Book Review – ‘Highway Bodies’ by Alison Evans

A zombie apocalypse Aussie style!

Highway Bodies Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Horror, LGBT

No. of pages: 376

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Who will you rely on in the zombie apocalypse?

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Bodies on the TV, explosions, barriers, and people fleeing. No access to social media. And a dad who’ll suddenly bite your head off – literally. These teens have to learn a new resilience…

Members of a band wield weapons instead of instruments.

A pair of siblings find there’s only so much you can joke about, when the menace is this strong.

And a couple find depth among the chaos.

Highway Bodies is a unique zombie apocalypse story featuring a range of queer and gender non-conforming teens who have lost their families and friends and can only rely upon each other.

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Once I got into ‘Highway Bodies’ I could not put this book down – I stayed up until 3am to finish it, and every tap, scratch, and spook noise from outside my widow and I’d freeze like I was living in a zombie apocalypse too. Having lived in Melbourne, Australia for over 7 years, it was great to recognise many of the landmarks referenced in this novel. And it was additionally a breath of fresh air to read a story where cis, straight-gendered people were the minority. ‘Highway Bodies’ has a lot going for it.

Told in three alternating perspectives from differing groups of teenagers as they witness the initiation of a viral outbreak from a meat processing plant, turning the population into flesh eating zombies. One of the narratives in particular is expressed in dialect slang – which is jarring at first – I didn’t like it so much, but then as the novel progresses and you get used to it, it really shines through and separates this perspective or Eve from the other two. Eve is transgender and flees from his home after his father turns and attacks Eve’s mother and brother. There is a lot of gore in ‘Highway Bodies’ think ‘The Walking Dead’ starring a diverse group of teens.

Highway Bodies Book Review Pic 02 by Casey CarlisleDee leads the second narrative, a member of a rock band renting a house in the countryside while they practice and write new songs. Dee identifies as bisexual and we see many expression of genders and sexuality in her bandmates and throughout the novel. After the power cuts off and they cannot access the internet or get cell service they venture into town to find bodies everywhere, the whole town slaughtered. It doesn’t take them too long to run into their first zombie.

JoJo is our final non-binary protagonist, one of a pair of fraternal twins from a previously abusive home. Their mother is a nurse and after she returns to work and does not return home, JoJo and sister Rhea sneak to the hospital to investigate. Finding their mother, turned, and amongst a horde of caged zombies from a military presence.

After that things really to go hell in a fight for survival: from the zombies, the elements, and other survivors.

It took me a bit to click to what was going on with the switching of narratives in the beginning, it’s not until 50 pages in that you get a sense of the rhythm of ‘Highway Bodies’ and after that the pace and tension keep increasing right up until the end. I enjoyed Alison Evans writing style much more in this novel than I did in her debut ‘Ida.’ ‘Highway Bodies’ has a gruesome realism befitting the dystopian landscape. I found myself invested and caring about these teens plight. The conclusion is a bit of a one-two punch, but satisfying.

The three things holding me back from awarding a perfect score for this novel were the fact I didn’t know what was going on initially with the switching of perspectives. Maybe some chapter titles to let the reader know whose story we were following would have been helpful. The other was the affirmation of gender pronouns to be used when characters were introducing themselves to each other. I get the practicality of it, but in the setting the dialogue did not feel natural and true to the characters… but it is only my opinion. I would have liked to have seen a more intimate setting, or a correction to make this scene feel more authentic. And finally, though there is romance in ‘Highway Bodies’ it wasn’t given enough time to develop to a point for me to really get into the couplings. They were cute and I was rooting for them, but it missed some angst or something.

I have to applaud the representation in ‘Highway Bodies’ it helps raise awareness and give a voice to minority groups. I’m enjoy experiencing a world through the eyes of someone other than a straight white cis-gendered protagonist.

I liken this to Mindy McGinnis ‘Not a Drop to Drink’ it has the same level of brutality, a survival story – and as such is mostly predictable. You want the protagonists to stay alive and make it to the end of the novel; but the journey there has many unexpected turns. ‘Highway Bodies’ is one of my most favourite zombie apocalypse reads to date. And I can’t recommend this enough.

Just some trigger warnings for younger readers for assault, violence, gore, murder, and you know general zombiness.

Overall feeling: Aussie Awesomeness!

Highway Bodies Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Highway Bodies Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

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© Casey Carlisle 2020. 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.

Picture vs Page – Raise the Titanic

Raise the Titanic Picture vs Page Pic 01 by Casey Carlisle

The novel felt a bit different to the usual Dirk Pitt adventure from those I’ve read before. For one, there wasn’t a lot of Dirk. There were also a lot of characters that sometimes it took re-reading a passage to catch up with what was going on, especially at the start. The film did not have that issue. In fact there are so many characters and scenes omitted in the film adaptation that I want to say the screen version is “inspired by” the original text, instead of an out-right adaptation.

