Book Review – ‘My Plain Jane’ (#2 The Lady Janies) by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows

Another supernatural twist on a classic tale…

My Plain Jane (#2 The Lady Janies) Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: YA, Fantasy, Historical

No. of pages: 464

From Goodreads:

You may think you know the story. After a miserable childhood, penniless orphan Jane Eyre embarks on a new life as a governess at Thornfield Hall. There, she meets one dark, brooding Mr. Rochester. Despite their significant age gap (!) and his uneven temper (!!), they fall in love—and, Reader, she marries him. (!!!)

Or does she?

Prepare for an adventure of Gothic proportions, in which all is not as it seems, a certain gentleman is hiding more than skeletons in his closets, and one orphan Jane Eyre, aspiring author Charlotte Brontë, and supernatural investigator Alexander Blackwood are about to be drawn together on the most epic ghost hunt this side of Wuthering Heights.

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Another hilarious ride through a re-imagined classic from authors Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows.

I did find the characters interesting and compelling, and the plot equally twisty and turny. Expect surprises, with ‘My Plain Jane’ but also mirroring the same tone to the original text this novel is inspired by.

While the authors are great at world building, the stand out aspect of ‘My Plain Jane’ is the complexity of the characters and their development. Historical mannerisms and social etiquette also add a comedic touch. I especially remember when Charlotte Bronte disguised herself as a footman and marvels how comfortable being dressed as a man is, and wonders why they aren’t sleeping all the time.

The story is told from three perspectives, that of Jane, Charlotte and Alexander. Jane can see ghosts and has a passion for writing. Everyone describes her as average, forgettable. Except for ghosts. The otherworldly spectres see Jane as beautiful and compelling. Charlotte is a fastidious beauty. The kind of always on the go perfectionist and Janes best friend. We do see a bit of jealousy, or sibling rivalry pop up between these two. And Alexander, an agent of the Society for the Relocation of Wayward Spirits of which he tries to recruit Jane for her ability to communicate (and see) ghosts.

My Plain Jane (#2 The Lady Janies) Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

Helen, the sassy 14 year old ghost and best friend of Jane Eyre has to be my favourite character from the book. I’d love her running the narration or giving opinion of what is going on.

The ghosts and their mythology were a great addition to this tome and I wish there was a sequel following these characters. (Maybe in the Marys trilogy.)

We get a few nods to the original text, as well as a mention of the main characters from ‘My Lady Jane’ which I found delightful.

The pacing felt slower in ‘My Plain Jane,’ I put this book down a number of times for rests. So too was the humour spread out much more. In comparison to ‘My Lady Jane’ where we got frequent asides to the reader, plenty of slapstick. I was always laughing… this felt sparse in ‘My Plain Jane.’

I think one thing that slowed the pace down for me is the continual head-jumping as multiple points of view are followed in ‘My Plain Jane.’ Changing with each chapter, their voices weren’t that distinct, and the authors had to establish a little about the character and the scene before moving the story forward – and many of the chapters are short – so I think this was the main culprit for the pace feeling slow. Especially in the first half of the novel. I think if the authors tackled several plot points in a chapter before switching point of view it would have driven the story further a lot quicker and given the reader enough time to connect to the narrator before hearing from another of the main cast.

The overall plot was very enjoyable. I’d re-read this for a lazy Sunday afternoon sipping hot tea on the porch to wind down from a busy week.

There is a great amount of predictability, given ‘My Plain Jane’ is a re-imagining of ‘Jane Eyre,’ but I felt this novel stood on its own, and the fuzzy memory I had of the original story still did not impede the surprises and twist of the storyline. I kinda liked the way it ended.

Another solid recommendation. A fun by-the-side for lovers of the classic novel.

Looking forward to the final book in this trilogy ‘My Calamity Jane,’ due for release sometime in 2020 and I also noted that there will be another trilogy for the Marys (the first set in the same universe as ‘My Lady Jane’) and am ecstatic to see these three authors collaborate on further novels in this tone. So much fun to read!

