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

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

Genre: Y/A, Dystopian, Science Fiction

No. of pages: 400

IN TIME

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

SPARKS RISE

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

BEYOND THE NIGHT

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

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

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

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

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

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

Overall feeling: she cute.

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

Book Review – ‘In The Afterlight’ (#3 The Darkest Minds) by Alexandra Bracken

Not the conclusion I was hoping for.

In the Afterlight (#3 The Darkest Minds) Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Dystopian, Science Fiction

No. of pages: 535

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Ruby can’t look back. Fractured by an unbearable loss, she and the kids who survived the government’s attack on Los Angeles travel north to regroup. With them is a prisoner: Clancy Gray, son of the president, and one of the few people Ruby has encountered with abilities like hers. Only Ruby has any power over him, and just one slip could lead to Clancy wreaking havoc on their minds.

They are armed only with a volatile secret: proof of a government conspiracy to cover up the real cause of IAAN, the disease that has killed most of America’s children and left Ruby and others like her with powers the government will kill to keep contained. But internal strife may destroy their only chance to free the “rehabilitation camps” housing thousands of other Psi kids.

Meanwhile, reunited with Liam, the boy she would-and did-sacrifice everything for to keep alive, Ruby must face the painful repercussions of having tampered with his memories of her. She turns to Cole, his older brother, to provide the intense training she knows she will need to take down Gray and the government. But Cole has demons of his own, and one fatal mistake may be the spark that sets the world on fire.

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The biggest issue I had with this is pacing. So much detail. Logistics. The pace did pick up a little in the second half, but on the whole ‘In The Afterlight’ felt like it was a looong read. I really had to force myself to keep picking it up.

Even though I was relatively familiar with the cast, there was still a lot of characters to keep track of, and several times I had to stop and try and remember who some people were and what had gone down in the prequels.

I was expecting some major events around the use of their abilities, upping the ante from the previous novels in this franchise, but all I got was a whimper. This wasn’t the cinematic climax I was expecting. Yes, it resolved all the plot points it needed to, but a more impotent manner. I think it was more to do with the pacing, but with some of the more tragic and emotional scenes in ‘In The Afterlight,’ it did not affect me so much. At the end of the book I was like… meh! It was cool, and I loved getting a resolution, but it was a lukewarm finish.

In the Afterlight (#3 The Darkest Minds) Book Review Pic 02 by Casey CarlisleThe character acrs for all the main players weren’t that huge either, it felt more like their wishes being fulfilled rather than any major change in their beliefs, character, or goals. There was even a few points in this finale that rendered all the events in the second book, ‘Never Fade’ irrelevant – and I was like, what was the point of that book than other than experiencing yet another failure?

I kinda like Alexandra Bracken’s writing style, I just really wish she would edit to keep the plot moving forward with each scene.

My opinion on this collection has been slowly dropping with each consecutive instalment. There is a bind-up of short stories in ‘Through the Dark’ that I have yet to read, and I can even break those up through other reads if the pacing falls; and I’m sort-of interested in ‘The Darkest Legacy’ this time following Zu. The blurb sounds good, but it is 569 pages and I’m concerned it is going to suffer the same pacing issues… and judging from the mixed reviews it seems to be the case from many reviewers. I do have the ‘Wayfarer’ duology which I will indulge in at some future date, but if it has the same types of issues I think I’ll start skipping Brackens work altogether.

In The Afterlight’ was predictable. It hit all the points it was meant to to wrap up the series, but there were no real surprises, no twists, and in fact had an underwhelming conclusion. It was such a long journey to get there I wanted a bang for my buck… but no dice.

Ruby was an interesting protagonist, I still cared about her and her story, but that is pretty much it.

At this point in time, I don’t really recommend this book, or the series. Instead, go watch the movie – it will be much more satisfying.

Overall feeling: …

In the Afterlight (#3 The Darkest Minds) Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

In the Afterlight (#3 The Darkest Minds) 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 – ‘Never Fade’ (#2 The Darkest Minds) by Alexandra Bracken

Middle book syndrome at its longest.

Never Fade (#2 The Darkest Minds) Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Dystopian

No. of pages: 507

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Ruby never asked for the abilities that almost cost her her life. Now she must call upon them on a daily basis, leading dangerous missions to bring down a corrupt government and breaking into the minds of her enemies. Other kids in the Children’s League call Ruby “Leader”, but she knows what she really is: a monster.

When Ruby is entrusted with an explosive secret, she must embark on her most dangerous mission yet: leaving the Children’s League behind. Crucial information about the disease that killed most of America’s children-and turned Ruby and the others who lived into feared and hated outcasts-has survived every attempt to destroy it. But the truth is only saved in one place: a flashdrive in the hands of Liam Stewart, the boy Ruby once believed was her future-and who now wouldn’t recognize her.

As Ruby sets out across a desperate, lawless country to find Liam-and answers about the catastrophe that has ripped both her life and America apart-she is torn between old friends and the promise she made to serve the League. Ruby will do anything to protect the people she loves. But what if winning the war means losing herself?

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I really struggled to read this. I remember finding ‘The Darkest Minds’ as much the same type of creature. And now realise why so much time has passed for me to pick up this sequel. The plot and storytelling are great. Bracken can weave a masterful storyline, but I felt like it could do with some heavy editing.

