Book Review – ‘Contagion’ (#1 Contagion) by Erin Bowman

A brilliant surprise of a read!

Contagion (#1 Contagion) Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Science Fiction, Horror

No. of pages: 432

From Goodreads:

It got in us.

After receiving an urgent SOS from a work detail on a distant planet, a skeleton crew is dispatched to perform a standard search-and-rescue mission.

Most are dead.

But when the crew arrives, they find an abandoned site, littered with rotten food, discarded weapons…and dead bodies.

Don’t set foot here again.

As they try to piece together who—or what—could have decimated an entire operation, they discover that some things are best left buried—and some monsters are only too ready to awaken.

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I picked this up one evening intending to read a few chapters and get a feel for ‘Contagion.’ Skip to 3am and I was halfway through. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. It was a little bit ‘Illuminae’ and a little bit ‘Alien.’ I was hooked from start to finish.

The only point that played against ‘Contagion’ for me is a tiny one. We get introduced to a lot of cast members in the debut chapters and it took a lot of concentration to keep it all straight. I nearly sketched up a diagram… but as the narrative began to focus on a small handful as the story progressed my enrapture increased exponentially. This is a real thrill ride.

We get many different perspectives in the novel, some only lasting for a paragraph or two. Normally I would find this jarring, but it drove the story forward, each new member bringing something unique to the storyline, or revealing a plot point. The main characters we end following the most, however are intern scientist Thea (to a Dr. Tarlow – who is also important to this story), Black Quarry survivor Coen, student pilot Nova, and young ambitious captain Dylan. They all have their secrets and all have an individual drive to be where they are. ‘Contagion’ reads a lot like a mystery thriller as each of their back stories comes to light. I loved Erin Bowman’s writing style, it totally captivated my attention from start to finish. The cast all have their own arcs and have changed by the conclusion of the novel. Bowman did not miss a beat. She has made me an instant fan from this book alone.

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Be warned – ‘Contagion’ ends on a cliff hanger. You might want to pick up the sequel ‘Immunity’ straight away… if you’re one that does not have a lot of patience.

There were many plot twist revealed in ‘Contagion.’ Many I did not see coming, and I loved the surprise! I had a few predictions, but none of what I thought came about (well one sort of did, but that’s another story.)

This novel plays with themes of trust, fear and paranoia, the science of how epidemics come about, isolation, zombies (of sorts), and greedy corporations.

An excellent read that I am giving the highest recommendation.

Overall feeling: Holy fuzzknuckle what a ride!

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

Contagion (#1 Contagion) 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 – ‘The Merciless III : The Origins of Evil’ (#3 The Merciless) by Danielle Vega

Going back to the beginning…

The Merciless III The Origins of Evil (#3 The Merciless) Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Horror, Paranormal

No. of pages: 304

From Goodreads:

Brooklyn knows that there’s no good without evil, no right without wrong. And when a helpless girl calls her teen helpline, whispering that someone is hurting her, Brooklyn knows that she needs to save her anonymous caller, even if it means doing something bad.

Her parents and friends assure her the call was probably a prank but Brooklyn has always had a tendency to take over, whether someone has asked for help or not.

She discovers the call came from Christ First Church and finds herself plunged into the cultish community of its youth group. She’s especially drawn to Gavin, the angelic yet tortured pastor’s son.

Torn between an unstoppable attraction to Gavin and her obsession with the truth, Brooklyn is forced to make a devastating choice to rid Christ Church of evil once and for all. . . . But the devil has plans for Brooklyn’s soul.  

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This is a prelude to the first two novels following the story of a new protagonist, Brooklyn, leading right up to the events in the debut novel. It has all the uncertainty that I find Danielle Vega does so well in her writing. You want gore – you got it. And again, ‘The Merciless III’ is a quick punchy read that you can visualise as a movie.

I loved following Brooklyn’s transformation, the increments that lead her from each action, escalating as the plot evolves. You are always questioning. Is this mental illness or different shades of crazy? Is this Evil? But it is all based in reality and justifiable, so it’s a grey area. The special effects (so to speak) are straight out of a Hollywood Blockbuster and I loved the descriptions of the evil Brooklyn faces. She is gritty with a rebellious streak, determined not to become a sheep or a clone like the popular girls, sans Mean Girls.

