December 28, 2013

Most Anticipated Books of 2014...and More!

I noticed everybody is busy making lists these days. Which makes sense, because at the end of a year is custom to recap the best (and sometimes the worst) it provided us with. Since I'm far behind on the books that were out this year and I would have liked to read, like, the day they were released, I won't be able to list my 2013 favourites. But I do hope to have the chance to do some catching up next year (also with some older books), besides getting hold of a few 2014 releases that sound so promising. Here are my top priorities so far...

Top 5 Released Books I Want to Read in 2014 (Standalones)

Ferryman by Claire McFall 


Yes, another afterlife book. I'm perfectly aware I'm obsessed.
But - afterlife coupled with journey/adventure/coming-of-age...it sounds even more amazing.
I expect a fairly quiet book though, for the most part...and as far as I'm concerned, it's perfectly okay. Like Robbie Williams, I can swing both ways. In terms of book preferences, that is ;).

***

Beautiful Lies by Jessica Warman 


 I read her Between and I liked it, though the mystery part wasn't that much. But this one has been labeled as a mindfucker (though not a perfect book where every single thing makes sense), and it got me curious. I like to be confused. Masochist.

***

This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales

 

A lonely girl who can't seem to find her place in the world, until...
I've been lonely all my life, so I can relate. Nor suicide-attempt relate, neither I-will-try-and-change-in-order-to-make-myself-accepted relate - goodness forbid. But I read an excerpt of this book and my heart ached for Elise. And maybe for myself. Also, I love her voice. And I believe in the power of music...

***

Blink Once by Cylin Busby

 
Another mindfucker we have here...?
That's what reviewers say. And I do hope I didn't accidentally uncover the truth just by wondering about the book every time I read a new review. Because believe me, I let my imagination run wild a lot. But even if...I still need to know how and why it could happen. Supposing it happened. (I'm not even sure what I'm thinking about here...).

***

This Is Not a Test by Courtney Summers


 Oh, yes, I know - everyone has read this book already. Like I said, I'm way behind. To date, I've read tons of reviews, and I was sold since the first ones appeared. Only, I haven't had the chance to buy this book yet.
Ordinarily, I'm not interested in "creatures" (with the only exception of a couple of vampire series, my policy is to stay clear of them), but since this is "not" a zombie book - only a book with zombies in it - I'm sold.


Top Five Unreleased Books I'm Looking Forward to in 2014 (Standalones - First in Series - Next in Series)

Black Knight (Witch World #2) by Christopher Pike

 
My old pal* Christopher Pike. Nuff said.
[*Yeah, right. We went to school together. Swear.]

***

White Space (Dark Passages #1) by Ilsa J. Bick 

 

Meta-literature...just gotta love that. It sounds ambitious and confusing like hell, but I do love to rack my brain over things. Years of thriller books and Law & Order episodes have taught me that much.

***

This Side of Salvation by Jeri Smith-Ready


The woman can write. And despite the blurb, I trust her not to have written a "religious" book. I know how she deals with the theme (see: WVMP Radio series). Also, I can't really figure this one out. Mystery? Supernatural? Contemporary? I'm eager to find out.

***

After You by Jessica Corra


I do hope she's not the unfriendly author someone labeled her as. To date, I haven't been able to find proof of any real controversy she took part in. Anyone?
Because this book sounds so amazing. Reliving days. Trying to save someone who doesn't want to be saved. Pardon me while I'm oversalivating.

***

Death and Other Excuses by Jamie Case


 Now, this one deserves a rant.
It has been on my radar since I first joined Goodreads. (An afterlife book - duh! Not that I read ALL of them, but still - they never fail to get my attention). And it should have been out more than a year ago - September 2012, the first time I stumbled upon it. (Check out my GR "review" for more details). To date, there's no (working) link to the publisher...And the worst (and weirdest) thing is, Jamie Case is nowhere to be found on the net. Even if the publisher shut up shop or whatever, she must be the only aspiring-author-waiting-for-book-to-hit-the-market shunning of any online presence. So please, Jamie Case, set up a blog, a site, a Facebook or Twitter or Google+ page, or guest-post somewhere...or send us a carrier pidgeon...and let us know what went wrong, and what plans you have to release Death and Other Excuses. Thank you!

Is anyone going to read one or more of the above books? Did you already read the "oldies" (or an ARC of the unreleased ones, lucky you)?

And since I don't plan on posting before the first days of the upcoming year...

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...AND...
...MOST WONDERFUL BOOKS!!!

December 21, 2013

The Nine Books of Christmas

Image source
[First off, congratulate me. I found the perfectly matching Christmas image for my blog. Next year I plan on not being lazy and actually making a custom one myself with PhotoFiltre. I promise  :P].

Well, yes, I know...it should have been twelve for the pun to work...but I wasn't able to squeeze more than nine books into my birthday-Christmas shopping list. Because I'm also gifting myself with the massive Roger Taylor's (drummer from Queen) box set "The Lot", which comprises all his solo records and videos. Heck Rog, I've been waiting so long for you to make the move, and now you come and stole money from my book-devoted budget at the very worst moment LOL.

The Lot box set
So, since I turned [BEEP] a few days ago, I'm giving myself a birthday+Christmas treat under the form of said box set and the following books (titles point to Goodreads entries)...

***

Thirst No. 5: The Sacred Veil by Christopher Pike - Fox Forever by Mary E. Pearson


Those were out in March, and I've been dying to read them since then...but I wanted to place a more conspicuous order with my webseller in order to rule shipping charges out - something I wasn't able to do all year. 2013 was a though beast for me, money-wise.

