October 28, 2023

Michael Karolewski: "The Soul Sector"

Title: The Soul Sector [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: Valcara Incorporated (1st of 6 books)
Author: Michael Karolewski [Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Afterlife, Urban Fantasy
Year: 2021 (reissued 2023)
Age: 18+
Stars: 4/5
Pros: Creative spin on the afterlife. Good blend of fast-paced and introspective. Flawed yet relatable lead with a solid redemption arc.
Cons: Might feel a bit too long if you don't click with the main lead, since a good chunk of the novel deals with her backstory, everyday life and moral swings. Ends on a cliffhanger. Gay characters get proper attention and sympathy, yet they seem doomed to feel guilty.
WARNING! Alcoholism/alcoholic parents. Attempted suicide. Drug addiction/overdose (off page). Casual homophobia/slut shaming (countered). Road accidents. Violence, blood and gore. Spiders. A couple of brief/not overly graphic sex scenes (in case you're not comfortable with those).
Will appeal to: Those who're looking for a fresh take on the afterlife/apocalypse. Those who can root for an antihero on a redemption path. Those who enjoy a Good Place vibe, only with corruption and mayhem.

Blurb: Rose Ryder never believed in the afterlife. Until she ended up there. When she finds herself in Valcara, a dystopian purgatory where souls are bought and sold, she is focused on only one thing - reuniting with her deceased younger sister. But Rose quickly learns her premature arrival violates Fate’s design. After a Valcaran company recruits Rose as their secret weapon, she becomes entangled in an industry that straddles the realms of the living and the dead. At the mercy of a divine corporation she doesn’t fully trust, Rose is sent back to Earth to meddle in mortal affairs. As she uncovers corruption on a cosmic scale, she realizes greed and deception extend beyond the grave. She wishes to free herself from the job, but her Valcaran employers hold the ultimate bargaining chip - if Rose refuses to cooperate, they will send her sister’s soul to Hell. (Amazon)

Review: First off...DISCLAIMER: this book was up for grabs on NetGalley (in the Read Now section). Thanks to Michael Karolewski for providing a temporary ecopy. This didn't influence my review in any way.

CORPORATE SOUL

This book fell through the cracks for me when it first came out, so I'm glad the author decided to revamp it and put it on NetGalley to build some series awareness, since Book 2 is due in a few days! (on October 31st, to be precise).
Anything with an afterlife setting or dealing with the subject never fails to pique my interest, but it's not an automatic win for me. Exactly because I love the genre, I'm very picky about it - and I'm pleased to say, The Soul Sector hit a lot of right notes for me. For one, it brings a fresh concept to the table (as far as I know - what I can say is that I've never come across a similar one before): Purgatory (here called Valcara) as a very Earth-like stock market trading in souls instead of shares, often with a complete disregard of morality issues. In addition to serving as a clearinghouse for Heaven and Hell, Valcara is also a world between worlds, where - besides Earthlings - a number of non-human creatures (well, souls) end up as well, while waiting for (more like, earning) their forever placement. Lots of colourful characters populate this imaginative setting, that nevertheless is only the tip of the iceberg, since Karolewski hints at a much larger universe - not to mention, he's got no less than six books planned for the series. At any rate, Valcara  is only partially the backdrop for this installment's events: the story has one foot firmly planted on Earth, and no, that doesn't make it (half) boring (not only because there's a generous amount of interdimensional chaos in the end 😂. Not saying more because...SPOILERS). [...]

October 24, 2023

Tell Me Something Tuesday: What's Your Favourite Supernatural Creature?


Tell Me Something Tuesday is a weekly meme created by Heidi at Rainy Day Ramblings in order to discuss a wide range of topics from books to blogging (and some slightly more personal matters throw in for good measure). After Heidi stopped blogging (apparently for good), five of us took over as hosts while providing new questions. The current team is composed of Berls at Because Reading Is Better Than Real LifeJen at That's What I'm Talking AboutKaren at For What It's WorthLinda at Book Girl of Mur-y-Castell and Roberta at Offbeat YA. This week's question is...