I enjoyed that the machismo was dialled back in the novel and this had a strong political strategy woven into the plot. Pitt read more like a mystery man, an enigma, a quiet hero, leaving out the humour and campiness of later volumes of the Pitt adventures. Consequently the film version of Pitt was so much worse. In fact I thought he was a bit of an ass – not a good opinion to have of the leading man. There was no mystery, no earthiness, no sea-worn larrikin. The screen version, played by Richard Jordan came off as an elite aristocrat and very much a part of the ‘Old Boys Club.’ All of that school-boy humour that Pitt is famous for is also edited out. No shade to Richard Jordan, but he is nothing like what I have pictured Pitt to be, and nothing like how he is described in the novels.

Raise the Titanic Picture vs Page Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

Dirk Pitt (Played by Richard Jordan and Admiral Sandecker (Played by Jason Robards)

I was sad to see that Al Giordino was left on the cutting room floor.

The political strategy and multiple scenes setting up the existence and application of Byzanium in the novel feels like a detective novel, each scene carefully crafted and driving the plot forward. The films interpretation skips all of this apart from one key scene and turns the political landscape into a story of nuclear dominance between America and Russia. All the nuance was gone. All the interwoven plot points replaced with this simplified America – good; Russia – bad.

The iconic NUMA organisation Pitt is the masthead for is completely ignored in the film too. The only existence it has are the letters printed on the side of a submersible. They don’t mention anything about the organisation or Pitt’s affiliation to it. That, out of everything felt like a gut-punch for any Cussler fan. The salvage operation of the Titanic in the film instead is treated as a military operation.

You get a real sense of research and facts popping to the forefront in the novel. A lot of Cussler books are, but ‘Raise the Titanic’ felt even more so. I have to say this is probably the best written novel of Cussler’s I’ve read to date. The right balance of mystery, espionage, nautical hijinks and heroics in the face of world domination.  The film disappointed me in all of these areas. I did not get a sense of wonder or the depth of specialisation needed for the feat. Whatever their might have been was overshadowed by the stylized treatment of the film. Like some 1980’s high school presentation accompanied with some of the characters actually eye-rolling.

The film also added in some completely new scenes around the extrication of the Titanic from the seafloor. The loss of the Starfish and its crew from decompressive explosion, and the crew of another submersible trapped under some rigging and turned into the main motivation for raising the Titanic within a time limit. These scenes also removed Pitt from being the specialist he is and attempted to paint Dr. Gene Seagram as a bit of a fool. Both which I thought unnecessary.

The novel sees scenes bringing journalist Dana back into the conclusion, where in the film she’s just a tool for the plot releasing news of the Titanic and Byzanium to the public. Apart from that, not a single female is present in the film whatsoever. The feminist in me just threw up in her mouth.

I can understand why this scene and many others were cut: the time restraints to fit all that into a cinematic production would have turned this into a mini-series. In actual fact maybe that’s the direction they should have gone in. The special effects are okay I guess for the time this film was released, but viewing it again today, it comes across as amateur. Long slow-motion panning shots and a soundtrack that felt repetitive did not help with creating a wondrous atmosphere and bogged down the pacing of the film.

Alternatively, the novel was excellently paced. The start is full of positioning the powers players on the chessboard, but after that is established, I couldn’t put it down. The tension is so well done. You can feel the dark abyssal pressures ready to crush you. The wonder of the Titanic, the need to beat the bad guys. In the iconic scene where the Titanic is drifting to the surface in the film however, obvious use of models detracts from my enjoyment; so too was the use of wind gusting sound effects. There was so much scientifically wrong with how it was filmed I laughed. With Cussler going to all the trouble researching and making the scene feel as realistic as possible, the film just made a mockery of the entire thing.

Raise the Titanic Picture vs Page Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Model of the Titanic used in the making of ‘Raise the Titanic.’

The plot is mostly predictable both for the novel and the film – I mean it’s in the title – and you always want good to triumph over evil… but there were a few unexpected twists along the way which were a delight in the novel. The film left me bored. It was a 2 hour long yawn. It was interesting, but needed to be edited to pick up the pace. (And maybe make the hero look like a hero.)

After having read many of the later novels in the Dirk Pitt franchise, ‘Raise the Titanic’ not only introduced familiar characters, but also showed the beginnings of many relationships/careers which I found delightful. I did not get any of those feels after watching the film.

There was also an eerie precognition with this book written in 1977 before the discovery of the real Titanic on September 1, 1985, and how similar the ships condition was to the written text. The 1995 James Cameron documentary Titanic with footage was a joy to watch – I just wish the film would have been able to capture that same wonder. The film adaptation was released in 1980, and helped create publicity and momentum in the hunt for the iconic luxury cruise liners final resting place on the North Atlantic.

The novel has a very involved, intricate plot that hooked me in early and a title I highly recommend. The film however, a huge pass. No thanks, not ever. With so many of the core parts of the franchise cut from the film it felt soulless and delivered in a completely different tone. It didn’t even end in the same manner – all the characters were different except for Pitt.

Raise the Titanic Picture vs Page Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

Dr. Gene Seagram (David Selby) and Dirk Pitt (Richard Jordan)

Raise the Titanic Picture vs Page Pic 05 by Casey Carlisle

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© Casey Carlisle 2020. 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 – ‘The Millionaire’s Wife’ by Shalini Boland

Easy to read B-grade mystery thriller.

