November 28, 2023

Tell Me Something Tuesday: Which Books Are You Looking Forward to Reading This Winter? (December-February)


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...

WHICH BOOKS ARE YOU LOOKING FORWARD TO READING THIS WINTER? (DECEMBER-FEBRUARY)

I don't know if I'll ever get around to buying all these books or when, since 1) early reviews and excerpts might cause me to change my mind in the future, and 2) given my current situation (see: unemployment status), book money is scarce...(I got a few of these in eARC form though! See below). Anyhow, I wanted to give a bit of exposure to all the winter books that caught my eye, so here's my list (complete with pub dates)...

November 22, 2023

Taste the Books: Review Morsels #47 Seanan McGuire: "InCryptid" Series #9-12


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.

November 16, 2023

Kiersten White: "Mister Magic"

Title: Mister Magic [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: None
Author: Kiersten White [Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Supernatural, Thriller/Mystery
Year: 2023
Age: 14+ (I shelved it as Adult because of the characters' age in the present, but it can be read by mature teens. There are far more graphic YA books out there)
Stars: 5/5
Pros: Original and enthralling, with an easy-to-love cast. Makes an impassioned argument for children's rights to creativity and freedom (and everyone's right to be themselves). 
Cons: You have to suspend disbelief about the main character's passively buying into her father's narrative (or lack thereof). Also, the ending might hurt you a little...
WARNING! Child abuse, mind control/indoctrination, sexism, homophobia, gaslighting, parent death (off page). A minor instance of body horror.
Will appeal to: Those who love a dark - yet emotive and hopeful - childhood-friends reunion on the backdrop of a supernatural mystery.

Blurb: Thirty years after a tragic accident shut down production of the classic children’s program Mister Magic, the five surviving cast members have done their best to move on. But just as generations of cultishly devoted fans still cling to the lessons they learned from the show, the cast, known as the Circle of Friends, have spent their lives searching for the happiness they felt while they were on it. But with no surviving video of the show, no evidence of who directed or produced it, and no records of who - or what - the beloved host actually was, memories are all the former Circle of Friends has. Then a twist of fate brings the castmates back together at the remote desert filming compound that feels like it’s been waiting for them all this time. They’re the only ones who hold the secret of that circle, and, maybe, the answers to what really happened on that deadly last day. But as the Circle of Friends reclaim parts of their past, they begin to wonder: Are they here by choice, or have they been lured into a trap? (Amazon excerpt)

Review: I was aware of the hidden layer of meaning behind this story before I read it (by the way, White opens out about it in the Acknowledgment section), but I don't think it made a difference for me. In my opinion, you can go in blind or not, get the allegory while reading or have it explained by the author afterwards, but it shouldn't detract from/add to your enjoyment either way (unless you come from a similar environment as White's). Then again, I know of at least one reader that had a different experience (read Tammy's review here).

EMOTIONAL ATTACHMENT

I think I've discovered a new bias of mine lately: give me a story in the supernatural or magical realism genres with a cast that met as children and reunite as adult, and I will enjoy it despite its flaws, if there are any - as long as those characters allow me to love them enough. So, I won't say that Mister Magic is a perfect book (which, duh, hardly any book is perfect, but you get my meaning), while I will admit that the aforementioned characters could have been fleshed out more or given better dialogue in some instances...but they were able to win my affection (especially Val), plus the story was intriguing and had its heart in the right place, so to speak - hence the five star rating.
At the core of Mister Magic are a diverse group of friends in their late 30s/early 40s who were together on the titular show 30 years earlier, and have little to no memories of it - but what memories they have are fond...until they get the chance to scratch past that surface, and realise that something insidious and unsettling was at play (just in case you're thinking sexual abuse, no, nothing of the sort). It doesn't help that the show only survives in the (fuzzy) memories of those who participated in it and those who used to watch it, because there's no clip or info to be found ANYWHERE (and yeah, there's a valid explanation for that, I swear). Getting to know the why and the how and the WHAT - in the wake of the show's reboot - was fun...yet heartbreaking...yet exhilarating; but it didn't steal the scene from the characters (more as an ensemble than as individuals, I will admit, except for Val), especially in the later chapters, and especially when we finally get a glimpse of their younger selves on the very show's set, and discover what happened to the missing sixth cast member... [...]

November 12, 2023

Krystal Sutherland: "House of Hollow"

Title: House of Hollow [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: None
Author: Krystal Sutherland [Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Supernatural, Afterlife, Thriller or Mystery
Year: 2021
Age: 14+ (please note: this is dark YA - you may want to take a look at the WARNING! section)
Stars: 5/5
Pros: Unique twist on a well-known fantasy trope (I'm not mentioning it in order to avoid spoilers). Fascinating settings. (Mostly) satisfying characters. Evocative writing.
Cons: Potentially disturbing imagery. An instance of rape apology from the intended victim. An inappropriate kiss between a minor and her sister's boyfriend.
WARNING! Body horror/bug horror. Blood and gore. Death. Attempted rape. Murder. Drowning. Fire. Suicide (off page). Alcohol/drug abuse. Vomiting.
Will appeal to: Those who like dark, yet luscious stories with a supernatural mystery at their core.

