Book Review – ‘Iceberg’ by Clive Cussler

A clusterf*#k of political incorrectness.

Iceberg (#3 Dirk Pitt) Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Action Adventure

No. of pages: 340

From Goodreads:

Frozen inside a million-ton mass of ice-the charred remains of a long missing luxury yacht, vanished en route to a secret White House rendezvous.  The only clue to the ship’s priceless-and missing-cargo: nine ornately carved rings and the horribly burned bodies of its crew. 

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I’ve been a fan of Cussler since my teen years, but this singular novel really tested my nerve. I can forgive a little machismo – it’s to be expected in this genre and series, but when Cussler has Dirk Pitt playing a stereotype of a gay man – even so far as to use the word faggot a number of times, I wanted to set the book on fire. It was in such poor taste to read these hate-filled slurs. It highlights all the issues of discrimination that the LGBTQIA+ community face.

Cussler used about every negative trope around this issue in ‘Iceberg’ with the protagonist Dirk Pit undercover as a homosexual artist, staring hungrily at men’s crotches like a sexual predator, acting submissive and weak, wearing over-the-top colourful clothing, and flowery speech. This goes on for half the novel. It is obvious that Cussler adopted this writing style for it to come off as comedic, but it just shows his insensitivity and ignorance.

To compound the issue there are continual cracks about crazy women and menopause, or someone on their period – that was also meant to be jocular. The female characters were irrational tittering things meant to look pretty and fetch coffee. Their only goal to land a good husband. They were diminished to a sexual object, nursemaid, or servant. It came off as highly offensive.

Iceberg (#3 Dirk Pitt) Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

I just don’t understand. Was Clive Cussler on some sort of acid trip writing ‘Iceberg?’ I’ve read over 15 of his novels and never come across such blatant misogyny. Maybe I should stop making allowances for Cussler’s overused tropes and start calling him on them in my reviews… I read his novels for the emphasised adventure, the marine environment, and the espionage. ‘Iceberg’ was overshadowed with such a distasteful display of tropes and writing I am literally gobsmacked. Way to offend half your audience dude.

Looking at other aspects of ‘Iceberg,’ like pacing and plot, it wasn’t so bad, but by no means anywhere near his best. There was a plot twist at the end that I didn’t see coming, but that too left a horrid taste in my mouth. I enjoyed the surprise, but hated the premise it supported.

In all honesty I do not recommend this book to anyone. If fact Cussler should pull it from his catalogue entirely. I know I would be ashamed to have written a novel like this.

Overall feeling: Anger and nausea.

Iceberg (#3 Dirk Pitt) Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Iceberg (#3 Dirk Pitt) Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

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© Casey Carlisle 2019. 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 – ‘Hunted’ by Meagan Spooner

A Beauty and the Beast re-telling with a modern attitude.

Hunted Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Fantasy

No. of pages: 384

From Goodreads:

Beauty knows the Beast’s forest in her bones—and in her blood. Though she grew up with the city’s highest aristocrats, far from her father’s old lodge, she knows that the forest holds secrets and that her father is the only hunter who’s ever come close to discovering them. 

So when her father loses his fortune and moves Yeva and her sisters back to the outskirts of town, Yeva is secretly relieved. Out in the wilderness, there’s no pressure to make idle chatter with vapid baronessas…or to submit to marrying a wealthy gentleman. But Yeva’s father’s misfortune may have cost him his mind, and when he goes missing in the woods, Yeva sets her sights on one prey: the creature he’d been obsessively tracking just before his disappearance. 

Deaf to her sisters’ protests, Yeva hunts this strange Beast back into his own territory—a cursed valley, a ruined castle, and a world of creatures that Yeva’s only heard about in fairy tales. A world that can bring her ruin or salvation. Who will survive: the Beauty, or the Beast? 

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Meagan Spooner tackles a Beauty and the Beast re-telling with ‘Hunted,’ delivering another fantastic incarnation, breathing life into one of my all-time favourite fairy tales.

Hunted Book Review Pic 02 by Casey CarlisleWe follow protagonist Yeva, affectionately called Beauty, while she tries to find her place in the world. She wants more than getting married off in her small village. We see Yeva longing for the forest and hunting with her father. Once tragedy strikes, she begins to embrace the role she’s always wanted… but is it more of an escape than survival?

I loved how we don’t get another bookish beauty with this re-imagining. Yeva stands her own in a male-only occupation. Combined with her mental strength and desire for something more leads her down a darkened path.

Enter the beast.

