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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 – ‘Reckoning’ by Magda Szubanski

Enlightening personal history of identity, country and family.

Genre: Memoir, Non-Fiction, War, History

No. of pages: 400

Magda Szubanski’s childhood in a suburban migrant family was haunted by the demons of her father’s life in wartime Poland. At nineteen, fighting in the Warsaw resistance, he had been recruited to a secret counter-intelligence execution squad. His mission was to assassinate Polish traitors who were betraying Jewish citizens to the Nazis. The legacy of her father’s bravery left the young Magda with profound questions about her family story.

As she grew up, the assassin’s daughter had to navigate her own frailties and fears, including a lifelong struggle with weight gain and an increasing awareness of her own sexuality. With courage and compassion Szubanski’s memoir asks the big questions about life, about the shadows we inherit and the gifts we pass on.

Magda Szubanskiis one of Australia’s best known and most loved performers. She appeared in a number of sketch comedy shows before creating the iconic character of Sharon in ABC-TV’s Kath and Kim. She has also acted in films (Babe, Babe: Pig in the City, Happy Feet, The Golden Compass) and stage shows. Reckoning is her first book.

Magda Szubanski is an impressive woman and a magnanimous writer. Her style is beautiful, melancholic, and haunting. I was bursting with pride and envy upon reading her memoir – her writing skills are first class.

I’m not big on memoirs or autobiographies, but frequently pepper them in my reading schedule because I like to take in a wide breath of writing styles and subjects. ‘Reckoning’ first attracted me because Magda has been the one Australian actress/comedian that has been a constant with me throughout my life. I was always amazed at her work, her humour, her skills in all the endeavours she put her hand to. Then as I started to get into the memoir, I discovered that we were kin on so many other levels. Her father is Polish and served – and survived – the war; my partner is part Polish, descendant from the royal family, and served in the NZSAS, and some of the atrocities he has lived through quite frankly scare the bejeezus out of me. Magda counts herself as a part of the  LGBTQIA+ community as do I, and issues pertaining to identity, coming out, admonishing over labels and perception I can fully relate to. The loss of loved ones – check! And trying to navigate the world as a woman in male dominated industries… need I say more. Though in having said all that, ‘Reckoning’ heavily deals with history and identity of a country which was just about wiped off the face of the earth. A people who only have a history of pain, death, and displacement.

Reckoning’ is a lot to digest. It’s full of a time of humanity at its worst, mixed together with Magda coming to terms with her families role in that period, and, like a heavy sweater, something she drags around with her, trying to fit in today’s society. So I had to put this down a lot. It was emotional, difficult, and confronting subject matter. Distinctly Australian and nostalgic. But also triggering. It brought up all my insecurities again, as Magda faced hers,  and had me reliving precious childhood memories that I don’t even have the opportunity of sharing with family again because they have all passed on.

We also get snippets of her professional acting career; and not really a behind the scenes feel, but a glimpse into her emotional and mental states around those events. I loved how this is not anything like the memoirs I’ve recently read from other famous female actors and comedians. In comparison those are fluffy, feel good pieces, where ‘Reckoning’ is a soulful powerhouse.

This memoir feels more like a love letter to her father, and the Polish people. It’s about her discovering her heritage and using that as a lens to confront her own identity. Though this writing was completely unexpected, I can say with all honesty this memoir is the best of this genre I have read to date. The only down side is that it may isolate some younger readers and can get a little bogged down in history. But this is definitely a memoir I will be recommending to everyone.

Overall feeling: I stand with you…

© 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 – ‘You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost)’ by Felicia Day

Deconstructing feminity in a male-driven industry… plus gaming and D&D and stuff.

Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir

No. of pages: 272

From online entertainment mogul, actress, and “queen of the geeks” Felicia Day, a funny, quirky, and inspiring memoir about her unusual upbringing, her rise to Internet-stardom, and embracing her individuality to find success in Hollywood.

