March 26, 2024

Ryan Leslie: "Colossus" (ARC Review)

Title: Colossus [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: None
Author: Ryan Leslie [Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Sci-Fi, Multiverse
Year: 2024
Age: 18+ (please note: it's definitely an adult book as a whole, but readable by mature teens - there are a couple of preludes to sex scenes that either happen offscreen or not at all, and the horror factor shouldn't be a huge issue, given the amount of very dark YA horror out there. See the WARNING! section though)
Stars: 5/5
Pros: Epic, visionary, intriguing blend of fringe science, parallel realities and horror.
Cons: Complex. Requires suspension of disbelief (which is pretty much the norm with sci-fi anyway). Some characters aren't exactly likeable. The ending is open to interpretations.
WARNING! Horror and gore/body horror/bodily fluids. Violence/murder. Drugs/suicide. Heavy drinking.
Will appeal to: Those who have a thing for parallel realities. Those who enjoy tense and imaginative science fiction that pushes the limit.

Blurb: Economics professor Clay West has always explained the world through the lens of his profession. But after his girlfriend Karla takes Dying Wish - a drug that supposedly reveals the nature of reality moments before it claims your life - Clay is devastated. No amount of rationalization can explain Karla's actions. Distraught, Clay joins a mission into the dark emptiness of space where answers are promised to reside. But when the ship begins to malfunction, Clay and the surviving crew members suspect there's more to the mission than they've been told. They've been lied to, and they're drifting into dead space. Clay's memories of Karla haunt him even more than the ship's chaos, and there's something wrong with his memories: he has too many. The ship's Al tells Clay his false memories are a normal side-effect of the hibernation, but to Clay, the memories suggest something far more insidious. He's been on this ship before... (Amazon)

Review: First off...DISCLAIMER: I received a complimentary eARC from the author, since I had already enjoyed and reviewed his debut novel The Between in 2021This didn't influence my review in any way.

LARGER THAN LIVES

On his site, Ryan Leslie states that it took him ten years to complete this novel, and let me tell you, I'm not at all surprised. Colossus is an ambitious blend of genres and ideas, spanning Earth, space and parallel universes/converging realities, clones and AI wars, science and philosophy, and last but not least, love and loss. It could have gone very well or very badly, but luckily, the result is impressive, and far less challenging that one might think (I mean, it's still a complex book, but you won't get lost while reading it). Putting his own twist on quantum science and the many-worlds theory, Leslie came up with a story where the scientific angle is just as prominent as the human one, since the two characters/forces that clash during the course of the novel and ultimately engage in a life-or-death battle are - net of the science and the technology that laid the groundwork for such a battle - the product of very human emotions. And I found it fit that the author would devote the first two thirds of his story respectively to the hero's and the villain's genesis (though Clay's section is a mix of real-time plot and flashbacks) - I mean, the general consensus seems to be that Part 2 is a tad too long, or too complex, or less intriguing, but after a couple of chapters, I started to vibe with it, and I ended up finding it both necessary and enjoyable...not to mention, funny at times. The last third is kind of an acid trip in the best way (which I suppose it indeed is, since the infamous Dying Wish makes an apparition 😂), a poignant yet sharp climax steeped in quantum physic and wrapped in a horror nightmare, and if you're into this sort of stuff, it's guaranteed to make your pulse race. [...]

March 18, 2024

Taste the Books: Review Morsels #49 Grace Curtis, Rebecca Rook, Ai Jiang


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.

March 10, 2024

Mallory Pearson: "We Ate the Dark" (ARC Review)

Title: We Ate the Dark [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: None so far (though according to a Goodreads reviewer, the author has - had? - a duology in mind)
Author: Mallory Pearson [Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Supernatural, Afterlife, Multiverse, Mystery
Year: 2024
Age: 16+ (technically an adult book, but it can be read by mature teens. See the WARNING! section though)
Stars: 4/5
Pros: Visceral and lyrical (if dark) celebration of found family, queer love, female friendship, and everything in between.
Cons: Metaphor galore - some of them over the top or bizarre. Open ending, with loose threads that were likely left for a potential sequel to pick.
WARNING! Horror and gore, violence (not of the sexual kind), near-drowning, fire, darkness (in the literal sense), claustrophobic spaces, evil spirit possession, extreme grief. 
Will appeal to: Those who love a story that crosses the space between all-consuming friendship and queer love. 

Blurb: Five years after Sofia Lyon disappeared, her remains are found stuffed into the hollow of a tree bursting through the floorboards of an abandoned house in the woods. The women who loved her flock home to the North Carolina hills to face their grief. Frankie, Sofia’s twin, is in furious mourning. Poppy is heartbroken. Cass has never felt more homesick. And Marya knows something the rest of them don’t. Determined to find Sofia’s murderer, they share more than a need to see justice done for their friend. As Sofia’s secrets unravel, so do those of the woods, and the women soon realize that Sofia might not be who they thought she was at all. And that whoever - or whatever - killed her is coming after them. (Amazon excerpt)

Review: First off...DISCLAIMER: this title was up for grabs on NetGalley (in the Read Now section). Thanks to 47North for providing a temporary ecopy. This didn't influence my review in any way.

