Book Review – ‘The Merciless III : The Origins of Evil’ (#3 The Merciless) by Danielle Vega

Going back to the beginning…

The Merciless III The Origins of Evil (#3 The Merciless) Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Horror, Paranormal

No. of pages: 304

From Goodreads:

Brooklyn knows that there’s no good without evil, no right without wrong. And when a helpless girl calls her teen helpline, whispering that someone is hurting her, Brooklyn knows that she needs to save her anonymous caller, even if it means doing something bad.

Her parents and friends assure her the call was probably a prank but Brooklyn has always had a tendency to take over, whether someone has asked for help or not.

She discovers the call came from Christ First Church and finds herself plunged into the cultish community of its youth group. She’s especially drawn to Gavin, the angelic yet tortured pastor’s son.

Torn between an unstoppable attraction to Gavin and her obsession with the truth, Brooklyn is forced to make a devastating choice to rid Christ Church of evil once and for all. . . . But the devil has plans for Brooklyn’s soul.  

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This is a prelude to the first two novels following the story of a new protagonist, Brooklyn, leading right up to the events in the debut novel. It has all the uncertainty that I find Danielle Vega does so well in her writing. You want gore – you got it. And again, ‘The Merciless III’ is a quick punchy read that you can visualise as a movie.

I loved following Brooklyn’s transformation, the increments that lead her from each action, escalating as the plot evolves. You are always questioning. Is this mental illness or different shades of crazy? Is this Evil? But it is all based in reality and justifiable, so it’s a grey area. The special effects (so to speak) are straight out of a Hollywood Blockbuster and I loved the descriptions of the evil Brooklyn faces. She is gritty with a rebellious streak, determined not to become a sheep or a clone like the popular girls, sans Mean Girls.

I’m on the fence about the rest of the characters in this novel, only because I found it all a tiny unsettling. You were either getting a culty-religious-zealot vibe, or possibly-possessed-by-a-demon vibe, so it was hard to relate to, or sympathise with the cast. But those elements helped in constructing Riley as a goody-two-shoes judgemental antagonist and leader of the popular girl gang.

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There is a bit of two guys fighting over Brooklyn’s affections. Gavin, the pastor’s son: angelic and tortured. And then there’s Elijah, the laid back dude. But there’s not instalove or anything, just like and lust, so it does not read as a love triangle.

The story is predictable – I mean it’s a prequel to the first two books, so you know in which direction it’s heading, but boy oh boy if it doesn’t still throw a cat at your face. I still get shocked at the *cough-torture-porn-cough* and it is still a fast paced read. It has got me even all the more excited to get to the fourth and final book for the series. At this point I don’t know how any of the characters are going to end up surviving. Maybe they’ll all take a big dirt nap in Hell? Who knows?

I’m really loving Danielle Vega’s writing style. She can throw misdirection and doubt like a master, her characters aren’t so cookie-cutter typical either, and most always have a hidden past that is intriguing. It’s fast-paced, interesting and very teen slasher movie. Another definite recommend from me for a light YA horror which is an easy read.

There was some disorientation upon first reading as I went into this novel without any prior knowledge – eager to continue in Sofia’s journey – and felt a little confronted by a different perspective and new characters. But I quickly got over myself when I worked out what was going on.

Overall feeling: Keeping the creep factor alive since 2014.

The Merciless III The Origins of Evil (#3 The Merciless) Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

 The Merciless III The Origins of Evil (#3 The Merciless) Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

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© Casey Carlisle 2019. 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 – ‘A Very, Very Bad Thing’ by Jeffery Self

A lie by omission brings about a very, very good thing too…

A Very, Very Bad Thing Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Contemporary, GLBT

No. of pages: 256

From Goodreads:

Marley doesn’t just want to be labeled The Gay Kid, but he doesn’t have much else going on. He doesn’t have any hobbies. Or interests. He’s the only kid he knows without a passion . . . until Christopher comes to town. He’s smart, cute, gay, and . . . the son of the country’s most famous, most bigoted television evangelist.

Marley and Christopher immediately spark — and become inseparable. For a month, it’s heaven. Then Christopher’s parents send him to a Pray Away the Gay program, which leads to even worse things. Hurt and outraged, Marley tells a very big lie — and then has to navigate its repercussions.  

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A Very, Very Bad Thing’ is a quaint novel with a heart-wrenching message. There is a big plot twist, something that I was not expecting, and turned my opinion of this book around.

