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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 – ‘The Memory of Death’ (#3.5 Death Works Trilogy) by Trent Jamieson

This is the way you breathe new life into a series…

Genre: Paranormal, Fantasy, novella

No. of pages: 94

He thought he’d return from Hell a hero. But things are never easy when your business is Death.

Steven de Selby gave up his love, his life, and his lucrative position as Head of Mortmax, the corporation in charge of Death. Then he found himself banished to the briny depths of hell. But hell has never held him before …

Now Steven’s back from hell, after escaping from the cruel Death of the Water, but he’s not sure how or why, or even if. No-one at Mortmax trusts him, and he’s running out of time to prove he is who he says he is.

Steven is about to discover that hell really is other people, and the worst of them may well be himself.

There seems to be some confusion over this novella. The cover is calling it Death Works novel #4, yet Goodreads has it labelled as #3.5 – I guess Trent Jamieson is the only one who can clear all this up. And I’m wondering if the franchise ends here – will the story continue, or has interest and marketability of the Death Works franchise dried up? It has become a guilty pleasure for me. The references to Brisbane and its surrounds are my back yard. And I kind of like paranormal tomes that deal with various incarnations of Grim Reapers and the subject of the afterlife. Jamieson has a wit and irony about this world and protagonist Steven de Selby that I find alluring.

The Memory of Death’ sees Steven (in parts) dragged from The Death of Water where we saw his ending in ‘The Business of Death.’ Going into more detail will spoil happenings for this novella. But it sets up an interesting premise for this franchise to move forward. Turns the relationships of the characters on their head. It is such a genius twist that it renewed my interest and has me hoping that this is not the end.

A lot happens in this short novella. I did wish the first half was a bit punchier and clearer. It takes a beat for the reader to get enough information to make sense of things. In that sense it was disorientating for me and I kept putting the book down for a rest. Not something you want to hear about a novella. But once the story got its legs, it was in short, brilliant. So the pacing went from faltering to light-speed.

Steven de Selby has an arc of sorts – more like a reconstitution. He’s the same but not. I liked in ‘The Business of Death’ how he went dry – gave up drinking completely because it was starting to become a problem for him. I was not all too happy to see him start up that habit again. His relationship with Lissa is completely different, and the engagement is brought up but there is hope that it can get back on track – for which I am greatful. I was really starting to ship these two.

I was astounded and delighted to read a preview from ‘The Carnival of Death’ touted as the Death Works novel #5. This is a great under hyped series that I am happy to recommend to all my friends. There is even a bind-up of the trilogy available… I’m just praying that Jamieson continues this series because it’s a little taste of home and a little taste of weird.

Overall feeling: Don’t say it’s over…

© 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 – ‘The Business of Death’ (#3 Death Works) by Trent Jamieson

This series gets better and better – talk about apocalyptic endings!

Genre: Paranormal, Urban Fantasy

No. of pages: 225

Life is tough at the top when work is a matter of life or death.

It’s one thing to run Mortmax International as head of a team, but it’s quite another to rule alone. Staff fatalities have left Steven by himself on the Throne of Death, and there’s no time to get comfortable. The Stirrer god’s arrival is imminent, threatening life as we know it. Plus Steven has managed to mortally offend the only ally strong enough to help out.

And how can he ask someone to marry him when the End of Days seems inevitable? As if they’re going to think he’s committed. The portents don’t look good as a comet burns vast and looming in the sky and Steven can almost hear a dark clock ticking. He will have to play nice if he wants his ally back, and must address the madness of the Hungry Death within himself if he even has a chance at defeating the Stirrer god.

If he fails, Hell and Earth are doomed and wedding bells will be quite out of the question.

This was the cinematic ending (sort-of) I had been anticipating. I say sort-of because, though touted as a trilogy, there is a forth novella in this series, which supposedly re-boots the Mortmax universe. Leaving the series open for more possible sequels, or just concluding with a more open-ended and hopeful tone. The ending of ‘The Business of Death’ concluded with a PERIODT. It’s very final. Very satisfying in a romantic sort of way if you follow the tone set throughout the series, it makes sense. But I can see some readers not getting the sayonara they wanted.

In this instalment, Steven de Selby has gotten another promotion to Orcus as the managing directors of the worlds regional chapters of Pomps (grims) committed suicide, and transferring their collective power to Steven so he would stand a chance in fighting off a war of the coming Stirrer god. A god. One who rules over the dead, who is forcing an apocalypse and plans to decimate and take over the Earth.

