Book Review – ‘The Marque’ by Michael Patrick Harris

Western meets Space Invaders.

The Marque Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Science Fiction

No. of pages: 57

From Goodreads:

The world has fallen beneath the rule of alien invaders. The remnants of humanity are divided into two camps: those who resist, and those serve.

Darrel Fines serves. He is a traitor, a turncoat who has betrayed his people, his wife, and most of all, himself. In this new world order, in which humanity is at the very bottom, Fines is a lawman for the violent and grotesque conquerors.

When the offspring of the Marque goes missing, Fines is charged with locating and recovering the alien. Caught in the crosshairs of a subdued worker’s camp and the resistance cell that he was once allied with, Fines is forced to choose between a life of servility and a life of honor.

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This review will be short and sweet – because ‘The Marque’ is only 57 pages long.

While I enjoy sci-fi and horror, this combination was akin to Stephen King. Though I’m uncertain of the message.

The writing is gritty and dark and fiercely masculine. I think that is what disappointed me a little, I was hungering for a bit more perspective! A bit more mythology.

The Marque’ was more like a soundbite. A premise of a great story. A snapshot of an interesting character facing a moral crossroad.

And then it was all over.

Fantastic writing and imagery, great concept… but that is all this is.  I’d love to read a full length novel by this author, I have a feeling it would be incredible. Checking his back catalogue I can see he has only listed short stories and novellas on Goodreads. While I enjoy this medium of storytelling, I prefer novels. I like to get lost in the world building, character development, and feel the build of a fast-paced plot. You don’t get that in a shorter lengthed tome. Michael Patrick Hicks is definitely a talented writer and I recommend you check him out (but only if you enjoy mini-bites of fiction.)

Overall feeling: Not too shabby.

The Marque Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

The Marque Book Review Pic 02 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 – ‘Without Merit’ by Collen Hoover

Messy can be beautiful… or just plain miserable. But there is also beauty in misery.

Without Merit Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: YA, Contemporary, Romance

No. of pages: 385

From Goodreads:

Not every mistake deserves a consequence. Sometimes the only thing it deserves is forgiveness.

The Voss family is anything but normal. They live in a repurposed church, newly baptized Dollar Voss. The once cancer-stricken mother lives in the basement, the father is married to the mother’s former nurse, the little half-brother isn’t allowed to do or eat anything fun, and the eldest siblings are irritatingly perfect. Then, there’s Merit.

Merit Voss collects trophies she hasn’t earned and secrets her family forces her to keep. While browsing the local antiques shop for her next trophy, she finds Sagan. His wit and unapologetic idealism disarm and spark renewed life into her—until she discovers that he’s completely unavailable. Merit retreats deeper into herself, watching her family from the sidelines when she learns a secret that no trophy in the world can fix.

Fed up with the lies, Merit decides to shatter the happy family illusion that she’s never been a part of before leaving them behind for good. When her escape plan fails, Merit is forced to deal with the staggering consequences of telling the truth and losing the one boy she loves.

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What a train wreck of a family! ‘Without Merit’ is all about keeping secrets and putting up a front that contributes to this family imploding. But you don’t get the info dump of all the elements that have built up this tension – Colleen Hoover reveals them like peeling back layers of an onion in an organic way through the perspective of our protagonist Merit. It is a moderately paced book with a slow burn romance. It’s not overly traumatic, and has a cute ending but is very engaging. I completed it in two sittings and found the characters – and their arcs – delightful. It is just another novel that adds to the proof of Hoovers’ deft writing and stylistic flare.

We’re introduced to Merit as someone who is angry yet hopeful… and then slowly shown why she is both of these things. I related to her because she is both flawed, intelligent, and resourceful. She questions and challenges the world in her loner fashion.

Without Merit Book Review Pic 02 by Casey CarlisleThe rest of her siblings each have a different dysfunction – their mechanisms for dealing with the repercussions of their parents’ divorce and parental style. Utah, Honor, and Moby were still connected enough to be a family unit, but had their own story arcs going on. It was great to read that all the characters were so intricately crafted.