A Very, Very Bad Thing’ started off slow and uninteresting. The writing wasn’t particularly engaging, and the storyline was something I’d read a zillion times before. All in all, I was starting to sum this book up as meh! But get to the plot twist just after the half way point and it’s a whole different kettle of fish. Suddenly it was interesting, emotional, and full of tension and conflict.

A Very, Very Bad Thing Book Review Pic 02 by Casey CarlisleThe wording our protagonist Marley says in public – especially in a speech giving scenario always felt very scripted and P.C. Given, it’s an emotionally distressed teenager, but I found it a little unbelievable for him to be so polished in those instances. Considering he was so goofy and sarcastic at the beginning.

Marley’s relationship with Christopher is very sweet, but I guess because it was so easy, I wasn’t sold on it so much. Then during the conclusion with the summing up of the events – insert moral lesson here – it also comes off a bit contrite. I found myself wanting it to get ugly – or ugly cry. Some events weren’t given enough time to marinate in the narrative.

I wanted the start to be shorter, the words and experiences to have more impact, so that the second act of this novel can explore the themes more effectively and not rely on poignant monologues to make its point. Symbolism can be so much more resonating.

This is all me nit-picking. I guess because overall, even though I shed a tear or two, it felt a little bland than what I was expecting. Like the characters were all on a healthy dose of lithium. I want angst, drama, and at least one person to get slapped.

A Very, Very Bad Thing’ does have a unique story. I have to praise Jeffrey Self for the original take on this love story. Lies by omission, misunderstandings, and doing bad for the voice of good were handled with an unexpected flair. It brings out an important lesson learned that many young lgbtqia+ face today. I love some social commentary in my fiction.

Christopher as a love interest is adorkable. Like a bouncing puppy despite the religious oppression of his parents. But I felt like he could have gotten a bigger chance to shine. I wanted something to stand out so he wasn’t so much the stereotypical boy next door.

Audrey, Marley’s best friend adds some comic relief, but I also felt she too was a bit typecast. Insert quirky BFF here. For as close as these two are, she seemed mostly absent for the second half of the novel… and best friends tend to assert their presence in times of need.

This book is a little battler, it has lots of heart but needs a bit of polish to really shine – but not a novel you can dismiss easily. Luckily it’s short in length so I persevered after finding the beginning a little uninteresting. Definitely worth reading to the end. I went in without knowing anything of the plot and was totally taken on a whirlwind. I’m on the fence in recommending this one – it’s interesting, but I feel the writing style and pacing needs some maturation… Maybe for a tween demographic and lovers of lgbtqia+ genre specific novels.

Overall feeling: You got me there girl

A Very, Very Bad Thing Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

A Very, Very Bad Thing 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.

Wrap up – Sky Chasers Trilogy by Amy Kathleen Ryan

Not my favourite trilogy, but a great ending.

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This series took me on a bit of a ride. I was kinda liking the debut, ‘Glow’ and then didn’t bother continuing with the series for close to two years because it failed to make an impression on me. Though, my OCD finally kicked in and I needed to complete the trilogy, however ‘Spark’ was underwhelming and my hopes began to sink. But ‘Flame’ ended the trilogy in brilliant fashion and is definitely my favourite of the whole collection.

This trilogy is a bit like ‘Lord of the Flies’ in space. It has a heavy religious aspect to it as two ships travelling to colonise a new planet each have a focus: one on faith, and the other on science and technology. It then further delves into beliefs, violence, vilification, and politics in a fight for survival. While there is certainly a lot packed into these novels – and not for the faint of heart – I did find the religious aspect somewhat preachy. You do get a very real sense of the isolation and insignificant-ness of being a tiny speck of dust – a spaceship – floating in space.

I cringed at the self-congratulation of many of the characters, as I did to the continual ramming down our throats of religious belief, this was so prominent in the second novel I ended up with a stress headache. I was also put off with the amount of violence and abuse of human rights. While a great novel to kick up discussion on many issues around these topics, it verged on unpalatable. But you cannot deny Amy Kathleen Ryan can write a novel wrought with tension and importance.

The final book of the trilogy brings some much needed action over the issues I has with the first two novels. There were a few major plot holes with the science of it all, but it ties up everything in a neat (if somewhat spoony) bow. You can definitely see Ryan’s growth as a writer with each instalment. And I truly think that if ‘Flame’ had not impressed me so much I would have happily torched this trilogy in a fire pit.

