Book Review – ‘In The Afterlight’ (#1.5, 2.5, 3.6 The Darkest Minds) by Alexandra Bracken

A great follow-up expansion to The Darkest Minds trilogy.

Genre: Y/A, Dystopian, Science Fiction

No. of pages: 400

IN TIME

Gabe’s life has been devastated in the wake of the economic crash. The only option left for someone like him to escape his tragic past is to leave his small town behind and to attempt to become a skiptracer. This already almost-impossible task is made all the more difficult by his first “score,”a young girl who won’t speak, but who changes his life in ways he could never imagine.

SPARKS RISE

Sam didn’t think things could get worse at Thurmand rehabilitation camp. Then the Reds arrive. Everyone assumed the kids with firepower had been killed years ago. Instead they were taken away, brainwashed, and returned as terrifyingly effective guards. To her horror, Sam recognizes one of them: Lucas, the one spark of light in Sam’s dark childhood. Lucas has a deadly secret–he beat the brutal training that turned his fellow Reds into mindless drones. When Sam defends herself against an attack by a vile PSF guard and faces a harrowing punishment, Lucas must risk everything to save her.

BEYOND THE NIGHT

The government-run “rehabilitation camps” have been shut down, but kids with Psi powers are anything but free. Sam would rather be on her own than put in the care of a foster family and given the “cure”–a dangerous procedure that unclaimed kids across the country are being forced to undergo. But there’s more at stake than just her own safety. Sam once made someone a promise, and the time has come to fulfill it. Now that she’s out of her camp, Mia only has one thought in her head: finding Lucas, her beloved older brother.

Initially, I started this but it did not grab my attention straight away, so I ended putting it down for a while to read some other books before returning. These were brutal. Just a stark reminder of the challenges the surviving kids afflicted with powers face. We get snippets to fill in gaps that were left out of the narrative from the main trilogy, the first (In Time) follows a skip tracer who captures Zu; the second (Sparks Rise) follows Sam and Lucas as they handle the end of the camp and try to bring their trio family back together; and finally (Beyond the Night) which takes place after the trilogy ends, seeing the conclusion to Sam, Lucas, and Mia’s plight together with the OG gang led by Ruby and a picture of what the world is like in the aftermath of the camps being shut down.

All the stories were interesting, had small arcs or character development and really helped to flesh out ‘The Darkest Minds’ universe. Alexandra Bracken knows how to write novellas, some other franchises that have added novellas to their catalogue have not pulled it off to this standard. Since I started reading ‘The Darkest Minds’ back in 2016, I was not tired of the story or her writing.

This collection has sparked my curiosity again and I am looking into purchasing ‘The Darkest Legacy’ to follow an older Zu. Plus, I’m really curious to see how the world has adapted to super powered teens, and if in fact the next generation continues to develop abilities, or if they have found a solution to quash these burgeoning powers.

The characters are relatable and I had compassion for all the protagonists. It was also a treat to read three stories where you could have a reprieve and go off and indulge in another book, or get on with the days chores. They were short, sweet, and easily digestible.

I don’t feel you are missing out on anything if you don’t read this after the original trilogy however. There is no new twist, no big revelations, ‘Through the Dark’ merely extends the universe slightly and is more service for the fans.

Overall feeling: she cute.

© Casey Carlisle 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

#bookquotes

Alien Invasion. Travelling space and seeing all those wild forms of galactic races and returning to an unpopulated Earth… this duology had all the earmarks of what I love. But it is for a much younger market. I could see this as a great kids film or television series. Possibly animated?

Book Review – ‘Heartstopper : Volume 2’ by Alice Oseman

A gentle tale of discovering feelings.

Genre: Y/A, Contemporary, Romance, LGBT, Graphic Novel

No. of pages: 320

Nick and Charlie are best friends. Nick knows Charlie’s gay, and Charlie is sure that Nick isn’t.

But love works in surprising ways, and Nick is discovering all kinds of things about his friends, his family … and himself.

I liked volume 2 more than the debut. There is still that overwhelming cuteness in the narrative that simply captures your heart. Nick and Charlie are adorable innocence personified.

In this sequel, we see Nick and Charlie grow closer and come out, forming friendships with other LBGTQIA+ youth. Where Vol. 1 deals more with Charlie’s anxiety over his feelings for Nick and worries about getting his heart broken; this edition deals with Nick coming to terms with his feelings and coming out to those close to him. It’s all about Nick sorting things out in his head.

