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Top 10 Standalones – Top 10 series

I thought I’d take a look back to recommend my top 10 standalones that I read in 2020, it’s a mixed bag but maybe you’ll find that new-to-you read!

I’ll Give You The Sun – yes this was released ages ago, and has been sitting on my shelf since, but in the past year I’ve been making a concerted effort to shrink my TBR and stop getting detracted by too many new shiny covers. This contemporary lived up to the hype I remember it getting when it first came out. Interesting characters and fantastic reveals that brought all the feels.

The Luminous Dead – On of the latest purchases, a sci-fi psychological thriller set in caves on a distant planet, the protagonist faces treacherous terrain, a controlling guide, alien nasties, and a few dead bodies. With a F/F romance to boot this was everything I needed and didn’t know it.

Famous Last Words – a contemporary mystery set in the Hollywood Hills. A young girl moves into a spanish estate that might be haunted, oh, and there might be a killer lurking about.

Highway Bodies – a zombie apocalypse that a diverse group of youngsters have to survive. Set in Australia, and a gem of a novel.

The Sky is Everywhere – Another contemporary romance from Jandy Nelson I let sit on my shelf for too long. Quirky characters painted with artistic flare.

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue* – A historical rom-com as brother, sister and their best friend take a road trip across Europe and all sorts of hijinks ensue. This was a laugh riot. *Not a standalone, there are two more novels and a novella in this series, but I’m including it here because I’ve only read the debut.

Life Expectancy – Dean Koontz has been a favorite of mine since I was in junior high. This tale is a crazy twist of futures that keep getting intertwined: one is a family man, the other is a killer clown.

Pet Semetary – A re-read of an old classic that never fails to entertain and send a shiver down your spine. Bringing back the dead, indian burial grounds and a spooky wendigo… it never gets old (but parts of the story haven’t aged well – it fun to see how writing has evolved in the last 30-40 years)

Reckoning – the only non-fiction title in this list. Magda Szubanski, Australia’s first lady of comedy takes a serious tone exploring her family history: a father who was an assassin, her dreams of becoming a tennis star and falling into acting… and discovering her own identity in a time when being in the spotlight was a dangerous thing.

Cold Fire – A re-read that I didn’t know was one. I owned this book in high school and has lost it in my travels across the continent. I bought another copy thinking it was a title I didn’t have in Dean Koontz’s back catalog…. and the whole time I was reading it though ‘this sounds familiar.’ Still it was a great story of possible aliens haunting a man’s past who has the uncanny ability to foretell certain peoples deaths and goes out of his was to prevent them.

The top 10 series I completed (or nearly completed) in 2020 are:

This Mortal Coil – a science fiction future where the world is ravaged by genetically modified viruses, body modifications, and advanced technology. Warring factions for control and freedom, super soldiers… this really shows where a STEM education could take us. My no.1 pick for the year.

Warm Bodies – I finally completed this epic series, though it slowly left it’s satirical roots and turned philosophical. But is was fun to get answers to how the zombie apocalypse came about, and what the future holds for R and the gang.

The Rook* – There are still more installments to come in this series*, but this is all that is published for now. A spy thriller with supernatural powers set in England with a sense of humor! This collection has a special place in my heart (the television adaptation did not do it justice.)

Midnight Sun* – I got around to what I thought was finishing off the series I started back in 2007, but since have heard there is the possibility of another two books to come!? Nontheless this was a fun return to the beginnings of the Twilight franchise and the story of Edward and Bella (if a little long-winded) but I managed to read it in two days.

Impossible Times trilogy – a collection of novellas that is very timey-wimey. Set in England this has an echo of Doctor Who and mixes in a heavy dose of time travel. Well-written and a blast to read.

Death Works trilogy – Aussie author Trent Jamieson pens a great collection of novels about a Pomp (think grim reaper) guiding souls to the afterlife and fighting all sorts of supernatural nasties… but it’s all handled like a well-oiled corporate office. Best in my backyard : Brisbane, a story very close to my heart.

Proxy – another sci-fi dystopia with a gay main character where the wealthy can get a proxy to stand in for their punishments. A fantastic tale of class structure, technology and rebellion.

Zeroes*- A group of supernatural teens – crooks come heroes that have to navigate their powers, face the consequences of their actions and face-off similarly powered foes. It has a fun twist on the superpower genre, I just have to read the concluding novel to complete the series.*

One Man Guy – a contemporary romance duology featuring a M/M couple as they come out, and navigate romantic rivals, clashes of culture and class structures.

Nil* – a science fiction portal trilogy about a supernatural island that pits teens against the elements and predatory animals, but they have a year to untangle the mystery and catch a portal home before they die. Just have to read the concluding novel for this series*, but so far it has been one heck of an adventure.

