Book Review – ‘Goodbye Paradise’ by Sarina Bowen

It felt like that inappropriate conversation you had at your last dinner party.

Godbye Paradise Book Review Pic 01 by Casey Carlisle.jpgGenre: Contemporary, Romance, GLBT

No. of pages: 266

From Goodreads:

In Paradise, there is no television. No fast food. Just long hours of farm work and prayer on a dusty Wyoming ranch, and nights in a crowded bunkhouse. The boys of the Compound are kept far from the sinners’ world. 

But Joshua doesn’t need temptation to sin. His whole life, he’s wanted his best friend, Caleb. By day they work side by side. Only when Josh closes his eyes at night can they be together the way he craves. 

It can never be. And his survival depends on keeping his terrible desires secret.

Caleb has always protected Josh against the worst of the bullying at the Compound. But he has secrets of his own, and a plan to get away — until it all backfires. 

Josh finds himself homeless in a world that doesn’t want him. Can Caleb find him in time? And will they find a place of safety, where he can admit to Josh how he really feels? 

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This book was difficult and uncomfortable for me. Which feels hard to say because the narrative style and writing was quite pleasant. My discomfort came from the subject matter – a polygamy cult. Most of the time, anything I’ve read with a strong religious element is written so badly, and the prejudices that go along with their belief systems really gets my shackles up – so much that I usually toss (or throw) the book aside in frustration. But my biggest issue with ‘Goodbye Paradise’ was plausibility.

There were so many issues with poorly researched facts that I was grating my teeth through the entire novel. Men at the age of twenty, with a third grade education, isolated from the outside world would have a vastly different mindset to those of Caleb and Joshua. The lexicon they used was way off base. So too were a lot of their behaviours. The structure of the cult was on point, but the psychological ramifications of growing up in that environment were for the most part, completely ignored. Let alone introducing characters struggling with their sexual identity. In reality they would be seriously messed up.

Caleb and Joshua seemed to have everything so easy given their circumstances. So many missed opportunities to develop the characters and have them connect through these difficulties. I mean, the angst could have been off the charts. Instead, there was some fascination (in secret) followed by full on man-groping sex. The way it was written and presented made me lose all interest in seeing this couple together in an intimate way whatsoever. The language was rough and confronting. No romance. Though there were some occasional cuddly moments afterwards… but all that does not a memorable romance make.

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Another pet hate – especially in romance novels with erotic content, is partners calling each other ‘baby.’ It’s just a thing which is a personal trigger of gagging noises… so it was just another thing working against me liking ‘Goodbye Paradise.’

Caleb and Joshua didn’t even have troubles to overcome in the real world all too much. Not over having grown up in a cult, not over having practically no education, and not over their self-tortured homosexuality. Even their attraction with each other was met with little self-flagellation.

I picked this book up after a rave review from a book reviewer I follow, and even after I bought it and read the blurb warning lights went off *trigger warning* this sounds like religious zealots, oppressed homosexuality and explicit sex scenes. This trope has been overdone. A little. But on the faith of a fellow lover of this genre I dived in. It’s a short book anyway, so it wouldn’t take up too much of my time.

The sex scenes did not feel titillating at all. It was all swearing and wham-bam-thank-you-man. Little build up, practically zero foreplay, a brief description of all the important bits, then a short dalliance in the afterglow. For a couple of bible bashed repressed young men, it felt totally out of character. I like my sex scenes to mean something to the plot, and to the characters. I need an emotional connection to find the scene rich and engrossing. Otherwise it comes off as insincere and smutty. ‘Goodbye Paradise’ was just on the wrong side of the line between the two.

So, I couldn’t get past the plausibility of the story to enjoy much else. Salina’s writing is lovely, but am hesitant to try any other one of her titles given the lack of character development, build-up of tension, and the abrupt, couth sex scenes. I don’t think I’d recommend this to anyone – there are so many better written novellas out there. Maybe I’d revisit this author again after she has cut her teeth on many more releases.

I didn’t get the complexity of plot or storyline either that I was hoping for – the blurb of the novel just about summarises the entire book. This was highly predictable with no surprises.

