Picture vs Page – The Hating Game 

I’d seen ‘The Hating Game’ novel around the blog-o-sphere and in stores, but was never inclined to pick it up. I like contemporaries, but tend to read them as pallet cleansers, or books in-between heavier titles as a way to rest my brain. Nothing about the hype around ‘The Hating Game’ particularly reached out to me until I saw the movie trailer, and then went out and bought it immediately – maybe they book marketing team needed to tweak their campaign or re-write the blurb? The movie trailer came across as comedic and sarcastic – and I’m a big fan of Lucy Hale who portrays the story’s protagonist. Who doesn’t enjoy a good romcom every now and then?

I read the book before the film was released, it has a tone of being funny and deliciously spiteful. Though, the story comes off as tropey with unrealistic characters and plot. Some of the situations in the novel verge on abuse. And the protagonist, Lucy and her competitor/work mate/love interest Joshua come off like two thirteen year olds having inappropriate sexual activity. So, at a glance I wasn’t really sold on this tome. But if you don’t take it too seriously it can be some camp fun. But I like a little more substance to my reading. The film by comparison has characters and a storyline much more realistic and believable. The cast are much more charming and likeable, and all of the plot points introduced are resolved in the film, where the book leaves many hanging.

The writing style of Sally Thorne is light and easy to read, though there were too many repeated phrases. And I felt like I wanted more story – not just the romance. The book felt shallow and very predictable, I even guessed the plot twists very early on. To the point that I skimmed a lot near the end, especially with pages of intimate scenes that became a bit boring. Not especially titillating. I didn’t particularly like the Lucy or Joshua as depicted in the novel, and therefore was not really invested in their story.

Contrasting the issues I had with the book, the film is released as a Christmas movie (though the book is set at a non-disclosed time of the year, and place.) I enjoyed the backdrop of New York for the screen adaptation and many of the secondary cast of characters are much more interesting. I prefer the treatment of the film to the book… everyone is much less nasty. I think the actors chosen were able to realise much more into the characters.

The relationship between Lucy and Joshua (played by Austin Stowell) feels a lot more natural and loving with the on-screen interpretation, which I believe is its saving grace. Joshua is especially a more of a good guy, where in the book he comes off as a dick. The film also shows more of the faults of Lucy… she bumbles through life and is somewhat destructive and self-sabotaging, it’s not really addressed like this in the book.

On a side note, in comparing the book to the film, the colour of choice is green and not blue to match Lucy Hale’s eye colour when Joshua is trying to be flirty and express his feelings – you’ll understand once you have either read the book or viewed the movie.

The novel does a great job in building angst. And while heavily troped and stereotyped I did enjoy it. But it’s definitely the film for the win – the camp source material and ability to add more dimension to the characters gives it the edge.

© Casey Carlisle 2023. 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.


I can’t tell you how many one-liners had me hollering with joy while reading ‘Blitz‘ It reminds me of all those colloquial sayings growing up. Can you think of any that deserve a shout out?

Book Review – ‘Dreams of Gods and Monsters’ (#3 Daughter of Smoke and Bone) by Laini Taylor

Dimensions, monsters, angels, forbidden love… and a drawn-out ending.

Genre: YA, Fantasy

No. of pages: 613

What power can bruise the sky?

Two worlds are poised on the brink of a vicious war. By way of a staggering deception, Karou has taken control of the chimaera’s rebellion and is intent on steering its course away from dead-end vengeance. The future rests on her.

When the brutal angel emperor brings his army to the human world, Karou and Akiva are finally reunited—not in love, but in a tentative alliance against their common enemy. It is a twisted version of their long-ago dream, and they begin to hope that it might forge a way forward for their people. And, perhaps, for themselves.

But with even bigger threats on the horizon, are Karou and Akiva strong enough to stand among the gods and monsters?

The epic conclusion to the Daughter of Smoke an Bone alludes to an epic battle between supernatural races that will spell out the future existence of mankind. I was so excited to see where Laini Taylor was going to take us and what fate lies for star-crossed lovers Karou and Akiva.

This is over 600 pages felt looong! I really think ‘Dreams of Gods and Monsters’ could have achieved the same thing at half its length. I want to say there was a heavy undercurrent of lamenting that didn’t sit well with me as a reader. I’m trying to pull positives out – I loved the chimera and their personalities; I love Suzanna and Mik with their quirky humour. But Akiva felt a bit two dimensional – I wanted more to his story than love and war. The concept of this trilogy is really interesting, the mythology feels unique but it didn’t envelop me like I was expecting. There was a kind-of twist at the end, but it did not surprise me… I was already forming those ideas in my head from the first novel, so I didn’t get any surprises, no world-shuddering climax… it just ended long-winded and underwhelming.