Again another quick read, and it’s getting me to like the graphic novel medium. I recently heard that there is a screen adaptation underway, and I am really excited to see that comes to fruition.

The plot isn’t all that complicated, we get some resolution to an issue, but this is really an episode in a much bigger tale. So don’t expect any theatrics or magical reveals, ‘Heartstopper’ remains true to its core about LGBTQIA+ representation and the story of Charlie and Nick navigating the world and their relationship. We do get new introduced elements which will no doubt get explored in following editions of this series. And it all got me hooked!

The presentation of this story in graphic novel form lends to a fast paced storyline. It took me just over an hour to complete the novel in full. And ‘Heartstopper’ has got me wanting to venture into Alice Oseman’s back catalogue.

Again, the story is easy to predict, but we do get a few little bumps in the road that I did not foresee that were a joy to read.

There’s not a lot to say without spoiling or repeating what’s in Volume 2, it’s a sweet progression of Nick and Charlies love for each other that I found endearing. Love the rainbow representation and I’ll recommending this to all my friends. It’s also accessible to younger audiences, not only because of its medium, but because it tackles issues of identity and community in a gentle way.

Overall feeling: Beautiful.

© Casey Carlisle 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Authentic queer representation in literature

This post comes about from a thing I’ve noticed about LGBTQIA+ people and relationships, and how it is reflected in literature…

Being isolated, introverted, and disconnected with society is in most cases a learnt behaviour. Having a frank conversation with a plethora of members of this community from all genders, races, and ages have brought to life something that I find alarming. It’s like a double edged sword – a form of self-abuse and self-protection. And it’s not something that I see discussed frequently or represented in literature. I mean, I’ve read novels where this is touched upon (and it is usually in #ownvoices tomes), but the mainstream tend to overlook this kind of behaviour in favour of trending coming out stories. Coming out isn’t necessary for any LGBTQIA+ person, and their issues do not magically disappear as soon as they do; in most cases you get handed a different set of complications to navigate.

Members of the LGBTQIA+ community face rejection of some form so regularly that when it comes to friendships and familial relationships, many individuals will let go of these relationships, not because of discrimination, mircoaggression, or flat out rejection, but because it just petered out. Any type of friendship or relationship is a two-way street, but LGBTQIA+ people face bigger hurdles in fostering these types of relationships to cis-gendered straight members of the community.

The sad reality is that LGBTQIA+ people are less likely to continue putting themselves in a position where they can get hurt by being the one to initiate contact. Even with members of family or their friends which they already have an established and safe relationship with. Rejection can be tiring. It can whittle away at your psyche until you just can’t be bothered anymore. So when I asked about these types of relationships, and why they had ended, it was a sad realisation that having a relationship of some form with a LGBTQIA+ person is a little more than an even exchange of pleasantries.

“LGBTQIA+ people are less likely to continue putting themselves in a position where they can get hurt by being the one to initiate contact.”

LGBTQIA+ people require you to do slightly more work. Be the initiator of a conversation, reach out on social media, send a text, make a call. Make them feel safe. Wanted. Valuable. Don’t get complacent… otherwise you will be replaced, forgotten, pushed further out in their circle of friends/relatives.

Now, every person is different, and their relationships are different too, so this is not a blanket statement applying to all LGBTQIA+ people. It was just a trend I noticed in talking to these particular community members and how they wished things hadn’t gotten so awkward. Should they initiate contact after all this time? Had things gotten so bad because that other person was too polite and didn’t want to say outright that they did not want them in their lives? Did that other person fear reprisal, or being branded homophobic, or something similar? This was the kind of internal monologue running through the heads of many of the LGBTQIA+ people I talked with. It comes from a place of fear and rejection. A tone that is always underlying many of LGBTQIA+ relationships. It doesn’t go away.

An extra burden the community carries.

I think that is where movements like #ownvoices is important. They live through the nuances of the LGBTQIA+ experience that cis-gendered, straight author’s commonly overlook (or, quite frankly, don’t even register as something that exists) especially now in a publishing climate where the LBGTQIA+ community is getting greater representation. While I feel like any representation is a plus, we still need to ensure that we are having a positive impact on the community. And yes, I understand that people read for different reasons, and that it is all well and good to make this statement and yet M/M romances written by cis-gendered female authors is still leading that sub-genre market. And straight, cis-gendered authors are penning popular YA novels… I’d like to see fiction take the opportunity to explore real issues the LGBTQIA+ community face and not use sexuality or coming out as a plot device.