WHAT’S YOUR FAVOURITE SUPERNATURAL CREATURE?

Wow, I haven't written a TMST post - I mean, one that doubles as a discussion post - since the beginning of May...only the "Which books are you looking forward to reading" ones. I blame my frequent hiatuses and the amount of books I've had to write reviews for, but mostly, I've been too tired and pressed for time to add yet more posts to my blogging schedule. I hope to be able to participate more regularly in the future, but don't hold your breath...

OK, so - I guess it comes as no surprise to you that while I'm not particularly fond of vampires, were-whatever, zombies, faes/faeries or any other fantasy creatures (though I've occasionally read about some of them, and I've watched 15 seasons of Supernatural 😅), I'm TRASH for ghosts. My obsession passion started with the very first YA book I read, back in the '90s: Remember Me by Christopher Pike (the first installment in the namesake trilogy). To be precise, I'm trash for everything that has to do with the afterlife, as this blog page testifies - so, basically, I ADORE stories set in the Great Beyond as well - but there's something about dead characters who don't want to stay dead, or try to connect/interact with the living (or to scare them LOL), or investigate the reason for their own demise, that makes me weak in the knees. I'm not even sure why they intrigue me so much? Maybe it's because coming back from the dead (sorta) or touching the living is the peak of impossibility, the ultimate cheat AND rebellion - and I LOVE all things impossible and subversive. Also, there's so much potential for a heartbreaking-yet-heartwarming story to be told, both from the ghost's POV and from their loved ones'. Whatever the reason...I love ghosts, and I always will - so keep them coming, please and thank you 👻.

October 19, 2023

Josh Winning: "Burn the Negative"

Title: Burn the Negative [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: None
Author: Josh Winning [Site | Goodreads | Other Goodreads (as Joshua Winning)]
Genres: Thriller/Mystery, Supernatural, Horror
Year: 2023
Age: 18+ (but it can be read by mature teens)
Stars: 4/5
Pros: Compulsive read. Wild spin on the Cursed Movie/Final Girl tropes.
Cons: The often concise writing style tends to create a sort of detachment. None of the characters is what you would call "likeable" (which is more or less the point, though, I guess).
WARNING! Suicide, some gruesome deaths, fire, vomiting. Child abuse, kidnapping, gaslighting, parent with memory loss.
Will appeal to: Fans of slasher movies (with a twist). People who have never seen one, but love an off-the-wall, blood-soaked mystery with a social-commentary angle.

Blurb: Arriving in L.A. to visit the set of a new streaming horror series, journalist Laura Warren witnesses a man jumping from a bridge, landing right behind her car. Here we go, she thinks. It’s started. Because the series she’s reporting on is a remake of a ’90s horror flick. A cursed ’90s horror flick, which she starred in as a child - and has been running from her whole life. In The Guesthouse, Laura played the little girl with the terrifying gift to tell people how the Needle Man would kill them. When eight of the cast and crew died in ways that eerily mirrored the movie’s on-screen deaths, the film became a cult classic - and ruined her life. Leaving it behind, Laura changed her name and her accent, dyed her hair, and moved across the Atlantic. But some scripts don’t want to stay buried. Now, as the body count rises again, Laura finds herself on the run with her aspiring actress sister and a jaded psychic, hoping to end the curse once and for all - and to stay out of the Needle Man’s lethal reach. (Amazon)

Review: First off...DISCLAIMER: While Josh and I go a long way and I've beta-read for him in the past, for this book he sought help from a friend of his who's an expert on the horror genre - plus I didn't get the chance to read an eARC because the publisher didn't approve my request (this publisher isn't the same one that put out Josh's previous novel, and apparently, they have a different marketing strategy). But of course this isn't Josh's fault, and I continue to support his writing (not to mention, I know that more adventures in beta-reading are in the pipeline 😉). So I purchased a copy of Burn the Negative, and here's my honest review.

