Book Review – ‘Heartstopper : Volume 2’ by Alice Oseman

A gentle tale of discovering feelings.

Genre: Y/A, Contemporary, Romance, LGBT, Graphic Novel

No. of pages: 320

Nick and Charlie are best friends. Nick knows Charlie’s gay, and Charlie is sure that Nick isn’t.

But love works in surprising ways, and Nick is discovering all kinds of things about his friends, his family … and himself.

I liked volume 2 more than the debut. There is still that overwhelming cuteness in the narrative that simply captures your heart. Nick and Charlie are adorable innocence personified.

In this sequel, we see Nick and Charlie grow closer and come out, forming friendships with other LBGTQIA+ youth. Where Vol. 1 deals more with Charlie’s anxiety over his feelings for Nick and worries about getting his heart broken; this edition deals with Nick coming to terms with his feelings and coming out to those close to him. It’s all about Nick sorting things out in his head.

Again another quick read, and it’s getting me to like the graphic novel medium. I recently heard that there is a screen adaptation underway, and I am really excited to see that comes to fruition.

The plot isn’t all that complicated, we get some resolution to an issue, but this is really an episode in a much bigger tale. So don’t expect any theatrics or magical reveals, ‘Heartstopper’ remains true to its core about LGBTQIA+ representation and the story of Charlie and Nick navigating the world and their relationship. We do get new introduced elements which will no doubt get explored in following editions of this series. And it all got me hooked!

The presentation of this story in graphic novel form lends to a fast paced storyline. It took me just over an hour to complete the novel in full. And ‘Heartstopper’ has got me wanting to venture into Alice Oseman’s back catalogue.

Again, the story is easy to predict, but we do get a few little bumps in the road that I did not foresee that were a joy to read.

There’s not a lot to say without spoiling or repeating what’s in Volume 2, it’s a sweet progression of Nick and Charlies love for each other that I found endearing. Love the rainbow representation and I’ll recommending this to all my friends. It’s also accessible to younger audiences, not only because of its medium, but because it tackles issues of identity and community in a gentle way.

Overall feeling: Beautiful.

© 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 – ‘The First 7’ (#2 The Last 8) by Laura Pohl

A group of kids, the last survivors of the human race…

Genre: Y/A, Science Fiction, LGBT

No. of pages: 367

Clover Martinez and The Last Teenagers on Earth are busy exploring the galaxy after leaving earth behind…even if they can’t help but be a little homesick.

So when their ship receives a distress signal from their former planet, they hope against hope that it means other survivors. But as soon as they arrive, they realize something’s deeply wrong: strange crystal formations have popped up everywhere and there’s some sort of barrier keeping them from leaving.

Seeking the origin of the formations and the reason for the barrier, the group discovers a colony of survivors hidden in the mountains. But the survivors aren’t who they seem…

I enjoyed this more than the debut. I think with the ridiculous aliens out of the picture and the story starting out in space, it constructed a world deep in sci-fi, rather than a dystopian earth facing an alien threat, that slight shift in the tone of the narrative allowed me to shed preconceived notions and really get into the story.

The characters did feel a little more grown up – we still get moments of teenage melodrama, but it seems the war and travel in the stars have seasoned our group and I was less inclined to sigh or eye-roll. Still there is a tone with the presentation (description) of the aliens that we encounter in ‘The First 7’ that feels immature. I guess it will capture the minds of a younger audience (of whom it is intended.)

The First 7’ has a much stronger plot that its predecessor but there was the inclination to meander a little. The story is broken into three sections which didn’t necessarily transition as easily as they could have.

We see some great character arcs, and an aspect of humanity shone through brightest for me. Pohl even managed to surprise me with a few plot twists that I didn’t see coming. I’d love to see her write for a more mature audience, what I gather from her writing chops, it has limitless possibilities.

Again the greatest drawbacks were meandering plot and tone of the novel.

We see many of the hanging plot threads from the debut tied up in a rather unusual fashion. And Pohl is not afraid to serve out real-life consequences to her characters after facing apocalypse-level circumstances that you don’t see in a lot of YA. So I am unsure if teens reacting to mental coping mechanisms, combined with hormonal behaviour left the plot feeling that bit erratic: it is either a pretty accurate depiction, or a tone not befitting young adults placed in that situation… it’s hard to tell with them being changed with alien DNA – but it’s the same elements that had me humming and harring from ‘The Last 8’ as well.

