Wrapping up 2020…. And good riddance!

Looking back through the year that was, a lot has happened, but a lot did not… It’s kind of a 2020 thing. All my friends are saying the same. My yearly goals have mostly been thrown out the window because of Covid-19 and a cancer diagnosis (again, sigh) but let’s get this wrap up done and put a positive spin on things.

Book worm:

My last catch up was in October leaving my TBR at 423, I didn’t post a November wrap-up because I’d not long started chemotherapy and was focusing on my health and wellbeing, so any work and reading goals felt superfluous. (Plus I was tired and in pain all the time and it was difficult to concentrate.) Though I did read 2 books in November, and completed 8 novels in December, taking the TBR down to 413. I’m still on my buying ban until I get below 400.

I set my reading goal to 52 books for the year, but was really hoping to reach 104… I kept it light with all the financial stresses, health issues, etc… but managed to complete 68 book for the calendar year which I’m happy about.

Thinking back over the year though, I would have to highlight my top five reads:

This Mortal Coil (trilogy) the first two novels were outstanding, it’s action packed and choc full of STEM themes of what the future could look like under heavy influence of genetic manipulation and body modification.

Highway Bodies is a zombie apocalypse with diversity. Highly entertaining and so proud of a fellow Aussie author.

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue is a comedic historical fiction that had me laughing up a storm, really looking forward to completing the series.

I’ll Give You the Sun was a surprise hit out of the park. Bring your tissues for this roller coaster ride.

Reckoning a non-fiction title by Australian darling Magda Szubanski was beautiful melancholic writing that captured a lot of my youth and challenges what it means to not only be an Aussie, but a human being.

Scribe and scribble:

I only managed a paltry 1500 words for the year. With distractions, having to work long hours, being the only one to stay employed through the Covid-19 lockdown for six months, then having to manage doctors’ appointments and chemotherapy, not only did I have little time to write, but my mind simply wasn’t in the right headspace to get creative. It was a depressing year, but I am thankful the worst is behind me.

Levelling Up:

I still haven’t completed my marketing course, it had to put on the back burner in favour of other priorities. But I am still keen to complete it in 2021 and am eyeing off a few other short courses. I love to learn!

Social Butterfly:

My biggest goal for 2020 was to be more social, get out and about more… and well, it goes without saying that it didn’t happen. Lockdown and being immune-compromised has meant I’ve become a bigger homebody than ever. Oh the irony! On the upside, I’ve caught a lot of good television. Australian series ‘Glitch’ has been a big favourite, tv series ‘Insatiable’ had me in belly laughs, ‘Dickinson’ staring Hailey Stansfield was strangely hypnotic, I re-watched the ‘Teen Wolf’ series and making a start on re-watching ‘Supernatural’ now that it is ending; props to ‘Love, Victor’ and ‘Never Have I Ever.’ Fell in love with ‘Little Mix : The Search,’ squee’d over ‘Julie and the Phantoms,’ and like everyone else got a big sci-fi hit with ‘The Mandalorian,’ ‘Star Trek Discovery’ and ‘The Expanse.’

Some movies that brought me joy include: ‘The Invisible Man,’ ‘Underwater,’ ‘Like a Boss,’ ‘We Summon the Darkness,’ ‘My Spy,’ ‘Enola Holmes,’ ‘Love and Monsters,’ ‘Happiest Season,’ ‘Uncle Frank,’ ‘Freaky,’ ‘Godmothered,’ ‘Superintelligence,’ and ‘Monsters of Man.’

Work that body:

I was working out before the Covid-19 shutdown, and was making progress, though it wasn’t until 6 months later that the gym re-opened and I only got in a month before getting diagnosed with cancer and not being able to return. Though as a part of my treatment and recovery I am doing stretches, getting adrenal massages, and anything else the doctors have recommended to increase my chances for a quick recovery. I have lost some weight, my hair has been falling out, I feel a lot of aches and pains and lose my breath easily; but with a prognosis of 100% recovery I know it is all temporary and am looking forward to normalising my health in the new year. Some scary emergency hospital stays knocked my confidence a bit, but the idea of simply being able to take my dogs for a walk around the park keeps me motivated – I mean those soulful eyes would heal anyone!

As much as 2020 has been a dumpster fire, it’s forced me to focus on what is important and plan out my 2021 – it’s going to be a cracker of a year, because I don’t think I could do worse that 2020 anyway. The only way is up!!

© 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.

Picture vs. Page – The Danish Girl

I have mixed feelings about the novel ‘The Danish Girl,’ I love the representation but once you start to get into the novel you find the representation is nothing like it should be. The story and historical setting are well crafted, but the psychology, physiology, and medical treatment around Einar/Lili are grossly fantasized. The author has little understanding of transgender, intersex, sexual orientation, sexual identity and what is means to live the experience any of these.

