Book Review – ‘Bonfire’ by Krysten Ritter

Small town secrets scare you silly.

Bonfire Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Mystery, Thriller

No. of pages: 288

From Goodreads:

Should you ever go back?

It has been ten years since Abby Williams left home and scrubbed away all visible evidence of her small town roots. Now working as an environmental lawyer in Chicago, she has a thriving career, a modern apartment, and her pick of meaningless one-night stands.

But when a new case takes her back home to Barrens, Indiana, the life Abby painstakingly created begins to crack. Tasked with investigating Optimal Plastics, the town’s most high-profile company and economic heart, Abby begins to find strange connections to Barrens’ biggest scandal from more than a decade ago involving the popular Kaycee Mitchell and her closest friends—just before Kaycee disappeared for good.

Abby knows the key to solving any case lies in the weak spots, the unanswered questions. But as Abby tries to find out what really happened to Kaycee, she unearths an even more disturbing secret—a ritual called “The Game,” which will threaten the reputations, and lives, of the community and risk exposing a darkness that may consume her.

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I was really interested to see Krysten Ritter’s foray into writing. I have been a fan of her acting work and wanted to see how her talents translated to the written word. She excelled. Ritter’s writing style has the perfect way of world building and describing the scene in a few sentences before delving into the story.

I had a distinct case of writers envy with Ritter’s turn of phrase, it was almost melodic. She manages to intertwine the type of symbolism we usually get in contemporaries or Stephen King novels into the narration. The only thing stopping me from awarding this the perfect score was that the pacing was a little slow – but it usually is in this genre. Taking the time to set the scene, throw in some red herrings… it takes, well, time. For me, I wanted some more interesting or dramatic scenes in the way our protagonist Abby uncovers clues. It was still very gripping and realistic, but I love the melodrama and the gasps – always crave more from this type of novel.

I will say that I had absolutely no idea what was going to happen – I’m usually pretty good at predicting a novel, but ‘Bonfire’ had me completely stumped. Krysten Ritter literally baited me along the entire story and I loved it. She really knows how to craft a story. Just when you think the plot is about one thing, you discover it is about a totally different thing.

Bonfire Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

Abby as a protagonist is relatable, but a little difficult to love. Just about every character in this novel is flawed (including the protagonist) sometimes unapologetically, some out for redemption, some lost years ago and just treading water. Thus, it made for a compelling read, the characters are well developed, motivated and engaging. And while I was invested in Abby and her plight, I wanted a more innocent, relatable character to carry the story. But that’s my personal preference, and in all honesty, a character like that would have stolen some of the grittiness that seems from the tone of the novel and the town of Barrens in which ‘Bonfire’ is set.

And I’m a huge fan of characters returning to their childhood towns after getting out, revisiting old haunts and memories, so ‘Bonfire’ was right up my alley.

Some of the reveals I found shocking, and there are some trigger warning for this novel around date rape and paedophilia. There is also underage drinking and drug use. Additionally, I had a cringe away from the page from a certain moment in the climax worthy of a horror novel – so you have been warned.

I thought I would have a stronger emotional reaction to the events in ‘Bonfire.’ While Ritter writes great characters and can plot a marvellous storyline, I didn’t get that emotional attachment I needed to draw out the feels from some of the more dramatic plot points.

Still, an incredible strong debut I am proud to add to my library. I recommend you go grab a copy.

Overall feeling: What. Just. Happened?

Bonfire Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Bonfire Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

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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.

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A totally guilty pleasure read for me at the moment… preternatural detective Alec Harbinger takes on all sorts of paranormal nasties and solves murders!

#bookquotes

Girl and nature in blue

How many paranormal themed books, films and television series deal with the general public choosing to believe in the rational, tactile, and familiar? Frankly if I had witnessed something extraordinary and inexpiable, it would only prove that there is more to the world than we thought. I like weird.

Book Review – ‘Contagion’ (#1 Contagion) by Erin Bowman

A brilliant surprise of a read!

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

No. of pages: 432

From Goodreads:

It got in us.

After receiving an urgent SOS from a work detail on a distant planet, a skeleton crew is dispatched to perform a standard search-and-rescue mission.

Most are dead.

But when the crew arrives, they find an abandoned site, littered with rotten food, discarded weapons…and dead bodies.

Don’t set foot here again.

As they try to piece together who—or what—could have decimated an entire operation, they discover that some things are best left buried—and some monsters are only too ready to awaken.

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I picked this up one evening intending to read a few chapters and get a feel for ‘Contagion.’ Skip to 3am and I was halfway through. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. It was a little bit ‘Illuminae’ and a little bit ‘Alien.’ I was hooked from start to finish.

