Book Review – ‘My Calamity Jane’ (#3 The Lady Janies) by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows

The historical retelling I didn’t know I needed…

Genre: YA, Fantasy, Historical, LGBT

No. of pages: 544

Welcome ​to 1876 and a rootin’-tootin’ America bursting with gunslingers, outlaws, and garou.

JANE (a genuine hero-eene)

Calamity’s her name, and garou hunting’s her game—when she’s not starring in Wild Bill’s Traveling Show, that is. She reckons that if a girl wants to be a legend, she should just go ahead and be one.

FRANK (*wolf whistle*)

Frank “the Pistol Prince” Butler is the Wild West’s #1 bachelor. He’s also the best sharpshooter on both sides of the Mississippi, but he’s about to meet his match. . . .

ANNIE (get your gun!)

Annie Oakley (yep, that Annie) is lookin’ for a job, not a romance, but she can’t deny there’s something about Frank she likes. Really likes. Still, she’s pretty sure that anything he can do, she can do better.

A HAIRY SITUATION

After a garou hunt goes south and Jane finds a suspicious-like bite on her arm, she turns tail for Deadwood, where there’s been talk of a garou cure. But things ain’t always what they seem—meaning the gang better hightail it after her before they’re a day late and a Jane short.

Another entertaining fantastical historical romp to conclude the My Lady Janies trilogy. ‘My Calamity Jane’ pairs western legend with werewolf mythology in a comedic venture into the Wild West.

A spaghetti western with a paranormal twist written with humour and hints of feminism. I really enjoy this trio of authors working together. I am always amused and entrenched in the stories they write, the little twists to story and character, the little asides breaking the 4th wall to the reader.

We follow multiple perspectives revolving around the anecdotal stories of Calamity Jane, Annie Oakley, Wild Bill and the Pistol Prince. Calamity Jane, a member of Wild Bill’s travelling show, marvelling townships with their skills in gun slinging, knife throwing, and whip-cracking. But it’s all a cover as they hunt down werewolves bent on killing or intentionally infecting the naive populace. Jane is a smart-mouthed tom boy, driven to forge her place in a male dominated world… and live up to the legend the group had crafted to sell tickets to their show. Annie is a determined young lady, if a little rough around the edges, eager to join the sharp shooting crew as it’s newest member – because there aren’t many places for a lady with her skills to find employment. Wild Bill and his posse are the ticket to a life she’s always dreamed of. Frank is slightly egotistical, but always up for a challenge. As the team track down the leader of the garou pack, bent on infecting every unsuspecting human they can to build an army of their own; Wild Bills group has their work cut out for them. Facing off this threat is going to uncover some secrets buried from the past and force the gang to open up to each other about their own hidden past and desires.

I literally flew through this book. It is highly entertaining with plenty of twist, turns, and reveals. I was saddened to hear this was an end to this series, but joyous to hear of another trilogy following Mary’s in history. This trio of authors have struck gold.

The writing style is very tongue-in-cheek and combines historical deportment and language mixed in with a contemporary sentimentality: the combination is magical. Hand, Ashton, and Meadows do comedy well in combination to creating fantastic, relatable characters, and encompassing worlds.

The plot wasn’t quite predictable; you get a sense of its direction at the beginning, and then the plot take you on a wild ride, the many reveals completely displacing you from the saddle. There is so much charm in ‘My Calamity Jane’ I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Overall feeling: Blow me down!

© 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 – ‘Siege and Storm’ (#2 The Shadow and Bone Trilogy) by Leigh Bardugo

Hunting water serpents and dodging a Shadow-wielding manic.

Genre: YA, Fantasy

No. of pages: 432

Hunted across the True Sea, haunted by the lives she took on the Fold, Alina must try to make a life with Mal in an unfamiliar land, all while keeping her identity as the Sun Summoner a secret. But she can’t outrun her past or her destiny for long.

The Darkling has emerged from the Shadow Fold with a terrifying new power and a dangerous plan that will test the very boundaries of the natural world. With the help of a notorious privateer, Alina returns to the country she abandoned, determined to fight the forces gathering against Ravka. But as her power grows, Alina slips deeper into the Darkling’s game of forbidden magic, and farther away from Mal. Somehow, she will have to choose between her country, her power, and the love she always thought would guide her—or risk losing everything to the oncoming storm.

Another fantastic entry into the Grishaverse. I love the mythology and the magic system as Alina and Mal dodge The Darkling, the religious faction of the Sun Summoner and quest to find another amplifier.

