Book Review – ‘The Ice Twins’ by S.K. Tremayne

Slow-burn twisty thriller on a haunted island.

Genre: Mystery, Thriller

No. of pages: 373

After one of their  identical twin daughters, Lydia, dies in an accident, Angus and Sarah Moorcroft move to a remote Scottish island, hoping to mend their shattered lives. But when their surviving child, Kirstie, claims they have mistaken her identity – that she, in fact, is Lydia – their world comes crashing back down.

They know one of their daughters died. But can they be sure which one?

This was a spooky psychological thriller with a brilliant setting and unreliable narrators to keep you guessing.

The Ice Twins’ and I did not gel. I liked the unfolding mystery, but it took a long time to get interesting. I put this novel down multiple times due to boredom and read five other books intermittently before returning; it was only after reaching the halfway mark when the story finally got interesting.

The story is told in multiple perspectives – and when it was necessary to reveal plot points, it did so in an abrupt manner. No build up. Just – here is a twist you won’t see coming. There was no context, no grounding in the story. It didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. Like the author was intentionally throwing in the wildest thing they could think of to shock and awe the reader. I would have appreciated this mastery if there had been some clue or precedence in the narrative… there was the teeny-tiniest hint, but not enough to give it any substance and make the reveal knock me for six.

There was so much secret holding and distrust within the family that it all left a bad taste in my mouth and prevented me from really getting into the story. What young family exists in this manner? It felt so unrealistic. It had a tough of a gothic thriller: over dramatized and spooky atmosphere.

Sarah dominates with her perspective throughout ‘The Ice Twins.’ While it is clear she loves her family and is trying to make things work after the loss of one of her twin girls in a tragic accident; slowly my unease with her grew. She was wishy-washy, impulsive, and at times unstable. There was a lot of naffing about that you simply don’t do when caring for the well-being of a child navigating grief. It’s like the Mamma Bear in me reared up and rejected half of the narrative of this book. So I did not connect with Sarah’s story, or any other characters for that matter, and consequently did not get immersed into the story of ‘The Ice Twins.’

Sarah’s husband, Angus felt distant the entire story. It was like his actions and motivations were in conflict. I felt he was pretty much useless apart from the sporadic plot reveals his narrative provided. And even then I was shocked at his inaction to take care of his family.

The twins, Kirstie and Lydia – such a tragic story. Their experience is the only thing that my heart went out to. They were neglected on so many levels before and after one of them reaches their demise. I liked the touch of the supernatural of this story (if you want to interpret it that way, others may see it in a more practical sense) but the beginnings of this storyline took far too long to set up.

This is my first foray into S.K. Tremayne, and I hate to say, but their writing style just did not do it for me. It felt dry, emotionless, and the characters not developed enough early on. But for building ambience and world building, their skills really shine. I think maybe a lack of empathy is what I’m sensing in S.K. Tremayne’s writing style. It was rich and colourful, but lacked an emotional connection. It didn’t help that any of the characters in the story were not relatable.

I don’t think I’m going to recommend this one. I’ve read so many other thrillers that I enjoyed much more; and, consequently, will not be going out of my way to purchase any more of Tremayne’s titles. It’s mainly the writing style that did it for me. But I can see how some readers will love ‘The Ice Twins’ or any other title from Tremayne’s catalogue.

Overall feeling: Just like soggy chicken

© 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 – ‘Clockwork Angel’ (#1 The Infernal Devices) by Cassandra Clare

Getting back into the Shadowhunter universe.

