Book Review – ‘The Ice Twins’ by S.K. Tremayne

Slow-burn twisty thriller on a haunted island.

Genre: Mystery, Thriller

No. of pages: 373

After one of their  identical twin daughters, Lydia, dies in an accident, Angus and Sarah Moorcroft move to a remote Scottish island, hoping to mend their shattered lives. But when their surviving child, Kirstie, claims they have mistaken her identity – that she, in fact, is Lydia – their world comes crashing back down.

They know one of their daughters died. But can they be sure which one?

This was a spooky psychological thriller with a brilliant setting and unreliable narrators to keep you guessing.

The Ice Twins’ and I did not gel. I liked the unfolding mystery, but it took a long time to get interesting. I put this novel down multiple times due to boredom and read five other books intermittently before returning; it was only after reaching the halfway mark when the story finally got interesting.

The story is told in multiple perspectives – and when it was necessary to reveal plot points, it did so in an abrupt manner. No build up. Just – here is a twist you won’t see coming. There was no context, no grounding in the story. It didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. Like the author was intentionally throwing in the wildest thing they could think of to shock and awe the reader. I would have appreciated this mastery if there had been some clue or precedence in the narrative… there was the teeny-tiniest hint, but not enough to give it any substance and make the reveal knock me for six.

There was so much secret holding and distrust within the family that it all left a bad taste in my mouth and prevented me from really getting into the story. What young family exists in this manner? It felt so unrealistic. It had a tough of a gothic thriller: over dramatized and spooky atmosphere.

Sarah dominates with her perspective throughout ‘The Ice Twins.’ While it is clear she loves her family and is trying to make things work after the loss of one of her twin girls in a tragic accident; slowly my unease with her grew. She was wishy-washy, impulsive, and at times unstable. There was a lot of naffing about that you simply don’t do when caring for the well-being of a child navigating grief. It’s like the Mamma Bear in me reared up and rejected half of the narrative of this book. So I did not connect with Sarah’s story, or any other characters for that matter, and consequently did not get immersed into the story of ‘The Ice Twins.’

Sarah’s husband, Angus felt distant the entire story. It was like his actions and motivations were in conflict. I felt he was pretty much useless apart from the sporadic plot reveals his narrative provided. And even then I was shocked at his inaction to take care of his family.

The twins, Kirstie and Lydia – such a tragic story. Their experience is the only thing that my heart went out to. They were neglected on so many levels before and after one of them reaches their demise. I liked the touch of the supernatural of this story (if you want to interpret it that way, others may see it in a more practical sense) but the beginnings of this storyline took far too long to set up.

This is my first foray into S.K. Tremayne, and I hate to say, but their writing style just did not do it for me. It felt dry, emotionless, and the characters not developed enough early on. But for building ambience and world building, their skills really shine. I think maybe a lack of empathy is what I’m sensing in S.K. Tremayne’s writing style. It was rich and colourful, but lacked an emotional connection. It didn’t help that any of the characters in the story were not relatable.

I don’t think I’m going to recommend this one. I’ve read so many other thrillers that I enjoyed much more; and, consequently, will not be going out of my way to purchase any more of Tremayne’s titles. It’s mainly the writing style that did it for me. But I can see how some readers will love ‘The Ice Twins’ or any other title from Tremayne’s catalogue.

Overall feeling: Just like soggy chicken

© Casey Carlisle 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Book Review – ‘Clockwork Angel’ (#1 The Infernal Devices) by Cassandra Clare

Getting back into the Shadowhunter universe.

Genre: YA, Historical Fiction, Fantasy

No. of pages: 479

The year is 1878. Tessa Gray descends into London’s dark supernatural underworld in search of her missing brother. She soon discovers that her only allies are the demon-slaying Shadowhunters—including Will and Jem, the mysterious boys she is attracted to. Soon they find themselves up against the Pandemonium Club, a secret organization of vampires, demons, warlocks, and humans. Equipped with a magical army of unstoppable clockwork creatures, the Club is out to rule the British Empire, and only Tessa and her allies can stop them…

This review comes from a re-read for me. I had read this initially about 7 years ago when it was first released but never wrote a review… and then abandoned the series when we moved states as the books were hidden away in moving boxes for an extended period of time. I think I initially had awarded it 5 stars. Now that I’m completing the series as a part of #BeatTheBacklist, I needed to re-read ‘Clockwork Angel’ to refresh and catch up to where I last left The Infernal Devices collection.