The first situation describing Einar and women’s clothing in the book was romanticised to the point of fetishism. I know Einar is meant to be transgender, but the description felt off – not really the type of experience a true transgender woman would have. The continual descriptions of Einar being small, tiny, frail, and acting in a passive way and how Greta was tall and the dominant of the pair painted a picture of them having swapped gender roles in a spiritual sense. I wasn’t quite sold on the characterisation – especially for the time period. I know this is based loosely on a true story, but it is obvious the subject matter has been romanticized and written from a cis white man’s viewpoint. In the film, Einar is obviously fascinated by women’s clothing but resistant at first, and is pushed into it by his wife Greta – who is played to ‘see’ Einar as feminine, her artistic eye breaking through the façade to view who Einar really is. Though, this is juxtaposed later when she starts to resist and pressure Einar for acting on their feelings. Like it was okay at home, as long as it fit her comfort level. But at the narrative progresses her thoughts transform after witnessing the pain Einar is in, and having conversations with Lili.

I get a strong sense like there is a mix of multiple personality disorder, fetishism, an intentional lens from the author of the novel that misses the mark on what it means to be a transgendered woman on so many points. The story had me squirming and uncomfortable. In the film they play a lot more to mental illness rather than identity – and Einar doing research to find his/her answer from medical and psychology journals alone.

The casting of Eniar/Lili was way off. The actor in no way represented the portrayal of Lili from the novel. Eddie Redmayne’s physicality in no way captured the character of Lili depicted in the novel. The actor reinvented the character for the film version, and while Eddie Redmayne is an exceptional actor, this character should have been played by a transgender actor. Having a cis gendered male play the part, contributes to negative stereotypes many have of male to female transgendered individuals – that they are playing dress up. Seeing Eddie Redmayne dressed and presenting as male in the public eye, as opposed to a transgender actress who lives the experience and presents as female, would help dismantle inappropriate myths spread about transgender individuals. There were an important points made like this in the Netfix documentary ‘Disclosure.‘

The film lacked the transition and personal history of Einar/Lili. Lili is born of drag in the film, where in the book she already had the physical attributes of Lili and did not need to learn how to be female, but embodied that side of her personality inherently.

In the movie it seems no-one is fooled by Lili – that she doesn’t ‘pass’ however in the novel it is much the opposite case. Again, the whole notion of ‘passing’ shows how little the author, and film producers of ‘The Danish Girl’ really understand about the transgender experience.

The movie shows a fully masculine Einar transitioning into Lili, a transgender narrative; where the novel shows in intersex Einar confirming her gender. In the film – 2 operations are required for the physical transformation, yet in the novel 3-4 operations are required (and include something medically impossible.) In the novel Lili goes back for a uterine transplant, where in the film she goes back to have a vagina constructed. This was so not representative of any type of gender confirmation surgery all I can do in reaction to this is a *facepalm*

The novel presents more of a dichotomy between Einar and Lili, like they are two separate people, but the film it is more Einar realising and wishing she could be Lili.

Lili\Einar is intentionally deceptive and selfish with a lot of their actions both in the film and the novel. Both the film and novel do injustice to the character when they deal with being transgender. There is more to a person than a single aspect. We go from a dynamic character, to a two-dimensional character. 

It’s hard to resolve this story with today’s understanding of being transgender and the setting of Coppenhagen, Paris, and Dresden in 1920-30’s. There are so many misrepresentations and inaccuracies I was quietly enraged.

The novel did feel altogether too long – Ebershoff frequently meanders with flowery language and asides of landscape, backstory, daydreams, and the like. It does match the dreamlike quality of his beautiful writing, but slows down the pacing of the story incredibly. I can see how this style of writing is best matched for historical fiction though.

The reveal of Lili later being intersex in the book confirmed my suspicions given the mostly feminine stature and physical attributes. And the journey of Lili’s operations for gender confirmation surgery are gruesome. Though while interesting reading and set a tone for the novel, feel poorly researched. Even for the time, medical operations and the healing of the human body afterward do not span the length of time described in the novel.

My opinion on ‘The Danish Girl’ (both film and novel) was a hodge-podge of concepts that were not thoroughly researched around identity, mental disorders, and medical knowledge. Though, like the art that Einar and Greta create, ‘The Danish Girl’ is merely an interpretation on Lili’s story. It’s is viewed through different lenses of the characters of the book. Like anecdotal histories, it is warped, interpreted and skewed by the narrator. And adapted by movie producers, again a little insensitive to the transgender experience.

Some notable instance where the film and novel diverge, is that Lili does not get caught going to naughty places in the novel by Greta. And most importantly, Lili does not die at the end of the novel, it ends on a hopeful note, even in there is a symbolic description that could be interpreted as her dying, though it does not describe a traditional death. It’s more a symbolic freeing. She has been set free to live her own life. The prospect of marriage. The scene in the book is of a boys kite breaking from its tether and drifting towards Lili and up into the sky, maybe depicting her rise to heaven. In the film, its Lili’s scarf that Greta is wearing, accidently blown away into the sky and Greta saying ‘Leave, it, Lili will find it.’ So the film depicts a certain death and the novel leaves it open to interpretation.