SLASHING AND TWISTING

Burn the Negative has been advertised as a homage to classic slasher movies...which I'm not a fan of, simply because I don't do movies. But as with Josh's previous title The Shadow Glass - which is a homage to classic fantasy movies, such as Labyrinth and The Neverending Story - it doesn't matter...or, well, it probably does, but not so much. Maybe you'll enjoy the story more if you're in tune with the genre and can catch all the big and small references to its movie counterparts; but then again, there's a tiny chance that the outrageous twist Winning pulls towards the end will sit better with people who are thinking outside the "slasher movie" box. I know it did with me, to the point that I upped my rating on the strength of that twist - AND of the ending, which cleverly subverts the Final Girl trope. Let's say that the twist will work better for you if you can appreciate wild turns of events that have a campy, yet horrifying quality, but go beyond shock value and sort of double up as social commentary. Admittedly, I was feeling a little underwhelmed during the first half of the story, while it cycled through a series of popular horror movie tropes without adding a lot to them, but then the second half picked up and started to deliver twist after twist, bringing Winning's brilliant vision to fruition. [...]

October 13, 2023

Taste the Books: Review Morsels #45 The Seanan McGuire by Any Other Name Edition (Part 3)


Intro


Hello beauties!

Welcome again to my own brand of mini reviews! I never thought I'd do minis, until I recapped a few of my long reviews in some digest post in 2014, and then guest-posted some shorties for a blogging event in 2015. And Karen from For What It's Worth started praising my short recs/recaps 😊. Just to be clear, I'm NOT taking a break from writing long reviews - no such luck LOL (though for anthologies, shorter books or books that I didn't enjoy/I don't have enough to say about, I decided to stick to minis). But while I'm making up my mind about a new book I've read, I might as well give you the short version 😉. Just be warned - this feature will be VERY random!

Note: all the mini blurbs (in italics) are of my own creation.

October 09, 2023

Clara Kumagai: "Catfish Rolling"

Title: Catfish Rolling [on Amazon | on Amazon UK | on Goodreads] (Note: this isn't technically an ARC review, since I got my copy from the US-based publisher Amulet Books/Abrams, but Zephyr/Head of Zeus/Bloomsbury issued the UK version back in March; the US version is coming out this month. Also, I decided to use the UK-version blurb because it's less spoilery)
Series: None
Author: Clara Kumagai [Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Contemporary with a Twist
Year: 2023
Age: 14+
Stars: 5/5
Pros: Original, poetical, thought-provoking. Rich in Japanese mythology and culture without being overwhelming.
Cons: If you're the kind of reader who needs all the answers, you might get frustrated.
WARNING! The main character experiences the loss of a parent during an earthquake, and has to deal with her other parent's deteriorating memory. There's the (tame) prelude to a sex scene that happens offscreen.
Will appeal to: Those who can appreciate a quirky and quiet (yet engrossing) story about grief, memory and the relative quality of time.

Blurb: There's a catfish under the islands of Japan and when it rolls the land rises and falls. Sora hates the catfish whose rolling caused an earthquake so powerful it cracked time itself. It destroyed her home and took her mother. Now Sora and her scientist father live close to the zones - the wild and abandoned places where time runs faster or slower than normal. Sora is sensitive to the shifts, and her father recruits her help in exploring these liminal spaces. But it's dangerous there - and as she strays further inside in search of her mother, she finds that time distorts, memories fracture and shadows, a glimmer of things not entirely human, linger. After Sora's father goes missing, she has no choice but to venture into uncharted spaces within the time zones to find him, her mother and perhaps even the catfish itself... (Amazon)

Review: First off...DISCLAIMER: I requested this title on Edelweiss. Thanks to Amulet Books (Abrams) for providing a temporary ecopy. This didn't influence my review in any way.

LESS IS MORE

Books that deal with time paradoxes are my kryptonite (among other things, that is), and magical realism is one of my favourite genres, so I was looking forward to reading a story where the two things intertwined for a change - since most time paradoxes are usually encapsulated in a sci-fi narrative. I found the premise of this novel fascinating - an earthquake capable of breaking time and creating a series of  "fast zones" and "slow zones" with different rules, in one of which the protagonist's mother could perhaps still be trapped years after vanishing in the quake itself. The funny thing is, the story ended up going in a different direction that I had envisioned - until the last section, the effects of the fractured time were subtler than I expected, and the magical realism more subdued - and yet there was never a moment when I wished I was reading the kind of story that my imagination had conjured (the blurb has a certain ominous quality that the "zones" don't match, not in the way it leads you to believe. But the story doesn't need to venture into supernatural or horror territory to hold the reader's interest). [...]