Clockwork Angel’ is a steampunk historical fantasy in the Shadowhunters universe, set as a sequel to the Mortal Instruments. I found this an easily engrossed read. I slipped into the past seamlessly and powered through this novel despite its 480 page length. It reminded me of all the things I enjoyed about The Mortal Instruments series all those years ago. I’m definitely excited to catch up on all the published novels in the Shadowhunter universe.

We follow Tessa Gray after her Aunt passes away and she is sent a ticket to travel to London to live with her last living relative, her brother Nathaniel. Upon arriving in England, she is secreted away by the Dark Sisters and forced into strange rituals that bring out her latent shape changing abilities Tessa did not know she had.

We meet Shadowhunters Will and Jem (James) who rescue Tessa from the Dark Sisters when they are investigating a murder involving Downworlders. From there Tessa is slowly introduced to all the elements of the Downworld and Shadowhunter alike, discovering that she is a part of this world too.

Tessa starts as a typical society lady, but soon notices that her deportment means little in the new magical world she has found herself in, and after having no-one to rely on but herself and her intuition, she has to find the strength to stand up for herself and carve her own path. I found Tessa endearing, if a little waifish at times – but that is a result of the society of the times, not of her character. And we see Tessa shed the older version of herself and become a strong and intelligent entity in her own right.

Will is a rakish teen, who’s good-looking and knows it. He’s rude and appears as being self-absorbed. I’m not a fan of intentionally rude love interests, so I’m not all that taken with Will. But we have only scratched the surface and I’m sure a tragic and involved backstory is going to be revealed in the next two sequels.

As too with Jem, a POC infected with demon poison which is slowly killing him. He’s all sorts of gentile, caring, and empathetic and I love the way both he and Tessa interact. Again, there is a backstory we’ve yet to uncover, which has me keen to jump into the sequel ‘Clockwork Prince’ as soon as possible.

We meet an early version of sorcerer Magnus Bane, and ancestors of the main characters from The Mortal Instruments. It had all the elements of magic that I loved about from the debut series, though I have to admit, I was hoping for more of this… and more action. But it’s just the introductory novel in this trilogy, so I’m confident that I’ll get my fix in the sequels.

Cassandra Clare’s writing style is eloquent and she painted the cold, damp, and drab atmosphere with aplomb. I was easily transported to 1870’s London. The pacing is what I’ve come to expect from her writing, she drops clues to keep us enticed every few pages, and does not neglect character development. If I was being really picky, I would say this was the tiniest bit waffly, but because I enjoy this universe so much, it did not bother me much.

I can’t say anything about the plot, because I had read this before, so there were no surprises… but I think on the initial reading the ending really got me. There’s a few twists and red herrings that make this an enjoyable read.

Happily recommend ‘Clockwork Angel’ to lovers of historical fiction, steampunk, fantasy, magic, and fans of the Shadowhunter universe.

Overall feeling: Felt like coming home after a long day.

© Casey Carlisle 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Book Review – ‘Salvation’ (#3 Sanctuary) by Caryn Lix

Another twist in the saga as a bunch of powered teens battle hungry aliens…

Genre: YA, Science Fiction

No. of pages: 432

Fall down seven times, get up eight.

These are the words Kenzie has always lived by. The problem is, she’s fallen down too many times to count.

Kenzie and her friends have already escaped two vicious alien attacks—not to mention the corporate bounty hunters sent to capture them. They’re haunted by the friends they’ve lost and the hard choices they’ve had to make in this war they never asked for.

And now, thanks to superpowers she received from the very aliens she’s fighting, Kenzie has stranded everyone on a strange planet with no way off. She just wanted a safe place from the monstrous creatures terrorizing her world, but this new planet has dangers of its own, and Kenzie will have to uncover its secrets if she has any hope of ever making it home again.

Sacrifice is nothing new for Kenzie. She’ll do anything—anything—to destroy the aliens that killed both of her parents. But how can Kenzie save Earth if she can’t even save the people she loves?

Salvation’ is a wonderful and unexpected twist on the Sanctuary trilogy. This concluding novel really captured my imagination but managed to stay grounded in reality as protagonists have to face consequences of their actions.

We see more loss in ‘Salvation’ and I’m on the fence over how this is dealt with… but I guess for a YA novel, and needing to move the plot forward, the author did justice for the characters and story, despite the gruelling situations.