Some outstanding writing I feel that does the LGBTQIA+ community great service includes these authors (with links to their Goodreads pages):

Becky Chambers, Alice Oseman, Michael Barakiva, Alison Evans,

Bill Konisberg, C.B. Lee, Shaun David Hutchinson,

Casey McQuistion, Graeme Aitken.

I’m sure there are many other authors out there, but this is all I have personally read that bring that authentic LGBTQIA+ tone with their writing. Feel free to add more authors down in the comments that you feel deserve to be on this list.

I love that we are seeing allies, out and proud, bolstering the community. Actions of these people is the exact kind of social movement that helps to tear down the walls of fear and rejection that has subtly affected the way LBGTQIA+ people relate to others – especially outside the community.

This article is not an answer to an issue. A diagnosis. Merely a discussion from social interaction and conversations that I feel is important to consider, and start to make readers aware of the issues a marginalised community face – and not something to be romanticised as a plot device. LGBTQA+ people isolate themselves, whether consciously or not, and it is up to the community at large to reach out. Make safe spaces. Because some LGBTQIA+ people are less likely to do so. Yes, there are people standing up for a marginalised community and making changes, bringing awareness to issues like this, but not everyone is a trailblazer, or can stand on a soapbox and fight for an issue. Many are broken. Scared. Or just plain fed up with everything being so hard. Not to mention facing fear for their lives, physical abuse, ostracized from their families, religious communities, neighbourhoods, or workplaces.

So take a little time and patience with your friends and family. Check in on them more often. You never know who is in that mental space, protecting their heart. Hearts are built to share and spread love… even if they are a little shy.

Start reading critically, support #ownvoices authors and make the publishing landscape an equal opportunity industry. Representation matters. Authenticity matters. And this issue is much larger than LGBTQIA+ communities as the current national political landscape has shown recently with movements like BLM, WomenUp, StopH8, etc..

I feel fiction with realistic, relatable characters engaging; stories with relevant issues interesting; and bringing in these types of mechanics in storytelling can add complexity, richness, and lead to the ultimate reading experience.

© Casey Carlisle 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Book Review – ‘The First 7’ (#2 The Last 8) by Laura Pohl

A group of kids, the last survivors of the human race…

Genre: Y/A, Science Fiction, LGBT

No. of pages: 367

Clover Martinez and The Last Teenagers on Earth are busy exploring the galaxy after leaving earth behind…even if they can’t help but be a little homesick.

So when their ship receives a distress signal from their former planet, they hope against hope that it means other survivors. But as soon as they arrive, they realize something’s deeply wrong: strange crystal formations have popped up everywhere and there’s some sort of barrier keeping them from leaving.

Seeking the origin of the formations and the reason for the barrier, the group discovers a colony of survivors hidden in the mountains. But the survivors aren’t who they seem…

I enjoyed this more than the debut. I think with the ridiculous aliens out of the picture and the story starting out in space, it constructed a world deep in sci-fi, rather than a dystopian earth facing an alien threat, that slight shift in the tone of the narrative allowed me to shed preconceived notions and really get into the story.

The characters did feel a little more grown up – we still get moments of teenage melodrama, but it seems the war and travel in the stars have seasoned our group and I was less inclined to sigh or eye-roll. Still there is a tone with the presentation (description) of the aliens that we encounter in ‘The First 7’ that feels immature. I guess it will capture the minds of a younger audience (of whom it is intended.)

The First 7’ has a much stronger plot that its predecessor but there was the inclination to meander a little. The story is broken into three sections which didn’t necessarily transition as easily as they could have.

We see some great character arcs, and an aspect of humanity shone through brightest for me. Pohl even managed to surprise me with a few plot twists that I didn’t see coming. I’d love to see her write for a more mature audience, what I gather from her writing chops, it has limitless possibilities.

Again the greatest drawbacks were meandering plot and tone of the novel.

