Book Review – ‘Spark’ (#2 The Elementals) by Brigid Kemmerer

Hot boy trouble and teen drama.

Spark (#2 Elementals) Book Review Pic 01 by Casey Carlisle.jpgGenre: Y/A, Paranormal, Romance

No. of pages: 345

From Goodreads:

Gabriel Merrick plays with fire. Literally. Sometimes he can even control it. And sometimes he can’t. Gabriel has always had his brothers to rely on, especially his twin, Nick. But when an arsonist starts wreaking havoc on their town, all the signs point to Gabriel. Only he’s not doing it. And no one seems to believe him. Except a shy sophomore named Layne, a brainiac who dresses in turtlenecks and jeans and keeps him totally off balance. Because Layne has a few secrets of her own…

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I have to say I enjoyed this much more than ‘Storm.’ It was slightly more complex, and although it still had a lot of YA tropes and machismo that frustrated me, their dominance was less present in the storyline. Plus, I felt a stronger connection to the main characters, Gabriel being an angry loner, and Layne being a bookish nerd who doesn’t believe she is beautiful due to some unfortunate scars. Additionally the sense of family was much stronger. In ‘Storm’ the boys always bickered and fought like young bucks jostling for king of the pride; where in ‘Spark’ we start to see more of the person behind the roles they play and how each is slightly damaged, and what they have sacrificed. This ultimately led me to find the Merrick boys much more endearing. With ‘Storm’ I was annoyed with all the boys-will-be-boys behaviour and the amount of bullying that went on. ‘Spark’ brings a strong sense of belonging and comradery.

Mentioning bullying – it feels like every second person in this universe is a psychopath in the wings, waiting to impact with maximum devastation. It’s all so unrealistic and dramatic. But given the tone of this YA novel, it tends to the angsty, over-emphasised flare to create pace, drama, and engage the reader. This series feels like it had strong shades of the Lux series by Jennifer L. Armentrout. A group of special teens, just trying to be normal and fit in while battling oppressive forces trying to kill them, all the while hiding their existence from the general public.

Spark (#2 Elementals) Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle.jpgGabriel managed to tick me off quite a bit, he is impulsive, reactionary and quick to use his fists. I kept flashing back to high school and those immature teen boys I wanted to drown in a river. Kemmerer captures that mix of boy and man, fuelled by hormone that we find both frustrating and loveable at the same time. Gabriel is definitely a flawed character and makes plenty of stupid decisions, some led by the character, and others I felt designed by Kemmerer herself in setting up plot and a big reveal.

Layne is my favourite character in this series so far. Yes, she is stereotypical, but I connected to her altruistic nature and insecurity. To her nerdiness and sass.

But the stand out performance has to come from the oldest Merrick, Michael. In ‘Storm’ he seemed to always be getting in the way – an obstacle to work around, where in ‘Spark’ Michael comes to the forefront with compassion, sacrifice, and wisdom. You really get a sense that he is the lynchpin holding the family together.

Spark’ is addictive and dramatic, but not a masterpiece. It is what it says it is on the cover. A marvellous YA romp. Expect stereotypes, tropes and lots of hot boys. This is definitely a guilty pleasure for me. The kind of quick fun read to give me a break in-between denser tomes.

I’m not so convinced on the propensity of Kemmerer to couple everyone up –  it feels a little contrite, but that is the trend in YA paranormal romances, so be prepared for some tension filled stories of boys finding true love – and a little of themselves along the way.

I feel like we don’t get as much of the play on the brothers elemental powers in ‘Spark’ – this is a more character driven story. But you get a sense of things building, leading to a battle so I’m sure in the next instalments we’ll get some grand-scale supernatural goodness… just the kind of thing that excited me about this series in the first place.

I managed to read this in a day. It’s punchy and each chapter drives the story forward. A change of perspective between Gabriel and Layne doesn’t really feel all that necessary for the plot, it lays out the storyline plainly and loses a bit of tension. But it gives us teen lamenting in return. A fun tweeny read that I find oddly compulsive; I will be continuing on, intrigued to see where Kemmerer is going to take us.