I have to admit actor Alicia Vikander as Gerda (Greta in the novel) was too short, petite and pretty in comparison to her literature counterpart. But Alicia Vikander was outstanding in her acting chops and is the standout in the film.

Regarding Lili’s first kiss: Lili was a willing participant in the novel, even excited about it, but in the film it was awkward, almost abusive, you could see she was pushing herself. I don’t quite understand the relevance of the scene in the film – they were trying to infer that she didn’t want to kiss because the gentleman whom she was entangled with thought of her as a man… again the tone of the film is that Einar is in drag, seen as a man. Where in the novel, Lili is a fully realised woman.

Greta/Gerda was much more supportive and accepting in the novel, she seemed more jealous and emotionally distraught in the film like it was a choice between Einar and Lili. In the novel Greta admired Einar’s feminity and softness. She lived for the opposite of societies norms. She was a rebel. So again we see the depiction of Lili’ transgenderism through different lenses of the same character, one where it is embraced, and the other where it is viewed as harmful.

In the film the nosebleed from Einar – symbolising a menstrual cycle happens only once; where in the novel it was happening a lot, even from downstairs (it is never stated exactly, but I’m assuming from Einar’s bottom – again this makes no medical sense.)

 The line “Lesbienne” is said from two men instead of children in the film, followed by the men harassing Einar/Lili in the park, and then physically assault her. This violence is not in the book, the scene is meant to show how Einar/Lili is passing as a woman.

Ultimately even though this is a fascinating story and character study, the novel was flourished with a heavy hand and I found myself putting the book down frequently because I was getting a bit tired. I almost wanted the narrative tied a little more to history, to events to ground the story. The characters are really well developed but difficult to relate to and even to love. They are all selfish in their own way and live out of step with the real world. Though in saying that, this creative bubble Greta and Einar lived in was the only environment which could have nurtured Lili in taking her first steps into the world.

I don’t really want to recommend this novel (or film) solely on the amount of factual inconsistencies – this read more like a fantasy novel than something based in historical significance. David Ebershoff admits in an interview after the publication of ‘The Danish Girl’ that the representation of Lili’s transgender journey in his novel is not representative of today’s transgender population and is purely fictional… I’m not sure if that is ignorance, damaging, or laziness. Why would you want to create a character based on actual events and not have the core motivation of that character also based on factual elements? It’s misrepresentation at its core. I would have preferred an ownvoices author’s take on this subject matter.

I feel like the film completely missed the tone and intention of the novel. It’s great to have the representation, but both the mediums that present this story are different creatures. The film feels like it is a tragic story that punishes the Lili for becoming a woman, and feels like Greta (Gerda) is the protagonist; whereas the novel made me feel like Lili was the protagonist who pushed the envelope too far – the untested exploratory surgeries – when she could of lived a fulfilling life without needing to bear children… The film is more realistic but loses the hope the novel had, and the book lacks the realism.

In the novel, Lili was living life as a woman, was in a romance and about to relocate to New York and get married, where in the film, there was no romance and she died before getting to live any aspect of her life as a fully realised woman. I feel like both film and novel, were a disappointment. It is so easy to research the facts, and have conversations with members of the transgender community to ensure that this kind of story does not harm, if unintentionally.

© 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.

Picture vs. Page – Call Me By Your Name

Call Me By Your Name’ is the story of a crush. A love affair between Elio, a high schooler, and Oliver, a PhD student from the University that Elio’s father teaches at. There is a melancholic romantic tone in the novel’s writing style, which is duplicated expertly in the cinematography with sweeping vistas of the Italian countryside, and lengthy silences throughout the narrative.

The books narration has a beautiful cadence and reads like Elio’s journal, complete with inner musings, pontifications, daydreams and erotic fantasies. However I found it difficult to immerse myself into and speed-read the entire novel. The writing style did not sit well with me. It felt fanciful and full of itself… selfish. I found myself craving for more structure, more dialogue. For the film adaptation, with a slower pace too, but it worked a bit better because we get countryside and cinemaphotography to keep the viewer engaged.

Elio as a protagonist felt like a mix of intelligence, petulance, and aggressive/possessive hormone fuelled adolescence for the novel. However, the film version of Elio (played by Timothée Chalamet) feels a little more mature and less predatory – maybe because we are spared his inner monologue.

It felt uncomfortable the boy lusting after a man, Oliver, more than 7 years his senior. (This situation is legally statutory rape in our country.) Elio’s overtly flirtatious nature – and his intentions sometimes returned. A mix between grooming behaviour of a paedophile from Oliver and removing himself from the equation as to not be overcome by his desires. The teacher in me felt extremely uncomfortable. Elio and Oliver wouldn’t be sneaking around and trying to hide their actions if they didn’t know what they were doing was wrong.

