July 05, 2024

Offbeat Offline: June 2024 (Plus Announcing a Short Hiatus)


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? Some doctor appointments for me and the hubs, and...that's it for my personal sphere. Also, we had both European and local elections, with dismaying results (though the left wing made a small comeback). Here goes my recap of June's most notable moments...

July 02, 2024

Tell Me Something Tuesday: Who’s Your Favourite Celebrity (Alive and/or Dead)?


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...

WHO’S YOUR FAVOURITE CELEBRITY (ALIVE AND/OR DEAD)?

I used to be a music gal and not to care much about actors, until David Tennant entered my life in 2017. It was January 1st when I started to watch Doctor Who in earnest, and at the end of Season 1, when Christopher Eccleston's Doctor regenerated into Tennant's, I fell in love 😍 (I mean, not right away - I watched Tennant's introductory episode first...). Our relationship is somehow complicated by the fact that only a fraction of his hefty body of work was/is dubbed in Italian, and I hate to watch movies or series in the original language because spoken English is not my forte (and subtitles, where present, are distracting). But I adore him nevertheless, not only as an actor (and a pleasant one to watch 😁), but also as a human being who seems to have his heart in the right place. I'd love to meet him one day...but I'd probably make a fool of myself (especially due to having to find the right words in English without having the time to think them through like when I write a post), so maybe it's for the best that I don't get the chance to travel...

I mean, he could...look at me like this...and I would...asdfghjkl πŸ˜‚.

June 26, 2024

Brandon Jones: "Whirly World"

Title: Whirly World [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: None
Author: Brandon Jones [Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Afterlife, Thriller/Mystery
Year: 2023
Age: 14+ (I shelved it as Adult because of the characters' age, and it's indeed marketed to that demographic, but it can be read by teens)
Stars: 5/5
Pros: Inventive, entertaining, humorous and emotional.
Cons: Due to the large number of characters, not all of them feel fully realised. The ending doesn't give all the answers.
WARNING! Drowning, fires, claustrophobic settings. We see a character collapse to death in a flashback.
Will appeal to: Those who love creative afterlife settings, carnival rides and accidental heroes.

Blurb: Theme-park blogger Jason Green is dead and his spirit is stuck inside Whirly World, his favorite place to be. What should be a dream come true turns into an abstract nightmare as Jason confronts malevolent forces trapping him there. Desperate to escape, he has to befriend the other ten ghosts inhabiting this afterlife, from a disgruntled hostess crushed under a revolving stage, to a bereft security guard that still thinks it's 1983, and combine their strange powers to dig up the park's mysterious past. (Amazon)

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

FUN FAIR

Afterlife meets theme park with a side of superpowers and time loops, all wrapped in a mystery: a recipe for fun, though peppered with some emotional moments (what with the characters being, you know, dead). For one, the premise is creative and intriguing: eleven employees or patrons of a famous amusement park who died on its grounds find themselves trapped in a ghostly version of the same park. Among them is Jason, a theme-park blogger who in life was probably the biggest Whirly World fan, but isn't necessarily thrilled not to be able to leave the place for mysterious reasons - not to mention, he can't even remember how he died. He sets on exploring the surroundings (which leads to a series of frustrating discoveries - frustrating for him, but again, making for lots of fun on the reader's part), and one by one he runs into his fellow resident ghosts, which creates some amusing dynamics (since Jason has written about their deaths in his blog, and coming face to face with some of them brings out the fanboy in him, if for a moment. [...]

June 20, 2024

Taste the Books: Review Morsels #51 Steven Dos Santos, Leon Kemp, Holly Rae Garcia


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 πŸ˜‰. Just be warned - this feature will be VERY random!

