Book Review – ‘The Ask and the Answer’ (#2 Chaos Walking) by Patrick Ness

The Ask and the long-winded Answer….

Genre: YA, Science Fiction

No. of pages: 553

We were in the square, in the square where I’d run, holding her, carrying her, telling her to stay alive, stay alive till we got safe, till we got to Haven so I could save her – But there weren’t no safety, no safety at all, there was just him and his men…

Fleeing before a relentless army, Todd has carried a desperately wounded Viola right into the hands of their worst enemy, Mayor Prentiss. Immediately separated from Viola and imprisoned, Todd is forced to learn the ways of the Mayor’s new order. But what secrets are hiding just outside of town? And where is Viola? Is she even still alive? And who are the mysterious Answer? And then, one day, the bombs begin to explode…

Picking up where ‘The Knife of Never Letting Go’ left off, we jump right into the action with Todd and Viola. Their dual points of view take our intrepid teens in two different directions as they struggle to get back to each other and prevent the planet they are on from imploding political tensions.

There didn’t feel like a lot happened in this instalment… and it definitely suffered that second book syndrome.

The Ask and The Answer’ almost put me into a book slump; it was very boring and long, the story took forever to get anywhere, and all the interesting bits happened in the last few chapters. I think because we delve into political movements and differing factions led by flawed and self-righteous people, there is a lot less science fiction and so much more posturing and maneuvering. The character development did not seem to grow our two main protagonists Todd and Viola too much apart from making them suffer inordinate amounts of pain, treachery, and heartache to shape them into possible leaders. It didn’t feel justified to me – and certainly not over 500 pages of it. We see both Todd and Viola challenge the system, and those in power, but we did not see them learn much from it. They spend their time reacting and surviving. I would have appreciated either of them having frank discussions on how to overcome, strategize, or even some psychological insight into those in power to better equip them in the battles to come. Instead they are tossed about like pawns on a chess board always a few steps behind.

I had pretty much the same opinion of all the characters at the start of the novel as I did at the end. And there is so much senseless death and destruction. The same about the plot too. We see something major happen in the beginning chapters and the book concludes with the groups still in much the same positions, and a few small victories for our protagonists. So ‘The Ask and the Answer’ left me frustrated because there didn’t feel like the characters or the story have changed or evolved much from start to finish – and this is one of the longer novels I’ve read of late. So much time invested for little return.

Patrick Ness has a lovely writing style. The use of dialect to distinguish between the two narratives for our protagonists make it instant and easy to recognise whose voice is whose. You get an instant picture of the setting of each scene, and the use of font and format for the mental projection of thought (Noise) of the males is unique… but all this goes up against unending violence, subjugation, and long monotonous monologues. I honestly felt like the whole novel is one big manexplanation.

I really wanted to love ‘The Ask and the Answer.’ I really did. It has all the trappings of a story that completely takes me over, but it didn’t execute it well enough for me to sing it’s praises. It was a struggle to read and put a stain on my experience for the world of Todd and Viola. Plus I still have a Manchee hangover…

For YA, I don’t think this is something I’m happy to recommend. That target market have less patience than I do, and this really felt more like a social commentary on racism and colonialization than it did on science fiction.

Overall feeling: *jolts awake*

© 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 – ‘Shadow and Bone’ (#1 The Shadow and Bone Trilogy) by Leigh Bardugo

A unique magical system set in historical Russia, this tale of a girl with special powers blasts competitors out of the water.

Genre: YA, Fantasy

No. of pages: 358

Alina Starkov doesn’t expect much from life. Orphaned by the Border Wars, she is sure of only one thing: her best friend, Mal–and her inconvenient crush on him. Until the day their army regiment enters the Fold, a swath of unnatural darkness crawling with monsters. When their convoy is attacked and Mal is brutally injured, Alina reveals a dormant power not even she knew existed.

Ripped from everything she knows, Alina is taken to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling. With Alina’s extraordinary power in his arsenal, he believes they can finally destroy the Fold. Now Alina must find a way to master her untamed gift and somehow fit into her new life without Mal by her side. But nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. As the threat to the kingdom mounts and her dangerous attraction to the Darkling grows, Alina will uncover a secret that could tear her heart–and her country–in two.