Then in the novel, Oliver gives in to his desires and confirms to me of being the paedophile he is. Elio has regret, then turns into a tremendous flirt only to then go and have sex with Mariza… completely ruled by his lower region. What a floozy. This book is making me feel sick where everyone is throwing their cat around and ignoring the ramifications. For having such an inconsolable crush on Oliver, when Elio sleeps with Marzia on a whim and apparently likes it, wants to brag about it. No loyalty, no conviction. This increased my loss of respect for Elio. We get some detail in the film adaptation with this encounter, its clumsy and short (realistic) but what is it with Elio then chasing after Oliver straight after having sex with Marzia? (Esther Garrel) That’s effed up. Elio comes across as insensitive. Considering this is a romantic/erotic tale and the book gets explicit at times, the film is not as sexually charged as the book.

Oliver (played by Armie Hammer) makes the first move (pedo) in the film adaptation and Elio becomes sexually aggressive out of the blue. It did not feel like there was a build-up of tension or feeling between the two. Oliver is an idiot for instigating the encounter and then citing he couldn’t do any more so they had nothing to be ashamed of. Then it seems his mother gives him permission to start a relationship with a grown man… what tha?! Besides the nature of this story all the actors gave a beautiful and believable portrayal and I feel added further nuance to the story I did not get out of the novel.

Did they seriously watch each other pooh and marvel at it in the toilet bowl. *retching sounds* The other thing that had me throwing up in my mouth is of Oliver eating the peach that Elio had climaxed into. Some may see it as twistedly romantic in a symbolic way, but I couldn’t bet over the hygienic aspect of it. I am such a clean freak. I want to scream triggered! It’s hilarious in a meta perspective. The pooh scene is omitted in the film version of ‘Call Me By Your Name,’ and the peach scene is much more subtle (Oliver does not eat the peach though.) However there are a few scenes that jumped out at me that did not appear in the novel version: The dancing scene had me in stitches. Plus, Elio and his friends smoke a lot. Ew! But I guess it translates well for the time period this story is set in (1980’s) and the European town. Adding to that, we also see a lot of underage drinking.

There was an understated – delicate even – understanding of Elio’s father which I found endearing in the novel. However his hands-off approach leaves little to be desired. I would have preferred a father figure to help educate and guide Elio, instead of leaving his son to flounder around in the dark and figure things out by himself, and potentially placing him in dangerous situations. Elio’s father’s talk in the film adaptation makes you realise he treats Elio like an adult shows that his parents did not view their relationship as paedophilia. Father confesses he loved a man once too. Again, an excellent portrayal by Michael Stuhlbarg.

For the film he translation of the story Elio’s mum (Amira Casar) reads makes and important turning point in the story – giving Elio permission to talk about his feelings… and something I don’t remember occurring or standing out to me (maybe because I ended up skim-reading the book)

I can appreciate the romantic symbolism, the artistic eye, but the situation in the real world kinda makes me angry. It’s not about being gay, but about placing a boy in a sexually vulnerable situation where the parents do not seem to care, (in fact they encourage Elio to find his sexuality and explore) and an older man allegedly grooming a high school student – even if he wrestles with his conscience – grosses me out. If this were about two boys around the same age I would have liked it so much better. I feel the artistic tone of the writing covers up the reality of how inappropriate this relationship is. ‘Call Me By Your Name’ feels like a gay version of ‘Lolita.’

SPOILERS: Oliver got engaged?? This book/film is so messed up. The build-up for this relationship. The forbidden love of it all and then they both move on so quickly. It’s hard to believe they were in love – rather lust – because the events belie the tone of ‘Call Me By Your Name.’

Where the book and film both left me feeling a little unsettled, the film was also sad in a kind of way, both in tone and storyline.

I will not recommend this. There was no lesson to learn from the characters – the whole book read like some teen boy’s father-figure sexual fantasy. I couldn’t get over the age difference, one of them being an underage boy to be able to appreciate the love story, or the coming of age aspect. I was uncomfortable the entire time. I won’t be reading the sequel ‘Find Me’ either – after reading reviews and how it deals with more fantasy gratification adultery, I’m sorry, I just can’t.

© 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 – ‘If There’s No Tomorrow’ by Jennifer L. Armentrout

A cautionary tale for teen love.

If There's No Tomorrow Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Contemporary, Romance

No. of pages: 384

goodreads banner by Casey Carlisle

Lacey Barnes has dreamed of being an actress for as long as she can remember. So when she gets the opportunity to star in a movie alongside one of Hollywood’s hottest actors, she doesn’t hesitate to accept the part.

But Lacey quickly learns that life in the spotlight isn’t as picture perfect as she imagined. She’s having trouble bonding with her costars, her father has hired the definition of a choir boy, Donavan Lake, to tutor her, and somewhere along the way she’s lost her acting mojo. And just when it seems like things couldn’t get any worse, it looks like someone on set is deliberately trying to sabotage her.

As Lacey’s world spins out of control, it feels like the only person she can count on—whether it’s helping her try to unravel the mystery of who is out to get her or snap her out of her acting funk—is Donavan. But what she doesn’t count on is this straight-laced boy becoming another distraction.

