Book Review – ‘Night Probe!’ (#6 Dirk Pitt) by Clive Cussler

A not-so marine focused adventure that returns to Dirk Pitt form.

Genre: Action, Adventure

No. of pages: 369

May 1914. Two diplomats hurry home by sea and rail, each carrying a document of world-changing importance. Then the liner Empress of India is sunk in a collision, and the Manhattan-Line express plunges from a bridge – both dragging their VIP passengers to watery oblivion. Tragic coincidence or conspiracy?

In the energy-starved, fear-torn 1980s, Dirk Pitt discovers that those long-lost papers could destroy whole nations, throwing him into his biggest challenge yet. Racing against hired killers, he launches his revolutionary deep-sea search craft and faces the horrors of the sea bed to hunt for the documents. ‘Night Probe’ has begun . . .

Another of Clive Cussler’s back catalogue under my belt. ‘Night Probe!’ was another international spy action adventure that tickled the childlike reader in me.

I did feel like the first half of the novel was paced slowly. The meticulous efforts to set up all the characters in the game, build the scene was fun to read; but I found myself putting the book down regularly because I wanted to get some story with Dirk Pitt in it, and get to the juicy parts of the story. While I appreciate the efforts to fill in all the threads of storyline that go into ‘Night Probe!’ I would have appreciated that some of this first half was compacted down and some scenes skipped over in favour of a backstory later in the novel.

We do see Dirk Pitt introduced earlier in the story than previous novels in this franchise, and you get a sense of Clive Cussler starting to hit his stride with the Dirk Pitt franchise. Honing the tone and writing style that is a trademark of these adventure novels.

The ending was cheese-ball city. But it always makes me smile – that James Bond/Indiana Jones style shtick that I love on the big screen translates well in this escapist fiction.

I particularly love the scientific elements, the history imbued in Cussler’s prose, and we definitely get it here. I particularly cherish all the maritime elements, and though there are two present in ‘Night Probe!’ this novel felt more like a land adventure and left me wanting.

We don’t get much of Al Giordino and their witty banter. There are only two women in the main storyline: one is killed for being an adulterer (and a villain), and the other falls in love with an antagonist, even though she is an intelligent, independent woman… it still feels all a little bit sexist. But I am getting a sense of a growing cultural ‘woke’ tone. Standard enjoyable fare.

As with most titles in this series, ‘Night Probe!‘ can be read as a standalone… a serial continuation in the Dirk Pitt universe.

Overall feeling: A return to form.

© 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 – ‘Vixen 03’ (#5 Dirk Pitt) by Clive Cussler

Great adventure but passé attitudes.

Vixen 03 (#5 Dirk Pitt) Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Action, Adventure

No. of pages: 464

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1954: Vixen 03 is down. The plane, bound for the Pacific carrying thirty-six Doomsday Bombs—canisters armed with quick-death germs of unbelievable potency—vanishes. Vixen has in fact crashed into an ice-covered lake in Colorado.

1988: Dirk Pitt, who heroically raised the Titanic, discovers the wreckage of Vixen 03. But two deadly canisters are missing. They’re in the hands of a terrorist group. Their lethal mission: to sail a battleship seventy-five miles up the Potomac and blast Washington, D.C., to kingdom come. Only Dirk can stop them.

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Misogynistic. Sexist. Discrimination. Transphobic. So many times I nearly threw up in my mouth. I figured ‘Iceberg’ as the only one of Clive Cussler’s early works as being problematic in this matter of insensitivity. But ‘Vixen 03’ is giving it a run for its money. Women are objectified just about every time they are in a scene. I hate to say it, but this was fairly typical of this James bond adventurer genre in the 70’s. So I shouldn’t be surprised. Thankfully Clive Cussler evolved as a writer and this kind of writing is left in the past where it belongs.