I did the mad rush to quickly get the book read before the television series was released – and thankfully managed it so that I could indulge in the series. It was a great kick in the pants for some motivation because this book has been sitting on my TBR shelf for years!

Shadow and Bone’ definitely lived up to the hype I’ve heard all of these years. Fantasy had fallen out of favour with me a while back, which is why I let this sit for so long, but it has re-ignited my interest in the genre. Leigh Bardugo has created a fantastical world of powered individuals called the Grisha, a dark cloud cutting their country in half called the Fold created by a powerful Grisha known as the Darkling. With warring countries, and a battle for power between the royals, church, and the Grisha this Russian landscape proves a formidable one for protagonist Alina and her childhood best friend Mal.

There is a bit of an overused trope here – the orphan who has a secret formidable power to save the world – but it is done so well that I didn’t mind it in the least. Alina is intelligent and there is a slow burn of her coming into her confidence and expanding her knowledge about the Grisha. A country at war provides a dynamic backdrop as Alina and Mal travel into the Fold where Alina’s Sun Summoner power first shows itself under attack from the monsters in the shadows.

There is some admirable character development for Alina in ‘Shadow and Bone.’  Though Mal comes in and out of the narrative and seems to be the same reliable and loyal friend Alina has always known, so I didn’t see much growth for his character. We get a sense that Mal could be a love interest, as too do we see the leader of the Grisha, the Darkling. I really loved how Alina investigates the world of the Grisha and tries to hold her made family of her and Mal together. There are some great reveals in ‘Shadow and Bone’ that help set a cracking pace. I devoured this novel in two sittings and it felt effortless. Leigh Bardugo’s writing style is breezy and melodic setting a beautiful tone, and you don’t see the twists and turns coming until they are upon you.

This book comes highly recommended and I can see why – I definitely agree this is in the top of my favourite reads in the fantasy genre to date. The concept of the amplifiers, though interwoven seamlessly into the story was the least plausible for me in this magic system. The idea of groups of powered Grisha, and the variations within those groups is truly fascinating. I’m sure we’ll get to explore much more in the following sequels.

I had a wonderful experience with ‘Shadow and Bone’ and am keen to jump into book two, ‘Siege and Storm’ right away.

Overall feeling: Magical!

© 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 Knife of Never Letting Go’ (#1 Chaos Walking) by Patrick Ness

A tale of a boy and his dog… and a girl from outer space.

Genre: YA, Science Fiction

No. of pages: 512

Todd Hewitt is the only boy in a town of men. Ever since the settlers were infected with the Noise germ, Todd can hear everything the men think, and they hear everything he thinks. Todd is just a month away from becoming a man, but in the midst of the cacophony, he knows that the town is hiding something from him — something so awful Todd is forced to flee with only his dog, whose simple, loyal voice he hears too. With hostile men from the town in pursuit, the two stumble upon a strange and eerily silent creature: a girl. Who is she? Why wasn’t she killed by the germ like all the females on New World? Propelled by Todd’s gritty narration, readers are in for a white-knuckle journey in which a boy on the cusp of manhood must unlearn everything he knows in order to figure out who he truly is.

Dogs in novels are always a kicker for me. I love them characterised as one of the main cast, and the bond that pet Manchee has with protagonist Todd is pretty special, and I ate it up like a second helping of icecream.

There are so many exciting elements in “The Knife of Never Letting Go,’ colonisation of an alien planet, warring with the native inhabitants (The Spackle) which verges on genocide and slavery, sexism that is amplified as the male half of the population suddenly find their every thought is displayed for all to see through the ‘Noise,’ the arrival of a new colonist from another ship from Earth – Viola, and her introduction to Todd, a local boy who is starting to find out what he had been told about their village, and the circumstances of haw they now live aren’t entirely true. We even get to hear the thoughts of animals on the planet as well which is another dynamic that adds to the narrative.

Told in first person from Todd’s point of view we see how the safe little existence in his village is slowly dismantled, how most of what he has come to love, is now a threat as he chooses to protect and guide Viola. The discovery of a new colonising ship about to land on the planet stirs ideologies of control and dominance in Mayor Prentiss as he jostles to put himself in a position of power before the ship lands so he can maintain his status once the new colonists arrive. But Todd and Viola pose a threat with their uncovering of some awful truths… and if they tell their story to those on the ship before Mayor Prentiss can cement his position in society, it will all come crumbling down around him. Especially some of those dark, dangerous truths the village has hidden and spread false stories to hide.