There is all the sarcastic wit I’ve come to love from this series. I liken it to the Buffy franchise with the dark comedic tone. There were a few elements that held me back from truly getting sucked into the narrative this time around however: the first half of the novel is clunky. It didn’t have that flow, which made it feel like the plot was floundering even though it wasn’t. Because of this the pacing was patchy and I put the book down a lot. When things start to get really interesting in the second half the plot is magnificent, though I was pulled from the narrative again with really short and consecutive chapters. It was almost like Trent Jamieson really struggled in writing this conclusion. But that is the worst of it – some pacing and formatting issues. Jamieson’s writing is a pleasure to read, he can weave a great plot, surprise you, make you holler and laugh, and craft appealing and flawed characters, all wrapped up in Australiana – set in and around Brisbane (where I currently reside.) So the story strongly resonated with me, and I was so proud to have this calibre of writing come from my home town.

I was surprised to see even more character development from Steven as a main character, drying out from his alcohol addiction, facing death at least four times with consternation. He wasn’t this confident hero, blustering with bravado, Steven is a normal man, out of his depth, floundering for a victory with nothing but his determination. I really loved this trait and had me rooting for the underdog all the way through this series. I feel like we have an undervalued writer and under-hyped series on our hands. I’d really like to see this collection get more exposure internationally. A strong recommendation from me.

Overall feeling: Seriously cinematic!

© 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 – ‘Stiletto’ (#2 The Checquy Files) by Daniel O’Malley

Supernaturally powered spies and medically advanced group of body modifiers team up against a foe while solving murders… it’s outrageous and I love it!

Genre: Science Fiction, Paranormal, Mystery

No. of pages: 583

When secret organizations are forced to merge after years of enmity and bloodshed, only one person has the fearsome powers—and the bureaucratic finesse—to get the job done. Facing her greatest challenge yet, Rook Myfanwy Thomas must broker a deal between two bitter adversaries:

The Checquy—the centuries-old covert British organization that protects society from supernatural
threats, and…

The Grafters—a centuries-old supernatural threat.

But as bizarre attacks sweep London, threatening to sabotage negotiations, old hatreds flare. Surrounded by spies, only the Rook and two women, who absolutely hate each other, can seek out the culprits before they trigger a devastating otherworldly war.

This took me a long time to read because there is a lot of filler. The pacing is slow. I am in love with Daniel O’Malley’s writing though, he is fantastic with world building and crafts some interesting and intriguing characters. The imagination that has gone into creating the universe of The Checquy astounds me.

I’m really excited to see where this series is going. Book three is already in edits and book four is underway so we should get some publication dates towards the end of this year.

On a side note, I’m not surprised the television adaptation got cancelled. To be honest, it took out all of the aspects that make this collection so much fun. The irony and comedy, the way-out there elements and wild paranormal powers. Instead it concentrated on political subterfuge and the spy elements, and they executed the powers in a way that felt bland. While I enjoyed the show, it did not deliver on all the facets that made ‘The Rook’ great.

Stiletto’ picks up shortly after events that took place in ‘The Rook’ and introduce some new perspectives. We still follow Myfawny, but the main storyline is told from the perspectives of Grafter, Odette Leliefeld, and Pawn, Felicity Clements.

With the Grafter contingent, a sworn enemy of the Checquy, wanting to amalgamate their organisations. But what the Checquy don’t know is that the Grafters (or Wetenschappelijk Broederschap van Naruurkundigen – Broederschap for short) have an enemy that is systematically wiping them out; and now with the tentative ground of the two organisations navigating tensions and mistrust, their threats have doubled. So much intrigue, subterfuge, and diplomacy mixed in with paranormal powers, events and, medical technology to create a melting pot of tension.

Felicity is a soldier. Work is her life. She is assigned cases to eliminate paranormal threats (or hotspots) and now also assigned as Odette’s bodyguard/minder/liaison. We get a sense of her Spartan life, the only luxury she indulges in is her pet dog. She flat shares with two other Pawns in a tiny converted town house. She is a rule follower, down the line straight man but has a close relationship with the others with whom she grew up with in the Estate. They are her new family.