Book Review – ‘Life Expectancy’ by Dean Koontz

Fun and weird characters, murder, humour and a twist I didn’t see coming.

Life Expectancy Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Thriller, Mystery

No. of pages: 401

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Jimmy Tock comes into the world on the very night his grandfather leaves it. As a violent storm rages outside the hospital, Rudy Tock spends long hours walking the corridors between the expectant fathers’ waiting room and his dying father’s bedside. It’s a strange vigil made all the stranger when, at the very height of the storm’s fury, Josef Tock suddenly sits up in bed and speaks coherently for the first and last time since his stroke.

What he says before he dies is that there will be five dark days in the life of his grandson—five dates whose terrible events Jimmy will have to prepare himself to face. The first is to occur in his twentieth year; the second in his twenty-third year; the third in his twenty-eighth; the fourth in his twenty-ninth; the fifth in his thirtieth.

Rudy is all too ready to discount his father’s last words as a dying man’s delusional rambling. But then he discovers that Josef also predicted the time of his grandson’s birth to the minute, as well as his exact height and weight, and the fact that Jimmy would be born with syndactyly—the unexplained anomal of fused digits—on his left foot. Suddenly the old man’s predictions take on a chilling significance.

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It has been a while since I’ve indulged in a Dean Koontz creation, and ‘Life Expectancy’ reminded me of all the things I love about his writing. Witty banter, fun and weird characters, a good chase, serendipity, and some obtuse cyclical element that you never expect.

Life Expectancy’ is a deliciously weird tale intertwined with prophecy, mad men, fate, and family. We get different sections of the novel centred around the dates Jimmy Tock’s grandfather foretold as days of great importance and sorrow.

Jimmy Tock, born in an electric storm at the same moment as the child of a weird man, who then goes on a killing spree through the country hospital kicks this story off with a bloody mess and dragged me into the narrative with ease. The different parts jump to the dates that Grandad Tock magic-eight-balled for Jimmy to look out for and keep the pace of this novel cranked up to maximum. Even when Jimmy meets love interest Lorrie, we get instant great chemistry, and I became besotted with the pair from the get-go. True to Koontz’s writing style, there is a brilliant mix of comedy (humour) and horror (needless death and destruction) that was cinematic in form.

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We don’t just get one bad guy either… antagonists that are sociopathically driven to enforce their justified point of view, all interwoven together in a crazy plot really threw me for a six. It was such a delicious delight to have these little unexpected twists.

The quaint backdrop of Snow Village – somehow reminding me of the set from ‘The Ghost Whisperer’ television show. A small town with a square, around which all the important buildings orientate. It just goes to show the descriptive abilities of Koontz’s writing style.

Because I’m such a fan of Dean Koontz and read countless of his tomes, I can say with confidence I predicted the ending pretty early one – however, there were a few surprising serendipities to that ending. And they were doozies. A one-two punch that had me making googly eyes at the page.

This hits the sweet spot of all the things I enjoy about Dean Koontz’s writing and happily recommend ‘Life Expectancy’ for your TBR.

Overall feeling: This!

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Critique Casey 2020 by Casey Carlisle

© 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.



Australia is in the midst of troubling bushfires all up the east coast – some of my friends have lost their homes – while we suffer through heatwave after heatwave. But that is part and parcel of living in the outback. So today I’m dreaming of a white Christmas and have found the only book covers I have that reflect being snuggled up by the fire in a heavy blanket with the frosty night air…

Most Bought Author – Spotlight on Dean Koontz

(the guy taking up the most space on my shelves)


Pictured: Just some of the titles I own – there’s still another boxful somewhere waiting to be unpacked since the move…

I was wondering the other day who was the most popular author – the one who novels I’ve collected the most of. A die-hard true fan. I was a little surprised at the result, but given that I’ve been reading his books since junior high, Dean Koontz topped the list, currently owning over 40 titles. And how appropriate for the Halloween season!

I started reading Koontz when I was 14 years old, (grade 10) not only because of a love of horror and suspense, but it helped while away the time spent on public transport and weekends. Being an unpopular kid, Koontz provided an escape from reality, sleuthing out the paranormal, tripping in science fiction, or conquering demons. He also let you face-off with psycho killers and many of his stories had a canine companion. Being a huge dog-lover, Koontz wrote novels that I related to, and that not only thrilled and scared me, but resolved everything with a happy ending. Can I also say I loved his sense of humour? A mix of sarcasm and Dad jokes that tickled my chicken.

So not only does Koontz occupy the largest area of my bookshelves, he also can boast the oldest novels decorating the horror section of my personal library. The very first novel I bought of his was back in *cough* 1987! This author has been a part of my life longer than most friends and family members. Amazing to think how an author can touch your life and they never know you existed.

Most notable series have to be the Odd Thomas collection, the Frankenstein anthology and sleuth extraordinaire Jane Hawk and her adventures. There are a couple of duologies, and a number of novellas as companions to other releases.