I understand the title of ‘The First 7’ and its need to match the hook from the debut, but after completing the novel, I don’t see how it really fits. They mention it in the novel, but the justification felt tenuous at best.

The ending was sufficiently cinematic and while I enjoyed my time reading this duology, it’s probably one I’ll forget fairly quickly. I’d only recommend this for the younger end of the YA market. Adults and older young adults may find this a little juvenile.

Overall feeling: Okay, pretty good.

© 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 – ‘The Gravity of Us’ by Phil Stamper

The countdown to first love and finding your voice.

Genre: Y/A, Contemporary, Romance, LGBT

No. of pages: 314

As a successful social media journalist with half a million followers, seventeen-year-old Cal is used to sharing his life online. But when his pilot father is selected for a highly publicized NASA mission to Mars, Cal and his family relocate from Brooklyn to Houston and are thrust into a media circus.

Amidst the chaos, Cal meets sensitive and mysterious Leon, another “Astrokid,” and finds himself falling head over heels—fast. As the frenzy around the mission grows, so does their connection. But when secrets about the program are uncovered, Cal must find a way to reveal the truth without hurting the people who have become most important to him.

This book was set out to be a sure-fire hit for me – vlogging and journalism; diversity rep with POC, sexual orientation, and mental illness; general nerdiness around space travel and the race to colonise Mars; all wrapped up in an angsty teen coming of age bow… The concept of ‘The Gravity of Us’ had me from the first line of the blurb.

The Gravity of Us’ was a read of mixed feelings for me. Our protagonist, Cal, while rich with journalistic integrity, a passion for his home town Brooklyn, and commitment to best friend Deb, came across a little flat and obnoxious. I had difficulty in relating to him on an emotional level. I admired his ethics and drive for perfection and a career, but there wasn’t enough vulnerability for me to truly empathise with him. Plus he was always justifying himself in the narrative, and it comes off as, well, shallow.

I also didn’t quite blend with Phil Stamper’s writing style. It was sparse in areas where we had a chance to jump into deep emotion of a character, and the romance was all repeated phrases of a more physical reaction. I didn’t feel any deep connection growing between Cal and his love interest Leon. The romance fell real flat for me. Maybe it had something to do with Leon’s struggle with depression and anxiety, but I have read other novels where this struggle can bring the reader closer to the character, but in this case it isolated me to the point that I felt I didn’t really know Leon.

Plot wise ‘The Gravity of Us’ is fantastic. Stamper uses the first person narrative expertly to hide motives from the reader, and reveals plot points slowly throughout the novel, twisting this way and that. With interspersed chapters of Shooting Stars episodes (The NASA reality show around the astronauts getting ready for a Mars venture) each account reveals something for the plot, driving it forward. Because of these well placed developments throughout the story the pacing is perfect. Despite some of the issues I had with the characters and writing style, I was never bored.

We do see character development from all the cast, and it was sweet to follow Cal’s growing awareness for the wider world (despite abovementioned obnoxiousness) and I think if I had been able to make a stronger emotional connection to him and the other characters, I would have adored ‘The Gravity of Us.’

The plot is mostly predictable from the outset – I won’t mention them here and spoil the story for those of you yet to read ‘The Gravity of Us,’ but everything I guessed in the first twenty or so pages came to pass. There was only one twist I did not see coming, and quite frankly, is a redeeming feature of this novel.

There is some language use and underage drinking, talk of depression and running away if any of those are triggers for you, but we never get into any frank discussions for any of these topics. Neither do we touch on sexual intimacy when its clear Cal and Leon are heading in that direction… all the ‘hard’ topics are glazed over. Which is a pity, with Cal’s journalistic voice and love for fact and practicality we could have seen some relevant discussions on topics that affect all teens (and help add complexity to the characters.)

I want to say there was meant to be humour in ‘The Gravity of Us,’ but it comes across as snarky (almost bitchy) so none of the comedic tone landed with me.

