Book Review – ‘Mayday!’ (#2 Dirk Pitt) a.k.a The Mediterranean Caper by Clive Cussler

An action adventure of epic proportions (and epic failure).

Genre: Action, Adventure

No. of pages: 362

Major Dirk Pitt picked up the frantic distress call as he cruised his lumbering amphibious plane over the islands of the Aegean. Brady Air Force base was under fire, its entire force of jets destroyed on the ground . . . by just one First World War bi-plane!

A psychotic ex-Nazi, a bloodthirsty Greek strongman and a beautiful double agent set Pitt on the trail of the warped mastermind behind a devastating sabotage plot. And on that trail, danger and death are never far behind . . .

I am a huge fan of the Dirk Pitt series, and started reading them in the early ‘90’s and was hooked straight away. Lately I’ve started to read more of the back catalog of this series, as I came into this about mid-way. It’s also allowed me to uncover a bit of history in what started off the Dirk Pitt legacy. ‘Mayday!’ (written first, but a second release in this franchise) did not live up to my childhood images, carrying an undertone of arrogance, white male privilege, and microagressions.

Dirk Pitt is a sexist pig. The characters are very two dimensional and it is apparent that the characters in this novel only exist to service Pitt’s self importance. This is the worst book from the series that I have read. If I had started reading this collection from this debut, I would have tossed the first few books into the fire and dismissed Cussler as a writer completely.

Dirk Pitt slaps a woman across the face because she is grieving for her dearly departed father and doesn’t want to deal with her emotions, reduces her to her looks and sexualises her. Like if she can’t look pretty for him, what use is she. The tone of ‘Mayday!’ is terribly sexist and left me with the worst taste in my mouth. And that about sums up the novels attitude towards women, and the number of women present in the plot.

Pitt is coming off as a bit of a pompous asshole.  The physical descriptions in this novel don’t entirely match those I’ve read in the many subsequent novels. I think this franchise went through a major re-vamp at some point (thank goodness.)

I found this offensive on so many levels.

The language structure of American cast – the syntax reads like London English… if indeed Cussler was trying to write a Bond type novel as cited, he must of had that in his head, then but failed to craft dialogue for his characters properly. It read with insincerity and clumsiness.

Plus we have spies and agents blurting out their operations, exposing their agents and identities all over the place. So not plausible. This book is ridiculous. The blurting of facts and identities from government officials about clandestine operations and agents in the last few chapters is mind-boggling. It was so unrealistic and harkens back to the days of simple plots and stereotypes… lest be said there was actually a moustache twirling character in this story. It was so bad I was actually having a ball poking holes in the plot and the terribly written characters. Lucky I didn’t turn it into a drinking game – I would have ended up with liver disease.

The only redeeming quality to this was the imagination to come up with the plot, the mixing in of maritime culture and a dash of marine biology.

The pacing was medium… it could have been a tad faster in the middle considering this is an action adventure spy thriller.

A big, huge, massive, NO for recommending this one. I’d be happy to chuck it out the window while driving along the Great Australian Bite and watch it sail into the ocean for a great white to swallow it whole and poop it out in the depths of some dark oceanic trench.

Overall feeling: Kill it with fire!

© Casey Carlisle 2023. 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

It’s been a very long while since I have read anything middle grade but wanted to give this series a chance: an action adventure sci-fi series that had a great cover design. Reminded me of Tin Tin in Space.

Plus I couldn’t resist featuring my puppy Buster – he likes to cuddle with me when I read.

Book Review – ‘Salvation’ (#3 Sanctuary) by Caryn Lix

Another twist in the saga as a bunch of powered teens battle hungry aliens…

Genre: YA, Science Fiction

No. of pages: 432

Fall down seven times, get up eight.

These are the words Kenzie has always lived by. The problem is, she’s fallen down too many times to count.