***

Soul Beach-Soul Fire-Soul Storm by Kate Harrison


The final installment in this trilogy was out in August, and I was sold on the idea since I first read blurbs for the other two. Ah, afterlife stories, they always make me die (please note the pun). And this one...an online paradise coupled with a murder mystery? The Agatha Christie aficionado in me was immediately trying to outrun the sucker for dead-but-not-quite-dead-characters in claiming the books.

***

All Our Yesterdays by Cristin Terrill - More Than This by Patrick Ness


So that's where I go mainstream. Not a single days passes without at least a review for both of them peeking through the "Recent Reviews of My Books" section on my Goodreads page. Well, I may have set up this blog with the specific purpose of uncovering hidden gems, but this doesn't mean I won't read popular books on the occasion - when they seem capable to suit me ;).

***

Absent by Katie Williams - Backwards by Todd Mitchell 


Both out this year. An afterlife book again, who only got a few but overall positive reviews on Goodreads. And a weird story about experiencing life backwards, only it's not your life, but someone else's. How couldn't they tickle my fancy?

***

On a side note. Last year around these days, I was excited for my coming-from-webstore Christmas bunch of books as well, and one of them should have been The Lost Girl by Sangu Mandanna. It turned out the store couldn't get hold of the version I wanted - the less expensive one LOL - and I didn't receive the book. All this year it stayed near the top of my to-read list, till it was time to place my Christmas order again and...all of a sudden, the stuff pointed out by some reviewers managed to get to me. Someone commented about how far-fetched the premise was - as opposed to having the main character being a "simple" clone - and about the lack of real world-building...and I thought to myself, WTF, do I really want to read this book? and like I said, all of a sudden, I found out I didn't. No disrespect meant to the author of course - The Lost Girl may be a perfectly fine novel under many aspects, but since my TR list is quite huge for my pockets, I ultimately decided not to buy it. Which says something about my ever-refining book discrimination. Thank goodness for the abundance of reviews!

So, has anyone of you read the above books? or is anyone going to?

And since I don't plan on being back on track before Dec. 25, blog-wise...

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December 13, 2013

Jeri Smith-Ready: "Lust for Life"

Title: Lust for Life [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: WVMP Radio (4th of 4 books, but there's also a free-download novella that is book 3.5 in the series. See Jeri Smith-Ready's site)
Author: Jeri Smith-Ready [Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Urban Fantasy
Year: 2012
Age: 18+ (though Jeri's site actually says 16+, but I think the whole series would be better handled by more mature readers.).
Stars: 2.5/5
Pros: Original take on the overused vampire theme. Right amount of action and drama.
Cons: The final resolution is a bit too convenient and over the top for my tastes...though there were hints in the book (that I apparently decided not to take. All my fault, I suppose). There's an unlikely love story - which, on top of that, lacks real closure - and some of our old vamp friends get too little screen time.
Will appeal to: Those who crave for a happy ending more than yours truly does...

Blurb: Ciara’s con-artist parents taught her three keys to survival: keep low, keep quiet, and most of all, keep moving. But managing WVMP, the Lifeblood of Rock ’n’ Roll - not to mention becoming a vampire herself - has kept her in one place long enough to fall madly in love, adopt an undead dog ...and make more enemies than she can shake a stake at. To protect Ciara, her fiancé, Shane, has traded his flannel shirt and guitar for a flak jacket and crossbow. If she survives to walk down the aisle, will she recognize the man waiting at the altar?  (Amazon excerpt)

Review: I'm perfectly aware that I tend to have very high standards when it comes to...well, pretty much everything LOL. Don't get me wrong, I can stomach cheesy stuff, and even like it more than "sensible" one. [That's why I'd choose Haven over Under the Dome anytime. Also, Duke is fun ;) - which is a bonus]. But there are two things that irritate me to no end: 1) sappy romances; 2) contrived happy endings. I wouldn't go as far as saying that Smith-Ready incurred in both these (for me) unforgivable sins while writing Lust for Life, because she's too intelligent for that. Nevertheless, she came fairly close.
Not that there weren't clues about said ending, so I suppose it shouldn't have sounded as outrageous as it did to me. Heck, the first clue is even incorporated into the introductory playlist... 



...Not to mention a few hints here and there in the dialogues (though they are apparently supposed to work in reverse, planting the opposite suggestion in our minds). And not to mention that Smith-Ready has been slowly driving Ciara into a corner, first with the vampire thing, then with a peculiar effect that such vampiric condition has on her. So, it's not like there are tons of ways out of all that. Upon closing the book, and especially after rereading it, I could see a clear, deliberate pattern, spun since the very first installment of the series. But this didn't prevent me to feel partly cheated. To me, it's like Smith-Ready played with a huge card slipped into her original deck when we weren't looking. Magic I can deal with - but what happens with Ciara and Shane is like a whole new rule has been added to their game just in order to let them win. Because even with their respective powers woven together, what happens is too much for me to swallow - it sounds like they have to get a happy ending at all costs. Also, said ending has a sappy flavour I've never tasted all the series through. On the other hand, I don't know how else the saga could have ended - but again, I'm not the author, so it's not like I should have an alternate finale myself. (Though the thing-that-shall-go-unnamed crossed my mind of course, only I thought it could happen in a more...plausible? way). What I know is, I feel cheated.
Also, with the grand dénouement, most of the characters sort of freeze and hardly get screen time anymore. It feels rushed, though it probably isn't, given the time and dedication Smith-Ready gave to this novel. But it's like they aren't important anymore, after Ciara and Shane get their happy ending.
So yes. I feel cheated. [...]