This was the first novel I read after the news of Cussler’s passing, and I wish it had done a better in service of his legacy. I was really disappointed and searched for some redeeming qualities. ‘Vixen 03’ deals with themes of racism, nationalism, terrorism, and international espionage. And the premise sounds interesting, as do all of Clive Cussler’s novels. They promise adventure, action and intrigue. But to be honest this left the taste of disgust in my mouth.

The pacing terribly slow with frequent tangents around non-essential topics to the plot. So much time is spent building the South African contingent part of the story that Dirk Pitt was featured in less than half of the story. This did not feel like a Dirk Pitt novel, more like he swooped in at the end to resolve the mystery.

The plot itself is a good one, there are plenty of red herrings, heroics and a massively woven web of intertwined actions boiling down to a single event. If it weren’t for all of the inappropriate representation, I would have really enjoyed this fare.

Vixen 03’ was not the Dirk Pitt I’ve come to appreciate. He felt very one-toned. An un-killable saviour, putting his life on the line to save the world (*cough-America-cough*) I would have liked some nuance outside of all this male bravado. Thank goodness I know it gets better in later volumes of this franchise – a bit campier and stereotypical – but better and more entertaining.

The whole reading experience was marred by old-fashioned, politically incorrect attitudes.

I recommend you skip this one.

Overall feeling: One of the first books I felt like burning – I’m using it as an example of the attitudes we thankfully have put behind us in storytelling.

Vixen 03 (#5 Dirk Pitt) Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Vixen 03 (#5 Dirk Pitt) Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

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© 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 – ‘Famous Last Words’ by Katie Alender

Moving into an old Hollywood starlet’s house in the hills and find it’s haunted – yes please!

Famous Last Words Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Paranormal, Mystery

No. of pages: 320

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Willa is freaking out. It seems like she’s seeing things. Like a dead body in her swimming pool. Frantic messages on her walls. A reflection that is not her own. It’s almost as if someone — or something — is trying to send her a message. Meanwhile, a killer is stalking Los Angeles — a killer who reenacts famous movie murder scenes. Could Willa’s strange visions have to do with these unsolved murders? Or is she going crazy? And who can she confide in? There’s Marnie, her new friend who may not be totally trustworthy. And there’s Reed, who’s ridiculously handsome and seems to get Willa. There’s also Wyatt, who’s super smart but unhealthily obsessed with the Hollywood Killer.All Willa knows is, she has to confront the possible-ghost in her house, or she just might lose her mind . . . or her life.

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This novel has been on my TBR shelf for years. Years I tell you! So glad I have gotten around to reading ‘Famous Last Words’  because it has reminded me why I like reading this genre so much.

Katie Alender has a really cool writing style. It feels effortless. So many YA paranormal mysteries shoot off in tangents with info dumping or tripping the spooky fantastic, ‘Famous Last Words’ felt grounded in the story. Admittedly there were a few moments I wanted to eye-roll or shudder, but on the whole this was a delight to read. Alender has a sense of timing and comedy that I found charming.

For the most part I will say the novel was predictable. I had a hunch how it would turn out very early on, but with Alender’s writing style I was never 100% certain. So I still managed to stay engaged and get really sucked into the story.

Willa was a great protagonist. We didn’t get clues intentionally left out of the narrative to red-herring the reader. We uncover facts as she does. We get great character development. Though there is a little element of ‘out there’ to the plot, it felt grounded in plausibility, and I really liked the paranormal twist on the murder mystery. Willa does not feel like a waif or wallflower, nor does she feel like some high achieving super sleuth. Just a regular teen overcoming tragedy and attempting to fit into a new life moving to the Hollywood Hills with her mother and new stepfather.

There was great character building, all the cast had distinct personalities and it was easy to pick their voice from a crowd – it made reading ‘Famous Last Words’ effortless. The pacing did not lull once from the start of this first person narrative told through Willa’s eyes. I devoured this novel in two quick sittings.

Famous Last Words Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

Once again it was great to see parental involvement in a YA mystery, though not as much as I would have liked. But on a side note the number of times Willa is asked if she was okay in the first half of this novel was a bit ridiculous. I may have been grinding my teeth after the third or fourth time.