Overall feeling: getting to like this better.

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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.

Getting a timeline for your plot.

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On occasion I read a book where suddenly the plot does not seem feasible because the author has ignored a proper timeline. Maybe the editor missed it? Or maybe they neglected to plan out a logical sequence to the events that take place in the story?

It comes down to how you write – your process. If you are a pantser and just go with the flow, assigning a timeline is most likely going to stifle the creativity. But if you are a planner, then this is probably a step you already include in your process.

For a pantser, I’d add this after you’ve nearly finished your manuscript to help fine tune everything. If you are a planner, adding another vector to your plots direction is invaluable.

For me personally, I’m a combination of the two. I like to free-style until I get a meaty chunk of prose to look at. Is it a solid concept? Are my characters interesting? It there enough of an idea for a novel? Usually the content I’m working with is a collection of scenes equivalent to about three to five chapters. From there I start to weave a more intricate plot. That way I can remove anything that is dragging the pace of the story, see if my character is working, ensure the antagonist and challenges my protagonist faces are introduced in the right points of my hero’s journey.

It usually takes the form of pages of hand-written scribbles that I transpose into an Excel spreadsheet. Broken up into chapters, I detail what happens (story); how each chapter drives the story forward (plot), How each chapter increases the stakes (pace & tension); and the amount of time that passes (timeline.) I began to introduce this last column because after sending my first novel out to beta readers and edits, I discovered that on two occasions my weekends lasted three days, and the main characters – high school students – had to stick to a class schedule… which was all over the place. Urgh, how embarrassing! Such a glaringly obvious faux-par. And so that extra column became invaluable. It helped me keep track of the days passing in my story, but also decreased on the amount of money I was paying to a professional editor by limiting the errors (thus time spent) on my manuscript.

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It also enabled me to keep a realism in my story… and remove superfluous scenes.

Writing is creating art – we all have our own way of doing things. Creation is a personal journey. I like a structure to work to, but the freedom to write what I want. Therefore the guide of an Excel spreadsheet keeps me in check, in context, and on point. Without strangling my creativity. Some writing applications have this inbuilt within the software (like Scrivener,) but I like a one page summary that I can refer to instantly, usually pinned to the wall in front of me while I’m writing.

This chart allows me to see where my story is at, write a future scene, or jump to an entirely different project (with its own spreadsheet.) A great tool to get you into the headspace needed to write. And with the added element of having things timed properly – both in sequence they happen in your novel, and in the amount of time that passes – you are fee to work on whichever scene you want to without getting too mentally jumbled. So when you get stuck somewhere, to avoid writer’s block, jump to a different point in your story and keep writing.

What methods do you use to structure your story? Do plan the whole thing or a few chapters at a time? Does your character guide your story? Is knowing how many days pass in a chapter important to you? Have you seen a better method for plotting that works for you?

And in the meantime – happy writing! 🙂

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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 – ‘Bonkers – My Life in Laughs’ by Jennifer Saunders

A woman who is a quiet pioneer, and simply loves to laugh and see the best in any situation…

Bonkers Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Non Fiction, Autobiography

No. of pages: 320

From Goodreads:

‘As the steady march of time takes its toll on my memory and the vultures circle, I thought I should have a stab at recollecting how it all happened. . .’

Jennifer Saunders’ brilliant comic creations have brought joy to millions for three decades. From Comic Strip to Comic Relief, from Bolly-swilling Edina in Absolutely Fabulous to Meryl Streep in Mamma Mia, her characters are household names.

But it’s Jennifer herself who has a place in all our hearts. This is her funny, touching and disarmingly honest memoir, filled with stories of friends, laughter and occasional heartache – but never misery.

From her childhood on RAF bases, where her father was a pilot, to her life-changing encounter with a young Dawn French, on to success and family, the book charts her extraordinary story, including the slip ups and battles along the way.

Prepare to chuckle, cry, and whoop with delight.

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It’s very amusing, a light tone oozing through the narrative. Life is always painted in positivity and promise. It was very, dare I say, English.