December 01, 2013

This Blog Is Alive

So, just in case you are wondering...I'm still here. I know, I know - 20 days without a single post are not exactly a testament to this. Okay, I don't believe in posting every single day just for the sake of it...and I absolutely loathe filler posts. You may even have noticed that my best streak so far has been a fat total of 6 posts in latest January...But usually it's an average number of 4 articles a month, which roughly means posting once a week. November was a conspicuous exception to this unwritten rule, of course. My most recent post is ancient history, even for my standards.
I have not lost interest in blogging, not to mention in books. I'm trying to crawl my way out of a blogging slump, though I'm not sure what's the reason behind it. I'm actually planning my next reviews/posts as I'm writing this. The year's got to go with a bang ;).

"Heck, no, of course I'm not sleeping - just conjuring my new posts up."
[Image source]

November 10, 2013

Robin Wasserman: "Torn" ("Wired")

Title: Torn (previously: Wired) [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: Cold Awakening (3rd of 3 books)
Author: Robin Wasserman [Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Sci-Fi, Dystopian
Year: 2010
Age: 14+
Stars: 5/5
Pros: Again: not overly original premise brought to excellence. Strong, imaginative world-building. Well crafted, emotion-conveying prose. As with the second book, you also get more action than in the first one.
Cons: You have to buy the premise, of course (parents willing to shove their kid's brain into a machine and all that). And you have to like the main character despite her past - which, apparently, proved tough to some readers (but not to me). Also, in this last installment there are a couple of not completely convincing character attitudes (more like unexpected revelations and/or changes). But I can't bring myself to take even half a star away from my rating...
Will appeal to: Those who aren't afraid to think and speculate. Those who can appreciate a gutsy ending.

Blurb: Lia has become the public face of the mechs, BioMax’s poster girl for the up-and-coming technology, devoting her life to convincing the world that she - and the others like her - deserve to exist. Then Jude resurfaces, and brings some scandalous information with him. Is BioMax really an ally to the mechs? Or are they using the technology for a great evil...and if so, can Auden really be a part of the plan? Meanwhile, Lia also learns a shocking truth about the accident that resulted in her download...a truth that forces her to make a decision she can never reverse. (Goodreads excerpt)

Review: I think you got the point by now: this is my favourite series so far. I'm not the fangirling type (also because *cough* wrong age for that *cough*), but I need to strongly assert it...this is a darn good trilogy. Which doesn't mean it's perfect, and of course doesn't mean it can be palatable for everyone. Still, if only one person, after reading my reviews, is going to give it a chance because of them, I will be a happier old girl ;).
As in the first two books - especially the second - we get the right blend of philosophy (don't let the word scare you!) and action. Right from the start, when we follow Lia during the highlights of an advanced reality show...an idea sponsored by BioMax, in order to persuade the masses to accept mechs as your average people. Again, I love it how Wasserman manages to incorporate bits of our nowadays life and/or technology into her narration, taking them a step further (hey, it's the future!), but at the same time avoiding to overdo them. From here, the story unravels among friends and foes - friends turned into foes, foes unexpectedly becoming friends - allies who betray and former haters who repent, or at least cling to their own humanity enough to make amends. There are a couple of huge surprises along the way...even not counting Zo's disclosed ability as a hacker extraordinaire (after all, we already got a taste of that in the second installment). Let's just say, no one in Lia's family is who they appear to be, and a huge secret will tear her life (and Zo's) apart. To be honest, I had a couple (???) of issues with this part, as far as likelihood goes. On the other hand, it works well for the novel, though I wouldn't say it has any chance to happen IRL. (Sorry for being so cryptic - but you don't want to be spoiled, right? *grins*). [...]

November 01, 2013

Robin Wasserman: "Shattered" ("Crashed")

Title: Shattered (previously: Crashed) [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: Cold Awakening (2st of 3 books)
Author: Robin Wasserman [Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Sci-Fi, Dystopian
Year: 2009
Age: 14+
Stars: 5/5
Pros: Again: not overly original premise brought to excellence. Strong, imaginative world-building. Well crafted, emotion-conveying prose. Also, you get more action than in the first installment.
Cons: You have to buy the premise, of course (parents willing to shove their kid's brain into a machine and all that). And you have to like the main character despite her past - which, apparently, proved tough to some readers (but not to me).
Will appeal to: Those who aren't afraid to think and speculate.

Blurb: Six months after the crash that killed her, six months after being reborn, Lia has finally accepted her new reality. She is a machine, a mech, and she belongs with her own kind. It's a wild, carefree life, without rules and without fear. Because there's nothing to fear when you have nothing left to lose. But when a voice from her past cries out for revenge, everything changes. Lia is forced to choose between her old life and her new one. Between humans and mechs. Between sacrificing the girl she used to be and saving the boy she used to love. Even if it means he'll hate her forever. (Goodreads excerpt)