Odette is a prodigy with medical ‘grafter’ surgery. She is all about her work and an indulgent Broederschap upbringing. A bit of a party girl. A girly-girl. So the juxtaposition of class, society, and being bound by rules and hierarchy clashes between Odette and Felicity (and the Checquy.) But she adapts to the change because it’s what her ancestor and leader of the Broederschap wants.

Myfawny is still adjusting to her new role (and memory loss) but we see her much stronger and competent than she was in ‘The Rook.’

I capital-L-Love the outlandish paranormal events! And despite Daniel O’Malley’s tendency to indulge in filler, his writing is something I’m envious of. So while, extremely well written, ‘Stiletto’ suffers from a huge pacing issue. The plot is intricate and we see several arcs unfolding tangentially, though I did get a slight episodic feel from the novel. There are some marvellous plot twists throughout which took me by surprise and a few threads are left hanging for the next instalment, though there is a real sense of accomplishment for ‘Stiletto.’

I’d love to recommend this to everyone – but if you did not care for ‘The Rook,’ ‘Stiletto’ is much the same fare. You need to have patience and enjoy exploring the universe of the Checquy without worrying about the plot moving forward at a strong pace. I really enjoyed this – the only real issue I had was with the amount of filler, but it did not detract too much from my revelling in the escapist nature of O’Malley’s writing style.

This is a long book (583 pages), and having purchased the hardcover version (with heavy stock pages) it was a pain in the ass to read at times because the book is so heavy and cumbersome to read. But with my few gripes, I have become addicted to Daniel O’Malley and this series. Eagerly awaiting future adventures and craziness!

Overall feeling: Deliciously outlandish!

© 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 – ‘Life Expectancy’ by Dean Koontz

Fun and weird characters, murder, humour and a twist I didn’t see coming.

Life Expectancy Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Thriller, Mystery

No. of pages: 401

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Jimmy Tock comes into the world on the very night his grandfather leaves it. As a violent storm rages outside the hospital, Rudy Tock spends long hours walking the corridors between the expectant fathers’ waiting room and his dying father’s bedside. It’s a strange vigil made all the stranger when, at the very height of the storm’s fury, Josef Tock suddenly sits up in bed and speaks coherently for the first and last time since his stroke.

What he says before he dies is that there will be five dark days in the life of his grandson—five dates whose terrible events Jimmy will have to prepare himself to face. The first is to occur in his twentieth year; the second in his twenty-third year; the third in his twenty-eighth; the fourth in his twenty-ninth; the fifth in his thirtieth.

Rudy is all too ready to discount his father’s last words as a dying man’s delusional rambling. But then he discovers that Josef also predicted the time of his grandson’s birth to the minute, as well as his exact height and weight, and the fact that Jimmy would be born with syndactyly—the unexplained anomal of fused digits—on his left foot. Suddenly the old man’s predictions take on a chilling significance.

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It has been a while since I’ve indulged in a Dean Koontz creation, and ‘Life Expectancy’ reminded me of all the things I love about his writing. Witty banter, fun and weird characters, a good chase, serendipity, and some obtuse cyclical element that you never expect.

Life Expectancy’ is a deliciously weird tale intertwined with prophecy, mad men, fate, and family. We get different sections of the novel centred around the dates Jimmy Tock’s grandfather foretold as days of great importance and sorrow.

Jimmy Tock, born in an electric storm at the same moment as the child of a weird man, who then goes on a killing spree through the country hospital kicks this story off with a bloody mess and dragged me into the narrative with ease. The different parts jump to the dates that Grandad Tock magic-eight-balled for Jimmy to look out for and keep the pace of this novel cranked up to maximum. Even when Jimmy meets love interest Lorrie, we get instant great chemistry, and I became besotted with the pair from the get-go. True to Koontz’s writing style, there is a brilliant mix of comedy (humour) and horror (needless death and destruction) that was cinematic in form.

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We don’t just get one bad guy either… antagonists that are sociopathically driven to enforce their justified point of view, all interwoven together in a crazy plot really threw me for a six. It was such a delicious delight to have these little unexpected twists.

The quaint backdrop of Snow Village – somehow reminding me of the set from ‘The Ghost Whisperer’ television show. A small town with a square, around which all the important buildings orientate. It just goes to show the descriptive abilities of Koontz’s writing style.