The Millionaire's Wife Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Mystery, Thriller

No. of pages: 298

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Everyone has their secrets. But this one could destroy your marriage.

When Anna Blackwell opens an email from an unknown sender, the shocking image attached shatters her perfect world. A woman has been killed. And Anna knows who did it. The past is catching up with her.

Is it her turn next?

To protect herself and her husband Will, she must tell him the terrible truth about her first love. But as the secrets of her life unravel, Anna begins to realise that she is not the only one who has been living a lie.

Anna doesn’t know who to turn to: her best friend, her parents, her husband. But she knows that her ex-lover is dangerous and she must stop him, before it’s too late…

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I’ve read a few titles from Shalini Boland so far and am really enjoying her writing, the books seem to be light mystery/thriller, fast paced and easy to read. Great weekend escape!

The first half of ‘The Millionaire’s Wife’ jumps around the timeline in alternating chapters; then the second half is sequential… although it unfolds an interesting story, I would have liked the format to have been consistent throughout.  Also, I feel there was a missed opportunity for a flashback at the end maybe, to something antagonist Fin said or did to foreshadow the novels events to bring the narrative in a full circle.

Our protagonist Anna is a little frustrating, she seems flaky and hides too much from the people around her. I get that Boland does this to create mystery and forge the plot, but I wanted to throw popcorn at the pages. Anna also exhibited some good instincts and wasn’t the stereotypical waif common in this genre, so that helped balance out some of my frustration. But on the whole I found aspects of her character unrealistic. It destroyed the fantasy… aw, poor me. Anna did have some character growth and showed grit towards the end, but there was something about her that didn’t quite sell the story. The altruist in me wanted to see justice for her bad decisions – and it would have made sense in the tone of ‘The Millionaire’s Wife.’

The Millionaire's Wife Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

Will, Anna’s husband… umm. I want to say he’s a bit of a chump. The dude is lovely and all, but he’s whipped. Some of his reactions, the things that are done to him… mate run for the hills and never look back.

The big disappointment was antagonist Fin – I predicted his entire storyline a few pages in. Your everyday variety douchebag. Seriously it was like he had neon signs floating above his head flashing ‘Bad Guy!’ Even the blurb gives the plot away. Facepalm.

Anna’s bf, Sian came across as a lovely gal… until I was rolling my eyes. (read the book, you’ll understand.)

I had a big issue with plausibility – there were many character reactions and behaviours that didn’t sit well with me. The story felt intentionally crafted. I like my mysteries to unfold organically, get surprised, but I got none of that unfortunately (apart from the twist at the end.)

But there is a certain scene that had me sobbing. Boland can craft an emotional moment. After all is said and done, I do enjoy her writing. This read like one of those midday movies you caught when you were home sick from school.

The pacing for ‘The Millionaire’s Wife’ is fantastic and I read it in two short sittings. It had a bit of a spoony ending. This did not feel as strong for me in comparison to what I’ve read from Boland prior, I think it was the fault around some of the plain stupidity of a few characters.

Gagging for the cover art though – one of my favourites from this genre.

On the fence about recommending this one – maybe good for a teen demographic or those just dipping their toes into this genre, or die-hard Shalini Boland stans.

Overall feeling: Monday Midday Mystery Movie kind of vibes

The Millionaire's Wife Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

The Millionaire's Wife Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

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© Casey Carlisle 2020. 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 – ‘Famous Last Words’ by Katie Alender

Moving into an old Hollywood starlet’s house in the hills and find it’s haunted – yes please!

Famous Last Words Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Paranormal, Mystery

No. of pages: 320

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Willa is freaking out. It seems like she’s seeing things. Like a dead body in her swimming pool. Frantic messages on her walls. A reflection that is not her own. It’s almost as if someone — or something — is trying to send her a message. Meanwhile, a killer is stalking Los Angeles — a killer who reenacts famous movie murder scenes. Could Willa’s strange visions have to do with these unsolved murders? Or is she going crazy? And who can she confide in? There’s Marnie, her new friend who may not be totally trustworthy. And there’s Reed, who’s ridiculously handsome and seems to get Willa. There’s also Wyatt, who’s super smart but unhealthily obsessed with the Hollywood Killer.All Willa knows is, she has to confront the possible-ghost in her house, or she just might lose her mind . . . or her life.

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This novel has been on my TBR shelf for years. Years I tell you! So glad I have gotten around to reading ‘Famous Last Words’  because it has reminded me why I like reading this genre so much.

Katie Alender has a really cool writing style. It feels effortless. So many YA paranormal mysteries shoot off in tangents with info dumping or tripping the spooky fantastic, ‘Famous Last Words’ felt grounded in the story. Admittedly there were a few moments I wanted to eye-roll or shudder, but on the whole this was a delight to read. Alender has a sense of timing and comedy that I found charming.

For the most part I will say the novel was predictable. I had a hunch how it would turn out very early on, but with Alender’s writing style I was never 100% certain. So I still managed to stay engaged and get really sucked into the story.

Willa was a great protagonist. We didn’t get clues intentionally left out of the narrative to red-herring the reader. We uncover facts as she does. We get great character development. Though there is a little element of ‘out there’ to the plot, it felt grounded in plausibility, and I really liked the paranormal twist on the murder mystery. Willa does not feel like a waif or wallflower, nor does she feel like some high achieving super sleuth. Just a regular teen overcoming tragedy and attempting to fit into a new life moving to the Hollywood Hills with her mother and new stepfather.

