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 – ‘Broken Throne’ (#4.5 Red Queen) by Victoria Aveyard

Filling in the gaps in the Red Queen series.

Genre: YA, Science Fiction

No. of pages: 480

This gorgeously designed package features three brand-new novellas, two previously published novellas, Steel Scars and Queen Song, and never-before-seen maps, flags, bonus scenes, journal entries, and much more exclusive content.

Fans will be delighted to catch up with beloved characters after the drama of War Storm and be excited to hear from brand-new voices as well. This stunning collection is not to be missed!

A bind up of novellas for the Red Queen franchise that follow secondary characters in this universe, and the final short story lets us glimpse into the further of Mare and Cal after ‘War Storm.’

It pains me to say, but this was the least interesting read of the series so far. That, in addition to the publishers doubling up on releasing two short stories previously published in another bind-up. Which left two novellas that I had not read that were so steeped in politics and descriptions of the nation (and historical research) that the tone was dry and boring. I seriously had a difficult time trying to stay focused on the page.

The ray of sun that broke through the clouds, was the inclusion of Mare and Cal reuniting in the last novella. Though not really explored, just a brief moment where they address feelings (not getting too deep) before the story ends.

So I got a brief moment of joy in a sea of lengthy beaurocratic red tape descriptions and two already-read short stories. I kinda feel ripped off.

There were moments of Victoria Aveyard’s writing that really drew me in, especially in the final novella, but the rest of the time the pacing was off and the plot so bogged down with situational recount, no compelling protagonist, for me to feel connected to the narrative, or even care where the story is going.

Broken Throne’ is more for the die-hard enthusiast for the Red Queen series. It has snippets from other characters, description of political movements and wars, history from present day to this dystopian powered world of Reds and Silvers. A great companion for the fans; but for me, a lover of the supernatural powers and a strong tale of a protagonist overcoming the odds, much of this did not appeal.

Overall feeling: It was just not for me…

© 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 – ‘Swarm’ (#2 Zeroes) by Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan, and Deborah Biancotti

The Breakfast Club meets X-Men.

Genre: Y/A, Science Fiction, LGBT

No. of pages: 448

They thought they’d already faced their toughest fight. But there’s no relaxing for the reunited Zeroes.

These six teens with unique abilities have taken on bank robbers, drug dealers, and mobsters. Now they’re trying to lay low so they can get their new illegal nightclub off the ground.

But the quiet doesn’t last long when two strangers come to town, bringing with them a whole different kind of crowd-based chaos. And hot on their tails is a crowd-power even more dangerous and sinister.

Up against these new enemies, every Zero is under threat. Mob is crippled by the killing-crowd buzz—is she really evil at her core? Flicker is forced to watch the worst things a crowd can do. Crash’s conscience—and her heart—get a workout. Anon and Scam must both put family loyalties on the line for the sake of survival. And Bellwether’s glorious-leader mojo deserts him.

Who’s left to lead the Zeroes into battle against a new, murderous army?

A bunch of teens with superpowers trying to keep their secret and do good in the world. Sounds altruistic and tropey, but in ‘Swarm’ it works. There are so many interesting characters with well-developed backgrounds and even more intriguing abilities – the world of the Zeroes is a delight. ‘Swarm’ definitely ups the level of difficulty faced by our group of wannabe heroes from the debut. The tapestry of obstacles they need to overcome is truly masterful.

The biggest drawbacks for me though is partly because there were so many characters, the pacing suffered. So many short chapters following a different narrative and it took half the book for anything really interesting to happen. I remember listening to the audiobook of ‘Zeroes’ on a road trip and not noticing the pacing as an issue because of the voice characterisation; but in written form it becomes more prominent. The shorter chapters make you feel like you are zooming through the book, but when you look at the structure of the story, the inciting incident does not take place until the middle of the novel. Following 6 protagonists is awkward, and the narrative is constantly mixing their original names and superhero names. I kept having to mentally check myself to remember who was who. Maybe you’d have less difficulty in listening to the audiobook. And I could definitely see this format playing out better on screen. But for a YA novel, it was a little clunky at times.

The worst aside, the imagination behind the abilities of these teens is wonderfully creative and sets it apart from the usual slew of powers we usually get in this genre. I would have liked to see some more separation in voice between the chapters following the different protagonists, and with three authors this is definitely possible, but it read very monotone in the sense of voice with the narrative writing style.