The Internet isn’t all cat videos. There’s also Felicia Day—violinist, filmmaker, Internet entrepreneur, compulsive gamer, hoagie specialist, and former lonely homeschooled girl who overcame her isolated childhood to become the ruler of a new world… or at least semi-influential in the world of Internet Geeks and Goodreads book clubs.

After growing up in the south where she was “home-schooled for hippie reasons”, Felicia moved to Hollywood to pursue her dream of becoming an actress and was immediately typecast as a crazy cat-lady secretary. But Felicia’s misadventures in Hollywood led her to produce her own web series, own her own production company, and become an Internet star.

Felicia’s short-ish life and her rags-to-riches rise to Internet fame launched her career as one of the most influential creators in new media. Now, Felicia’s strange world is filled with thoughts on creativity, video games, and a dash of mild feminist activism—just like her memoir.

I have to admit I was a massive fan of Felicia Day, mainly for her acting chops in shows like ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer,’ ‘Eureka,’ ‘The Librarians,’ ‘The Magicians,’ ‘Supernatural,’ and ‘Dollhouse’ and the film ‘Red: Werewolf Hunter.’ I loved the fact there was another red headed actress out there making strides. I also knew she was kind of a geek, but that was the extent of what I knew of her. Delving into this memoir I became infinitely impressed with her drive and determination despite crippling anxiety and depression. She has two degrees, and effectively launched her own television production company (through web content.) Wowzer! What a chick.

I particularly loved how she approached each roadblock in her unique way. There was no ball-busting bitch. Day is a self-confessed delicate flower, yet she found ways to stand up against the Hollywood meat grinder, internet trolls, and financial struggles. It was such a delight to read about the antithesis of the cold, stone-faced, barren, corporate spinster women thought they needed to be to achieve success in a male dominated society.

She is pretty witty too. I laughed a few times, and enjoyed the memes she included in the books format to accompany the narrative. It wasn’t a laugh-riot, but has an upbeat quirky tone that I haven’t experienced in another memoir to date.

There is a lot of content about ‘The Guild’ and ‘Geek and Sundry’ – which is a major life achievement for her, but I was unfamiliar with a lot of that stuff, and not really into gaming, so my interest waned on the material… which is like, one third of the book. But underlying all of that content are gems and life lessons you learn as you navigate your way through self-discovery, and building a business.

I was particularly confronted towards the end around the internet hate, trolling, and doxing. Such an extreme form or bullying and so obviously done by white men throwing their opinions around and trying to tear down anyone who does not fit into the image they want them to. Felicia Day never comes out and says it directly – probably for legal reasons – but there is some plain-as-day misogynists out there in places of power, and hiding behind the anonymity of the internet that need to be checked, or simply removed from their thrones. Period. My heart bleeds for Day that she had to live through that experience.

This was a lovely read, and some of the content I could not relate to directly, but the core messages, and Felicia’s personality shine through. I’d definitely recommend this to anyone interested in acting, YouTube, gaming, or struggling with online hate. She has since published another book ‘Embrace Your Weird: Face Your Fears and Unleash Creativity’ which I am particularly interested in, as it sounds to be more focused on life-lessons and strategies for a creative driven business. Right up my alley.

Overall feeling: Brilliant insight.

© 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.

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I think Magda is an amazing woman. I love her work in the film and television industry, the causes she supports, and have met her on several occasions. You can be beautiful, intelligent and funny… and I am interested to uncover more as she explores her more personal history.

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Just a little bit sassy, but very real. Loved reading about Naya’s behind the scenes life, how she is carving out a career and family life for herself. Plus some ‘Glee’ perspective had me devouring this in a day. Starting to love my celebrity memoirs.

Book Review – ‘Sorry Not Sorry’ by Naya Rivera

Frank anecdotes from your favorite ‘Glee’ mean girl.