Because I’m such a fan of Dean Koontz and read countless of his tomes, I can say with confidence I predicted the ending pretty early one – however, there were a few surprising serendipities to that ending. And they were doozies. A one-two punch that had me making googly eyes at the page.

This hits the sweet spot of all the things I enjoy about Dean Koontz’s writing and happily recommend ‘Life Expectancy’ for your TBR.

Overall feeling: This!

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Life Expectancy 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.

Book Review – ‘One of Us is Lying’ (#1 One of Us is Lying) by Karen McManus

A murder in the middle of The Breakfast Club.

One of Us is Lying (#1 One of Us is Lying) Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Contemporary, Mystery, LGBT

No. of pages: 361

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Pay close attention and you might solve this.

On Monday afternoon, five students at Bayview High walk into detention.

Bronwyn, the brain, is Yale-bound and never breaks a rule.

Addy, the beauty, is the picture-perfect homecoming princess.

Nate, the criminal, is already on probation for dealing.

Cooper, the athlete, is the all-star baseball pitcher.

And Simon, the outcast, is the creator of Bayview High’s notorious gossip app.

Only, Simon never makes it out of that classroom. Before the end of detention, Simon’s dead. And according to investigators, his death wasn’t an accident. On Monday, he died. But on Tuesday, he’d planned to post juicy reveals about all four of his high-profile classmates, which makes all four of them suspects in his murder. Or are they the perfect patsies for a killer who’s still on the loose?

Everyone has secrets, right? What really matters is how far you would go to protect them.

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This feels difficult for me to rate and review. It has been hyped so much, and many friends, and bloggers I follow have raved about ‘One of Us is Lying.’ On the whole, this was well written and the plot unfolded masterfully. We get interesting fleshed-out characters and tension is maintained from beginning to end. We follow four protagonists, the narrative jumps to each of their perspectives frequently, so at the start I was all over the place and even had to jot down some notes to get the characters straight in my head – because not only do we get the four protagonists, but their friends and families as well. I struggled to fall into the world of ‘One of Us is Lying.’ It felt like it took half the novel for things to really get going. I put this novel down and read 3 others before picking it up again. But after the halfway point I was totally gripped.

I think because it took so long to develop so many characters, and set the scene, the first half suffered pacing issues with my reading experience. I was also frustrated with some of the things which happened in the novel – like the police or press contacting the kids directly; and even the kids fraternizing with each other after the fact. In real life, police can have their case thrown out the window, or even get suspended for questioning a minor without a parent or guardian present. News reporters risk jail for questioning an unaccompanied minor. And parents should be locking these kids up and keeping them away from each other – I mean we’re dealing with murder here. Hello? Is anybody in there? *knocking on your skull*

One of Us is Lying (#1 One of Us is Lying) Book Review Pic 02 by Casey CarlisleI understand what Karen M. McManus was doing, and I appreciate how she crafts a story. But having a background as a high school teacher and a person of authority, some aspects triggered me and pulled me from the narrative. I wish I could have just enjoyed it like fiction instead of poking holes in the plot.

With each cast member having a secret was a great tool for developing each character, and by default, giving them a nuance and point of interest. It is the kind of writing tool that attracted me to the novel in the first place.

I won’t say I easily predicted the story, but I will say I had some very strong hunches about some characters that proved to be true. I say this because I can’t pinpoint any facts that foretold the way the plot was going to unfold… it was just little things, character reactions which tingled my spidey senses that got me thinking. I have to hand it to McManus in structuring a marvellous mystery.

Her writing style is top notch and easy to read, but I would have liked some more separation between the character voices. If not for the name of each character in the title heading I may not have known who we were following. She could have used particular words and sentence structure unique to each character to differentiate and aid in identify differing points of view.

I think the other thing that contributed to this rating is that I did not connect/relate to any of the protagonists. I mean I cared about them, but there was no deep emotional bond with any of the cast. I felt like an observer rather than getting to experience the predicament through their eyes, this level of separation kept me from really getting into ‘One of Us if Lying.’

I’m going to be picking up the sequel ‘One of Us is Next,’ and now that I am familiar with the characters and the scene is set, having understood their history, I’ll should be able to forge a stronger connection, and ultimately, enjoy the read more.

I’m really looking forward to the television series adaptation currently in development, the visual format is better suited for following so many main cast and with a longer format of a full season of television allowing the story to unfold slowly, yet keeping up the pace… it opens the possibility that I may like the tv show better.