There was great character building, all the cast had distinct personalities and it was easy to pick their voice from a crowd – it made reading ‘Famous Last Words’ effortless. The pacing did not lull once from the start of this first person narrative told through Willa’s eyes. I devoured this novel in two quick sittings.

Famous Last Words Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

Once again it was great to see parental involvement in a YA mystery, though not as much as I would have liked. But on a side note the number of times Willa is asked if she was okay in the first half of this novel was a bit ridiculous. I may have been grinding my teeth after the third or fourth time.

We have two possible love interests: Wyatt an OCD loner nerd who was catnip to this reader gal; and Reed with a too-cute-to-be-good kind of vibe. The instant nature Willa and Reed’s attraction set off alarm bells to me. Duh-duh-duuuhhh!

And then we have Marnie, the friend who happens to be a compulsive liar and attention seeker, but with a streak of genuine-ness to her. For some reason this felt very Hollywood.

I enjoyed my time reading ‘Famous Last Words’ and would happily recommend this to younger readers whom love mystery and paranormal – older readers may not get as much out of it…

Overall feeling: A satisfyingly spooky mystery

Famous Last Words Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Famous Last Words Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

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© Casey Carlisle 2020. 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 – ‘Limited Wish’ (#2 Impossible Times) by Mark Lawrence

Poke your finger through the fabric of time and its likely to get snapped off.

Limited Wish (#3 Impossible Times) Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Science Fiction

No. of pages: 224

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One choice. Two possible timelines. And a world hanging in the balance.

It’s the summer of 1986 and reluctant prodigy Nick Hayes is a student at Cambridge University, working with world-renowned mathematician Professor Halligan. He just wants to be a regular student, but regular isn’t really an option for a boy-genius cancer survivor who’s already dabbled in time travel.

When he crosses paths with a mysterious yet curiously familiar girl, Nick discovers that creases have appeared in the fabric of time, and that he is at the centre of the disruption. Only Nick can resolve this time paradox before the damage becomes catastrophic for both him and the future of the world. Time is running out—literally.

Wrapped up with him in this potentially apocalyptic scenario are his ex-girlfriend, Mia, and fellow student Helen. Facing the world-ending chaos of a split in time, Nick must act fast and make the choice of a lifetime—or lifetimes.

Game on.

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There is a beautiful symmetry to ‘Limited Wish’ in relation to the debut of the series ‘One Word Kill.’ It’s kitsch in a good way. Once again we get disturbances in the timeline and reactions to things being where they don’t belong… tampering with time has consequences. There is definitely no middle book syndrome with ‘Limited Wish.’ This was a great read and a top notch follow-up to ‘One Word Kill,’ and had me even more excited to get on with reading the next sequel ‘Dispel Illusion.’

We pick up a while after the events from the ending of the previous novella, again following protagonist Nick as he grapples with the events that have changed his life forever and now entering college. We get the introduction of a few new characters and Demus once again pops into the story – but is it the same Demus, or one from another timeline?

I didn’t feel the action like we got in ‘One Word Kill,’ however there is more science fiction theory at play in ‘Limited Wish.’ It may give you a headache trying to figure out the physics of time travel, alternate timelines, and time-wimey-ness. Though ‘Limited Wish’ compounds on the original storyline, adds complexity; the stakes did not feel as personally high for Nick. (I wasn’t feeling the antagonist in this novella – the justification is tenuous at best) It was just a sense I got at reaching the end. Though this could be down to how the story is not quite finished – just merely this episode – and the feeling of conclusion (and that ah-hah moment) will come in the third instalment. Nonetheless ‘Limited Wish’ is cleverly written. I loved the era of 1986, the backdrop of Cambridge University, and the choices Nick is faced with. And Mark Lawrence ties all this into symbolism played out in Nick’s Dungeons and Dragon games. It’s executed so brilliantly.

Limited Wish (#3 Impossible Times) Book Review Pic 02a by Casey Carlisle

I think I missed a bit of action: chase scenes, things blowing up, and a heavy dose of teen angst. It’s only my personal preference. But I think that would have added to the epic-ness I wanted in my minds’ eye. But again, this is only the middle book of a trilogy, so all that bang-crash-sock’em may be yet to come for the finale.

Nick has matured as a protagonist, his decisions take on the experiences he’s lived through, and you get a definitive feel of how this character is growing.

The story moves along at a clipped pace; something you could read in one sitting easily. And I couldn’t have predicted much about this story if I tried. Mark Lawrence is one author that has been able to deliver one surprise after another for me and has earned a spot in my list of favourite authors without breaking a sweat.

Limited Wish’ may not be for everyone. It marries hard science fiction with YA. So readers not into the whole theoretical physics of sci-fi will feel a little lost. But if you love ‘Doctor Who’ – this is one series you must pick up.

Overall feeling: You beauty!

Limited Wish (#3 Impossible Times) Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Limited Wish (#3 Impossible Times) Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

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© Casey Carlisle 2020. 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 – ‘Slayer’ (#1 Slayer) by Kiersten White

Re-visiting my ultimate fandom.