Kenzie and her friends have already escaped two vicious alien attacks—not to mention the corporate bounty hunters sent to capture them. They’re haunted by the friends they’ve lost and the hard choices they’ve had to make in this war they never asked for.

And now, thanks to superpowers she received from the very aliens she’s fighting, Kenzie has stranded everyone on a strange planet with no way off. She just wanted a safe place from the monstrous creatures terrorizing her world, but this new planet has dangers of its own, and Kenzie will have to uncover its secrets if she has any hope of ever making it home again.

Sacrifice is nothing new for Kenzie. She’ll do anything—anything—to destroy the aliens that killed both of her parents. But how can Kenzie save Earth if she can’t even save the people she loves?

Salvation’ is a wonderful and unexpected twist on the Sanctuary trilogy. This concluding novel really captured my imagination but managed to stay grounded in reality as protagonists have to face consequences of their actions.

We see more loss in ‘Salvation’ and I’m on the fence over how this is dealt with… but I guess for a YA novel, and needing to move the plot forward, the author did justice for the characters and story, despite the gruelling situations.

I don’t feel like we got much more character development in ‘Salvation’ – the characters have already been put through the ringer. Here, it is more about strengthening their resolve in the face of desperation and insurmountable odds.

I also feel, for the first time, the aliens were finally grounded in the narrative, their backstory is revealed and no longer felt like a two-dimensional, single-minded antagonist.

There is still a juvenile tone to the narrative – as that is the target market for this novel, but I would have liked a more mature and calculated tone to elevate the story and characters. I don’t think it would have isolated the target market, making them feel like intelligent readers.

The pacing is fairly steady and really ramps up in the last quarter of the novel, and had me eagerly flipping through the pages. Though in having said that, I did feel there was a long build up to the conclusion. This is only because we had to go through a whole lot of world building of yet another new environment we find our protagonists in. But it was a fun mystery to unravel… I certainly did not guess it.

In the beginning novels we see a lot of squabbling between the protagonists, but in ‘Salvation’ it is less so because they are a lone group of survivors, reliant on each other to get out of their situation alive. And while Lix does a great job at keeping the clashing personalities strong in the narrative, I felt a need for the characters to have different motivations to create tension, rather than grating personalities. But Lix has done a stellar job in crafting distinct characters that you love to hate, and love to love.

It was a great conclusion to the series, but I was left wanting a little more of resonance on that final paragraph to get a hint at the protagonists’ future… just a minor tweak to really fuel my imagination.

Certainly a great number of surprises and reveals that delighted me. I think it was more tone that stopped me from truly being immersed in the narrative.

Salvation’ has definitely returned to the standard and promise of ‘Sanctuary,’ where ‘Containment’ suffered a little of that middle-book-syndrome. However, a strong finish.

Overall feeling: Surprising sci-fi!

© 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.

Book Review – ‘Nil on Fire’ (#3 Nil) by Lynne Matson

An all-stakes battle with teens pitted against a sentient island in a pocket universe.

Genre: Y/A, Science Fiction, Adventure

No. of pages: 416

Despite Rives and Skye’s attempt to destroy Nil, the island remains. And back in this world, Nil won’t let Skye go. Haunted by a darkness she can’t ignore, Skye wrestles with Nil nightmares that worsen by the day and threaten to tear her apart. As Skye fights to keep her mind intact, she realizes that to finally break free of Nil, she must end Nil’s vicious cycle once and for all—and she can’t do it alone.

Who are Nil’s new arrivals? Who will return to the island? And who will survive in the end? In this final installment of the Nil series, the stakes have never been higher.

Losing isn’t an option, but winning will cost Skye everything.

I have so many feelings about this fantastic concept – sentient portals abducting teens and depositing them in an alternate pocket universe to survive Island-style, and try and find a way home again before their time runs out.