October 05, 2023

Seanan McGuire: "Lost in the Moment and Found"

Title: Lost in the Moment and Found [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: Wayward Children (8th of ?? books)
Author: Seanan McGuire [Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Supernatural (technically it would be Portal Fantasy, but since I don't have a Fantasy Room on the blog, I decided to shelf this one as Supernatural - that's the closest I could get)
Year: 2023
Age: 14+
Stars: 4/5
Pros: An imaginative look-in-reverse at one of the most common fantasy tropes. Creative, harsh but compassionate, poetical. Could work as a cautionary tale for kids in potentially abusive environments.
Cons: Darker and sadder than the previous installments. Due to the brevity of the story, the shop/portal at its center doesn't live up to its potential.
WARNING! Parent death (on page). Grooming and adult gaslighting.
Will appeal to: Everyone who's ever been betrayed or threatened by an adult. Everyone who's ever felt out of place, but doesn't necessary dream of a happier world than the one they live in...

Blurb: Welcome to the Shop Where the Lost Things Go.
Antoinette has lost her father. Metaphorically. He’s not in the Shop, and she’ll never see him again. But when Antsy finds herself lost (literally, this time), she finds that however many doors open for her, leaving the Shop for good might not be as simple as it sounds. And stepping through those doors exacts a price.
Lost in the Moment and Found tells us that childhood and innocence, once lost, can never be found. (Amazon excerpt)

Review: A while ago, I decided I wouldn't write full reviews anymore for certain types of books, including novellas. But since I've been reviewing this series in full from the start, I'm making an exception here, and I intend to go on doing so for all its future installments. So, I'll keep writing a mini review after my first read, and a full one after my second.

GETTING REAL

Fair warning: if, like me, you crave all things magical and bizarre, and you vibe more with teen characters than with their younger counterparts, you might struggle a bit with the 8th installment in the Wayward Children series, namely its beginningLITMAF has a much younger protagonist than the ones we've encountered in the previous books, and though the series as a whole does "dark" a lot, in this case the darkness is rooted in a familial loss, and in a very human threat instead of a fantasy one. So, if you're anything like me, you'll agree that Antsy's experience in her abusive environment is a story that will always need to be told (though it's unclear if it may work as a cautionary tale for kids, since the series has a much older audience), and you'll feel and root for her - but you'll also hardly recognise the series that you've grown to love, while caught up in a story that might very well be ripped from the headlines (it's a very intimate and personal one instead, as the "Author's note" states, but you know what I mean). Not to mention, Antsy's ordeal prior to finding her door takes up 1/3 of the book, which makes it the longest origin story in the series so far. I'm here to tell you that, if any of this bothers you, reading the next book in the series (which I have, indeed, read in ARC form while I'm writing this review) should change your perspective, and that if you ever go back to reading LITMAF for the second time (which I did), you'll probably gain a new appreciation for it; but as far as first impressions go, you've been tipped off. [...]    

October 01, 2023

Offbeat Offline: September 2023 (Back and Meaning Business)


Welcome to Offbeat Offline, where I bring you up-to-date with what went on in my life during the month just gone, give you a sneak peek of my next shenanigans, and share my favourite posts of late!

What happened last month to yours truly? Oh, you know, the average blog hiatus. Except I spent it reading, and reviewing, and scheduling October/November posts 😂. It's funny, because as soon as I decide to sit a month out and only read for fun, I'm suddenly feeling overwhelmed by all the books I still have to review - ARCs, but not only - and I start to produce blog posts for the post-hiatus months. I have 6 more posts lined up for October...😮. Also, I got both good and bad news on the money front. The housekeeping, in the meantime, continued to suffer...