Overall feeling: fun and funny, but a bit flat

My Plain Jane (#2 The Lady Janies) Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

My Plain Jane (#2 The Lady Janies) 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 – ‘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.

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.

5 star reviews from the past 5 years

5 Star Reviews From the Past 5 Years Pic 01 by Casey Carlisle

Books that I award 5 stars to usually affect me in some way: strike an emotional cord, surprise me with the plot or writing, or allow me to completely escape into a fantasy world (or all of the above)… and I don’t award that perfect score lightly. So I thought I’d take a look at how many novels fall into this category; both read and published within the last 5 years.

I was surprised that it only consisted of seven books. Out of the over 400 novels I’ve read in the past 5 years, the list below were the only ones to shine. Maybe I need to start reading more new releases? Let’s take a look:

5 Star Reviews From the Past 5 Years Pic 02 by Casey CarlisleThe Martian by Andy Weir

I’m a huge sci-fi geek. It’s what got me into reading in my youth. But I think what resonated with me from ‘The Martian’ was how plausible it felt. Much of the novel is grounded in applicable science. Plus, I love working through problems. It was a real case of every obstacle being thrown at protagonist Mark Watney, and he systematically finding a solution to keep surviving. MacGuyver on Mars!

5 Star Reviews From the Past 5 Years Pic 03 by Casey CarlisleIlluminae, Obsidio by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

This series is action from start to finish. It has sassy, sarcastic, and diverse protagonists, a countdown, and more than one antagonist working against our heroes. With a narrative of collected documents, the pace kept going, and grabbed snippets of different perspectives in this action packed soap opera. The middle book ‘Gemina’ didn’t quite match the calibre of its companions, but this is a trilogy I’d recommend to anyone who wants a sci-fi read.

5 Star Reviews From the Past 5 Years Pic 04 by Casey CarlisleCress by Marissa Meyer

I really have to get on with finishing up the rest of this collection! With a fairytale re-telling twist, this science fiction saga brings loveable characters that feel both new and familiar. I was struck at how the storyline kept to the tone of the original fairytales, but still managed to tell a completely new story. This series is the one that opened the door to re-imaginings of old fables. I’m interested to see where it all goes. ‘Winter’ is calling me…

5 Star Reviews From the Past 5 Years Pic 05 by Casey CarlisleSimon vs. the Homo Sapien Agenda by Becky Albertalli

Such a cute, quirky contemporary. I both laughed and cried out loud. It was so in touch with teen awkwardness and working out who you are that I could not put it down. So glad the film followed not long after, which I enjoyed thoroughly as well. None of the Creekwook books have lived up to Simon yet, but it is nice to stay in the universe for a while longer.

5 Star Reviews From the Past 5 Years Pic 06 by Casey CarlisleThe Five Stages of Andrey Brawley by Shaun David Hutchinson

This was a dark horse of a book. I remember being tentative about this read at first, but it has become a favourite. It does deal with protagonist Andrew and his identity and orientation, but mainly it’s about dealing with grief. With an edgy contemporary style, and having to personally deal with losing a family member a year of two earlier, this resonated with me. Grief hits you in unexpected ways and can hang around for quite some time. It can ruin you, change your life. Sometimes it’s about crying, saying goodbye, and getting on with things; and sometimes it’s not. Shaun David Hutchinson’s writing style really stood out to me. A brilliant stand alone.

5 Star Reviews From the Past 5 Years Pic 07 by Casey CarlisleA Court of Thorns and Roses Sarah J. Maas

I’m not big on fantasy, but having found a new love for re-tellings, and the hype around Sarah J. Maas, I gave this trilogy a chance. I have to admit I was surprised by how compelling protagonist Feyre’s story is. How Maas interpreted the tale of ‘Beauty and the Beast.’ We get a ballsy heroine, a trickster of a beast, and such an imaginative fae world… and the ending was not what I expected. So this one gets full marks for great escapism, strong female characters, and surprises.

