Book Review – ‘The Ice Twins’ by S.K. Tremayne

Slow-burn twisty thriller on a haunted island.

Genre: Mystery, Thriller

No. of pages: 373

After one of their  identical twin daughters, Lydia, dies in an accident, Angus and Sarah Moorcroft move to a remote Scottish island, hoping to mend their shattered lives. But when their surviving child, Kirstie, claims they have mistaken her identity – that she, in fact, is Lydia – their world comes crashing back down.

They know one of their daughters died. But can they be sure which one?

This was a spooky psychological thriller with a brilliant setting and unreliable narrators to keep you guessing.

The Ice Twins’ and I did not gel. I liked the unfolding mystery, but it took a long time to get interesting. I put this novel down multiple times due to boredom and read five other books intermittently before returning; it was only after reaching the halfway mark when the story finally got interesting.

The story is told in multiple perspectives – and when it was necessary to reveal plot points, it did so in an abrupt manner. No build up. Just – here is a twist you won’t see coming. There was no context, no grounding in the story. It didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. Like the author was intentionally throwing in the wildest thing they could think of to shock and awe the reader. I would have appreciated this mastery if there had been some clue or precedence in the narrative… there was the teeny-tiniest hint, but not enough to give it any substance and make the reveal knock me for six.

There was so much secret holding and distrust within the family that it all left a bad taste in my mouth and prevented me from really getting into the story. What young family exists in this manner? It felt so unrealistic. It had a tough of a gothic thriller: over dramatized and spooky atmosphere.

Sarah dominates with her perspective throughout ‘The Ice Twins.’ While it is clear she loves her family and is trying to make things work after the loss of one of her twin girls in a tragic accident; slowly my unease with her grew. She was wishy-washy, impulsive, and at times unstable. There was a lot of naffing about that you simply don’t do when caring for the well-being of a child navigating grief. It’s like the Mamma Bear in me reared up and rejected half of the narrative of this book. So I did not connect with Sarah’s story, or any other characters for that matter, and consequently did not get immersed into the story of ‘The Ice Twins.’

Sarah’s husband, Angus felt distant the entire story. It was like his actions and motivations were in conflict. I felt he was pretty much useless apart from the sporadic plot reveals his narrative provided. And even then I was shocked at his inaction to take care of his family.

The twins, Kirstie and Lydia – such a tragic story. Their experience is the only thing that my heart went out to. They were neglected on so many levels before and after one of them reaches their demise. I liked the touch of the supernatural of this story (if you want to interpret it that way, others may see it in a more practical sense) but the beginnings of this storyline took far too long to set up.

This is my first foray into S.K. Tremayne, and I hate to say, but their writing style just did not do it for me. It felt dry, emotionless, and the characters not developed enough early on. But for building ambience and world building, their skills really shine. I think maybe a lack of empathy is what I’m sensing in S.K. Tremayne’s writing style. It was rich and colourful, but lacked an emotional connection. It didn’t help that any of the characters in the story were not relatable.

I don’t think I’m going to recommend this one. I’ve read so many other thrillers that I enjoyed much more; and, consequently, will not be going out of my way to purchase any more of Tremayne’s titles. It’s mainly the writing style that did it for me. But I can see how some readers will love ‘The Ice Twins’ or any other title from Tremayne’s catalogue.

Overall feeling: Just like soggy chicken

© Casey Carlisle 2021. 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

How much emotional baggage to we drag around with us all the time? How different would your life be if you could cut the strings and live life free of echoes from the past? I personally have many hang-ups that I try to release – these ghosts don’t really serve any purpose in the now, except maybe provide inspiration for my writing.

Book Review – ‘The Luminous Dead’ by Caitlin Starling

A claustrophobic sci-fi psychological thriller to bury them all.

Genre: Science Fiction, Psychological Thriller, LGBTQIA+

No. of pages: 415

When Gyre Price lied her way into this expedition, she thought she’d be mapping mineral deposits, and that her biggest problems would be cave collapses and gear malfunctions. She also thought that the fat paycheck—enough to get her off-planet and on the trail of her mother—meant she’d get a skilled surface team, monitoring her suit and environment, keeping her safe. Keeping her sane.

Instead, she got Em.