Spooners reinvented beast is much darker than some other versions I’ve read. He has a duality to him that is distinct and warring for dominance. The mythology in this version feels older than what we get in the Disney version. There is no pretty flower or need to have Beauty fall in love with him to break the spell. This was so much more fun to read. I highly recommend you give this title a go.

The pacing is pretty good – slow in some parts – but only because it is keeping with the cadence of the popular tale. But I did complete ‘Hunted’ in two sittings and was not bored or disinterested in the slower parts enough to put it down and take a break.

We get some prominent themes in ‘Hunted’ which I found delightful. It’s not about romance, more around facing our animalistic nature and thirst for more.

Forget about a Gaston-type character in ‘Hunted’ in the traditional sense. There is no stereotypical fame obsessed machismo set to make Yeva his own. Which was another aspect to this novel that really appealed to me.

Spooners writing style and world building create a picturesque landscape that doesn’t drag too much with details, but keeps the story klipping along at a decent pace.

I’m a little of two minds over the ending. I felt like I wanted something bigger. Only because there were a few parts that I wanted resolved better – but that’s just because I love the big dramatic endings. Especially in the fairy tale genre. But on the whole I’m not mad at reading ‘Hunted.’ I went in dubious, because, you know – yet another Beauty and the Beast re-telling *yawn* But Spooner really got me excited for old becoming new again.

Totally recommend.

Overall feeling: Sucked into the adventure

Hunted Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Hunted Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

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© Casey Carlisle 2019. 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 – ‘Armada’ by Ernest Cline

Sci-fi geek nostalgia abounds!

Armada Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: YA, Science Fiction

No. of pages: 372

From Goodreads:

Zack Lightman has spent his life dreaming. Dreaming that the real world could be a little more like the countless science-fiction books, movies, and videogames he’s spent his life consuming. Dreaming that one day, some fantastic, world-altering event will shatter the monotony of his humdrum existence and whisk him off on some grand space-faring adventure.

But hey, there’s nothing wrong with a little escapism, right? After all, Zack tells himself, he knows the difference between fantasy and reality. He knows that here in the real world, aimless teenage gamers with anger issues don’t get chosen to save the universe.

And then he sees the flying saucer.

Even stranger, the alien ship he’s staring at is straight out of the videogame he plays every night, a hugely popular online flight simulator called Armada—in which gamers just happen to be protecting the earth from alien invaders. 

No, Zack hasn’t lost his mind. As impossible as it seems, what he’s seeing is all too real. And his skills—as well as those of millions of gamers across the world—are going to be needed to save the earth from what’s about to befall it.

It’s Zack’s chance, at last, to play the hero. But even through the terror and exhilaration, he can’t help thinking back to all those science-fiction stories he grew up with, and wondering: Doesn’t something about this scenario seem a little…familiar?

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This book managed to recapture the child in me. I had been obsessed with sci-fi pop culture in the ‘80’s, dreamed of being teleported away to fight in some all-stakes space war and arise the victor. ‘Armada’ delivered on all fronts.

There have been some not so great reviews accusing Ernest Cline of ripping off some popular movies to construct the plot for ‘Armada,’ and well, while there are heavy influences of their storytelling, ‘Armada’ is still a creature of its own, yet stays true to the genre. You could say that about most of the sci-fi from that era… they were all a bit formulaic and followed the same rules. Having said that, I think many readers missed that this is an homage to that type of storytelling. I mean there are huge flashing neon signs pointing to that along the way with copious references to video games, tv shows, movies, scientists, historical events. You’d have to be an idiot to assume Cline intentionally ripped off famous pop culture stories to repackage it as his own. This novel follows the same vein as the ‘Scream’ franchise spoofing common horror tropes.

In that respect, the story is somewhat predictable and we get less surprises because the plot is following a well-known route. To counter that we get the saturation of images from the ‘80’s and ‘90’s to connect with the reader and create interest. The novel is meant to feel familiar. It was such a nostalgic read for me and definitely brought forward cherished memories. But I can’t help wishing there had been some more surprises or plot twists to give ‘Armada’ a touch more individuality – much like ‘Ready Player One’ managed to achieve.

Zack is the quintessential hero protagonist from this genre. A teen having lost his father in mysterious circumstances, driven into a world of escapism to deal with the loss – developing unprecedented skills with computer game simulations. Those skills lead him to be recruited into a clandestine army being raised to fight off an alien threat. Zack gives the impression that he is intelligent beyond his years early on, he questions things, forms his own assumptions, and it was refreshing to see he wasn’t some maverick with a chip on his shoulder or a superior-pleasing army savant. He was easy to relate to and didn’t feel two dimensional.