I don’t feel like we got much more character development in ‘Salvation’ – the characters have already been put through the ringer. Here, it is more about strengthening their resolve in the face of desperation and insurmountable odds.

I also feel, for the first time, the aliens were finally grounded in the narrative, their backstory is revealed and no longer felt like a two-dimensional, single-minded antagonist.

There is still a juvenile tone to the narrative – as that is the target market for this novel, but I would have liked a more mature and calculated tone to elevate the story and characters. I don’t think it would have isolated the target market, making them feel like intelligent readers.

The pacing is fairly steady and really ramps up in the last quarter of the novel, and had me eagerly flipping through the pages. Though in having said that, I did feel there was a long build up to the conclusion. This is only because we had to go through a whole lot of world building of yet another new environment we find our protagonists in. But it was a fun mystery to unravel… I certainly did not guess it.

In the beginning novels we see a lot of squabbling between the protagonists, but in ‘Salvation’ it is less so because they are a lone group of survivors, reliant on each other to get out of their situation alive. And while Lix does a great job at keeping the clashing personalities strong in the narrative, I felt a need for the characters to have different motivations to create tension, rather than grating personalities. But Lix has done a stellar job in crafting distinct characters that you love to hate, and love to love.

It was a great conclusion to the series, but I was left wanting a little more of resonance on that final paragraph to get a hint at the protagonists’ future… just a minor tweak to really fuel my imagination.

Certainly a great number of surprises and reveals that delighted me. I think it was more tone that stopped me from truly being immersed in the narrative.

Salvation’ has definitely returned to the standard and promise of ‘Sanctuary,’ where ‘Containment’ suffered a little of that middle-book-syndrome. However, a strong finish.

Overall feeling: Surprising sci-fi!

© Casey Carlisle 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Book Review – ‘Nil on Fire’ (#3 Nil) by Lynne Matson

An all-stakes battle with teens pitted against a sentient island in a pocket universe.

Genre: Y/A, Science Fiction, Adventure

No. of pages: 416

Despite Rives and Skye’s attempt to destroy Nil, the island remains. And back in this world, Nil won’t let Skye go. Haunted by a darkness she can’t ignore, Skye wrestles with Nil nightmares that worsen by the day and threaten to tear her apart. As Skye fights to keep her mind intact, she realizes that to finally break free of Nil, she must end Nil’s vicious cycle once and for all—and she can’t do it alone.

Who are Nil’s new arrivals? Who will return to the island? And who will survive in the end? In this final installment of the Nil series, the stakes have never been higher.

Losing isn’t an option, but winning will cost Skye everything.

I have so many feelings about this fantastic concept – sentient portals abducting teens and depositing them in an alternate pocket universe to survive Island-style, and try and find a way home again before their time runs out.

I appreciated the narrative around colonisation and erasure of aboriginal culture underlying ‘Nil on Fire,’ but I still don’t think it was handled as delicately as it could have been, but the representation and exploration of the Polynesian culture was a big plus for me. So too was the diversity – many cultures and languages represented in the characters, yet still no getting a chance to lead the narrative.

Unfortunately there were drawbacks in this concluding novel of the Nil trilogy. This felt long, facts kept getting repeated and I did not like the direction the last instalment in this series took us. I struggled a bit with the narrative, losing interest many times, the characters started to feel more two-dimensional despite the hell they were being put through. The deaths were shrugged off a little at the end. It was just disappointing for me.

There are multiple perspectives in ‘Nil on Fire’ we follow Skye, Rives, and a schizophrenic omnipresence of Nil (the island) and the story picks up pretty much right after the events ending in the second book in the series ‘Nil Unlocked.’ I did like how we got all the characters from the first two novels in this final book of the trilogy, facing off against the island itself, and the mythology behind its creation. This concluding novel does offer explanation and wrap up the series well, but it was the mythology that did not sit well with me. It was a little too fantastical. Nil is a great series and the premise had me hooked… I would have loved this to stick to a more science fiction route than it had – given the alien consciousness presence and the alternate pocket universe. The precedence had been set. Otherwise maybe the series should have taken the more mystical route and leave the mythology grounded in the Polynesian culture. The philosophy of the Nil series felt like a jumbled mish-mash of both elements and lacked conviction.

