October 23, 2014

Christopher Pike: "The Season of Passage"

Title: The Season of Passage [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: None
Author: Christopher Pike [Facebook | Goodreads]
Genres: Sci-Fi, Supernatural, Horror
Year: 1992 (reissued 2011)
Age: 18+
Stars: 5/5
Pros: Riveting mix of genres full of tension build-up. Engaging main characters.
Cons: Outdated science (but see blurb below).
WARNING! There's some rather heavy gore, but then again, there are grosser books I think (thus spoke the woman who chickens out in front of Stephen King...). There's also the incipit of a rape scene...twice: both in the main narrative and in the story-within-the-story. But it's not the human version of a rape (more details in the review).
Will appeal to: Those who like creepy and weird stuff...and don't care about accuracy.

Blurb: Dr. Lauren Wagner was a celebrity. She was involved with the most exciting adventure mankind had ever undertaken: a manned expedition to Mars. The whole world admired and respected her. But Lauren knew fear. Inside - voices entreating her to love them. Outside - the mystery of the missing group that had gone before her. The dead group. But were they simply dead? Or something else? (Amazon excerpt)
Note: oddly, the 2011-version blurb on Goodreads talks about "a mission to rescue the crewmen of the Russian ship 'Lenin'..."...while, in the same reissue, the ship is actually called 'Gorbachev'. Nevertheless, this is what the 2011 version states: "This book was written in the 1970s, and it reflects the knowledge mankind had of the solar system at that time. For sentimental reasons, the author has decided to leave the novel in its original form; thus no effort has been made to update the story. Please accept the odd dates and the strange absence of cell phones". So I guess the ship's name is pretty much the only change that's been made...and note that Gorbachev was General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union from 1985 until 1991, while the first issue of this book was out in 1992. And, as I said, the name stayed in the 2011 version...which is understandable, since Gorbachev made a huge mark in history.

Review: I have a three-point premise to make before I start with the actual review.
Point 1: I don't think Christopher Pike is the finest proser out there. Yes, I'm obsessed with his stuff, but I can see that his writing is often choppy and not particularly sophisticated. This alone should bring my rating down half a star at least. Then again, if I had to judge his books with this in mind, none of them would be 5-star material - but sometimes his wild ideas, and his ability to suck you into the story, atone for what his style may lack. This is one of the books where it happens.
Point 2: is this novel original? I honestly don't know. I haven't read many horror books (if not by Pike himself) or books set in space. I'm in no position to say if Pike was a pioneer in 1992 (the year this novel was first issued) or in 1977 (when he wrote the first draft). What I know is, I love this story, dark as it is, and I enjoyed each and every twist and turn of it, even those who probably were to be expected somehow.
Point 3: some reviewers were kind of put-off by the outdated science. Now, judging by this rule, we'll have to bury most works of art from the past, and pretend they never existed. Also, it's funny, because while the English definition for this genre is "scientific fiction", we use a peculiar word for it in Italian..."fantascienza". That is, more or less, "fantastic science" or "imagined science" - because of course, most of what sci-fi authors write about is pure speculation, often combined with fantasy elements...So, basically, maybe half of Pike's theories/notions about planets or space travels are outdated or incorrect. So what? It's only a made-up story. It's "fantascienza". It's a hell of a ride, and I love it as it is :).
From the very start, the book's mood is mysterious, disquieting. Both Lauren (the first woman to land on Mars) and Jennifer (her 13 y.o. sister) are somehow spooked, an suffer from recurring inner voices/nightmares. We are introduced to Lauren's fiance Terry, a down-on-his-luck journalist and wannabe writer, and the rest of the space crew - apparently, a smaller group than the Russian one who landed on Mars two years before, never to be heard from again (this choice sounds rather strange to me, but I suppose Pike decided that having only six characters on the planet would be more handy for his story - or maybe it was the NASA who opted for minimizing the risk by sending out less possible victims!).
Jennifer starts writing a story about two ancient people and their war, which is interpolated into the main plot. While the tale sounds definitely mature for a 13 y.o., we will understand later how she was able to develop it. Most of the time, I'm not a fan of Pike's stories-within-the-story (there's almost one in every book), especially because they are often a bit disconnected by the main narrative, and I can't see their point; this time, however, the second story mirrors and enlighten the first one, perfectly integrating within the main plot, though we don't immediately see why and how. And as a matter of fact, this is part of the book's charm. [...]