Armada Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

I will say the book is a bit slow at the beginning, taking the time to set up the scene, the story, and the characters. The pacing and tension only really start to build in the last third of the novel. I’d like to say I wish this was paced a little faster, but in hindsight, it would not have worked for ‘Armada’ or the protagonist.

Clines writing style was magnificent, there were moments his short descriptive sentences painted worlds of sensation, and the pop culture references and slang rang true to the genre. Though if you are not a fan of the ‘80’s or classic elements in sci-fi culture and gaming, much of the stories elements will be lost on you.

If I was being nit-picky, I’d say there wasn’t enough character development on the secondary cast members – but, given the slow burn of plot and tension, if Cline had spent more time exploring these characters, the pace of ‘Armada’ would have been laboriously slow.

Overall, I really enjoyed ‘Armada’ it was the perfect nod to a geeky childhood of a sci-fi nerd. But recommend this more for enthusiasts – if you don’t’ get subtext and nuances of what this story is about, and why it has been written – then you will not understand the brilliance of ‘Armada.’

After the treatment ‘Ready Player One’ received on the big screen, and now ‘Armada’ in in development to become a film, I am really excited to see how this turns out and will be first in line at the box office. Though I’m still holding my breath. With many remakes on their way this movie would have to be released at a key moment so as not to clash with some of the re-imagined classics that it is inspired from.

Overall feeling: Had me playing battleships in the back yard with my little brother all over again.

Armada Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Armada Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

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© Casey Carlisle 2019. 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 – ‘Found’ by Fleur Ferris

Putting Australian YA Authors on the international map

Found Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Mystery, Thriller

No. of pages: 276

From Goodreads:

What happens when someone else’s past catches up with you? 

Elizabeth Miller had lived in Deni her entire life. In a small rural town, Beth’s biggest problem is telling her protective and fiercely private father that she has a boyfriend. 

But when her dad disappears before her and Jonah’s eyes, Beth discovers that he isn’t who she thought he was. Her family’s secret past has caught up with them, and someone wants her dead. 

Beth has been unwittingly prepared for this moment her entire life. Can she find a way out before they find her?

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I really like the way Fleur Ferris crafts a story. She creates an air of mystery and intrigue, and masterfully writes actions scenes that have me gripped to the page, eager to see what happens next. A small downside to this is there is a slight feeling of obvious plotting. ‘Found’ isn’t quite organic and believable. But it is only a minor part. I still enjoyed ‘Found,’ and could see it all play out like a movie in my mind’s eye.

Beth (Elizabeth) Miller discovers her father has been abducted, and from there secrets start spilling out… her life, her family is not what it seems. The only rock in these crazy revelations is her boyfriend, Jonah, but even things come to light that put that into jeopardy. Beth’s father, Bear, has raised her in militant style in an isolated Australian country town. Big on survival skills, Tae Kwon Do, practicing at the shooting range. All throwbacks to his military career. Beth suffers through it, but some of the activities she really loves. What struck me first about Beth is the tomboy protagonist who doesn’t indulge in girly things like dresses and makeup and is apparently some hidden beauty. I’d roll my eyes at this trope. But the thing is – I grew up in places like this. Kids are really like that. Riding around on bikes, hanging out together because there’s not much else to do. Even the girls I went to high school with, Beth could be at least half of the population of my classmates. So this protagonist could be polarising to readers outside Australia, seen as falling into the ugly duckling tomboy trope, when in fact it is representative of life in a lot of small remote towns in Aussieland. I found Beth a bit dry and boring – it was always about following rules and getting down to business, but she was always observant and intelligent. All of those traits helped her survive. A dippy sarcastic teen would have perished in the first act.

Found’ is a beautiful nod to the Aussie psyche and small town living. It made me nostalgic for my youth.

Found Book Review Pic 02 by Casey CarlisleTold in dual perspectives, the second POV, that of love interest Jonah does help add dimension to the plot as both characters are in different places, thinking different things, and uncovering different clues to the overall plot. Usually dual perspectives can be a bit of a yawn because it’s just telling the same story from a different angle, but Fleur ensures Jonah drives the narrative on his own. Distinctly masculine and completely believable. He is fallible, and quite possibly not as smart as Beth. He pays the consequences for his rocky decisions. There are even revelations in story arcs not relating to the main story that I found delightful.

Found’ is a gripping, fast read. While it did not blow me out of the water, and had some issues with believability, I was nonetheless entertained and completed it in two sittings.