I still get a thrill from reading his novels, but there is also that feeling of nostalgia. His definitive writing style also reminds me of my childhood when life was simple: big hair, scrunchies and high-top sneakers were in. When I lived in acid-wash jeans and thought rollerskating was the coolest thing ever… and half of those things I just listed I may still think are cool…

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We’ve seen numerous film adaptations of his novels, my favourites being ‘Watchers,’ (populated a four movie anthology) ‘Odd Thomas,’ ‘Phantoms,’ ‘Intensity,’ ‘Demon Seed,’ ‘Hideaway,’ Sole Survivor,’ and ‘Whispers.’ It’s great to see how his literature has crossed boundaries and gives me inspiration to not only write, but use the possibility of a film adaptation of my own work someday in the future. It’s fuel for the imagination and an example that you can make a comfortable living from writing books.

But out of all of the Koontz novels I have read, I have to say my absolute favourite was ‘Ticktock.’ A Chinese-American protagonist stalked by a demon, aided by sassy service worker and her weirdly astute dog. It’s scary, hilarious and full of action. Reminds me of the tone of ‘Buffy’ with its dark comedy and loveable characters. This is one book I’d love to see brought to the big screen!

I can’t wait to see what Koontz releases next and how his reach extends into film and television. A man worthy of the title of ‘idol.’

UL Most Read Author Dean Koontz Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

Who is your author inspiration?

Do you have a favourite Dean Koontz novel?

Which author have you collected the most number of novels from?

Comment below – I love discovering new authors and books to devour.

Happy reading everyone 🙂


© Casey Carlisle 2018. 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 – ‘Innocence’ by Dean Koontz

A mystic tale of purpose, perception and good will.

Innocence Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Mystery, Thriller, Horror

No. of pages: 400

From Goodreads:

He lives in solitude beneath the city, an exile from society, which will destroy him if he is ever seen. She dwells in seclusion, a fugitive from enemies who will do her harm if she is ever found. But the bond between them runs deeper than the tragedies that have scarred their lives. Something more than chance—and nothing less than destiny—has brought them together in a world whose hour of reckoning is fast approaching. 


Innocence’ is almost poetic, lyrical, beautiful. Though it felt like it took a long time to get to a point. Told mostly in a dual narrative from protagonist of younger Addison and today’s Addison, ‎though it unravelled a linear plot, I felt it slowed down the pace of the novel to wax poetic rather than drive the plot forward.

I usually find Koontz’s novels easy to read and get lost in, but ‘Innocence‘ felt clunky. Mainly because it was difficult to relate to, or make sense of what is going on. It’s all revealed in a couple of pages of info dump at the end. Much like the world building. It was so uncharacteristic of Koontz. Even though I was completely taken by surprise at the reveal, I did not feel like I altogether liked the plot or his writing style for ‘Innocence.’

Innocence Book Review Pic 02 by Casey CarlisleI found myself wanting more hints of his witty banter and humour, some quicker explanations of plot points, and a greater spattering of clues throughout. This book felt like and old timey prose, with a simple plot. Yes, I still enjoyed it but it will be ranked at the lowest end of my favourites. ‘Innocence’ is more a character study than anything else.

There were moments I got chills, a few times I was grossed out, but a lot less than I’m used to from Koontz.

Great characters, my favourite definitely being our protagonist Addison’s partner-in-crime/love interest, Gwyneth, and I really loved how aspects of both their characters were revealed at the end, shining a whole different light on the book. I just wish this one resonated stronger with me.

I’ve also noticed that this is the debut for a series, with the follow-up titled

Not something I’m going to recommend unless you’re a hardcore Koontz fan… and even then…


Overall feeling: Mmmm, I appreciate the artistic attributes, but overall was kinda meh!

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© Casey Carlisle 2018. 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 – ‘Ashely Bell’ by Dean Koontz

A creepy cat and mouse chase with a surprise twist.

Ashely Bell Book Review Pic 01 by Casey Carlisle.jpgGenre: Mystery, Thriller, Horror

No. of pages: 560

From Goodreads:

At twenty-two, Bibi Blair’s doctors tell her that she’s dying. Two days later, she’s impossibly cured. Fierce, funny, dauntless, she becomes obsessed with the idea that she was spared because she is meant to save someone else. Someone named Ashley Bell. This proves to be a dangerous idea. Searching for Ashley Bell, ricocheting through a southern California landscape that proves strange and malevolent in the extreme, Bibi is plunged into a world of crime and conspiracy, following a trail of mysteries that become more sinister and tangled with every twisting turn. 


I’m endeavouring to read more from my favourite authors I discovered in high school: Stephen King, Clive Cussler and Dean Koontz. There is a massive back catalogue of novels I need to catch up on. So in-between my regular genre reads, I pick up new and old titles from these three. Last time I indulged in an old release from the late 1970’s, so this time a newer publication, ‘Ashley Bell’ was on the cards for me.