As we are dealing with established characters, who have already run the gauntlet, there is limited space for them to develop further. In that sense we get the main cast helping secondary characters grow from their own experience. I guess that is another factor that separated from the narrative. I kept getting bored with too much detail, repetition, and short chapters jumping from perspective to perspective. The narrative didn’t sit long enough with a character for me to really get sucked into the Nil universe, or form strong emotional connections with the cast. ‘Nil on Fire’ is banking on the reader already having forged those bonds in the first two novels to carry you through this finale.

Lynne Matson has a great writing style for setting the scene and world building, I loved her descriptions of the island and its mysterious sway on the teens. She is also great at character development from the previous novels. I’d like to read something from her told in first person with no switches in perspective and see how that affects my reading experience.

So this was a mixed bag of feelings for me. I loved getting to meet all the characters again, and have the mystery solved… I just didn’t like the direction it took.

Overall feeling: *nose-dive*

© Casey Carlisle 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Book Review – ‘Bookish and the Beast’ (#3 Once Upon a Con) by Ashley Poston

Another hilarious addition to the CONtemprary twists of fairy tales.

Genre: YA, Contemporary, Romance, LGBT

No. of pages: 320

Rosie Thorne is feeling stuck—on her college application essays, in her small town, and on that mysterious General Sond cosplayer she met at ExcelsiCon. Most of all, she’s stuck in her grief over her mother’s death. Her only solace was her late mother’s library of rare Starfield novels, but even that disappeared when they sold it to pay off hospital bills.

On the other hand, Vance Reigns has been Hollywood royalty for as long as he can remember—with all the privilege and scrutiny that entails. When a tabloid scandal catches up to him, he’s forced to hide out somewhere the paparazzi would never expect to find him: Small Town USA. At least there’s a library in the house. Too bad he doesn’t read.

When Rosie and Vance’s paths collide and a rare book is accidentally destroyed, Rosie finds herself working to repay the debt. And while most Starfield superfans would jump at the chance to work in close proximity to the Vance Reigns, Rosie has discovered something about Vance: he’s a jerk, and she can’t stand him. The feeling is mutual.

But as Vance and Rosie begrudgingly get to know each other, their careful masks come off—and they may just find that there’s more risk in shutting each other out than in opening their hearts.

This was an adorably cute, saccharine sweet tale inspired by ‘Beauty and the Beast’ for the Once Upon a Con series. If you love to indulge in the fantasy, then this title will tickle you pink. Being based on a tale as old as time expect to read a lot of tropes, but tropes done in a fun campy sort of way. The narrative definitely lends to a quick read with chapters alternating in perspective between love interests/protagonists Rosie and Vance. I took a little longer to read ‘Bookish and the Beast’ to have a short break every now and then because of the cuteness overload. Especially if you’re not in that mindset…

Rosie is a small town geeky type dealing with grief after the loss of her mother. She and her mother shared a love of the Starfield extended universe – the films, the television show, and the novels released under the franchise, and finds comfort amongst the collection her mother had amassed… but then they hit financial hardship and had to sell off all the collectibles to keep their head above water. So Rosie is clambering, feeling the loss, trying to shape an uncertain future after she graduates high school. I love how Rose is unapologetically a book nerd, and sci-fi geek, and have friends and family equally invested in these things. I really feel a modern twist on the wallflower trope. I loved her growth in learning how to feel deserving of things, and go out and grab them.

Vance in our bad boy. Aggressive attitude, rude, media fodder, and exiled to a small town mansion to decompress and let the string of bad press cool so he doesn’t destroy his acting career. He’s been burned by so-called friends many times when they cash in on his fame; he’s like a punching bag for social media. He’s sarcastic, sullen, and is always putting up a front. I seriously had a lot of eye-rolling in his chapters, but hey, it fit with the character and wasn’t without its comedic moments. In fact I laughed a surprising amount throughout ‘Bookish and the Beast.’ Vance has a great character arc in learning to let people in, be confident in himself instead of a persona he fronts in the public eye… and to stop punishing himself for his mistakes.

I love dogs, so the German Shepard Sansa was a great inclusion in the narrative and had me clucking at the pages every time he appeared.

I also like the topic of consent and how boys sometimes don’t really listen to girls, instead doing what they think girls want, and how this was approached through the character of Garrett.

We get a lot of pop culture references in ‘Bookish and the Beast’ that readers and Con enthusiasts alike will identify with. Though, this book does not indulge in the Con events like its predecessors.