Blurb: Seventeen-year-old Iris Hollow has always been strange. Something happened to her and her two older sisters when they were children, something they can’t quite remember but that left each of them with an identical half-moon scar at the base of their throats. Iris has spent most of her teenage years trying to avoid the weirdness that sticks to her like tar. But when her eldest sister, Grey, goes missing under suspicious circumstances, Iris learns just how weird her life can get: horned men start shadowing her, a corpse falls out of her sister’s ceiling, and ugly, impossible memories start to twist their way to the forefront of her mind. As Iris retraces Grey’s last known footsteps and follows the increasingly bizarre trail of breadcrumbs she left behind, it becomes apparent that the only way to save her sister is to decipher the mystery of what happened to them as children. The closer Iris gets to the truth, the closer she comes to understanding that the answer is dark and dangerous – and that Grey has been keeping a terrible secret from her for years. (Goodreads)

Review: This book has at least three different blurbs LOL. I picked the one I like most (and, I seem to remember, the original one), but mind you - it doesn't mention the third sister Vivi, who's an integral part of the story.

TERRIBLE BEAUTY

Even if, like me, you don't put much stock on covers, House of Hollow has a striking one, doesn't it? one that, back when the book came out in 2021, compelled me to look at the blurb and see what the story was about. And even after the aforementioned blurb piqued my interest, I have to admit that the cover had me a little nervous, especially since I can't tolerate bug horror on a visual level (though I fare better with it when it's used as a literary device). Yet, at the same time, I thought the art was beautiful. Well, that's House of Hollow for you: "sheer horror and sheer beauty joined at the hip", as I stated in the mini review I wrote after reading it for the first time. It's a novel of contrasts, except they end up merging, or complementing each other at the very least. It starts as magical realism with a sizeable amount of mystery (what happened to the Hollow sisters when they were kids? what is the strange power they seem to exert on people? and what happened to Grey, the one who embraced such power shamelessly and used it to her best advantage?), then takes a turn toward the supernatural and becomes darker and darker, and more and more disturbing...yet the lyrical, evocative writing makes a thing of beauty out of it. [...]

November 08, 2023

Taste the Books: Review Morsels #46 Kosoko Jackson, Jay Bonansinga, Adrian Tchaikovsky


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.

November 04, 2023

Michael Karolewski: "The Prophet's Debt" (ARC Review)

Title: The Prophet's Debt [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: Valcara Incorporated (2nd of 6 books)
Author: Michael Karolewski [Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Afterlife, Urban Fantasy
Year: 2023
Age: 18+
Stars: 3.5/5
Pros: Creative spin on the afterlife. Good blend of fast-paced and introspective. Flawed yet relatable lead.
Cons: More complex and a tad less exciting than Book 1 (probably since the afterlife setting plays a smaller role). Sees the main character suffer a setback in terms of self-destructive habits. Ends on a cliffhanger.
WARNING! Imprisonment and torture of a kid. Attempted suicide. Death by fire. Stabbing. Animal death. Bug horror. Brainwashing. Alcohol and drug abuse. 
Will appeal to: Those who're looking for a fresh take on the afterlife. Those who can root for an antihero on an erratic redemption path.

Blurb: Rose Ryder may have prevented an apocalypse, but her work is far from over. After hearing her friend Jade call out for help from beyond the grave, Rose will stop at nothing to find her soul. Her quest brings her back to Valcara, where she learns her heroism on Earth has attracted the scorn of powerful Valcarans. However, she finds an unlikely ally in the corrupt soul who previously exploited her: Anita Munroe. Back on Earth, Rose encounters treacherous factions in her covert mission to expose interdimensional collusion. A paranormal support group led by a suspected murderer. A sinister magic company that conceals corporate sins with shiny marketing tricks. And most troubling for Rose, the unexpected return of a villain from her past. At every turn, Valcaran interference bleeds through, revealing startling connections between the mortal world and the afterlife. Contending with betrayal and renewed fears of cosmic devastation, Rose realizes that rescuing Jade's soul from damnation may require dooming her own...and the world she gave up heaven to save. (Goodreads)

Review: First off...DISCLAIMER: I received a review copy from the author after joining his mailing list and volunteering to read this book. This didn't influence my review in any way.

RICH TAPESTRY

I stand by my word about the Valcara Incorporated series: it's a very imaginative (if a bit disheartening 😂) spin on the afterlife, with strong imagery and an interesting protagonist to boot. To be precise, in this second installment, the narrative is split between Rose (former office drone and unacknowledged world saviour) and Dan (paranormal investigator and inexperienced mind-hopper), whose paths skirt each other and loosely dance around the same people and/or situations, until they come together and a certain reveal takes place (honestly, I didn't see that one coming). Dan brings a different perspective to the table - one that straddles the line between the magical and the mundane instead of the one between life and afterlife - and comes with his own (double) baggage, which makes for an intriguing backstory. The plot is complex and rich, with on one hand Dan's investigation into a little girl's disappearance (which will open a whole can of worms), on the other Rose's attempt to save her friend Jade's soul by infiltrating a paranormal support group and a "paranormal professionals" organization, thus playing double agent for different factions, all while making a startling discovery about the state of her own soul (another twist that I didn't see coming). Oh, and did I mention that, in the meantime, someone is still causing monsters from the Void to bleed out of portals and onto Earth? [...]

November 01, 2023

Offbeat Offline: October 2023


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? We got unseasonable heat; I joined Bluesky and had issues with MailerLite; I applied for an internship that wasn't exactly what I (and everybody else who did the same) expected...All the rest has been pretty stationary, including my husband's situation. I didn't even read much, because at the beginning of the month I was still wrestling with a review that I had started at the end of September (and that I had included in last month's recap though it was still incomplete), and it took me AGES to finish it - I don't know why (in case you're curious, the book was House of Hollow - see below). A nightmare experience that I hope not to have a second time...