Genre: YA, Historical Fiction, Fantasy

No. of pages: 479

The year is 1878. Tessa Gray descends into London’s dark supernatural underworld in search of her missing brother. She soon discovers that her only allies are the demon-slaying Shadowhunters—including Will and Jem, the mysterious boys she is attracted to. Soon they find themselves up against the Pandemonium Club, a secret organization of vampires, demons, warlocks, and humans. Equipped with a magical army of unstoppable clockwork creatures, the Club is out to rule the British Empire, and only Tessa and her allies can stop them…

This review comes from a re-read for me. I had read this initially about 7 years ago when it was first released but never wrote a review… and then abandoned the series when we moved states as the books were hidden away in moving boxes for an extended period of time. I think I initially had awarded it 5 stars. Now that I’m completing the series as a part of #BeatTheBacklist, I needed to re-read ‘Clockwork Angel’ to refresh and catch up to where I last left The Infernal Devices collection.

Clockwork Angel’ is a steampunk historical fantasy in the Shadowhunters universe, set as a sequel to the Mortal Instruments. I found this an easily engrossed read. I slipped into the past seamlessly and powered through this novel despite its 480 page length. It reminded me of all the things I enjoyed about The Mortal Instruments series all those years ago. I’m definitely excited to catch up on all the published novels in the Shadowhunter universe.

We follow Tessa Gray after her Aunt passes away and she is sent a ticket to travel to London to live with her last living relative, her brother Nathaniel. Upon arriving in England, she is secreted away by the Dark Sisters and forced into strange rituals that bring out her latent shape changing abilities Tessa did not know she had.

We meet Shadowhunters Will and Jem (James) who rescue Tessa from the Dark Sisters when they are investigating a murder involving Downworlders. From there Tessa is slowly introduced to all the elements of the Downworld and Shadowhunter alike, discovering that she is a part of this world too.

Tessa starts as a typical society lady, but soon notices that her deportment means little in the new magical world she has found herself in, and after having no-one to rely on but herself and her intuition, she has to find the strength to stand up for herself and carve her own path. I found Tessa endearing, if a little waifish at times – but that is a result of the society of the times, not of her character. And we see Tessa shed the older version of herself and become a strong and intelligent entity in her own right.

Will is a rakish teen, who’s good-looking and knows it. He’s rude and appears as being self-absorbed. I’m not a fan of intentionally rude love interests, so I’m not all that taken with Will. But we have only scratched the surface and I’m sure a tragic and involved backstory is going to be revealed in the next two sequels.

As too with Jem, a POC infected with demon poison which is slowly killing him. He’s all sorts of gentile, caring, and empathetic and I love the way both he and Tessa interact. Again, there is a backstory we’ve yet to uncover, which has me keen to jump into the sequel ‘Clockwork Prince’ as soon as possible.

We meet an early version of sorcerer Magnus Bane, and ancestors of the main characters from The Mortal Instruments. It had all the elements of magic that I loved about from the debut series, though I have to admit, I was hoping for more of this… and more action. But it’s just the introductory novel in this trilogy, so I’m confident that I’ll get my fix in the sequels.

Cassandra Clare’s writing style is eloquent and she painted the cold, damp, and drab atmosphere with aplomb. I was easily transported to 1870’s London. The pacing is what I’ve come to expect from her writing, she drops clues to keep us enticed every few pages, and does not neglect character development. If I was being really picky, I would say this was the tiniest bit waffly, but because I enjoy this universe so much, it did not bother me much.

I can’t say anything about the plot, because I had read this before, so there were no surprises… but I think on the initial reading the ending really got me. There’s a few twists and red herrings that make this an enjoyable read.

Happily recommend ‘Clockwork Angel’ to lovers of historical fiction, steampunk, fantasy, magic, and fans of the Shadowhunter universe.

Overall feeling: Felt like coming home after a long day.

© 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 – ‘Salvation’ (#3 Sanctuary) by Caryn Lix

Another twist in the saga as a bunch of powered teens battle hungry aliens…

Genre: YA, Science Fiction

No. of pages: 432

Fall down seven times, get up eight.

These are the words Kenzie has always lived by. The problem is, she’s fallen down too many times to count.

