Tuesday: Do You Take Advantage of Free Chapter Previews?

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:

DO YOU TAKE ADVANTAGE OF FREE CHAPTER PREVIEWS?

Short answer:

February 02, 2020

Tooting Your Trumpet #9


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...
  • BOOK REVIEWS: WHY DON’T THEY GET MUCH ENGAGEMENT? (a discussion post on Gayathri's blog Elgee Writes)
  • SOME SITES FOR FREE OR LOW PRICE EBOOKS (a list on Lissa's blog The Memory of Rain)
  • GOING TO AN ABLE-BODIED SCHOOL (a post on Simone's blog The Wheelchair Teen)
  • ON WHETHER OR NOT TO SPEAK YOUR MIND ON THE INTERNET (a discussion post on Emily's blog Paperback Princess)
Please note: all the graphics featured in these posts are property of the blogs'/sites' owners, and are only used in association with their blogs'/sites' links.

    January 27, 2020

    Neda Disney: "Planting Wolves"

    Title: Planting Wolves  [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
    Series: None
    Author: Neda Disney [Site | Goodreads]
    Genres: Contemporary with a Twist
    Year: 2019
    Age: 18+
    Stars: 3.5/5
    Pros: Interesting format (six interconnected stories whose links to one another are not immediately apparent, but ultimately form a bigger picture). Accessible but well-crafted writing.
    Cons: Unlikeable/flawed characters (though that's pretty much the point). Lack of closure (same).
    WARNING! One of the stories contains racism and fat-shaming.
    Will appeal to: Those who don't necessarily need all the answers. Those who don't mind reading about people they couldn't be friends with in real life. 

    Blurb: A writer in a purgatory bar, an art collecting housewife who time travels, a movie Production Assistant with stigmata, a codependent AA sponsor, a sex addict, a movie star with issues, a two-time liver transplant recipient and an abusive TV costumer who gets what’s coming to her. All connected to one another but completely and utterly alone. (Amazon)

    Review: First off...DISCLAIMER: I requested this title on Netgalley. Thanks to Tandem Books and Xpresso Reads for providing an ecopy. This didn't influence my review in any way.

    STRONGER TOGETHER

    To be honest, the thing that appealed to me about Planting Wolves in the first place was the magical realism angle...but it turned out to be less prominent than I expected. Some of the far-out things that certain characters experience - and forgive me if I can't elaborate further, because I don't want to spoil the book for you - aren't necessarily ambiguous enough to keep a foot in magical realism, though they are all, indeed, filtered through a surreal lens. I did, however, enjoy both the writing and the clever format: six seemingly separated tales whose main characters pop up (always unexpectedly) in what is, for all purpose, someone else's story. Some times these featurings provide us with insight about a character's past or future; other times they simply bring us a different perspective about the same situation. This creates a lively, engaging reading experience, punctuated by those little (or big) "haha!" moments that, in my case, make all the difference between going over a series of separated short stories and a combination of the same. [...]

    January 23, 2020

    Hello, Haul (A.K.A. My Birthday/Christmas Books Have Arrived!)

    Hello sweeties!

    Just a quick post to let you know that the books from my latest haul arrived today. Or, ten out of twelve of them arrived.


    Alas, my vendor wasn't able to locate a copy of Lucid by Jay Bonansinga (which I expected), but they didn't have any luck with Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day by Seanan McGuire either. I mean...that's a 2017 book, for goodness' sake. Where did it go?

    (01/25 edit: my vendor contacted me to let me know they were able to obtain a copy of Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day, and that they will send it to me free of any shipping expense if I still want it, since it was left out of my latest order!!! Yay!).

    January 21, 2020

    Tell Me Something Tuesday: Do You Read/Listen to More Than One Book at a Time, or Do You Give Every Book Your Undivided Attention?

    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:

    DO YOU READ/LISTEN TO MORE THAN ONE BOOK AT A TIME, OR DO YOU GIVE EVERY BOOK YOUR UNDIVIDED ATTENTION?

    First off, I apologise for skipping the previous round of TMST - the one titled Tell Me about the City/Town You Live In. I stated I'd participate, but I found myself pressed for time and - frankly - both mentally tired and not in the mood for a long-ish post. That left a gap in my schedule, but hey - new year, new me. I don't mean I'm going to slack at posting - actually, I mean to pour all the energy I can into my blog - but I don't want to over-stress about it either. (Not to mention, I have 6 posts up for January, so I guess I'm doing more than well...). Also, I wasn't sure how much I wanted to reveal about my place, because I wouldn't want anyone from my corner of the woods tracing me via my blog...that would be awkward, since I'm usually very open about certain stuff (like work stuff), and one never knows...Anyhow - let's move on to this week's question (that, incidentally, I submitted 😉). Is this you with your books?