As we are following a very over-represented tale in the media, it was so very easy to predict the story, but it was an entertaining modern twist. I loved Ashely Poston’s writing style, some of the phrases she uses are delightful and really stood out to me. My enjoyment for this series has definitely increased with reading ‘Bookish and the Beast.’ Though I would have liked a bit more complexity in this book to really push it over the edge.

Again we see some great representation of the LGBTQIA+ spectrum in a positive light that is a part of the characters – not their defining trait.

A pleasant ride through an old classic for anyone who loves retellings, cutesy contemporaries, and anything to do with nerd culture around conventions and reading. I’d recommend this, but make sure you read the two sequels as each book deals with other characters from the same universe and you may lose some context.

Overall feeling: hilarious contemporary tale!

© Casey Carlisle 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Book Review – ‘If We Were Us’ by K. L. Walther

Cute premise, but flat delivery.

Genre: YA, Contemporary, Romance, LGBT

No. of pages: 368

Everyone at the prestigious Bexley School believes that Sage Morgan and Charlie Carmichael are meant to be….that it’s just a matter of time until they realize that they are actually in love.

When Luke Morrissey shows up on the Bexley campus his presence immediately shakes things up. Charlie and Luke are drawn to each other the moment they meet, giving Sage the opportunity to steal away to spend time with Charlie’s twin brother, Nick.

But Charlie is afraid of what others will think if he accepts that he has much more than a friendship with Luke. And Sage fears that things with Nick are getting too serious too quickly. The duo will need to rely on each other and their lifelong friendship to figure things out with the boys they love.

I had a lot of hopes for ‘If We Were Us,’ the blurb sounded like this would be a cute contemporary with a touch of diversity, and the cover art matches some similar titles in this genre, but that comparison left me wanting a whole lot more from this story. The narrative felt discombobulated. A lot of info dumping. And the fist chapters introduces a lot of characters on the way side. I felt like I was scrambling to catch up and make sense of what was happening in those opening scenes. The tone did not grab me… felt like smarmy teen characters without any likeable traits. ‘If We Were Us’ was really difficult to get into.  The story is told in alternating perspectives between the ‘it’ couple Charlie and Sage. But there was something about the way closeted Charlie was written did not feel genuine – I feel like an #ownvoices author would have done him a lot more justice. 

The pacing was really slow. So much info dumping. A lot of telling and not showing. The narrative felt flat – like a bunch of descriptions of college students going about their menial lives without any strong emotion behind it. It also did not feel like an authentic coming out. K.L. Walther missed so many nuances that on #ownvoices author would have given the story, or even an author who had done some proper research into real-life experiences of young adults coming out in college. On the plus side, there were some good scenes dealing with anxiety near the end, and the overall plot was cute – but it took way too long to get there, and the entire plot was handed to the reader in the first few chapters… no surprises were dealt along the way. This story would have greatly benefited from some sub-plots, a few unexpected twists, less descriptions of college life and more emotion driven scenes.

If We Were Us’ was okay, but not one I want to recommend to anyone. It felt like the author was trying too hard to look young, or appeal to a young audience and missed all the best things about that age – the uncertainty, angst, the adventure. And the college life was a little white-privileged experience to me.

Protagonist Charlie was stubborn and annoying, self-sabotaging. While interesting because of these conflicts, I found myself wanting some part of his personality and passion (outside of the relationship) to balance this character out. But unfortunately that’s all we got. So that, combined with the ‘telling’ of history and college, Charlie didn’t feel like he developed too much, his story felt flat despite his journey with anxiety and coming out.

Sage, though fiercely loyal, had little going for her other than pining for Nick. I grind my teeth thinking that female characters commonly come across as all about the love interest. I wanted more dimension form Sage. She felt like she was written as a much younger version of herself, like she was 13 or 14 years old.

This story was solely two dimensional about their relationships… there was no other complexity to the story or to the characters.

I also wanted to take out my red pen in parts because the editor had seriously let the author down with some amateur sentence structure. There was nothing particularly individual about K.L. Walther’s writing that made her stand out. This felt like I was reading one of my year 11 student’s English prose. I know this sounds harsh, but a decent editor/publisher team would have worked with and developed the story to shine Walther in her best light. I feel like they really dropped the ball with this one. I can see the bones of a good writer – hints of interesting and engaging characters, perplexing situations, a romantic notion, imaginative settings – it just needed to be pulled together more effectively. A good developmental editor would have pointed out the pacing issues and maybe suggested to increase the level of complexity for the plot.