But would I recommend it? Probably not. It wasn’t all that entertaining for me. But, if you are up for a science fiction read that poses social issues to discuss, you might get something from it. It is confronting, adventurous and a little bit preachy.

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For individual reviews click on the links below:

Glow’https://strokingfire.wordpress.com/2014/08/27/book-review-glow/

Spark’ – https://strokingfire.wordpress.com/2017/05/29/book-review-spark-by-amy-kathleen-ryan/

Flame’ – https://strokingfire.wordpress.com/2017/06/20/book-review-flame-by-amy-kathleen-ryan/

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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 – ‘End of the Innocence’ (#4 Tales from Foster High) by John Goode

A drama filled gay contemporary we can all learn from.

End of Innocence (TFFH #4) Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Contemporary, GLBT

No. of pages: 300

From Goodreads:

Kyle Stilleno is no longer the invisible boy, and he doesn’t quite know how he feels about it. On one hand, he now has a great boyfriend, Brad Greymark, and a handful of new friends, and even a new job. On the other hand, no one screamed obscenities at him in public when he was invisible.

No one expected him to become a poster boy for gay rights, either—at least not until Kyle stepped out of the closet and into the limelight. But there are only a few months of high school left, and Kyle doubts he can make a difference.

With Christmas break drawing closer, Kyle and Brad are changing their lives to include each other. While the trials are far from over, they have their relationship to lean on. Others are not so lucky. One of their classmates needs their help—but Kyle and Brad’s relationship may be too new to survive the strain.

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After falling in love with the angsty bind-up or the first three books in this series, all the drama that the two protagonists Kyle and Brad face, I went out and purchased the rest of the books in this collection. I’m anticipating more challenges and a strong foundation to grow with this couple. I look forward to a collection of contemporary stories following a gay couple, as I’ve pretty much only read standalones. Usually series fall into the fantasy genre. I wanted real-life issues and a positive long-lasting relationship. And that is what Tales From Foster High has continued to deliver with this fourth instalment ‘End of the Innocence.’

I must admit, I was very disappointed with the first half of this book. The characters seemed to have gone backward and acting in unexpected ways. It was also blindingly obvious that the authors hand was guiding the story in the direction he wanted it to go. Nothing felt organic and I felt crushed.

End of the Innocence Book Review Pic 02 by Casey CarlilseThen in the last half things got better, Kyle and Brad got their old spark back, and I found some chemistry with the narrative. It still had a forced tone about it, like author was using the story to highlight a cause and opinions around it.

There was a lot of repetition of ‘I love you’s’ and ‘it gets better,’ which became mildly annoying. But the couple were endearingly clueless and cute at the same time. The continual switching of perspective between Kyle and Brad didn’t really add much – I felt it disarmed some great storytelling devices to build up tension and drive the story forward. As a reader I like to be kept guessing – having the answers laid out for me, of what was going on in each of their heads all the time deflated some of the angst I’ve come to expect from this series.

I like how it wasn’t all puppy dogs and rainbows. Mainly because it revolved around a cause – and this therein lies my difficulty with ‘End of the Innocence.’ On the one hand, it came off as preachy and totally did not fit the Kyle and Brad story so far. Characters out of context. But on the other, once I got over that hurdle and the story got going, it was bloody brilliant. There are some important things brought up in the narrative facing gay youth and I liked the way it’s introduced, discussed, and handled.

It brought up things like bullying and suicide, and how to approach these in a way other than violence – which was amazing to read. There is even a little more in the author’s note at the back of the book as to why these topics were discussed.

So while I commend this book for the issues it tackles, and applaud actually spelling out ways to combat it; I felt the story as a whole was a little disjointed. So far it is my least favourite of the series, but gives the best support for issues faced by some gay youth.

I’d only recommend this for those who strongly connect with the material, or fans of the series.

Overall feeling: mmmmokay…

End of the Innocence Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlilse

End of the Innocence Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlilse

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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 – ‘Goodbye Paradise’ by Sarina Bowen

It felt like that inappropriate conversation you had at your last dinner party.

Godbye Paradise Book Review Pic 01 by Casey Carlisle.jpgGenre: Contemporary, Romance, GLBT

No. of pages: 266

From Goodreads:

In Paradise, there is no television. No fast food. Just long hours of farm work and prayer on a dusty Wyoming ranch, and nights in a crowded bunkhouse. The boys of the Compound are kept far from the sinners’ world. 