Review: First off, like most blurbs, the above one is a bit deceiving - and even a bit senseless. If "the boy she used to love" is the one who got hurt at the end of book 1, it's not like Lia loved him. Not the way the blurb seems to imply. Now, you might think he's Walker instead, but I will spoil this much...neither Walker nor the rest of Lia's old crew are going to make a reappearance in this sequel. (And anyway, they would mean nothing to her at this point). The boy can't be Lia's mech boyfriend from book 1 either, because of the "used to love" part. And whoever he's supposed to be, Lia's choice between "sacrificing the girl she used to be" and "saving the boy she used to love" doesn't make sense at all - it's not like she either does this or that.
The cover progression (pertaining to the first edition) has little sense as well, though I have to admit it can look nice and alluring to those who crave for romance and love triangles. First we have Lia alone...then Lia with, um, Jude I suppose...then, in the third installment, Lia with Jude and Riley. People, this series is not about that. Though there's indeed a love-hate relationship between Lia and one of the boys who is not her partner. And well, yes, the triangle is there...but it's not the kind of triangle you would expect. It's more like Lia is the disturbing force who threatens to tear the two male friends apart. One of them trusts her, the other does not - and there are further dynamics at work there.
At the end of book 1, after an unexpected tragedy, Lia has finally embraced her life as a mech, though she still feels a connection with her org past her new friends seem to have dismissed - especially those for whom being a mech means a better existence than the one they used to have. The first chapters of Shattered deal with Lia and said friends trying to test their own boundaries and to trick their computer brains into feeling things like pain or fear. Which, to me, is the most fascinating part of this installment. (BTW - some reviewers on Goodreads were repulsed by the "dangerous activities in order to feel alive". But I don't see how this book can send a bad message, since we are talking about characters who basically can't get hurt. Does anyone blame superheroes for being a dangerous role model because of their flying and fighting?). Anyway, for those who'd rather have some action, here it is as well. Lia and fellow mech Riley find themselves in the middle of a bioterrorist attack to a corporate town, of which Lia will end up being the prime suspect. From here, all hell breaks loose - though I wouldn't say there's non-stop action. Guilt and lies come into play a lot, from almost every part, Lia included. There is heartbreak - of the mech kind, but this doesn't make it less real - and betrayal; there are enemies and unexpected allies; and Lia's dysfunctional family is not forgotten (particularly her sister Zo, who will make for some surprising chapters). The dystopian-post apocalyptic angle is furtherly explored, and again, it doesn't leave anything to be desired. [...]

October 22, 2013

Robin Wasserman: "Frozen" ("Skinned")

Title: Frozen (previously: Skinned) [on Amazon* | on Goodreads]
   *Note: the blurb is all wrong - they used the 3rd book recap.
Series: Cold Awakening (1st of 3 books)
Author: Robin Wasserman [Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Sci-Fi, Dystopian
Year: 2008
Age: 14+
Stars: 5/5
Pros: Not overly original premise brought to excellence. Strong, imaginative world-building. Well crafted, emotion-conveying prose.
Cons: You have to buy the premise, of course (parents willing to shove their kid's brain into a machine and all that). And you have to like the main character despite her past - which, apparently, proved tough to some readers (but not to me).
Will appeal to: Those who aren't afraid to think and speculate.

Blurb: Lia knows she should be grateful she didn't die in the accident. The Download saved her - but it also changed her, forever. She can deal with being a freak. She can deal with the fear in her parents' eyes and the way her boyfriend flinches at her touch. But she can't deal with what she knows, deep down, every time she forces herself to look in the mirror. She's not the same person she used to be. Maybe she's not even a person at all. (Goodreads excerpt)

Review: Revelation: this series was actually one of the reasons why I decided to blog about books. I read the repackaged version, in late 2011 - then I stared at its Goodreads page asking myself "Why the hell hasn't this series gotten more recognition? Why aren't people screaming from rooftops how darn good it is?". 
Now, after a year of blogging and reviewing, I have a theory at last. A theory articulated in 3 points...
1) Lia isn't the most, um, huggable character you may read about. To be crystal clear: pre-download Lia was a conceited bitch (though she was in good company with that, and a product of her own environment), and post-download Lia mainly changes in what her condition prevents her to be the same person that she was, and has her facing things she's never even considered before.
2) Lia is a mind in a mechanical body - which may not appeal to those who favour a blood-scalding approach to human relationships (especially of the romantic kind). She takes the life-recreation issue at the core of a book like The Adoration of Jenna Fox (which, coincidentally, was out at the same time) to a whole new level. Because Jenna is also a product of her own DNA, not just a brain downloaded into a computer shell. (Though the download part is true about her too).
3) Lia is not bent on saving the world or changing it. She's not a spunky heroine like the one made popular by a certain dystopian series (*cough* The Hunger Games *cough* ...which, again coincidentally, was out at the same time). Though she finds herself fighting the ultimate battle and becoming the ultimate hero, in a peculiar way.
See, this series has friendship, love, even a hint of a possible love triangle in it. So everyone should be crazy about it, right? Well, apparently, wrong. But really, I found it fascinating, and Lia did for me even more than Jenna and her friends did. And I hope I'll be able to make you fall in love with this series too...
Book 1 of the Cold Awakening trilogy deals with the aftermath of the incident that took Lia's life and turned her into a "mech", as opposed to an "org". The technology has been around for a while, and basically recreates human experiences and sensations in a synthetic body, downloading the dead person's brain into it. This also means the recipient can live forever, because if the new body wears off (despite being extremely durable), a copy of the mind can be downloaded in a new body, again and again. Of course, all the small and big things that define our humanity along with the mind - like physical pain or the five senses - are either nonexistent or artificially (and unsatisfactorily) recreated/processed. Last, but not least, "orgs" - even Lia's family and friends - can't seem to make peace with what Lia has become. While the point of the download was to keep her around for her loved ones, and to reintegrate her into her family and social life, this turns out impossible. Lia clings to a new friend who is more than willing to accept her as she is, but even this illusion of normality will fall under the ax of harsh reality. [...]

October 14, 2013

Happy Blogoversary to Me...I Stuck with It (^_^)

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Image 1 | Image 2

Offbeat YA turns one today.