Two other characters of note revolving around the family: Luck seems like a bright addition to the family, but is soon discovered as the grenade that starts the inciting moment of self-inspection the family desperately needs. And Sagan, who comes across as the tattooed brooding love interest with a touch of mystery about him – and while he is all of those things we soon discover there is more: an artist, a compassionate soul. I really enjoyed discovering him through Merits eyes, though the whole quiet brooding thing was starting to get a little tired towards the end.

We also get the neighbour’s dog that Merit adopts; who is by far my favourite character and a wonderful symbol of moving on from a painful past.

I like how mental illness is represented and discussed in ‘Without Merit.’ It doesn’t necessarily paint a pretty picture, but once brought out into the open and dealt with, can be treated in a way that is not destructive.

The novel really deals with how perceptions and assumptions are continually deconstructed and the truth revealed.

The first half takes a while in setting up the characters and plot, so the pacing feels moderately slow, but after the halfway mark, things really get interesting and I did not want to put the book down. It’s not really an angsty novel. More one of uncovering one sensational thing after another, like some telenovela, it was tragically juicy and I was hooked.

Hoovers writing style slayed me yet again, and it was hard to predict what was going to happen because the predicament Merit finds herself in is just so deliciously messy. It all made great reading and a novel I’d happily recommend.

Overall reaction: Knock me down with a feather.

Without Merit Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Without Merit 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.

#bookporn

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I’ve been enjoying this series by Victoria Aveyard – but I need to carve out some time to finish off the collection with ‘War Storm.’ Lets hope it’s an epic culmination to wrap everything up for Mare and her friends.

Mental illness in writing

Mental Illness in Writing Pic 01 by Casey Carlisle

It might be a point of difference, a plot point, but mental illness in YA and literature can help save lives through education and lifting the veil on depression and related conditions. Before the person suffering takes drastic measures of their own…

I have a (secondary) character in one of my WIPs who suffers from depression, it provides one of the main characters in the story with motivation and characteristics important to their arc. However, while taking a break from framing out the second half of the novel, I jumped on social media for a nosey and catch up with friends. Two things happened that have me questioning my mentally ill character… first, a teenage girl in my family circle dealing with her own mental illness and a ton of online bullying; and secondly, the suicide of an idol. Part of the contributing factors leading him to his death were the continual hate he was getting online – he never felt good enough.

Mental Illness in Writing Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

It really hit home. I truly don’t fully understand what it is to be depressed enough to take your own life. I’m much too proactive and positive for that. It must be such a desperate and lonely place to be. And I wish others did not have to experience such a painful and debilitating emotion.

Professional psychologists attribute some of this to a chemical imbalance in the brain, as well as finding the coping mechanisms to train your thought patterns… it all sounds so clinical in the face of such a devastating state of mind.

I know there is no easy fix for something like this, but I always wonder why the two people mentioned above in particular don’t take some control of their exposure to the hate? Granted, they are the victims, and by right should not have to limit their activities. But why in the heck don’t they just delete all social media accounts? Or block the trolls? Online haters feel safe in anonymity; and the numbers and reach of these kind of people are incrementally greater online. Why not just switch off, unplug, and concentrate on you. On what you can control?

Mental Illness in Writing Pic 03 by Casey CarlisleI understand asking that of today’s youth would be like removing a limb – but wouldn’t you rather value your mental health than put up with idiots and haters? It has become such a huge problem that we are dealing with since the growth of online communities. Depression, anxiety, and bullies are a dangerous mix – it can lead to suicide, substance abuse, or fatal retaliation. Thankfully there are ways to deal. Help lines, organisations, peer counselors, teachers, parents, friends, doctors, mental health professionals. While life online has exposed people to more hate, it has also connected us to real help. Plus, we can control what we are exposed to with security settings, blocking profiles, reporting abusers to moderators. It’s not a hopeless situation. And seeking help online isn’t as difficult as reaching out in person. There is no shame or embarrassment.