All in all ‘The Gravity of Us’ did not meet my expectations and turned out to be a pretty average read. Cute, moralistic, and missed a lot of opportunity to find a real voice.

Overall feeling: Good, but not great.

© 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 – ‘Blastaway’ by Melissa Landers

The perfect light-hearted, family-friendly space adventure.

Genre: Y/A, Science Fiction, Adventure

No. of pages: 304

Kyler Centaurus isn’t your typical runaway. All he wanted was a quick trip to the legendary Fasti Sun Festival. Who wouldn’t want to see new stars being born? Um, try Kyler’s entire family. They couldn’t care less about mind-blowing wonders of science.

When an accidental launch sequence ends with Kyler hurtling through space on the family cruiser, the thrill of freedom is cut short by two space pirates determined to steal his ship. Not happening!

Luckily, Kyler bumps into Fig, a savvy young Wanderer who makes a living by blowing up asteroids. She could really use a ride to Earth and Kyler could really use a hand with the pirates.

But when Kyler learns the truth about Fig’s mission, the two must put aside their differences long enough to stop the threat of astronomical proportions racing towards Earth?

I enjoyed this book so much, it was literally like watching a Disney movie (no wonder Disney Hyperion published this.) Great family friendly hijinks. ‘Blastaway’ is every kid’s fantasy of running away from home on a spaceship with a robot sidekick to boot. There were elements of Home-Alone-in-space, and the robots is reminiscent of ‘Short Circuit,’ ‘Wall-E,’ and the two robots from ‘The Black HoleV.I.N.CENT and B.O.B.

We face pirates sans ‘Home Alone,’ and rescue planet Earth from a runaway star. There was adventure and action, and a lot of hilarity. If this ever gets the film treatment I’m definitely buying a ticket. It managed to capture the child hidden inside me, entertain me with jokes, and have enough sci-fi elements for me not to get bored. ‘Blastaway’ has a whip-cracking pace and I read the entire book in one sitting. My other half kept looking at me because I was giggling frequently.

The narrative is told from two different perspectives, having a number of chapters each. Kyler Centaurus is a privileged Earth boy who inadvertently steals his parents spaceship after a family tussle in which he comes off second best, after the fact he decides he may as well make the most of it since he is going to get punished anyway, and heads off to see the spectacular display of his favourite scientist create an artificial sun. He feels misunderstood and underappreciated, and the fact his brothers are always picking on him – and that it took nearly a day before his family realised he was gone – proves the point.

Figerella ‘Fig’ Jammeslot is an orphan runaway, grown up on ships and satellites after her parents were killed, snatching jobs where she can as a sharpshooter to destroy asteroids. She is the typical streetwise ruffian always on the take. She sees Kyler as an easy mark, and their destinies become intertwined.

For a light-hearted space romp we see both characters grow and develop, their motivations change, and real, heart-felt ‘ah-ha’ moments. I even developed an emotional connection to the robot Cabe.

I’d like to say I predicted the outcome of this novel, but I didn’t really. I misread the relationships (maybe just like the author wanted me too?) and was too wrapped up in the fun of it all to get out my detectives monocle and start looking for clues. Melissa Landers has a young breezy tone throughout the novel that completely engages the reader. I’ve enjoyed much of her back catalogue, so I knew I would like this one, but ‘Blastaway’ really surprised me. I love it. In fact if ever I’m in a down mood, I may just pick this up again for a re-read.

The plot is actually pretty amazing. It wasn’t over-simplified considering the target demographic, but not too complicated to leave it unrelatable to YA readers. I found depth and complexity in both plot and character for ‘Blastaway.’ I was already a fan of Melissa Landers, but now I stan her real hard.

I realise this novel may not be for all, but if you like a fun light read, something that feels like a good Disney movie, (and take note this is targeted towards tweens and teens) than I whole-heartedly recommend ‘Blastaway.’

Overall feeling: Captured my childish imagination.

© 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 – ‘Heartstopper : Volume 1’ by Alice Oseman

Heart-warming innocence.

