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Book Review – ‘Cruel Beauty’ by Roasmund Hodge

A magical and disorientating re-telling.

cruel-beauty-book-review-pic-01-by-casey-carlisleGenre: Y/A, Fantasy

No. of pages: 352

From Goodreads:

Since birth, Nyx has been betrothed to the evil ruler of her kingdom-all because of a foolish bargain struck by her father. And since birth, she has been in training to kill him.

With no choice but to fulfill her duty, Nyx resents her family for never trying to save her and hates herself for wanting to escape her fate. Still, on her seventeenth birthday, Nyx abandons everything she’s ever known to marry the all-powerful, immortal Ignifex. Her plan? Seduce him, destroy his enchanted castle, and break the nine-hundred-year-old curse he put on her people.

But Ignifex is not at all what Nyx expected. The strangely charming lord beguiles her, and his castle—a shifting maze of magical rooms—enthralls her.

As Nyx searches for a way to free her homeland by uncovering Ignifex’s secrets, she finds herself unwillingly drawn to him. Even if she could bring herself to love her sworn enemy, how can she refuse her duty to kill him? With time running out, Nyx must decide what is more important: the future of her kingdom, or the man she was never supposed to love. 

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For the first half of this ‘Cruel Beauty,’ I squirmed uncomfortably, not for anything that was written, but the writing style was elaborate and fanciful and took a considerable time to relax into. I’m also not a huge fan of re-tellings, and this one was a little too close to the original to stop me from pulling comparisons. But this book is a fantastic beast in its own right and I’m glad I gave it a chance.

Nyx was a fun character to read. She was hateful and resentful as well as determined and righteous. Not a wilting flower, or a warrior, but a fallible human being, and I really liked that. She wasn’t afraid to speak the truth, get a little snarky, or even a bit devious.

cruel-beauty-book-review-pic-02-by-casey-carlisleI did find all the mention of Gods and mythology confusing at times, as I also did with the aspect of the Prince’s *cough-Beast’s-cough* house. The whole setting was so imaginary and malleable that it was disorientating and difficult to track the nature of the plot. But in hindsight, it exactly does what it is supposed to do for the tale. The narrative has a magical tone to it which reminds me of old Irish fairie tales.

The weird love triangle thing between the Prince, the Shadow, and Nyx felt a little forced and manufactured, and the beginning of the relationships did not feel as if they grew organically. But I do like how, even with teasing of an unreliable narrator, there were reasons not to trust any of the characters in this novel.

I was guessing and flip-flopping in opinions on everyone. Which was both a good and a bad thing. I like to be kept on my toes… but not so much as there isn’t a solid grounding in either the main character or her quest. There was such a feeling of being untethered through most of the novel, that it stopped me from truly enjoying it. Only towards the end, when aspects of the plot started to draw together did I truly revel in ‘Cruel Beauty.’

The novel is beautifully written, completely matching the genre and tone, but not a style I enjoyed reading too much. I felt like I was back a University wading through the works of Chaucer at times. Some readers will love this, but for my personal taste, I found it annoying and slowed the pace of the storyline.

It had a strong high-fantasy vibe, rather than nostalgic for the original tale of ‘Beauty and the Beast,’ and is probably why I didn’t enjoy it as much as I could have. I really have to be in the mood to digest high fantasy, and like reading my world built, and quest painted out in clear concise language. Even now, after completing the novel I can’t clearly define the universe and role of the Gods, or the magic system used.

With the over-indulgence in the writing style playing against it, ‘Cruel Beauty’ did a wonderful job at painting a scene, my imagination ran wild with the fantastical places and magical/dream-like elements.

On the whole it was an okay read – I loved the last quarter and had an ‘aww’ moment at the end. The first half needs to drive the story along more forcefully, and the development of the world more concise for me to get into it, which would probably remove about fifty pages from its length and pick up the pacing.

I liked this take on the story of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ and have seen the mixed reviews. I guess if you love fairy tales, and high fantasy, ‘Cruel Beauty’ is one for you; otherwise you might be a little confused like I was.

Overall feeling: okay, interesting, pretty good…

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© Casey Carlisle 2017. 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.

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Film vs Novel – The Girl With All The Gifts

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The novel by M. R. Carey got a lot of press on its release, surprisingly the film adaptation entered the market with a murmur. Which is surprising considering the big named actors in starring roles. I was wondering if the film wasn’t going to be all that good since the distributors hadn’t put a lot of funds behind promoting the movie. But it turned out to be more satisfying that I had expected.