It was a struggle to read apart from a few chapters near the end when all of a sudden there was tension… but besides that, ‘If It Were Us’ was relatively boring… and ultimately forgettable. Given this was K.L. Walther’s first published novel, I’m expecting her writing prowess to grow and develop and am interested to see how it presents in her second novel ‘The Summer of Broken Rules’ and the fact that it is not dealing with queer characters may play in her favour, but I’m not going to be rushing out to purchase it.

Overall feeling: a bit of a snooze-fest.

© Casey Carlisle 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Book Review – ‘Stars Above’ (#4.5 The Lunar Chronicles) by Marissa Meyer

A great collection to fill in the gaps between the novels in the Lunar Chronicles.

Genre: Y/A, Science Fiction

No. of pages: 400

The Keeper: A prequel to the Lunar Chronicles, showing a young Scarlet and how Princess Selene came into the care of Michelle Benoit.

Glitches: In this prequel to Cinder, we see the results of the plague play out, and the emotional toll it takes on Cinder. Something that may, or may not, be a glitch….

The Queen’s Army: In this prequel to Scarlet, we’re introduced to the army Queen Levana is building, and one soldier in particular who will do anything to keep from becoming the monster they want him to be.

Carswell’s Guide to Being Lucky: Thirteen-year-old Carswell Thorne has big plans involving a Rampion spaceship and a no-return trip out of Los Angeles.

After Sunshine Passes By: In this prequel to Cress, we see how a nine-year-old Cress ended up alone on a satellite, spying on Earth for Luna.

The Princess and the Guard: In this prequel to Winter, we see a young Winter and Jacin playing a game called the Princess and the Guard…

The Little Android: A retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid,” set in the world of The Lunar Chronicles.

The Mechanic: In this prequel to Cinder, we see Kai and Cinder’s first meeting from Kai’s perspective.

Something Old, Something New: In this epilogue to Winter, friends gather for the wedding of the century…

This was a great collection of short stories to flesh out the Lunar Chronicles. It’s mainly connecting scenes between and after the series with all our favourite characters. Some stories add to the fairy-tale retelling of scenes that were omitted in the novels, and others bridge the gaps in the narrative over the entire storyline continuum.

While I enjoyed each of these stories and appreciated getting background and extra information, each short story was not a fully developed story in its own right. This collection felt more like scenes cut from the novels in the editing process rather than short stories. That whole beginning-middle-end structure of storytelling focusing on a theme or exploring a question didn’t really ring true. I didn’t get a sense of resolution, but rather a part of a larger story. So this collection is more for die-hard fans of the Lunar Chronicles looking to expand on the universe.

We do get a peek into what happens after the conclusion of the series, which was a joy to read.

We get to meet all our favourite characters, and back story on a few others which really added to the Lunar Chronicles universe as a whole.

Stars Above’ is a pretty quick read with nine short stories, so you can jump from story to story, or take a break after each and revisit the collection until completion. Marissa Meyer’s writing style is as effortless as ever and it was easy to slip back into the world of either Earthen locales or the Lunar landscape.

There’s not much else to add without spoiling plot points because the stories are so short. ‘Stars Above’ is a great addition to the Lunar Chronicles and gives a glimpse into the future at the end.

I’d only recommend this for fans of the series, the stories will not make sense if you read them out of context, or haven’t completed the series beforehand (and let’s face it, who would pick this up if they hadn’t read the Lunar Chronicles prior.) We do get new information, but you won’t miss anything major if you don’t read ‘Stars Above.’

Overall feeling: oh, OH!

© Casey Carlisle 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Book Review – ‘Leah on the Offbeat’ (#2 Creekwood) by Becky Albertalli

Another coming out story from the Simonverse… .

Genre: Y/A, Contemporary, Romance, LGBT

No. of pages: 352

Leah Burke—girl-band drummer, master of deadpan, and Simon Spier’s best friend from the award-winning Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda—takes center stage in this novel of first love and senior-year angst.

When it comes to drumming, Leah Burke is usually on beat—but real life isn’t always so rhythmic. An anomaly in her friend group, she’s the only child of a young, single mom, and her life is decidedly less privileged. She loves to draw but is too self-conscious to show it. And even though her mom knows she’s bisexual, she hasn’t mustered the courage to tell her friends—not even her openly gay BFF, Simon.

So Leah really doesn’t know what to do when her rock-solid friend group starts to fracture in unexpected ways. With prom and college on the horizon, tensions are running high. It’s hard for Leah to strike the right note while the people she loves are fighting—especially when she realizes she might love one of them more than she ever intended.