The only point that played against ‘Contagion’ for me is a tiny one. We get introduced to a lot of cast members in the debut chapters and it took a lot of concentration to keep it all straight. I nearly sketched up a diagram… but as the narrative began to focus on a small handful as the story progressed my enrapture increased exponentially. This is a real thrill ride.

We get many different perspectives in the novel, some only lasting for a paragraph or two. Normally I would find this jarring, but it drove the story forward, each new member bringing something unique to the storyline, or revealing a plot point. The main characters we end following the most, however are intern scientist Thea (to a Dr. Tarlow – who is also important to this story), Black Quarry survivor Coen, student pilot Nova, and young ambitious captain Dylan. They all have their secrets and all have an individual drive to be where they are. ‘Contagion’ reads a lot like a mystery thriller as each of their back stories comes to light. I loved Erin Bowman’s writing style, it totally captivated my attention from start to finish. The cast all have their own arcs and have changed by the conclusion of the novel. Bowman did not miss a beat. She has made me an instant fan from this book alone.

Contagion (#1 Contagion) Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

Be warned – ‘Contagion’ ends on a cliff hanger. You might want to pick up the sequel ‘Immunity’ straight away… if you’re one that does not have a lot of patience.

There were many plot twist revealed in ‘Contagion.’ Many I did not see coming, and I loved the surprise! I had a few predictions, but none of what I thought came about (well one sort of did, but that’s another story.)

This novel plays with themes of trust, fear and paranoia, the science of how epidemics come about, isolation, zombies (of sorts), and greedy corporations.

An excellent read that I am giving the highest recommendation.

Overall feeling: Holy fuzzknuckle what a ride!

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

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

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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.

Book Review – ‘Risk’ by Fleur Ferris

Realistic fiction with a scary scenario.

Risk Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Mystery, Thriller, Realistic Fiction

No. of pages: 279

From Goodreads:

Taylor and Sierra have been best friends for their whole lives. But Taylor’s fed up. Why does Sierra always get what – and who – she wants? From kissing Taylor’s crush to stealing the guy they both met online for herself, Sierra doesn’t seem to notice when she hurts her friends.

So when Sierra says Jacob Jones is the one and asks her friends to cover for her while she goes to meet him for the first time, Taylor rolls her eyes. 

But Sierra doesn’t come back when she said she would.

One day. Two days. Three . . .

What if Taylor’s worrying for nothing? What if Sierra’s just being Sierra, forgetting about everyone else to spend time with her new guy? 

When Taylor finally tells Sierra’s mum that her daughter is missing, Taylor and her friends are thrown into a dark world they never even knew existed.

Can Taylor find Sierra’s abductor in time? Or should she be looking for a killer?

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This is a brilliant book – more so for the experience of a young girl falling victim to an online predator and all of the education this tale supplies. Being honest, I put this book down halfway through because I was getting really frustrated with the protagonist Taylor and her best friend Sierra. They were annoyingly stupid, secretive, and well… realistically teen girls. I just wanted to shake them and force them to wake up to how idiotic and reckless their behavior was. Maybe if I had read this in my early teens when I was the target market for ’Risk,’ but maybe not. It doesn’t take a genius to work out the risky behavior of the girls involved. So I see putting the book down for a while not as a sign of bad writing, pacing, or character development; but of how immersed I was in the story. The strength of my emotional reaction to the situation.

Upon picking up the book again, it was evident that the narrative quickly changed and the pace stepped up even more. If I had only read another 20 pages before putting it down the first time, the tone of the novel would have completely changed. From stupid-stubborn-reckless teen girls obsessed with boys, to a high-stakes murder mystery. I was really taken on a ride with ‘Risk.’ It brought up some of my past friendships, memories of my childhood, of living in Melbourne, and of a depressing time when my Mother passed. I was triggered. But in a good way.

Risk’ follows Taylor’s story and involvement in her best friend Sierra’s relationship with a boy she meets online, her eventual abduction and the events that follow on thereafter. The scary part is that is all feels too real, so conceivable. Taylor and Sierra are so quintessentially those teen girls that long for this epic love story, pushing their parents away because, like, they don’t get it. They don’t realise their parents are looking out for them. The girls just want the romance. They don’t realise that they are ripe for an experienced child predator to step in with a routine, ‘grooming’ the girls to a meet up in real life. And that’s when the real scary stuff kicks in.

Risk Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

I think the thing that has stayed with me the most after reading ‘Risk’ is how it affected everyone else. The novel follows friends, family, teachers, police, and the general public’s reactions as well as our main cast. It’s something that adds gravitas and seriousness to the storyline. This is where the education and awareness steps front and centre as a theme to really kick you in the guts.

Getting into the nitty-gritty of my reading experience, I guess I wanted more sophistication. From the characters and the plot. A quicker set up of the storyline in the beginning and further exploration of the mystery. Sleuthing out the online predator. But that’s only because I’m waaay out of the target demographic and loved the detective-styled second half of the novel.