Kenzie and her friends have already escaped two vicious alien attacks—not to mention the corporate bounty hunters sent to capture them. They’re haunted by the friends they’ve lost and the hard choices they’ve had to make in this war they never asked for.

And now, thanks to superpowers she received from the very aliens she’s fighting, Kenzie has stranded everyone on a strange planet with no way off. She just wanted a safe place from the monstrous creatures terrorizing her world, but this new planet has dangers of its own, and Kenzie will have to uncover its secrets if she has any hope of ever making it home again.

Sacrifice is nothing new for Kenzie. She’ll do anything—anything—to destroy the aliens that killed both of her parents. But how can Kenzie save Earth if she can’t even save the people she loves?

Salvation’ is a wonderful and unexpected twist on the Sanctuary trilogy. This concluding novel really captured my imagination but managed to stay grounded in reality as protagonists have to face consequences of their actions.

We see more loss in ‘Salvation’ and I’m on the fence over how this is dealt with… but I guess for a YA novel, and needing to move the plot forward, the author did justice for the characters and story, despite the gruelling situations.

I don’t feel like we got much more character development in ‘Salvation’ – the characters have already been put through the ringer. Here, it is more about strengthening their resolve in the face of desperation and insurmountable odds.

I also feel, for the first time, the aliens were finally grounded in the narrative, their backstory is revealed and no longer felt like a two-dimensional, single-minded antagonist.

There is still a juvenile tone to the narrative – as that is the target market for this novel, but I would have liked a more mature and calculated tone to elevate the story and characters. I don’t think it would have isolated the target market, making them feel like intelligent readers.

The pacing is fairly steady and really ramps up in the last quarter of the novel, and had me eagerly flipping through the pages. Though in having said that, I did feel there was a long build up to the conclusion. This is only because we had to go through a whole lot of world building of yet another new environment we find our protagonists in. But it was a fun mystery to unravel… I certainly did not guess it.

In the beginning novels we see a lot of squabbling between the protagonists, but in ‘Salvation’ it is less so because they are a lone group of survivors, reliant on each other to get out of their situation alive. And while Lix does a great job at keeping the clashing personalities strong in the narrative, I felt a need for the characters to have different motivations to create tension, rather than grating personalities. But Lix has done a stellar job in crafting distinct characters that you love to hate, and love to love.

It was a great conclusion to the series, but I was left wanting a little more of resonance on that final paragraph to get a hint at the protagonists’ future… just a minor tweak to really fuel my imagination.

Certainly a great number of surprises and reveals that delighted me. I think it was more tone that stopped me from truly being immersed in the narrative.

Salvation’ has definitely returned to the standard and promise of ‘Sanctuary,’ where ‘Containment’ suffered a little of that middle-book-syndrome. However, a strong finish.

Overall feeling: Surprising sci-fi!

© 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 – ‘Wires and Nerve’ (#1 Wires and Nerve) by Marissa Meyer, Douglas Holgate, and Stephen Gilpin

A hero’s journey from my favourite android of the Lunar Chronicles.

Genre: Y/A, Science Fiction, Graphic Novel

No. of pages: 238

When rogue packs of wolf-hybrid soldiers threaten the tenuous peace alliance between Earth and Luna, Iko takes it upon herself to hunt down the soldiers’ leader. She is soon working with a handsome royal guard who forces her to question everything she knows about love, loyalty, and her own humanity.

This was the graphic novel I didn’t know I needed. Iko is by far my favourite character from the Lunar Chronicles. She’s sassy, funny, and has a juvenile charm that I find endearing. A straight talker who is a girlie-girl and is always looking out for people to be happy and enjoy life. Not to mention how she angsts over cute boys. The fourteen year old girl in me is screaming.

The story takes place after the Lunar Chronicles, when Cinder has overthrown Levana and taken the crown. With the genetically altered Lunar soldiers wreaking havoc on Earth, Iko volunteers to form a one-android military unit to capture the wolf-pack insurgents and return them to Lunar and face consequences and undergo rehabilitation.

