Book Review – ‘The Ice Twins’ by S.K. Tremayne

Slow-burn twisty thriller on a haunted island.

Genre: Mystery, Thriller

No. of pages: 373

After one of their  identical twin daughters, Lydia, dies in an accident, Angus and Sarah Moorcroft move to a remote Scottish island, hoping to mend their shattered lives. But when their surviving child, Kirstie, claims they have mistaken her identity – that she, in fact, is Lydia – their world comes crashing back down.

They know one of their daughters died. But can they be sure which one?

This was a spooky psychological thriller with a brilliant setting and unreliable narrators to keep you guessing.

The Ice Twins’ and I did not gel. I liked the unfolding mystery, but it took a long time to get interesting. I put this novel down multiple times due to boredom and read five other books intermittently before returning; it was only after reaching the halfway mark when the story finally got interesting.

The story is told in multiple perspectives – and when it was necessary to reveal plot points, it did so in an abrupt manner. No build up. Just – here is a twist you won’t see coming. There was no context, no grounding in the story. It didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. Like the author was intentionally throwing in the wildest thing they could think of to shock and awe the reader. I would have appreciated this mastery if there had been some clue or precedence in the narrative… there was the teeny-tiniest hint, but not enough to give it any substance and make the reveal knock me for six.

There was so much secret holding and distrust within the family that it all left a bad taste in my mouth and prevented me from really getting into the story. What young family exists in this manner? It felt so unrealistic. It had a tough of a gothic thriller: over dramatized and spooky atmosphere.

Sarah dominates with her perspective throughout ‘The Ice Twins.’ While it is clear she loves her family and is trying to make things work after the loss of one of her twin girls in a tragic accident; slowly my unease with her grew. She was wishy-washy, impulsive, and at times unstable. There was a lot of naffing about that you simply don’t do when caring for the well-being of a child navigating grief. It’s like the Mamma Bear in me reared up and rejected half of the narrative of this book. So I did not connect with Sarah’s story, or any other characters for that matter, and consequently did not get immersed into the story of ‘The Ice Twins.’

Sarah’s husband, Angus felt distant the entire story. It was like his actions and motivations were in conflict. I felt he was pretty much useless apart from the sporadic plot reveals his narrative provided. And even then I was shocked at his inaction to take care of his family.

The twins, Kirstie and Lydia – such a tragic story. Their experience is the only thing that my heart went out to. They were neglected on so many levels before and after one of them reaches their demise. I liked the touch of the supernatural of this story (if you want to interpret it that way, others may see it in a more practical sense) but the beginnings of this storyline took far too long to set up.

This is my first foray into S.K. Tremayne, and I hate to say, but their writing style just did not do it for me. It felt dry, emotionless, and the characters not developed enough early on. But for building ambience and world building, their skills really shine. I think maybe a lack of empathy is what I’m sensing in S.K. Tremayne’s writing style. It was rich and colourful, but lacked an emotional connection. It didn’t help that any of the characters in the story were not relatable.

I don’t think I’m going to recommend this one. I’ve read so many other thrillers that I enjoyed much more; and, consequently, will not be going out of my way to purchase any more of Tremayne’s titles. It’s mainly the writing style that did it for me. But I can see how some readers will love ‘The Ice Twins’ or any other title from Tremayne’s catalogue.

Overall feeling: Just like soggy chicken

© Casey Carlisle 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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

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

Genre: Y/A, Science Fiction, Adventure

No. of pages: 416

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Overall feeling: *nose-dive*

© Casey Carlisle 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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I had such a blast when I read ‘Beauty Queens,’ a bunch of self-absorbed teens *cough-reality stars and influencers-cough* from diverse backgrounds survive ‘Lord of the Flies‘ style. I’m thinking it’s about time for a re-read.

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

Island survival with a sci-fi twist.

Genre: Y/A, Science Fiction, Adventure

No. of pages: 448

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Overall feeling: Dancing while on fire.

© Casey Carlisle 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Book Review – ‘Nil’ (#1 Nil) by Lynne Matson

Bought this book for the island survival aspect, stayed for the action and mystery.

