Book Review – ‘My Calamity Jane’ (#3 The Lady Janies) by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows

The historical retelling I didn’t know I needed…

Genre: YA, Fantasy, Historical, LGBT

No. of pages: 544

Welcome ​to 1876 and a rootin’-tootin’ America bursting with gunslingers, outlaws, and garou.

JANE (a genuine hero-eene)

Calamity’s her name, and garou hunting’s her game—when she’s not starring in Wild Bill’s Traveling Show, that is. She reckons that if a girl wants to be a legend, she should just go ahead and be one.

FRANK (*wolf whistle*)

Frank “the Pistol Prince” Butler is the Wild West’s #1 bachelor. He’s also the best sharpshooter on both sides of the Mississippi, but he’s about to meet his match. . . .

ANNIE (get your gun!)

Annie Oakley (yep, that Annie) is lookin’ for a job, not a romance, but she can’t deny there’s something about Frank she likes. Really likes. Still, she’s pretty sure that anything he can do, she can do better.

A HAIRY SITUATION

After a garou hunt goes south and Jane finds a suspicious-like bite on her arm, she turns tail for Deadwood, where there’s been talk of a garou cure. But things ain’t always what they seem—meaning the gang better hightail it after her before they’re a day late and a Jane short.

Another entertaining fantastical historical romp to conclude the My Lady Janies trilogy. ‘My Calamity Jane’ pairs western legend with werewolf mythology in a comedic venture into the Wild West.

A spaghetti western with a paranormal twist written with humour and hints of feminism. I really enjoy this trio of authors working together. I am always amused and entrenched in the stories they write, the little twists to story and character, the little asides breaking the 4th wall to the reader.

We follow multiple perspectives revolving around the anecdotal stories of Calamity Jane, Annie Oakley, Wild Bill and the Pistol Prince. Calamity Jane, a member of Wild Bill’s travelling show, marvelling townships with their skills in gun slinging, knife throwing, and whip-cracking. But it’s all a cover as they hunt down werewolves bent on killing or intentionally infecting the naive populace. Jane is a smart-mouthed tom boy, driven to forge her place in a male dominated world… and live up to the legend the group had crafted to sell tickets to their show. Annie is a determined young lady, if a little rough around the edges, eager to join the sharp shooting crew as it’s newest member – because there aren’t many places for a lady with her skills to find employment. Wild Bill and his posse are the ticket to a life she’s always dreamed of. Frank is slightly egotistical, but always up for a challenge. As the team track down the leader of the garou pack, bent on infecting every unsuspecting human they can to build an army of their own; Wild Bills group has their work cut out for them. Facing off this threat is going to uncover some secrets buried from the past and force the gang to open up to each other about their own hidden past and desires.

I literally flew through this book. It is highly entertaining with plenty of twist, turns, and reveals. I was saddened to hear this was an end to this series, but joyous to hear of another trilogy following Mary’s in history. This trio of authors have struck gold.

The writing style is very tongue-in-cheek and combines historical deportment and language mixed in with a contemporary sentimentality: the combination is magical. Hand, Ashton, and Meadows do comedy well in combination to creating fantastic, relatable characters, and encompassing worlds.

The plot wasn’t quite predictable; you get a sense of its direction at the beginning, and then the plot take you on a wild ride, the many reveals completely displacing you from the saddle. There is so much charm in ‘My Calamity Jane’ I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Overall feeling: Blow me 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 – ‘The Ask and the Answer’ (#2 Chaos Walking) by Patrick Ness

The Ask and the long-winded Answer….