This is essentially a road trip/chase as Todd and Viola leave the village that is the only place Todd has known his whole life, and head to the capital to radio the colony ship and warn them of what is awaiting them on the planet below.

There are some hard themes explored. It’s a gruelling journey as the teens are perused by zealots determined to either kill or bend the pair to their will. As Todd is only thirteen years old, I sometimes felt the narrative separated itself from the realities of a boy of that age. Plus there were a lot of illogical decisions make that didn’t make sense to me – both in this story and in how the society came to be. But it was great discovering the world through Todd’s naive eyes.

We get some great character development, both Todd and Viola have to face a much different world than they thought it to be. And they have to do it on their own with very little resources. Trust is tested and forces the teens to rely only in each other.

Aaron as a religious zealot and antagonist in this story is the one character that I had the most issue with – while great for the story, the realism of this did not sit well with me. He is seriously crazy. And in a world where the Noise leaves little to be hidden, that type of thinking should have isolated him from the colony, rendered him powerless. So while a great storytelling device, I held little value in him as a character.

There is also a heart-wrenching scene that just about ended me. I was audibly sobbing. I won’t say much more than that to avoid spoilers… but man, there is some brutality in the novel that is traumatising. And afterward I was trying to figure out what its role was in the grand scheme of the novel and while I understand it to an extent, it didn’t resonate well with me.

Patrick Ness has a great writing style, though I must admit I found the use of dialect a little off putting. To continually read grammatically incorrect sentences because of the education level of the protagonist is jarring. It’s either brilliant of annoying… maybe a little of both. Other than that it was fantastic to explore the alien planet, the Spackle, and the colonists with delicately painted scenes; though on the whole the novel did feel a little too long, and slightly over-dramatic.

I can see how it deserves some of the praise it’s received. However, when I think of the target market, ‘The Knife of Never Letting Go’ needs some serious trigger warnings. Some of the content is traumatic.

This is a soft recommendation from me. A great concept, interesting character development, if a little long.

Overall feeling: what the hell did I just go through?

© 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 – ‘Blood of a Thousand Stars’ (#2 Empress of a Thousand Skies) by Rhoda Belleza

A disappointing sequel.

Genre: Y/A, Science Fiction

No. of pages: 359

Empress

With a revolution brewing, Rhee is faced with a choice: make a deal with her enemy, Nero, or denounce him and risk losing her crown.

Fugitive

Framed assassin Alyosha has one goal in mind: kill Nero. But to get his revenge, Aly may have to travel back to the very place he thought he’d left forever—home.

Princess

Kara knows that a single piece of technology located on the uninhabitable planet Wraeta may be the key to remembering—and erasing—the princess she once was.

Madman

Villainous media star Nero is out for blood, and he’ll go to any means necessary to control the galaxy.

Vicious politics and high-stakes action culminate in an epic showdown that will determine the fate of the universe.

Where ‘Empress of a Thousand Stars’ kicked off the action fairly early, ‘Blood of a Thousand Stars’ took a little time to find it’s legs – which is disappointing because of the cliff-hanger the first book concluded on – and the situation that ‘Blood of a Thousand Stars’ commenced on – there was no need for my interest to wane, but I was continually putting the novel down every 4-5 pages. I think Rhoda Belleza needed to pay closer attention to her character motivation and development, make them more compelling if the action was not in the forefront, because. Frankly, when not faced with certain death, both leads were a little forgettable.

On the surface ‘Blood of a Thousand Stars’ has everything to make this a captivating read: plenty of action and a clipped pace, lots of interesting characters, misinformation and miscommunication, politics and backstabbing, rebellion and drama all in a setting of a distant galaxy and spaceships… not to mention a royal linage. However, this book was laboriously difficult to read. With constantly switching perspectives, frequent telling instead of showing, and SQUIRREL!! I really wanted to like ‘Blood of a Thousand Stars,’ I cut it a lot of breaks, but for some reason this series took a nosedive for me after the debut.