The last 20% of the book was fantastic – the pacing spot on, the plot twist and tension practically created a mini novel within this one. This last section is ‘Goodbye Paradise’s’ saving grace. I’d love to rate it higher, but looking at it as a whole, and what is already on the market, I’m sticking to my guns.

One little factoid – Sarina had previously released this book in 2015 under the pen name Nealy Wagner and it was titled ‘In Front of God and Everyone.’

Overall feeling: I wanted to love this, but I just can’t

Goodbye Paradise Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

Goodbye Paradise Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

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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.

Book Review – ‘Take the Key and Lock Her Up’ by Ally Carter

A perfect political mystery to kick off a CW tv series, or a Disney movie…

Take the Key and Lock Her Up Book Review Pic 01 by Casey Carlisle.jpgGenre: Y/A, Contemporary, Mystery

No. of pages: 327

From Goodreads:

The princess is dead. Long live the princess.

Centuries ago, the royal family of Adria was killed…or so everyone thought.

Now Grace Blakely knows the truth: There was one survivor, and that survivor’s blood runs through her veins. This simple fact could cause a revolution—which is why some people will stop at nothing to keep it from coming to light.

There is only one way for Grace to save herself, save her family, and save the boy she loves. She must outmaneuver her foes, cut through the web of lies that has surrounded her for years, and go back to the source of all her troubles, despite the risk.

If she wins, she will inherit a throne.

And if she loses, she will inherit the fate of all the dead princesses who came before her. 

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A trilogy that culminated in spectacular form! It still reminds me of ‘The Goonies,’ a bunch of teenagers pulling together against all odds, risking peril for their noble quest, ‘Take the Key and Lock Her Up’ captured my youthful excitement with its drama, subterfuge and a European setting.

The narrative dragged a bit for me – continual repetition of clues, rehashing of the past, and Grace’s “episodes’ – all recounted in such efficacy that I ended up putting this book down numerous times because I just wasn’t that into it. But that’s the worst of it.

Take the Key and Lock Her Up Book Review Pic 03 by Casey CarlisleI really liked Grace’s strength in this final installation of the Embassy Row trilogy. She was bad-ass. Though I found her continually slipping into PTSD mode : her episodes, were becoming tiring. I’d much rather see her come to terms with her demons earlier on in the piece. The whole wounded damsel thing was wearing thin. Especially when she was able to dismiss it and launch into terrifying situations in other moments. A little inconsistent from someone suffering the mental issues Grace was tackling.

The mystery side of things is expert level 10! I loved all of the plot twists, how facts were revealed, it is truly the best part of this series. Carter really knows how to plot and pace a story.

The rest of the Scooby Gang that featured so prominently in the first book, their relevance, and presence has slowly dwindled with each installment. To the point where I wasn’t really believing their friendship by the conclusion of ‘Take the Key and Lock Her Up.’ Grace manages to push people away and get so tied up in her predicament, she comes across as being a friend only when she needs their help for something. And don’t get me started on her brother Jamie – he felt like a prop, rather than a key person to the storyline and her motivation.

The same can be said for the love interest, Alexei, I got so invested in them over the second book (‘See How They Run’) of the trilogy, but didn’t feel the magic here.

I liked the twists and turns, but ‘Take the Key and Lock Her Up’ felt like some of the antagonists were practically cartoonish. The novel, and series, feels more like a Saturday cartoon serial than realistic YA fiction. It lacked a certain maturity in the writing style. I think it could have been streamlined and something extra injected into the narrative to give it some oomph without isolating its demographic.

It was fun, and I enjoyed ‘Take the Key and Lock Her Up,‘ but as you can gather from my review there is a tone of disappointment. It’s like the complexity and character development has been decreasing with each instalment. I really wanted things to go out in a mammoth climax. And while it was spectacular as far as plot goes, I did not connect so much with the characters this time. I didn’t get that buzz when I finished the last page like I normally do.

I won’t say it was predictable – because what I assumed was going to happen, totally didn’t. I really think if I had been able to get emotionally invested in the cast more, I would have given this a full five stars/kisses because the writing is marvelous, the story outstanding… it was just slightly juvenile… (which *cough* is totally is marketed demographic, so maybe I should just leave the room)

Definitely recommend this for younger YA audiences who love a mystery, lost princesses, action, and a bit of political intrigue.

