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.

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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

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.

#bookquotes

#BQ Dark Star by Casey Carlisle

Another read from an early TBR purchase – the premise looked great but recently found out the series (the final book) was cancelled by Disney-Hyperion… don’t you hate it when you don’t get to read the concluding novel. Grrr!

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.

#bookporn

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This will be the third read from Maureen Goo… her novels kept popping up as recommendations on Goodreads after I completed a number of books by Jenny Han and I have not been disappointed so far.

What novels have you bought solely on a Goodreads recommendation? Did it live up to the algorithm?

Transgender and intersex protagonists – are they represented in the mainstream literature yet?

Trans and Intersex representation in mainstream literature Pic 01 by Casey Carlisle

Is there still a lot of discrimination or is it just fear and dysphoria? Or is a thing of the past?

I had this idea a couple of years back after beginning to read more diversely, and with the latest coming out and worldwide publicity around Nikkietutorials, curiosity of how trans and intersex protagonists are represented in mainstream literature is back in the forefront of my mind. We even have what I think is the final season of ‘I Am Jazz’ which has just started airing and a trans character in ‘Supergirl.’ I also loved the representation in shows like ‘Pose’ and ‘The Fosters.’ Just to mention a few – so there is definitely an accepting and welcome addition of transgender and intersex representation in the mainstream media – but I wanted to explore it further and take a look at the publishing industry (and my own personal reading habits.)

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There is also the concept of ‘own voices’ books, written by transgender and intersex authors – which can be a more authentic representation of their own community and experience. I’ve read novels with leading characters who identify as transgender or intersex penned by cis authors, and I must admit it’s very hit or miss with how I enjoy the narrative. Half the time they are a tiny bit offensive or dysphoric without meaning to be. It says more about the authors’ education about this niche community that it does about someone who has actually lived through the experience. And thus, the novel reads like its demographic is skewed towards enlightening cis gendered readers. Deep discussions with members of the LGBTQIA+ community always praise the efforts and inclusion on the surface, but if you have a deep discussion with these readers, the details are often off-base.

If you search for the terms transgender or intersex when looking for your next read you will typically get a list of non-fiction titles. Socio-political or psychological focused papers, autobiographies, and erotica. Where are all the great stories that just happen to have a transgender or intersex protagonists that are fiction which are not revolved around coming out, transition, or sexual intimacy? Believe me, they are out there, you just have to really look. The only place I was able to find a decent collection of current releases are from blogs or Listopia on Goodreads. And if you compare the lists to general fiction current releases… the average transgender and intersex list sits at 100 books, the average general fiction list in anywhere from 1,000 to 4,000. Which boils down to a 4-10% representation on the current market. Which is an interesting figure because that is what psychological journals are quoting as the percentage of people identifying as transgender or intersex in the real world as a general benchmark – whether that is accurate or not today is a different debate. But it felt like a significant correlation. Looking through my own library (which is skewed by the availability of literature and available funds to purchase books) sits at approx. 5% (up from 4% in 2018) out of a 22% share of LGBTQIA+ titles.

I am definitely thankful for the changes in attitude to transgender and intersex characters. Twenty years ago it was rare to read a novel with their representation, and if they were present, they were usually treated as evil, a freak, a sex worker, or the comic relief. The ending of their storylines usually culminated in tragedy too. It was dehumanizing. The trend is definitely skewing towards greater representation, more realistic, well-rounded characters, and positively ending storylines.

I do have to say that there is a great deal of acceptance out there. And it warms my heart. People are people. Love is love. We are seeing that reflected in representation in our publishing material, film and television, and the wider community in general. Yes, there are still opposing voices, but as loud as they get, their manifesto is getting tossed out the window in favor of a more inclusive and accepting environment. And something makes it feel like we are heading for that Star Trek future.

So what does it all mean? I think is shows how society’s attitudes are changing, how that change is reflected through representation in art and culture, books and movies. It’s allowed for the discussion and importance of own voices literature. It is also opening doors for other minority groups into inclusivity. It leaves me feeling positive for how the human races collective consciousness is evolving, and how we are getting a wide array of poignant reading experiences.

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What was the last book you read with a transgender or intersex protagonist? Can you add to these titles of new and upcoming books with transgender/intersex protagonists?

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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 – ‘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.

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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.

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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.