A fun read and one I’m happy to recommend.

Overall feeling: Had me raising an eyebrow…

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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.

Book Review – ‘The Millionaire’s Wife’ by Shalini Boland

Easy to read B-grade mystery thriller.

The Millionaire's Wife Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Mystery, Thriller

No. of pages: 298

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Everyone has their secrets. But this one could destroy your marriage.

When Anna Blackwell opens an email from an unknown sender, the shocking image attached shatters her perfect world. A woman has been killed. And Anna knows who did it. The past is catching up with her.

Is it her turn next?

To protect herself and her husband Will, she must tell him the terrible truth about her first love. But as the secrets of her life unravel, Anna begins to realise that she is not the only one who has been living a lie.

Anna doesn’t know who to turn to: her best friend, her parents, her husband. But she knows that her ex-lover is dangerous and she must stop him, before it’s too late…

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I’ve read a few titles from Shalini Boland so far and am really enjoying her writing, the books seem to be light mystery/thriller, fast paced and easy to read. Great weekend escape!

The first half of ‘The Millionaire’s Wife’ jumps around the timeline in alternating chapters; then the second half is sequential… although it unfolds an interesting story, I would have liked the format to have been consistent throughout.  Also, I feel there was a missed opportunity for a flashback at the end maybe, to something antagonist Fin said or did to foreshadow the novels events to bring the narrative in a full circle.

Our protagonist Anna is a little frustrating, she seems flaky and hides too much from the people around her. I get that Boland does this to create mystery and forge the plot, but I wanted to throw popcorn at the pages. Anna also exhibited some good instincts and wasn’t the stereotypical waif common in this genre, so that helped balance out some of my frustration. But on the whole I found aspects of her character unrealistic. It destroyed the fantasy… aw, poor me. Anna did have some character growth and showed grit towards the end, but there was something about her that didn’t quite sell the story. The altruist in me wanted to see justice for her bad decisions – and it would have made sense in the tone of ‘The Millionaire’s Wife.’

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Will, Anna’s husband… umm. I want to say he’s a bit of a chump. The dude is lovely and all, but he’s whipped. Some of his reactions, the things that are done to him… mate run for the hills and never look back.

The big disappointment was antagonist Fin – I predicted his entire storyline a few pages in. Your everyday variety douchebag. Seriously it was like he had neon signs floating above his head flashing ‘Bad Guy!’ Even the blurb gives the plot away. Facepalm.

Anna’s bf, Sian came across as a lovely gal… until I was rolling my eyes. (read the book, you’ll understand.)

I had a big issue with plausibility – there were many character reactions and behaviours that didn’t sit well with me. The story felt intentionally crafted. I like my mysteries to unfold organically, get surprised, but I got none of that unfortunately (apart from the twist at the end.)

But there is a certain scene that had me sobbing. Boland can craft an emotional moment. After all is said and done, I do enjoy her writing. This read like one of those midday movies you caught when you were home sick from school.

The pacing for ‘The Millionaire’s Wife’ is fantastic and I read it in two short sittings. It had a bit of a spoony ending. This did not feel as strong for me in comparison to what I’ve read from Boland prior, I think it was the fault around some of the plain stupidity of a few characters.

Gagging for the cover art though – one of my favourites from this genre.

On the fence about recommending this one – maybe good for a teen demographic or those just dipping their toes into this genre, or die-hard Shalini Boland stans.

Overall feeling: Monday Midday Mystery Movie kind of vibes

The Millionaire's Wife Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

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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.

Book Review – ‘Famous Last Words’ by Katie Alender

Moving into an old Hollywood starlet’s house in the hills and find it’s haunted – yes please!

Famous Last Words Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Paranormal, Mystery

No. of pages: 320

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Willa is freaking out. It seems like she’s seeing things. Like a dead body in her swimming pool. Frantic messages on her walls. A reflection that is not her own. It’s almost as if someone — or something — is trying to send her a message. Meanwhile, a killer is stalking Los Angeles — a killer who reenacts famous movie murder scenes. Could Willa’s strange visions have to do with these unsolved murders? Or is she going crazy? And who can she confide in? There’s Marnie, her new friend who may not be totally trustworthy. And there’s Reed, who’s ridiculously handsome and seems to get Willa. There’s also Wyatt, who’s super smart but unhealthily obsessed with the Hollywood Killer.All Willa knows is, she has to confront the possible-ghost in her house, or she just might lose her mind . . . or her life.