Nil (#1 Nil) Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Science Fiction

No. of pages: 384

From Goodreads:

On the mysterious island of Nil, the rules are set. You have one year. Exactly 365 days–to escape, or you die.

Seventeen-year-old Charley doesn’t know the rules. She doesn’t even know where she is. The last thing she remembers is blacking out, and when she wakes up, she’s lying naked in an empty rock field.

Lost and alone, Charley finds no sign of other people until she meets Thad, the gorgeous leader of a clan of teenage refugees. Soon Charley learns that leaving the island is harder than she thought . . . and so is falling in love. With Thad’s time running out, Charley realizes that to save their future, Charley must first save him. And on an island rife with dangers, their greatest threat is time.

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I went into this without knowing much about the Nil universe other than it was a survival adventure for a group of teens on a tropical island. I certainly did not expect the sci-fi twist, which I found delightful and set up an interesting premise. This book felt like a mash-up of ‘The Maze Runner’ and ‘Beauty Queens.’

I got a little worried with the dual perspectives, it is usually a note that gives a lot of repetition in the narrative, but ‘Nil’ managed to dodge this pitfall expertly.

There was a little bit of a slow start. The world building took a little bit of time to erect with such a large cast of characters, and the rules of the island inhabitants… and the island itself. It is well worth persevering. I’ve read slower, I think because we learn about the world through ‘show’ more than ‘tell’ it slowed the pace a little. But it’s the kind of writing that I prefer. ‘Nil’ definitely captured my imagination.

Protagonist Charley, an athletic, 6-foot, awkward teenage girl awakening naked on a strange island was a great premise. She really works at finding herself, and her place on the island. I loved how her unique perspective of the island, and its reason for being, adds something new to the story. I love how the attributes she found embarrassing about herself were the things that gave her advantages in this hostile environment.

The constant ticking clock for all the characters added an urgency that really upped the pacing and kept me engaged right to the last page.

Thad, the love interest, was all things hunky hero that you’d expect. The leader, the rescuer. Though he didn’t embody that stereotype completely. He gets to live outside those initial impressions, and lets Charley deconstruct a few of these aspects on her own terms and grow as a person. It was great to read about his doubt and insecurities.

The romance between these two felt a bit insta-lovey. I would have liked have read more of a build and a rocky start. So it did feel a bit cheesy and tropey in that respect.

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Contra to that, ‘Nil’ is brutal. Matson is not afraid to pile up the body count – and any character is fair game. I really did not know who was going to make it through to the end. This air of uncertainty, of living in the now, adds some great tension and had me hooked.

Nil’ reads more like a romance with a survival setting. Upon finishing, while satisfied with the resolution of major plot points, the mystery of the island remains unsolved. And I am keen to read on in this trilogy to discover what Nil is all about. Though it looks like the sequel ‘Nil Unlocked’ is dealing with different protagonists.

There was a contrived element that urked me. Like some big Game Master was pulling the strings. Whether this was intentional, and the role of the island itself, or the author setting up the storyline, it’s something that resonated with me in a slightly negative way.

I think if there was a touch more explanation about the island, a little less romance, less of the trope, this would have been a 5 star read. It is still a bonza read. I loved the adventure and the mystery of the island, the challenges to survival, and how visceral the challenges were. Definitely up there with my recommended books. Can’t wait to work out the mystery of Nil in the remainder of the trilogy.

Overall feeling: Not too shabby

Nil (#1 Nil) Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Nil (#1 Nil) Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

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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 – ‘Vitro’ (#2 Corpus) by Jessica Khoury

A great adventure that questions the morality of scientific exploration.

Vitro (Corpus #2) Book Review Pic 01 by Casey Carlisle.jpgGenre: Y/A, Science Fiction, Adventure, Romance

No. of pages: 384

From Goodreads:

On a remote island in the Pacific, Corpus scientists have taken test tube embryos and given them life. These beings—the Vitros—have knowledge and abilities most humans can only dream of. But they also have one enormous flaw.