I appreciated the narrative around colonisation and erasure of aboriginal culture underlying ‘Nil on Fire,’ but I still don’t think it was handled as delicately as it could have been, but the representation and exploration of the Polynesian culture was a big plus for me. So too was the diversity – many cultures and languages represented in the characters, yet still no getting a chance to lead the narrative.

Unfortunately there were drawbacks in this concluding novel of the Nil trilogy. This felt long, facts kept getting repeated and I did not like the direction the last instalment in this series took us. I struggled a bit with the narrative, losing interest many times, the characters started to feel more two-dimensional despite the hell they were being put through. The deaths were shrugged off a little at the end. It was just disappointing for me.

There are multiple perspectives in ‘Nil on Fire’ we follow Skye, Rives, and a schizophrenic omnipresence of Nil (the island) and the story picks up pretty much right after the events ending in the second book in the series ‘Nil Unlocked.’ I did like how we got all the characters from the first two novels in this final book of the trilogy, facing off against the island itself, and the mythology behind its creation. This concluding novel does offer explanation and wrap up the series well, but it was the mythology that did not sit well with me. It was a little too fantastical. Nil is a great series and the premise had me hooked… I would have loved this to stick to a more science fiction route than it had – given the alien consciousness presence and the alternate pocket universe. The precedence had been set. Otherwise maybe the series should have taken the more mystical route and leave the mythology grounded in the Polynesian culture. The philosophy of the Nil series felt like a jumbled mish-mash of both elements and lacked conviction.

As we are dealing with established characters, who have already run the gauntlet, there is limited space for them to develop further. In that sense we get the main cast helping secondary characters grow from their own experience. I guess that is another factor that separated from the narrative. I kept getting bored with too much detail, repetition, and short chapters jumping from perspective to perspective. The narrative didn’t sit long enough with a character for me to really get sucked into the Nil universe, or form strong emotional connections with the cast. ‘Nil on Fire’ is banking on the reader already having forged those bonds in the first two novels to carry you through this finale.

Lynne Matson has a great writing style for setting the scene and world building, I loved her descriptions of the island and its mysterious sway on the teens. She is also great at character development from the previous novels. I’d like to read something from her told in first person with no switches in perspective and see how that affects my reading experience.

So this was a mixed bag of feelings for me. I loved getting to meet all the characters again, and have the mystery solved… I just didn’t like the direction it took.

Overall feeling: *nose-dive*

© 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.

Writing a business strategy (for writers)

A guide for beginners – the business of writing doesn’t have to be a drag, it can be an example of adventure.

“For the past couple of years, I’ve been fine-tuning my business strategy as a writer. At a recent writing conference, I discovered that many writers, even those with years of experience, find setting business goals daunting. It isn’t. It’s only frightening because it seems complex. By taking it one step at a time, your business strategy can be made simple and understandable.” – Lynne Lumsden Green

When I think of a business strategy for writing, my mind instantly goes to spreadsheets and budgets, but that is only part of managing your career… and the number crunching part is really a small part. Used as a way to track and monitor progress. An article published in WQ (Jun-Aug 2020) Lynne Lumsden Green discusses this topic which I think helps demystify the task many of us baulk at. She suggests that we start by asking ourselves these questions:

  1. What are your long-term goals? Where do you want to be in five years?
  2. What are your short term goals? What do you want to achieve in the next six months?
  3. What has worked best for you in the past? What hasn’t?
  4. What can you learn from your successes?
  5. What can you learn from your failures?

Upon first reading her article and going through the list of these questions an issue prominently jumped out at me regarding my own career goals. These questions prompt you to not only keep on track with your goals, but highlight what is, and is not working.

The key takeaway for me was the question about what is not working – how long have I been doing the same thing and seen little or no positive growth. It really gave me that ah-huh moment. It’s time I should be trying different methods, tackling different tracks towards my goal. What’s that old saying : doing the same thing over and over again yet expecting different results is the definition of insanity. I’ve gotten too comfortable in my systems and habits that it is now impeding growth.