Genre: YA, Science Fiction

No. of pages: 553

We were in the square, in the square where I’d run, holding her, carrying her, telling her to stay alive, stay alive till we got safe, till we got to Haven so I could save her – But there weren’t no safety, no safety at all, there was just him and his men…

Fleeing before a relentless army, Todd has carried a desperately wounded Viola right into the hands of their worst enemy, Mayor Prentiss. Immediately separated from Viola and imprisoned, Todd is forced to learn the ways of the Mayor’s new order. But what secrets are hiding just outside of town? And where is Viola? Is she even still alive? And who are the mysterious Answer? And then, one day, the bombs begin to explode…

Picking up where ‘The Knife of Never Letting Go’ left off, we jump right into the action with Todd and Viola. Their dual points of view take our intrepid teens in two different directions as they struggle to get back to each other and prevent the planet they are on from imploding political tensions.

There didn’t feel like a lot happened in this instalment… and it definitely suffered that second book syndrome.

The Ask and The Answer’ almost put me into a book slump; it was very boring and long, the story took forever to get anywhere, and all the interesting bits happened in the last few chapters. I think because we delve into political movements and differing factions led by flawed and self-righteous people, there is a lot less science fiction and so much more posturing and maneuvering. The character development did not seem to grow our two main protagonists Todd and Viola too much apart from making them suffer inordinate amounts of pain, treachery, and heartache to shape them into possible leaders. It didn’t feel justified to me – and certainly not over 500 pages of it. We see both Todd and Viola challenge the system, and those in power, but we did not see them learn much from it. They spend their time reacting and surviving. I would have appreciated either of them having frank discussions on how to overcome, strategize, or even some psychological insight into those in power to better equip them in the battles to come. Instead they are tossed about like pawns on a chess board always a few steps behind.

I had pretty much the same opinion of all the characters at the start of the novel as I did at the end. And there is so much senseless death and destruction. The same about the plot too. We see something major happen in the beginning chapters and the book concludes with the groups still in much the same positions, and a few small victories for our protagonists. So ‘The Ask and the Answer’ left me frustrated because there didn’t feel like the characters or the story have changed or evolved much from start to finish – and this is one of the longer novels I’ve read of late. So much time invested for little return.

Patrick Ness has a lovely writing style. The use of dialect to distinguish between the two narratives for our protagonists make it instant and easy to recognise whose voice is whose. You get an instant picture of the setting of each scene, and the use of font and format for the mental projection of thought (Noise) of the males is unique… but all this goes up against unending violence, subjugation, and long monotonous monologues. I honestly felt like the whole novel is one big manexplanation.

I really wanted to love ‘The Ask and the Answer.’ I really did. It has all the trappings of a story that completely takes me over, but it didn’t execute it well enough for me to sing it’s praises. It was a struggle to read and put a stain on my experience for the world of Todd and Viola. Plus I still have a Manchee hangover…

For YA, I don’t think this is something I’m happy to recommend. That target market have less patience than I do, and this really felt more like a social commentary on racism and colonialization than it did on science fiction.

Overall feeling: *jolts awake*

© 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 – ‘Prime Deceptions’ (#2 Chilling Effect) by Valarie Valdes

This has it all, like a mash-up of ‘Firefly’ and ‘A Long way to a Small Angry Planet.’

Genre: Y/A, Science Fiction, LGBTQIA+

No. of pages: 448

Captain Eva Innocente and the crew of La Sirena Negra find themselves once again on the fringe of populated space—and at the center of a raging covert war. When Eva’s sister asks for help locating a missing scientist, promises of a big paycheck and a noble cause convince Eva to take the job despite lingering trust issues.

With reluctant assistance from her estranged mother, Eva and her crew follow the missing scientist’s trail across the universe, from the costume-filled halls of a never-ending convention to a dangerous bot-fighting arena. They ultimately find themselves at the last place Eva wants to see again—Garilia—where she experienced her most shameful and haunting failure.

To complete her mission and get paid, Eva must navigate a paradise embroiled in a rebellion, where massive forests and pristine beaches hide psychic creatures and pervasive surveillance technology. Can she find her quarry while avoiding the oppressive local regime, or will she be doomed to repeat past mistakes when her dark deeds come to light?