Overall feeling: Bring me more popcorn!

Take the Key and Lock Her Up Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

Take the Key and Lock Her Up Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

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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.

 

Book Review – ‘No Ordinary Star’ by M.C. Frank

Did not shine brightly for me.

No Ordinary Star Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Science Fiction

No. of pages: 150

From Goodreads:

A soldier is summoned to the North Pole, days before the year changes, told to fix the great Clock for a celebration. He has no idea what to do. 

A girl, hunted for the crime of being born, almost dies out on the ice. She is rescued by the last polar bear left alive. 

A library waits for them both, a library built over a span of a hundred years, forgotten in the basement of an ice shack. 

The world hasn’t known hunger or sickness in hundreds of years. It has also forgotten love and beauty.
The year is 2525. 

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‘No Ordinary Star’ hit me hard from the get-go. With little world building and jumping straight into the action; I was clamouring to makes sense of what the book is about. The writing style feels clunky and I haven’t quite worked out what the subtext of the narrative is yet. Unfortunately this confusion stayed with me right to the end.

It’s hard to give this a good review because the story didn’t go anywhere and left everything hanging. Not even a cliff hanger as such. It felt like someone left half way through the conversation. Upon further research, I discovered that it’s one book released in three parts. I’m uncertain if this is meant to be a marketing ploy, or a way to get around contractual obligations to a publishing company (similar to Colleen Hoover and the Never Never trilogy.) But I wasn’t left with a feeling of completion once reaching the end.

So with the clambering to work out what was going on in the world of the novel, the cumbersome writing style, which is beautiful and intelligent, but does not match the genre or tone of the plot, and then concluding with-

It literally felt like it stopped mid-sentence.

I did like how the main characters, Felix and Astra are experiencing so many things for the first time. Things of nostalgia set in our present. Their reactions are delicious. But it only added to the dysphoria I had. It needed more context. Another aspect I found cool was the polar bear – he had more personality than the main characters. Even if he felt like a guest star – there one moment, gone the next without explanation.

Yeah, I can’t give this a nod of approval at all. My opinion may change drastically after the next instalment ‘No Plain Rebel’ but if I go to the point of buying a book, I want to slip easily into its fantasy world, relate to the main characters, understand what is going on, and feel like I get some pay-off, some resolution of an issue faced at the beginning of the story. I don’t feel like I got any of that with ‘No Ordinary Star.’

It was too metaphysical for my tastes, painting a landscape that took until the end of the novel for me to grasp, and so many underlying philosophical musings to enjoy how ‘a boy rescues girl and then…’ storyline. Additional to my issues with the way it has been published, characters and story. I found a number of grammatical errors that could have been picked up from a basic proof read which also added to my disappointment.

With a concept that is highly intriguing, I will give this trilogy one more chance to hook me in. Fingers crossed M.C. Frank can serve me some humble pie!

Overall feeling: one big poop emoji

No Ordinary Star Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

No Ordinary Star Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

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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.

The Culture of ME

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What is happening to the representation of girls in pop culture?

I was conducting a foray into the upcoming trends in pop culture because I like the content I’m writing about in my YA novels to connect and resonate with their audience. Which is a bit of an oxymoron in this case, because from what I was exposed to, books are the last thing on this demographic’s mind. Yes, this is a bit of a generalisation, but when I caught shows like Promposal and My Sweet Sixteen on MTV, I was disgusted with the amount of gratuitous wealth, and the focus of the stories being young girls who basically labelled themselves as princesses and idols with little moral substance. Even some of the upcoming Youtubers fall into this privileged background, their channels are either revolved around themselves, or what their money can buy. I’m all about self-confidence and self-empowerment – but much of this came off as selfish.

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It had me extremely worried about the future of the human race, the ecology of the planet, and as much as I write books for myself and to create something I would like to read – will there really be a market for my babies once they are ready to hit the shelves?

Every time the star of the episode or webcast opened his/her mouth, all I could hear coming out is “Me, me, me, me, me, me. Look at me.” I was hoping that I would witness some act of kindness towards their friends, some sacrifice they would make for someone less fortunate… I guess the writer in me is used to protagonists having to struggle through hardship to obtain a goal, where these lifestyle and reality shows are only encouraging a culture of mirror gazing and low self-worth. Youtube videos are turning into infomercials, rants and whines, and more I’m beautiful, I’m a star. Worship me.