Page border 2020 by Casey Carlisle

This novel has been on my TBR shelf for years. Years I tell you! So glad I have gotten around to reading ‘Famous Last Words’  because it has reminded me why I like reading this genre so much.

Katie Alender has a really cool writing style. It feels effortless. So many YA paranormal mysteries shoot off in tangents with info dumping or tripping the spooky fantastic, ‘Famous Last Words’ felt grounded in the story. Admittedly there were a few moments I wanted to eye-roll or shudder, but on the whole this was a delight to read. Alender has a sense of timing and comedy that I found charming.

For the most part I will say the novel was predictable. I had a hunch how it would turn out very early on, but with Alender’s writing style I was never 100% certain. So I still managed to stay engaged and get really sucked into the story.

Willa was a great protagonist. We didn’t get clues intentionally left out of the narrative to red-herring the reader. We uncover facts as she does. We get great character development. Though there is a little element of ‘out there’ to the plot, it felt grounded in plausibility, and I really liked the paranormal twist on the murder mystery. Willa does not feel like a waif or wallflower, nor does she feel like some high achieving super sleuth. Just a regular teen overcoming tragedy and attempting to fit into a new life moving to the Hollywood Hills with her mother and new stepfather.

There was great character building, all the cast had distinct personalities and it was easy to pick their voice from a crowd – it made reading ‘Famous Last Words’ effortless. The pacing did not lull once from the start of this first person narrative told through Willa’s eyes. I devoured this novel in two quick sittings.

Famous Last Words Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

Once again it was great to see parental involvement in a YA mystery, though not as much as I would have liked. But on a side note the number of times Willa is asked if she was okay in the first half of this novel was a bit ridiculous. I may have been grinding my teeth after the third or fourth time.

We have two possible love interests: Wyatt an OCD loner nerd who was catnip to this reader gal; and Reed with a too-cute-to-be-good kind of vibe. The instant nature Willa and Reed’s attraction set off alarm bells to me. Duh-duh-duuuhhh!

And then we have Marnie, the friend who happens to be a compulsive liar and attention seeker, but with a streak of genuine-ness to her. For some reason this felt very Hollywood.

I enjoyed my time reading ‘Famous Last Words’ and would happily recommend this to younger readers whom love mystery and paranormal – older readers may not get as much out of it…

Overall feeling: A satisfyingly spooky mystery

Famous Last Words Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Famous Last Words 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.

Book Review – ‘Faerie Storm’ (#8 Harbinger P.I.) by Adam Wright

A guilty pleasure that’s getting me back into fantasy.

Faerie Storm (#8 Harbinger P.I.) Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Fantasy, Mystery

No. of pages: 268

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Be careful what you wish for…it might be inhabited by a demon.

When a case takes me to the wilderness of Northern Maine, I’m not even sure there’s a paranormal angle. Two girls walked into the woods one night and only one of them came back. She’s so traumatized by what she saw that she hasn’t spoken a word since.

The police come up empty-handed so the girl’s father hires me to find out what happened. Getting out of Dearmont for a while seems like a good idea—especially when there’s an ancient wizard trying to force me into using a cursed sword—so I pack the mosquito repellent and head north.

But when my client ends up dead, surrounded by occult symbols, I realize this is no vacation. Evil forces are at work here and someone is going to have to deal with them.

Guess that someone will have to be me.

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Another fun entertaining read from Adam Wright.

Faerie Storm’ follows another murder mystery and brings in a lot of characters both new and established in this series. We get a lot of world building, setting up to expand the Harbinger universe even wider (as Wright has a spin off franchise already slated with two novels for release in the Harbinger Academy series.)

This novel has really upped the ante, the stakes are higher, there is much more action, more intricate plot and plot points – Wright is really playing to his strengths in ‘Faerie Storm.’ It is the most engaged I’ve been in any of his novels so far. I am excited to see where his career goes if this level of development continues with each subsequent publication.

We don’t see a lot of growth or development with our protagonist, but he does overcome great obstacles and is changed because of it – the reason there isn’t a great character arc is because this is a serialised story. So we’re following different rules with this series. And what we get is fun escapist fiction that is action-orientated and a super-fast read. I managed to digest this tome in a matter of hours.