These questions are all about finding out what works and using those methods to get you to your goals. Ditch what isn’t working.

Lynne Lumsden Green goes on to discuss:

“Let’s look at part of my business strategy as a stepping of point. For 2020, one of my goals is to get more paying gigs. This means I need to write nonfiction articles for magazines, as well as short stories for paying markets. From January, as part of keeping proper records, I’ve been keeping a monthly spreadsheet separate from my nonfiction submission spreadsheets. I started by wanting to sell an article a month, but I am hoping to increase that to one article a week by December. To do this, I need to develop a pitch/query at least once a week. To do that I must develop relationships with the editors of my target markets.”

“Can you see how setting goals leads to implementing a series of logical actions to achieve that goal?”

I love how Lynne explains desire/goal through to a practical application to achieve a result. My writing goals are more based around getting first drafts completed by the end of this year, gearing up for putting out for submission later in 2021. So I have set scenes I have to write each day (notice I didn’t say word count, but story elements of the plot.) In conjunction with this I am researching Publishers who are accepting submissions, what their guidelines are, creating paragraph summaries, tag lines, 1 and 2 page summaries, noting themes, writing up short character profiles… all that lovely marketing material you need for a pitch/submission. Additionally, some publishers (mostly overseas) require that you have a literary agent to represent you, so I have been researching that as well. Again, many are genre specific and have their own guidelines for accepting applications. Another aspect of this goal is researching writing competitions – these can not only put up on the radar of publishers/agents, but if you win, it commonly results in a publishing contract. All of this activity not only makes the whole writing activity real, but gives you a deadline. And each bit of information or step you achieve along the way is ticking off a small task towards your longer term goal.

If you want to get even more technical you could also be tracking the amount of time you spend writing, researching, marketing, so that when you start to earn money through a book advance, sales or royalties, you can estimate how much money you earn an hour. If it’s not high enough for your goals, then you can look at different ways to improve upon your system… and ultimately your earnings.

Writing when inspiration strikes, passively submitting a story here and there one at a time can be a little soul crushing because you are eagerly waiting for a payoff instead of concentrating on a schedule and already moving on to your next target/goal. A business strategy for writing forces you to take in a bigger picture, a career making attitude, and leave you little time to fall into depression from rejection letters and failed submissions.

Lynne Lumsden Green also states “As writing is my business, I try to keep to a schedule. I spend an hour or so every morning on mail, updating my files, and researching new markets. This part of my business strategy won’t be changing any time soon. I then spend an hour every day on social media. I recently had over 400,000 people come through my Steampunk Sunday page on Facebook; a ready-made audience for my writing! You might want to do writing courses or attend more conferences, or join a writing group, so don’t forget to include those in your plan.”

Again this shows by example how much a schedule, consistency, and trying new things are important you your long term success at being a writer. Simply posting to social media blindly does not ensure success, you need to add value, offer a solution to a problem, tap into a niche market. Research your demographic. Try different forms of social media. Reach out to other writers who are having success and mimic their methods for a trial period.

There are a lot of resources out there to tap into. Courses, platforms like SkillShare, YouTube videos, blogs with advice, writing groups, state and government bodies that are running local initiatives to support the publishing industry and writing community, even emailing an author with one or two questions to help you figure things out…

“Don’t forget to be brave. Take risks. Having a business strategy doesn’t mean it has to be boring.”

I hope this discussion helps to change your thinking and provide some inspiration to develop your writing career a little further. Go get ‘em!

© 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.

Attitudes in the book blogging community

There are some outliers that make the experience of sharing love and support for fellow writers very difficult.

I love reading. I love sharing my thoughts on what I read. I love recommending great novels. I also love sharing my experiences with writing and tidbits of information around writing, editing, publishing, and marketing. For the most part the online community is greatful and supportive. I have delightful conversations and garner knowledge from other bloggers on their own journey.

In dealing with a wide sample of the population we get a plethora of experience, knowledge, and attitudes.