I think it's the longest web project I've committed to in my life. I've had (in chronological order) a MySpace page, a forum, a website, a Facebook account - and I gave up on them all after a small amount of months, for different reasons. (I hated FB by the way. Only joined for a specific purpose, but when it didn't work, I was hugely relieved). It's not that I'm erratic or can't keep my feet in one place for too long. I would have liked to stick with those pages (with the notable exception of FB, I guess), but I soon found out I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Or maybe I just gave up too early and too easily. I don't mean to do the same with this blog. I really want it to stay, to improve, to become substantial. This may not necessarily mean having tons of followers (though I'll admit I do need to work on a decent fan base still), also because mine is a rather specific blog, not the overly popular-inclined type. But it's my little corner of the net, and I'm proud of it, and I want it to grow. I hope you'll be on my side during this journey.

I know it's custom to host a giveaway to celebrate a blogoversary. Alas, I'm in Italy, and I can't afford to have one. Please bear with me :). Maybe next year...

Huge thanks to everyone who joined and/or commented so far. You are awesome! Keep coming back, and you won't be disappointed.

Many happy readings!

October 08, 2013

Chloë Rayban: "Justine Duval" (Series Review)

Title: Book 1: Wild Child
                        [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
         Book 2: Virtual Sexual Reality             
                        [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
         Book 3: Love In Cyberia
                        [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
         Book 4: Terminal Chic
                        [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: Justine Duval
Author: Chloë Rayban [Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Contemporary With a Twist
Year: 1991-1994-1996-2000
Age: 12+
Stars: 2.5/5 if compared with more "serious" books...3.5/5 in guilty-pleasure scale :). So it's a 3-star rating on the whole.
Pros: Fun, high-spirited books with a deliciously flawed lead. Also, clean novels, if that's what you're looking for.
Cons: Light read. Not very original ideas, though well executed and with some surprises awaiting the reader.
Will appeal to: Those who are looking for a relaxed, humorous read.

Blurb: Book 1: Wild Child. A hilarious story about a stylish, sassy London girl. A bizarre meeting with her future self – ten years older and wiser – gives our hip young heroine Justine the chance to come to grips with her ultimate destiny. Book 2: Virtual Sexual Reality. Justine only goes to the Virtual Reality Exhibition in the hope she might get lucky with fit hunk Alex. Instead she gets unlucky with an Alternative Reality machine and leaves the exhibition as Jake! Once she's got over the shock, Justine starts to see the potential of her new situation. As Jake she has the opportunity to hang out with the lads and find out what really makes them tick. But when her real self develops a major crush on her virtual self, things start to get just a bit too complicated... Book 3: Love In Cyberia. There's only one thing that could induce technophobe Justine to dabble on the Information Super Highway - and it's male. Yes, the chance to share love-bytes with a cool boy-babe is all it takes to get Justine surfing in Cyberspace. But when the black-clad lad, Los reveals his website wanderlust for time travel, Justine finds herself in a datspace dilemma...Just how far should she go? Book 4: Terminal Chic. These days falling in love can happen at the touch of a button and when it happens to Justine, it happens in a BIG WAY! A few e-mails and she's head over Gucci heels in love with Los, but there's just one snag: he's from the year 3001. Justine is going to have to time travel to be with the one she loves but will she adjust to the technically advanced society Los lives in? And will Los be able to adjust to Justine's way of seeing things? (Goodreads & Amazon excerpts)

Review: Sort-of-disclaimer: I read the Italian translation of this book, so I can't really judge the writing style. Also, I don't know if any parts of this novel have been cut off in my version.
First off, this post marks my first time reviewing a whole series instead of its separate installments. I chose this format because I realized that my reviews were probably going to sound much alike, inasmuch as these books share the same main features, and I'm not fond of repeating myself. Of course, since I'm a considerate human being, I didn't feel like boring my readers either ;).
On a formal level, this is not your typical series:
   Evidence 1. The first book was probably meant to stand alone, since its first sequel is dated three whole years later. Justine has roughly grown older in sync with that, for she was 14 in the first book and is 16 in the second...Nevertheless, a couple of years later - when another installment comes out - she is still 16. And in the last one - dated 2000 - only a year has passed from the events in book 3, so she is supposed to be 17, though it's stated in the book itself that she was born in 1981 (which would have made her 10 when the first installment came out, and 19 as of now). So, you could safely say that there isn't any attempt at a serious time and event consequence. 
   Evidence 2. While the first two installments are loosely related (Justine mentions a particular event from book 1 in book 2) and the other two are closely linked, there doesn't seem to be any specific trait d'union between the two couples of books. Also, Justine never addresses her past unusual experiences in any of the sequels (except for her first encounter with Los, of course). On one hand, the pattern of her adventures resembles that of a cartoon character who has uncountable experiences unrelated to one another, as if she was living a bunch of different lives, every one of them standing on its own. On the other hand, Justine is not bidimensional, and she does grow up a bit from book 1 to book 4, even though she mainly remains her old, deliciously flawed self. Also, her friends and family are a constant through all the four installments, and their features are always recognizable. [...]

September 24, 2013

He Says, She Says - Double Author Interview: Troy H. Gardner & Erin Callahan ("Mad World" Series)

I have not one, but two guests today! But before I introduce them to you, a little background is required. I was recently contacted by Erin Callahan, half of the writing duo behind the Mad World series, who (after perusing my blog and actually making a mental note of my reading preferences...something that very few authors seem to take the time for!) offered me the first two books in the series for review. I gladly accepted, and as you may have seen for yourself, they were reviewed respectively on September 8 and 15 (read my review of Wakefield | read my review of Tunnelville). While I was about to start on the second installment, I mentioned an interview opportunity to Erin, who enthusiastically accepted. I was debating if asking specific questions to her and her writing partner, Troy H. Gardner, when she mentioned they have two rather different approaches to writing - this being one reason why they make a good team. Erin's comment gave me the idea of a double interview with the same questions, which sounded like fun in this case. And fun it ended up being (but very insightful too)...you can judge for yourself :). 