Many of my book friends did not like ‘Leah on the Offbeat’ but I thought it was a comical romp through coming out.

Maybe if so much time hadn’t passed, and I was comparing it to ‘Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda,’ then yes, I would have rated it lower. For this sequel, we follow Leah coming to terms with her bisexuality and crush(es). We get all the comedic timing that was in the debut of this series, though I have to admit our protagonist fell a touch flatter. I think because we never get any deep exploration around the relationship with her mother (and mother’s new boyfriend,) or any resolution to the issues these two share. It’s all very perfunctory. Also, with ‘Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda’ we get how Simon and Bram’s relationship affect the gang – and the larger circle of friends they share. Again, we don’t get this exploration in ‘Leah on the Offbeat.’

Leah is a very private, closed-off, and sarcastic protagonist. She’s confident but self-depreciating. So it makes a bit of sense that the plot is a little reserved. We get teen angst, but it felt understated in comparison to ‘Simon and the Homo Sapiens Agenda,’ but again, it fits the character profile of Leah. I loved how she is sensible. Practical. Considerate of others. Too often in YA we get self-righteous or self-absorbed protagonists who’s character arc is the realisation of their small worldly view, or selfish actions affecting others… not so in ‘Leah on the Offbeat,’ it’s kind of the reverse. Leah learning to take care of herself, and become a little selfish. Letting others in.

It’s a testament to what happens when someone gets bullied for the colour of their skin, their weight, their sexuality, or any other challenge a person may face. They build up walls to protect themselves. In this case, Leah keeps everyone at a distance and deals with the world through sarcasm and dry wit. It’s hard to let people get close to you again because your heart is still in pain from the past.

We get a lot of Simon and Bram and see the progression of their relationship. It fill in the gap between ‘Simon and the Homo Sapiens Agenda’ and the television show ‘Love, Victor.’

Leah on the Offbeat’ is easily predictable, falling into the trope contemporaries are famous for, and I’m not mad at it – it’s the reason I picked up the novel in the first place. I’m glad I had left so much distance between reading this and the debut of the series to let it have headspace in its own right. Becky Albertalli has an expert writing style that really gets into the head of an angsty teen facing personal obstacles around love and identity. I would have loved her to delve into the subject of bisexuality and the stigma the label faces in the wider community, or even bring in more support for Leah from the bisexual community in the story.

There are many missed opportunities in the narrative, but overall it was a hilarious tale of a girl overcoming anxiety and embracing her sexuality while on the verge of that tenuous time when we graduate high school and the fear of losing your friendships as everyone scatters into adulthood.

Overall feeling: A little flat, but cute.

© Casey Carlisle 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Book Review – ‘In The Afterlight’ (#1.5, 2.5, 3.6 The Darkest Minds) by Alexandra Bracken

A great follow-up expansion to The Darkest Minds trilogy.

Genre: Y/A, Dystopian, Science Fiction

No. of pages: 400

IN TIME

Gabe’s life has been devastated in the wake of the economic crash. The only option left for someone like him to escape his tragic past is to leave his small town behind and to attempt to become a skiptracer. This already almost-impossible task is made all the more difficult by his first “score,”a young girl who won’t speak, but who changes his life in ways he could never imagine.

SPARKS RISE

Sam didn’t think things could get worse at Thurmand rehabilitation camp. Then the Reds arrive. Everyone assumed the kids with firepower had been killed years ago. Instead they were taken away, brainwashed, and returned as terrifyingly effective guards. To her horror, Sam recognizes one of them: Lucas, the one spark of light in Sam’s dark childhood. Lucas has a deadly secret–he beat the brutal training that turned his fellow Reds into mindless drones. When Sam defends herself against an attack by a vile PSF guard and faces a harrowing punishment, Lucas must risk everything to save her.

BEYOND THE NIGHT

The government-run “rehabilitation camps” have been shut down, but kids with Psi powers are anything but free. Sam would rather be on her own than put in the care of a foster family and given the “cure”–a dangerous procedure that unclaimed kids across the country are being forced to undergo. But there’s more at stake than just her own safety. Sam once made someone a promise, and the time has come to fulfill it. Now that she’s out of her camp, Mia only has one thought in her head: finding Lucas, her beloved older brother.