But Joshua doesn’t need temptation to sin. His whole life, he’s wanted his best friend, Caleb. By day they work side by side. Only when Josh closes his eyes at night can they be together the way he craves. 

It can never be. And his survival depends on keeping his terrible desires secret.

Caleb has always protected Josh against the worst of the bullying at the Compound. But he has secrets of his own, and a plan to get away — until it all backfires. 

Josh finds himself homeless in a world that doesn’t want him. Can Caleb find him in time? And will they find a place of safety, where he can admit to Josh how he really feels? 

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This book was difficult and uncomfortable for me. Which feels hard to say because the narrative style and writing was quite pleasant. My discomfort came from the subject matter – a polygamy cult. Most of the time, anything I’ve read with a strong religious element is written so badly, and the prejudices that go along with their belief systems really gets my shackles up – so much that I usually toss (or throw) the book aside in frustration. But my biggest issue with ‘Goodbye Paradise’ was plausibility.

There were so many issues with poorly researched facts that I was grating my teeth through the entire novel. Men at the age of twenty, with a third grade education, isolated from the outside world would have a vastly different mindset to those of Caleb and Joshua. The lexicon they used was way off base. So too were a lot of their behaviours. The structure of the cult was on point, but the psychological ramifications of growing up in that environment were for the most part, completely ignored. Let alone introducing characters struggling with their sexual identity. In reality they would be seriously messed up.

Caleb and Joshua seemed to have everything so easy given their circumstances. So many missed opportunities to develop the characters and have them connect through these difficulties. I mean, the angst could have been off the charts. Instead, there was some fascination (in secret) followed by full on man-groping sex. The way it was written and presented made me lose all interest in seeing this couple together in an intimate way whatsoever. The language was rough and confronting. No romance. Though there were some occasional cuddly moments afterwards… but all that does not a memorable romance make.

Goodbye Paradise Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Another pet hate – especially in romance novels with erotic content, is partners calling each other ‘baby.’ It’s just a thing which is a personal trigger of gagging noises… so it was just another thing working against me liking ‘Goodbye Paradise.’

Caleb and Joshua didn’t even have troubles to overcome in the real world all too much. Not over having grown up in a cult, not over having practically no education, and not over their self-tortured homosexuality. Even their attraction with each other was met with little self-flagellation.

I picked this book up after a rave review from a book reviewer I follow, and even after I bought it and read the blurb warning lights went off *trigger warning* this sounds like religious zealots, oppressed homosexuality and explicit sex scenes. This trope has been overdone. A little. But on the faith of a fellow lover of this genre I dived in. It’s a short book anyway, so it wouldn’t take up too much of my time.

The sex scenes did not feel titillating at all. It was all swearing and wham-bam-thank-you-man. Little build up, practically zero foreplay, a brief description of all the important bits, then a short dalliance in the afterglow. For a couple of bible bashed repressed young men, it felt totally out of character. I like my sex scenes to mean something to the plot, and to the characters. I need an emotional connection to find the scene rich and engrossing. Otherwise it comes off as insincere and smutty. ‘Goodbye Paradise’ was just on the wrong side of the line between the two.

So, I couldn’t get past the plausibility of the story to enjoy much else. Salina’s writing is lovely, but am hesitant to try any other one of her titles given the lack of character development, build-up of tension, and the abrupt, couth sex scenes. I don’t think I’d recommend this to anyone – there are so many better written novellas out there. Maybe I’d revisit this author again after she has cut her teeth on many more releases.

I didn’t get the complexity of plot or storyline either that I was hoping for – the blurb of the novel just about summarises the entire book. This was highly predictable with no surprises.

The last 20% of the book was fantastic – the pacing spot on, the plot twist and tension practically created a mini novel within this one. This last section is ‘Goodbye Paradise’s’ saving grace. I’d love to rate it higher, but looking at it as a whole, and what is already on the market, I’m sticking to my guns.

One little factoid – Sarina had previously released this book in 2015 under the pen name Nealy Wagner and it was titled ‘In Front of God and Everyone.’

Overall feeling: I wanted to love this, but I just can’t

Goodbye Paradise Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

Goodbye Paradise 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 – ‘Flame’ by Amy Kathleen Ryan

A book in another world to its predecessors.