Before we get to know Erin and Troy a little better, here's a spotlight on their ongoing debut series...

Title: Mad World
Authors: Erin Callahan & Troy H. Gardner
Genres: Paranormal, Urban Fantasy, Contemporary
Year: 2012+
Age: 12+
Available on: Kindle (for now)
Wakefield (book 1 in the Mad World Series) on Amazon | on Goodreads
Tunnelville (book 2 in the Mad World Series) on Amazon | on Goodreads 

Blurb for Wakefield: Orphans Astrid Chalke and Max Fisher meet when they’re sent to live at Wakefield, a residential and educational facility for teens with psychiatric and behavioral problems.  Just as Astrid and Max develop a strong bond and begin to adjust to the constant chaos surrounding them, a charming and mysterious resident of Wakefield named Teddy claims he has unexplainable abilities. At first, Astrid and Max think Teddy is paranoid, but Max’s strange, recurring dreams and a series of unsettling events force them to reconsider Teddy’s claims. Are they a product of his supposedly disturbed mind or is the truth stranger than insanity? (Amazon excerpt)
Blurb for Tunnelville: Following their panicked escape from Wakefield, Astrid Chalke, Max Fisher and their friends find themselves adrift and on the run in western Massachusetts. After picking up a young thief with a complex philosophy, and dealing with the pains of prescription drug withdrawal, they make their way to Boston. The damaged teens settle in an underground tunnel community and encounter the fabulous Angie DeVille, who envelops them in her breathless and fast paced life. Dr. Lycen is tasked to hunt down the Wakefield escapees. But as Astrid and Max eke out a meager existence in their new home and do their best to stay off Dr. Lycen's radar, they learn that new and even more harrowing threats might be lurking just over the horizon. (Amazon excerpt)

Interview: In strictly alphabetical order - welcome to Offbeat YA Erin and Troy! I’m so glad to have you here. Also, it’s not every day one gets the opportunity of interviewing a collaborative duo of writers. I have a lot of questions (erm...probably too many...) and I do hope you won’t mind them…*ducks and crosses fingers* So, on with the first one...

Your bio says you met in high school. Were you already dreaming of becoming writers back then?

T: I wrote a lot when I was younger, but I wanted to be a director for quite some time. I knew I wanted to tell stories, but I didn’t know in what medium.
E: I didn’t start thinking about writing until I was in college. I reread a few of my favorite YA novels and thought, “Maybe someday I’ll write YA fiction.” But that was really just a pipe dream until one day when Troy and I were browsing in a bookstore together and he was like, “We should stop talking about writing and, instead, actually start writing.” We began planning the Mad World series on the car ride home.

What kind of books did you read as teens? Did any particular author influence your own writing?

T: I didn’t read much YA when I was a young adult, oddly enough, but Perks Of Being A Wallflower sticks out, and I got into Harry Potter when I was 17. I read a lot of Stephen King, Thomas Harris’ Hannibal Lecter series, David Sedaris, and some of the Star Wars expanded universe.
E: I also read a lot Stephen King and I took Honors English, so I was forced to read a lot of classics, like Camus’s The Stranger and Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, which I now appreciate. My favorite YA novel as a teen was The Goats by Brock Cole. I read it again a few years ago and it still blew me away. I also really loved Wise Child by Monica Furlong and The Cuckoo’s Child by Suzanne Freeman. They both delve deeply into the mundane in a way that really appealed to me.
[...]

September 23, 2013

Goodreads Review Policy Takes a Turn for the Worse

Source

It has been brought to my attention by this post on Guinevere and Libertad Tomas' blog that Goodreads has just changed its review policy. You can read the full announcement here. But the most controversial point is the one I'm going to quote below:

**Delete content focused on author behavior. We have had a policy of removing reviews that were created primarily to talk about author behavior from the community book page. Once removed, these reviews would remain on the member’s profile. Starting today, we will now delete these entirely from the site. We will also delete shelves and lists of books on Goodreads that are focused on author behavior. If you have questions about why a review was removed, send an email to support@goodreads.com. (And to answer the obvious question: of course, it’s appropriate to talk about an author within the context of a review as it relates to the book. If it’s an autobiography, then clearly you might end up talking about their lives. And often it’s relevant to understand an author’s background and how it influenced the story or the setting.)

And they go on like this:

Someone used the word censorship to describe this. This is not censorship - this is setting an appropriate tone for a community site. We encourage members to review and shelve books in a way that makes sense for them, but reviews and shelves that focus primarily on author behavior do not belong on Goodreads.  

Now, this is some statement o_O.

September 22, 2013

Mary E. Pearson: "The Fox Inheritance"

Title: The Fox Inheritance [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: Jenna Fox Chronicles (2nd of 3 books, but there's also a short story - read it for free here - that is chronologically book 1.5 in the series, though it only came out after book 2)
Author: Mary E. Pearson [Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Sci-Fi, Dystopian
Year: 2011
Age: 12+
Stars: 4.5/5
Pros: Unique premise. A main character you can relate to. Feelings and action packed together. Creative futuristic speculations. An unforgettable not-human, more-than-human sidekick.
Cons: Some common tropes (evil scientist who would stop at nothing, unexpected ally with secrets of her own, underground network dealing in favours). Some awkward relationships.
Will appeal to: Those who think TAOJF lacked action. Those who need to know Locke and Kara's side of the story.