We have two possible love interests: Wyatt an OCD loner nerd who was catnip to this reader gal; and Reed with a too-cute-to-be-good kind of vibe. The instant nature Willa and Reed’s attraction set off alarm bells to me. Duh-duh-duuuhhh!

And then we have Marnie, the friend who happens to be a compulsive liar and attention seeker, but with a streak of genuine-ness to her. For some reason this felt very Hollywood.

I enjoyed my time reading ‘Famous Last Words’ and would happily recommend this to younger readers whom love mystery and paranormal – older readers may not get as much out of it…

Overall feeling: A satisfyingly spooky mystery

Famous Last Words Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Famous Last Words Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

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© 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 – ‘Iceberg’ by Clive Cussler

A clusterf*#k of political incorrectness.

Iceberg (#3 Dirk Pitt) Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Action Adventure

No. of pages: 340

From Goodreads:

Frozen inside a million-ton mass of ice-the charred remains of a long missing luxury yacht, vanished en route to a secret White House rendezvous.  The only clue to the ship’s priceless-and missing-cargo: nine ornately carved rings and the horribly burned bodies of its crew. 

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I’ve been a fan of Cussler since my teen years, but this singular novel really tested my nerve. I can forgive a little machismo – it’s to be expected in this genre and series, but when Cussler has Dirk Pitt playing a stereotype of a gay man – even so far as to use the word faggot a number of times, I wanted to set the book on fire. It was in such poor taste to read these hate-filled slurs. It highlights all the issues of discrimination that the LGBTQIA+ community face.

Cussler used about every negative trope around this issue in ‘Iceberg’ with the protagonist Dirk Pit undercover as a homosexual artist, staring hungrily at men’s crotches like a sexual predator, acting submissive and weak, wearing over-the-top colourful clothing, and flowery speech. This goes on for half the novel. It is obvious that Cussler adopted this writing style for it to come off as comedic, but it just shows his insensitivity and ignorance.

To compound the issue there are continual cracks about crazy women and menopause, or someone on their period – that was also meant to be jocular. The female characters were irrational tittering things meant to look pretty and fetch coffee. Their only goal to land a good husband. They were diminished to a sexual object, nursemaid, or servant. It came off as highly offensive.

Iceberg (#3 Dirk Pitt) Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

I just don’t understand. Was Clive Cussler on some sort of acid trip writing ‘Iceberg?’ I’ve read over 15 of his novels and never come across such blatant misogyny. Maybe I should stop making allowances for Cussler’s overused tropes and start calling him on them in my reviews… I read his novels for the emphasised adventure, the marine environment, and the espionage. ‘Iceberg’ was overshadowed with such a distasteful display of tropes and writing I am literally gobsmacked. Way to offend half your audience dude.

Looking at other aspects of ‘Iceberg,’ like pacing and plot, it wasn’t so bad, but by no means anywhere near his best. There was a plot twist at the end that I didn’t see coming, but that too left a horrid taste in my mouth. I enjoyed the surprise, but hated the premise it supported.

In all honesty I do not recommend this book to anyone. If fact Cussler should pull it from his catalogue entirely. I know I would be ashamed to have written a novel like this.

Overall feeling: Anger and nausea.

Iceberg (#3 Dirk Pitt) Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Iceberg (#3 Dirk Pitt) Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

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© Casey Carlisle 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Wrap up – The Taking Trilogy by Kimberly Derting

Action packed science fiction for tweens.

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The concept of alien abduction is what first drew me to this series, reminding me of the tv show ‘Roswell’ and the 80’s movie ‘Flight of the Navigator.’ It’s a cute read, more focused on the romance than any alien technology or space travel, but the writing style, especially in the first novel is a little jarring; especially with its usage of text abbreviations in the narrative. (Luckily its only in the first book.)