Faerie Storm (#8 Harbinger P.I.) Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

There are still some grammatical errors – nothing a spell check would pick up, but a line editor should have. And the formatting of the physical book was off where the printed page is skewed too far to the right. I’ve seen these issues pop up in every other of Wrights novels so far, and I’m guessing it’s down to rushing through the writing/editing/publishing process and using a self-publishing platform. But those kinds of issues are slowly eliminated with experience. I am seeing a lot less mistakes, but yet to have a ‘perfect’ copy.

I’ve mentioned before that this series is a guilty pleasure read for me – it’s the kind of fantasy I can get into. High fantasy tomes are sometimes a bit too heavy and I get bored with excessive world building and long character backstories (or constant diversions into language, customs, etc.) Stick to the mythology and character development and a great plot. I like my read to have a clip of pacing.

There are a number of things set up for over-arcing storylines in the volumes in this franchise to come that sound exciting. I was a bit bummed we didn’t get a better resolution to the Cabal – that storyline is dragging a bit; but having said that it is the most excited for a sequel I’ve been since discovering Alec Harbinger P.I.  I’m really looking forward to ‘Night Hunt’ releasing in March 2020.

Adam Wrights writing style is improving. I’m seeing less repetition in common phrasing, less of the chauvinistic attitudes of our protagonist, less of the convenience and coincidence of the secondary cast (it’s still there, but less obvious) I’d still like to see some character development of all the cast, feel a stronger emotional connection, because if any of them were killed off at the moment (apart from Felicity) I’d be like, meh. And there was a bit of a rush at the end in setting the scene that felt disingenuous for the characters and setting. A small developmental editing tweak could have made it so much punchier. But I have to say this is best and by far the most engaging read in the series so far.

This one gets the MVP trophy!

Overall feeling: I want more, gimme more.

Faerie Storm (#8 Harbinger P.I.) Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Faerie Storm (#8 Harbinger P.I.) 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.

The Rook – Picture vs Page

The Rook Film vs Novel Pic 01 by Casey Carlisle

This story had everything that I loved. The paranormal, a mystery, a strong female lead, a dry comic wit, interesting characters, a supernatural secret service, and plenty of weirdness.

A warning though: be here some spoilers as this is a comparison between the book and the television series.

The biggest draw-back with the novel was its propensity to excessive info-dumping. In the form of diary entries, letters, re-tellings… and they went on for pages. You would get some sort of background information, flashback, or journal entry every 5 pages or so. It really bogged down the pacing of ‘The Rook,’ and frankly, had me losing interest many, many times. The subject matter was interesting and slightly relevant to the plot, but altogether longwinded and far too common in the narrative. I feel like this novel could have been 150pages shorter and been one heck of a read. The television series handled this a lot better; instead of lengthy letter reading, we get succinct video files. A more omnipresent form of narration meant we got to see things unravel for ourselves. This story is built better for television.

Consequently I had started this novel twice and abandoning it before getting 50 pages in because it was, well … scattered. At my third attempt, I pushed through as many pages as I could before I was again bombarded with all-too-many info-dumps. It wasn’t until I got just passed the halfway point (pg 260 or thereabouts) that I felt like the plot had a direction and a driving force for protagonist Myfanwy pulling the story into focus. I was hooked on the television series right away however. It is more in the tone of a spy thriller though… and to that end a lot of the paranormal happenings, and the outlandish comedy of some of these things from the novel were ignored by the small screen version to keep a more serious tone. A bummer really – I loved the concluding scenes of the novel, and there is nothing like that in the tv show.

I have a bit of a thing with amnesia as a storytelling device. It’s an overused trope and can either be executed poorly, or brilliantly. Thankfully ‘The Rook’ falls into the latter category. This wasn’t an ‘I bumped my head and my memories are slowly coming back’ type plot, but a part of a paranormal mystery. In the novel Myfanwy never gets her memories back, but the television show had her gaining back her memory in short snippets which I felt was a massive disservice to the story (and the abilities of paranormals)… but I guess it works better for a visual presentation. But Emma Greenwell’s portrayal of Myfanwy Thomas is definitely a highlight of the series. I was also bummed out at the special effects and how she uses her powers – like she was having a seizure – and the blackened fingers. I felt this was an unnecessary addition to add drama. I liked the fact her abilities were more covert like it was represented in the novel.