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

June 14, 2024

Nadi Reed Perez: "The Afterlife of Mal Caldera" (ARC Review)

Title: The Afterlife of Mal Caldera [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: None
Author: Nadi Reed Perez [Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Afterlife
Year: 2024
Age: 18+
Stars: 4/5
Pros: Creative, riotous yet soulful spin on a series of classic afterlife/rock lifestyle tropes. A love letter to hope and life from the other side of the veil.
Cons: Too focused on the ghostly sex and partying (though it comes with the worldbuilding, to an extent).
WARNING! Suicide/attempted suicide, drug use, alcoholism. Familial abuse, depression, hospital internment, infidelity/promiscuity, grief.
Will appeal to: Those who like life-affirming stories, coming-of-age narratives (even after death) and found families.

Blurb: Mal Caldera - former rockstar, retired wild-child and excommunicated black sheep of her Catholic family - is dead. Not that she cares. She only feels bad that her younger sister, Cris, has been left to pick up the pieces Mal left behind. While her fellow ghosts party their afterlives away at an abandoned mansion they call the Haunt, Mal is determined to make contact with Cris from beyond the grave. She enlists the help of a reluctant local medium, Ren, and together, they concoct a plan to pass on a message to Cris. But the more time they spend together, the more they begin to wonder what might have been if they'd met before Mal died. Mal knows it’s wrong to hold on so tightly to her old life. Bad things happen to ghosts who interfere with the living, and Mal can't help wondering if she’s hurting the people she loves by hanging around, haunting their lives. But Mal has always been selfish, and letting go might just be the hardest thing she's ever had to do. (Amazon)

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

NEW DIRECTIONS

I have to be honest: the synopsis set my expectations for a different story than the one I got, up to an extent. I figured Mal's attempt to communicate with her sister (and maybe her success in doing so) would be the main focus, along with Mal and Ren's (the medium) doomed love story. It turns out that I was right about the second thing (again, up to an extent) and wrong about the first, because this book encompasses so many more themes and situations - though it mostly boils down to coming to terms with one's own death, forgiving oneself and becoming part of a found family, plus helping the living to change their existence for the better. This could have resulted in a sappy (and fairly typical) tale, except the author made some interesting choices that gave enough of a spin to a series of familiar tropes and managed to keep the narrative sharper and rawer than it could have been. For one, Mal Caldera hadn't reached stardom status yet before she met her untimely death, and she was as flawed and selfish as they come (still is, at the start of her afterlife - though the good thing is, she's self-aware about it). Likewise, if the rest of the cast projects a clichΓ© appearance at first, this soon enough makes room for surprises and unexpected twists (for all purposes, so does the story). The setting and worldbuilding (I'm talking about the afterlife-dimension-on-Earth here) are imaginative and well thought-out, and the ghosts' mythology is the right blend of familiar and fresh. [...]

June 08, 2024

Quinn Connor: "The Pecan Children" (ARC Review)

Title: The Pecan Children [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: None
Author: Quinn Connor [Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Contemporary with a Twist, Thriller/Mystery
Year: 2024
Age: 16+ (I shelved it as Adult because of the characters' age, and it's indeed marketed to that demographic, but it can be read by mature teens. There are far more graphic YA books out there)
Stars: 5/5
Pros: Atmospheric, engrossing, spellbinding, inventive, ultimately hopeful.
Cons: Slow first half (if you prefer stories with more than a modicum of action). While the scope of the main twist (and its implications) will take readers completely by surprise, the authors dropped enough clues to have them figure out the basic truth early on. Some questions remain unanswered. The ending may be too open for certain readers.
WARNING! Fires/burns, wounds, near-drownings, some gore. Death of a parent (off-page). A couple of (tame) sex scenes.
Will appeal to: Those who like sibling narratives. Those who enjoy a mixture of cozy and unsettling, beauty and horror. Those who are in for a unique kind of haunting.