The plot and writing style are astoundingly great, though the characterisation of Alina fell a bit flat for me in ‘Siege and Storm.’ It’s like she became single minded and stubborn and lost much of her complexity. It was harder to connect with her character, and I found myself getting a little bored of her at times. So too was Mal. Like he had been painted in the first novel as the forever and reliable best friend that Alina may or may not have romantic feelings for, it didn’t give Mal much room to shine as a complex character. I still loved their dynamic, and the story, but their characterisation left the tone of ‘Siege and Storm’ a little flat.

Leigh Bardugo raises the stakes with a more powerful and threatening antagonist with the Darkling, but then I felt like a lot of the politics with the royal family and all the posturing slowed the pace somewhat. There was less action in comparison to the debut, more in library research and angling for support with those in power. I’m not one that finds the politics all that fascinating and it always pulls me from the narrative feigning disinterest.

Siege and Storm’ ends in a cliff-hanger which has me very excited to pick up ‘Ruin and Rising.’ While a zoomed through the debut ‘Shadow and Bone,’ it was a little more difficult to get through this sequel, evidently suffering that famous middle-book syndrome (slump).

I’m interested to see the television series take on this novel in the second series of the Netfix production. It has become one of my favourite television adaptations of all time.

I can’t honestly sad this book is predictable in its details, but for the over-arching storyline of the trilogy it is fairly easy to guess the direction of the story; nonetheless I love Leigh Bardugo’s talent in crafting a plot, unexpected reveals, upping the ante, and throwing in a twist or two.

Still a strong recommendation from me, if a fantasy can have me this much engaged, it must be good.

Overall feeling: Happy travels!

© 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.

#bookporn #coverlove

I started reading the BrainShip series in my teens and was a massive fan of Anne McCaffery… recently discovered there was another book in the collection that had slipped under my radar. Are there any books in series that have gotten published without you knowing? I’m going to have to go through my back catalogue and ensure nothing else has slipped through the cracks.

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.

Book Review – ‘Nil on Fire’ (#3 Nil) by Lynne Matson

An all-stakes battle with teens pitted against a sentient island in a pocket universe.

Genre: Y/A, Science Fiction, Adventure

No. of pages: 416

Despite Rives and Skye’s attempt to destroy Nil, the island remains. And back in this world, Nil won’t let Skye go. Haunted by a darkness she can’t ignore, Skye wrestles with Nil nightmares that worsen by the day and threaten to tear her apart. As Skye fights to keep her mind intact, she realizes that to finally break free of Nil, she must end Nil’s vicious cycle once and for all—and she can’t do it alone.

Who are Nil’s new arrivals? Who will return to the island? And who will survive in the end? In this final installment of the Nil series, the stakes have never been higher.

Losing isn’t an option, but winning will cost Skye everything.

I have so many feelings about this fantastic concept – sentient portals abducting teens and depositing them in an alternate pocket universe to survive Island-style, and try and find a way home again before their time runs out.

I appreciated the narrative around colonisation and erasure of aboriginal culture underlying ‘Nil on Fire,’ but I still don’t think it was handled as delicately as it could have been, but the representation and exploration of the Polynesian culture was a big plus for me. So too was the diversity – many cultures and languages represented in the characters, yet still no getting a chance to lead the narrative.

Unfortunately there were drawbacks in this concluding novel of the Nil trilogy. This felt long, facts kept getting repeated and I did not like the direction the last instalment in this series took us. I struggled a bit with the narrative, losing interest many times, the characters started to feel more two-dimensional despite the hell they were being put through. The deaths were shrugged off a little at the end. It was just disappointing for me.

There are multiple perspectives in ‘Nil on Fire’ we follow Skye, Rives, and a schizophrenic omnipresence of Nil (the island) and the story picks up pretty much right after the events ending in the second book in the series ‘Nil Unlocked.’ I did like how we got all the characters from the first two novels in this final book of the trilogy, facing off against the island itself, and the mythology behind its creation. This concluding novel does offer explanation and wrap up the series well, but it was the mythology that did not sit well with me. It was a little too fantastical. Nil is a great series and the premise had me hooked… I would have loved this to stick to a more science fiction route than it had – given the alien consciousness presence and the alternate pocket universe. The precedence had been set. Otherwise maybe the series should have taken the more mystical route and leave the mythology grounded in the Polynesian culture. The philosophy of the Nil series felt like a jumbled mish-mash of both elements and lacked conviction.