As much as I love the concept and following Iko as she stealthily traverses Earth, tracking down the rogue soldiers, the story is not complete – this is volume 1 of a two volume story. But I did get a small amount of resolution to the story, there is a plot twist and this volume ends on a cliff hanger.

Even though Iko is painted in the ‘born yesterday’ trope; highlighting her childish innocence, she is undertaking a very serious and highly stressful task and we start to see her character develop in the challenges she faces. Plus you will get to see all the main characters from the Lunar Chronicles, so this is a must for fans of the series.

Given the graphic novel format, there is not a lot of story packed into the pages and it is a very quick read. The artwork is beautiful, and ‘Wires and Nerve’ was a pleasant reprieve to reading novels, and a great addition to the Lunar Chronicles universe.

I’ve already ordered Volume 2 ‘Gone Rogue’ to complete the story, so look out for a review to complete this duology in the near future.

Overall feeling: Lovely.

© 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

Death and grief are strange creatures, no to are the same, the experiences and repercussions are always different – and it is inevitable that we will experience both in our lifetimes. It is always such a romantic notion in books, but the reality is visceral, devastating, and breaks you into pieces.

Book Review – ‘Heartstopper : Volume Three’ (#3 Heartstopper) by Alice Oseman

Love is in the air with a field trip to Paris.

Genre: Y/A, Contemporary, Romance, LGBTQIA+, Graphic Novel

No. of pages: 384

 The Heartstopper gang go on a school trip to Paris! Not only are Nick and Charlie navigating a new city, but also telling more people about their relationship AND learning more about the challenges each other are facing in private…

Meanwhile Tao and Elle will face their feelings for each other, Tara and Darcy share more about their relationship origin story, and the teachers supervising the trip seem… rather close…?

This volume of ‘Heartstopper’ just upped the adorable factor! We start to get developed side characters and their own arcs, there’s more complexity in the plot, and Charlie and Nick are facing greater challenges. Again this is not a self-encapsulated story, rather just an episode in the growing closeness of Charlie and Nick.

The representation is handled with kitten gloves, but does not water down the fears minority groups face. ‘Heartstopper’ still manages to encapsulate that innocent charm from the previous volumes.

’Heartstopper : Volume Three’ deals with more issues around Nick’s coming out to a wider circle of people, and the pair heading off on a school trip to Paris. There they also start to address intimacy, and how far they are willing to go… and getting close to using the ‘L’ word. It’s nice to read a story that builds the relationship at a more realistic pace and have frank honest discussions about becoming intimate, and comfort levels. It feels like such an intelligent approach and is a great example for today’s youth. I’m sick of the trope when teens get into relationships and weeks later (sometimes much sooner) they sleep together and it’s a magical experience and like a love they could never imagined. That is so unrealistic and robs the characters of being able to grow the foundations of real (loving and intimate) relationships.

Queer relationships from others characters in Charlie and Nick’s immediate circle are also getting air time in the narrative, again giving examples of the many different hues of the rainbow. Tao and Elle. Tara and Darcy. Mr. Ajayi and Mr. Farouk.

We also get a touch on the bullying that Nick suffers from his older brother, and I’m interested to see how the family is going to handle this issue. There is a little more about Charlie and his eating disorder. And the friendship dynamics the pair face in their separate friend circles. There is a lot to unpack from these graphic novels – Such a master of subtext and frank observations on the issues raised.

I’m loving the complexity and scope of this series now, and am eagerly ready to jump into Volume 4. Also with all the updates coming in about the screen adaptation by Netflix with casting and shots from filming on set, I’m incredibly eager to see what they churn out. Looks like we are getting eight 30 minute episodes, but no release date as yet.

Again, ‘Heartstopper : Volume Three’ was another quick paced tome I finished in about an hour. So sweet. I’ve become a major stan.

Overall feeling: Gushing over this!

© 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.