Blurb: Once there were three. Three friends who loved each other - Jenna, Locke, and Kara. And after a terrible accident destroyed their bodies, their three minds were kept alive, spinning in a digital netherworld. When Jenna disappeared, Locke and Kara had to go on without her. Two-hundred-and-sixty years later, they have been released at last. Given new, perfect bodies, Locke and Kara awaken to a world they know nothing about, where everyone they once knew and loved is long dead. Everyone except Jenna Fox. (Amazon excerpt)

Review: To me, TFI doesn't suffer from the typical sequel syndrome so many books seem to be affected of - you know, not being able to live up expectations/match the hype their predecessors generated. I honestly enjoyed it as much as the first installment of the series, though for different reasons. I give Pearson credit for this - it is, indeed, a different book. Not simply because it has a different narrator, and a male one at that. Not simply because it carries us 260 years in the future. Not simply because of the not overbearing, but still significant amount of action.
Locke and Kara shouldn't be alive, because of what happened at the end of TAOJF. And the shocking truth is...that book was meant to be a standalone. The reasons why Pearson decided to publish a sequel (more than three years after) are stated in this interview (point 2). And if you ask me, I think they're believable and honest.
While Jenna's story was almost a contemporary one (at least when it comes to its setting), Locke and Kara's can be labeled as post-apocalyptic, to a certain extent. It's not like the U.S. have collapsed, but they've been tore apart and reshaped. If you need a strong world-building/background, I'm warning you - this won't happen here. Still I wasn't bothered by the lack of it, because frankly, I was more interested in the kids' story and adventures - not to mention, in Locke's stream of consciousness. What I'm going to mention is not a spoiler (see blurb), so I can address this particular point: Locke, along with Kara, has been literally living in a box for the past 260 years. Their minds have been trapped in an endless void for more two centuries and a half. Pearson explores the nightmare and its aftermath with a masterful hand. Same goes for the relationship between Jenna, Kara and Locke. It can be loosely described as a love triangle, but it's both simpler and more complicated than that - and I found it believable from every one of the three perspectives. Also, I usually hate love triangles with a passion...so, if this one passed the test with flying colours, it is really saying something :). [...]

September 15, 2013

Erin Callahan & Troy H. Gardner: "Tunnelville"

Title:  Tunnelville [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: Mad World (2st of 6 books)
Authors: Erin Callahan & Troy H. Gardner [Mad World site | Erin on Goodreads | Troy's site | Troy on Goodreads]
Genres: Paranormal, Urban Fantasy
Year: 2013
Age: 12+
Stars: 3.5/5
Pros: Rather unusual and multifaceted. Characters make for some interesting dynamics. A few surprises on the way.
Cons: Some too convenient or unconvincing occurrences. A few careless decisions. Real action crammed in the end.
Will appeal to: Those who liked Wakefield but craved for more action...and magic.

Blurb: Following their panicked escape from Wakefield, Astrid Chalke, Max Fisher and their friends find themselves adrift and on the run in western Massachusetts. After picking up a young thief with a complex philosophy, and dealing with the pains of prescription drug withdrawal, they make their way to Boston. The damaged teens settle in an underground tunnel community and encounter the fabulous Angie DeVille, who envelops them in her breathless and fast paced life. Dr. Lycen is tasked to hunt down the Wakefield escapees. But as Astrid and Max eke out a meager existence in their new home and do their best to stay off Dr. Lycen's radar, they learn that new and even more harrowing threats might be lurking just over the horizon. (Amazon excerpt)

Review: First off...DISCLAIMER: I received this novel from the authors in exchange for an honest review. Here goes...
Upon closing my Tunnelville PDF after reading the whole book, I suddenly realized that a significant shift had occurred. While Wakefield still retained a lot of traits that could be identified as contemporary (the past lives, interactions and everyday problems of a bunch of kids living in a educational facility), with Tunnelville we step openly into urban-fantasy - or even magic - territory. Though Astrid, Max and the gang are now fighting for survival in a new town - while trying to avoid their pursuers - the real focus is the specialness of some of them and of a few people they meet. We do follow the escapees while struggling and conning and stealing and doing odd jobs, but mostly we are introduced to a world on the fringe of normal, not of society.
The story is again mainly splitted into alternate chapters by Astrid and Max, with the occasional interlude by Eugene (a detective hired by Astrid's aunt in order to find her) and a prologue and epilogue by Dr. Lycen. Eight of the Wakefield inmates have escaped together - leaving what I suspect was a favourite character of us all behind, because of a decision the kid in question had to make. Now we get to know a Wakefield runaway we only got a glimpse of before - Lawrence, a great addiction to the cast. Also, Colby, a new companion with a whole different background, joins the group on their escape, and we mainly see him through Astrid's eyes, because the two fell for each other - so we aren't sure if the kid in question can be trusted or not. I have to say that the marginality of this love story with regard to the plot was much appreciated, though you'll still be treated to some cute moments if you are into them.
The first chapters follow the eight escapees while they're heading to Boston, living hand to mouth and trying to stay off the radar. Though some relationships are still strong, some of them seem to deteriorate a bit under the stress. Besides the shifting dynamics, there is also some unexpected character development, with particular reference to Astrid, who is apparently coming a bit far from the girl we came to know and love in Wakefield - while Max is even more relatable and sweet. Still, Astrid has taken Ben - the only really sick kid in the gang - under her wing, administrating him medications and trying to keep him safe, which is a point in her favour. [...]

September 08, 2013

Erin Callahan & Troy H. Gardner: "Wakefield"

Title: Wakefield [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: Mad World (1st of 6 books)
Authors: Erin Callahan & Troy H. Gardner [Mad World site | Erin on Goodreads | Troy's site | Troy on Goodreads]
Genres: Paranormal, Contemporary
Year: 2012
Age: 12+
Stars: 3.5/5
Pros: Relatable, interesting characters (for the most part). Strong blend of contemporary and paranormal elements. Well-fleshed out setting.
Cons: Slow, with most action concentrated in the last pages. Typical villain. A few chapters sound slightly awkward (see: Eduardo).
Will appeal to: Introspective readers. Male\female friendship supporters. People who are fed up with stereotypical heroes and heroines.