As we are dealing with established characters, who have already run the gauntlet, there is limited space for them to develop further. In that sense we get the main cast helping secondary characters grow from their own experience. I guess that is another factor that separated from the narrative. I kept getting bored with too much detail, repetition, and short chapters jumping from perspective to perspective. The narrative didn’t sit long enough with a character for me to really get sucked into the Nil universe, or form strong emotional connections with the cast. ‘Nil on Fire’ is banking on the reader already having forged those bonds in the first two novels to carry you through this finale.

Lynne Matson has a great writing style for setting the scene and world building, I loved her descriptions of the island and its mysterious sway on the teens. She is also great at character development from the previous novels. I’d like to read something from her told in first person with no switches in perspective and see how that affects my reading experience.

So this was a mixed bag of feelings for me. I loved getting to meet all the characters again, and have the mystery solved… I just didn’t like the direction it took.

Overall feeling: *nose-dive*

© 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 – ‘Blastaway’ by Melissa Landers

The perfect light-hearted, family-friendly space adventure.

Genre: Y/A, Science Fiction, Adventure

No. of pages: 304

Kyler Centaurus isn’t your typical runaway. All he wanted was a quick trip to the legendary Fasti Sun Festival. Who wouldn’t want to see new stars being born? Um, try Kyler’s entire family. They couldn’t care less about mind-blowing wonders of science.

When an accidental launch sequence ends with Kyler hurtling through space on the family cruiser, the thrill of freedom is cut short by two space pirates determined to steal his ship. Not happening!

Luckily, Kyler bumps into Fig, a savvy young Wanderer who makes a living by blowing up asteroids. She could really use a ride to Earth and Kyler could really use a hand with the pirates.

But when Kyler learns the truth about Fig’s mission, the two must put aside their differences long enough to stop the threat of astronomical proportions racing towards Earth?

I enjoyed this book so much, it was literally like watching a Disney movie (no wonder Disney Hyperion published this.) Great family friendly hijinks. ‘Blastaway’ is every kid’s fantasy of running away from home on a spaceship with a robot sidekick to boot. There were elements of Home-Alone-in-space, and the robots is reminiscent of ‘Short Circuit,’ ‘Wall-E,’ and the two robots from ‘The Black HoleV.I.N.CENT and B.O.B.

We face pirates sans ‘Home Alone,’ and rescue planet Earth from a runaway star. There was adventure and action, and a lot of hilarity. If this ever gets the film treatment I’m definitely buying a ticket. It managed to capture the child hidden inside me, entertain me with jokes, and have enough sci-fi elements for me not to get bored. ‘Blastaway’ has a whip-cracking pace and I read the entire book in one sitting. My other half kept looking at me because I was giggling frequently.

The narrative is told from two different perspectives, having a number of chapters each. Kyler Centaurus is a privileged Earth boy who inadvertently steals his parents spaceship after a family tussle in which he comes off second best, after the fact he decides he may as well make the most of it since he is going to get punished anyway, and heads off to see the spectacular display of his favourite scientist create an artificial sun. He feels misunderstood and underappreciated, and the fact his brothers are always picking on him – and that it took nearly a day before his family realised he was gone – proves the point.

Figerella ‘Fig’ Jammeslot is an orphan runaway, grown up on ships and satellites after her parents were killed, snatching jobs where she can as a sharpshooter to destroy asteroids. She is the typical streetwise ruffian always on the take. She sees Kyler as an easy mark, and their destinies become intertwined.

For a light-hearted space romp we see both characters grow and develop, their motivations change, and real, heart-felt ‘ah-ha’ moments. I even developed an emotional connection to the robot Cabe.

I’d like to say I predicted the outcome of this novel, but I didn’t really. I misread the relationships (maybe just like the author wanted me too?) and was too wrapped up in the fun of it all to get out my detectives monocle and start looking for clues. Melissa Landers has a young breezy tone throughout the novel that completely engages the reader. I’ve enjoyed much of her back catalogue, so I knew I would like this one, but ‘Blastaway’ really surprised me. I love it. In fact if ever I’m in a down mood, I may just pick this up again for a re-read.

The plot is actually pretty amazing. It wasn’t over-simplified considering the target demographic, but not too complicated to leave it unrelatable to YA readers. I found depth and complexity in both plot and character for ‘Blastaway.’ I was already a fan of Melissa Landers, but now I stan her real hard.

I realise this novel may not be for all, but if you like a fun light read, something that feels like a good Disney movie, (and take note this is targeted towards tweens and teens) than I whole-heartedly recommend ‘Blastaway.’

Overall feeling: Captured my childish imagination.

© 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.