    January 17, 2020

    Christopher Pike: "Thirst No.5: The Sacred Veil"

    Title: Thirst No.5: The Sacred Veil  [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
    Series: Thirst (previously: The Last Vampire) (5th of ?? books)
    Author: Christopher Pike [Facebook | Goodreads]
    Genres: Urban Fantasy
    Year: 2013
    Age: 14+ (please note: for years it's been considered YA lit, but the human age of the protagonist would place it in the NA category nowadays, and the series gets more mature - and darker - by the book)
    Stars: 4.5/5
    Pros: Original take on vampires. Plenty of kickass action. Blends urban fantasy with thriller, history, and more than anything, Eastern spirituality. This particular installment is heavily steeped in history (WWII/the Holocaust).
    Cons: If you're not into a mix of supernatural/spiritual/sci-fi, this one might not work for you (though it's done well). The final cliffhanger might not sit well with some. 
    WARNING! Gore, violence, torture...and a detailed tour into Auschwitz.
    Will appeal to: Those looking for a fresh approach to vampires, in what was probably the very first YA/NA series about them.

    Blurb: In her five thousand years as a vampire, Alisa - or Sita, as she was originally called - has experienced the equivalent of fifty lifetimes. Every moment of her immortal life is seared deep into her being. Every person she has loved, every victim she has killed - their faces are forever part of her. Yet, strangely, a handful of memories have been lost to Alisa. As she and her friends embark on a search for the location of a sacred artifact - an ancient veil that may hold the key to mankind's salvation - Alisa soon realizes that her own mind may be her greatest enemy. The memories she is blocking deal with the most horrifying period in mankind's history, a time when she was tortured by a madman responsible for the deaths of millions. But what information did her torture yield? (Goodreads)
    [Please note: "Alisa" is the main character's alias when she's undercover for some reason...or when it suits her, but her real name is Sita. I SO wish these blurbs called her by her birth name, though at least this one does mention it...😒]

    Review: This series is not perfect. And I won't shun its faults in this review. But for some reason, I can't bear myself to rate it less than 5 stars (except for Thirst No.3, and this one of course, but it came close). It's not author bias - there are a bunch of Pike books I rated 3 stars and even less. But if TLV/Thirst stills works its magic on me almost 20 years after I first read Book 1, and if I'm still peeling its layers after all this time, that should count for something...

    MAKING HISTORY

    Like Thirst No.4 before, Thirst No.5 takes off exactly where the previous installment in the series stopped - and yes, that one ended with a cliffhanger (or, as I prefer to see it, an extremely open ending). So, this one starts with a bang - Sita destroying the devil's pawn who had been shadowing the group all along, but of course, being left to deal with the larger, evil picture, in the form of an organisation that's threatening the whole world (and in the immediate, the group itself). Unlike its predecessor, though, Thirst No.5 isn't a fast-paced supernatural thriller (despite it starting as such), as much as the combo of a rescue mission and a (still supernatural) alternate history adventure set in the past (Sita's past of course). The gang is going after the mythical Veil of Veronica (and yes, Pike is taking some liberties with the original story) and the woman who was guarding it, a descendant of another woman Sita was friends with during WWII. The veil seems to be crucial to mankind's salvation, but Sita's regaining her memories about the part she played during the Holocaust is crucial as well, because it ties in with the present situation, though the group doesn't know how. If this sounds complicated, it's because it is - this is, hands down, the most complex installment in the Thirst saga so far, but one of the most exciting as well. History was never a favourite subject with me, but what Pike did here had me captivated and even wanting for more. Let's just say that it's not an everyday occurrence to see the oldest vampire on Earth helping the resistance during WWII, meeting historical figures like Patton and Himmler, and witnessing the Holocaust while being held captive at Auschwitz herself. Despite Sita being a 5,000 years old vampire, whose adventures in the past we have already read about on various occasions, this is the first book where she's actually playing a part in a huge historical event, and actually getting the chance to change the future. And despite Sita thinking of herself as a monster, this is probably the book where - what with having to face the worst men-induced tragedy in history - her compassion shines the most. [...]