The Culture of ME Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Maybe I’m just seeing the bottom end of the bell curve. The ignorance of youth. The vapid and soulless content. With technology and trends today, we see a lot of low-budget quality hitting our screens. And with immature content creators having a narrow view of the world, who are yet to find themselves, should we really be letting them broadcast this experimentation to the wider public? At least there is a lot more to choose from now, and I can speak up against all that I find abhorrent with the click of my finger in search of something more entertaining, or more educational, or more uplifting. Because pop culture can be fun! It can be hilarious and entertaining.

I could sound like some bitter old person standing out front of a house screeching and the neighbourhood children to “Get off my lawn!” After witnessing some of the low-brow productions, I’d love to launch a campaign that says, “Get some substance.” But that’s just me having a rant. Everyone is free to grow and experience the world, freedom of speech. Let’s hope some of them get exposure to wider issues and not being able to get a helicopter drop them off at the party is the biggest drama on the planet.

I realise that much of the content I’m talking about is marketed towards the 12-18 age bracket, or produced by kids of the same age on laptops and iphones. They have yet to gain perspective outside of their bedroom walls and clique at school. They have a diet of glossy magazines, talent reality shows, and famous Youtubers bringing in the big dollars. Is it any wonder that they think such notoriety is easily obtained? The hours (or years) of hard work and commitment behind the scenes has been left out of the narrative. So too has the fact that those who this next generation are trying to emulate are one in a million, trail blazers, and have built a business off of what they see. It takes smarts, support, and a lot of effort to get there. Networking. Educating themselves… well you get the picture.

So when I see the amount of money being thrown about on vanity, I can’t help but wonder if they could donate to the homeless, start their own business and offer employment to someone supporting a family, or even at least to stop and think about something else other than themselves. Though I must admit, these types of girls portrayed on the screen are the perfect antagonists. So maybe I should stop the criticism and use their traits for villains and bullies in my writing. In the ‘80’s we saw very stereotyped characters dominate pop culture, and while now there is a lot more complexity and diversity out there, we are starting to see a new wave of two-dimensional characters emerge in our media. Mass Market goods.

The Culture of ME Pic 02 by Casey CarlisleLuckily, many of the young adults I’ve chatted to about this trend view it as idiotic comedy, much in the vein of Jackass, mindless viewing ready to be picked apart and ridiculed. Why applaud this critical viewing, I wonder if is not supporting a culture of “reading” or “throwing shade” because it populates a negativity. Bring back the Spice Girls I say, I want fun, bright colours, a bit of cheekiness and lots of girl power.

 

 

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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.

Book Review – ‘By Your Side’ by Kasie West

Locked in a library for the long weekend sounds like a dream come true for me… but this novel was a snooze.

By Your Side Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Contemporary, Romance

No. of pages: 346

From Goodreads:

When Autumn Collins finds herself accidentally locked in the library for an entire weekend, she doesn’t think things could get any worse. But that’s before she realizes that Dax Miller is locked in with her. Autumn doesn’t know much about Dax except that he’s trouble. Between the rumors about the fight he was in (and that brief stint in juvie that followed it) and his reputation as a loner, he’s not exactly the ideal person to be stuck with. Still, she just keeps reminding herself that it is only a matter of time before Jeff, her almost-boyfriend, realizes he left her in the library and comes to rescue her.

Only he doesn’t come. No one does.

Instead it becomes clear that Autumn is going to have to spend the next couple of days living off vending-machine food and making conversation with a boy who clearly wants nothing to do with her. Except there is more to Dax than meets the eye. As he and Autumn first grudgingly, and then not so grudgingly, open up to each other, Autumn is struck by their surprising connection. But can their feelings for each other survive once the weekend is over and Autumn’s old life, and old love interest, threaten to pull her from Dax’s side?

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I don’t know what happened, but this has to be my least favourite book by Kasie West. It was still cute, saccharine and romantic goodness. But the characters felt less nuanced, the plot not so credible, and the angst barely there.