I’m on the fence about the rest of the characters in this novel, only because I found it all a tiny unsettling. You were either getting a culty-religious-zealot vibe, or possibly-possessed-by-a-demon vibe, so it was hard to relate to, or sympathise with the cast. But those elements helped in constructing Riley as a goody-two-shoes judgemental antagonist and leader of the popular girl gang.

The Merciless III The Origins of Evil (#3 The Merciless) Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

There is a bit of two guys fighting over Brooklyn’s affections. Gavin, the pastor’s son: angelic and tortured. And then there’s Elijah, the laid back dude. But there’s not instalove or anything, just like and lust, so it does not read as a love triangle.

The story is predictable – I mean it’s a prequel to the first two books, so you know in which direction it’s heading, but boy oh boy if it doesn’t still throw a cat at your face. I still get shocked at the *cough-torture-porn-cough* and it is still a fast paced read. It has got me even all the more excited to get to the fourth and final book for the series. At this point I don’t know how any of the characters are going to end up surviving. Maybe they’ll all take a big dirt nap in Hell? Who knows?

I’m really loving Danielle Vega’s writing style. She can throw misdirection and doubt like a master, her characters aren’t so cookie-cutter typical either, and most always have a hidden past that is intriguing. It’s fast-paced, interesting and very teen slasher movie. Another definite recommend from me for a light YA horror which is an easy read.

There was some disorientation upon first reading as I went into this novel without any prior knowledge – eager to continue in Sofia’s journey – and felt a little confronted by a different perspective and new characters. But I quickly got over myself when I worked out what was going on.

Overall feeling: Keeping the creep factor alive since 2014.

The Merciless III The Origins of Evil (#3 The Merciless) Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

 The Merciless III The Origins of Evil (#3 The Merciless) 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 – ‘The Merciless II : The Exorcism of Sofia Flores’ (#2 The Merciless) by Danielle Vega

Mean Girls meets The Exorcist…

The Merciless II The Exorcism of Sofia Flores (#2 The Merciless) Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Horror, Paranormal

No. of pages: 320

From Goodreads:

Sofia is still processing the horrific truth of what happened when she and three friends performed an exorcism that spiraled horribly out of control. Ever since that night, Sofia has been haunted by bloody and demonic visions. Her therapist says they’re all in her head, but to Sofia they feel chillingly real. She just wants to get out of town, start fresh someplace else . . . until her mother dies suddenly, and Sofia gets her wish.

Sofia is sent to St. Mary’s, a creepy Catholic boarding school in Mississippi. There, seemingly everyone is doing penance for something, most of all the mysterious Jude, for whom Sofia can’t help feeling an unshakeable attraction. But when Sofia and Jude confide in each other about their pasts, something flips in him. He becomes convinced that Sofia is possessed by the devil. . . . Is an exorcism the only way to save her eternal soul?  

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Another homerun from Danielle Vega. Continuing  right where the debut left off we follow Sofia Flores as she tries to put into context the events that happened in ‘The Merciless.’ Are there really demons out there, or is she suffering delusion brought on by mental illness? I loved how Vega supports both of these hypothesis right up until the end so you never really know what is going on until an explosive ending that throws another twist into the works.

I actually had a nightmare after reading ‘The Merciless II’ waking up in the early hours of the morning, heart pounding, feeling like there was a presence in my room. I haven’t had a sensation like that since my high school days, so there is something about Vega’s writing that resonated with me enough to unsettle my psyche. What a brilliant testimony to this series.

A highly entertaining read with a creepy undertone that raises the hairs on the back of your neck. Protagonist Sofia is isolated from the safety and familiar and forced to question everything she has seen and heard. ‘The Merciless II’ is haunting. Something about the way this story unfolds has you on Sofia’s side all the way – fanatics look insane, demons a religious fantasy, it makes sense… but there is always that ‘what if.’ And it is something that Sofia cannot ignore lest she gives in to the impossible, or declares herself insane.

The Merciless II’ steps it up from the debut, it’s more visceral, more on the line, and Sofia is even more vulnerable. I was gripped from start to finish and eager for more. A quick read, and am glad I have ‘The Merciless III : Origins of Evil’ on hand to jump into directly, as this novel ends with a twist I did not see coming and am excited to find out what happens next. Vega is turning into one of my top-tier authors. I’ve yet to be disappointed in any of her novels.