Helping younger bloggers and writers elevate their content. Provide more critical reviews and recommendations, more insight into the craft of writing is what I consider what this community this community is all about.

One of my biggest dislikes has been the spam, the unsubstantiated emotional responses (*cough*trolling*cough*) and professionals coming back to members of the community with cold, threatening attitudes because they are trying to monetize and ‘own’ the content that a multitude of bloggers are posting for free. Granted it’s a small minority of the community at large, but it exists and can have an enormous impact on the person targeted with this type of behaviour.

I’ve personally had my content plagiarized. And it takes nothing to reach out to the instigator and politely ask them to either take the post down, or link it to your original material. There is no need for threats of lawyers, being rude, or charging them money for using your content. After all, you can contact the hosting service if they are in breach of copyright (WordPress has its own guidelines and governance regarding this) and the material can be taken down as a last resort. Or ultimately there is the registrar, the DMCA, or even google. (I have previously written a post with step-by-step actions about these topics here.) There are always steps to take other than a heated emails with no response.

On the other side of the coin, I have myself inadvertently breached copyright. In researching an article, I copy and pasted material into several documents for reference later offline, and to link to when I wrote and published my article. However after writing my post, I accidently deleted the finished article, and saved one of those source material documents under the title… and then it was subsequently scheduled to post. So what was published were notes cut and pasted without context of someone else’s material. Plagiarism out right. So embarrassing. A lesson learned in triple, quadruple checking the line-up of scheduled posts. I received an email the next day of a threatening nature. Granted it was my mistake, and I was able to find my original article and upload it in place of the mistakenly published article – the in-question material having only been live for 10 hours. However, this time I expanded on the topic, researched more and made it even better. The thing is, if I’d received a better toned email, I would have admitted my mistake, altered the article and the owner of some of the source material would have been credited and given a lot of hype in the article – benefitting us both. But instead I found alternate source material – who don’t require a paid subscription to access – and much more examples. My newly edited article was infinitely much better, and all reference to the nasty emailer removed. They missed out on engaging any audience funnelled from my publication just because of their attitude. I would have responded to a nice email… but I don’t reply to threats. You don’t get results for inciting negativity. You can escalate the issue for importance sure, but keep it neutral in tone. I hesitate to mention, that even after I had uploaded the correct and finished article, removing reference to the emailers original content, they continued to harass me to the point I had to block them on all of my social media accounts. This person clearly did not check the updated article, or check her tone. I wanted to issue a public apology, I wanted to contribute some of her material as inspiration for my article, but after the bullying nature and threatening nature of their correspondence (from a professional in the industry mind you,) I’m doing what my mother always said. Ignore the bullies and eventually they will find a new target to annoy.

I guess with a background in teaching – you learn a bit about reacting to attitudes; a little about conflict resolution. But with the rise of social media we are seeing a lot of this clapback mentality. Off the cuff posts, tweets, DM’s, emails designed to hurt, scare, or embarrass the target when you could take a night to sleep on the matter and craft your response more maturely. It’s hard to make this point in a world where sensational content trends regularly. Cancel culture, online bullying, clickbait, response videos, apology videos… they are big business in the news cycle. We are seeing more and more inexperienced (and some who rightfully know better) falling into this trap.

It’s a form of bullying, of hate culture, of negativity that stalls the growth of our community and the publishing industry as a whole. Sadly this is not going to go away. The only way we can start to change attitudes is to not react, or react appropriately. Know appropriate ways to respond to threats. Know the avenues you have available to protect yourself online.

Granted I don’t see this bad behaviour happen a lot within the book blogging community, but it does happen; and when it does it can really impact you.

Anyway I thought this was an interesting discussion to bring to the blog – have you experienced any of this type of behaviour? How did you deal with it? Have you made a faux-par with copyright or plagiarism, and what did you do to make amends? Do you think information around the craft of writing, editing, publishing, and marketing should be widely free and accessible to anyone online, or is it something that should be paid for?