October 14, 2014

Two-Years-of-Blogging Survey...and Drawing a Balance

...So, my little niche on the Internet turns 2 today :).

...and starts growing a third branch :)
[Image source]

Last year, on this very day, I felt pretty alone on here. I had very little followers, and very little contact with authors or publishers either. But I was committed. For the very first time in my web-adventure history, I didn't want to let go. So I clenched my teeth and stuck with it.
It's not like I've become what you may call a successful blogger since then, but I have indeed grown, if not esponentially. I've become more involved in the community (despite my staying away from social media, if you don't count Goodreads). I've been asked to review some books (not all of which I accepted, because I only read what I want), even a couple of ARCs.
And BTW...look mama! I'm on a book cover!

Back cover of Nature's Confession - read my whole review here

I'm well aware that most bloggers have reached far more important goals in two years...but you know what? It's OK. Because they spend a lot more time and pour much more sweat on/into their blogs. Because they have the chance to buy many more books than me (and most of those are shining new). Because they post so much more than me, and have a social media presence, and probably more friends to begin with. Because they participate in lots of memes, while I don't have the time and energy to get involved in all those. Because they host giveaways, while I don't have the resources to do that.
So, like I said, it's OK - it really is. More will come for me...or maybe not. Or maybe just a little more. Which is great anyway, because I love my little niche on the Internet regardless of that :).

Now, I'm going to highlight the very best books/series I have encountered in two years of blogging. I hope you can get interested in some of these, if you haven't already...
Note: clicking on the titles will redirect you to my reviews if present.

October 07, 2014

A Reader's Quirks #3: Tips for Slimming Your TBR List Down

I'm back with a new installment of my random feature about the who, what, where, when and why of reading, where I talk about my own relationship with books/genres/authors, and ask my visitors to do the same if they feel so inclined. This could have been easily turned into a meme, but there's a reason why it didn't...I still don't see myself as an established enough blogger to host yet another meme. Even those with an impressive number of followers aren't necessarily overwhelmed with participations, so I'm not going there just yet. This doesn't mean "A Reader's Quirks" won't be promoted to meme's status one day, should it be the case. It's all up to you, really :).
A quick reminder...everyone can comment on my blog, spam or not spam. It matters to me that anyone can join the conversation. As for CAPTCHA...everyone hates it...so you won't find it here. Relax and breathe ;).
This time I'm going to talk about...

TIPS FOR SLIMMING YOUR TBR LIST DOWN

Because I've been on a destructive streak lately.
No no no. I'm still my usual kind, gentle, considerate self ;). It's just that, these latest days, I've been a reader with a mission: to reduce the size of my TBR list.

[Image from giphy.com]

To be precise, I have two different lists for unread books: a TBR (To Be Read) list and a NS (Not Sure) one. As a rule, my NS list is comprised by books I don't have enough info about yet. Maybe they will be released in some months, so they only have a few reviews (including those VERY suspicious ones by enthusiastic zealots you discover to be fellow authors). Maybe there's no excerpt from them anywhere. Sometimes, the two previous conditions don't apply, but I'm still waiting for the definitive review that will help me make up my mind. (Which may prove dangerous, because in the process, I'm likely to stumble upon a happily oblivious Goodreads reviewer who spoils the ultimate twist for me. GRRRR. Ever heard of the spoiler tag?). My TBR list usually consists of books about which I have what I consider a fair amount of info (excerpt included...because you know, writing style). Nevertheless, in the few past days, I've erased more books from my TBR list than from my NS one O_O. (I'll explain below). Some of them were even featured in my Most Anticipated Books of 2014 list and in two of my Book Blogger New Year's Challenge posts: The Book of 2013 You Are Sad You Missed and The Books of 2014 You Won't Miss. Go figure.
Now, the erasing act is crucial to me, since I buy the vast majority of my books - while it may not be a huge problem for you, if you read on an electronic device or have ARCs delivered most of the times. On the other hand, ARCs have deadlines, and even your eReader gets full ultimately. So, here are some of the considerations that have helped me decide which books to axe from my bills lately...or even before...I hope they can be useful to you, too.