Sophie Crue is determined to get to Skin Island and find her mother, a scientist who left Sophie behind years ago. She enlists hunky charter pilot Jim Julien to take her there. But once on the island, Sophie and Jim encounter more than they bargained for, including a charming, brilliant Vitro named Nicholas and an innocent, newly awoken one named Lux.

In a race for their lives, Sophie and Jim are about to discover what happens when science stretches too far beyond its reach.

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I initially read the first novel of this collection over two years ago, and while I enjoyed ‘Origin,’ it felt like there was something missing. ‘Vitro’ and the third book in this trilogy ‘Kalahari’ are not sequels, but rather companion novels, it is easy to see a marked improvement in Khoury’s storytelling skills with each installment. None of these novels need to be read in order either, they are all strong standalones set in the same universe.

Vitro’ marks a great adventure from Jessica Khoury. One thing with her books is that they are thoroughly researched. The landscape is so picturesque and oozes from the page, so too does the science – though fictitious, there are enough of the basics honed in science fact to give a sense of believability. You really feel like you’re there along with the protagonist. Just brilliant.

Vitro (Corpus #2) Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle.jpgSophie was a great main character. I liked her do or die attitude. She doubted herself very little even though she struggled with emotional demons and desired a place to belong. I wrestled more with the story towards the end – so much happened that I couldn’t as easily connect with Sophie or her choices. But still a great journey to read along with.

Sophie’s love interest, Jim was my hero. Literally my new fictional boyfriend crush. He was like a zombie – Khoury threw everything at this guy and he just kept getting back up! Loved it. I almost wished there was a spin off adventure series for Jim. I’ve read that this trilogy is the end for the corpus series – but really there are infinite possibilities to revisit and write more. I’m a big believer in never say never…

The pacing was better than ‘Origin,’ there were just a few moments where the narrative felt waffly, either in exposition or dialogue. But it was easy to skim past and get to the good stuff.

Something about the concept of this book that was morbidly fascinating. It didn’t sit well with me… I guess because of its implications. I squirmed a bit. It also felt a little unfinished, or not fully realised as the concepts in ‘Origin.’ There also seemed to be a lot of layers of story with ‘Vitro’ too. I loved the complexity, but it came close to feeling messy. I think the subtext of the book is what left me most uncomfortable‎. The different shades of humanity we see coming out in the different characters and how it ask us some big questions.

Again Khoury’s writing style and explicit description of landscape was thoroughly engaging. If she wrote travel books I’d never have to leave home.

Definitely an engaging read that I’d recommend to lovers of adventure with a science fiction twist. I had no hesitation in purchasing the final book in this collection ‘Kalahari,’ the review for that one is to come later this month.

Overall feeling: FMTFO! (freak me the firetruck out!)

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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 – ‘We Were Liars’ by E. Lockhart

Elite drama and an unreliable narrator make for fantastic reading.

We Were Liars Book Review Pic 01 by Casey Carlisle.jpgGenre: Y/A, Contemporary, Mystery

No. of pages: 227

From Goodreads:

We are the Liars.

We are beautiful, privileged and live a life of carefree luxury.

We are cracked and broken.

A story of love and romance.

A tale of tragedy.

Which are lies?

Which is truth?

You decide.

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This totally blew me away. It had drama, mystery and obnoxious characters… Just from the title and tone of the novel I knew there would be a twist coming – and I kind of guessed it, but not entirely. More like I had the gist of it, but when the big reveal came at the end I was like Oooooohhhh…

I’m not usually one to favour stories that are fragmented or filled with flashbacks, but in this case it worked. With an unreliable narrator like Cady everything that is written has relevance – it’s a big puzzle and you just have to find the right way everything fits together.

There is also a tone of racism, elitism, entitlement, and social justice that resonates strongly in the subtext. Along with that are themes of selfishness, idiocy, and innocence lost. It’s like a big swirling mass just under the letters on the page: a strong reflection on real life. For such a short book it really packs a punch.