Blurb: In a small southern pecan town, the annual harvest is a time of both celebration and heartbreak. Even as families are forced to sell their orchards and move away, Lil Clearwater, keeper of a secret covenant with her land, swears she never will. When her twin Sasha returns to the dwindling town in hopes of reconnecting with the girl her heart never forgot, the sisters struggle to bridge their differences and share the immense burden of protecting their home from hungry forces intent on uprooting everything they love. But there is rot hiding deep beneath the surface. Ghostly fires light up the night, and troubling local folklore is revealed to be all too true. Confronted with the phantoms of their pasts and the devastating threat to their future, the sisters come to the stark realization that in the kudzu-choked South, nothing is ever as it appears. (Amazon)

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

SURPRISE, SURPRISE

The Pecan Children ended up going in a different direction than I had anticipated, and I mean it in the best possible sense. Based on the synopsis (which has all the reasons to be vague, since with books like this one, spoilers are just around the corner), I expected a contemporary story with a strong supernatural core - a troubled sibling relationship on the backdrop of a dilapidated town rife with secrets and malevolent forces. Now that I know what I know, I realise that the synopsis isn't meant to be misleading, and truth be told, it encapsulates the book fairly well...on a level. The fact is, The Pecan Children is SO. MUCH. MORE than its blurb lets on, and even if the authors start dropping a certain set of clues early in the story, I wasn't prepared for the scope and manner of the big reveal - and its implications. In hindsight, the twist is not only jaw-dropping and exciting, but it perfectly fits the claustrophobic, lethargic setting, and it's an equally perfect vehicle for the "allegory of decay in small-town America" the editorial notes promise. Also, in lieu of a supernatural mystery, this book turned out to be a strong specimen of the magical realism genre, though with elements that straddle the line between the two. Another pleasant surprise, since through the magical realism lens, the social commentary and sibling dynamic get to shine in a way that a mere supernatural context wouldn't have allowed. [...]

June 02, 2024

Offbeat Offline: May 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? Basically, medical check-ups (with an unpleasant find) and perm difficulties (what's new?) for me, and a series of visits and consultations with regards to my husband's situation. This is still a work in progress, so to speak, so I'll be able to tell you more in my next Offbeat Offline installment. For now, here goes my recap of May's most notable moments...

May 28, 2024

Tell Me Something Tuesday: Which Books Are You Looking Forward to Reading This Summer? (June-August)


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 SUMMER? (JUNE-AUGUST)

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 more than half of these in eARC form though! See below). Anyhow, I wanted to give a bit of exposure to all the summer books that caught my eye, so here's my list (complete with pub dates)...brace yourself for a SHOWER of new releases!

May 23, 2024

Taste the Books: Review Morsels #50 Quinn Diacon-Furtado, Henry Herz et al., Carlie St. George


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 πŸ˜‰. Just be warned - this feature will be VERY random!

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

May 18, 2024

Matteo L. Cerilli: "Lockjaw" (ARC Review)

Title: Lockjaw [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: None
Author: Matteo L. Cerilli [Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Alas, nothing to see here, since revealing the genre(s) would ruin your reading experience...If you want to go into the book without knowing anything vital about it, I recommend that you not read the Labels at the end of my review either. No need to worry though - the review itself will be spoiler-free...
Year: 2024
Age: 14+
Stars: 4/5
Pros: A captivating look at friendship, sisterhood, marginalised identities on one hand, power abuse and lack of empathy/conspiracy of silence in a suburban setting on the other. Includes a brilliant twist that puts all the previous events in perspective.
Cons: Slow start. Some metaphor iterations.
WARNING! Blood and gore, violence, near-drowning, animal deaths. Toxic/neglecting adults, domestic violence (off-page), bulling, racism, transphobia (also internalised).
Will appeal to: Those who like books that straddle the line between the ordinary and the supernatural. Those who enjoy stories about a (diverse) band of misfits.

Blurb: Chuck Warren died tragically at the old abandoned mill, but Paz Espino knows it was no accident - there's a monster under the town, and she's determined to kill it before anyone else gets hurt. She'll need the help of her crew- inseparable friends, bound by a childhood pact stronger than diamonds, distance or death - to hunt it down. But she's up against a greater force of evil than she ever could have imagined. (Amazon excerpt)

Review: First off...DISCLAIMER: I requested this title on Edelweiss. Thanks to Penguin Random House/Tundra Books for providing a temporary ecopy. This didn't influence my review in any way.