With her entire future riding on this movie, Lacey knows she can’t afford to get sidetracked by a crush. But for the first time in her life Lacey wonders if it’s true that the best stories really do happen when you go off script.

Page border 2020 by Casey Carlisle

I didn’t mind this contemporary, it’s a slow burn romance with a heavy dose of survivor’s guilt. Compared to many other reads from JLA, where there is a lot of action, angst, or paranormal, ‘If There’s No Tomorrow’ is more realistic fiction, and with a teen protagonist facing some heavy issues, it did not feel as gripping as I’m used to. But this is a great story. A precautionary tale that I feel is important for the demographic of this novel.

I did go in to this with no prior knowledge, I skipped reading the blurb, because Jennifer L. Armentrout is one of my auto-buy authors and I love her angsty, escapist tomes. So I was expecting just that – some drama filled teen romance of some description. And ‘If There’s No Tomorrow’ is that… and more. Protagonist Lena is navigating decisions for graduating high school, telling her crush about her feelings, keeping together her girl squad, and then, bam! Underage drinking, driving while intoxicated, death. I was not expecting any of the latter. But I have to hand it to JLA, she really landed an experience of loss, grief, and survivor’s guilt. Even the situation of a father’s role in taking responsibility for their child. I related to this a lot. It was quite a sobering read. Though, in hindsight, I did not get the gut-wrenching feels, the man-cry sobs, or the tummy butterflies of yearning I wanted. This was somewhat vanilla. And I can understand why; there are some very heavy topics discussed here, but in effect ‘If There’s No Tomorrow’ is a love story. Bogging down the narrative with the more realism-laden issues would take the narrative in a completely different and depressing direction and move well away from JLA’s typical fare. This is meant to be a love story – I get it.

If There's No Tomorrow Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

Lena was a fun protagonist, she loves volleyball, parties, hanging with her girls, and reading. So there was a lot to connect to. Thank goodness she wasn’t some snarky waif that we get a lot in YA, though she was a little of that plain jane stereotype.

The love interest, a jock, boy next door type, again felt a little stereotyped and typical for this genre, but I enjoyed how he is depicted as a man and not some idiot teen boy with impulse control issues.

I predicted the ending when it came to the love story – come on its expected and obvious, that’s why I picked up the book. But the other stuff around the accident and the aftermath was a complete surprise. Though if I had read the blurb, it’s all right there. So I’m not spoiling the book. I probably wouldn’t have picked this up if I had read the Goodreads description to be honest, but it was a great read nonetheless. But I probably would have rated it lower because it gives the entire story away.

Jennifer L. Armentrout’s writing style is effortless, and lends to a quick read, though I would have liked some more atmosphere built and less inner lamenting to build a stronger emotional connection. Symbolism always works better than someone having a whine.

I’d only recommend this for tried and true fans of JLA, or for young teens (as a precautionary tale). I think romance lovers and contemporaryphiles not familiar with Jennifer’s catalogue may find it a little bland. In fact as I check other reviews I can see this reflected in reader’s reactions. I appreciated ‘If There’s No Tomorrow’ for what it is and am glad to add it to my collection.

Overall feeling: not what I was expecting…

If There's No Tomorrow Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

If There's No Tomorrow Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

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.

Picture vs Page – Raise the Titanic

Raise the Titanic Picture vs Page Pic 01 by Casey Carlisle

The novel felt a bit different to the usual Dirk Pitt adventure from those I’ve read before. For one, there wasn’t a lot of Dirk. There were also a lot of characters that sometimes it took re-reading a passage to catch up with what was going on, especially at the start. The film did not have that issue. In fact there are so many characters and scenes omitted in the film adaptation that I want to say the screen version is “inspired by” the original text, instead of an out-right adaptation.

I enjoyed that the machismo was dialled back in the novel and this had a strong political strategy woven into the plot. Pitt read more like a mystery man, an enigma, a quiet hero, leaving out the humour and campiness of later volumes of the Pitt adventures. Consequently the film version of Pitt was so much worse. In fact I thought he was a bit of an ass – not a good opinion to have of the leading man. There was no mystery, no earthiness, no sea-worn larrikin. The screen version, played by Richard Jordan came off as an elite aristocrat and very much a part of the ‘Old Boys Club.’ All of that school-boy humour that Pitt is famous for is also edited out. No shade to Richard Jordan, but he is nothing like what I have pictured Pitt to be, and nothing like how he is described in the novels.

Raise the Titanic Picture vs Page Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

Dirk Pitt (Played by Richard Jordan and Admiral Sandecker (Played by Jason Robards)

I was sad to see that Al Giordino was left on the cutting room floor.

The political strategy and multiple scenes setting up the existence and application of Byzanium in the novel feels like a detective novel, each scene carefully crafted and driving the plot forward. The films interpretation skips all of this apart from one key scene and turns the political landscape into a story of nuclear dominance between America and Russia. All the nuance was gone. All the interwoven plot points replaced with this simplified America – good; Russia – bad.