I still enjoyed her narrative style, it flows easily and lends to a quick read. I enjoyed the aspect of the protagonist, Autumn, having anxiety disorder – though I feel it could have been explored more, taken more seriously.

Autumn. What to say about Autumn. The anxiety certainly gave her interest, but other than that, she lacked complexity and intelligence. I hate to say it, but she was so bland. Vanilla. #likeeveryotherwhitechick.

Dax showed some promise. A cute, overlooked loner. Hiding pain from a troubled family life. I was waiting for more. Waiting for the twist. But none came. All the characters seemed to be exactly what they were upon first impression. There were no surprises, no big reveals. I think that’s why I found this novel disappointing.

By Your Side Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Though, Dallin, one of Autumn’s larrikin friends added some much needed tension, it didn’t put enough pressure on the plot to raise the stakes high enough for me to get really invested. And Jeff, the guy Autumn had been pining over was so agreeable and happy, he was like a cute puppy. I think there was a major opportunity lost in not giving him any more depth of character than that. So too can be said for Lisa, the best friend. Autumn’s clique did little to add to the storyline, other than a static choral of hyperactive, generic teens.

I really loved the concept of this novel, but on the whole it felt under-cooked, under-developed. It lacked the punch that I expect from her writing by now.

On a side note: for some reason my copy of ‘By Your Side’ felt cheaply produced the quality of paper and bind-up was thin and wrinkled. I was in constant fear I’d damage the book just by reading it.

By Your Side’ is still a fun read. By no means up to Kasie’s normal standard, but hits all the marks of a soppy romance. Where her books remind me of a satisfying rom-com or cheesy CW show, ‘By Your Side’ felt like a bad Hallmark movie production. I think only die-hard West fans and readers who gorge on romance novels will get anything from this novel, but unfortunately, it’s not one I’m going to recommend freely.

Let’s hope her next release ‘Lucky In Love’ to be released on the 25th of this month returns to her usual writing style and we can chalk ‘By Your Side’ as just a bump in the road.

Overall feeling: it was like warm soup in my hands…

By Your Side Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

By Your Side Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

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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.

 

No fun for this waterbaby ☹

The aftermath of Cyclone Debbie and water turbidity

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I love putting my Marine Biology degree to use and volunteering for colleagues in their research, and I had signed on for a number of data collecting expeditions in the first half of this year, but my excitement was dashed when Cyclone Debbie reared her head in March, kicking up sediment, increasing freshwater runoff.

Many of the species we were to observe or tag left the area and hadn’t returned with enough population to warrant a survey. Additionally, the turbidity and visibility of the water hampered the chosen sites and work was delayed or cancelled for the time being. So I was left with a big sad face.

I would have loved to get involved with a study on the silt deposits from run-off on the reef, or how nutrient run off increases certain organism population or algal blooms in the area; but no-one I knew was conducting a foray into these areas at the moment. No luck for this girl. I was tempted to conduct my own study just for the fun of it, but that kind of endeavour takes a little bit of money and extra volunteers. I can’t justify the time an effort spent to organise when I should be writing. That’s how I weigh up every activity at the moment: is it worth me taking time of writing or not? Only because I’m determined to finish some projects this year, no matter how strong the call of the sea!

I did get one small morning survey for starfish species. A bit of light snorkelling on a sunny day in a more remote area of the Sunshine Coast to compare to the more popular and trafficked areas. More to monitor the impact of tourism and industry on the local species.

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Though because it was only a short amount of time to get the job done, I didn’t have the opportunity to swim around photographing some of the sights for my blog. Though I did manage to get a selfie – the only good one out of ten. My photographer had a hard time keeping the camera still.

It has been the least scientific of all my adventures. And without incident of my clumsiness. Prone to slipping on rocks, falling down, tripping – or getting slapped in the face by a turtle. I endure all of this for my love of the ocean and its inhabitants. Looking forward to a few adventures nearer to Christmas. Turtle tagging, some research into plankton species which will mostly be conducted in a lab, a trawling sample, and maybe a coastline survey. Sadly no dugong studies this year.

I’m still wanting to do some more nosing around in the natural spring in my back yard and get a population survey of what is right under my nose. I hear the spring has been seeded with Barramundi!

But writing first.

Head Under Water by Casey Carlisle

© 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.