It took me quite a long time of pondering over the above issues to figure out why I wasn’t engaged with ‘Blood of a Thousand Stars.’ Was I just not in a reading mood? Did I have reader’s burn-out? Did my tastes suddenly change mid series? Really, I was surprised. I love science fiction and really enjoyed ‘Empress of a Thousand Skies,’ so why was my reading experience such a polar opposite for this sequel. There is plenty of action to push the pace forward, so why was I putting the book down so frequently after a few pages, or a chapter here and there? The answer – this is a plot centric novel. It didn’t give you enough time to sit with the characters, live in their skin and get a feel for their character and motivation. Instead it was a brief description (telling the reader) the protagonists’ sentiments, and then they were too busy reacting to some drama, explosion, attempted assassination… SQUIRREL! The action is great, but if you are not connecting with the character it doesn’t mean much, just a read bit of emotionless writing.

I can feel the potential in every line of this novel, and I’m uncertain if there were different editors that worked on this sequel as from ‘Empress of a Thousand Stars,’ because the underlying tone was slightly off. Maybe it was rushed to publication by the whole team to capitalize on the success of the series launch? Who knows, but the end result is that I really did not enjoy this as much as ‘Empress of a Thousand Skies.’ It look me over a month to read the book. And a few weeks after that to figure out why I was so distracted.

The plot is pretty great, I honestly felt like I was lost in a Star Wars saga.

We kept getting set up for a murder, or kidnapping, some cliff-hanger at the end of a chapter from a characters perspective, and then switch to another protagonist only to have that cliff-hanger immediately spoiled. I think this was another aspect dulling the experience for me. There was no anticipation, the surprises ruined immediately. There was only a glorious twist at the end that I did not see coming.

On the whole this was pretty meh for me. Though I do want to re-read this at some point in the future and readdress my review just to see if my opinion stands, because I’m really surprised I did not enjoy this more.

On a side note, there were grammatical errors in the last few chapters, like the editor had gotten tired and not seen the task through to the end. I really feel like the editing team let down this concluding novel for the ‘Empress of a Thousand Stars’ duology.

If pressed right now, I’d say skip this series… but will revisit my opinion once I get around to a re-read.

Overall feeling: Disappointing.

© 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 – ‘Empress of a Thousand Skies’ (#1 Empress of a Thousand Skies) by Rhoda Belleza

A light sci-fi fantasy that took me on a wild ride.

Empress of a Thousand Skies (#1 Empress of a Thousand Skies) Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Science Fiction

No. of pages: 314

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Crown Princess Rhiannon Ta’an wants vengeance.

The only surviving heir to an ancient Kalusian dynasty, Rhee has spent her life training to destroy the people who killed her family. Now, on the eve of her coronation, the time has finally come for Rhee to claim her throne – and her revenge.

Alyosha is a Wraetan who has risen above his war refugee origins to find fame as the dashing star of a DroneVision show. Despite his popularity, Aly struggles with anti-Wraetan prejudices and the pressure of being perfect in the public eye.

Their paths collide with one brutal act of violence: Rhee is attacked, barely escaping with her life. Aly is blamed for her presumed murder.

The princess and her accused killer are forced to go into hiding – even as a war between planets is waged in Rhee’s name. But soon, Rhee and Aly discover that the assassination attempt is just one part of a sinister plot. Bound together by an evil that only they can stop, the two fugitives must join forces to save the galaxy.

Page border 2020 by Casey Carlisle

This was better than I was expecting after the first few pages. I’d been recommended this through a number of blogs I follow and with it popping up in recommended books on both Amazon and Goodreads – so I caved. That first chapter I was not holding out much hope… with a whole lot of jargon, strange places, and weird names dumped on the reader I started to get that overwhelming feeling like when you read high fantasy. It’s all so foreign, and I just wanted something to relate to. But it ended after that; it was just dipping your toe into the pool thinking the water is cold, but after stepping in your body adjusts and your floating weightless in a new exotic world.

The next thing that grabbed me was the pacing. It was like every chapter had a cliff hanger of some sort. There was action from start to finish. I pretty much read this entire novel in one sitting.

The one irk I had with ‘Empress of a Thousand Skies’ was the world building – chiefly that of the plausibility of the solar system, broken into four quadrants, every planet populated with life… umm, the physics and science of the universe proves that this is not possible. But, once I got over that and settled into the drama of it all, I really found a pace with ‘Empress of a Thousand Skies’ and really enjoyed the story. It reminds me of Star Wars, but on a smaller scale. It’s got that childlike impossibility and imagination woven into a tapestry of comedy, love, and soap opera.