SHADES OF LOVE

Let's address the elephant in the room first, because it's not like it's a secret: We Ate the Dark has a low average rating on Goodreads. Now, I don't mean to invalidate my fellow readers' opinions...but I'm surprised at the number of bad reviews this book is receiving. I get where most of them are coming from (more about that later), but at the same time, I found a lot to love in this story, and I'm going to tell you what it is.
Look, I may be a tad biased, because Pearson put together a lot of my favourite elements for this story: ghosts, haunted houses, alternate universes, a murder mystery, and a found family of women who just won't quit. But there's a lot more in here that I didn't expect and quite liked. Three old friends whose paths diverged after one of them disappeared are brought together by a shocking discovery (another trope I can't seem to tire of), and set on getting justice for one of them, all while trying to forgive and forget the hurt they've inflicted on one another, yet at the same time remember what they used to be for one another. Plus a newcomer with a gift that's more of a burden manages to get accepted into their circle, and does her best to make them realise she belongs with them. Cycling through the voices of all four girls (not to mention the missing twin's and a separate female character's), We Ate the Dark is first and foremost an exploration of female friendship and queer love and the liminal space between the two, from teenhood to new adulthood. I've never had relationship like those in the book, and yet the author was able to make me believe in each and every one of them. While there's no evident homophobia in the story, at least one of the characters tries to forge a more "traditional" sexual identity for herself, setting the whole tragedy in motion. But it's a different tragedy than you'd expect, and the focus of the story remains on the bond among women, the nuances of their relationships, the family that fails you and the one you make for yourself. And here's where Pearson's writing excels, down to the phenomenal single chapter in first person plural. [...]

March 04, 2024

Gwendolyn Kiste: "The Haunting of Velkwood" (ARC Review)

Title: The Haunting of Velkwood [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: None
Author: Gwendolyn Kiste [Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Supernatural
Year: 2024
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: 4.5/5
Pros: Original take on the haunted house trope (where the house is a whole street). Riveting, atmospheric and suspenseful. Heartbreaking, but hopeful as well.
Cons: Could have used a little more worldbuilding and character development.
WARNING! Violence, domestic abuse (off-page), pedophilia/sexual abuse (off-page), homophobia, bug horror. 
Will appeal to: Fans of literal and psychological hauntings with a mystery (or more) to crack. Readers who favour dual narratives (past + present), female friendships/would-be-romances and sisterly relationships.

Blurb: The Velkwood Vicinity was the topic of occult theorists, tabloid one-hour documentaries, and even some pseudo-scientific investigations as the block of homes disappeared behind a near-impenetrable veil that only three survivors could enter - and only one has in the past twenty years, until now. Talitha Velkwood has avoided anything to do with the tragedy that took her mother and eight-year-old sister, drifting from one job to another, never settling anywhere or with anyone, feeling as trapped by her past as if she was still there in the small town she so desperately wanted to escape from. When a new researcher tracks her down and offers to pay her to come back to enter the vicinity, Talitha claims she’s just doing it for the money. Of all the crackpot theories over the years, no one has discovered what happened the night Talitha, her estranged, former best friend Brett, and Grace, escaped their homes twenty years ago. Will she finally get the answers she’s been looking for all these years, or is this just another dead end? (Amazon)

Review: First off...DISCLAIMER: I requested this title on Edelweiss. Thanks to Saga Press (Simon & Schuster) for providing a temporary ecopy. This didn't influence my review in any way.

STEP UP THE GHOST

A haunting like no other. After a mysterious incident, a whole street vanished in plain sight (or, it didn't exactly vanish, but since then it has existed inside of a blurred bubble that nothing and no one can access...with a few exceptions), giving a brand new meaning to the expression "ghostly neighbourhood"...and its resident became ghosts themselves - or did they? It makes for an exciting premise and a fantastic setup, and for the most part, the story lives up to them (I have but a couple of minor quibbles that I'll come back to in the second part of my review). First one, then two, in the end all three of the estranged childhood friends who escaped the fate that befell their homes are able to enter the ghostly vicinity - but of course, at a cost; and with each trip, a new piece of the puzzle is revealed. Now, if grown-apart adults returning to their childhood lair, secrets and mysteries, and super-eerie locations/manifestations are your jam, this alone would be worth the admission fee; but like all the best horror stories are wont to do, The Haunting of Velkwood ultimately packs a lot more into its slight frame. [...]

March 01, 2024

Offbeat Offline: February 2024


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? A beloved series got a new installment...and my husband finally ventured out of the bed (but don't get too excited - he's only taking a few step inside per day to build up strength at this stage, with very meager results). I'm trying to conquer the to-be-read-and-reviewed pile, and though I've had little success for now, at least I seem to have gone past the "I don't wanna" or "man, this stuff is SO hard" stage...words seem to flow better. Let's hope it sticks...