Initially, I started this but it did not grab my attention straight away, so I ended putting it down for a while to read some other books before returning. These were brutal. Just a stark reminder of the challenges the surviving kids afflicted with powers face. We get snippets to fill in gaps that were left out of the narrative from the main trilogy, the first (In Time) follows a skip tracer who captures Zu; the second (Sparks Rise) follows Sam and Lucas as they handle the end of the camp and try to bring their trio family back together; and finally (Beyond the Night) which takes place after the trilogy ends, seeing the conclusion to Sam, Lucas, and Mia’s plight together with the OG gang led by Ruby and a picture of what the world is like in the aftermath of the camps being shut down.

All the stories were interesting, had small arcs or character development and really helped to flesh out ‘The Darkest Minds’ universe. Alexandra Bracken knows how to write novellas, some other franchises that have added novellas to their catalogue have not pulled it off to this standard. Since I started reading ‘The Darkest Minds’ back in 2016, I was not tired of the story or her writing.

This collection has sparked my curiosity again and I am looking into purchasing ‘The Darkest Legacy’ to follow an older Zu. Plus, I’m really curious to see how the world has adapted to super powered teens, and if in fact the next generation continues to develop abilities, or if they have found a solution to quash these burgeoning powers.

The characters are relatable and I had compassion for all the protagonists. It was also a treat to read three stories where you could have a reprieve and go off and indulge in another book, or get on with the days chores. They were short, sweet, and easily digestible.

I don’t feel you are missing out on anything if you don’t read this after the original trilogy however. There is no new twist, no big revelations, ‘Through the Dark’ merely extends the universe slightly and is more service for the fans.

Overall feeling: she cute.

© Casey Carlisle 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Book Review – ‘The First 7’ (#2 The Last 8) by Laura Pohl

A group of kids, the last survivors of the human race…

Genre: Y/A, Science Fiction, LGBT

No. of pages: 367

Clover Martinez and The Last Teenagers on Earth are busy exploring the galaxy after leaving earth behind…even if they can’t help but be a little homesick.

So when their ship receives a distress signal from their former planet, they hope against hope that it means other survivors. But as soon as they arrive, they realize something’s deeply wrong: strange crystal formations have popped up everywhere and there’s some sort of barrier keeping them from leaving.

Seeking the origin of the formations and the reason for the barrier, the group discovers a colony of survivors hidden in the mountains. But the survivors aren’t who they seem…

I enjoyed this more than the debut. I think with the ridiculous aliens out of the picture and the story starting out in space, it constructed a world deep in sci-fi, rather than a dystopian earth facing an alien threat, that slight shift in the tone of the narrative allowed me to shed preconceived notions and really get into the story.

The characters did feel a little more grown up – we still get moments of teenage melodrama, but it seems the war and travel in the stars have seasoned our group and I was less inclined to sigh or eye-roll. Still there is a tone with the presentation (description) of the aliens that we encounter in ‘The First 7’ that feels immature. I guess it will capture the minds of a younger audience (of whom it is intended.)

The First 7’ has a much stronger plot that its predecessor but there was the inclination to meander a little. The story is broken into three sections which didn’t necessarily transition as easily as they could have.

We see some great character arcs, and an aspect of humanity shone through brightest for me. Pohl even managed to surprise me with a few plot twists that I didn’t see coming. I’d love to see her write for a more mature audience, what I gather from her writing chops, it has limitless possibilities.

Again the greatest drawbacks were meandering plot and tone of the novel.

We see many of the hanging plot threads from the debut tied up in a rather unusual fashion. And Pohl is not afraid to serve out real-life consequences to her characters after facing apocalypse-level circumstances that you don’t see in a lot of YA. So I am unsure if teens reacting to mental coping mechanisms, combined with hormonal behaviour left the plot feeling that bit erratic: it is either a pretty accurate depiction, or a tone not befitting young adults placed in that situation… it’s hard to tell with them being changed with alien DNA – but it’s the same elements that had me humming and harring from ‘The Last 8’ as well.

I understand the title of ‘The First 7’ and its need to match the hook from the debut, but after completing the novel, I don’t see how it really fits. They mention it in the novel, but the justification felt tenuous at best.

The ending was sufficiently cinematic and while I enjoyed my time reading this duology, it’s probably one I’ll forget fairly quickly. I’d only recommend this for the younger end of the YA market. Adults and older young adults may find this a little juvenile.

Overall feeling: Okay, pretty good.

© Casey Carlisle 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.