There is a nostalgic and romantic feel to ‘The Taking,’ I really connected with Kyra and her love interest Tyler. They are all types of awkward teen and angst. With the mystery of what happened to Kyra, filling in the missing years while she was taken, and keeping her abduction a secret’ all adding to a great mix of tension for the series.

I can’t say that any of the concepts, or indeed the content of this series feel original; it was all very high-school-special, and something I’d read/seen before. But they are all easy quick reads and Derting manages to up the ante with each instalment.

the-taking-book-review-pic-01-by-casey-carlisleI feel that the series got increasingly messy – with too many points of view and too many characters growing with each book. It’s a trend I’m starting to see in YA which I find disturbing. Most of the time it doesn’t add much to the narrative and loses the connection we have with the main character, which is what draws us to read in the first place. ‘The Countdown’ was definitely all over the place and did not have any of that spark that attracted me from the first novel. It tended more towards conspiracies, alien races on earth and action scenes. The mystery was gone, and so was the fish out of water theme from Kyra navigating her way through the world.

Derting’s writing style got better with each book in the series, but her focus did not.

Looking back, I think I would have like to have seen more ‘sci-fi’ in this series, and had complexity introduced through characters rather than plot. And maybe a new twist on the alien abduction trope – this story line has been beaten to death already.

I’d have to say that it is quite an enjoyable read though – light escapism, nothing all to challenging. It wraps up nicely, though I still had a lot of unanswered questions. If you’re a lover of science fiction, this may not be one for you, I’d only recommend it for younger readers who like a romance with a twist. It is along the same lines as ‘From a Distant Star’ by Karen McQuestion.

Another note: I love the covers! I bought the hardbacks, and the artwork simply glimmers. Typographical headers are so much better than generic models gazing into the lens.

Overall I’d rate the series as a solid three out of five. Not terribly great, but not awful either… a guilty pleasure.

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For individual reviews click on the links below:

The Taking’ – https://strokingfire.wordpress.com/2015/03/17/book-review-the-taking/

The Replaced’ – https://strokingfire.wordpress.com/2015/09/01/book-review-the-replaced-by-kimberly-derting/

The Countdown’https://strokingfire.wordpress.com/2016/10/22/book-review-the-countdown-by-kimberly-derting/

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© Casey Carlisle 2016. 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 – ‘Pacific Vortex!’ by Clive Cussler

Dirk Pitt is borne of pages and a passion for oceanic adventure!

Pacific Vortex Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Action Adventure

No. of pages: 346

From Goodreads:

Dirk Pitt’s first, most terrific adventure! Dirk Pitt, death-defying adventurer and deep-sea expert, is out to the ultimate test as he plunges into the perilous waters of the Pacific Vortex — a fog-shrouded sea zone where dozens of ships have vanished without a trace. The latest victim is the awesome superb Starbuck, America’s deep-diving nuclear arsenal. Its loss poses an unthinkable threat to national defense. Pitt’s job is to find it, salvage it, before the sea explodes. In a furious race against time, Pitt’s mission swirls him into a battle with underwater assassins-and traps him in the arms of Summer Moran, the most stunningly exotic and dangerous toward disaster, Clive Cussler plummets his hero onto an ancient sunken island-the astonishing setting for the explosive climax of Pacific Vortex!

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In the past I’ve really enjoyed the Bond-esque adventures of Dirk Pitt, and having been away from his action packed crusades for many, many years, I decided to catch up from the beginning. A goal of reading all the Dirk Pitt works from beginning to end and fill in the gaps of books I’ve missed.

Pacific Vortex!’ was better and worse than many of the other books I have read…

Pacific Vortex Book Review Pic 02 by Casey CarlisleBetter, because it really invoked a feeling of fear and anxiety around some of the undersea challenges Pitt faced, as well as the adrenalin filled awe at the scale and grandeur of the mysteries of the deep. I don’t think the other novels in this universe I’ve read quite captured that feeling as effectively.