This is no cliché’d after-school special on the dangers of online dating. ‘Risk’ is visceral and based in a real world scenario. I can see it as a valuable addition to a high school English curriculums reading list. It has some great discussion topics and educates in a way that is not depressingly obvious. Certainly a gem in the rough and something I want to give to all the young readers I know.

Overall feeling: a shake up and a wake up

Risk Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Risk Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

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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.

Book Review – ‘Found’ by Fleur Ferris

Putting Australian YA Authors on the international map

Found Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Mystery, Thriller

No. of pages: 276

From Goodreads:

What happens when someone else’s past catches up with you? 

Elizabeth Miller had lived in Deni her entire life. In a small rural town, Beth’s biggest problem is telling her protective and fiercely private father that she has a boyfriend. 

But when her dad disappears before her and Jonah’s eyes, Beth discovers that he isn’t who she thought he was. Her family’s secret past has caught up with them, and someone wants her dead. 

Beth has been unwittingly prepared for this moment her entire life. Can she find a way out before they find her?

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I really like the way Fleur Ferris crafts a story. She creates an air of mystery and intrigue, and masterfully writes actions scenes that have me gripped to the page, eager to see what happens next. A small downside to this is there is a slight feeling of obvious plotting. ‘Found’ isn’t quite organic and believable. But it is only a minor part. I still enjoyed ‘Found,’ and could see it all play out like a movie in my mind’s eye.

Beth (Elizabeth) Miller discovers her father has been abducted, and from there secrets start spilling out… her life, her family is not what it seems. The only rock in these crazy revelations is her boyfriend, Jonah, but even things come to light that put that into jeopardy. Beth’s father, Bear, has raised her in militant style in an isolated Australian country town. Big on survival skills, Tae Kwon Do, practicing at the shooting range. All throwbacks to his military career. Beth suffers through it, but some of the activities she really loves. What struck me first about Beth is the tomboy protagonist who doesn’t indulge in girly things like dresses and makeup and is apparently some hidden beauty. I’d roll my eyes at this trope. But the thing is – I grew up in places like this. Kids are really like that. Riding around on bikes, hanging out together because there’s not much else to do. Even the girls I went to high school with, Beth could be at least half of the population of my classmates. So this protagonist could be polarising to readers outside Australia, seen as falling into the ugly duckling tomboy trope, when in fact it is representative of life in a lot of small remote towns in Aussieland. I found Beth a bit dry and boring – it was always about following rules and getting down to business, but she was always observant and intelligent. All of those traits helped her survive. A dippy sarcastic teen would have perished in the first act.

Found’ is a beautiful nod to the Aussie psyche and small town living. It made me nostalgic for my youth.

Found Book Review Pic 02 by Casey CarlisleTold in dual perspectives, the second POV, that of love interest Jonah does help add dimension to the plot as both characters are in different places, thinking different things, and uncovering different clues to the overall plot. Usually dual perspectives can be a bit of a yawn because it’s just telling the same story from a different angle, but Fleur ensures Jonah drives the narrative on his own. Distinctly masculine and completely believable. He is fallible, and quite possibly not as smart as Beth. He pays the consequences for his rocky decisions. There are even revelations in story arcs not relating to the main story that I found delightful.

Found’ is a gripping, fast read. While it did not blow me out of the water, and had some issues with believability, I was nonetheless entertained and completed it in two sittings.

Fleur uses some Aussie slang in the narrative that threw me. While, as a native, it’s the dialogue we use in our heads, it was confronting to read them in print. I would have preferred keeping the narrative to correct English and leave the slang in dialogue as not to pull the reader from the narrative. I also feel another pass from an editor would have benefited ‘Found’ just to tie up some misspellings, missed words, grammar issues and tighten the plot a little… and maybe add some interest to our two leads. I like me a few quirks or awkwardness. Maybe a few more comical moments to break the tension in key moments.

I will say the second half of the novel, after a certain event was spot on. I’ve lived through something similar and it dragged out all the feels and had me re-living the experience.

Fleur has all the makings of a fantastic author and definitely someone I am now a huge fan of. Viva la Ferris!

Definitely recommend this one, some great action scenes and a gritty protagonist representative of a true Aussie.

I can’t say I predicted what was going to happen in ‘Found’ it literally surprised me with every turn. Absolutely brilliant.

And on a side note, loving the cover art. I’ve now got all of her published works and they have the same aesthetic. Single word titles, simple bold font and muted photography. Even though they are all standalones, the collection looks like a set and is a great marketing concept – making an instantly recognisable book on the shelves as that of Fleur Ferris.

Overall feeling: A great new author discovery and some nostalgia mixed in with a teen action storyline.

Found Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Found Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

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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.