The iconic NUMA organisation Pitt is the masthead for is completely ignored in the film too. The only existence it has are the letters printed on the side of a submersible. They don’t mention anything about the organisation or Pitt’s affiliation to it. That, out of everything felt like a gut-punch for any Cussler fan. The salvage operation of the Titanic in the film instead is treated as a military operation.

You get a real sense of research and facts popping to the forefront in the novel. A lot of Cussler books are, but ‘Raise the Titanic’ felt even more so. I have to say this is probably the best written novel of Cussler’s I’ve read to date. The right balance of mystery, espionage, nautical hijinks and heroics in the face of world domination.  The film disappointed me in all of these areas. I did not get a sense of wonder or the depth of specialisation needed for the feat. Whatever their might have been was overshadowed by the stylized treatment of the film. Like some 1980’s high school presentation accompanied with some of the characters actually eye-rolling.

The film also added in some completely new scenes around the extrication of the Titanic from the seafloor. The loss of the Starfish and its crew from decompressive explosion, and the crew of another submersible trapped under some rigging and turned into the main motivation for raising the Titanic within a time limit. These scenes also removed Pitt from being the specialist he is and attempted to paint Dr. Gene Seagram as a bit of a fool. Both which I thought unnecessary.

The novel sees scenes bringing journalist Dana back into the conclusion, where in the film she’s just a tool for the plot releasing news of the Titanic and Byzanium to the public. Apart from that, not a single female is present in the film whatsoever. The feminist in me just threw up in her mouth.

I can understand why this scene and many others were cut: the time restraints to fit all that into a cinematic production would have turned this into a mini-series. In actual fact maybe that’s the direction they should have gone in. The special effects are okay I guess for the time this film was released, but viewing it again today, it comes across as amateur. Long slow-motion panning shots and a soundtrack that felt repetitive did not help with creating a wondrous atmosphere and bogged down the pacing of the film.

Alternatively, the novel was excellently paced. The start is full of positioning the powers players on the chessboard, but after that is established, I couldn’t put it down. The tension is so well done. You can feel the dark abyssal pressures ready to crush you. The wonder of the Titanic, the need to beat the bad guys. In the iconic scene where the Titanic is drifting to the surface in the film however, obvious use of models detracts from my enjoyment; so too was the use of wind gusting sound effects. There was so much scientifically wrong with how it was filmed I laughed. With Cussler going to all the trouble researching and making the scene feel as realistic as possible, the film just made a mockery of the entire thing.

Raise the Titanic Picture vs Page Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Model of the Titanic used in the making of ‘Raise the Titanic.’

The plot is mostly predictable both for the novel and the film – I mean it’s in the title – and you always want good to triumph over evil… but there were a few unexpected twists along the way which were a delight in the novel. The film left me bored. It was a 2 hour long yawn. It was interesting, but needed to be edited to pick up the pace. (And maybe make the hero look like a hero.)

After having read many of the later novels in the Dirk Pitt franchise, ‘Raise the Titanic’ not only introduced familiar characters, but also showed the beginnings of many relationships/careers which I found delightful. I did not get any of those feels after watching the film.

There was also an eerie precognition with this book written in 1977 before the discovery of the real Titanic on September 1, 1985, and how similar the ships condition was to the written text. The 1995 James Cameron documentary Titanic with footage was a joy to watch – I just wish the film would have been able to capture that same wonder. The film adaptation was released in 1980, and helped create publicity and momentum in the hunt for the iconic luxury cruise liners final resting place on the North Atlantic.

The novel has a very involved, intricate plot that hooked me in early and a title I highly recommend. The film however, a huge pass. No thanks, not ever. With so many of the core parts of the franchise cut from the film it felt soulless and delivered in a completely different tone. It didn’t even end in the same manner – all the characters were different except for Pitt.

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Dr. Gene Seagram (David Selby) and Dirk Pitt (Richard Jordan)

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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.

Picture vs Page – The Sun is Also a Star

The Sun is Also a Star Picture vs Page Pic 01 by Casey Carlisle

The Sun Is Also a Star’ exceeded any expectations I had. When the book was first released there was a lot of hype, and I tend to wait and read later without any influence to sway my opinion. But I had to get a move on with the release of the film adaptation. I wanted to read the novel before its release to avoid another lengthy wait for the hype to go down… and avoid spoilers.

The Sun is Also a Star’ novel is a contemporary narrated in alternating points of view between teens Natasha, a Jamaican native, grown up in New York about to be deported; and Daniel, a Korean-American with ‘tiger’ parents pushing him towards a Yale application and becoming a doctor, despite his passion for poetry. We also get the occasional factoid chapter around physics, science, or a side characters perspective/history/future. While all of these elements are present in the film, and because of the omnipresent nature of movies the story flowed much easier from scene to scene. And the cinematography was beautiful. One of the drawbacks of the film was that it eliminated a number of characters from the narrative which hindered the whole interconnectedness/universal fate theme that runs through ‘The Sun is Also a Star.’ Some of those secondary characters added something to the story too – and leaving them out of the film to focus solely on the two romantic leads (Yara Shahidi and Charles Melton) left the movie feeling like most other romances out there. Also the novel had enough time and space to develop a strong emotional connection with and between the characters – it did not feel as strong in the film.