Empress of a Thousand Skies (#1 Empress of a Thousand Skies) Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

Told in dual perspectives (apart from the last chapter) from Rhee (Rhiannon Ta’an) a survivor from an assassination attempt to wipe out the royal family; and Aly (Alyosha Myraz) a dark skinned soldier and television star. They both get caught up in murder schemes, a chase, fight for survival, and exposing the truth to lead a rebellion against a nefarious faction trying to replace the royal families rule over the solar system. There is a mix of naivety, grit, competence, and luck as the pair follow their own paths, cross, divert, ending in some major twist and turns.

For the most part the main plot is fairly predictable, Rhoda Belleza does not try hard to hide clues early on in the text, so many of the reveals are more a confirmation of intellectual guesses; but there were a couple of twists that took me by surprise. The best part though that detracts from this ease of foresight, was the action and pacing. Honestly, the writing style of Belleza had me totally gripped. I’m looking forward to seeing what she writes in the future – if it is a more realistic or plausible setting, she could knock it out of the park.

This is the debut in a duology of novels, and does not really end with a solid conclusion, rather ‘dot, dot, dot… tune in next week and see how our band of heroes get out of this one!’ So I was quick to jump online and put an order in for the concluding novel ‘Blood of a Thousand Stars.’

I’d definitely recommend this to those who love light sci-fi, fantasy, and YA. If you’re in to hard sci-fi you may find this a little ridiculous. A surprising read that gave me a fun day of reading.

Overall feeling: Yay for space operas!

Empress of a Thousand Skies (#1 Empress of a Thousand Skies) Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Empress of a Thousand Skies (#1 Empress of a Thousand Skies) 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 – ‘Red, White & Royal Blue’ by Casey McQuiston

A fairy-tale and ‘Madam Secretary’ mash-up.

Red, White & Royal Blue Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Contemporary, Romance, LGBT

No. of pages: 236

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What happens when America’s First Son falls in love with the Prince of Wales?

When his mother became President, Alex Claremont-Diaz was promptly cast as the American equivalent of a young royal. Handsome, charismatic, genius—his image is pure millennial-marketing gold for the White House. There’s only one problem: Alex has a beef with the actual prince, Henry, across the pond. And when the tabloids get hold of a photo involving an Alex-Henry altercation, U.S./British relations take a turn for the worse.

Heads of family, state, and other handlers devise a plan for damage control: staging a truce between the two rivals. What at first begins as a fake, Instragramable friendship grows deeper, and more dangerous, than either Alex or Henry could have imagined. Soon Alex finds himself hurtling into a secret romance with a surprisingly unstuffy Henry that could derail the campaign and upend two nations and begs the question: Can love save the world after all? Where do we find the courage, and the power, to be the people we are meant to be? And how can we learn to let our true colors shine through?

Page border 2020 by Casey Carlisle

Red, White & Royal Blue’ is an amazing debut and definitely a sneak attack for me. I picked it up because of a number of friends raving about this book and jumped in with no prior knowledge other that the blurb.

I’ll get the downsides out of the way first. The main drawbacks for me as a reader was a little bit of the swearing, and some of the intimate scenes between the two main leads – I’m okay with these devices if they add something to drive the plot forward, or build an atmosphere. I don’t even mind a few graphic love scenes here and there just for titillation and fun (I’m no prude) but after a while it becomes tedious.

The second big thing was exposition and pacing. Primarily the pace of the novel was dragged down by frequent descriptions, history, or lengthy scene setting. They were kind of relevant to the story, but not essential, and left the book feeling longer than it needed to be.

McQuistion’s writing style is edgy and humorous, and she is at an expert level in building tension and angst. I devoured this book in two sittings and had tears in my eyes over half of the time. It is a tenderly sweet and emotional ride. I wasn’t sold too much on the third person point of view though, it didn’t feel like it had been honed in, there was a lot of unnecessary repetition of words in the sentence structure. So the flow wasn’t quite there for me.