The novel starts with Melanie’s point of view. A child in chains and strapped down, locked away in a high-security facility. We get more background and explanation of who Melanie is, and her scope of intelligence in the novel – some of it a little long winded – but both screen and written version project her innocence and curiosity while hinting at some dark danger hiding underneath. I will say that Melanie, and the other children like her, residing in the facility looked healthier than described in the novel. I didn’t get that cute-creepy-fragile-dangerous image from the actor (Sennia Nanua) portrayal of Melanie.

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We also get a large helping of scientific and biological background in the novel about the epidemic and about Melanie and her class through the narrative, where in the film we get small info-dumps along the way. I think I preferred the way the movie unveiled the plot, though I felt we needed more of an introduction to Melanie and her cognitive abilities. Who knows, maybe it was there and ended up on the cutting room floor during the editing process.

One major element that annoyed the heck out of me from the film: the music was distracting and off-putting. It didn’t add to the ambiance or add feeling and tension where it was meant to. In my opinion, Cristobal Tapia de Veer did a massive disservice to the film with her soundtrack.

Glen Close added dimension to the scientist (Dr. Caroline Caldwell,) subtle hues that made her character more realistic. I felt the written version of her was too single minded at times, dangerously coming near to reading like a caricature. Gemma Arterton captured Helen Justineau perfectly, her performance depicted everything I’d seen in my head when reading the novel.

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There was a certain ‘campness,’ like a B-grade horror film to the book at times, but thankfully I didn’t get any of that when watching the film. Though I will say the soldiers felt more like secondary characters in the film, where they provided over-stylized machismo in the novel that actually had me laughing.

The ‘Hungries’ seemed more zombie-like in the film because of the onmipresent viewer, where in the novel from Melanie’s POV I got more of a rabid dog/monster vibe. I would have liked to see the epidemic steered further away visually from zombies. It was getting there, but didn’t quite match what I thought was being described in the novel.

The film is definitely visually brutal. Maybe because of the changing POV’s and lengthy description in the novel, I didn’t get so much of the gore as I did from the film – the impact lessened by the amount of words in between key events. Additionally, I had a different vision in my head of the fungal ‘trees,’ nowhere near as megolithic as shown in the film. Maybe a little more like something you’d have seen on classic Star Trek episodes on some alien planet.

There were some small plot points in the film that had me going ‘huh?’ I had to flip through the book again to see if I was remembering them correctly… I won’t discuss them here though. I can see how they were included for the tone of the film and while they won’t spoil the ending, they would remove certain surprises. So I’ll say that the overall story of the film is similar to the novel, it just has a few tiny tweaks. And I put that down to M.R. Carey also having written the screenplay.

I liked the tone and perspective of the novel, and how it was based (mostly) in a youngsters mind analysing scientific data; but found the movie more entertaining (minus the weird soundtrack) and paced much better. There is definitely a stronger tie in to the Pandora metaphor in the film – but doesn’t have the speculative ending like in the novel.

On a side note, I’m glad they kept with the original name of the novel for the film adaptation, I know they were tossing around ‘She Who Brings Gifts’ for a while.

It’s a close battle to which I prefer, but I’d say the film only just scrapes in above the novel, based on more realistic depictions of the cast, pacing of the story, and the symbolism throughout – all keeping in the same tone for the film throughout. The novel, while wordy, suffered pacing in parts, and some of the scenes felt forced or unrealistic, though much more creepy than the film.

Go check out the film.

Go M.R. Carey!

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© Casey Carlisle 2017. 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.

 

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Book Review – ‘Dark Matter’ by Blake Crouch

Mind-bending and expanding. Sci-fi at it’s best.

dark-matter-book-review-pic-01-by-casey-carlisleGenre: Science Fiction, Mystery

No. of pages: 340

From Goodreads:

“Are you happy with your life?”

Those are the last words Jason Dessen hears before the masked abductor knocks him unconscious.

Before he awakens to find himself strapped to a gurney, surrounded by strangers in hazmat suits.

Before a man Jason’s never met smiles down at him and says, “Welcome back, my friend.”

In this world he’s woken up to, Jason’s life is not the one he knows. His wife is not his wife. His son was never born. And Jason is not an ordinary college physics professor, but a celebrated genius who has achieved something remarkable. Something impossible.