We Were Liars Book Review Pic 03 by Casey CarlisleMaybe I’m a little disconnected, or in shock, or simply disorientated from all the going’s on in the book, but I didn’t really laugh or cry. And I was expecting to. So that is the only reason I deducted a mark – lack of emotional connection. Quite possibly it is also because all the cast were flawed and there is no clear definition of what is good or bad and who deserves punishment or not.

I marvel on the weaving of the storyline, the craftsmanship of plot and character – clearly the best book I’ve read of E. Lockhart to date.

I will say that the writing style is brief and jarring at times – almost like slam poetry. It is intentional, reflecting the way the protagonist, Cady’s brain works, but it was another small aspect that pulled me from the narrative. Those few words built a strong picture, but I wanted to exist in the moment longer. It felt all too brief. Maybe that’s part of the reason I lack a strong emotional connection to the story because the writing style hit me like a drive-by….wham! And then it’s gone. Red taillights shrinking to blurry pinpricks in the distance.

I don’t feel we really got to know the characters that much either. The grown up’s stay in the periphery, bickering. The Littles (younger kids) are loud, messy and disruptive, but only present for mere moments. The Liars though, because they are hiding so much, or playing games, I felt like I only got the surface scratched before the story ended.

Though the conclusion was satisfying, there was still a sense that there were some lose ends… but I guess the story isn’t truly over – the family is still carrying on, still maintaining that Sinclar reputation.

Highly recommended – a delightful read with an unexpected twist.

Overall feeling: I love a surprise reveal at the end!

We Were Liars Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

We Were Liars Book Review Pic 04 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.

Book Review – ‘Beauty Queens’ by Libba Bray

Sarcasm all wrapped up in a pretty pink bow.

Beauty Queens Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Contemporary, Adventure

No. of pages: 396

From Goodreads:

When a plane crash strands thirteen teen beauty contestants on a mysterious island, they struggle to survive, to get along with one another, to combat the island’s other diabolical occupants, and to learn their dance numbers in case they are rescued in time for the competition.

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At first I thought ‘Beauty Queens’ was going to be a steaming pile of bat guano given the over exaggerated aspect of the narrative with immature and shallow characters, but then it got sarcastic, funny and ironic… and then a little weird.

Beauty Queens’ is unlike anything else I’ve read before, some parts, and bits of the dialogue were like eating glass because of the low-brow idiocy, and others shine with brilliant satire – though one would not work without the other… it’s campy & sarcastic. It’s also dramatic, enthusiastic, hyperactive, and flamboyant.

Following a collection of teenaged vapid beauty pageant contestants in a reality television show who survive their airplane crashing on a tropical island – some of the girls continue in pageant mode, while others break out of character and form survival skills on an unforgiving island.

Each character is unique and brings a lot to the table as far a diversity and comedy. Libba Bray includes a transsexual and lesbian character in her cast of unlikely marooned teens. Later, the addition of a group of boys – from a pirate television show, which is produced by the same team that mastheads the pageant: The Company.

It was a little difficult to get into at first because it has such a unique narrative style, after which I appreciated the tongue-in-cheek, over the top antics of ‘Beauty Queens.’ This is all about hi-jinx! Don’t expect anything serious from this novel, except for a big case of sparkly ponies, eye-rolling, and snorting.

We have ‘ads’ interspersed in between chapters as well, like a word from our sponsor – The Company (again) that added a fun touch.

Beauty Queens Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

At first I thought it was going to feel immature, like it was pitched to a young tween market, but then with some of the references and content, I discovered that it wasn’t taking itself seriously at all. It was like a drag queen had taken over the stage and was entertaining me with vicious quips, reading the audience, and strutting her stuff while downing a VB. It’s obtuse and entertaining

I may have rated it higher if it allowed me to connect with any of the characters, or had some realism in it to help me care. Instead it was like a really long episode of a teen SNL cast. And on a side note – there is a hilarious epilogue that is the icing on the cake.

I loved the funny, but sometimes you can have too much of a good thing. But I am really looking forward to picking up another title by Libba Bray…

Overall feeling: sugar sweet, like vomiting confetti

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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.