Worse, because of all of the trappings that go along with a terminal bachelor ladies action man. So many archetypes which felt two dimensional and had me cringing. But I was expecting this. Dirk Pitt adventures are typically patriarchal, male-centric and reduce many interactions to machismo and objectification. It’s the same in the Bond franchise. The spoony and camp factor seem to come hand in hand in this genre.

The result was, that why I loved the adventure and marine elements, some of the stereotypes and interactions were hard to swallow. But you need to take it for what it is.

It was great to see the beginnings of a wonderful franchise. Clive Cussler writes with authority and conviction. He really knows his stuff when it comes to the marine environment – which, to be frank, is the main reason why I began reading his novels. That, and I crave a good adventure.

I know in later novels his character development and comedy are greatly improved, and female characters are painted with more than just an objective gaze or a damsel in distress. I think if I hadn’t already experienced Cussler’s later works I may have rated this lower, but have made an exception due to his legacy and the hours of wonder I’ve spent in his pages. Cussler’s writing is in part what spurred me into getting a Marine Biology degree in the first place.

So it’s only onward and upward from here. Can’t wait to see what the next adventure brings.

Overall feeling: machismo, but mad fun.

Pacific Vortex Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Pacific Vortex Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

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© Casey Carlisle 2016. 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 Catalyst by Helena Coggan

Two souls, one body… zero excitement.

 The Catalyst Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Paranormal, Science Fiction

No. of pages: 448

From Goodreads:

Rose Elmsworth has a secret. For eighteen years, the world has been divided into the magically Gifted and the non-magical Ashkind, but Rose’s identity is far more dangerous. At fifteen, she has earned herself a place alongside her father in the Department, a brutal law-enforcement organisation run by the Gifted to control the Ashkind. But now an old enemy is threatening to start a catastrophic war, and Rose faces a challenging test of her loyalties. How much does she really know about her father’s past? How far is the Department willing to go to keep the peace? And, if the time comes, will Rose choose to protect her secret, or the people she loves? 

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I was in cover envy when I first glimpsed this cover in a book haul from Benjaminoftomes, and after he rated it highly, I felt like it was a must have!  But it did not live up to the hype for me. The introduction into the new world of ‘The Catalyst’ was abrupt. I do like how there no lengthy explanation, but it left me wanting a bit more on the mythology of this world.

The concept of twin souls is a fantastic one, but its execution left me fuddled. Maybe there should be some awareness and tension between two beings in one body? (Besides the glaringly obvious plight of Rose herself)

Rose was definitely an interesting character and a shining light in this dark novel. The duality of her condition had me eager to read on page after page. Again, if the mythology had been explored further, I may have enjoyed it even more. I also felt her relationships were too convenient for the story, I’d rather see her discover new people and judge whether to trust them on the facts they presented. Walking in on so many established relationships, which are later tested was somewhat contrived. Also, Roses behaviour, her secrecy – I’m not sure if I completely get the motivation for some of this. It seemed flimsy and immature.

The style of the narrative didn’t sit particularly well for me either – the tone felt a little impersonal and stopped me from truly connecting with the characters. I did like some of the word choices, but on the whole was somewhat clunky.

I guess my review is also tainted by my dislike for the angel/demon genre – as ‘The Catalyst’ sets us up to believe that fallen angels souls have taken up dwelling in human bodies. I wanted to glimpse more of the human soul, more of the previous world clashing with this new one….

On a side note – everyone is mentioning Helena’s age as an excuse for some inconsistencies in the novel (and rating it higher because of it). While I agree it is an amazing feat to be published so young, I won’t take her age into account… if this wasn’t ready for publication and public scrutiny it wouldn’t have been printed.

Even with all of the negatives mentioned above, it is a great story and Helena shows great promise. I may be convinced to pick up the next novel in the series to find out what happens to Rose, and see if the mythology of this world is explored further… and if Miss Coggan’s writing style gets better with practice.

Overall feeling: So much promise, so little return

The Catalyst Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

The Catalyst Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

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© Casey Carlisle 2015. 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.