Is it this world or the other that’s the dream? And even if the home he remembers is real, how can Jason possibly make it back to the family he loves? The answers lie in a journey more wondrous and horrifying than anything he could’ve imagined—one that will force him to confront the darkest parts of himself even as he battles a terrifying, seemingly unbeatable foe.

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Dark Matter’ turned out to live up to all the hype I’ve been hearing. Although I was starting to doubt the great reviews I’d read because it takes half of the novel for things to get heated up, but when they do, it takes off in a fiery blast.

The protagonist, Jason, was the type of character that took me a while to warm up to. I guess because he flailed about so much. Reacting to the bizarre. But what else could he do? There was so much of it thrown at him in the first half that we didn’t get to know him. It wasn’t until his strength and hope started to get tested (along with his sanity) that I started to connect with him.

Amanda, fellow traveler, I felt could have been more poignant to the story – she added some psychologist wisdom as to the psyche and the multiverse, and even about the impact of facing infinity… I feel there was a missed opportunity to drive home a point at the heart of this novel – fear, inevitability and infinitesimally small nature of things. Mind blown. Instead she felt more or less like a non-event. With enjoying her take on the situation I wanted more of her in the story than we got.

Jason’s wife and son really make the narrative with their added perspective. And it’s needed because this novel gets hella cray-cray. You’ll understand when you read it.

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Dark Matter’ got waaay better after the half way mark, as I mentioned earlier, getting to know Jason, and setting up the premise of the science behind ‘Dark Matter’ takes a while. But once you get past that hump it is extremely engaging – I stayed up late to finish it. The tension and pacing were expertly crafted.

I had difficulty with any predictions on how it was going to turn out- the nature of the science and the bleak tone of the novel just leaves you with a feeling of despondency. Why? And it’s a marvellous experience to be kept on the edge of your seat. Bravo Blake Crouch!

It still only feels like we’ve scratched the surface too – that’s how massive the concept to this novel is. I think I sat there staring off into space for a while after finishing, trying to take it all in.

Dark Matter’ has a brilliant ending. Very satisfying. Highly entertaining. I’d been told it was great, and it certainly did not disappoint. There is even a little moral lesson from Jason’s wife that I thought added something extra.

There is something distinctly masculine and dry about Blake’s writing style – I found myself frequently putting this book down for a rest. The story is certainly amazing, action packed, and science nerd porn. Chock full of all the elements I love in a story, but there was something about the narrative which didn’t grab me straight away when I started reading ‘Dark Matter.’ Definitely recommend it though, especially if you like your more obtuse science fiction references.

Overall feeling: my brain! My brain!

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© Casey Carlisle 2017. 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.

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Dealing with Girl Hate in Literature and Real Life

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An observation pulled from some of my favorite novels, and experiences from my own life, shows there seems to be a lot of girl hate. Bullying. Insecurity. And there seems to be little justification behind the sudden backlash of slurs. Some chalk it up to puberty or jealousy. But it has continued through all aspects of my life, and in many genres of books. I thought I comment on some of the more prominent forms that I’ve experienced.

dealing-with-girlhate-pic-08-by-casey-carlisleEven if someone is dealing-with-girlhate-pic-03-by-casey-carlislestruggling with their size, it doesn’t diminish them as a person. In Victorian times having a little extra padding meant you came from wealth because you could afford food. Now it seems packing a few extra pounds is displeasing to the eye. Makes you unattractive. All this PhotoShop re-touching and refusal of fashion designers to manufacture larger sizes, or even display their couture on models over a size 0. Have we became so hateful towards female biology? It is a natural state for girls to carry more body fat as they get older. It has nothing to do with being unhealthy or unattractive, it’s a natural cycle of hormones and metabolism. I read this kind of hate and bullying in books too, though I’m glad that we are starting to see a movement against this stereotype (on television too) Main characters who aren’t rail-thin are starting to pop up in the mainstream. I hope this trend continues and helps to stamp out body shaming, we should be sisters in arms, not tearing each other down with fickle, narcissistic attacks.

dealing-with-girlhate-pic-09-by-casey-carlisle dealing-with-girlhate-pic-04-by-casey-carlisleAnd may other reasons. But when did having an opinion, indulging in free speech, make someone so awful? World leaders, innovators, business owners, have all struggled with nasty slurs because they stick to their guns. I actually find it attractive, if someone is resolute in their beliefs. Mental strength and intelligence breeds a fertile environment for growth. These days we see female characters embracing the term. Proud to wear the mantle of bitch. Because it portrays power. It’s not quite free of a negative image, but it’s starting to evolve into something like #girlboss instead of some foul mouth wench with nothing but negative comments spewing from her mouth.