The particulars of the plot are very unique and engaging, but the main structure of the story is tried and true. I didn’t get many surprises, no unexpected twists that I did not see coming. There was one reveal that was particularly masterful. I just think maybe that I felt the story was slightly undercooked. ‘Zeroes’ ended on a strong note of ‘tune in tomorrow for the continuing story…’ Where ‘Swarm’ had a more traditional – if somewhat abrupt- ending. Still I want to pick up the last book in this trilogy ‘Nexus’ in hopes to get more information in the mythology, origins of their abilities, and a better rounding off for the universe and characters storylines.

If anything, ‘Swarm’ did not suffer the middle book syndrome. It was a great encapsulated story for the franchise, drove the plot forward, showed character development, and solved enough plot points to satisfy me as a reader. A commendable effort and great read I’d happily recommend.

Overall feeling: Commendable darling!

© 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 – ‘Not Your Backup’ (#3 Sidekick Squad) by C.B. Lee

Diversity, superheroes and an expert plot.

Not Your Backup (#3 Sidekick Squad) Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Science Fiction, Fantasy, LGBT

No. of pages: 320

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Emma Robledo has a few more responsibilities than the usual high school senior, but then again, she and her friends have left school to lead a fractured Resistance movement against a corrupt Heroes League of Heroes. Emma is the only member of a supercharged team without powers, and she isn’t always taken seriously. A natural leader, Emma is determined to win this battle, and when that’s done, get back to school. As the Resistance moves to challenge the League, Emma realizes where her place is in this fight: at the front.

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I’ve been getting a real kick out of this series – the diverse cast, superheroes, espionage, and teen angst. ‘Not Your Backup’ did not hit all the same marks as its two prequels for me. The pacing felt slower and there were a lot of characters to follow, and given the amount of time passed since having read ‘Not Your Villain,’ it took me a minute to get back into the swing of the story.

I love how it picks up not long after the events in ‘Not Your Villain’ following Emma as a protagonist. The only one on the Sidekick Squad who does not possess meta-human abilities… though she does have a high IQ and has been dubbed Mastermind. I was a little tired of her ‘woe is me no-one takes me seriously because I’m a child and don’t have superpowers’ shtick. It was a great plot device but it felt like it dragged on for too long. I would have liked her to use it as an advantage – let people underestimate her and become more cloak and dagger.

Not Your Backup (#3 Sidekick Squad) Book Review Pic 02 by Casey CarlisleEmma’s self-discovery around being asexual (ace/aro) was interesting and educational, as too the discussion of queerplatonic relationships.

Bells as the love interest is cute as all get out (the protagonist from ‘Not Your Villain.’) And you could see him revelling in all the character growth he’d made from that sequel.

Plot-wise ‘Not Your Backup’ is outstanding, we get seeding of clues and threads, many of the characters have their own arc (some of them off-page.) I think though, compared to the other two novels published so far, there was less action, less gadgets, less uncertainty in the people around them, which left most of the novel feeling bare and the pace lagging. The last section of the novel, leading up to the conclusion was back at what I expect from C.B. Lee. Great pacing, twists and turns aplenty, all ending in a big bang. Where ‘Not Your Sidekick’ and ‘Not Your Villain’ were introducing characters, ‘Not Your Backup’ followed these characters and started setting up plot points to be resolved in the finale ‘Not Your Hero’ which was initially set to be due out this June 2020, but I haven’t seen an update in a while, and with many titles getting pushed pack, we may not see this released until around Christmas or in 2021. So I guess ‘Not Your Backup’ has a bit of that old middle book syndrome playing out. Something of a necessity. And that’s not to say I was bored or anything, quite the contrary, I remained engaged throughout and love Lee’s writing style. It was just a little slower than I was used to.

Going in, I already knew there was a final book coming for this series, so the whole overturning of the Hero’s League of Heroes and dethroning the reigning council members was not going to be resolved in this instalment. And after being declared fugitives in the previous novel, the only thing I predicted was the Sidekick Squad getting back together and attempting guerrilla warfare tactics. Besides that, I had no idea what was around the corner, and C.B. Lee managed to throw in a few curve balls giving me a few WTF moments. Genius.

I am expecting an epic conclusion in the final novel and can’t wait for its release. And I’d definitely recommend this novel (and series) to lovers of superheroes, YA, and queer literature. It’s certainly a well-written fun romp through a genre that has outlasted many throughout our written history. Though ‘Not Your Backup’ cannot be read as a standalone – you definitely need to read the sequels to get a proper understanding of the characters and world building.

So C.B. Lee not only entertains me, but gives me snippets of queer culture education along the way in a superhero wrapping.