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We see social issues of interracial relationships, racism (and typecasting), immigration (both legal and illegal), mixed in with identity, and coming of age all at that tender age where the world flips on its head – graduation of high school. It was a hot-bed of themes and issues to create a passionate contemporary. I don’t know if it’s just me but many of these hot-button issues did not resonate as strongly with me from the film; which is strange considering a visual medium can usually drag out a lot more pain. I think maybe the producers wanted to keep a lighter tone and focus on the romance.

The pacing did not lag anywhere in this novel – which is high praise for contemporary. Usually they are introspective, symbolic, and take some time to build. ‘The Sun is Also a Star’ set the stakes high straight away and kept the pressure on until the end. The pacing in the film by comparison was good, but a little slower. Maybe because the angst did not translate as strongly. Maybe I connected with Nicola Yoon’s writing style better than the tone of the movie?

We also get a pizza slice of the New York landscape. Coffee shops, record stores, the tourist strip, the corporate buildings – it was an almost magical depiction of the city as seen through the eyes of our protagonists. It was just as vibrant in the film as it was in the novel. Rotating wide shots, beautiful colour grading, and sultry close ups added atmosphere. You get some muted tones throughout to make other colours pop, and many shots had unfocused edges to draw the eye to the principal part of the scene. Brilliantly done.

On a side note – the movie soundtrack is pretty cool too!

The family dynamics of both Daniel and Natasha are also a great peek into how POC are depicted, and how their culture shape their behaviour. I will say the novel depicted more of a stereotypical version in compared to the film. But it was intentional in the book to illustrate a socio-political view. It was softened in the film – and successfully – I feel it may have come off a bit mirco-aggression-y without that tweak.

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I did find the ending typical of contemporaries, that ‘what if’ moment, leaving the reader to make up their own mind as to what happens after the last page. But it does this with an unexpected flair and twist that I enjoyed. The film’s conclusion felt – cute- it lost the impact of the novel (again due to the cuts from characters/loss of angst.) I liked it, but nothing I would rave about. The film teased the novels ending but then went in a different direction.

One theme that is strongly resonating throughout is that we are made up of the same molecules as the universe, proving that everything is connected. It pushes this further by playing with fate, predetermination, and how universal forces follow an order about things. I found it poetic. Sometimes it can be cliché, but the novel ‘The Sun Is Also a Star’ managed to pull it off with sophistication. The film did have this undercurrent, but it felt more like a story of love and fate. Like the universe will always open a door for your to find your one true love. A great concept, but less grand in stature to the novels theme. At least it didn’t come off as cheesy.

The novel is definitely superior to the film, but I’d recommend both.

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

Book Review – ‘Fame, Fate, and the First Kiss’ by Kasie West

Acting, school and boys – typical teen stuff. But sabotage – yikes!

Fame, Fate, and the First Kiss Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Contemporary, Romance

No. of pages: 384

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Lacey Barnes has dreamed of being an actress for as long as she can remember. So when she gets the opportunity to star in a movie alongside one of Hollywood’s hottest actors, she doesn’t hesitate to accept the part.

But Lacey quickly learns that life in the spotlight isn’t as picture perfect as she imagined. She’s having trouble bonding with her costars, her father has hired the definition of a choir boy, Donavan Lake, to tutor her, and somewhere along the way she’s lost her acting mojo. And just when it seems like things couldn’t get any worse, it looks like someone on set is deliberately trying to sabotage her.

As Lacey’s world spins out of control, it feels like the only person she can count on—whether it’s helping her try to unravel the mystery of who is out to get her or snap her out of her acting funk—is Donavan. But what she doesn’t count on is this straight-laced boy becoming another distraction.

With her entire future riding on this movie, Lacey knows she can’t afford to get sidetracked by a crush. But for the first time in her life Lacey wonders if it’s true that the best stories really do happen when you go off script.

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It looks like Kasie West is back on her winning formula. Another enjoyable escapist romance with ‘Fame, Fate, and the First Kiss.’

Set in the same universe as ‘Love, Life, and the List’ we follow protagonist Lacey, and aspiring teen actor in her first big movie role as a zombie. Only she has a helicopter/hover father and schoolwork to contend with as well as her acting job. Enter the cute tutor Lacey’s father hires to ensure she at least gets a passing grade, because, you know this whole acting thing may just be a whim no matter how serious, and how long Lacey has taken on being an actor. Tutor Donavan is straight-laced and all business. The business of learning. Only adding to Lacey’s daily pressures. Then little things start to go wrong on set… nothing like piling on the stress.