Genre: Y/A, Contemporary, Romance, LGBT, Graphic Novel

No. of pages: 278

Charlie, a highly-strung, openly gay over-thinker, and Nick, a cheerful, soft-hearted rugby player, meet at a British all-boys grammar school. Friendship blooms quickly, but could there be something more…?

Charlie Spring is in Year 10 at Truham Grammar School for Boys. The past year hasn’t been too great, but at least he’s not being bullied anymore. Nick Nelson is in Year 11 and on the school rugby team. He’s heard a little about Charlie – the kid who was outed last year and bullied for a few months – but he’s never had the opportunity to talk to him.

They quickly become friends, and soon Charlie is falling hard for Nick, even though he doesn’t think he has a chance. But love works in surprising ways, and sometimes good things are waiting just around the corner…

I was encouraged to pick this up from many, many of my friends recommending this. I’m not one to read a lot of illustrated novels, but ‘Heartstopper’ is charming in its innocence. We meet Charlie, an out gay year 10 student who gets paired with a year 11 student, Nick in peer group for school. They become friends and need to learn to navigate their new feelings and what they mean. Charlie is determined not to fall for a straight boy, and Nick is surprised by his attraction to Charlie.

‘Heartstopper’ is cute! The story is paired back and sticks to the main storyline without too much dramatics. I’ve read manga in the past, where it’s melodramatic and packs a lot into the narrative – ‘Heartstopper’ keeps the main couple in its crosshairs from start to finish. In this fashion, I found the novel to be a little, well, plain. I wanted stronger emotion and some more plot. But I guess that is the charm of ‘Heartstopper,’ it’s a light romance of two boys finding each other in high school.

We get some character development from both boys, it’s not a lot, but enough to have me invested in their story and I have already ordered the rest of the published volumes to find out what happens next.

The illustrations are expressive and have a stylistic grungy aspect to set it apart from the common manga fare. I kind of wanted a more finished look on the page though – but that is a personal preference on my behalf. ‘Heartstopper’ is a happy addition to my library.

Because of the graphic novel treatment I flew through this novel in about an hour, the scenes weren’t too emotional and the characterisation in the illustrations didn’t really have me starting at the page to soak up tone or additional undertones in the scenes. This is paired back, simple, fitting of quiet and understated Charlie and Nick’s slow burn relationship.

It ends on a cliff hanger, so be prepared to invest in this series as a whole.

If you like queer stories and graphic novels without all the melodrama than this one is for you. Excited to hear it is being adapted for a Netflix series and eager to see their take on Charlie and Nick’s story.

Overall feeling: First kiss angst!

© 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 – ‘The Last 8’ (#1 The Last 8) by Laura Pohl

Alien Invasion meets The Breakfast Club.

Genre: Y/A, Science Fiction, LGBT

No. of pages: 357

Clover Martinez has always been a survivor, which is the only reason she isn’t among the dead when aliens invade and destroy Earth as she knows it.

When Clover hears an inexplicable radio message, she’s shocked to learn there are other survivors—and that they’re all at the former Area 51. When she arrives, she’s greeted by a band of misfits who call themselves The Last Teenagers on Earth.

Only they aren’t the ragtag group of heroes Clover was expecting. The group seems more interested in hiding than fighting back, and Clover starts to wonder if she was better off alone. But then she finds a hidden spaceship, and she doesn’t know what to believe…or who to trust.

The cover art for this title is what really grabbed my attention, then the blurb – an alien invasion! It’s not a secret I love sci-fi. ‘The Last 8’ is a solid YA read full of sass and intrigue.

I will say this book read young, the protagonist (Clover) and her merry band of fellow survivors, though many with high intelligence, acted like tweens. These characters are meant to be on the verge of adulthood, but if I didn’t know their age, by the way they acted, I would have guessed 12-13 years of age. This was the biggest drawback for me. I was constantly on the verge of eye-rolling or sighing. The kind of patience I had for my younger sibling when he was doing something stupid, but I had to let him be and learn to navigate the world in his own way.

Leading on from this, with the characters floundering a lot, being reactionary, the plot felt like it too meandered a bit. Like the teenagers attitude bled through. I love the concept and reveals in ‘The Last 8,’ but I just wish the tone would have been a touch more mature. (Granted, I’m am waaay too old to be the demographic for this novel.)