The best parts, I found, had to deal with the behind the scenes stuff about becoming a comedian, getting the gigs, and inventing new material for her career. Anecdotes with Dawn French, Ruby Wax, Joanna Lumley and Goldie Hawn are brilliant, and are like your sitting there having a natter over a glass of champagne. Jennifer Saunders work ethic, being an artist at heart, is blunt and honest and has cemented Sandwich as a girl after my own heart. Endearing.

Dealing with elements of communication from the past – before technology butted in and removed much of the need for the written word are instilled with Jennifer’s particular brand of silliness. It reminds me of the notes I used to pass between my girlfriends in high school classes.

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The narrative tends to wander a bit. Following Saunders train of thought before being dragged back to finish the story in earnest. Sometimes it was with a delicious side story, sometimes with some backstory, and sometimes with something nonsensical, mildly interesting, bordering on dull.

For the most part I found ‘Bonkers – My Life in Laughs‘ entertaining and educational. But in some parts, and more frequently towards the end, a little waffly.

I especially loved the chapters over Jennifer dealing with cancer. How she got through it, what happened, and how it affected her life a short time after. It was personal for me. I could relate to so much of it having experienced my own journey. It is also a tale to promote for all women to get regular mammograms. Many stories I’ve read about cancer suffrage deal with being sick and feeling shite. But Saunders kept her positive outlook powering right on through. As I did. My strongest memory is still pissing myself laughing at episodes of ‘Glee‘ on my laptop in attempts to keep up the positive energy and distract from what I was told of an unavoidable 6 month expiration date.

Overall feeling: Positively funny

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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 – ‘Vitro’ (#2 Corpus) by Jessica Khoury

A great adventure that questions the morality of scientific exploration.

Vitro (Corpus #2) Book Review Pic 01 by Casey Carlisle.jpgGenre: Y/A, Science Fiction, Adventure, Romance

No. of pages: 384

From Goodreads:

On a remote island in the Pacific, Corpus scientists have taken test tube embryos and given them life. These beings—the Vitros—have knowledge and abilities most humans can only dream of. But they also have one enormous flaw.

Sophie Crue is determined to get to Skin Island and find her mother, a scientist who left Sophie behind years ago. She enlists hunky charter pilot Jim Julien to take her there. But once on the island, Sophie and Jim encounter more than they bargained for, including a charming, brilliant Vitro named Nicholas and an innocent, newly awoken one named Lux.

In a race for their lives, Sophie and Jim are about to discover what happens when science stretches too far beyond its reach.

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I initially read the first novel of this collection over two years ago, and while I enjoyed ‘Origin,’ it felt like there was something missing. ‘Vitro’ and the third book in this trilogy ‘Kalahari’ are not sequels, but rather companion novels, it is easy to see a marked improvement in Khoury’s storytelling skills with each installment. None of these novels need to be read in order either, they are all strong standalones set in the same universe.

Vitro’ marks a great adventure from Jessica Khoury. One thing with her books is that they are thoroughly researched. The landscape is so picturesque and oozes from the page, so too does the science – though fictitious, there are enough of the basics honed in science fact to give a sense of believability. You really feel like you’re there along with the protagonist. Just brilliant.

Vitro (Corpus #2) Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle.jpgSophie was a great main character. I liked her do or die attitude. She doubted herself very little even though she struggled with emotional demons and desired a place to belong. I wrestled more with the story towards the end – so much happened that I couldn’t as easily connect with Sophie or her choices. But still a great journey to read along with.

Sophie’s love interest, Jim was my hero. Literally my new fictional boyfriend crush. He was like a zombie – Khoury threw everything at this guy and he just kept getting back up! Loved it. I almost wished there was a spin off adventure series for Jim. I’ve read that this trilogy is the end for the corpus series – but really there are infinite possibilities to revisit and write more. I’m a big believer in never say never…

The pacing was better than ‘Origin,’ there were just a few moments where the narrative felt waffly, either in exposition or dialogue. But it was easy to skim past and get to the good stuff.