The sequel to ‘Chilling Effect’ brings back the problematic Hispanic Captain Eva and her crew on yet another outrageous adventure complete with psychic cats and a lingering need for a cup of coffee. There is a lot to love about this series.

I had to really think on this… why it was so hard for me to fall into this book, I mean, I really enjoyed the debut in this series. So what was going on? The protagonist. We all know those people: the cocky, always right, sarcastic person, and while entertaining, they are well… a little frustrating and grating to be around. Immature. Hard to relate to or sympathize with. And that’s what we have with our foulmouthed Captain Eva… and why I kept putting the book down. Because though I enjoyed the jokes, she bored me. Not to mention the constant breaks into Hispanic that I had to google translate to get the joke or understand the context. I was constantly being pulled out of the narrative because I have no reference point for the language or culture… way to isolate your reader. I love representation, but this did not give me access to the story.

The second, after a bit of thought, was the info dumping. I’d rather experience the world through a character or dialogue (or another storytelling device) than paragraphs of explanation slowing down the pace and detracting from the ambience of the moment.

I can tell the author had a lot of fun writing this. There is a lot of detail. We get plenty of technology, alien culture, and politics which is great, but it felt a bit too much and bogged down the pacing. 

Our protagonist also gets thrown a lot of obstacles… which are joyous, sometimes hilarious, and interesting, but it felt like Captain Eva was stumbling through the plot rather than driving it forward.

The quality of the paperback copy was much lower than that of the debut… I don’t know if it was because of the page count or cost cutting, but it did have a cheap feeling to it, especially the cover material. But I still adore the cover art: Julie Dillon is a master at her craft.

So this is a difficult book to review for me – it has so many things I praise and look for in my reads, and Valerie Valdes has a gritty, entertaining, and comedic writing style – but I felt a little excluded from the narrative and bogged down with pace and detail. I’m definitely going to be following this author and keen to see what she releases next. On the bright side, with the constant need for me to translate text and look up culture references, I’m getting an education on the Hispanic elements of protagonist Eva and that means easier immersion into the story if this series continues. The story does feel episodic in the Chilling Effect universe, so who knows where Valdes can take this franchise. ‘Prime Deceptions’ wraps up nicely, but there were enough hanging plot points and teasers that can lead to a sequel. As challenging as it has been to read so far, I am invested in the Chilling Effect series, love some of the periphery characters and have a love/hate relationship with Captain Eva. And well, authors grow, so Valdes writing can only skyrocket from here and I am intrigued. No word of another sequel as yet, but I’m going to be keeping my ear to the ground.

I have a lot of praise for this book, but it just did not marry well with my personal experiences. And yes, I’d still recommend this to my friends who love sci-fi and sassy female characters on a hijinks adventure.

Overall feeling: so many things…

© 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 – ‘Clockwork Princess’ (#3 The Infernal Devices) by Cassandra Clare

Steampunk magical zombies and so many men who just want to get married.

Genre: YA, Historical Fiction, Fantasy

No. of pages: 567

A net of shadows begins to tighten around the Shadowhunters of the London Institute. Mortmain plans to use his Infernal Devices, an army of pitiless automatons, to destroy the Shadowhunters. He needs only one last item to complete his plan: he needs Tessa Gray.

Charlotte Branwell, head of the London Institute, is desperate to find Mortmain before he strikes. But when Mortmain abducts Tessa, the boys who lay equal claim to her heart, Jem and Will, will do anything to save her. For though Tessa and Jem are now engaged, Will is as much in love with her as ever.

As those who love Tessa rally to rescue her from Mortmain’s clutches, Tessa realizes that the only person who can save her is herself. But can a single girl, even one who can command the power of angels, face down an entire army?

This concluding novel of the Infernal Devices trilogy brought everything to a dramatic climax and Tessa, Will, and Jem are all tested to the extreme.

