Book Review – ‘Croak’ (#1 Croak) by Gina Damico

Emo loner meets Grimm.

Croak (#1 Croak) Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlilseGenre: YA, Fantasy, Paranormal

No. of pages: 311

From Goodreads:

Fed up with her wild behavior, sixteen-year-old Lex’s parents ship her off to upstate New York to live with her Uncle Mort for the summer, hoping that a few months of dirty farm work will whip her back into shape.

But Uncle Mort’s true occupation is much dirtier than shoveling manure. He’s a Grim Reaper. And he’s going to teach Lex the family business.

She quickly assimilates into the peculiar world of Croak, a town populated by reapers who deliver souls from this life to the next. But Lex can’t stop her desire for justice — or is it vengeance? — whenever she encounters a murder victim, craving to stop the attackers before they can strike again.

Will she ditch Croak and go rogue with her reaper skills?

page-border-by-casey-carlisle

This was a delightful detour from many of the YA novels I usually read. ‘Croak’ gives a great twist on grim reapers and a heavy dose of sarcastic teen. I will say that the sarcasm wasn’t really my thing – it got on my nerves a bit and stopped me from relating to the protagonist in the first half of the novel. But there were some real gems – laugh out loud stuff with this humour as well.

There were some aspects to ‘Croak’ that detracted from a raving review. My main issue had to do with how Lex accepted a lot of things around her new role and environment as it were nothing, yet struggled with others… and it seemed to me, centred around driving the plot forward and conflicting with her personality and character. It felt like a giant red flag of subtext waving at me that Gina Damico did not take the time to let Lex settle into her new surroundings organically. Yes, it’s me being nit-picky, but it was the one factor that was grinding in the back of my skull while reading ‘Croak.’ However, it was also nice to read a protagonist who wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows. Lex had a bit of prickle to her and also wrestled with some basic moral principles. It’s been a while since I’ve had the pleasure of reading a main character so conflicted in YA.

There was a bit of ‘the chosen one’ trope that had me rolling my eyes but it is what it is.

Croak (#1 Croak) Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlilse

We get a bit of romance, though it is not a strong theme – and I felt this too could have been left out, or introduced later in the series. I liked the tension and banter between Lex and Driggs. I hope it doesn’t change too much in future instalments.

Although we solve the main mystery, and open up a new one at the end of ‘Croak’ – so it kind of ends on a cliff hanger – there were still so many other questions I wanted answered. I’m hoping we get them uncovered in the rest of the trilogy ‘Scorched’ and ‘Rogue.’ I am definitely intrigued and interested enough to read on in this series. And if Gina Damico makes a strong enough impression, I’ll definitely order the rest of her back catalogue.

Damico’s writing style is colourful and sarcastic with a hint of darkness – whether it is due to Lex’s emo nature, or it’s in her narrative comfort zone I’ve yet to discern, but it was easy enough to read and the second half of the novel practically zinged by. I didn’t detect any issues with pacing, the story unfolded naturally and I didn’t guess the main reveal before reading the words on the page. I mean I suspected, but Damico placed a lot of other possibilities out there, so I was never confident, and subsequently got a delicious surprise at that ah-huh moment. So points for dodging any predictability.

It’s a soft recommendation from me. A fun read, but I had issues with the character developing organically. Who knows, Damico’s storytelling may improve with each sequel.

On a side note, this novel gave me serious ‘Dead Like Me’ vibes – a tv series that had a short run that has me praying for a re-make or reboot.

Overall feeling: Intrigued me enough to keep going with the trilogy.

Croak (#1 Croak) Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlilse

Croak (#1 Croak) Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlilse

critique-casey-by-casey-carlisle

© 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.

Advertisements

#bookquotes

#BQ Final Draft by Casey Carlisle

After loving ‘Noteworthy‘ I was interested to see what Riley Redgate would offer next… another queer lit with ‘Final Draft‘ tickled my fancy with the main character writing a book on the road to self discovery. Review coming very soon 😀

Book Review – ‘Risk’ by Fleur Ferris

Realistic fiction with a scary scenario.

Risk Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Mystery, Thriller, Realistic Fiction

No. of pages: 279

From Goodreads:

Taylor and Sierra have been best friends for their whole lives. But Taylor’s fed up. Why does Sierra always get what – and who – she wants? From kissing Taylor’s crush to stealing the guy they both met online for herself, Sierra doesn’t seem to notice when she hurts her friends.

So when Sierra says Jacob Jones is the one and asks her friends to cover for her while she goes to meet him for the first time, Taylor rolls her eyes. 

But Sierra doesn’t come back when she said she would.

One day. Two days. Three . . .

What if Taylor’s worrying for nothing? What if Sierra’s just being Sierra, forgetting about everyone else to spend time with her new guy? 

When Taylor finally tells Sierra’s mum that her daughter is missing, Taylor and her friends are thrown into a dark world they never even knew existed.

Can Taylor find Sierra’s abductor in time? Or should she be looking for a killer?

page-border-by-casey-carlisle

This is a brilliant book – more so for the experience of a young girl falling victim to an online predator and all of the education this tale supplies. Being honest, I put this book down halfway through because I was getting really frustrated with the protagonist Taylor and her best friend Sierra. They were annoyingly stupid, secretive, and well… realistically teen girls. I just wanted to shake them and force them to wake up to how idiotic and reckless their behavior was. Maybe if I had read this in my early teens when I was the target market for ’Risk,’ but maybe not. It doesn’t take a genius to work out the risky behavior of the girls involved. So I see putting the book down for a while not as a sign of bad writing, pacing, or character development; but of how immersed I was in the story. The strength of my emotional reaction to the situation.