As with contemporaries like this, we are rooting for the leads to end up together, so there is always that sense of predictability in this genre. But, not knowing much about the plot before I went it, and the cutesy, sweet cover art, I was expecting a Hallmarky type rom-com… I did not predict the amount of difficulty, tension, and long journey the characters had to navigate. Maybe that is less about predictability and more about my misguided assumptions from the cover alone.

Red, White & Royal Blue Book Review Pic 02 by Casey CarlisleMcQuistion builds great fleshed-out and realistic characters. I did not like all of them, a few I wanted to reach into the pages and punch in the face. And others I wanted to hug, (or steal all for myself,) which is a great testament to her craft of storytelling. I was so wrapped up in their lives that I forgot about the outside world. The only times I got pulled out of the story apart from the occasional exposition, was when my eyes were too blurry from tears, and I had to stop and calm myself down.

The hate-to-love trope is overdone, but I really enjoyed it in this story. Especially when we get diverse characters. Mixed race, mixed nationalities, and mixed sexual identities, all wrapped up in political machinations.

Alex our brash and workaholic son of the President of the United States reminds me of every young gun upstart we see in political and legal dramas. I didn’t particularly connect with him, but I appreciated him as a character and cared about his story. The growth and story arc of his is point of view, is what this tale follows. We begin to see a softer side slowly emerge from Alex as he begins to explore his options in life and love.

Henry is by far my favourite – he’s the prince charming fantasy. Regal, polite, a legacy steeped in family history. The kind of things I enjoy in a man. I would have like to have seen a bit more of a comical play on the clash of cultures; I feel there were a lot of missed opportunities that may have lightened the load in certain parts of the plot. Henry too evolves as a character and you get a real sense of how each of our two leads influence each other.

Definitely a much more serious and realistic story than I was expecting. Totally engrossed in the novel and will happily recommend it to anyone.

I thought the cover art was cute and on trend with the manga-styled format that is popular right now, the colour choice really grabbed my attention, though I’m uncertain it projects the tone of the novel.

Overall feeling: A wonderful (and emotional) surprise.

Red, White & Royal Blue Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Red, White & Royal Blue 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.

Wrap up – The Illuminae Files by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

An epic sci-fi adventure that left me gob-smacked.The Illuminae Files Wrap Up Pic 01 by Casey Carlisle

There was a lot of hype surrounding the launch of this trilogy – and rightly so. It was phenomenal. I haven’t been so captivated by a YA science fiction series in a very long time. Not only does this grab reader’s attention with its format of collated documents to form the narrative, but the pacing jumps from chapter to chapter. I am in awe of Kristoff and Kaufman in creating this collection.

If I wanted to be picky, I’d say there are a lot of character to keep track of – and some may read similar to one another. The mostly have that sarcastic sense of humor and are ballsy hero types. Also with the change in perspective in the second book (‘Gemina’), which felt a bit slower, left me high and dry after I had invested so much into Kady in ‘Illuminae.’ But not to worry, all the cast are brought together in ‘Obsidio.’ Like I said that’s if I was looking for some elements to be critical of. Because of the main cast, their personalities are distinctly different, we get diversity  and a range of special skills that each of them bring to the team. One of them is an artificial intelligence (AIDAIN) who is in front and centre just as much as his fleshy counterparts. All the characters are fallible and make mistakes along the fight for their lives against greedy corporations only trying to save their own behinds and turn a profit.

The Illuminae Files Wrap Up Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

There is always more than one thing going on in the plot, it’s literally everything but the kitchen sink thrown at the main cast. This adds to the tension and pacing. And for a sci-fi it is not bogged down in world building or technical information to support the narrative. Apart from a lull in the first 100 pages of ‘Gemina,’ I did not put these books down except to eat or sleep.

I’m ecstatic to hear Brad Pitt had optioned ‘Illuminae’ for a film adaptation – after seeing how he treated World War Z, I am expecting marvelous things! You can bet I’ll be keeping my feelers out to see how this project develops.

So I won’t go into detail too much about the characters – I don’t want to spoil too much. But you can bet that this is one of my all-time favorites and comes vehemently recommended. I hope Kristoff and Kaufman team up for more similar projects in the future, because I’d add them to my shopping cart automatically.