Overall feeling: Yee-haw!

Not Your Backup (#3 Sidekick Squad) Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Not Your Backup (#3 Sidekick Squad) 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 – ‘Sovereign’ (#2 Nemesis) by April Daniels

Daniels writing is improving at lighting speed.

Sovereign (#2 Nemesis) Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Science Fiction, Fantasy, LGBT

No. of pages: 315

From Goodreads:

Only nine months after her debut as the superhero Dreadnought, Danny Tozer is already a scarred veteran. Protecting a city the size of New Port is a team-sized job and she’s doing it alone. Between her newfound celebrity and her demanding cape duties, Dreadnought is stretched thin, and it’s only going to get worse. 

When she crosses a newly discovered billionaire supervillain, Dreadnought comes under attack from all quarters. From her troubled family life to her disintegrating friendship with Calamity, there’s no lever too cruel for this villain to use against her. 

She might be hard to kill, but there’s more than one way to destroy a hero. Before the war is over, Dreadnought will be forced to confront parts of herself she never wanted to acknowledge. 

And behind it all, an old enemy waits in the wings, ready to unleash a plot that will scar the world forever. 

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I enjoyed ‘Sovereign’ much more than ‘Dreadnought.’ There wasn’t any of the identity issues that didn’t sit well with me from the debut. Here we see protagonist Danny solidly in her role of superhero, and no longer needing to justify her affirmed and presented gender and role. Characters and forces working against her are aplenty, both in terms of accepting her transformation, and super powers. The story felt grounded.

This was full of action. I was transfixed from the start to the finish. I would’ve completed it in one sitting if my eyes weren’t growing heavy as it got late in the night.

Danny’s friendship with Calamity was strained and weird for the first half of the novel – and I didn’t feel like it was totally justified. But is was beautiful to see their relationship grow and change. Android and hero support, Doc, was my favourite, and she managed to ingratiate herself further into my heart through ‘Sovereign.’

Sovereign (#2 Nemesis) Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

We see many characters return, and some new ones get introduced as threats remaining over from ‘Dreadnought’ and new ones raise their heads to challenge Danny in some awesome fights. I will say towards the end, I was on the edge of my seat, though the climactic fight lacked some emotion and anticipation. I’m loving the way April Daniels crafts battle scenes, but terms and sentence structure became a bit repetitive to zing some of the energy out of those encounters – but that is me being really, really picky.

There is a lot of politics in this one. It’s kind of an undercurrent of the whole series – I feel like it’s mirroring an observation of the current climate of the real world in dealing with discrimination and laws for LGBT rights.

The tone of ‘Sovereign’ was less about gender and more about a person. Less about having superpowers and more about fighting for what is right.

Really looking forward to the next novel in this series – with the jump in improvement between ‘Dreadnought’ and ‘Sovereign,’ the third novel could be outstanding!

We’re still needing to address the Nexus (and Professor Gothics role), closure with Danny’s parents, the fate in the direction of the Legion, and I’m wanting to see what happens between Danny and Red Steel: it feels almost flirtatious.

I’m on the fence with recommending ‘Dreadnought,’ due to the issues with how it handles Danny’s transformation and adaptation to her new gender, but I’d be happy to recommend ‘Sovereign.’ So once you get over that initial hump this series really starts to take off.

Overall feeling: Mindgasm

Sovereign (#2 Nemesis) Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Sovereign (#2 Nemesis) 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 – ‘Not Your Villain’ (#2 Sidekick Squad) by C.B. Lee

A sequel that super excels in all areas.

Not Your Villain (#2 Sidekick Squad) Book Review Pic 01 by Casey Carlisle.jpgGenre: Y/A, Science Fiction, Fantasy, LGBT

No. of pages: 307

From Goodreads:

Bells Broussard thought he had it made when his superpowers manifested early. Being a shapeshifter is awesome. He can change his hair whenever he wants, and if putting on a binder for the day is too much, he’s got it covered. But that was before he became the country’s most-wanted villain.

After discovering a massive cover-up by the Heroes’ League of Heroes, Bells and his friends Jess, Emma, and Abby set off on a secret mission to find the Resistance. Meanwhile, power-hungry former hero Captain Orion is on the loose with a dangerous serum that renders meta-humans powerless, and a new militarized robotic threat emerges. Everyone is in danger. Between college applications and crushing on his best friend, will Bells have time to take down a corrupt government?

Sometimes, to do a hero’s job, you need to be a villain.