The premise of the aliens was an interesting one, though it read like something you would see in an animated Disney film, it was, almost… comedic. You’ll understand if you have read the book. You don’t really get a sense of the terror from the aliens, just the fear and isolation inflicted from the actual invasion.

I do love the way Laura Pohl can craft an atmosphere. Her characters and character development are pretty great too – but I think maybe the tone of the novel stopped this aspect of her writing from being truly outstanding.

We get a diverse cast, of both nationality and sexual orientation, and while I praise the representation, it was still used as a plot device, a reveal, rather than simply a part of the character. There are subtle differences in approaching this sensitive topic if you compare this to how sexual orientation is dealt with from #ownvoices authors. I can’t speak for Clover and her Spanish heritage because I have no personal experience in that sense, but the fact you could read her thoughts in Spanish was fantastic.

There was a bit of language that I’m on the fence about. I don’t mind swearing when it services the plot or character, I felt it did neither here, merely used to attempt to give ‘The Last 8’ some street cred.

There is an element of mental illness, grief, PTSD, anxiety and depression in the story as well, which given the tone of ‘The Last 8,’ I was surprised at how this was handled… with the swearing, sensitive topics, the tone really clashes with the subject matter.

I feel like there were parts missing from the story – which are done on purpose to keep the pace going, but I feel like there were a few developmental moments skipped in building character motivation, despair, and tension. This is part and part of the tone I mentioned earlier.

I enjoyed reading ‘The Last 8’ and am keen to see where the story goes in the final instalment to this duology ‘The First 7.’ We might see the tone change as the characters grow and overcome challenges, and because it sets up such a wonderful opportunity for world building, with what I’ve liked of Laura Pohl’s writing so far, she could really shine and bring home this series with a bang.

Overall feeling: fun, but a little let down.

© 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 – ‘Date Me, Bryson Keller’ by Kevin van Whye

Great book, shame about the plagiarism.

Genre: Y/A, Contemporary, Romance, LGBT

No. of pages: 336

Everyone knows about the dare: Each week, Bryson Keller must date someone new–the first person to ask him out on Monday morning. Few think Bryson can do it. He may be the king of Fairvale Academy, but he’s never really dated before.

Until a boy asks him out, and everything changes.

Kai Sheridan didn’t expect Bryson to say yes. So when Bryson agrees to secretly go out with him, Kai is thrown for a loop. But as the days go by, he discovers there’s more to Bryson beneath the surface, and dating him begins to feel less like an act and more like the real thing. Kai knows how the story of a gay boy liking someone straight ends. With his heart on the line, he’s awkwardly trying to navigate senior year at school, at home, and in the closet, all while grappling with the fact that this “relationship” will last only five days. After all, Bryson Keller is popular, good-looking, and straight . . . right?

This book grabbed my cold heart and didn’t let go. I think I had tears in my eyes half the time I was reading – it’s just so adorably sweet and expertly captures that first crush scenario. The desperation to be seen, loved, to find your person.

Kai, a mixed race protagonist, and closeted gay year 11 student takes the opportunity while Bryson Keller has been dared to date a new person for a week with in an unexpected surge of courage. Kai has to force himself not to fall in love with straight Bryson, but revels in finally being able to express his true self (even if it is in secret.) Bryson has to come to terms with new feelings and what it means.

I was going to award this novel 5 stars, but after doing a little research I found Kevin van Whye was accused of plagiarism from ‘Seven Days’ by Venio Tachibana and Rihito Takarai. And only after the allegations persisted did Kevin claim that the story is a literary critique of the BL manga, trying to bring about a more realistic representation of queer youth. I might have been inclined to believe that interpretation except that the storyline is practically identical to the original ‘Seven Days.’ So I can’t in good conscience rate this from my initial impression. I’m a little flabbergasted how this was not flagged through the critical reading and editing stages.