Ruby as our protagonist felt a little immature. Single-minded and stubborn. There was something about her attitude, the other children around her, and the dystopian world they found themselves in that didn’t quite marry together. In comparing their level of mentality and maturity to real life children living through difficulty or tragedy, we see a much different mindset. One of mastering capability and street smarts as well as dealing with psychological issues of trauma, abandonment, and trust. I feel this latter treatment would have made the cast of The Darkest Minds Universe much more interesting and driven the story with a strength of character that also has vulnerability.

I still am not sure about the ranking system – the colours – what is the science behind how the virus affected the young and why some got an ability and why others died. Blood type? Brain Chemistry? I hope we get to uncover this in the final novel because it has been annoying me since the first book.

The entire middle chunk of ‘Never Fade’ lagged. The pacing was slow, my interest wandered. I kept questioning what was the relevance of these events to the plot.

Never Fade (#2 The Darkest Minds) Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

Additionally, I still feel like there is a bit of meandering with the storyline too. This novel could have been half its length and been a much better story. It was altogether too waffly and longwinded. Bracken’s writing style is eloquent, but at times left me feeling it was overly too flowery for some scenes. I’d like to see the word choice and sentence structure match the tone of the scene. Too many tangents off with Ruby’s thoughts that weren’t imperative to the plot, or setting the scene.

There was some great angst and build up without it becoming too cheesy. Though maybe drawn out too long – if suggested edits were done, it would have been perfect.

So too were there repeated words and phrases. I was pulled out of the narrative countless times wanting to cluck my tongue. It feels like the editing process really let Alexandra Bracken down.

There were some great twist and turns in the last 100 pages. I was gripped as the story unfolded.

I can’t say that this was easily predicted – I was too busy trying to figure out what the heck was going on. The plot really ambled in all different directions until the final act. From there on I really enjoyed ‘Never Fade.’ But it took me at least 50-100 pages in the beginning to get my bearings, and then schlepped through the middle where I could care less. I put the book down for nearly a week for a rest before forcing my way through. ‘Never Fade’ definitely had that middle book slump going on. And if you really think about it, Ruby is not too far from being in the position of where she was at the finale of ‘The Darkest Minds’ apart from a few plot points dropped at the very end of ‘Never Fade.’ So it had me wondering was it all necessary? What character development did she have different from the debut? It was all pretty much the same…

I may have rated this lower if not for the great reveals towards the end, and Brackens writing is pretty good when she’s not lost in exposition. So far both these novels in the series so far have been interesting, but long winded. I will read the final book in the trilogy before I make a concrete decision about recommending these books, because at the moment I’m on the fence.

Overall feeling: *snores and wakes up*

Never Fade (#2 The Darkest Minds) Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Never Fade (#2 The Darkest Minds) 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?

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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.

15 minutes to Hollywood curls … by Casey Carlisle

Put the bounce back into your step with a head-turning hairstyle.

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Do you admire the shiny and wavy hair of television or movie stars? I know I do! Let me share with you a secret that will give you a similar look… and it doesn’t take hours in a salon. You can achieve it right at home in no time at all – and you don’t need to be an expert.

You will need some equipment – Hot rollers are inexpensive – I bought my set for $40. There are a lot of different products out there, but I recommend you purchase ones that are smooth and have a soft velvet-like cover. Rollers with prongs for grip, do exactly that – I’ve had to gently and painstakingly remove these type of tangled rollers from many of my friends hair over the years. The rubber coated ones (gel rollers) are great too, but as they age the covering breaks down and sticks in clumps like glue to your lovely locks. So for value of money and durability, the fabric covered thermal type are the way to go.

“Wands or curling irons are great, but you have to curl and hold each section, which is time consuming – with hot rollers you can set and go…”

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I’d incorporate this procedure into your routine: Turn the hot rollers to heat up while you shower and wash your hair. It works best on clean hair; oily hair won’t take as well, and the heat helps to spread natural oils from your scalp, making your hair look even dirtier.

Once you’ve toweled dry and blow-dried your hair (just blast it dry, no need to use brushes – not unless you have unusually unruly hair). Feel free to use a moisturizing mousse and/or a thermal styling agent before drying; they are light and help protect from styling stress.

Then starting from the top, grab small handfuls of hair and roll up, starting from the ends, curling it towards the scalp; and then fasten with a jaw-clip. You don’t have to be overly particular with placement – most of the curl is concentrated on the mid-lengths to ends of the hair. A whole head should take you about 5 minutes, 10 at the most.

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Once you have the whole head in rollers they need to stay in until cool – usually 15-20 minutes – so you have this time free to get other things done in your routine. Sometimes I leave the rollers in for 30 minutes, it just depends on how quickly I need to get out the door. Use the time to do your make up, get dressed, make the bed, do the dishes…

Once the rollers have cooled, you can pull them out (using an un-rolling action to avoid snarls); give your hair a quick brush, using either a soft bristle brush or a wide-tooth rake. If you need to remove any ‘dents’ from the clips or rollers, blast your hairline & close to the scalp with the blow-dryer. It will loosen the curl, so don’t do it too aggressively, or for too long. The whole process (called ‘dressing the hair’) should only take about 5 minutes, and whamo! You have movie star hair!

So, for an investment of an additional 15 minutes, you have salon professional-looking styled hair.

For me, personally the curls last a few days, and plaiting your hair back when you sleep helps to maintain the curl and keep the hair smooth and shiny.

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© Casey Carlisle 2014. 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.