I feel like including characters in my writing, and reading about them in fiction, can help educate people about this issue in an informal and personal way. I may not fully understand the things that go through someone’s head suffering depression, but with some research maybe I can help a reader feel like they are not alone, show them ways to handle these strong feelings, and seek out the help they need? Some of the novels I’ve read have certainly educated me in handling grief, bullying, depression, and anxiety. It’s also shed light on other mental illnesses and disabilities and how individuals cope with them in their lives, like bipolar, schizophrenia, being on the autism spectrum. When I was a child, things like this were taboo. Never mentioned. But what I see today is that dealing with mental illness doesn’t have to be struggled through alone. People can overcome the difficulties. And it’s more common than you think.

Mental Illness in Writing Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

It hurts my heart to see such a dark side of humanity laid bare when I think of those driven to take their own lives from bullying and hate. We don’t need to do that to each other. And to anyone surrounded by shadows and clouds, feeling worthless and alone – don’t believe those feelings. Don’t give in. You are a special, unique individual. A part of what makes this universe tick. Even though these words are coming from a complete stranger through a screen of some kind – you are loved.

 

And there is help.

 

Please call for help.

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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 – ‘No Vain Loss’ (#3 No Ordinary Star) by M.C. Frank

All I can say is… blerg!

No Vain Loss Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Science Fiction

No. of pages: 229

From Goodreads:

A soldier is summoned to the North Pole, days before the year changes, told to fix the great Clock for a celebration. He has no idea what to do. 

A girl, hunted for the crime of being born, almost dies out on the ice. She is rescued by the last polar bear left alive.
A library waits for them both, a library built over a span of a hundred years, forgotten in the basement of an ice shack.
The world hasn’t known hunger or sickness in hundreds of years. It has also forgotten love and beauty. 

This is the One World. 

The year is 2524. 

This is by no means a standalone novel in a trilogy – more like the third act of a whole. Why M.C. Frank released these novellas in this format has me dumbfounded. The novel jumps right into the action and there is little back story or summary of what has come before. Again, like its predecessors, I found it extremely difficult to connect to any of the characters or fully understand their motivations.

One gleaming positive about ‘No Vain Loss’ is the plot. It was the most interesting of the trilogy so far. There are hardships, twists and turns, and definitely the most intricate so far. So viewing the novella from a mechanical standpoint, it was pretty good. But as for the rest, I found it miserably deficient.

There was not enough character development for me to identify with any of the cast, or cheer for their journey. The descriptions are bland and bleak. The world building (though confusing at times) is much more colourful. I wanted that same care taken to the characters as well. This, added with short chapters and alternating perspectives, also contributed to the distancing from the narrative. I never really had enough time to grow with either protagonist. And then calling each other ‘Tin Soldier’ and ‘Match girl’ might have been cute, but it was used so repetitively it lost the romance and became annoying. Slapping a throwback signifier also distanced me from either protagonist. It all felt a little forced and disingenuous.

No Vain Loss Book Review Pic 02 by Casey CarlisleThis has got to be the worst series I’ve ever read. I had to force myself to complete each and every one of these novellas. And that’s not a great compliment because they are meant to be short, paced reads. I kept putting them down due to boredom and lack of interest.

I don’t even want to re-gift these to anyone, I prefer to toss them in the bin. The art work looks like it’s been done by a primary schooler on PhotoShop – couldn’t there have been some original images used that relate to the story and its symbolism instead of low resolution clip art?

Yes the concept of this trilogy, and the plot outline is fantastic, but its execution is the worst I’ve come across to date.

Definitely don’t recommend this one. (Or the series.)

 Overall feeling: Worst. Book. Series. Ever.

No Vain Loss Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

No Vain Loss 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 – ‘Found’ by Fleur Ferris

Putting Australian YA Authors on the international map

Found Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Mystery, Thriller

No. of pages: 276

From Goodreads:

What happens when someone else’s past catches up with you? 

Elizabeth Miller had lived in Deni her entire life. In a small rural town, Beth’s biggest problem is telling her protective and fiercely private father that she has a boyfriend. 