Slayer (#1 Slayer) Book Review Pic 01 by Casey Carlisle

Genre: YA, Paranormal

No. of pages: 404

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Into every generation a Slayer is born…

Nina and her twin sister, Artemis, are far from normal. It’s hard to be when you grow up at the Watcher’s Academy, which is a bit different from your average boarding school. Here teens are trained as guides for Slayers—girls gifted with supernatural strength to fight the forces of darkness. But while Nina’s mother is a prominent member of the Watcher’s Council, Nina has never embraced the violent Watcher lifestyle. Instead she follows her instincts to heal, carving out a place for herself as the school medic.

Until the day Nina’s life changes forever.

Thanks to Buffy, the famous (and infamous) Slayer that Nina’s father died protecting, Nina is not only the newest Chosen One—she’s the last Slayer, ever. Period.

As Nina hones her skills with her Watcher-in-training, Leo, there’s plenty to keep her occupied: a monster fighting ring, a demon who eats happiness, a shadowy figure that keeps popping up in Nina’s dreams…

But it’s not until bodies start turning up that Nina’s new powers will truly be tested—because someone she loves might be next.

One thing is clear: Being Chosen is easy. Making choices is hard.

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It was fun to get reacquainted with the Buffyverse through ‘Slayer.’ While it is technically cannon and references many familiar characters, it didn’t quite match the tone of the television series ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer.’ Though it has elements of teen drama, horror, and dark comedy, it managed to carve out its own identity.

I found parts of the narrative repetitive – especially in the first half – and it became somewhat annoying, but once past the midway point ‘Slayer’ really starts to amp up. The pacing is pretty good, but in what we’ve come to expect from Whedon’s brainchild, ‘Slayer’ is the poorer cousin. There should have been much more drama and angst, much more action, and a heavy, more pronounced theme of good versus evil… and some core moral centre that the protagonist deals with.

The concept of twins and prophecy was a fun twist and great to explore. Stepping into the world post-Sunnydale where hundreds of potential slayers have realised their power, Watcher/medic in training Nina (‘Artemis’) has joined the ranks of newly awakened slayers. I feel like having Nina isolated and in hiding with the remainder of the Watcher brethren was a great storytelling perspective, but did little to create a lot of relatable content for the reader. Buffy was a typical teen who just wanted to be normal – Nina is a naive teen who doesn’t know what she wants… so for the first half of the novel I didn’t really care for her as a main character because she lacked the strength and interest. Though as she stretches her newly slayer abilities Nina grows into the role.

Slayer (#1 Slayer) Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

There was this whole kept-in-the-dark-for-your-own-protection trope and miscommunications which was okay as a plot device, but I’ve seen it executed much better; and not only did it feel obvious, but frustrating that I was able to not only predict the outcome of the novel, but pretty much all but one of the smaller story arcs. I feel like Kiersten White could have cut 100-150 pages out, only hinting at plot reveals, and this would have not only been a better paced read, but married true to the tone of the source material. But it was so nostalgic and squee-worthy to be back in the Buffyverse. Plus, a red-headed protagonist – fellow gingers unite!

So I may have rated this lower if not for the connection to my early years through the Whedonverse, and just the simple enjoyment of spending a few days back in that place. This was an emotional connection, and I felt like the story was really getting its legs in the second half. So I’m assuming the sequel ‘Chosen’ is going to be much better and I am definitely fangirling over these books.

I’d love to freely recommend this to everyone, but some hard-core Buffy fans may not take to ‘Slayer’ so easily. While this has elements of the franchise, it’s not delivered as tightly as the source material. Even the DarkHorse comics that continued the story after the television series ended with a team of the original writers (helmed by Jos Whedon himself) still retain that ‘it’ factor we’ve come to love in the Buffyverse that I felt wasn’t quite reached with Kiersten Whites take on the franchise. But hey, I’d would LOVE to be proven wrong.

Overall feeling: A fun frolic in a favorite fandom

Slayer (#1 Slayer) Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Slayer (#1 Slayer) Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

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© Casey Carlisle 2020. 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 – ‘Don’t Let Me Go’ by J.H. Trumble

Great issues, but losing relevancy in today’s market.

Don't Let Me Go Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: N/A, Contemporary, LGBT+

No. of pages: 352

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Some people spend their whole lives looking for the right partner. Nate Schaper found his in high school. In the eight months since their cautious flirting became a real, heart-pounding, tell-the-parents relationship, Nate and Adam have been inseparable. Even when local kids take their homophobia to brutal levels, Nate is undaunted. He and Adam are rock solid. Two parts of a whole. Yin and yang.

But when Adam graduates and takes an off-Broadway job in New York–at Nate’s insistence–that certainty begins to flicker. Nate’s friends can’t keep his insecurities at bay, especially when he catches Skyped glimpses of Adam’s shirtless roommate. Nate starts a blog to vent his frustrations and becomes the center of a school controversy, drawing ire and support in equal amounts. But it’s the attention of a new boy who is looking for more than guidance that forces him to confront who and what he really wants.