Upon picking up the book again, it was evident that the narrative quickly changed and the pace stepped up even more. If I had only read another 20 pages before putting it down the first time, the tone of the novel would have completely changed. From stupid-stubborn-reckless teen girls obsessed with boys, to a high-stakes murder mystery. I was really taken on a ride with ‘Risk.’ It brought up some of my past friendships, memories of my childhood, of living in Melbourne, and of a depressing time when my Mother passed. I was triggered. But in a good way.

Risk’ follows Taylor’s story and involvement in her best friend Sierra’s relationship with a boy she meets online, her eventual abduction and the events that follow on thereafter. The scary part is that is all feels too real, so conceivable. Taylor and Sierra are so quintessentially those teen girls that long for this epic love story, pushing their parents away because, like, they don’t get it. They don’t realise their parents are looking out for them. The girls just want the romance. They don’t realise that they are ripe for an experienced child predator to step in with a routine, ‘grooming’ the girls to a meet up in real life. And that’s when the real scary stuff kicks in.

Risk Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

I think the thing that has stayed with me the most after reading ‘Risk’ is how it affected everyone else. The novel follows friends, family, teachers, police, and the general public’s reactions as well as our main cast. It’s something that adds gravitas and seriousness to the storyline. This is where the education and awareness steps front and centre as a theme to really kick you in the guts.

Getting into the nitty-gritty of my reading experience, I guess I wanted more sophistication. From the characters and the plot. A quicker set up of the storyline in the beginning and further exploration of the mystery. Sleuthing out the online predator. But that’s only because I’m waaay out of the target demographic and loved the detective-styled second half of the novel.

This is no cliché’d after-school special on the dangers of online dating. ‘Risk’ is visceral and based in a real world scenario. I can see it as a valuable addition to a high school English curriculums reading list. It has some great discussion topics and educates in a way that is not depressingly obvious. Certainly a gem in the rough and something I want to give to all the young readers I know.

Overall feeling: a shake up and a wake up

Risk Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Risk Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

critique-casey-by-casey-carlisle

© 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 – ‘What If It’s Us by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera

The type of diverse novel I’ve been longing to read. No hate. Just meetcute.

What If It's Us Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Contemporary, GLBT

No. of pages: 437

From Goodreads:

Arthur is only in New York for the summer, but if Broadway has taught him anything, it’s that the universe can deliver a showstopping romance when you least expect it.

Ben thinks the universe needs to mind its business. If the universe had his back, he wouldn’t be on his way to the post office carrying a box of his ex-boyfriend’s things.

But when Arthur and Ben meet-cute at the post office, what exactly does the universe have in store for them?

Maybe nothing. After all, they get separated.

Maybe everything. After all, they get reunited.

But what if they can’t quite nail a first date . . . or a second first date . . . or a third?

What if Arthur tries too hard to make it work . . . and Ben doesn’t try hard enough?

What if life really isn’t like a Broadway play?

But what if it is?

page-border-by-casey-carlisle

This was such an adorable story. Arthur and Ben are deliciously, awkwardly cute. A realistic things-don’t-always-go-right sort of thing.

What if it’s us’ is everything I expected it to be. Well written characters, a meet cute oozing innocence, awkwardness and angst. I may have rated it higher, but in comparison to ‘Simon vs the Homo Sapien Agenda’ this didn’t hit me as hard… or have as much comedy. So it just missed out on a perfect score. But that is not to say that is any less of a captivating read.

Four hundred pages and still ‘What if it’s us’ flew by. I was always eager to see where the next chapter would take me. The alternating perspectives between Arthur and Ben lead off on two different storylines that happened to intertwine more and more as the novel progressed without rehashing information as we head-jumped into each narrative. I will say that the writing style did not differ too greatly between each perspective – if it weren’t for chapter titles and references I would have difficulty discerning whose voice was whose. I’d love to have seen some idiosyncrasies, habits, common word usage and tone separate the two perspectives a little more.

What If It's Us Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

Arthur, the shorter college-bound nerd discovering his first love made me smile with his uncertainty in everything but love. His values in family and friendship. I think this is the first story where there is no bitchiness or bullying, so a surprisingly fun rom-com.

It felt like Ben had the biggest journey in this contemporary; discovering things about himself through introspection, friends, and of course, Arthur. He felt more like the stoic introvert that finally comes out of his shell.

It’s all about coming of age…

All of the secondary characters had their own stuff going on too: getting together, breaking up, fighting, and supporting each other. I really loved this aspect of ‘What if it’s us’ and really fleshed out the narrative.

It ends on the same note of the title as a question – like a true contemporary. One of hope that left me satisfied and hopeful myself.

The pacing is fairly steady. It’s not a fast read, but definitely does not feel like its dragging. The perfect timing for this type of genre.

Definitely recommend for lovers of stories of diversity, light romances, and New York City.

Overall feeling: A deliciously snuggy story

What If It's Us Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

What If It's Us Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

critique-casey-by-casey-carlisle

© 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?

page-border-by-casey-carlisle

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

critique-casey-by-casey-carlisle

© 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.