Book Review – ‘The Gravity of Us’ by Phil Stamper

The countdown to first love and finding your voice.

Genre: Y/A, Contemporary, Romance, LGBT

No. of pages: 314

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Overall feeling: Good, but not great.

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


#bookporn Dustlands by Casey Carlisle.jpg

I can’t wait to crack the spines on this collection. Since finishing off some of the series I’ve had sitting on my shelves for years, I’m rewarding myself with something new… and action science fiction trilogy set on Mars. Count me in!!

Book Review – ‘Red Rising’ by Pierce Brown

Being a Martian is difficult.

Red Rising Book Review Pic 01 by Casey Carlisle.jpgGenre: Science Fiction

No. of pages: 382

From Goodreads:

“I live for the dream that my children will be born free,” she says. “That they will be what they like. That they will own the land their father gave them.”

“I live for you,” I say sadly.

Eo kisses my cheek. “Then you must live for more.”

Darrow is a Red, a member of the lowest caste in the color-coded society of the future. Like his fellow Reds, he works all day, believing that he and his people are making the surface of Mars livable for future generations.

Yet he spends his life willingly, knowing that his blood and sweat will one day result in a better world for his children.

But Darrow and his kind have been betrayed. Soon he discovers that humanity already reached the surface generations ago. Vast cities and sprawling parks spread across the planet. Darrow—and Reds like him—are nothing more than slaves to a decadent ruling class.

Inspired by a longing for justice, and driven by the memory of lost love, Darrow sacrifices everything to infiltrate the legendary Institute, a proving ground for the dominant Gold caste, where the next generation of humanity’s overlords struggle for power. He will be forced to compete for his life and the very future of civilization against the best and most brutal of Society’s ruling class. There, he will stop at nothing to bring down his enemies… even if it means he has to become one of them to do so.


I’ve owned ‘Red Rising’ (well, the whole trilogy) for a while, but have only just started reading it after a number of rave book reviews popping up on my feed to remind me why I bought this collection in the first place. While an amazing story, at the beginning I was resistant to the narrative. There is a lot of information to process, and the writing style feels dry, or sparse, making it hard to connect with our protagonist, Darrow. ‘Red Rising’ read like an institutionalised Lord of the Flies on a futuristic Mars. Brutal.

Darrow is a complex protagonist, but there is something hinted at in the narrative, at to how his destiny is shaped the way it is, but not revealed. I think this is a major part that stopped me from truly connecting with him. The novel is full of puppet masters pulling strings – and Darrow is ultimately just another pawn. I never felt his motivations and actions were truly his own. But I love an underdog story, someone fighting against insurmountable odds, so I was invested in his story though not truly convinced by his convictions.

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The friendships formed – especially in the school, were barbarous and endearing. I see it in my best friend and his buddies that were in the S.A.S. together, there is a certain type of connection that is formed on the battlefield that nothing can break, and others will not truly understand. Piece Brown captured that comradery perfectly.

There are a few things about the society and its technology that puzzle me in the face of human nature. Such as the role carvers (doctors) play and how malleable the body, and its genetics can be. They are truly playing God… and from the hierarchy and accounts of the ruling factions they pretty much are, but this aspect did not seem to be explored as far as I think it would be naturally with such a powerful instrument to play with.

The politics, however is an intricate web and blindsided me on a number of occasions. I think this, and the battle scenes are the best parts of the novel.

I may have rated ‘Red Rising’ higher, because it is truly a tremendous tale, but if not for my issues connecting with the writing style, and near boredom through two thirds of the novel. But aside from that, it is a magnificent book that others may find outstanding. The writing style was sparse, dry, distinctly masculine. Even though the protagonist is male, something about the narrative made it difficult for me to immerse myself into the Martian landscape. I was frequently putting the book down for a rest or lack of interest. The last third of the novel, however, is an entirely different creature. The pacing is gripping, and so is the plot with all its twists and turns. The cast start to show their true colours and get tested… I was truly riveted and could not put the book down. The only thing that kept my persistence in the beginning was that I had heard so many wonderful things from friends about this series and kept telling myself that it will get better… any time now… any time… and finally it did.