The Merciless II The Exorcism of Sofia Flores (#2 The Merciless) Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

I can’t say I predicted what was going to happen – only a vague sense that she would battle something paranormal, but no specifics. And certainly not what came to eventuate. But I am learning Vegas’ twisted sense of humour and starting to get a taste for her delightfully wicked style of storytelling.

Merciless II’ introduces us to a new setting – a Catholic boarding school and a plethora of new characters. Even though this deals with religious beliefs, exorcisms, it reads more like a monster story. Religion is merely the mythology behind the tale, not a plot point for conversion. And that is another reason why I enjoyed this book so much. I didn’t have God bashed into my skull with a well-worn leather bible, I was left to revel in the tale of Sofia being stalked – be it by some twisted mentally ill girl, or a supernatural force.

It falls well in the realms of YA. There is no extreme gore and filth, or language. It’s written for mature audiences but not adults only. But that is what you’d expect from a horror story of this genre.

Definitely recommend. It was a wild ride – but be prepared to get your hands on all four books in the series because once you finish one, you’re going to want the rest of the collection around to get the rest of the story.

Overall feeling: Heart-pounding, hair-raising, spooky fun.

The Merciless II The Exorcism of Sofia Flores (#2 The Merciless) Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

The Merciless II The Exorcism of Sofia Flores (#2 The Merciless) 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.

Film vs Novel – ‘Firestarter’

Firestarter Film vs Novel by Casey Carlisle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Firestarter Film vs Novel Pic 05 by Casey Carlisle

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

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

Firestarter Film vs Novel Pic 06 by Casey Carlisle

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

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

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

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

Firestarter Film vs Novel Pic 08 by Casey Carlisle

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© Casey Carlisle 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Book Review – ‘The Merciless’ (#1 The Merciless) by Danielle Vega

A spooky version of ‘Mean Girls.’

The Merciless (#1 The Merciless) Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Horror, Paranormal

No. of pages: 279

From Goodreads:

Forgive us, Father, for we have sinned.

Brooklyn Stevens sits in a pool of her own blood, tied up and gagged. No one outside of these dank basement walls knows she’s here. No one can hear her scream.

Sofia Flores knows she shouldn’t have gotten involved. When she befriended Riley, Grace, and Alexis on her first day at school, she admired them, with their perfect hair and their good-girl ways. They said they wanted to save Brooklyn. They wanted to help her. Sofia didn’t realize they believed Brooklyn was possessed.

Now, Riley and the girls are performing an exorcism on Brooklyn—but their idea of an exorcism is closer to torture than salvation. All Sofia wants is to get out of this house. But there is no way out. Sofia can’t go against the other girls . . . unless she wants to be next. . . .

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The Merciless’ definitely creeped me out. In the last half of the book I was squirming at the tension and excitement. This book is definitely a well-written YA horror. After being introduced to Danielle Vega’s writing with ‘Survive the Night’ I expected great things and wasn’t disappointed.

Sofia was a great choice for a protagonist, new to the school with a hidden past. Her Latino heritage played into the religious aspect too. The narrative doesn’t get involved in the mythology of religion, possessions, and demons, just observes what is happening.

I hope we get more of Sofia’s mum and abuela (grandmother) in the sequel. They were such a strong presence in her identity and gave her a safe place from which to deal with all the craziness.

I wish the story would have been a little more complex, and sometimes the popular girl gang who welcomed Sofia to the new school, and the situation, felt immature and ridiculous – but I was certainly hooked. What possessed (see what I did there?) these girls to think they could perform a religious rite? Little girls playing, like at a séance – until it gets ugly.

The Merciless (#1 The Merciless) Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

Would have loved to explore the groups self-appointed leader, Riley’s motives and back story some more – she seemed to be the driving force for the plot. Especially with Sofia’s other friend Brooklyn who has been ostracised from the group for some reason… Is this just a gaggle of mean girls or something more?

We do get some layers peeled back from the girls (sometimes literally… ew!) to reveal failings which was a masterstroke. I love a flawed character.

I had a hunch of what the ending was going to be, but there is a little twist that I was never quite sure of until I read the words. So it is somewhat predictable, but not entirely. Plus, this novel reads like an expert thriller/horror. I have the next two books in the series and am excited to continue on very soon.

Totally recommend this series for a fun scare!

Overall feeling: *hears a noise in the dark* “AHHHH What the heck was that!!”

The Merciless (#1 The Merciless) Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

The Merciless (#1 The Merciless) 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.