Sorry Not Sorry Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Non Fiction, Autobiography

No. of pages: 256

From Goodreads:

Navigating through youth and young adulthood isn’t easy, and in Sorry Not Sorry, Naya Rivera shows us that we’re not alone in the highs, lows, and in-betweens. Whether it’s with love and dating, career and ambition, friends, or gossip, Naya inspires us to follow our own destiny and step over–or plod through–all the crap along the way. After her rise and fall from early childhood stardom, barely eking her way through high school, a brief stint as a Hooters waitress, going through thick and thin with her mom/manager, and resurrecting her acting career as Santana Lopez on Glee, Naya emerged from these experiences with some key life lessons:

Sorry:
–  All those times I scrawled “I HATE MY MOM” in my journal. So many moms and teenage daughters don’t get along–we just have to realize it’s nothing personal on either side.

–  At-home highlights and DIY hair extensions. Some things are best left to the experts, and hair dye is one of them.

–  Falling in love with the idea of a person, instead of the actual person.

Not Sorry:

–  That I don’t always get along with everyone. Having people not like you is a risk you have to take to be real, and I’ll take that over being fake any day.

–  Laughing at the gossip instead of getting upset by it.

–  Getting my financial disasters out of the way early–before I was married or had a family–so that the only credit score that I wrecked was my own.

Even with a successful career and a family that she loves more than anything else, Naya says, “There’s still a thirteen-year-old girl inside of me making detailed lists of how I can improve, who’s never sure of my own self-worth.” Sorry Not Sorry is for that thirteen-year-old in all of us.

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I loved the frank and to the point narrative style of Naya. It sounded like she was curled up on the couch next to you with a cuppa having a girly heart to heart.

Sorry Not Sorry Book Review Pic 02a by Casey CarlisleIt’s not the most well-written memoir I’ve read, but that’s because of her goal to be honest with her audience, not wow people with flowery phrase and symbolism, or shock and awe with some tabloid tell-all. And I have to applaud her with this raw and revealing autobiography.

I did get a certain tone coming across – an ‘I’m good and I know it.’ But as she states in this memoir it’s a product of the entertainment industry she’s been a part of since she was 5 years old. You have to be ballsy and confident, put yourself out there to win roles. Toot your own horn. So I don’t fault her for this attitude because it’s gotten her to where she is today and will see her through a successful career in the future.

There were some topics touched on with that same realism, like identity, eating disorders, family, as well as events around her ‘Glee’ co-stars like Cory Monteith, Mark Salling, and Lea Michele. Which to be frank the latter is the biggest reason many pick up this book. She handled everything with aplomb and I loved her attitude in dealing with conflict, friendships, and the public eye.

The theme of reflection is inevitable in a memoir, and with Naya tackling sex, past relationships, and her marriage, she comes at slut shaming head-on. I just about cheered at her take on letting women explore their own sexuality. We’re allowed to have slutty years, make bad decisions, party a little. It’s how we learn life lessons and grow wiser. It should be embraced and celebrated, not shamed.

Her discussion on abortion, race, and religion would have to be of the most controversial topics she raises. All from her own personal experiences. A warts and all approach. It was refreshing to read a realistic portrayal, her regrets, mistakes, and what she did to pick herself up afterwards and keep on going. It showed true strength of character and determination, and had me even more envious of her resolve.

Sorry Not Sorry Book Review Pic 02b by Casey CarlisleMy first introduction to Naya was through ‘Glee,’ and I loved her acting, her singing, and comic timing. I wish I got to see more of her on the big screen as think she is truly talented. This autobiography also showed me how much more there is to her professionally. And living vicariously through her words, I know I am an even bigger fan. She seems to have come full circle.

A fun quick light read with a surprisingly quaint philosophical point. But I’d probably only recommend it for fans of her work. The writing style is very contemporary, frank, and while delivering an important message, references a lot of social media and tabloid goings-on. So if you’re not connected to that world, you won’t really get into Naya’s life battles. But she is definitely one woman I’m expecting an amazing future from.

Overall feeling: You go girl.

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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 – ‘Just a Geek’ by Wil Wheaton

A look into the fandom behind Star Trek, redefining identity and growing up.