Fleur uses some Aussie slang in the narrative that threw me. While, as a native, it’s the dialogue we use in our heads, it was confronting to read them in print. I would have preferred keeping the narrative to correct English and leave the slang in dialogue as not to pull the reader from the narrative. I also feel another pass from an editor would have benefited ‘Found’ just to tie up some misspellings, missed words, grammar issues and tighten the plot a little… and maybe add some interest to our two leads. I like me a few quirks or awkwardness. Maybe a few more comical moments to break the tension in key moments.

I will say the second half of the novel, after a certain event was spot on. I’ve lived through something similar and it dragged out all the feels and had me re-living the experience.

Fleur has all the makings of a fantastic author and definitely someone I am now a huge fan of. Viva la Ferris!

Definitely recommend this one, some great action scenes and a gritty protagonist representative of a true Aussie.

I can’t say I predicted what was going to happen in ‘Found’ it literally surprised me with every turn. Absolutely brilliant.

And on a side note, loving the cover art. I’ve now got all of her published works and they have the same aesthetic. Single word titles, simple bold font and muted photography. Even though they are all standalones, the collection looks like a set and is a great marketing concept – making an instantly recognisable book on the shelves as that of Fleur Ferris.

Overall feeling: A great new author discovery and some nostalgia mixed in with a teen action storyline.

Found Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Found Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

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© Casey Carlisle 2019. 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 – ‘Firestarter’

Firestarter Film vs Novel by Casey Carlisle

Firestarter Film vs Novel Pic 07 by Casey CarlisleYou certainly get a feel for the 80’s. So many references. The novel was a nostalgic read. The film is comparatively in the style of horror movies being produced in the early 80’s as well, though it has some great special effects for its time.

As much as I loved this book – the protagonist Charlie, the paranormal ability of pyrokenesis, the antagonists in The Shop – ‘Firestarter’ felt like a long read. Normally I fly through books like this, but it took me over a week to reach the end. I was continually needing a rest as King went off in tangents and titbits of backstory for secondary characters. It brought the pacing down somewhat. But I appreciated all of that extra information – it really fleshed out the world and characters… so it was a tug-of-war for me between liking Kings writing style and getting bored with it. In the end the amazing writing and subject matter won out: you can always skim the uninteresting bits. As far as the film goes by comparison, there is no let down in the pacing, no chance to tear your eyes off the screen. The action is kept going from start to finish, with a few flashback scenes (as in the novel) for context and backstory, though with parts of the original story cut for time constraints, some things don’t make the best sense.

Some scenes were more gruesome than I expected, but upon completing the novel version of ‘Firestarter’ I kind of wanted more. More horror. More action. But I guess it would have been unrealistic with a child as the protagonist – that kind of action would have twisted her into something monstrous and broken or dead inside. The movie obviously omitted some on-screen deaths and gore to keep it in a marketable ‘M’ rating.

Firestarter Film vs Novel Pic 03 by Casey CarlisleThe depiction of Charlie in the novel felt intelligent beyond her years, but still had the innocence of youth in her view of the world. It was phenomenal to read about the psychic powers growing within her, (and those of other characters.) You get a small character arc with Charlie, but because the narrative takes on many points of view and encompasses many characters, there is more going on around her. I think that was another thing slowing the pace down for me – following some of the other characters just wasn’t as interesting. The film version of Charlie, played by Drew Barrymore comes off as more of an obstinate child at times.

With all the training Charlie is meant to have up until the scene where the movie opens, this alludes that Charlie can pretty much control her powers, but the Airport scene depicts her as not being able to control her ability or not wanting to use it. Not matching the narrative of the novel at all. This scene from the film also tips The Shop off about her ability, yet in the novel it is kept in question up until well over halfway, where she uses this fact as a bargaining tool with the scientists trying to test her.

Firestarter Film vs Novel Pic 02 by Casey CarlisleCharlie’s powers are meant to be effortless to use (depicted in the novel,) but the heavy breathing, sweating, use of a wind machine to dramatize Drew Barrymore’s depiction of the pyrokenesis – and how she repeats “Back off” to switch it off, make the use of her ability a little clunky and awkward for the film. Charlie never vocalised her ‘cool-down’ in the novel, and her ability was used easily – hence the training.

When Charlie was in with The Shop, they drugged her to inhibit her use of her ability, yet in the film, even though they knew of her ability, they did not use this method of control. Instead may of the scientists walked around in hilarious looking thermal suits.