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Not Your Villain’ was a fun read. A great superhero adventure with a social conscience.

I am definitely going to re-read this entire series once it has completed its release. With a diverse cast and a unique, almost Star Trek mentality on the human condition, I was engrossed from start to finish.

Where the debut ‘Not Your Sidekick’ followed Jess, in this sequel we are treated to another member of the gang…

Not Your Villain (#2 Sidekick Squad) Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

Our protagonist, Bells was written beautifully, a trans (F-M) protagonist was treated as a human being, never was his identification as being male brought into question. It was simply accepted and we got on with the story. I think the viewpoint on acceptance and diversity is what adds layers to the story that we don’t see enough of in YA. In reality, gender, gender identity, and sexuality should not be issues for difference, as neither should be the colour of our skin, nationality, able-bodiedness, metal agility, or how much money we earn. C.B. Lee manages to create an environment where all these prejudices are eliminated and gets on with a quirky, amazing superhero story.

The cast is dynamic, and so too is the future dystopian world where resources are scarce.

Lee’s writing style and humour shine brightly, and even with each of the characters being funny and sassy, they each have their uniqueness and all come together to form their own superhero group that rocks.

Not Your Villain (#2 Sidekick Squad) Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

The novels so far read more like origin stories, so the plot points we get about the universe – the roles of heroes and villains, the control of the Collective, are introduced, explored slightly, and then left for further development in a later novel. So I was immediately wanting to read ‘Not Your Backup’ (this time following squad member Emma) upon finishing, because there is just so much juicy aspects left to solve.

We get a lot of character study and development in each novel, but ‘Not Your Villain’ managed to increase the complexity and stakes from the debut. We are starting to see more interaction with the cast of characters, and uncover differing factions fighting for dominance over the region.

Because of the writing style, sassy characters and punchy subject matter, I flew through this book. But because it’s largely about how Bells handles his identity, and relates to the world at large as a superhero in training, and the main over arcing plot is still continuing through for the next instalment, I can’t comment too strongly on predictability, because most of the plot points remain unsolved. Though, I found this novel refreshing and brilliant and can’t recommend it enough.

Overall feeling: I totally geeked out!!

Not Your Villain (#2 Sidekick Squad) Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

Not Your Villain (#2 Sidekick Squad) Book Review Pic 05 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 – ‘Dreadnought’ (#1 Nemesis) by April Daniels

Comic book heroes, conspiracies and a social conscience.

Dreadnought (#1 Nemesis) Book Review Pic 01 by Casey Carlisle.jpgGenre: Y/A, Science Fiction, Fantasy, LGBT

No. of pages: 276

From Goodreads:

Danny Tozer has a problem: she just inherited the powers of Dreadnought, the world’s greatest superhero.

Until Dreadnought fell out of the sky and died right in front of her, Danny was trying to keep people from finding out she’s transgender. But before he expired, Dreadnought passed his mantle to her, and those secondhand superpowers transformed Danny’s body into what she’s always thought it should be. Now there’s no hiding that she’s a girl. 

It should be the happiest time of her life, but Danny’s first weeks finally living in a body that fits her are more difficult and complicated than she could have imagined. Between her father’s dangerous obsession with “curing” her girlhood, her best friend suddenly acting like he’s entitled to date her, and her fellow superheroes arguing over her place in their ranks, Danny feels like she’s in over her head.

She doesn’t have much time to adjust. Dreadnought’s murderer—a cyborg named Utopia—still haunts the streets of New Port City, threatening destruction. If Danny can’t sort through the confusion of coming out, master her powers, and stop Utopia in time, humanity faces extinction. 

I loved this book because – hello superheroes – but also because of the diversity in its characters and unique perspective on the superhero genre. April Daniels brings together child-like fantasy and social commentary on identity, gender, and trans issues with ‘Dreadnought.’

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One point of contention, and even though this is an ‘own voices’ book, something about the start of Danny’s story and transformation did not sit well with me. She was oversexualised at times, and many of the cis-gendered characters reactions were so stereotypically gendered that I felt it was almost reverse discrimination… but then I realised that while the author was giving an authentic representation of the facets some transgendered youth experience, I think it was that the reactions were crammed into a short space of time, and that Danny’s physical transition was pretty much instant. Where in reality much of this is spread out over years and there is a much more diverse selection of attitudes from supportive and non-supportive people throughout the life of a trans person. So I think my issue comes from the science fiction side of things, rather than the underlying social commentary around someone’s transgendered experience.