Em sees nothing wrong with controlling Gyre’s body with drugs or withholding critical information to “ensure the smooth operation” of her expedition. Em knows all about Gyre’s falsified credentials, and has no qualms using them as a leash—and a lash. And Em has secrets, too . . .

As Gyre descends, little inconsistencies—missing supplies, unexpected changes in the route, and, worst of all, shifts in Em’s motivations—drive her out of her depths. Lost and disoriented, Gyre finds her sense of control giving way to paranoia and anger. On her own in this mysterious, deadly place, surrounded by darkness and the unknown, Gyre must overcome more than just the dangerous terrain and the Tunneler which calls underground its home if she wants to make it out alive—she must confront the ghosts in her own head.

But how come she can’t shake the feeling she’s being followed?

A phenomenal read, I was glued to the page from start to finish. I was a literal zombie trying to stay awake and read til the end because I could not put ‘The Luminous Dead’ down.  This was an outstanding novel that I want to recommend to all my friends. It’s been a long time since I have been both compelled and repelled at the same time when reading.

There is a creepy suffocating ambience that penetrates the story to have you feeling the little hairs on the back of your neck raise. In the last half especially I was squirming, pulling my feet from the floor and taking twenty second breaks to run around the room and shake the hee-bee-jee-bees from my limbs.

The only minute thing that held me back from giving this a perfect score was how the plot felt too long, and kept back-tracking on itself. It did add an air of desperation that enhanced to the reading experience, but left ‘The Luminous Dead’ feeling a snatch too long. Juxtaposing this was an incredible talent to keep the pacing from start to finish. It was carnage to me, each chapter left me wanting more. I am an instant fan of Caitlin Starling and eager to see what else she has written. Anyone who can keep me this engaged and creeped out at the same time is a 5 star author in my books.

The concept is out of this world too – exploring underground caves on alien planets (essentially in a space suit) with all manner of dangers to face, with a psychological thriller aspect – where do I sign. It was an easy add-to-cart for me. I most definitely was not disappointed.

Our protagonist, Gyre is a battler, she’s working hard to provide better opportunities for her life. Coming from nothing, she is not afraid to take risks for that life… and that’s how she ends up deep underground in treacherous territory, finding dead bodies and hiding from alien tunnellers that could either crush you to death as they make the tunnels collapse, or eat you for a morning snack. Gyre’s grit is amazing, yet soft and compassionate. We see her constantly measuring risk and reward with each new challenge.

Em is what I like to think of as a definition of ‘book smart.’ She has no qualms in chemically controlling Gyre to achieve her goals, is not chatty over the coms, treating Gyre much like a tool. It was in interesting journey to see Gyre’s influence (through need) in deconstructing Em’s clinical nature and become more than just a stoic, sparse voice over the com.

Lack of control, human connection, suffocation, creepy alien creature stalking you in the dark, and dealing with loss.

Enthusiastically recommend ‘The Luminous Dead’ to everyone.

Overall feeling: Outstanding!

© Casey Carlisle 2021. 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 #coverlove

I picked up this title so long ago on the recommendation of a blogger – but now I can’t remember what it was about, or what enticed me to buy it in the first place. I love it when this happens and you get to go into a book with no preconceived notions. What is your best mood when approaching a new book: do you like to know a bit about it, of jump in with cold feet?

#bookporn #coverlove

My first venture into this author’s writing… a twisty thriller which I’m hoping will not disappoint. Have you read anything from S.K. Tremayne? And recommendations? Or have you discovered a new-to-you author recently that you think deserves more hype? Let me know in the comments 😀

Book Review – ‘Final Girls’ by Riley Sager

Three girls survive separate serial killers – and now they are connected by a new murderous threat.

Genre: Y/A, Thriller, Mystery,

No. of pages: 340

Ten years ago, college student Quincy Carpenter went on vacation with five friends and came back alone, the only survivor of a horror movie–scale massacre. In an instant, she became a member of a club no one wants to belong to—a group of similar survivors known in the press as the Final Girls. Lisa, who lost nine sorority sisters to a college dropout’s knife; Sam, who went up against the Sack Man during her shift at the Nightlight Inn; and now Quincy, who ran bleeding through the woods to escape Pine Cottage and the man she refers to only as Him. The three girls are all attempting to put their nightmares behind them, and, with that, one another. Despite the media’s attempts, they never meet.