We see many of the hanging plot threads from the debut tied up in a rather unusual fashion. And Pohl is not afraid to serve out real-life consequences to her characters after facing apocalypse-level circumstances that you don’t see in a lot of YA. So I am unsure if teens reacting to mental coping mechanisms, combined with hormonal behaviour left the plot feeling that bit erratic: it is either a pretty accurate depiction, or a tone not befitting young adults placed in that situation… it’s hard to tell with them being changed with alien DNA – but it’s the same elements that had me humming and harring from ‘The Last 8’ as well.

I understand the title of ‘The First 7’ and its need to match the hook from the debut, but after completing the novel, I don’t see how it really fits. They mention it in the novel, but the justification felt tenuous at best.

The ending was sufficiently cinematic and while I enjoyed my time reading this duology, it’s probably one I’ll forget fairly quickly. I’d only recommend this for the younger end of the YA market. Adults and older young adults may find this a little juvenile.

Overall feeling: Okay, pretty good.

© Casey Carlisle 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

#bookquotes

It’s been ages since I read a mystery novel, this kind of scratched the itch… has anyone else read S.K. Tremayne? What was your favorite novel. I’m on the fence about this author and just wondering if there is a better read in his catalogue. (P.S. book review coming soon 🙂 )

Book Review – ‘The Gravity of Us’ by Phil Stamper

The countdown to first love and finding your voice.

Genre: Y/A, Contemporary, Romance, LGBT

No. of pages: 314

As a successful social media journalist with half a million followers, seventeen-year-old Cal is used to sharing his life online. But when his pilot father is selected for a highly publicized NASA mission to Mars, Cal and his family relocate from Brooklyn to Houston and are thrust into a media circus.

Amidst the chaos, Cal meets sensitive and mysterious Leon, another “Astrokid,” and finds himself falling head over heels—fast. As the frenzy around the mission grows, so does their connection. But when secrets about the program are uncovered, Cal must find a way to reveal the truth without hurting the people who have become most important to him.

This book was set out to be a sure-fire hit for me – vlogging and journalism; diversity rep with POC, sexual orientation, and mental illness; general nerdiness around space travel and the race to colonise Mars; all wrapped up in an angsty teen coming of age bow… The concept of ‘The Gravity of Us’ had me from the first line of the blurb.

The Gravity of Us’ was a read of mixed feelings for me. Our protagonist, Cal, while rich with journalistic integrity, a passion for his home town Brooklyn, and commitment to best friend Deb, came across a little flat and obnoxious. I had difficulty in relating to him on an emotional level. I admired his ethics and drive for perfection and a career, but there wasn’t enough vulnerability for me to truly empathise with him. Plus he was always justifying himself in the narrative, and it comes off as, well, shallow.

I also didn’t quite blend with Phil Stamper’s writing style. It was sparse in areas where we had a chance to jump into deep emotion of a character, and the romance was all repeated phrases of a more physical reaction. I didn’t feel any deep connection growing between Cal and his love interest Leon. The romance fell real flat for me. Maybe it had something to do with Leon’s struggle with depression and anxiety, but I have read other novels where this struggle can bring the reader closer to the character, but in this case it isolated me to the point that I felt I didn’t really know Leon.

Plot wise ‘The Gravity of Us’ is fantastic. Stamper uses the first person narrative expertly to hide motives from the reader, and reveals plot points slowly throughout the novel, twisting this way and that. With interspersed chapters of Shooting Stars episodes (The NASA reality show around the astronauts getting ready for a Mars venture) each account reveals something for the plot, driving it forward. Because of these well placed developments throughout the story the pacing is perfect. Despite some of the issues I had with the characters and writing style, I was never bored.

We do see character development from all the cast, and it was sweet to follow Cal’s growing awareness for the wider world (despite abovementioned obnoxiousness) and I think if I had been able to make a stronger emotional connection to him and the other characters, I would have adored ‘The Gravity of Us.’

The plot is mostly predictable from the outset – I won’t mention them here and spoil the story for those of you yet to read ‘The Gravity of Us,’ but everything I guessed in the first twenty or so pages came to pass. There was only one twist I did not see coming, and quite frankly, is a redeeming feature of this novel.

There is some language use and underage drinking, talk of depression and running away if any of those are triggers for you, but we never get into any frank discussions for any of these topics. Neither do we touch on sexual intimacy when its clear Cal and Leon are heading in that direction… all the ‘hard’ topics are glazed over. Which is a pity, with Cal’s journalistic voice and love for fact and practicality we could have seen some relevant discussions on topics that affect all teens (and help add complexity to the characters.)