It’s such a pity about the plagiarism because I loved Kevin van Whye’s writing style. I was sucked into the narrative and completed the book in one sitting. He should have had one of the characters making the dare in the preface mention they had read ‘Seven Days’ and were using it as the source of inspiration for the dare… then this story would have credited the source material and the story made sense, avoiding claims of plagiarism. And there, in the narrative, you could source the inspiration for the dare. I’ve seen this storytelling device successful in other novels and television shows, it pays homage to the creator of the idea rather than claiming it as your own. Isn’t hindsight a beautiful thing?

I’m not going to discuss the book further because it makes me feel a bit icky…

Overall feeling: Anger rising. Heart sinking.

© 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 – ‘Hot Dog Girl’ by Jennifer Dugan

A cute coming out tale for the younger end of the YA demographic.

Genre: Contemporary, Romance, LGBTQIA+

No. of pages: 309

Elouise (Lou) Parker is determined to have the absolute best, most impossibly epic summer of her life. There are just a few things standing in her way:

* She’s landed a job at Magic Castle Playland . . . as a giant dancing hot dog.

* Her crush, the dreamy Diving Pirate Nick, already has a girlfriend, who is literally the Princess of the park. But Lou’s never liked anyone, guy or otherwise, this much before, and now she wants a chance at her own happily ever after.

* Her best friend, Seeley, the carousel operator, who’s always been up for anything, suddenly isn’t when it comes to Lou’s quest to set her up with the perfect girl or Lou’s scheme to get close to Nick.

* And it turns out that this will be their last summer at Magic Castle Playland–ever–unless she can find a way to stop it from closing.

A massively cute and summery tale.

To be honest it took a lot to get me into the flow of this novel. Mainly due to the tone of ‘Hot Dog Girl.’ It felt like it was geared towards the younger end of the YA market. The language, dialogue, and attitudes of the cast felt immature and I frequently got bored and put the book down while getting through the first two-thirds of the novel. In fact, I read another four books while getting over this hump. I also think some pacing issues added to this. It took so long to get to the point, or for interesting things to happen. Not to say this was badly written or structured poorly, it wasn’t. Once the story got its legs ‘Hot Dog Girl’ was truly endearing. I cried, I laughed, the last section of the story had me completely rapt.

The rest of the time it was like I had that frustrated patience you get when young children in your care are around and just babbling non-stop and you’re pretending that you are interested in whatever short-attention-span thing they are carrying on about, but internally you are just praying for the torture to end. That’s what the majority of ‘Hot Dog Girl’ was for me.

Lou as a protagonist is immature, not very self-aware, doesn’t listen, and schemes like a twelve year old girl to get her own way. Living in her head was a special place in hell for me. But it was lovely to see her grow and mature by the end of the novel… but not something I want to relive anytime soon.

Seeley, to counter Lou, was stoic, and to be honest I didn’t feel all that interesting. So too was the other love interest in this triangle: the diving pirate, Nick.

The only character of interest was antagonist Jessa, though she was painted as ‘miss perfect’ that can usually come off as a flat character, she managed to have layers and a bit of sass that kept me engaged with the story.

The plot did feel very simple, and as soon as the inciting incident kicked in, I predicted the ending very easily. Jennifer Duggan’s writing style is effortless, and I would love to read something else of hers without such an immature tone to see if I enjoy her books more. It is glaringly obvious I am not the target demographic for ‘Hot Dog Girl,’ but considering I usually enjoy other fare for this target market, I was surprised at my reaction to this story.

The bisexual and lesbian representation is adorable. It was a joy to read differing sexual orientations in an environment of love and acceptance, like it is commonplace; and how the characters sexual orientation is not the main character trait, but merely an aside… as it is in real life.

The romance is like fairy floss, which in the setting of an amusement park, felt apt. I just wish there was some more complexity for the plot, characters, a more mature tone fit for the age of the protagonist, and the inciting incident happened earlier in the novel to kick the pace of the novel from the first or second chapter.

Hot Dog Girl’ even with the issues I had over my reading experience has wormed its way into my heart. I’d recommend it to those who crave bisexual rep, love Sapphic romances, or those younger YA readers looking for a cute romance.

Overall feeling: sluggish summer entanglement!