The Illuminae Files Wrap Up Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

For individual reviews click on the links below:

Illuminae’https://strokingfire.wordpress.com/2016/02/23/book-review-illuminae-by-amie-kaufman-and-jay-kristoff/

‘Gemina’ – https://strokingfire.wordpress.com/2017/04/19/book-review-gemina-by-amie-kaufman-and-jay-kristoff/

Obsidiohttps://strokingfire.wordpress.com/2018/10/04/book-review-obsidio-3-illuminae-by-amie-kaufman-and-jay-kristoff/

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© Casey Carlisle 2018. 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 – ‘Obsidio’ (#3 Illuminae) by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Hold on to your nickers!

Obsidio (#3 Illuminae) Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Science Fiction

No. of pages: 615

From Goodreads:

Kady, Ezra, Hanna, and Nik narrowly escaped with their lives from the attacks on Heimdall station and now find themselves crammed with 2,000 refugees on the container ship, Mao. With the jump station destroyed and their resources scarce, the only option is to return to Kerenza—but who knows what they’ll find seven months after the invasion?

Meanwhile, Kady’s cousin, Asha, survived the initial BeiTech assault and has joined Kerenza’s ragtag underground resistance. When Rhys—an old flame from Asha’s past—reappears on Kerenza, the two find themselves on opposite sides of the conflict.

With time running out, a final battle will be waged on land and in space, heroes will fall, and hearts will be broken.

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This series is the coolest kid at school. It was everything I wanted an epic sci-fi novel to be. We get all of the characters back in a high stakes battle for survival. The first half is all about the build and moving the chess pieces around on the board. The second half is mind-blowing action, twist and turns. I felt like I was reading this in a wind tunnel. So much going on. I couldn’t put it down.

Though I enjoyed ‘Gemina,’ I missed Kady. But we get her back and all the crazy characters interacting with that same witty sarcasm I’ve come to love. It suited their dialogue, their age, and helped with the heavy tone of the trilogy. Because there is a lot of carnage. Not everyone survives and you never know what unexpected thing is going to happen next to take away someone you love.

Death is handled delicately. It’s balanced with humanity. Everyone is important, everyone has a back story. There are no unimportant characters. I frickin love this aspect about the Illuminae Files. And it shines brightly in ‘Obsidio,’ as the reasons for all those sacrifices takes the forefront.

I’m sad for this series to end because I absolutely loved my time reading ‘Illluminae,’ ‘Gemina,’ and ‘Obsidio.’  But I will definitely be re-reading this sometime in the near future.

Glad to hear Brad Pitt has optioned ‘Illuminae’ for development – it’s a movie I’m really excited to see come to the big screen.

Obsidio (#3 Illuminae) Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

The use of graphic as a part of the narrative is still something that enhances the story for me. It adds another element, like art, evoking even more emotions than you can get from words alone. The abstract formation of a mentally unstable A.I., to the handwritten notes passed secretly between characters.

I lost a little bit of my love for the series in ‘Gemina,’ new characters, a completely different setting, but ‘Obsidio’ manages to draw everything together and deliver what I was missing. And I am ecstatic about this book. It is one of my favorite sci-fi titles of all time! It has been so long since I was totally engrossed and compelled with a read in this genre. Hats off to Kaufman and Kristoff – you guys are geniuses.

The book is a brick though, my wrists ached from holding it up, and I’m uncertain if you’d get the same reading experience in ebook form because most of the graphics are a two page spread. But it would have made it much easier to read.

I’m not going to talk about individual characters because of spoilers – and this would turn into a 10 page essay. But in comparing the ones who survive to how they were at the start of the series, they have been shaped a little differently, grown up. But are still the teens we know them to be. I will say it didn’t feel like there was this massive transformation – only because it didn’t suit the narrative tone. And well, this isn’t one of those naval gazing types of books. It’s more about action and space wars, there is a hint of philosophy and inward soul gazing, and that’s all you needed for a YA series like this.

My only worry now is what to read next… and is it going to stack up to the glory of ‘Obsidio.’

Overall feeling: OHMYGODOHMYGOD!

Obsidio (#3 Illuminae) Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Obsidio (#3 Illuminae) Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

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© Casey Carlisle 2018. 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 – ‘Castor’ by Shaun Young

An excellent premise, action packed, but lacked a little something.