dealing-with-girlhate-pic-10-by-casey-carlisledealing-with-girlhate-pic-05-by-casey-carlisleOr maybe she is not afraid of her own sexuality. And the sad thing is, being called a virgin can be just as derogatory. We really can’t win… Slut shaming seems to be more present in YA than other genres, girls use it to jostle for power in their peer groups, to be the alpha chick who is not to be trifled with or she’ll tear you down. There is still such a stigma with sex through the teen years, and I really wish it could be approached responsibility rather than reinforcing negative views on sex and sexuality. The trend is starting to get addressed on the television screens, but I’ve yet to read much about it in the novels from my shelves. Yes, bullying is attacked in some, but slut shaming tends to be a character trait or a storytelling device. This leads on to another element I’ve personally experienced:

dealing-with-girlhate-pic-11-by-casey-carlisledealing-with-girlhate-pic-06-by-casey-carlisleI’m five foot eight inches, so sit on the tall end of the scale, and have been called tranny or drag queen by girls in clubs as I’m walking by, or behind my back. Since when is being tall a failing – these slim models gracing our magazines are the same height – it’s just another juvenile hate-filled slur women use to make them feel good about themselves. I tend to see this trend reversed in literature. Girls are described as Amazonian, and strong, warrior-like. Someone to aspire to. This certainly does not translate to real life. I may get a rare “You’ve got lovely long legs” almost hinting that I use them to ensnare men like some black widow spider. Getting called ‘tranny’ is a big pet hate of mine, it’s doubly offensive. It’s said with the intention to make you feel less than a natural born woman, clumsy and unnatural. Which I find preposterous! I know some transgendered women and they are gorgeous, successful, intelligent, and talented women. It’s wonderful to see many book titles being released starring diverse characters on identity and sexuality. They are diffusing these kind of prejudices and hopefully will get rid of this kind of discrimination and bullying for good.

There are so many other aspects bullies latch on to, or make up, to lash out with words. You have short hair, you must be a lesbian. You like sports, or never wear dresses… You wear glasses, or have braces – metal head. Don’t get me started on being called a ginger or bluey because I have red hair. It’s pitiful to be at the blunt end of girl hate. And bullies will always find something. I’m glad to see it getting reduced in my reading choices. Readers are becoming more intelligent, more discerning in their purchase decisions when at the checkout. So it is forcing authors to develop interesting, complex and diverse characters. Tackle more politically aware subject matter and have a social conscience. Granted, it won’t stomp out bad behavior, but it is shining a light on it and forcing nasty characters to explain themselves… and that’s something I really like.

dealing-with-girlhate-pic-12-by-casey-carlisleSheesh! A dealing-with-girlhate-pic-07-by-casey-carlislegenuinely gorgeous girl can be reduced to her physical appearance. I’ve heard it said with malice many times in real life. Signalling that the target has the mental capacity of an ape – or that she uses sexuality to get what she wants. She can’t also be a kind and loving person, or a rocket scientist. No. She can’t possible have it all. There is nothing to tear her down with so let’s make perfection a failing… oh please! Women are put on pedestal frequently in books, and having all these attributes is praised, idolized even. But we see plenty of girl hate in real life. But this can also be a negative, because it reduces the character to a two-dimensional caricature.

Women, girls, PEOPLE, are complex creatures. We have motivations, hidden depths. Why do we assume so little at first glance? Why look for the hate? Why not start looking or the amazing?

I’m beginning to find novels coming out with some fantastic female friendships, especially in YA. It’s showing the full range of a character and not reducing a female to a trope or stereotype. It gives me hope that we’ll be able to reduce the amount of girl hate out there. Nasty trolls posting awful comments online, bullying, it feeds girls insecurities and can lead to feeling shame unnecessarily, fearing for your personal safety, depression, behaviors like cutting and even suicide. So let’s put a stop to girl hate and become sisters instead.

Personally, looking back over my life, I’ve been on both sides of the fence in many of these types of behavior. But thankfully, through my experiences and reading habits, I’m identifying potentially harmful behavior and words, and grow into a better version of myself.

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© Casey Carlisle 2017. 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.