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The introduction of Calamity/Sarah was a great tool for viewing the whole superhero industry and the role of villains with an outside eye. She also acted as a voice of reason and a level head that grounded Danny. Not to mention it felt like the only genuine friendship in the whole novel. Which is something ‘Dreadnought’ needed as Danny was essentially isolated from her transition.

Doc was in interesting character that merits a mention. The tech guru, patch-em-up, and gadget geek all rolled into one. While Doc was a great support (team) for Dreadnought, there were some obvious secrets being kept that had me wanting to keep an eye on Doc’s motives, despite being a trusted member of the gang.

But I loved all the issues that this narrative brought to light – and that it wasn’t all about being trans. It was about government conspiracies, complex characters, good versus evil; and all the shades of grey in-between, passing high school, making friends, confidence, and discovering how to take control of your life.

There were elements of body shaming and comments of hormonal emotional states that were a little off-putting for me. Danny kept saying she was the same person, but all of a sudden having a different outside did change her behaviour…it was a little contradictory.

The superheros deal: I loved how there was not a cut-and-dry side of who was good and bad. Each had their own motivations and none of them were all completely righteous. Just like people, we are all fallible, superpowers or not.

Daniels can craft some great fight scenes – I was glued to the page through it all, almost bobbing and weaving in my lounge chair. If that doesn’t give you a hint about how well paced this novel is… I completed it in a day! ‘Dreadnought’ definitely kept surprising me. There was so much going on. I really can’t say I predicted the ending at all. Instead I was just so swept up and engaged in Danny’s story that when I reached the end I was blinking in a stupor.

Great ending too, it resolved enough of the story to give me satisfaction, but teased enough for me to want to rush out and purchase the sequel. Which I did – I added ‘Sovereign’ to my shopping cart immediately. So stay tuned for a review on the follow up soon.

Overall feeling: Blown away – this is how I felt while reading…

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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 – ‘Into the Still Blue’ (#3 Under the Never Sky) by Veronica Rossi

The hair-raising conclusion to a lightning filled dystopian world that fizzled flat.

Into The Still Blue Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Science Fiction, Dystopia

No. of pages: 389

From Goodreads:

The race to the Still Blue has reached a stalemate. Aria and Perry are determined to find this last safe haven from the Aether storms before Sable and Hess do—and they are just as determined to stay together.

Within the confines of a cave they’re using as a makeshift refuge, they struggle to reconcile their people, Dwellers and Outsiders, who are united only in their hatred of their desperate situation. Meanwhile, time is running out to rescue Cinder, who was abducted by Hess and Sable for his unique abilities. Then Roar arrives in a grief-stricken fury, endangering all with his need for revenge.

Out of options, Perry and Aria assemble an unlikely team for an impossible rescue mission. Cinder isn’t just the key to unlocking the Still Blue and their only hope for survival—he’s also their friend. And in a dying world, the bonds between people are what matter most. 

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The battle is real – with this conclusion to the trilogy ‘Into the Still Blue’ brings about all the physical fight against the elements and each other in hope to find an Oasis from a decaying environment and factions struggling for power. On the surface the plot is outstanding, but the delivery felt a somewhat lukewarm.

I felt Aria finally got her sea-legs. In the previous novels I felt she bounced around between place, people and conviction. As much as I did not connect with her, I appreciated her story.

Perry just seemed to struggle. From the start – right to the end… and I think that is just who he is. So that left me kind of meh!

I think I was more excited about the dog Flea in this novel. The mention of him always brought a smile to my face.

Into The Still Blue Book Review Pic 03 by Casey CarlisleIt felt masterfully crafted, though I must admit I never really connected with Aria or Perry throughout this trilogy; and something about the writing style had me wandering away from the book quite a lot. It’s not that it was boring, I just never felt compelled to read on.

I feel like I want to say that the supporting characters had more depth than our two protagonists. Maybe because Aria and Perry were so single minded. So serious. That their narrative came across slightly monotone. There was no fluctuation in ambience and motive.

There wasn’t anything that struck me as particularly wrong with this concluding novel, just there was something missing. I think the dual perspective, again, gave too many answers and details for the story, eliminating a great opportunity to up the tension.

On the subject of loss and Death – I was a little on the fence with how this was dealt with. There were varying degrees of impact from the loss of certain characters. I felt more importance and compassion should have been considered. It would have also made for a much more poignant conclusion. I also did not like how murder and killing were handled either. Again, the facts were mostly glossed over to move the story along. When it would have been a great opportunity to up the emotion and paint a picture of devastation, brutality, and inevitability of the fight for survival against nature, and each other.