And that’s it. All of my other 5 star reads were published much earlier and did not fit into this discussion. Four science fiction, two contemporary, and one fantasy. Considering my favourite genres are YA, Science Fiction and Horror/Thriller, I expected quite a different list. But that’s how the cookie crumbles.

Do you have any 5 star recommendations? Let me know in the comments, I need to start populating this list with more books!

In the meantime, happy reading. Representation in Writing vs Own Voices Pic 02 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.

Book Review – ‘In a Handful of Dust’ (#1 Not a Drop to Drink) by Mindy McGinnis

It’s a hard knock life!

In a Handful of Dust (#2 Not a Drop to Drink) Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: YA, Dystopia

No. of pages: 384

From Goodreads:

Regret was for people with nothing to defend, people who had no water. 

Lynn knows every threat to her pond: drought, a snowless winter, coyotes, and, most importantly, people looking for a drink. She makes sure anyone who comes near the pond leaves thirsty, or doesn’t leave at all.

Confident in her own abilities, Lynn has no use for the world beyond the nearby fields and forest. Having a life means dedicating it to survival, and the constant work of gathering wood and water. Having a pond requires the fortitude to protect it, something Mother taught her well during their quiet hours on the rooftop, rifles in hand.

But wisps of smoke on the horizon mean one thing: strangers. The mysterious footprints by the pond, nighttime threats, and gunshots make it all too clear Lynn has exactly what they want, and they won’t stop until they get it….

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There is certainly always something going on in this novel. A fight for survival, deception, overcoming a psychological need to simply give up. I sped through ‘In a Handful of Dust’ in a day. There was no putting it down.

It’s a bleak world protagonists Lynn and Lucy live in. And their trek across America to escape a Polio outbreak and hopefully find the fabled Promised Land in California that has a desalination plant. Water. And plenty of it. An easier life. It was a great – I want to say road trip – in a dystopian future.

In a Handful of Dust (#2 Not a Drop to Drink) Book Review Pic 02 by Casey CarlisleLynn, the protagonist from the first book in this duology ‘Not a Drop to Drink’ is now an older woman and Lucy her adopted charge, now in her late teens, have been weathered by a life of having to shoot first and ask questions later. Especially Lynn, who’s had to fight, guard, and sniper her way through every minute of every day. Rewarded by drops of water. Life gets a little bit easier for the pair before the Polio outbreak, but Lynn never loses her edge. And that hardness and survival-mentality is what carries the two to the opposite coast of America, California from Ohio.

Lucy slowly becomes a different, more compassionate and self-sufficient woman. Finds her place in the world. Her own wants and needs. This is really her story.

The plot itself if predictable. The girls have a destination in mind and will do anything to get there. It’s the journey that throws the surprise and shapes them into stronger women. I got a few curve balls thrown at me that I did not see coming, but on the whole I don’t think I was overly shocked with the twists and turns. The tone of this novel prepares you for striking news… which is a shame because the shock value would have been magnificent. *me holding the book, mouth wide open*

I wasn’t completely sold on the ending, though it is left open for further books in the series; but McGinnis has stated on her website that she has moved on from this collection for now.

I liked McGinnis’ writing style, it’s poetic and stark at the same time. Similar to the observations and descriptions of the landscape. It wasn’t too dumbed down either, which was refreshing for a YA novel.

I’m glad I got to continue with Lynn’s story and would recommend this to those who love a good survival story. Even though it is classified dystopian, it differs from the usual in this genre. We get notes of feminism that sit well with me.

I know Stephenie Meyer’s Fickle Fish Films optioned the debut ‘Not a Drop to Drink’ for a film back in 2014, but we’ve heard no updates since then. I’d be interested to see what treatment they give the film, and what star they could attract to play Lynn.

Overall feeling: I feel exhausted… in a good way.

In a Handful of Dust (#2 Not a Drop to Drink) Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

In a Handful of Dust (#2 Not a Drop to Drink) Book Review Pic 04 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.