Now, Quincy is doing well—maybe even great, thanks to her Xanax prescription. She has a caring almost-fiancé, Jeff; a popular baking blog; a beautiful apartment; and a therapeutic presence in Coop, the police officer who saved her life all those years ago. Her memory won’t even allow her to recall the events of that night; the past is in the past.

That is, until Lisa, the first Final Girl, is found dead in her bathtub, wrists slit, and Sam, the second, appears on Quincy’s doorstep. Blowing through Quincy’s life like a whirlwind, Sam seems intent on making Quincy relive the past, with increasingly dire consequences, all of which makes Quincy question why Sam is really seeking her out. And when new details about Lisa’s death come to light, Quincy’s life becomes a race against time as she tries to unravel Sam’s truths from her lies, evade the police and hungry reporters, and, most crucially, remember what really happened at Pine Cottage, before what was started ten years ago is finished.

This was a thrilling and interesting read. I wasn’t quite sold on ‘Final Girls’ because I had difficulty relating to the protagonist, and she was always doing irrational things – stupid behaviour typical of pulp horror movie classics. In that way, ‘Final Girls’ is an entertaining homage to the genre; but for me, it was simply frustrating. I like my heroines intelligent, aware, and proactive. Quincy came across as volatile, reactive, and whiny.

It was on the cusp of being predictable – maybe because I’d already heard there was a twist, so I was really paying attention to the narrative. I wouldn’t say I predicted the ending, but I definitely pegged the murderer in my top two suspects… though the backstory to how this came about was a complete surprise. So Riley Sager definitely got me a good one. I have to admit his writing skills are right up there with the best. He can craft tension, suspense, and a reveal with expertise.

I already mentioned that Qunicy was not my favourite protagonist. It was like if she had just taken a step back and followed some common sense, most of this book would not have happened – which feels like a flimsy plot device for ‘Final Girls.’ It feels like this did a disservice to Sager’s writing, because he clearly has the chops to construct engaging prose.

Jeff, Quincy’s husband, really felt superfluous to the plot, I even found myself questioning why he was in the book in the first place. He did not feel like her husband, but merely a plot device.

Sam was wrong from the start – again a lot of frustration blossomed because of her character, and on the surface, she did not match the profile of a final girl… and this was dragged through the entirety of the novel. We do get some development of her character through conversations and Quincy’s research, but I feel like we should have gotten a more realised character in the beginning. It would have provided much more impact when sequential reveals happen later.

Coop was a really interesting character and I liked the tension built between him and the other characters.

There was a lot of jumping around the timeline through repressed memories resurfacing and flashbacks in conjunction with the current timeline, I’m not usually a fan of this storytelling device, amnesia is such a tired device, but it framed the plot really well. Though there was a bit too much compartmentalisation going on for me. Quincy intentionally kept her memories, and the people in her life, apart… which was another source of my frustration.

This many-times-mentioned frustration was good and bad. Good, in that is kept me interested and eager to uncover the truths behind my suspicions; and bad in that some plausibility was on flimsy ground.

I loved the concept of ‘Final Girls’ it had me enrapt from the first page and I am keen to read more from Riley Sager, he really knows how to exude atmosphere from the page. There was a reveal in every chapter, so the pacing was set at a cracking pace from start to finish.

Compelling read I recommend to all. On a side not, with Universal Studios having optioned this title for a film. I’m looking forward to how this story translates to the big screen.

Overall feeling: idiocy and jump scares galore…

© Casey Carlisle 2021. 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 #coverlove

Top 10 Standalones – Top 10 series

I thought I’d take a look back to recommend my top 10 standalones that I read in 2020, it’s a mixed bag but maybe you’ll find that new-to-you read!

I’ll Give You The Sun – yes this was released ages ago, and has been sitting on my shelf since, but in the past year I’ve been making a concerted effort to shrink my TBR and stop getting detracted by too many new shiny covers. This contemporary lived up to the hype I remember it getting when it first came out. Interesting characters and fantastic reveals that brought all the feels.

The Luminous Dead – On of the latest purchases, a sci-fi psychological thriller set in caves on a distant planet, the protagonist faces treacherous terrain, a controlling guide, alien nasties, and a few dead bodies. With a F/F romance to boot this was everything I needed and didn’t know it.