This series has shifted from being a character driven story in first person in the debut, to a plot driven story in the sequels… and has removed me father and father away from the story. I repeatedly kept putting down books 2 and 3 due to disinterest. I really wanted to love this series, but I’m afraid it all went downhill for me after the first book in the series. There felt like there was a lot going on – so many new characters and plot elements introduced in this concluding novel that it was all over the place. From what started as such an intimate and treasured story, it turned into a discombobulated mess. But that is just my preference, I always find my interest wanning on plot driven tales. I need to make an emotional connection to the characters and stay with them a while to really enjoy a read. If the story is jumping from character to character, place to place, and continually introducing new aspects to the story when it’s meant to be wrapping things up… well to bogs down the pacing considerably and makes me care less about the characters. It breaks an already established writing style, and all the hard work the author has put in is undone.

I had a hard time actually working out Karou’s arc for this conclusion – There wasn’t much growth for her character – it seemed to have already reached its precipice. This book was all about acceptance – letting her feel like she was allowed to take what she wanted. And because that’s what we’ve been working towards for a long time it didn’t feel as cathartic as it should’ve been.

The writing is beautiful, Laini Taylor has a gorgeous way of phrasing things. However, I wanted a more epic conclusion to this trilogy… it felt a little underwhelming and after the culminating event the story continued for a few chapters to wrap everything up – which I usually appreciate, but this just felt waffly. I’ve lost my love for this franchise – the concept is great but I quickly became bored and not a trilogy I’m particularly inclined to recommend. This first book is great, but after that…

Overall feeling: it all fell away into dust.

© Casey Carlisle 2023. 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 – ‘These Broken Stars’ (#1 Starbound) by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner

A sci-fi adventure heavy on the romance…

Genre: Y/A, Science Fiction, Romance

No. of pages: 324

It’s a night like any other on board the Icarus. Then, catastrophe strikes: the massive luxury spaceliner is yanked out of hyperspace and plummets into the nearest planet. Lilac LaRoux and Tarver Merendsen survive. And they seem to be alone.

Lilac is the daughter of the richest man in the universe. Tarver comes from nothing, a young war hero who learned long ago that girls like Lilac are more trouble than they’re worth. But with only each other to rely on, Lilac and Tarver must work together, making a tortuous journey across the eerie, deserted terrain to seek help.

Then, against all odds, Lilac and Tarver find a strange blessing in the tragedy that has thrown them into each other’s arms. Without the hope of a future together in their own world, they begin to wonder—would they be better off staying here forever?

Everything changes when they uncover the truth behind the chilling whispers that haunt their every step. Lilac and Tarver may find a way off this planet. But they won’t be the same people who landed on it.

I love my sci-fi, and given the success Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner have had in other series, I was really excited to see what the Starbound Trilogy would deliver.

I do like a bit of military sci-fi, lots of action, high stakes, and explosions… and ‘These Broken Stars’ certainly delivered on that. Though his is more of a romance story than hard sci-fi. I enjoyed the change in pace, the questions and themes it explores, but I wasn’t completely sold on the story as a whole. I was satisfied, but not blown away upon completing the first book of this trilogy.

Though it doesn’t end on a cliff-hanger, ‘These Broken Stars’ does pose a lot of unanswered questions to continue sleuthing out in the remainder of the series. There is great character development from our two love-struck protagonists, with the narrative following dual perspectives in alternating chapters between Tarver and Lilac.

The mythology and class system seems to be the main obstacle between Lilac and Tarver. Lilac being an aristocrat, her father owning a large conglomerate of companies dominating the galaxy… but the possessiveness and adamancy of her not socialising with others was a little difficult to swallow without proper motivation. Isolating her character without provocation did not feel necessary or realistic. I was waiting for a twist reveal at the end which would justify her father’s behaviour, but just being painted as a baddie left me wanting more. So too was her stubbornness – I can understand some of it, but the extreme lengths she exhibited felt like overkill. Chants : *more diversity in character traits!*

Tarver was a more realistic character – out with something to prove. Compassionate, yet regimental. I found myself warming to his character very quickly. The Caste system made more sense with him coming from a poor sector and having to fight for his place in the military. The premise of Tarver and Lilac being media stars could have been executed better.

I really enjoyed the world building, pacing and character development. Kaufman and Spooner’s writing style is easy to read, direct, without too much embellishment to keep the story moving forward without losing the richness of the world and cast.

I will say this pair of authors managed to deliver a few surprises along the way which were a delight, but the plot could have been a little more intricate, but that is hard when most of the story only has two characters in it.