Additionally, in the film with Charlie befriending Rainbird, she confides just about everything and never draws her own conclusions to his deception. Where in the novel she is much more intelligent and mistrusting. She also gets a note from her father informing her of Rainbirds true intentions, leading to her forming a plan of escape. I wish we had seen the more aware and strategic version of Charlie on the big screen. Even after the first demonstration of Charlie’s power in the film, while everyone is distracted she walks back into her room… where in the novel she takes the opportunity to find her father. Dumbing down her character was detrimental to this film. Even with all these issues in context and story Barrymore’s portrayal of Charlie is epic. A true testament to her acting chops at such a young age.

Andy (Charlie’s Dad) was the dedicated loving father, nurturing and supporting Charlie, instilling right and wrong, ‘Firestarter’ is as much his story as hers. I feel that we don’t get as much character development as we could because this is essentially a cat-and-mouse chase story, tumbling from one escape to the next.

Firestarter Film vs Novel Pic 04 by Casey CarlisleThe biggest difference to the written version to the one played by David Keith in the film, was how his ability was portrayed. It was meant to be mental dominance, yet somehow he manages to affect phone booths to extract coins, and change television channels without the use of a remote. Was he meant to have different abilities in the film? The dramatization of Andy using his ability felt overacted. Grabbing his head, a bloody nose. Even though thie is typical treatment for the time of its release, I wasn’t sold. In the novel he got headaches, disorientated, and exhausted. Using his ability is said to give him mirco-aneurisms, a blood nose was overkill. Leaving Charlie to take the lead in taking care of him and ensure their safety.

Another aspect explained in the novel was the ricocheting of Andy’s ability, it’s set up in the narrative, and shows a history and line of progression – in the film however we get a scene around one character seeing snakes with no context.

Rainbird is the quintessential antagonist from King. He manages to paint interesting and layered bad guys that still give off an aura of pure evil. It’s easy to see why so many of his novels get the film treatment. With the native American Indian background, it felt like a foreshadowing of diverse writing that we see today – even if there are colours of stereotyping and discrimination (as too in dealing with transvestism.) Villainising minority groups in the time ‘Firestarter’ was published was commonplace.

Firestarter Film vs Novel Pic 05 by Casey Carlisle

As for the depiction of Rainbird in the film: George C Scott is not Native American, I think I was offended by this more than any other change for the movie adaptation (thank heavens he wasn’t in blackface.) Additionally, there was no setup, no backstory to build this iconic antagonist. The film left Rainbird feeling two dimensional. The same thing happened to The Shop’s spies near Charlie’s Grandfathers cabin – no set up or backstory – there was no context to validate why they were even there. In the novel they lived at the place for months, in the film, days.

The final battle scene at the Barn has some major differences. We get all the Hollywood treatment of Charlie puffing and shooting fireballs, evaporating bullets for the film. When the horses are set free, none get shot or catch on fire like in the novel. The special effects of some of the bad guys catching on fire is a bit hilarious as they just stand still screaming. Umm, I’d be running and failing, rolling on the ground. But I did like how one guy gets blown in to a tree fully ablaze from Charlie’s psychic blast.

Firestarter Film vs Novel Pic 06 by Casey Carlisle

The novel shows Charlie taking out the entire compound (and people), where the film has her exhibiting much more restraint in carnage. The book suggests Charlie’s abilities extend much further than pyrokenesis, but the movie keeps her psychic power within the confines of a Firestarter.

The novel ends on Charlie contacting the ‘New York Times’ – a reputable newspaper; but the novel has her going into the offices of the ‘Rolling Stone’ because it was the only publication independent of the reach of The Shop to have her (and her Father’s) story published.

The writing of the novel is somewhat dated. The references are solidly entrenched in the 70-80’s. Technology, attitudes… it was nostalgic in a way, and also had me thanking god we’ve evolved from that place. Stephen King has a resounding writing style – descriptive and distinctly dry and masculine. Though he has a tendency to repeat things a number of times. And a perchance to long drawn-out exposition. This had me skimming a page or two. It also slowed down the pace and I was frequently putting the book down for a rest. While I enjoyed the film, it does not stand the test of time and fails to compare to the book.

I won’t comment on predictability – I’d read the book and seen the film before, plus it’s such a well-known story the plot was all but spoiled long ago. Looking forward to the film remake currently in development to see how they modernise ‘Firestarter’ and tie it into the Stephen King universe at large. It’s rumoured for a late 2019 to a 2020 release. I hope we will get to see Drew Barrymore return and possibly play the role of Victoria McGee, Charlie’s mom. Fingers crossed.

Firestarter Film vs Novel Pic 08 by Casey Carlisle

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© Casey Carlisle 2018. 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.