The plot unravelled very organically and I never felt the hand of the author guiding along the story. Though, the writing style did not paint a detailed enough picture of the world for me. I still have trouble picturing the main characters and the landscape they live in. Some aspects are crystal clear, but others felt washed out.

I liked the tone the novel ended on and how the storyline wrapped up. But I was still hoping for more mythology from this dystopian world to explore. Get some more technology in this sci-fi. Oh well…

It’s not a series I would recommend to friends – it’s okay. But there are much more entertaining collections out there.

Overall reaction: *rocking hand motion*

Into The Still Blue Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

Into The Still Blue Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

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© Casey Carlisle 2017. 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 – ‘Sacrifice’ (#5 The Elementals) by Brigid Kemmerer

Another guilty pleasure – but didn’t feel like the end of the series.

Sacrifice (#5 Elemental) Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarliseGenre: Y/A, Paranormal, Romance

No. of pages: 324

From Goodreads:

Earth. Fire. Air. Water.

One misstep and they lose it all. For the last time.

Michael Merrick understands pressure. He’s the only parent his three brothers have had for years. His power to control Earth could kill someone if he miscalculates. Now an Elemental Guide has it in for his family, and he’s all that stands in the way.

His girlfriend, Hannah, understands pressure too. She’s got a child of her own, and a job as a firefighter that could put her life in danger at any moment.

But there are people who have had enough of Michael’s defiance, his family’s ‘bad luck’. Before he knows it, Michael’s enemies have turned into the Merricks’ enemies, and they’re armed for war.

They’re not interested in surrender. But Michael isn’t the white flag type anyway. Everything is set for the final showdown.

Four elements, one family. Will they hold together, or be torn apart?

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At this point in time, ‘Sacrifice’ is meant to be the last book in the Elementals collection. But I didn’t feel it. I was hoping for the all stakes battle, for all the Elementals to join together as one unstoppable fighting unit. We’ve been getting hints of this all through the series – and well… *fizzle* *deflated balloon*

As with all the other books in the series, we get another perspective – this time from Michael, the oldest Merrick sibling. I’m so glad all the hormonal teen boy violence was kept to a hush and we actually got some story. Though there was an awful lot of people getting shot, blown up and killed. But the Merrick brothers seemed to have chilled a bit – that or they are still reeling and in shock.

Sacrifice (#5 Elemental) Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlise.jpgI enjoyed the story, but ‘Sacrifice’ just didn’t pack the punch I was expecting. Maybe because Brigid Kemmerer already had a follow-up in the works, who knows. The characters and storylines are feeling more realistic, so I don’t understand why this didn’t grab me as much. Plenty of tension, the stakes were high for Michael… possibly it was the angst that was absent? Or maybe it’s my unmet expectation of the ultimate showdown not being realised? I was also hoping to get more on the mythology of the Elementals, the formation and organisation of the Guides and their motivation. It’s just been very precursory up until now. I want more history and nitty-gritty of these secret warring factions.

I also didn’t get much over the relationships of the other brothers – Kemmerer tends to omit the other characters when she’s concentrating on the story of her books protagonist. I missed Becca, Laney, Adam… I mean it’s a close-knit family unit and is seems common sense that their boyfriends and girlfriends would be present for most of the time.

But that’s just me being picky. And a little gibbed about not getting some of the answers I wanted.

Otherwise ‘Sacrifice’ was another great addition to the Elemental universe. I’m still wondering how there are so many Elementals though, it was getting to a point you couldn’t hurl a stick without hitting one. But that meant plenty of displays of awesome supernatural powers. Me likey! The tension between Hannah and Michael was great, especially with Hannah’s father continually getting in the way. I really enjoyed this emotional tussle.

I read this very quickly, in fact I was wondering where the rest of it was when I’d finished. The same breeze writing style leant to completing the novel in a day.

I’ve seen Brigid Kemmerer’s note on Goodreads informing fans that the next novel in this series ‘Strife’ had been put on indefinite hiatus due to contracts on some of the releases we are now starting to see released and on the publishing schedule. But I hope we get to see her return to the Merrick boys and publish the next book – maybe it will give me the answers I crave?

Nonetheless, I’m putting this guilty pleasure back on my shelf and looking towards the next challenge.

Overall feeling: Where was the rest?

Sacrifice (#5 Elemental) Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlise

Sacrifice (#5 Elemental) Book Review Pic 4 by Casey Carlise

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© Casey Carlisle 2017. 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.