In December 2013 Eric Balfour and some others optioned this for a television series, but there has been no news since this announcement – it is in production limbo. I’m uncertain if it has been shelved, dropped, or put on hold. But I can see the potential of the Starbound trilogy as a tv series and think with the right treatment this story could be easily elevated for the small screen. I think the biggest hurdle in the current economic climate is that this series would have to rely heavily on special effects making it an expensive show to produce. I’ll keep my ear to the ground for any upadates.

A fun easy read, but not one that I would shout from the rooftops. I think the thing that drew me to the series other than name recognition of the authors was the gorgeous cover art of couples floating in space – I’m a sucker for that type of thing. This book is perfect for the young adult market not necessarily into hard science fiction.

Overall feeling: Caught my attention… mostly

© Casey Carlisle 2023. 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 – ‘Jay’s Gay Agenda’ by Jason June

An #ownvoices story that missed the mark.

Genre: Y/A, Contemporary, Romance, LGBT+

No. of pages: 368

There’s one thing Jay Collier knows for sure—he’s a statistical anomaly as the only out gay kid in his small rural Washington town. While all this friends can’t stop talking about their heterosexual hookups and relationships, Jay can only dream of his own firsts, compiling a romance to-do list of all the things he hopes to one day experience—his Gay Agenda.

Then, against all odds, Jay’s family moves to Seattle and he starts his senior year at a new high school with a thriving LGBTQIA+ community. For the first time ever, Jay feels like he’s found where he truly belongs, where he can flirt with Very Sexy Boys and search for love. But as Jay begins crossing items off his list, he’ll soon be torn between his heart and his hormones, his old friends and his new ones…because after all, life and love don’t always go according to plan.

This is cute and adorable, I liked the frank representation of sex and some of the spectrum of the LGBTQIA+ community. But for an #ownvoices author to write a story about a gay character where his entire story was about being gay in a sea of community members screaming that gay characters are more than the sexuality, that there is nuance, other motivations… and it was addressed in this novel, but it just left me with a big, disappointed sigh. If you removed all the talk about sex, or the actual chapters of sexual activity, this novel would be lucky to be 50 pages long. It just felt like it took up too much of the plot and left me somewhat bored.

Our protagonist Jay has a decent character arc, but from thinking him cute in the first few chapters to completely disliking him by the end of the novel is some achievement. I question a lot of Jay’s actions and decisions… and to be frank, there are some issues about sexual responsibility, trust, and honesty that are glazed over for the sake of making this a light fluffy romance.

I felt like we could have gotten more development on all of the characters – I don’t feel like I really got to know them properly.

This story was very predictable, and for me, not in a good way. I would have preferred a different ending.

Jason June’s writing style is pleasant and I really enjoyed their flow and humour… I just felt like the story needed a bit more dimension, some subtext, and not such a prominent role of sex in the storyline – it removed some realism for me.

Also it felt like the author wrote themselves into the story in the form of Max, and once I saw it, I couldn’t shake it. I don’t know if I appreciated the representation, or found it cheesy.

I have noticed that Jason June has put up that a sequel in coming on Goodreads. I’m not sure how eager I am to continue with this series – we’ll have to see what kind of story they intend to tell. If it is more of a redemption arc for Jay, I may give this author a second try.

Jay’s Gay Agenda‘ was cute. Don’t necessarily agree with some of the messages it was sending. I don’t think I would recommend this one.

Overall feeling: What a let down.

© Casey Carlisle 2023. 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 – ‘Undying’ (#2 Unearthed) by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner

Uncovering alien secrets to save the human race!

Genre: YA, Science Fiction

No. of pages: 308

When Earth intercepts a message from a long-extinct alien race, it seems like the solution the planet has been waiting for. The Undying’s advanced technology has the potential to undo environmental damage and turn lives around, and Gaia, their former home planet, is a treasure trove waiting to be uncovered.

For Jules Addison and his fellow scholars, the discovery of an alien culture offers unprecedented opportunity for study … as long as scavengers like Amelia Radcliffe don’t loot everything first.

Mia and Jules’ different reasons for smuggling themselves onto Gaia put them immediately at odds, but after escaping a dangerous confrontation with other scavvers, they form a fragile alliance. In order to penetrate the Undying temple and reach the tech and information hidden within, the two must decode the ancient race’s secrets and survive their traps. But the more they learn about the Undying, the more their presence in the temple seems to be part of a grand design that could spell the end of the human race …

A family-friendly sci-fi adventure where teens have to sleuth out puzzles and booby traps to save the planet with alien technology… this has everything I want in a novel.

I think the biggest thing for me is that I guessed the series plot twist in the first two chapters of the debut novel… so ‘Undying’ didn’t feel so ground breaking for me.