Again this is a cute contemporary, a quick read, as West has established as her brand. It didn’t quite have the quirky field of characters as her earlier works, but ‘Fame, Fate and then First Kiss’ still managed to captivate my attention and keep me engaged until the end. Lacey is cute and sassy but with a mostly level head. I almost wanted her to be a bit more headstrong to create some more tension. Or at least something so she wasn’t so… vanilla. So to with her love interest Donavan. He was very much a perfect wish-fulfilment type of guy. I’m used to a bit more character from West’s leading men.

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Contrasting that we have some of Lacey’s co-stars who are very sure of themselves (or very full of themselves) which added some colour to the mix.

I did love the small mystery plot line as well; it helped keep the pace and tension right to the end, rather than this being an angst-fest. So a slightly different tone to West’s usual fare, but a welcome change. Though, please bring back those interesting characters…

There is not necessarily a lot of character development, rather more of a burgeoning understanding and better lines of communication being established. So while the plot is mostly predictable (small mystery aside) and because of the ‘vanilla’ characters and less angsty storyline, the pay-off wasn’t as great as I was hoping. Though still entertaining and definitely a step in the right direction after a lull in late 2018 to early 2019.

I liked the connection to Abby  and Cooper and am looking forward to the final book set in this universe ‘Moment of Truth’ to be released in March 2020.

A solid entry into my guilty pleasure collection, though I wanted a bit more complexity of plot and a dash more interest in the cast. Recommend to lovers of teen YA romances, it was a pleasant way to wile an afternoon on the lounge with a hot cup of tea.

Overall feeling: *sips tea*

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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.

Film vs Novel – Thirteen Reasons Why

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I have a lot of emotions about this novel. One is that I think is it an important topic, that it was valuable to experience life through the eyes of a teen pushed to a point of seriously considering suicide as an option. The other is the total despair and sadness, the loss of life of someone who had their whole life in front of them. That so much value was placed on silly teenage pranks and behaviour. That she couldn’t see that life does get better, that there is help. But the main theme of the novel is not about suicide, but what we can do for each other to stop it. To put an end to apathy. That everything we do impacts on someone else, and even the smallest gesture can turn someone’s life around.

Thirteen Reasons Why’ has been on my radar for a very long time, but I never picked it up. Suicide is such a sensitive, heavy topic, I didn’t want to put myself through the emotional ringer. I don’t like to think about the consequences for such actions. It’s dark and depressing. I did not want to put myself in that headspace. But this novel does not drag you into shadowed corners and lament at how hopeless life is. This is more of a factual account of circumstances that leads Hannah to her decision. Our protagonist Clay his hope. A shining beacon that lets the reader know that all is not lost. This tone is also reflected in the television series throughout the first season that follows the plot of the novel.

Though it is never stated outright, there are hints in the text of how Hannah is suffering depression, which it has been happening for a while. A condition that goes undiagnosed and it compounded by a series of unfortunate events… all narrated by herself on the set of cassettes she addressed to the main people who affected her life and turned her to a path of loneliness.

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The first half of the novel is a little slow, introducing characters slowly as each is discussed until about halfway when we start to get more shocking revelations. After that, I was glued to the page. A sort of morbid fascination. What drove Hannah to do what she did? What is going to be Clay’s reaction? So much more happened than I was expecting. The television show follows suit with flashbacks, but is has the luxury of multiple perspectives, where in the novel it is solely Clay, and Hannah through the tapes. Katherine Langford plays Hannah in the show and exudes that lost child putting up a happy front to disguise all the turmoil underneath. The novel focuses on Clay piecing together a timeline through each tape, where the screen interpretation focuses on events and hypes up the bullying more. We see many of the reveals in the novel much earlier in the screen version to keep an episodic pace.

Clay is a great protagonist. He reacts to the circumstances appropriately – a guide to how you should react to what is happening, as testament to so many characters in the story who lack that compassionate behaviour. He is the litmus test for all of the other characters in the story. The narration treated the events respectfully and lets the reader make pragmatic decisions with compassion. I too loved the depiction of actor Dylan Minnette’s of Clay; he captures the quiet nature and determination that is so strong in this character.

Thank goodness for the screen adaptation, otherwise I may never have read this book. It’s what spurned me to bite the bullet and read the novel before indulging in the series. Because, again, suicide = scary and depressing. I like to read fun, happy, escapist books much of the time.

Definitely thought provoking and I can see it as a great conversation starter for teens (or anyone) who feels they are in the same situation as Hannah. The novel even highlights that there were people who cared, who wanted to help, but she just didn’t give them the chance. So I never got that complete isolation and spiralling pit of despair that this topic generally deals with. We get a balanced view of all parties involved.

The novel ends on a great note too. Hope. Looking forward to see where the tv shows takes these themes beyond the scope of the book… dealing with real issues and hopefully not turning it into another overwritten teen drama.

Highly recommended. It’s not as depressing as it may seem. I didn’t fall into a sopping mess, rather just felt sadness and pity. At this point I have to say both the book and screen adaptation are a solid tie.

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