PULLING THE RUG

To me, this book has a "before" and an "after". At first I was baffled, because while it was marketed as YA, the protagonists seemed to be on the MG spectrum (11 going on 12), and the writing was very descriptive - two things that I don't fare well with; not to mention I hadn't signed for the first one, and I didn't understand how the very characters who were supposed to be the protagonists according to the synopsis could be younger than the synopsis itself promised (see the "trans YA horror" label). Then a few different, older perspectives started to appear (YA, NA), and the style partly changed as the action took over, so I began to enjoy the story more...but things definitely shifted for me midway through, when a mind-blowing twist changed my whole perspective about the previous (and present) events, and left me both in awe and desperate to unravel the mystery. Mind you, the twist didn't come out of the blue - Cerilli left enough bread crumbs on the way to it that all the pieces fell into place once the reveal happened, all while being able to cover his tracks. Before the twist, a couple, maybe three incidents made my brain tingle for a moment, but then I proceeded to rationalise them and promptly forget about that "something is off" feeling...also because the truth was too outrageous to figure out. All I can say is, said twist put the story firmly into the "weird and wonderful" territory that I favour in literature, and made all the difference for me in terms of REALLY enjoying this novel. [...]

May 13, 2024

Seanan McGuire: "Tidal Creatures" (ARC Review)

Title: Tidal Creatures [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: Alchemical Journeys (3rd of 5 books)
Author: Seanan McGuire [Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Supernatural
Year: 2024
Age: 16+ (the book is geared towards adults, but can be read by mature teens)
Stars: 5/5
Pros: Fascinating concept. Rich mythology. Characters who transcend the page.
Cons: Complex. On the other hand, the murder-mystery part isn't hard to figure out, once you have the necessary information.
WARNING! Some gruesome deaths/imagery (people melting included).
Will appeal to: Those who loved Book 1 in the series and were less keen on Book 2. Those who need more Roger and Dodger. Those who enjoy a creative, exciting twist on gods incarnate and the heart of creation. 

Blurb: All across the world, people look up at the moon and dream of gods. Gods of knowledge and wisdom, gods of tides and longevity. Over time, some of these moon gods incarnated into the human world alongside the other manifest natural concepts. Their job is to cross the sky above the Impossible City - the heart of all creation - to keep it connected to reality. And someone is killing them. There are so many of them that it's easy for a few disappearances to slip through the cracks. But they aren't limitless. In the name of the moon, the lunar divinities must uncover the roots of the plot and thwart the true goal of those behind these attacks - control of the Impossible City itself. (Amazon)

Review: First off...DISCLAIMER: I requested this title on NetGalley. Thanks to Tor/Forge for providing a temporary ecopy. This didn't influence my review in any way.

NEW HEIGHTS

Let's get it out of the way: if you adored Middlegame but felt that Seasonal Fears was a bit of a letdown, you only need to read Tidal Creatures to fall in love with the series all over again. And no, not only because this time Roger and Dodger play a huge part in it (though it does help πŸ˜‰ 😍). For one, the amount of exposition is just right - there's a lot to take in, that's for sure, and some of the concepts are tackled more than once, but you never feel like you're hammered over the head with them when it happens. Every time the god-incarnate situation, the alchemical procedures or the Impossible City (a.k.a. the center of creation) are discussed, the reader is given a new piece of information, or sees a familiar event from a new angle (or from a new character's eyes), so that in the end everything is an essential tassel to the book's mosaic, the same way as the Lunar gods need to come together to become the Moon that shines over the City itself. But this is just one of the reasons why this book restored my faith in the series... [...]