But when her dad disappears before her and Jonah’s eyes, Beth discovers that he isn’t who she thought he was. Her family’s secret past has caught up with them, and someone wants her dead. 

Beth has been unwittingly prepared for this moment her entire life. Can she find a way out before they find her?

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I really like the way Fleur Ferris crafts a story. She creates an air of mystery and intrigue, and masterfully writes actions scenes that have me gripped to the page, eager to see what happens next. A small downside to this is there is a slight feeling of obvious plotting. ‘Found’ isn’t quite organic and believable. But it is only a minor part. I still enjoyed ‘Found,’ and could see it all play out like a movie in my mind’s eye.

Beth (Elizabeth) Miller discovers her father has been abducted, and from there secrets start spilling out… her life, her family is not what it seems. The only rock in these crazy revelations is her boyfriend, Jonah, but even things come to light that put that into jeopardy. Beth’s father, Bear, has raised her in militant style in an isolated Australian country town. Big on survival skills, Tae Kwon Do, practicing at the shooting range. All throwbacks to his military career. Beth suffers through it, but some of the activities she really loves. What struck me first about Beth is the tomboy protagonist who doesn’t indulge in girly things like dresses and makeup and is apparently some hidden beauty. I’d roll my eyes at this trope. But the thing is – I grew up in places like this. Kids are really like that. Riding around on bikes, hanging out together because there’s not much else to do. Even the girls I went to high school with, Beth could be at least half of the population of my classmates. So this protagonist could be polarising to readers outside Australia, seen as falling into the ugly duckling tomboy trope, when in fact it is representative of life in a lot of small remote towns in Aussieland. I found Beth a bit dry and boring – it was always about following rules and getting down to business, but she was always observant and intelligent. All of those traits helped her survive. A dippy sarcastic teen would have perished in the first act.

Found’ is a beautiful nod to the Aussie psyche and small town living. It made me nostalgic for my youth.

Found Book Review Pic 02 by Casey CarlisleTold in dual perspectives, the second POV, that of love interest Jonah does help add dimension to the plot as both characters are in different places, thinking different things, and uncovering different clues to the overall plot. Usually dual perspectives can be a bit of a yawn because it’s just telling the same story from a different angle, but Fleur ensures Jonah drives the narrative on his own. Distinctly masculine and completely believable. He is fallible, and quite possibly not as smart as Beth. He pays the consequences for his rocky decisions. There are even revelations in story arcs not relating to the main story that I found delightful.

Found’ is a gripping, fast read. While it did not blow me out of the water, and had some issues with believability, I was nonetheless entertained and completed it in two sittings.

Fleur uses some Aussie slang in the narrative that threw me. While, as a native, it’s the dialogue we use in our heads, it was confronting to read them in print. I would have preferred keeping the narrative to correct English and leave the slang in dialogue as not to pull the reader from the narrative. I also feel another pass from an editor would have benefited ‘Found’ just to tie up some misspellings, missed words, grammar issues and tighten the plot a little… and maybe add some interest to our two leads. I like me a few quirks or awkwardness. Maybe a few more comical moments to break the tension in key moments.

I will say the second half of the novel, after a certain event was spot on. I’ve lived through something similar and it dragged out all the feels and had me re-living the experience.

Fleur has all the makings of a fantastic author and definitely someone I am now a huge fan of. Viva la Ferris!

Definitely recommend this one, some great action scenes and a gritty protagonist representative of a true Aussie.

I can’t say I predicted what was going to happen in ‘Found’ it literally surprised me with every turn. Absolutely brilliant.

And on a side note, loving the cover art. I’ve now got all of her published works and they have the same aesthetic. Single word titles, simple bold font and muted photography. Even though they are all standalones, the collection looks like a set and is a great marketing concept – making an instantly recognisable book on the shelves as that of Fleur Ferris.

Overall feeling: A great new author discovery and some nostalgia mixed in with a teen action storyline.

Found Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Found 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.