Castor Book Review Pic 01 by Casey Carlisle.jpgGenre: Y/A, Contemporary, Romance, LGBT

No. of pages: 230

From Goodreads:

James Fisher’s memories of Earth are distant, replaced by the harsh realities of life on the planet Castor. As a “Half-Adapt,” James is one of many who were biologically engineered to survive conditions on Castor—and to labor for the benefit of the ruling class. Indentured to servitude, James has no way to defy or escape the severe caste system… until he meets Vidal Centa, his master’s nephew. The draw they feel toward each other is instant, powerful, and maybe even enough to move beyond the unyielding regulations of their society.


But not everyone blindly accepts the absolute power of the oligarchy. The Independence Society fights for freedom and equality, and since James shares in their ideals, he joins their ranks. Soon he’s faced with an impossible decision: continue the fight against the oppressors or choose the love of the young man who embodies everything the Society loathes. With a looming conflict threatening to tear the planet apart, James fears he cannot continue to fight if he wants to keep his relationship with Vidal.

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The concept of ‘Castor’ stood out to me most of all – colonising a new planet, refugees terraforming a poisonous atmosphere; and a protagonist coming to grips with his past, a revolution, and his attraction to another man. It had all the elements to make ‘Castor’ a momentous read. But sadly it fell short of a few of these marks.

I really enjoyed the characterisation of the protagonist James, though found the backward politics of Castor to be counter-intuitive for an evolved society. But it worked in giving a population of mostly blue collar men, adapted or half adapted to the toxic atmosphere, where it was all male bravado and hard yakka. It also helped to establish a class system on the planet. So the world building was heavily supported, intricate and logical. I do think it was missing all those elements of science fiction though. Bits of technology, a more prominent role of the gene tampering that was going on, the terraform process, and colonising of the planet. It was there, but only in a small dose. This story was more focused on James and the revolution against the dominate powers in charge.

Castor Book Review Pic 02 by Casey CarlisleSo while I applaud the structure and tone of the novel, the writing style felt a bit dry. There didn’t feel like there was enough angst between James and his love interest Vidal. There romantic interaction were few and brief on the discussion of emotion. I felt a little cheated out of the romance part of this story. Especially given the odds these two were facing – so much potential tension wasted. The writing style was all very masculine – brief, to the point, and full of action.

A lot of action. Things getting blown up, chase scenes, murders, subterfuge. The mechanics of this part of the story line were brilliant, and in my opinion, the saving grace of ‘Castor.’ The cast were believable and felt realistic. Castor is a hard place to live. I think a more emotional aspect of James’ building relationship would have balanced out all of the difficulty the pair of boys was facing.

So too with the description of the landscape – while I could imagine it fairly well, I don’t think Young spent enough time painting a picture of the environment. His writing style would be perfect of a terrestrial modern day thriller or adventure story, but in science fiction, you need to spend a bit more time world building – because everything is new and unfamiliar to the reader. Especially in an off-planet environment.

I liked James as a protagonist. He didn’t fall into the usual tropes. He was moralistic without being a rebel leader. Strong and intelligent. But there was a sense of vulnerability that held him back – let him take the knocks that were dealt out. His faults humanised him.

These traits were similar in Vidal. Though I felt he needed more personality, the two of these boys were really just trying to survive. They weren’t there for a cause. They just wanted to find a safe place to live and be together. That’s the story I wanted to resonate with a stronger note in ‘Castor.’

I have to applaud the concept of this novel. It felt unique. It wasn’t contrived or over written, and you definitely get a sense of a great future to come for this writer. ‘Castor’ is his first published novel, and I can only imagine what he can produce with more experience under his belt. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye on Young.

I would not recommend this for sci-fi buffs, there was an element of something missing, so too if you enjoy reading M/M romance. It has moments of both, but either not fully realised. But I do recommend this for its overall concept and execution. If you go into it realising this is a young author’s first swing at the genre, than you will be able to marvel at his strengths and forgive the weaknesses.

A shorter novel that took me a day to read with enticing cover art. The editing is on point, no grammatical or spelling errors. The font and formatting give an ease to the story. It never felt a chore to read. Harmony Ink are delivering some great products and I’m eager to see what this writer and publisher collaborate on next.

Overall feeling: Adventurous and action-packed, but slightly apathetic

Castor Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Castor Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

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© Casey Carlisle 2018. 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.