May 08, 2024

Kelly Link: "The Book of Love" (ARC Review)

Title: The Book of Love [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: None
Author: Kelly Link [Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Afterlife, Supernatural, Mystery
Year: 2024
Age: 16+ (the protagonists are 18 and 17, and on the whole it's more of a NA book than a YA one...The dealbreaker here are the pretty graphic sex scenes, definitely more appropriate for an older audience, but I'm hesitant to call this an "adult" book because of the characters' age)
Stars: 5/5
Pros: Imaginative, inclusive, delightfully quirky. Populated by flawed, yet endearing characters who feel very real. Written in an apparently effortless, yet magical (and sometimes funny) prose.
Cons: Long (though never boring) - if you prefer your books to be on the shorter side. Contains brief but frequent bouts of (graphic) sex - if you'd rather read clean books.
WARNING! Some horror/gore. Death of a parent. Grief. Racism. Sexual content.
Will appeal to: Those who like a dark yet magical, cheeky yet tender small-town fantasy with coming-of-age themes.

Blurb: Laura, Daniel and Mo disappeared without trace a year ago. They have long been presumed dead. Which they were. But now they are not. And it is up to the resurrected teenagers to discover what happened to them. Revived by Mr Anabin - the man they knew as their high school music teacher - they are offered a chance to return to the mortal realm. But first they must solve the mystery of their death and learn to use the magic they now possess. And only two of them may stay. What they do not realise is their return has upset a delicate balance that has held - just - for centuries. (Amazon)

Review: First off...DISCLAIMER: I requested this title on NetGalley. Thanks to Head of Zeus for providing a temporary ecopy. This didn't influence my review in any way.

I CONTAIN MULTITUDES

Every book whose synopsis promises dead/undead protagonists is guaranteed to have my attention - though I don't necessarily read all of them. But The Book of Love turned out to be much more than the story of three deceased teens who come back to life. For one, it encompasses a number of genres - building on its afterlife premise, it soon turns into a mystery, a supernatural fantasy with a magical-realism feel, and a strong coming-of-age narrative, while even incorporating a tongue-in-cheek, yet fond homage to romance novels. It's both dreamy and brutal, tender and acerbic, with messy characters you can't help but love and who feel like flesh and blood even when they're...something else. It's a love letter to music and writing. It touches upon/explores all kinds to familial bonds/relationships, even the strained ones (divorced/absent parents, sibling rivalries, your friends' friends whom you don't necessarily like). It's got queer and POC rep done right (also, "trans women are women" πŸ‘), and it addresses racism in different forms (I particularly appreciated the discourse about publishing as a Black author in the typically white romance panorama. The book is set in 2014, but I'm afraid part of that still stands). At the end of the day, if this novel does incorporate a few familiar tropes (some of them slightly Buffy-adjacent), it spins them into an imaginative story that's much bigger than the sum of its parts. [...]

May 03, 2024

Offbeat Offline: April 2024 (Back in Session)


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? The hubs finally got his pension; I had a blood check-up done (other exams are on the way) and was too tired to make much progress on the review front. The house is still a dumpster fire, BTW. I had to run more errands than usual, and when I got home I didn't have any spare time and/or energy to write reviews...let alone clean. Everything's been slipping from my grasp ever since my husband became bedridden - one year and eight months ago now. And his progress on the walking front is laughable (so to speak, because there's nothing amusing about it). Every time I go on hiatus I hope to fix part of this at least, and every time I fail. I mean...I know it's not on me, because I'm in the middle of an ongoing mess, and there's nothing I can do to make it better. Then again, whatever the reasons, it's disheartening. With this off my chest, here goes my recap of April's most notable moments...

April 30, 2024

Tell Me Something Tuesday Round-Up (March-April 2024)


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... This time I'm doing a round-up of the two latest months' worth of questions, because I hate how I've been M.I.A. when it comes to the meme! 

March-April 2024 Round-Up
+ Question of the Day:
SOCIAL MEDIA: WHERE CAN YOU BE FOUND THESE DAYS?

  • March 5th: Describe yourself in three words (a question I submitted)
Rebellious, stubborn, fussy πŸ˜….

  • March 12th: Which book genres do you tend to avoid?
Romance/erotica (just nope...), fantasy (though I can occasionally read some sci-fi/fantasy hybrid, and I do like portal fantasy), historical, retellings (with some selected exceptions, like when Seanan McGuire is involved πŸ˜‰), spy thrillers, western lit, christian fiction, nonfiction, MG (which, I know, it's NOT a genre)...I can't think of anything else.