Famous Last Words – a contemporary mystery set in the Hollywood Hills. A young girl moves into a spanish estate that might be haunted, oh, and there might be a killer lurking about.

Highway Bodies – a zombie apocalypse that a diverse group of youngsters have to survive. Set in Australia, and a gem of a novel.

The Sky is Everywhere – Another contemporary romance from Jandy Nelson I let sit on my shelf for too long. Quirky characters painted with artistic flare.

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue* – A historical rom-com as brother, sister and their best friend take a road trip across Europe and all sorts of hijinks ensue. This was a laugh riot. *Not a standalone, there are two more novels and a novella in this series, but I’m including it here because I’ve only read the debut.

Life Expectancy – Dean Koontz has been a favorite of mine since I was in junior high. This tale is a crazy twist of futures that keep getting intertwined: one is a family man, the other is a killer clown.

Pet Semetary – A re-read of an old classic that never fails to entertain and send a shiver down your spine. Bringing back the dead, indian burial grounds and a spooky wendigo… it never gets old (but parts of the story haven’t aged well – it fun to see how writing has evolved in the last 30-40 years)

Reckoning – the only non-fiction title in this list. Magda Szubanski, Australia’s first lady of comedy takes a serious tone exploring her family history: a father who was an assassin, her dreams of becoming a tennis star and falling into acting… and discovering her own identity in a time when being in the spotlight was a dangerous thing.

Cold Fire – A re-read that I didn’t know was one. I owned this book in high school and has lost it in my travels across the continent. I bought another copy thinking it was a title I didn’t have in Dean Koontz’s back catalog…. and the whole time I was reading it though ‘this sounds familiar.’ Still it was a great story of possible aliens haunting a man’s past who has the uncanny ability to foretell certain peoples deaths and goes out of his was to prevent them.

The top 10 series I completed (or nearly completed) in 2020 are:

This Mortal Coil – a science fiction future where the world is ravaged by genetically modified viruses, body modifications, and advanced technology. Warring factions for control and freedom, super soldiers… this really shows where a STEM education could take us. My no.1 pick for the year.

Warm Bodies – I finally completed this epic series, though it slowly left it’s satirical roots and turned philosophical. But is was fun to get answers to how the zombie apocalypse came about, and what the future holds for R and the gang.

The Rook* – There are still more installments to come in this series*, but this is all that is published for now. A spy thriller with supernatural powers set in England with a sense of humor! This collection has a special place in my heart (the television adaptation did not do it justice.)

Midnight Sun* – I got around to what I thought was finishing off the series I started back in 2007, but since have heard there is the possibility of another two books to come!? Nontheless this was a fun return to the beginnings of the Twilight franchise and the story of Edward and Bella (if a little long-winded) but I managed to read it in two days.

Impossible Times trilogy – a collection of novellas that is very timey-wimey. Set in England this has an echo of Doctor Who and mixes in a heavy dose of time travel. Well-written and a blast to read.

Death Works trilogy – Aussie author Trent Jamieson pens a great collection of novels about a Pomp (think grim reaper) guiding souls to the afterlife and fighting all sorts of supernatural nasties… but it’s all handled like a well-oiled corporate office. Best in my backyard : Brisbane, a story very close to my heart.

Proxy – another sci-fi dystopia with a gay main character where the wealthy can get a proxy to stand in for their punishments. A fantastic tale of class structure, technology and rebellion.

Zeroes*- A group of supernatural teens – crooks come heroes that have to navigate their powers, face the consequences of their actions and face-off similarly powered foes. It has a fun twist on the superpower genre, I just have to read the concluding novel to complete the series.*

One Man Guy – a contemporary romance duology featuring a M/M couple as they come out, and navigate romantic rivals, clashes of culture and class structures.

Nil* – a science fiction portal trilogy about a supernatural island that pits teens against the elements and predatory animals, but they have a year to untangle the mystery and catch a portal home before they die. Just have to read the concluding novel for this series*, but so far it has been one heck of an adventure.

#bookquotes

I’ve heard great things about ‘The Deep‘ – like a Stephen King horror underwater… this subject matter will definitely have me ill-at-ease. Right up there as one of my greatest fears, trapped deep underwater in the dark, feeling the crush of pressure, running out of air, and knowing there is something menacing in the pitch waiting to eat you.

What’s your greatest fear come to life in a book?