© 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 – ‘Midnight Sun’ (#5 Twilight) by Stephenie Meyer

The book all the fans were begging for is finally here…

Genre: Fantasy, Paranormal, Romance

No. of pages: 756

When Edward Cullen and Bella Swan met in Twilight, an iconic love story was born. But until now, fans have heard only Bella’s side of the story. At last, readers can experience Edward’s version in the long-awaited companion novel, Midnight Sun.

This unforgettable tale as told through Edward’s eyes takes on a new and decidedly dark twist. Meeting Bella is both the most unnerving and intriguing event he has experienced in all his years as a vampire. As we learn more fascinating details about Edward’s past and the complexity of his inner thoughts, we understand why this is the defining struggle of his life. How can he justify following his heart if it means leading Bella into danger?

This book felt over-written. But saying this rings true to Edwards’s nature. His cognitive processes are much faster than that of a humans, hundreds of thoughts to a single human pondering. He is melodramatic, angst-ridden, an over-analyser. And that’s without his extrasensory perception. So I get that ‘Midnight Sun’ is long and has a lot of information stuffed into its pages for the same timeframe as ‘Twilight.’ I was hoping we’d get more new information than what we did. Granted it does help flesh out the universe of ‘Twilight,’ let us peek behind the curtain if you will. It’s like Stephenie Meyer took all the criticisms and plot holes for ‘Twilight’ and explained them away. However, even though the book is a hefty 756 pages long, I did not feel like the pacing suffered. I was interested in the many asides, flashbacks, strategic ponderings, and glimpses into probable futures (through reading Alice’s mind.)

But I was particularly taken with the baseball scene and the fight scene at the ending chapters of ‘Midnight Sun,’ here Edward’s perception really adds a new complexity to the scenes.

I still got that addiction to the story, compelled to read as much as I could in one sitting. Still laughed at the satire. Though a bit of the magic was lost for me. Edward comes off as much more insecure and melodramatic than the brooding mystery man which Bella paints him as in ‘Twilight.’ Also ‘Twilight’ felt like it had a much more involved plot, and I was hoping we would see a new introduced side plot with Edwards’s perspective, but alas we did not get that… I guess there is not too much you can introduce and not diverge from the original storyline.

It was nice to get into the heads of the Cullens, because the knowledge and assumptions Bella had in ‘Twilight’ felt flimsy at best and induced some eye-rolling on my behalf.

This didn’t feel as swoon-worthy as I thought it would be either. Maybe it was killed off by Edward’s constant lamenting, or the fact that too much saccrine expository of love would have killed the reader with a heavy dose of diabetes. But I felt like I wanted more emotion from Edward in relation to Bella, less explained stalkery behaviour. After all it is the romance that is the major drawcard to this novel.

It was pleasant to revisit the world of ‘Twilight’ again after reading it over a decade ago. Maybe my review wouldn’t have been so appraising if I’d read ‘Midnight Sun’ closer to the debuts release – like I mentioned, not a lot of new information from the original story. But it was like a high school reunion, flashing back to fond memories and glancing at old friends from a place of experience. ‘Midnight Sun’ really is a book for the fans, and comparatively, it is only going to be fans of the franchise that will bother picking this book up – you’d have to have enjoyed the previous four books and novella to reach this point; and not be intimidated by the 756 pages.

So I had a great time indulging in the fantasy again, though there did feel like there was something missing – something I can’t quite identify, but I’m putting it down to the abovementioned elements. I’d definitely recommend this to stans of the Twilight franchise… if you weren’t into the films or enjoyed any of the previous novels, this is not for you.

I’ve seen many criticize Stephenie Meyer for releasing this book – a third reiteration of the debut tale – but it’s obvious it’s for the fans. They’ve been screaming for this novel to be published for so long now. You can have your opinions that it was a cash-grab, and that the news of another two books may be coming to the franchise. If you enjoyed the novels, it’s most likely amazing news; but if you’re no fan and only full of hateful comments, well, my only response is a yawn. Some readers are genuinely invested in the story. Stephenie obviously loved writing these books. Even if you think she is capitalising on her one truly big hit, well, I say that is smart business sense. Look at any other franchise, they all do it because there is a willing audience. And honestly, the hate speech is a form of bullying in my books – if it was constructive criticism it would be a different matter.

Overall feeling: Indulgent.

© 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 – ‘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.