Something about the concept of this book that was morbidly fascinating. It didn’t sit well with me… I guess because of its implications. I squirmed a bit. It also felt a little unfinished, or not fully realised as the concepts in ‘Origin.’ There also seemed to be a lot of layers of story with ‘Vitro’ too. I loved the complexity, but it came close to feeling messy. I think the subtext of the book is what left me most uncomfortable‎. The different shades of humanity we see coming out in the different characters and how it ask us some big questions.

Again Khoury’s writing style and explicit description of landscape was thoroughly engaging. If she wrote travel books I’d never have to leave home.

Definitely an engaging read that I’d recommend to lovers of adventure with a science fiction twist. I had no hesitation in purchasing the final book in this collection ‘Kalahari,’ the review for that one is to come later this month.

Overall feeling: FMTFO! (freak me the firetruck out!)

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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.

Film vs Novel – Before I Fall

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Reliving mean girl teen rudeness.

It’s been well over six months since I’ve done a book to film comparison, and given there have been a plethora of titles released recently I thought I’d better pull my finger out 😉

I started reading ‘Before I Fall’ a few times, abandoning it and returning before making any head way. All the immaturity, the teen girl snarkiness and bullying was just so tiresome. Plus the Groundhog styled repetition of the same day lagged the pacing. However I didn’t get that same lengthiness and drag from the film.

Before I Fall FvN Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle.jpgI didn’t particularly like Sam for most of the novel. She wears the moniker ‘bitch’ unapologetically and seems to pinball from one social scene to the next, swaying under the banner of peer pressure and grasping to remain at the top of the social hierarchy. Then about halfway through the novel things changed. Sam became much more interesting, her choices became more altruistic. I laughed so hard in her ‘rebellious’ day it added a much needed punch to a novel I was starting to find boring. In contrast the film version of Sam (played by Zoey Deutch – and the main reason I wanted to see this film) seemed to be more of an observer and the quiet one of the group, where in the book she is much more involved in the bullying and teen drama.

Additionally, the sex scene with Rob (her teacher) was messed up – didn’t even know if they have sex, but it is heavily alluded to in the film, whereas the novel kept it at heavy flirtation.

One big difference in the plot was in the book she only repeats the day seven times – it’s much more in the film with numerous versions of the day being flashed up on the screen montage-style.

The supporting cast felt all “very teen” – wrapped up in their own dramas and self-importance. So the characterization was bang on, though I had little patience for their carry on. Sheesh I felt so old reading this book. It didn’t have quite that impact on me with the film version – while they were still representing teens drinking, partying and being rebellious, it didn’t feel as frustrating. Possibly because that behaviour was given less screen time in comparison to the dominance in the story line.

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Before I Fall’ has a pretty easy writing style, a plain melodic beat that once the pace picked up in the second half of the novel, I flew through. I liked the tone the novel set: it glances at repercussions of behaviour, atonement, bullying, suicide, depression, compassion, and acceptance. For such a wishy-washy teen babbling premise, it alludes to some much more serious issues. The movie kept the concept and tone (and the message) but overall the narrative felt flat and drawn out (but better than the written version). It took a while for the story to get its legs and many of the characters really aren’t that nice of people. But they redeem themselves in increments… something I didn’t really get from the novel.

I found there was also some missed context in some of the scenes of the film – they did not make a whole lot of sense, where in the book there was always an explanation. I think those who have not read the novel before viewing the movie may not quite grasp the relevance of some scenes.

I’d recommend the novel to lovers of YA who don’t mind a slow developing story. Plenty of drama and hijinks. Weird in some places, but the cyclical structure of the story resolves everything nicely. And like the proverbial light in the opening scene, you see it coming and there is nothing you can do to avoid it. The movie was fun – and if you only thought it was okay – and don’t attempt the novel. The visual summarisation is slightly more entertaining in my opinion.

Id’ give the novel 3 ¼ out of 5 stars, and the film a 3 ½ … close, but the film for the win.