We start to see more of the Shadowhunter lore and lifestyle instead of that of the 1800’s London society. It’s full on magic and paranormal. And it was such a fun adventure, though, to be honest, with did feel like a weak ending to the trilogy… maybe because it’s continued on in other series in the Shadowhunter universe in some form or other, or that I was a little over the too-frequently used tropes that Cassandra Clare loves to employ in her writing.

The secondary cast members get to play a greater role in the narrative in ‘Clockwork Princess’ you can get the sense of a strong team forming when facing the treat of the clockwork zombies that are immune to the defences of the Cleve’s magic protecting the hub and home of the London faction of Shadowhunters. I really enjoyed following their individual stories, their character development to have a break from the angsty love triangle of Tessa, Will, and Jem.

The concluding chapters dealt some twists that I did not see coming – but some that I did not altogether appreciate. While these plot reveals can sometimes be masterful, I found a few to be all too convenient and a bit of a cop out. But that’s just my opinion. I think because I was craving a bit more personal tension and drama for our trio at the centre of the series.

I’m not sure if it’s all the propriety of 1700’s society, or the way the relationships were written, but I wasn’t as sold on the Tessa love story; not as much as I was in Clary’s from the Mortal Instruments series – maybe because if felt a little copy and paste tropes of the bad boy with a heart of gold, and an everyday girl with a one-of-a-kind special talent that can save the world. I was craving something a bit different, more original. But the rest of the story, and the Shadowhunter universe I was really enjoying.

Mortmain was a weird antagonist – always in the periphery, out of reach. Not quite in the Shadowhunter, or Downworlder world. And as a consequence not someone as I thought of as all that scary. He came across as more annoying than maleficent. Though I appreciated the whole circumventing magic and wards with the invention of his clockwork army. That was true genius.

Now I’ve tucked this trilogy under my belt, I’m eager to finish off the Mortal Instruments series (the second trilogy) to see what happens with this background now established. I’d still recommend this collection, even though the ending didn’t quite stick for me. The concept and element of The Infernal Devices was truly entrancing. But maybe for those who love the Shadowhunter world – it’s not something that can be enjoyed in isolation… each of these trilogies sets up groundwork for the following trilogy.

Cassandra Clare’s writing style is light and manages to draw out period details expertly, I was never pulled from the narrative apart from moments when I was eye-rolling from the overused tropes. ‘Clockwork Princess’ was mostly predictable, a few surprised, but on the whole a solid read.

Overall feeling: Lukewarm

© 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 Gentleman’s Guide to Getting Lucky’ (#1.5 Montague Siblings) by Mackenzie Lee

Awkward First Times.

Genre: Y/A, Historical Fiction, Romance, LGBT

No. of pages: 113

Monty’s epic grand tour may be over, but now that he and Percy are finally a couple, he realizes there is something more nerve-wracking than being chased across Europe: getting together with the person you love.

Will the romantic allure of Santorini make his first time with Percy magical, or will all the anticipation and build-up completely spoil the mood?

This was a cute novella dealing with Monty and Percy finally getting their ‘groove’ on despite many interruptions. ‘The Gentleman’s Guide to Getting Lucky’ is a charming aside to the Montague Siblings series. It does not expand on the universe too much. We learn what happens with our characters between the first and second novels in this series and it gives resolution to a few small plot points.

Monty is still that bumbling self-absorbed rake we love, but his softer and loyal side are emerging, giving him a bit of substance. Percy is beginning to find security in his relationship with Monty. There is more sibling rivalry and sibling unity with Felicity helping out the love sick couple yet again.

Mackenzi Lee has an elegant and humorous writing style that matches perfectly with the tone of the story and which I enjoy getting lost in.

This is a quick read and a great addition to all MontyxPercy stans.

The plot itself is highly predictable, but all the obstacles that get in the way certainly make for a fun journey.

There is not much to add to this review, as ‘The Gentleman’s Guide to Getting Lucky’ is a short novella, dealing with a singular topic. Fans of the series will not be disappointed with this addition to the franchise. Highly recommend.

Overall feeling: Adorkable.

© 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.