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Don’t Let Me Go’ was struggle that was a struggle to read. Mainly because it deals with bullying and discrimination. It’s not the lightest topic for a contemporary romance. Also, a number of aspects contributed more to my dislike… A storyline that jumps around the timeline was disorientating. A whiny and jealous protagonist Nate. I found the first quarter of the novel, well, boring. I hate admitting this – ‘Don’t Let Me Go’ has some great reviews and was recommended to me by someone I trust. So, I think aside from triggering themes, this is just not the method of storytelling that I related to.

After that first quarter of what ended up as me yawning and putting the book down for a break a number of times, we get a few chapters on bullying and teachers acting inappropriately (*cough* discrimination *cough*) It felt old. Like it had been written in the 80’s, though it was released in 2011. I haven’t read many other contemporary novels dealing with a gay protagonist published in 2011, but other genres published in this year with gay characters did not have this level of hate and discrimination. Yes, the characters faced adversity, but being gay and dealing with discrimination was not all they were about. Additionally, being an educator in high school for over 10 years – talk about a personal slap in the face with a wet fish at my profession.

Don’t Let Me Go’ did nothing particularly new. I had trouble connecting with the story or the characters. It went from the two leads groping, to campaigning for gay rights. There was no evolution or character development. Maybe I waited too long to read this? Contemporaries we see being published today are much more sophisticated.

Around the halfway point we start to see some intelligent discussion around gay rights through Nates activism in high school. The bullying had taken the forefront of the narrative and while I value the tone of the narrative, the situation again, feels dramatized and unrealistic. Like harkening to an age passed. So I felt the hand of the author pushing the story along. Add to that the jumping around the timeline and we get a loss of the organic feel to realistic fiction.

Don't Let Me Go Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

Granted the story, writing, and pacing improved dramatically after the halfway point, but it felt like it took so long to get there. And that’s all this story seems to be about. Dealing with hate, ignorance, and bullies. There’s elements of friendship and exploring identity, but I wanted more multifaceted characters. Sure they’re gay, but what else are they? It left ‘Don’t Let Me Go’ feeling two dimensional. Like the author was writing this story to illustrate the negativity gay youth faces.

I did like how it attempted to change perception and educate its readers in the last quarter of the novel. But for me – and what I like in a contemporary – is to connect and relate to the protagonist, get wrapped up in the angst, get invested in their story as they overcome adversity… and well ‘Don’t Let Me Go’ lost me through jumping around the timeline and focusing on a single issue instead of developing the character and using many of their life experiences to draw me in.

I feel like this novel is either an educational tool to highlight the treatment of gay youth in unevolved places, or for a demographic of young gay men… but having said that, attitudes are much different today towards gay youth. We see a lot more community support, and frankly I’d be concerned this novel would scare some. It didn’t deal with the issues in a constructive manner organic to the story.

I’ve read so many fantastic LGBTQIA+ contemporaries that tackle the issues raised in ‘Don’t Let Me Go’ in a much better way while still telling a multifaceted character driven story, that I feel like I’d skip recommending this title in favour of many others. I may give J.H. Trumble one more chance with a title from later in her catalogue: ‘Just Between Us’ is her latest release, back in 2013, but nothing from her in the last 7 years. I’m not holding out much hope.

Overall feeling: Fizzled and faded away.

Don't Let Me Go Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Don't Let Me Go Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

Critique Casey 2020 by Casey Carlisle

© Casey Carlisle 2020. 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 – ‘Faerie Storm’ (#8 Harbinger P.I.) by Adam Wright

A guilty pleasure that’s getting me back into fantasy.

Faerie Storm (#8 Harbinger P.I.) Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Fantasy, Mystery

No. of pages: 268

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Be careful what you wish for…it might be inhabited by a demon.

When a case takes me to the wilderness of Northern Maine, I’m not even sure there’s a paranormal angle. Two girls walked into the woods one night and only one of them came back. She’s so traumatized by what she saw that she hasn’t spoken a word since.

The police come up empty-handed so the girl’s father hires me to find out what happened. Getting out of Dearmont for a while seems like a good idea—especially when there’s an ancient wizard trying to force me into using a cursed sword—so I pack the mosquito repellent and head north.

But when my client ends up dead, surrounded by occult symbols, I realize this is no vacation. Evil forces are at work here and someone is going to have to deal with them.

Guess that someone will have to be me.

Page border 2020 by Casey Carlisle

Another fun entertaining read from Adam Wright.

Faerie Storm’ follows another murder mystery and brings in a lot of characters both new and established in this series. We get a lot of world building, setting up to expand the Harbinger universe even wider (as Wright has a spin off franchise already slated with two novels for release in the Harbinger Academy series.)

This novel has really upped the ante, the stakes are higher, there is much more action, more intricate plot and plot points – Wright is really playing to his strengths in ‘Faerie Storm.’ It is the most engaged I’ve been in any of his novels so far. I am excited to see where his career goes if this level of development continues with each subsequent publication.

We don’t see a lot of growth or development with our protagonist, but he does overcome great obstacles and is changed because of it – the reason there isn’t a great character arc is because this is a serialised story. So we’re following different rules with this series. And what we get is fun escapist fiction that is action-orientated and a super-fast read. I managed to digest this tome in a matter of hours.