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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 – ‘Storm’ (#1 The Elementals) by Brigid Kemmerer

Trashy and terribly addictive.

Storm (#1 Elementals) Book Review Pic 01 by Casey Carlisle.jpgGenre: Y/A, Paranormal, Romance

No. of pages: 432

From Goodreads:

Earth, Fire, Air, Water – they have more power than you dream.

Ever since her ex-boyfriend spread those lies about her, Becca Chandler is suddenly getting all the guys—all the ones she doesn’t want. Then she saves Chris Merrick from a beating in the school parking lot. Chris is different. Way different: he can control water—just like his brothers can control fire, wind, and earth. They’re powerful. Dangerous. Marked for death.

And now that she knows the truth, so is Becca.

Secrets are hard to keep when your life’s at stake. When Hunter, the mysterious new kid around school, turns up with a talent for being in the wrong place at the right time, Becca thinks she can trust him. But then Hunter goes head-to-head with Chris, and Becca wonders who’s hiding the most dangerous truth of all.

The storm is coming . . .
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This was so typically YA. It had so many of the tropes. But I did enjoy it somewhat. It fell into my guilty pleasure category like the Lux series from Jennifer L. Armentrout.

Cue damsels in distress. Cue a love triangle. Cue stubborn boys who treat girls badly. Cue hormone addled teenage boy brains. It had so many tropes I was rolling my eyes. But I also like bad sci-fi and horror movies – I get a delicious kick out of them, and so too did I get a kick out of ‘Storm.’

I was frustrated with all the testosterone being flung around at many points. The possessive nature of the love interests. And everyone seemed okay with putting their hands on Becca to stop her, hold her, it was all a bit misogynistic. That aside, it was also dramatic, and tension-filled like so many pop culture tv movies. It’s the type of thing I enjoy to read every now and then. A quick easy fun adventure.

With so many of the elements that usually annoy the heck out of me in a story, ‘Storm’ could have been a massive flop, but something about this worked… I was always eager to see what was going to happen next. Curiosity, pace and tension were constant throughout. I think if some of the tropes had been eliminated or satirised, I would be singing the books praises, instead, it hit a middle-of-the-road vibe for me. Enjoyable and interesting, engaging even, but not too original.

Storm (#1 Elementals) Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle.jpgTold from dual perspectives of the ‘couple’ Becca and Chris, there was a heavy element of ‘tell’ and not ‘show.’

Beca annoyed me as a protagonist, she flip-flopped from one boy to another, always with some body part on her mind. It didn’t feel like she had much else going on except for all the beefcake circling her. She has her moments of stubbornness and empowerment which redeemed her character for me, but then she’d slip into a damsel in distress, or boy-crazy teen, and I was back to the eye-rolling.

Chris was aggravating, if it wasn’t for reading moments from his POV, I’d written him off completely. But he manages to pull a few rabbits out of the hat by displaying compassion and selflessness in between growling and getting all up in the faces of other males in Becca’s orbit.

Hunter was endearing. Charming. And then he fell prey to the possessive posturing too – seriously, I could feel testosterone dripping out of this book. There are a lot of unanswered questions about Hunter – even at the end I still did not get the resolution I was craving for – I’m guessing it will come in one of the following novels in the series. For the most part I’d have to say he was my favourite character. Whether he’s there just to add tension to the Becca-Chris relationship, or an actual viable option for Becca is still unclear.

Brigid’s writing is easy-going, and I read the book in a day. She manages to capture the frustrating teen boy nature perfectly. I literally wanted to reach my hand through the pages and throttle some of the characters. Many times. There are moments of swearing and bullying, and even moments of humour causing me to bark out loud.

As for predictability, I don’t know if I was having a good day or not, but I guessed the entire plot very early on, and even all the sub plots… so no surprises for me. But I still had fun.

It’s on the fence if I’d recommend this – I can see how some would find this derivative, and how others would love the teen angst and soap opera of it all. So if you love trashy paranormal romances – this one’s for you… if you like more intellectually challenging books, maybe skip this title.

Overall feeling: Overloaded on trashy teen drama!

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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.