  • March 19th: Where would you like to travel? (a question I submitted...reworded in a better way πŸ˜‚)
I would...just like to travel, which in my situation isn't feasible. But I'd prefer to do that in my country, because even if I can technically speak English, it's more like, I can write English LOL - so I wouldn't feel at ease if I couldn't speak Italian. But I would LOVE to see Stonehenge in the flesh (or, you know, stone πŸ˜‚).

April 01, 2024

Offbeat Offline: March 2024 (Plus Announcing the First Hiatus of the Year)


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? The hubs got some of the money he was waiting for but didn't make any progress on the walking front; I read some good books but got a stiff neck, and the dumpster fire house is screaming for vengeance. I'm tired and angry, but what's new? especially since, after 19 months spent tending to my bedridden husband, I can't see the end of the tunnel yet. Also, I have a ton of ARCs for review (well, five, but at the rate I'm reviewing, they might as well be a ton)...so I decided to take a hiatus this month. In the meantime, here's the rundown of my March...

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 πŸ˜‚), 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 πŸ˜‰. 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...

February 27, 2024

Tell Me Something Tuesday: Which Books Are You Looking Forward to Reading This Spring? (March-May)


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 SPRING? (MARCH-MAY)

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 spring books that caught my eye, so here's my list (complete with pub dates)...and yikes, March is PACKED with awesome-sounding books...             

February 20, 2024

B.C. Johnson: "Deadgirl: Daybreak" (ARC Review)

Title: Deadgirl: Daybreak [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: Deadgirl (4th of 5 books, but there's also a novella about a side character that is chronologically book 2.5 in the series - though best read after book 3 if you want to avoid a spoiler about its ending)
Author: B.C. Johnson [Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Afterlife, Supernatural, Urban Fantasy, Contemporary
Year: 2024
Age: 14+
Stars: 5/5
Pros: Imaginative plot. Unique, mind-blowing afterlife concept/visuals. Flawed yet lovable characters who manage to feel realistic in the middle of mayhem.
Cons: Very dark in places (though tempered with funny dialogue/inner monologue). More of a slow-burn than the previous installments. Features some questionable characters' choices.
WARNING! Horror, gore and heartbreak (both for the characters and the readers). Underage drinking. A couple of nudity/underage sex scenes (though not graphic/detailed, mostly happening offscreen). An instance of infidelity. An animal sacrifice. Lots of language.
Will appeal to: Those who love afterlife scenarios. Those who enjoy a mix of laughter and tears, action and strong feelings. Those who like brave, resourceful teens who don't pose as heroes.

Blurb: The final year of high school approaches, and Lucy is ready to break. Too many of her friends have died. Too many monsters have taken their bite. And now Lucy must face her greatest challenge of all: the end of everything she knows. With high school disappearing and the world before her, Lucy must make her choice on what's to come. But with the rise of an old enemy who's been stalking her for three years - and a rapidly dwindling supply of allies - can Lucy even make it to graduation? And more importantly, does she want to? (Amazon excerpt)

Review:  First off...DISCLAIMER: I received this novel from the author in exchange for an honest review. And the author being B.C. Johnson, you all know I've been campaigning for his first Deadgirl book with all my might since 2012, when the original version came out. Also, B.C. Johnson and me have stayed in touch, if sporadically, for the whole time. I'm not what you would call a friend of his though, only a fan of his work. And an unbiased one. As usual, this review is the love child of my penchant for quirky, uniquely worded books and B.C. Johnson's ability to deliver them.