    January 09, 2020

    C.W. Snyder: "The Infernal Machine" (ARC Review)

    Title: The Infernal Machine  [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
    Series: None
    Author: C.W. Snyder [Site | Goodreads]
    Genres: Supernatural, Fantasy
    Year: 2020
    Age: 18+
    Stars: 3/5
    Pros: Imaginative journey into despair, guilt, and literal Hell.
    Cons: The stream of flashbacks, nightmares and visions (often of alternate lives) is disorienting at times.
    WARNING! Lots of heavy imagery/gore.
    Will appeal to: Fans of steampunk with a strong supernatural flavour.

    Blurb: Arthur White lived a simple life tending the dead in a quiet cemetery, until meeting a mysterious stranger known only as Mr. Black. In a few short hours, the stranger turns the groundskeeper’s life upside down, burdening Arthur with an immortal clockwork heart. Over the course of years, Arthur works as Mr. Black’s right hand, doing the things the old warlock cannot dirty his hands with. The death of a mutual friend and the discovery of Lucifer’s cast-off heart catalyze them into action, setting off a global chase to recover the artifact and open the door to death. Along the way, Arthur struggles with evils he’s committed, dreams of loss that plague him, and desperate loneliness that may be cured by the appearance of a mysterious new companion, Ava. But before they can get to know one another, they must confront a cult out to steal the heart for their own ends. (Amazon excerpt)

    Review: First off...DISCLAIMER: I received a review ecopy of this book from the author, and I have already reviewed two of his titles in the past. This didn't influence my opinion in any way.

    BLENDING MODE

    Since I'm a fan of Snyder's afterlife YA/NA/adult crossover series The Balance, I jumped at the chance of reviewing his standalone adult The Infernal Machine - also because the blurb sounded awesome. Unfortunately - and yes, this is awkward, since I requested the book from its very author - I didn't enjoy TIM as much as Snyder's other titles. On the other hand, there's a lot to love in this book - it's inventive, evocative, and it successfully blends a classic steampunk trope (the clockwork heart) with the abysmal and crazy plan of a Nazi cult (resurrecting Hitler and his clique) and a journey through Hell that rivals the Divine Comedy. Snyder puts a spin on the mechanical heart trope, showing (and sometimes telling) us how it influences the way Arthur feels/reacts to things (or most of the times doesn't), and why he accepts his new life - and the ghastly tasks it involves - the way he does, until Ava stirs something in him. The two of them ultimately embark on a quest for another heart (Lucifer's), in order to open a portal to Hell for a rescue mission, apparently complying with their "saviour" Mr. Black's directive, in fact with plans and motives of their own; all while wizardly Nazi cultists try to beat them to the heart, and later, Hell itself tries its best to undo them. Snyder paints a vivid landscape of dark magic and horrors, on which he projects themes of guilt and redemption, despair and - if not hope - love at leastAs outrageous as the mix can sound, it works, and (darkly) entertains. [...]

    January 05, 2020

    Tooting Your Trumpet #8


    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...
    • THE WHEELCHAIR TEEN (a blog where Simone recounts her life as a black, disabled teenager)
    • ADVOCATING FOR READING LESS (a think piece/discussion on McKenzie's blog The Literary Dragon)
    • A HANDFUL OF PULP CLASSICS ARE ENTERING THE PUBLIC DOMAIN IN 2020 (a list on Forbes' site)
    • SLASHER MASSACRE (a card game by Penny Dreadful Studios a.k.a. Troy H. Gardner)
    Please note: all the graphics featured in these posts are property of the blogs'/sites' owners, and are only used in association with their blogs'/sites' links.

      January 01, 2020

      It's That Time of the Year Again...A.K.A. The Big Annual Book Haul 2019-20

       Hello sweeties!


      Today I'm doing that thing I usually do in January...that is, showcasing my big annual book haul.
      Some of you might remember that my birthday is close to Christmas - just 11 days before it. So, as per my usual birthday/Christmas tradition, every year I order a bunch of books from this Italian site that sports a wide selection of books in English as well. And I post the list on here for the world to admire (...HEY, LOTS OF 2019 BOOKS IN HERE! I'm only marginally late LOL). Here you'll find a few authors I've enjoyed in the past (Seanan McGuire, Kali Wallace, A.S. King) and a bunch of new-to-me ones. Please note: I used to write my own thoughts about each book, but with such huge hauls, it was too much of a chore, so I opted for their blurbs (abridged when possible) instead. Here goes my list, broken down by genres/Reading Rooms...(P.S.: all the books are YA unless otherwise stated).