I think there is so much to set up for this series to work, the world building, the motivations, the politics, that it takes some time to get its legs. That didn’t bode well for this debut, but promises that the following two books in this trilogy should be amazing. That’s what I am hoping for anyway.

The main purpose of ‘Red Rising’ is easily predictable – it has to be to continue on to the second and third in the series, but the journey there was not. There were some minor points that I had been spoiled from my friends, but they confirmed what I thought as I was reading, but did not detract from the enjoyment near the end. I still got shocked and horrified. It’s a great story, but because of the issues I had with the writing style, did not get emotionally invested. Had I been sucked in, I think ‘Red Rising’ would have brought all the feels.

On a side note, I found elements of this society synonymous to that of the Japanese yaoi ‘Ai No Kusabi’ (minus the sexual nature of the anime.) This book has also been optioned to be turned into a movie. I’d be interested to see how this series will be treated… maybe it will fix the issues of pacing because there wouldn’t be the need for pages and pages of explanations. And I can just imagine the special effects! No news has come through on the development of this project as yet, but I am certainly keeping my eyes peeled. Additionally, Pierce Brown is starting a new series in this universe, with the first novel ‘Iron Gold’ due for release in January 2018. It’s all so exciting!

I think I’ll reserve judgement on whether or not I’d recommend this novel until I’ve finished the trilogy because there are so many unexplained elements that worried my brow…

Overall feeling: Huh?…. OH! *lightbulb*

Red Rising 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.

Film vs Novel – Total Recall

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You never decide to die – but you must decide to live!

I can’t believe I haven’t compared this trio yet… one of the first books I ever read back in high school when I was mad about all things Piers Anthony.

Now I didn’t picture the Mars landscape or Douglas Quaid quite like they are in the film adaptations, but nonetheless I geeked out over all three. The closest character I’ve come across in the literature to Douglas Quaid would have to be Clive Cussler’s Dirk Pitt – they both have that rugged, balls-to-the-wall leading man vibe (so if you enjoyed one, you may get a kick from the other.)

The book is certainly true to the classic sci-fi adventure, and is woven with plenty of mystery and intrigue, gadgets and an alien planet… and for the young pimply teen, I ate it up!

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The 1990 film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger remains pretty true to the novel, while the 2012 release with Farrell, Beckinsale and Biel is clearly a loose adaptation. Although I can’t fault the special effects and storytelling of the latest cinema release – I was definitely engrossed. But I did miss the traditional ending that brought in a whole other dynamic into the story… because it’s all about the twist!

Total Recall Film vs Novel Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

I can see how the Farrell version kept with the secret agent/ political intrigue trope and left Mars out of the equation completely to give it an edgier feel and concentrate on the action scenes. Although when picking up the book, the fact it took place on another planet was the big draw card. But still, this mammoth film was able to produce top quality entertainment with some of my favourite actors. I’m just sad I didn’t get to a new experience on many of the other elements this film left out.

Total Recall Film vs Novel Pic 05 by Casey Carlisle

With Schwarzenegger’s adaptation, although cutting edge effects at the time, seems somewhat camp now – and even when I first watched it I laughed out loud… especially the suffocation scene. In the book I remember the desperation as they were losing consciousness – instead I was giggling away at the bulging eyes and comically horrified expressions. I’d could explain the scene more, but given it’s near the conclusion of this story I don’t want to spoil you… and those of you who’ve only seen Farrell’s version will have no clue what I’m writing about. So go read the book, or watch the earlier film adaptation, the original story line will blow your mind!

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Another notable mention – we also got Sharon Stone while still blazing the trail of her burgeoning career (Playing Quaid’s wife).