Faerie Storm (#8 Harbinger P.I.) Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

There are still some grammatical errors – nothing a spell check would pick up, but a line editor should have. And the formatting of the physical book was off where the printed page is skewed too far to the right. I’ve seen these issues pop up in every other of Wrights novels so far, and I’m guessing it’s down to rushing through the writing/editing/publishing process and using a self-publishing platform. But those kinds of issues are slowly eliminated with experience. I am seeing a lot less mistakes, but yet to have a ‘perfect’ copy.

I’ve mentioned before that this series is a guilty pleasure read for me – it’s the kind of fantasy I can get into. High fantasy tomes are sometimes a bit too heavy and I get bored with excessive world building and long character backstories (or constant diversions into language, customs, etc.) Stick to the mythology and character development and a great plot. I like my read to have a clip of pacing.

There are a number of things set up for over-arcing storylines in the volumes in this franchise to come that sound exciting. I was a bit bummed we didn’t get a better resolution to the Cabal – that storyline is dragging a bit; but having said that it is the most excited for a sequel I’ve been since discovering Alec Harbinger P.I.  I’m really looking forward to ‘Night Hunt’ releasing in March 2020.

Adam Wrights writing style is improving. I’m seeing less repetition in common phrasing, less of the chauvinistic attitudes of our protagonist, less of the convenience and coincidence of the secondary cast (it’s still there, but less obvious) I’d still like to see some character development of all the cast, feel a stronger emotional connection, because if any of them were killed off at the moment (apart from Felicity) I’d be like, meh. And there was a bit of a rush at the end in setting the scene that felt disingenuous for the characters and setting. A small developmental editing tweak could have made it so much punchier. But I have to say this is best and by far the most engaging read in the series so far.

This one gets the MVP trophy!

Overall feeling: I want more, gimme more.

Faerie Storm (#8 Harbinger P.I.) Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Faerie Storm (#8 Harbinger P.I.) Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

Critique Casey 2020 by Casey Carlisle

© Casey Carlisle 2020. 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 – ‘Burn Bright’ (#2 Dark Star) by Bethany Frenette

A novel with the promise of a bright future.

Burn Bright (#2 Dark Star) Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Paranormal

No. of pages: 339

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Audrey Whitticomb saved her entire city.

Well, kind of. The superhero Morning Star (who just happens to be Audrey’s mom) might have played a small part, and her sidekick, Leon—Audrey’s sort-of boyfriend, who is gorgeous… and frustrating—maybe helped, too.

But after two peaceful months, there is a vicious new threat in Minneapolis. Her name is Susannah, and she’s a Harrower, a demon hell-bent on destroying people like Morning Star, Leon, and Audrey—the Kin. Like others before her, she seeks the Remnant, a Kin girl who has the power to unleash the inhabitants of the Beneath. But to what end?

Audrey already has a ton on her plate: dealing with her best friend Tink’s boy drama, helping her other best friend Gideon figure out his nightmares, and exploring the highs and lows of “dating” Leon. But when she develops a powerful new ability, Audrey seizes on the chance to fight, despite her mother’s protests and Leon’s pleas.

As Audrey gets closer to figuring out Susannah’s motives and tracking down the Remnant, she’ll uncover more than she bargained for. The terrible truth is staring Audrey in the face. But knowing the truth and accepting it are very different things.

Page border 2020 by Casey Carlisle

This was a definitive improvement on the debut ‘Dark Star.’ Though the first half suffered many of the pitfalls I had with the debut: immature writing, fairly two dimensional characters, and a bumbling teen protagonist who kept getting in her own way. It can be very frustrating. But the pacing was much better in ‘Burn Bright.’ It still could have done with a decent editor to really tighten up the narrative and pacing, but this novel was a much better construction than what I was anticipating.

I won’t talk too much about the characters, they did not feel developed or explored enough for me. There are some character arcs for secondary cast members which were much more satisfying that those of the principal characters in this story. The potential is there, though ‘Burn Bright’ could have been so much bigger. Again, some lost potential subsequent of not having a decent developmental editor.

Burn Bright (#2 Dark Star) Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

Bethany Frenette did manage to surprise me with a few plot points and reveals that I did not see coming. What a joy. It has completely redeemed the trajectory of this series in my eyes. Still the concept of ‘superheroes’ and demon slayers juxtaposing is grating to me, but I found myself getting invested in the story towards the end.

I’m glad to see some improvement in storytelling and an elevated standard in Frenette’s writing; there is still a way to go before I would recommend this. It still feels more like juvenile fiction than young adult. Attitudes, reactions, and vision seem to fall in the scope of that demographic. I did not think I would continue with this series, but after reading ‘Burn Bright’ I am curious to see not only where the series will conclude, but also how much more improvement Frenette gains as her experience grows with each publication. The final book in this trilogy ‘Fire Fall’ was only available in e-book form on amazon.com when I first bought the novels, but when I went to purchase recently, found it is now cancelled and removed from the site. It was available on another website, but, unfortunately would not allow overseas purchases. I’ve even gone as far as contacting the author directly through email and social media, but Bethany Frenette has failed to respond to date. Disappointing that it has been pulled, and readers purchasing the first two novels cannot complete the series in any form – or that the author is engaged with her audience.