I want to say there was meant to be humour in ‘The Gravity of Us,’ but it comes across as snarky (almost bitchy) so none of the comedic tone landed with me.

All in all ‘The Gravity of Us’ did not meet my expectations and turned out to be a pretty average read. Cute, moralistic, and missed a lot of opportunity to find a real voice.

Overall feeling: Good, but not great.

© Casey Carlisle 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Book Review – ‘Blastaway’ by Melissa Landers

The perfect light-hearted, family-friendly space adventure.

Genre: Y/A, Science Fiction, Adventure

No. of pages: 304

Kyler Centaurus isn’t your typical runaway. All he wanted was a quick trip to the legendary Fasti Sun Festival. Who wouldn’t want to see new stars being born? Um, try Kyler’s entire family. They couldn’t care less about mind-blowing wonders of science.

When an accidental launch sequence ends with Kyler hurtling through space on the family cruiser, the thrill of freedom is cut short by two space pirates determined to steal his ship. Not happening!

Luckily, Kyler bumps into Fig, a savvy young Wanderer who makes a living by blowing up asteroids. She could really use a ride to Earth and Kyler could really use a hand with the pirates.

But when Kyler learns the truth about Fig’s mission, the two must put aside their differences long enough to stop the threat of astronomical proportions racing towards Earth?

I enjoyed this book so much, it was literally like watching a Disney movie (no wonder Disney Hyperion published this.) Great family friendly hijinks. ‘Blastaway’ is every kid’s fantasy of running away from home on a spaceship with a robot sidekick to boot. There were elements of Home-Alone-in-space, and the robots is reminiscent of ‘Short Circuit,’ ‘Wall-E,’ and the two robots from ‘The Black HoleV.I.N.CENT and B.O.B.

We face pirates sans ‘Home Alone,’ and rescue planet Earth from a runaway star. There was adventure and action, and a lot of hilarity. If this ever gets the film treatment I’m definitely buying a ticket. It managed to capture the child hidden inside me, entertain me with jokes, and have enough sci-fi elements for me not to get bored. ‘Blastaway’ has a whip-cracking pace and I read the entire book in one sitting. My other half kept looking at me because I was giggling frequently.

The narrative is told from two different perspectives, having a number of chapters each. Kyler Centaurus is a privileged Earth boy who inadvertently steals his parents spaceship after a family tussle in which he comes off second best, after the fact he decides he may as well make the most of it since he is going to get punished anyway, and heads off to see the spectacular display of his favourite scientist create an artificial sun. He feels misunderstood and underappreciated, and the fact his brothers are always picking on him – and that it took nearly a day before his family realised he was gone – proves the point.

Figerella ‘Fig’ Jammeslot is an orphan runaway, grown up on ships and satellites after her parents were killed, snatching jobs where she can as a sharpshooter to destroy asteroids. She is the typical streetwise ruffian always on the take. She sees Kyler as an easy mark, and their destinies become intertwined.

For a light-hearted space romp we see both characters grow and develop, their motivations change, and real, heart-felt ‘ah-ha’ moments. I even developed an emotional connection to the robot Cabe.

I’d like to say I predicted the outcome of this novel, but I didn’t really. I misread the relationships (maybe just like the author wanted me too?) and was too wrapped up in the fun of it all to get out my detectives monocle and start looking for clues. Melissa Landers has a young breezy tone throughout the novel that completely engages the reader. I’ve enjoyed much of her back catalogue, so I knew I would like this one, but ‘Blastaway’ really surprised me. I love it. In fact if ever I’m in a down mood, I may just pick this up again for a re-read.

The plot is actually pretty amazing. It wasn’t over-simplified considering the target demographic, but not too complicated to leave it unrelatable to YA readers. I found depth and complexity in both plot and character for ‘Blastaway.’ I was already a fan of Melissa Landers, but now I stan her real hard.

I realise this novel may not be for all, but if you like a fun light read, something that feels like a good Disney movie, (and take note this is targeted towards tweens and teens) than I whole-heartedly recommend ‘Blastaway.’

Overall feeling: Captured my childish imagination.

© Casey Carlisle 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.