This franchise is also famous for the three breasted woman (which they keep in both films) although the context in how he appears is completely different in each, illustrates just how different each creation is. So this is by far the most difficult comparison I’ve done to date in picking a winner. Farrell’s film adaptation has the eye candy, SPFX and political intrigue going for it, Schwarzenegger’s remains true to the original story, but loses some of the seriousness of Quaid’s dilemma through the limitation of SPFX, but the performances are great from all actors – (not like now, when all that runs through my head every time I see Arnold is ‘I’ll be back,’ or ‘It’s not a tumour.’)

The novel captured my imagination about being a spy, walking in the shoes of a big action hero, and exploring life on Mars (if only we had a female lead).

Hmmm… I guess it will have to be the novel for the win by a very narrow margin, but really it’s like comparing apples, oranges and a banana! Because really, all of them are awesome!

Total Recall Film vs Novel Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

Critique Casey by Casey Carlisle

© 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 Martian by Any Weir

Step aside MacGuyver, we have a new hero… and a new planet to conquer!

The Martian Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Science Fiction

No. of pages: 369

From Goodreads:

Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars. Now, he’s sure he’ll be the first person to die there. After a dust storm nearly kills him & forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded & completely alone with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive—& even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone long before a rescue could arrive. Chances are, though, he won’t have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment or plain-old “human error” are much more likely to kill him first. But Mark isn’t ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills—& a relentless, dogged refusal to quit—he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. Will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?

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I’d seen some high ratings for this title, and many of my friends were raving about it, so I grabbed a copy and read it over the weekend with no idea what the story was about other than an astronaut gets left behind on Mars. Plus with a movie due to be released, I wanted to get the book under my belt before ‘The Martian’ hit the cinemas.

The Martian Book Review Pic 05 by Casey CarlisleHoly crap! This book took be on an unexpected ride. Although written in a more serious tone, with science and technical facts intertwined with the plot, Mark Watney, our intrepid astronaut has a dry humour that had me cheering and laughing out loud. This book is a bit like nerd porn – Watney survives only because of his knowledge and being able to MacGuyver contraptions to increase his odds of survival. Truly impressive.

After a diet high in YA of recent months, ‘The Martian’ was a true delight – a welcome change in style and subject matter.

Mark is a true testament to keeping your head on straight in the face of adversity. His comedic timing is also on point – and that humours side of him is what keeps him alive just as much as his ingenuity. I loved the scattered facts and maths problems; it reminded me of grade school exams, like if Billy had 10 green apples and Norris had 16 red apples and Helen made apple sauce with half of each of Billy and Norris’ apples, what would it taste like? Yeah I know it makes no sense, and at first that’s what it’s like when we see the problems Watney faces. And then he comes up with a solution that totally makes sense. It’s like you’ve got the teachers edition textbook with all the answers in the back of the book.

The Martian Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

Some may find the writing style a bit dry, with switching POV’s between Watney, the crew on the shuttle and those in Earth at NASA – and a lot of technical information. But I’m a big science geek and lurved it! This book has such a heavy realistic feel that it doesn’t feel like you are reading science fiction at all, but rather some historical text book.

The overall plot was predictable – it wouldn’t be a great book without the desirable outcome – but it’s all about the journey! And did that throw me in a tailspin. From one moment to the next I never knew what was going to happen. Especially when Watney’s circumstances are so dire. So, even with a witty but dry narrative, the pacing is anything but slow. I spent the weekend devouring this book whenever I had a spare moment. I’m sure it I hadn’t been so busy I would have plonked myself on the couch and not gotten up until I’d finished.

The Martian Book Review Pic 03 by Casey CarlisleI also listened to the audiobook on a trip to New South Wales because I enjoyed the novel so much, and have to say it was outstanding. The narrator did a bang up job, and I’d highly recommend purchasing the audiobook, or novel. Let’s hope the movie blows me away just as much. I’m already excited knowing Mat Damon and Kristen Wiig are in the cast.

If you have any fascination on landing on the moon or mars or space travel – this is one for you! ‘The Martian’ is definitely in my top five reads for 2015.

Overall feeling: Amazeballs!

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Critique Casey by Casey Carlisle

© 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.