Blurb: Orphans Astrid Chalke and Max Fisher meet when they’re sent to live at Wakefield, a residential and educational facility for teens with psychiatric and behavioral problems. Just as Astrid and Max develop a strong bond and begin to adjust to the constant chaos surrounding them, a charming and mysterious resident of Wakefield named Teddy claims he has unexplainable abilities. At first, Astrid and Max think Teddy is paranoid, but Max’s strange, recurring dreams and a series of unsettling events force them to reconsider Teddy’s claims. Are they a product of his supposedly disturbed mind or is the truth stranger than insanity? (Amazon excerpt)

Review: First off...DISCLAIMER: I received this novel from the authors in exchange for an honest review. Here goes...
You know, most paranormal novels are fairly predictable. Usually. a girl develops a certain kind of power (all of a sudden, but she may have had it for a while sometimes), then meets the new boy at school and feels inexplicably drawn to him (most of the times it's just your average hormonal surge, but still)...then they end up developing both a romantic and paranormal bond and set out to save the world - or part of it. Well...nothing of that happens here. Which is SO refreshing, if you ask yours truly. Also, on with common tropes. Heroines are usually wrapped in their most girlish self, but of course they have to be feisty as well. Heroes are required to be dark, sulky and misterious, and of course swoon-worthy material. Which, I'm happy to say, it's NOT the case here. In Astrid's words "I normally dreaded wearing skirts, or doing anything remotely girly. I always felt like I was playing dress up or wearing my femininity on my sleeve, and it made me ridiculously self-conscious." (p. 192). She's also a good judge of feminine stereotypes - and while she's strong and bold when required, she's not your usual epitome of spunkiness. Max likes her, but not in a romantic way: “You didn’t want to go [to the prom] with me, did you?” “Honestly, no. It would have been like going with my sister." (p. 193). He's quiet, sensitive, loyal - and thank goodness, nowhere in the novel it says he's a sex symbol or something. (On a side note, Astrid seems to develop a romantic attachment for someone else later, but it's NOT overplayed. Another thing that I found refreshing...).
As the blurb already informed you, Astrid and Max meet in a facility for messed-up kids. They're both orphans, but their personal histories are quite different, as is the way the staff at Wakefield (especially the in-house psychiatrist Dr. Lycen) interact with them. This is your first clue to figure out what's really going on under the Wakefield façade. Other clues come in the form of Astrid and Max' fellows inmates - or better, some of them. I can't dwell on this aspect of the novel, in order to avoid spoilers; suffice to say, it is another peculiar trait of it. I also liked how the paranormal is dealt with here, because it appears to be linked to emotions and strenght of character, and enhanced by hard experiences - as opposed to be sort of a magic power one can unleash at the throw of a switch. On the other hand, it is maybe a little too convenient that all the paranormal energy comes into play at the same moment for everyone involved. But it's effective, of course. [...]

August 29, 2013

How Bloglovin' Ate My Blog (and Yours too)

OK, sorry, but I'm mad like hell right now. I casually typed "offbeat ya" on Google, just to see what would pop out after nearly a year of blogging under that very name...and my jaw dropped when I saw this:


My first thought was "What, someone named their blog Offbeat YA too?" (not on Blogger, of course...), which was a scary thought, up to a point. But what I saw after clicking on the above link scared me even more:

IT WAS ME ON BLOGLOVIN'. Only, I never signed up on there. And never even meant to either.

It was me on Bloglovin'...complete with a trail of 18 followers I didn't have a clue about.

While you wrap your mind around this paradox, let's step back for a moment. Surely you all remember the turmoil caused a few weeks ago by the supposed death of GFC. While NO ONE had EVER mentioned that GFC was supposed to go (actually, that would be Google Reader), a worldwide panic spread over. Coincidentally - but not by chance, if you ask me, because I think they rode the wave and started a campaign taking advantage of that very situation - there was plenty of talking about Bloglovin' those days, and suddenly everyone was setting up an account just in case. Bloglovin' wasn't by any means the only blog aggregator available...but it was pretty much the one in the spotlight - the one every blogger was signing up for. Being my usual not-happy-to-go-with-the-flow self (and I don't mean offense to anyone), I decided to investigate every possible way in which a blog could be followed, not because I was afraid of GFC disappearing, but simply because I wanted to offer more options to my would-be readers. In doing so, I read about Bloglovin' causing blogs to open in a frame instead that directly linking to them - like this:


You have to click on the X in the upper right corner in order to be redirected to the actual blog address:


Now, this sounded so fishy, it was the actual reason why I decided to stay well away from Bloglovin'. It was not a number-of-hits matter to me...just instinctive distrust of the method. Also, I couldn't wrap my mind around the "claim" issue. Because - in case you don't know - even if you have registered an account, Bloglovin' requires you to "claim" your blog after doing so. Which is ridiculous, to say the least. It IS my blog already. I don't need to validate my blog property anywhere. NO SERVICE WHATSOEVER ASKS YOU TO "CLAIM" ANYTHING YOU CREATED ON THE WEB! (...On second thoughts, there's Technorati - but at least they wait for you to actually register before they ask you to do that!).

So I went on happily ever after, with GFC (that didn't die on July 1st of course), email subscriptions and a Linky account as following options. Till I typed "offbeat ya" on Google, and the third search result was my blog on Bloglovin'. Which of course called for some action. [...]