***

October 02, 2014

J.L. Morin: "Nature's Confession" (ARC Review)

Title: Nature's Confession [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: TBA
Author: J.L. Morin [Twitter | Goodreads]
Genres: Sci-Fi (more precisely, Cli-Fi)
Year: 2015
Age: 12+
Stars: 4/5
Pros: Adventure-packed book that explores serious issues from an often funny angle.
Cons: Requires some suspension of disbelief. The fable-like telling may take a bit to get used to. Multiple points of view may not be everybody's cup of tea.
Will appeal to: Those who like their sci-fi peppered with humour, but also driven by a purpose. Those who can appreciate a modern fable coupled with a (not preachy) message.

Blurb: A smart-mouthed, mixed-race teen, with the girl of his dreams, inadvertently invents living computers. Just as the human race allows corporations to pollute Earth into total desolation, institute martial law and enslave humanity, the two teens set out to save civilization. Can they thwart polluters of Earth and other fertile worlds? Along the way, they enlist the help of female droid Any Gynoid, who uncovers cutting-edge scientific mysteries as their quest takes them through the Big Bang and back. Will youth lead the way to a new way of coexisting with Nature? (Goodreads excerpt)

Review: First off...DISCLAIMER: I received this novel from the author in exchange for an honest review. It's also my second ARC review in two years of blogging - but this didn't affect my opinion in any way. 
There's something I have to warn you about straight away: don't approach this book thinking the romance will play a huge part in it, like the blurb seems to imply. Or, to be precise - the romance does play a huge part in it, but mostly offscreen, so to speak. Also, this is a book that gets better the second time around. While reading the first chapters, the unusual style - almost fable-like - threw me for a loop. Not to mention, some occurrences seemed too convenient and far-fetched at first, even for a sci-fi novel. The main characters, fourteen and sixteen respectively, are supposed to be a couple of geniuses, able to create (accidentally or on purpose) living computers. That sounded like a stretch to me, to put it mildly. Then, a few chapters in, the book finally clicked for me, and I began to really enjoy the story
Boy is a 14 y.o. mixed-race teen (points to Morin for writing a diverse character without emphasizing his ethnicity) who doesn't have a name yet - in the distant-future society he lives in (I hesitate to label it as dystopian, since alas, it might come true for us) one can't be named until his/her fifteenth birthday. Valentine is the 16 y.o. daughter of a scientist, who keeps appearing in Boy's dreams, although he doesn't know she's real yet. Even when the two teens do finally meet, there's very little interaction between them, until much later in the story. Also, Boy has a half-sister, Kenza, who is a clone of their mother. Despite the sci-fi contest, plus a hint of magical realism (Boy's dreams), the family dynamics are somehow typical, up to a point (a father who works a lot and cheats on his wife, a mother who mainly takes care of the family), but we'll soon realise that there's a lot more than that under the surface. Every member of Boy's family (including a telepathic alien pet with six legs and an undisclosed number of tails that we are to meet later) will be given the opportunity to play a part in the rebirth of planet Earth and its new, eco-sustainable course. Some of these characters are unlikely heroes - take Porter, Boy's father, who leaves for a supposed pleasure-filled space trip with a soon-to-be lover, and ends up travelling through the Big Bang and back with a gynoid and meeting a few unexpected allies on old planet Earth. This adds humour to the story, and makes the scientific stuff easier to digest. [...]