Just a Geek Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Non Fiction, Autobiography

No. of pages: 267

From Goodreads:

Wil Wheaton has never been one to take the conventional path to success. Despite early stardom through his childhood role in the motion picture “Stand By Me,” and growing up on television as Wesley Crusher on “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” Wil left Hollywood in pursuit of happiness, purpose, and a viable means of paying the bills. In the oddest of places, Topeka, Kansas, Wil discovered that despite his claims to fame, he was at heart “Just a Geek.” In this bestselling book, Wil shares his deeply personal and difficult journey to find himself. You’ll understand the rigors, and joys, of Wil’s rediscovering of himself, as he comes to terms with what it means to be famous, or, ironically, famous for once having been famous. Writing with honesty and disarming humanity, Wil touches on the frustrations associated with his acting career, his inability to distance himself from Ensign Crusher in the public’s eyes, the launch of his incredibly successful web site, wilwheaton.net, and the joy he’s found in writing. Through all of this, Wil shares the ups and downs he encountered along the journey, along with the support and love he discovered from his friends and family. The stories in “Just a Geek” include: Wil’s plunge from teen star to struggling actor. Discovering the joys of HTML, blogging, Linux, and web design. The struggle between Wesley Crusher, Starfleet ensign, and Wil Wheaton, author and blogger. Gut-wrenching reactions to the 9-11 disaster. Moving tales of Wil’s relationships with his wife, step-children, and extended family. The transition from a B-list actor to an A-list author.

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Being close to the same age as Wil Wheaton, and growing up watching Star Trek: The Next Generation, reading ‘Just a Geek’ was a little like flipping through my own photo album. There were a lot or parallels: I too was a big nerd, loved all things computer-orientated and writing… but the similarities ended there.

Just a Geek Book Review Pic 03 by Casey CarlisleThe tone of ‘Just a Geek’ is witty and charming. It’s easy to relate to with Wil’s honesty and detailed histology of acting and the movie industry. Not to mention Conventions and the etiquette involved. You can peek under the polished, candy-coated façade that Hollywood puts on everything and see the politics, back-room negotiations, and marketing ploys the Powers That Be pull in order to churn out the next million dollars or so: and the participants (actors) are merely fodder for the machine. But that is the bleakest part – and it rightly so causes depression and anxiety for someone who is trying to make a living and provide for a family.

But on the other hand you see a community form. And said community starts to depict the terms to the industry – it felt like a nerd revolution. I really enjoyed reading all of the mechanics that make up the Trekkie-dom.

I was expecting a bit more about the Wheaton family, more anecdotes, and some more about his acting jobs. Plus, I wanted to hear more about his writing other than WWdN… but this was published over ten years ago, and likely that didn’t really exist then. But ‘Just a Geek’ is a fun juxtaposition to where Wil Wheaton has now become a much larger celebrity and acted in many other fandoms like ‘The Big Bang Theory’ and ‘Eureka.’ Plus all those picture memes with Will Wheaton heads on everything has me in stitches every time. He’s evolved from the adult that has finally embraced his Wesley-dom, a Wheaton movement.

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While his narrative is amusing – I wouldn’t call it gut-busting. I guess you had to be there. What I’ve seen from him on screen, he is quite the hilarious character, and can guess the descriptions of his improv troupe don’t do them justice.

It was a lovely trip down memory lane, though I must admit, at times his writing felt a bit dry and repetitive – it is still very entertaining and offers great insight to not only the movie industry, but the human spirit. Honestly I’d love to read something of his that is not a memoir, the mechanics of his writing suggest there is a great talent there.

An easy autobiography to read, but if you weren’t a Star Trek fan I don’t think you would get much from this novel – because it primarily deals with Wheaton redefining his relationship to the character Wesley Crusher he played on the series, growing up, and developing a different approach to the industry while being a husband and father. But if anything ‘Just a Geek’ shows Wil Wheaton for the extraordinary human being he is. Intelligent, hilarious, compassionate and a loving family man.

Overall feeling: Oh my stars!

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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.