© 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 – ‘Nil Unlocked’ (#2 Nil) by Lynne Matson

Island survival with a sci-fi twist.

Genre: Y/A, Science Fiction, Adventure

No. of pages: 448

On the island of Nil, the rules are set. You have exactly 365 days to escape—or you die. Rives is now the undisputed Leader of Nil City, but keeping the City united is tougher than ever.

Raiders have grown bolder, supplies are dwindling, and non-human inhabitants have taken a turn toward the deadly. New arrivals cause rifts within the City, putting the Search system at risk, and calling everything Rives knows into question. Desperate for answers, he teams up with the only other person searching for them: Skye, a new arrival with a mysterious past of her own. Soon the duo find themselves locked in a desperate race to save all the residents of Nil—and possibly destroy the island forever. But at what cost? And who will pay the price?

We revisit the island of Nil following a new protagonist Skye – whose father is obsessed with the myth of the island after his brother was taken by the portals to Nil in their childhood and kept a journal of his experiences. Our second perspective is that of Rives, who was introduced in the first novel of the franchise.

I enjoyed this a little better than the debut because we get more of the mythology and reasoning behind the behaviour of the island, the portals, and the carvings on the island. It is still an all-out survival game against all manner of beasties and the elements, but this felt more grounded in a concept for me.

Nil Unlocked’ also touches on an interesting theme of white colonisation and interference with the natural order of things, and the slow eroding of native/aboriginal beliefs and culture. Even though there is a large representation of races and languages that get taken by the portals to Nil, it is still a predominately white and American presence. That in itself urked me – looking at the land mass and population distribution across the planet, if the capturing of teens abducted to Nil, white Americans should be a minority. There is also still a bit about the mythology that has gaping holes in the way things happen, how it came to exist, it really feels like we’re just scratching the surface. I’m hoping there will be answers in the last book of this series ‘Nil on Fire.’

If you were hoping the series would follow the protagonists from the debut ‘Nil,’ Charley and Thad, we do get a few scenes with Charley which adds to the plot, however, Thad is still missing in action. I’m sure we’ll get some resolution in the final instalment.

The action scenes, survival stories, and group dynamics are really well crafted in this collection. Lynne Matson has got some serious writing chops. The thing that let me down the most was we weren’t given enough to ground the story in plausibility in connection to the mythology of the franchise. The tone of this aspect is much different in ‘Nil Unlocked’ as it was in ‘Nil.’ I am curious to see where this all goes; it will either be a great reveal, or could crash and burn…. That’s what my thinking is at this point in time about this series. Great concept, but not enough introduced at the beginning to really hook a reader. Compared to series like ‘Maze Runner,’ ‘The book of Ivy,’ ‘Monument 14,’ and ‘Not a Drop to Drink,’ where the landscape and circumstances may change from book to book, but the core drive and motivation of the characters don’t in relation to the mythology/politics/climate of the story. It’s a little touchy-feely stuff, but it’s just the impression I get – though a small one impacting the novel overall.

Where Charley was more an everyday girl and needed to rely on her island mates to survive – though her analytical skills about the nature of the island proved her a savant, Skye has been a trained survivalist. Trained specifically for Nil. Which made ‘Nil Unlocked’ feel more of a trope than its predecessor.

The chapters are short and alternate between Skye and Rives. We also get heavy amounts of excerpts of Skye’s Uncles journal – all to unravel the mysteries of Nil and ultimately leading the pair to a plan that could turn the existence of Nil on its head. It is definitely a high-stakes read that kept me glued to the page. Really, great pacing and intrigue from start to finish.

I want to reserve whether I’ll recommend this until after I read ‘Nil on Fire.’ Matson has a great writing style which is more suited to the YA demographic, and I love the themes she introduces in the material.

Overall feeling: Dancing while on fire.

© 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.