THE LONG GAME

Seven years have passed since the last Deadgirl installment (or six, if you count the Daphne novella in 2018...not like one year makes a huge difference), but B.C. Johnson hasn't lost his touch. It's funny, because Daybreak is a bit of a slow burn compared to the other books in the series, especially since the first 100 pages include lots of domestic scenes (if a funeral can be considered "domestic", but you know what I mean) and the main plot seems to revolve around the protagonists' alliance with a certain faction, which isn't my favourite thing to read about. But all this turns out to be a necessary premise to the most exciting (and heartbreaking...and heartwarming - usually, with Johnson, the two go hand in hand) part of the story. Which is why, upon turning the last page, I went back and reread the whole thing, and enjoyed the hell out of it. It doesn't hurt that the afterlife where Lucy has been spending lots of her time since becoming a (still very human) phantom is everything I - the afterlife junk - crave for in a story and more. The Grey is imaginative, visually stunning, almost videogame-like at times, teeming with danger yet interspersed with pockets of love (literally) and beauty. Plus, hands down home to the best scenes in the book - and the most poignant. [...]

February 14, 2024

Taste the Books: Review Morsels #48 Seanan McGuire, Aliya Whiteley, Paul De Filippo


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 πŸ˜‰. Just be warned - this feature will be VERY random!

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

February 08, 2024

Scott Alexander Howard: "The Other Valley" (ARC Review)

Title: The Other Valley [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: None
Author: Scott Alexander Howard [Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Contemporary with a Twist (with a prominent time-travel angle, but not of the Sci-Fi kind)
Year: 2024
Age: 18+ (there are two versions of the protagonist, teen and adult, and on the whole I would categorise the book as "adult" - also because we spend more time with the lead's adult version - but it's accessible to younger readers)
Stars: 4/5
Pros: Imaginative, heartfelt, thought-provoking twist on the time-travel trope.
Cons: Quiet, sometimes sad, sometimes harsh and gloomy. Also, please note: for unknown reasons (though according to someone on Goodreads, it may be due to a new trend???!!!) the ARC lacks any quotation marks or indications of direct speech (no idea about the finished copy). I was able to follow the characters' exchanges without any problem, but if that's something that bothers you, you've been warned. Not that I liked it, but it didn't impact my judgement or enjoyment of the story.
WARNING! Drowning, bullying, sexism, misogyny, abuse, corporal punishments.
Will appeal to: Those who enjoy narratives that play with time and what-ifs. Those who like to speculate about the relationship between cause and effect.

Blurb: Sixteen-year-old Odile is an awkward, quiet girl vying for a coveted seat on the Conseil. If she earns the position, she’ll decide who may cross her town’s heavily guarded borders. On the other side, it’s the same valley, the same town. Except to the east, the town is twenty years ahead in time. To the west, it’s twenty years behind. When Odile recognizes two visitors she wasn’t supposed to see, she realizes that the parents of her friend Edme have been escorted across the border from the future, on a mourning tour, to view their son while he’s still alive in Odile’s present. Sworn to secrecy in order to preserve the timeline, Odile now becomes the Conseil’s top candidate. Yet she finds herself drawing closer to the doomed boy, imperiling her entire future. (Amazon excerpt)

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

A DIFFERENT DRUMMER

In the modern publishing landscape, The Other Valley is one of a kind. You might call it a time-travel book, except there's no actual time travel involved, nor it is a sci-fi novel: as a matter of fact, it would be more accurate to call it a speculative book with a multi-temporal perspective, since the actual interaction of characters from different time planes is kept to a minimum (by the way, if you're wondering about the consequences, the worldbuilding in that regard allows for a clever and inventive solution). Also, Howard created a world that feels dated, yet he made sure not to suggest a particular time frame for the events he depicted (nor he hinted at a specific - if fictional - setting, though some of the characters' names and the title of "gendarme" would fit with the French-speaking areas of Canada, the author's country). Last but not least, there's no explanation whatsoever of the three-valley setup, and no reference to its connection - or lack thereof - with the world outside, and it's just as well. The events unfold inside of a closed system, a (not-so-magical) bubble that helps you suspend your disbelief and adds a sense of doom, caused not only by the lengths the valleys' authorities go in order to prevent the residents' future selves from changing their past, but also by the stagnant, melancholic feeling that pervades the valleys themselves, where there hardly seems to be a chance for the status quo to get altered even in the present. [...]