My sister, also a Kootz fan did mention that is wasn’t as good as she expected though, so I wasn’t sure what to expect.

With a narrative that changes in perspective from Bibi to her boyfriend Pax, was at first jarring. I was thinking, what the hell? How does this have any relevance to the story… but after persisting, we find out why.

Ashely Bell Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle.jpgBibi was a great protagonist. She was understated, but gusty. I liked how we weren’t dealt a whole lot of sassiness or witty one liners that is common with these types of heroines. Bookish by nature, she remained true to that type. Quite. Stalwart. Intelligent.

Koontz’s writing style is shocking and confronting after a diet of so much popular YA. His sentence structure and descriptive tone is so rich it’s like switching from an old cathode ray tv to a 3D cinematic experience. As a writer I’m green-with-lime-polkadots kind of envy.

There is some jumping back and forth in the time line – something that always annoys me. I remember hoping it wouldn’t continue throughout the entire novel when I was around seventy pages in. Not sure what is going on, where the storyline is going, the way this book was presented at the start was disorientating. It was hard to make any predictions. The short chapters aided in the pacing, each dropping a hint or clue to Bibi’s journey, so I was never tempted to skim ahead.

I guess there were a few things that I did not find so enthralling – but it was more due to the unravelling of the plot and it moving in a direction I did not want it to go. But I will say that I hadn’t worked out what was going on until the last 100 pages. I was kept thinking, analysing, guessing. The pacing was much better through the last number of chapters. It was still interesting, but the tension seemed to lessen with the plot twist.

I’m not sure I like the ending – I appreciate the concept, and love how it connected with the narrative and all the clues, but I didn’t get that big elation at the reveal. But I wasn’t completely deflated either. It was more like – okay cool. But did I really need 560 pages to get to here?

I could feel shades of his other works in ‘Ashley Bell,’ though I didn’t feel like it was something regurgitated or reworked, but more nostalgic – and it worked on another level once you reach the end and look back.

Overall feeling: pretty good… then… okay.

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© Casey Carlisle 2017. 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 – ‘Darkness Under The Sun’ (#0.5 What The Night Knows) by Dean Koontz

You really shouldn’t talk to strangers.

Darkness Under The Sun Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Horror

No. of pages: 60

From Goodreads:

There once was a killer who knew the night, its secrets and rhythms. How to hide within its shadows. When to hunt. 

He roamed from town to town, city to city, choosing his prey for their beauty and innocence. His cruelties were infinite, his humanity long since forfeit. But still . . . he had not yet discovered how to make his special mark among monsters, how to come fully alive as Death. 

This is the story of how he learned those things, and of what we might do to ensure that he does not visit us. 


Spotting a review for ‘Darkness Under the Sun’ just before I was about to pick up ‘What the Night Knows’ was kismet. I quickly added this novella to my e-reader ready to submerge into a scary and thrilling prelude, set the tone to whatever paranormal force is to feature in the main novel. And what I read was sufficiently spooky, it reminded me of Roald Dahl or Edgar Allen Poe. I got an unnerved sense straight away about how the protagonist, a thirteen year old Howey Dugley meets a mysterious adult drifter new friend (Alton Turner Blackwood) back in 1989. And I think it’s meant to be on purpose. Red flags start to wave and the reader is meant to notice them… all to set them up for the twist. A twist that gave me a shiver.

Darkness Under The Sun Book Review Pic 02 by Casey CarlisleI’ve been scared by some of Koontz books, afraid to step out of bed in the dark, too chicken to investigate noises outside my window at night. This tale didn’t do that. It left me feeling creeped out. That prickling of hair at the back of your neck.

I appreciated how Howie develops as a character and commits to paying recompense for his actions (fingering fellow school student Ron Bleeker as a bully who deserves recompense to Alton, whom he knows is dangerous) – which in turn takes on a philosophical significance of the story. Not before jumping forward in time to Howies 32nd year, and events begin to re-emerge mirroring the past he’s tried to forget and pay penance for. Leaving us set up for the novel ‘What the Night Knows.’ There is definite dark and supernatural things at work here. And ‘Darkness Under the Sun’ is the perfect teaser.

It’s a quick easy novella to read, Koontz’s usual colourful descriptive style marrying both lush beautiful landscape and brutal gore of a murder scene. Another favourite to add to my collection, you can be assured it is as good as Koontz vintage best. I’m even more keen to read ‘What the Night Knows’ and find out where this all leads and get answers to the mythology. A compact plot with a spiritual message.

Overall feeling: I think I thought I heard someone whispering my name in the dark… eep!

Darkness Under The Sun Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle


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© Casey Carlisle 2017. 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.