The Rook Season 1 2019

Daniel O’Malley has a quaint writing style with a dry sense of humour. He has a gorgeous way of painting a picture for character descriptions, and I thoroughly enjoyed – and got lost – in the narrative. Again, my only gripe is – edit! Edit lots! I’m uncertain if all the information we get in ‘The Rook’ was relevant to the storyline. Is all that superfluous information going to be resolved in the sequel ‘Stilletto,’ or was it just that Daniel was so immersed in the world of ‘The Rook’ that all the details felt like they were important? There are no pacing issues with the small screen version, but I was repeatedly wondering why they made the tweaks to the story they did. The show felt a little bland. The humour is gone. The tension of Myfanwy having nowhere to turn, not knowing who to trust was great in the novel – but in the show, felt a little all over the place.

Where American agent Monica Reed (played by Olivia Munn) was an ally in the novel, she has become more of an antagonist, or an alternate protagonist in the tv series, I was most unhappy of the treatment of the storyline involving Monica, Myfanwy, and Marcus Kevler. The whole thing had me going hrmmm…

The Rook Film vs Novel Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

The paranormal powers were so imaginative, scary, and hilarious in the novel. So many obtuse and unique abilities to rival the X-Men. There are a lot of characters in ‘The Rook’ too. Even with all the copious explanations and backstories, I didn’t start to identify all the cast separately until after the halfway point. It was much easier in the television series, but did not like the treatment and storyline of Conrad Grantchester (played by Adrian Lester.) It moved away from the ominous tone of the members of the Checquy, how Myfanwy has to face them… and the power struggle, political manoeuvrings that play into the novels epic conclusion. The tv show went in a different – and in my opinion, much watered down tangent.

The Rook Film vs Novel Pic 05 by Casey Carlisle

There are definitely great characters in this story and to delve even further into them would turn this post into a novel in itself, but notable appearance and interpreted by some great actors were also Gestalt (Jon Fletcher, Ronan Raferty, and Catherine Steadman) and Lady Farrier (Joely Richardson.) Also of note – I was extremely disappointed to see Gestalts pregnancy ignored in the tv show… I thought that was a great twist.

The Rook Film vs Novel Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

The main plot of the story in the novel is that Myfanwy is basically an impostor, impersonating her pre-amnesia self as the timid paranormal agent (or rook) and discover the identity of which of her workmates was responsible for the attack. An attack which was a failed murder attempt (we find out later in order to cover up a covert takeover of the Checquy.) It is all about deduction, investigation, and following instinct; not to mention dealing with all the strangeness of the paranormal around her. Working out who to trust. ‘The Rook’ is definitely up there as one of my favourite reads. While the television show followed the same vein, much of the fear of the Checquy (and their awesome abilities) was removed, or humanised. I guess it makes it more palatable to the general viewing public and keeps the tone of the show in a paranormal spy thriller (and omitted all of the wit and comedy from the novel.) I hoped it could have stayed truer to the source material.

In the novel the characters are all colourful and fully realised – how can they not be with all the narrative O’Malley dedicates to each. The storyline is intriguing and was the driving force in me picking up this title. At 482 pages long – and the formatting is at a maximum to fit a lot of words on each page without it looking crowded means this is a long book. Which brings me back to the pacing… ‘The Rook’ felt waaaay too long.

But when all is said and done, O’Malley has written a marvellous novel and I will definitely be continuing on with the series, and I hope a lot of the elements introduced in ‘The Rook’ will be addressed in the sequel ‘Stiletto.’ The tv show has yet to be cancelled or renewed as yet, and I will be interested to see in what direction the next season will go: will it swing back to the tone of the novel, or continue on its path of power struggle and political intrigue within a covert spy organisation?

I’d love to recommend this novel to all, but knowing the issues I had with the pacing, I don’t think everyone will have the patience to see it through to the end. But if you can handle a slower pace and love paranormal detective stories, then ‘The Rook’ has a lot to offer. Otherwise the small screen adaptation is a cracker of a show and one I’d happily recommend.

The Rook Film vs Novel Pic 07 by Casey Carlisle

In the meantime, stay tuned for my book review of ‘The Rook’s’ sequel ‘Stiletto’ in the months to come. Another Aussie born author I’m glad to add to my shelves.

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.