However, ‘Burn Bright’ does end on a resounding conclusion. There is only one plot thread that is potentially unresolved, so if you read these first two novels you will feel like you have reached an end… but from what I can garner from the book blurb and review on ‘Fire Fall’ we see the mythology concluded with a holistic approach – which may have answers and explanations to many of the issues I’ve had with the concept of this series from the start.

Still, I don’t think I would recommend this series without reading the final book in the trilogy – or the fact that it is no longer available. With it being cancelled, has Disney Hyperion given up the rights to the novel? Is Bethany Frenette able to self-publish for her fans? I haven’t seen any activity from her since the end of 2015…

Overall feeling: much betta!

Burn Bright (#2 Dark Star) Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Burn Bright (#2 Dark Star) Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

Critique Casey 2020 by Casey Carlisle

© Casey Carlisle 2020. 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.

Picture vs Page – The Sun is Also a Star

The Sun is Also a Star Picture vs Page Pic 01 by Casey Carlisle

The Sun Is Also a Star’ exceeded any expectations I had. When the book was first released there was a lot of hype, and I tend to wait and read later without any influence to sway my opinion. But I had to get a move on with the release of the film adaptation. I wanted to read the novel before its release to avoid another lengthy wait for the hype to go down… and avoid spoilers.

The Sun is Also a Star’ novel is a contemporary narrated in alternating points of view between teens Natasha, a Jamaican native, grown up in New York about to be deported; and Daniel, a Korean-American with ‘tiger’ parents pushing him towards a Yale application and becoming a doctor, despite his passion for poetry. We also get the occasional factoid chapter around physics, science, or a side characters perspective/history/future. While all of these elements are present in the film, and because of the omnipresent nature of movies the story flowed much easier from scene to scene. And the cinematography was beautiful. One of the drawbacks of the film was that it eliminated a number of characters from the narrative which hindered the whole interconnectedness/universal fate theme that runs through ‘The Sun is Also a Star.’ Some of those secondary characters added something to the story too – and leaving them out of the film to focus solely on the two romantic leads (Yara Shahidi and Charles Melton) left the movie feeling like most other romances out there. Also the novel had enough time and space to develop a strong emotional connection with and between the characters – it did not feel as strong in the film.

The Sun is Also a Star FvN Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

We see social issues of interracial relationships, racism (and typecasting), immigration (both legal and illegal), mixed in with identity, and coming of age all at that tender age where the world flips on its head – graduation of high school. It was a hot-bed of themes and issues to create a passionate contemporary. I don’t know if it’s just me but many of these hot-button issues did not resonate as strongly with me from the film; which is strange considering a visual medium can usually drag out a lot more pain. I think maybe the producers wanted to keep a lighter tone and focus on the romance.

The pacing did not lag anywhere in this novel – which is high praise for contemporary. Usually they are introspective, symbolic, and take some time to build. ‘The Sun is Also a Star’ set the stakes high straight away and kept the pressure on until the end. The pacing in the film by comparison was good, but a little slower. Maybe because the angst did not translate as strongly. Maybe I connected with Nicola Yoon’s writing style better than the tone of the movie?

We also get a pizza slice of the New York landscape. Coffee shops, record stores, the tourist strip, the corporate buildings – it was an almost magical depiction of the city as seen through the eyes of our protagonists. It was just as vibrant in the film as it was in the novel. Rotating wide shots, beautiful colour grading, and sultry close ups added atmosphere. You get some muted tones throughout to make other colours pop, and many shots had unfocused edges to draw the eye to the principal part of the scene. Brilliantly done.

On a side note – the movie soundtrack is pretty cool too!

The family dynamics of both Daniel and Natasha are also a great peek into how POC are depicted, and how their culture shape their behaviour. I will say the novel depicted more of a stereotypical version in compared to the film. But it was intentional in the book to illustrate a socio-political view. It was softened in the film – and successfully – I feel it may have come off a bit mirco-aggression-y without that tweak.

The Sun is Also a Star FvN Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

I did find the ending typical of contemporaries, that ‘what if’ moment, leaving the reader to make up their own mind as to what happens after the last page. But it does this with an unexpected flair and twist that I enjoyed. The film’s conclusion felt – cute- it lost the impact of the novel (again due to the cuts from characters/loss of angst.) I liked it, but nothing I would rave about. The film teased the novels ending but then went in a different direction.

One theme that is strongly resonating throughout is that we are made up of the same molecules as the universe, proving that everything is connected. It pushes this further by playing with fate, predetermination, and how universal forces follow an order about things. I found it poetic. Sometimes it can be cliché, but the novel ‘The Sun Is Also a Star’ managed to pull it off with sophistication. The film did have this undercurrent, but it felt more like a story of love and fate. Like the universe will always open a door for your to find your one true love. A great concept, but less grand in stature to the novels theme. At least it didn’t come off as cheesy.

The novel is definitely superior to the film, but I’d recommend both.

The Sun is Also a Star FvN Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

Critique Casey 2020 by Casey Carlisle

© Casey Carlisle 2020. 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.