When Mia and Jules aren’t under the pressure of a countdown, or the threat of death, I found their characters to be a little plain. And I mentioned in the first novel of this series that the pacing felt a little slow because there are so many little unnecessary scenes bogging up the road. This happened even ore in ‘Undying,’ I found myself putting the book down frequently because I was frustrated with the narrative. Sometimes you just want the characters to get on with things if you know what I mean. I don’t need to hear about their lamenting, or remembering things from the past that have little bearing on the plot, or their repeated thoughts of what is really going on. Maybe this wouldn’t have been such an issue for me if I hadn’t worked out the duologies plot so early on. It kind of left me with no surprises, other than some of the characters actions.

I enjoyed the concept of the technology, but still found parts of this story (overall) to be on shaky ground. It was a little implausible in my opinion. Even the characters in ‘Undying’ say so. It does feel a bit silly or unnecessary.

I did have a fun time reading – the adventure side of this series is amazing. Kaufman and Spooner can really craft tension and pacing in the action scenes – it was all the other stuff that was a bit of a dog’s breakfast.

This is more for the younger end of the YA demographic. Like a science fiction version of the ‘Goonies.’

Overall feeling: it’s okay.

© Casey Carlisle 2023. 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 – ‘Days of Blood and Starlight’ (#2 Daughter of Smoke and Bone) by Laini Taylor

Uncovering Karou’s past with an angel may just bring about a war with monsters.

Genre: YA, Fantasy

No. of pages: 510

Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love and dared to imagine a world free of bloodshed and war.

This is not that world.

Art student and monster’s apprentice Karou finally has the answers she has always sought. She knows who she is—and what she is. But with this knowledge comes another truth she would give anything to undo: She loved the enemy and he betrayed her, and a world suffered for it.

In this stunning sequel to the highly acclaimed Daughter of Smoke & Bone, Karou must decide how far she’ll go to avenge her people. Filled with heartbreak and beauty, secrets and impossible choices, Days of Blood & Starlight finds Karou and Akiva on opposing sides as an age-old war stirs back to life.

While Karou and her allies build a monstrous army in a land of dust and starlight, Akiva wages a different sort of battle: a battle for redemption. For hope.

But can any hope be salvaged from the ashes of their broken dream?

After falling in love with this franchise I’m excited to jump back into the dark academic world of Karou and her art college and cafe. Uncover more of the mythology of Angels and Chimera. And follow more of the forbidden love between Karou and Akiva… oh and see if she and stop a supernatural war.

I really hate admitting this, especially after loving ‘Daughter of Smoke and Bone’ so much, but ‘Days of Blood and Starlight,’ for the most part, was, well… boring. The pacing was slow, there was so much tedious content that didn’t drive the plot forward. I could summarize the entire book in a few pages and you wouldn’t feel like you missed anything. Granted the ending was pretty epic – a nice few plot twists; but the entire book leading up to those last few chapters was soul-suckingly dry. In fact I put this book aside a number of times to read other novels.

Where ‘Daughter of Smoke and Bone’ was told in first person from the perspective of Karou, we get multiple perspectives, and moments of omnipresence departing from the intimacy of the first person narrative in ‘Days of Blood and Starlight.’ It was fun at first, but then it became more and more scattered. Jumping backward and forward in moments in time solely for plot devices and reveals. I got a little discombobulated. Disorientated. It completely pulled me from the narrative and it was very hard to get lost in the world of Angels and Chimera in very short chapters jumping all over the place – not to mention that not a lot happened. Some posturing from the White Wolf and Karou whining about events that ‘Daughter of Smoke and Bone’ ended on… now she was basically in a holding pattern.

I felt like Karou had lost her mojo. She was being manoeuvred. Controlled. All of her independence, adventurous spirit, inquisitiveness was gone. It didn’t make for thrilling reading. All the things I loved about ‘Daughter of Smoke and Bone:’ the first person POV, the urban fantasy genre, the dynamics of Karou’s found family, and unravelling a mystery – this sequel delivered a scattered narrative geared more towards high fantasy, a bunch of new characters that did not interact with each other much, and those that did, was precursory. The one shining light was Zuzanna popping back into Karou’s life. And that was pretty much it. Karou and Akiva’s relationship felt like some whingy complicated thing that tried to be angsty. I lost all investment I had for them.

I wanted to fall in love with this book so badly, but it just didn’t happen. I perused over some reviews on Goodreads, just to check that I wasn’t having a brain embolism, and was gratified to find that there are others who share my opinion, so now I don’t feel so bad about my dislike for this middle book.

I’ve invested a lot of time in this series already, and with only the final book to go, ‘Dreams of Gods and Monsters,’ and that cliff-hanger – so I’ll definitely continue going on with the franchise. But I think I will have to reserve judgment on my recommendation until the completing the last of the trilogy, because the first two books are practically polar opposites. The conclusion will be the tie breaker….

Overall feeling: save me please.

© Casey Carlisle 2023. 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.