Flame Book Review Pic 01 by Casey Carlisle.jpgGenre: Y/A, Science Fiction, Dystopia

No. of pages: 309

From Goodreads:

Waverly and the other members of the Empyrean have been scattered, and their home ship destroyed. The mission to rescue their parents didn’t go quite as planned, and now they’re at an even greater disadvantage: trapped with their enemies on the New Horizon, trying to find a way to survive. Will Seth’s health hold out long enough to help Waverly topple their enemy? And will Waverly find a way to unite her friends before the final battle? Nothing is certain and every second is a risk in this explosive finale.

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The final book in the Sky Chasers trilogy and another collection down in my Slay That Series year!

Flame’ is so much better than its prequels. The religious aspect was kept to a respectful belief system of those who chose to live by it, and I didn’t feel like it was being crammed down my throat or the crew being oppressed by it.

The political struggle became raw and visceral. It was thrilling. And action – I don’t think I’ve read a book with so many twists and turns. I was thoroughly impressed. Such a departure from my experience so far in this trilogy.

Again, like in ‘Glow’ and ‘Spark,’ I loved the character growth and arcs. People are fallible and it could not be more true about the cast of the Sky Chaser trilogy. Some redeemed themselves, some didn’t. and I loved this aspect of the story. One thing that has stood out about this series is the types of characters, how their beliefs motivate them, how they are changed by their experiences.

I found the long-winded postulation and stream of consciousness were just about gone. The pacing far superior than in ‘Glow’ and ‘Spark.’ I read this in one sitting. I get distracted by long speeches or pages and pages of deliberation – it goes down as well as a fart in a space suit with me. So I was delighted that the lamenting had been replaced with sci-fi action.

A factual thing that is still niggling in the back of my brain is in regard to the gene pool – how many off spring of a couple of girls are there? It was mentioned over 100 embryos were ready… the new generation sounded like it was going to be majorly made up of Waverly’s children. Doesn’t leave much room for them to repopulate the new planet when prospective partners consist mostly of your half brothers and sisters… They’d have to map our genealogy out carefully. I felt like this was an important issue not to be addressed. You go to all this trouble of kidnapping, murder, and essentially raping your girls of their genetic material only to risk the future of the human race to genetic degradation from inbreeding. I mean, c’mon!

Flame Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

The ending was lovely, if a bit spoony. Having everyone coupled up and all the loose ends tied up neatly can feel cheap in an epic sci-fi; I tend to like it conclude with possibility and wonder, or just a hint at an amazing future. It was a cute ending, and I liked it, but after wading through so much I was hoping for a bit more of a significant event or image for the series to end on.

It has been a bit of a journey for me. I had a low opinion of this series and Amy Kathleen Ryan at the start, but after completing ‘Flame,’ I have to eat my words. She crafted a marvellous story. I still feel the issues I had with the first two books are legitimate, but have seen Amy’s growth as a writer over this series, I now actually look forward to reading more of her catalogue.

Overall feeling: Wow! Where did that come from?

Flame Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

Flame 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 – ‘Spark’ by Amy Kathleen Ryan

No spark for me… fizzled out.

Spark Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Science Fiction, Dystopia

No. of pages: 309

From Goodreads:

Waverly and Kieran are finally reunited on the Empyrean. Kieran has led the boys safely up to this point, and now that the girls are back, their mission seems slightly less impossible: to chase down the New Horizon, and save their parents from the enemy ship. But nothing is truly as it seems…Kieran’s leadership methods have raised Seth’s hackles— and Waverly’s suspicions. Is this really her fiancé? The handsome, loving boy she was torn from just a short time before? More and more, she finds her thoughts aligned with Seth’s. But if Seth is Kieran’s Enemy No. 1, what does that make her? 

In one night, a strange explosion rocks the Empyrean—shooting them off course and delaying their pursuit of the New Horizon—and Seth is mysteriously released from the brig. Seth is the most obvious suspect for the explosion, and Waverly the most obvious suspect for releasing him. As the tension reaches a boiling point, will Seth be able to find the true culprit before Kieran locks them both away—or worse? Will Waverly follow her heart, even if it puts lives at risk? With the balance of power precarious and the clock ticking, every decision counts… every step brings them closer to a new beginning, or a sudden end…

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With much trepidation and determination, I am pushing through this trilogy after not really connecting with the first book in this series, ‘Glow.’ And while ‘Spark’ held more interest for me, I still had some of those same issues…

It was more a political intrigue drama than a science fiction novel with a maniacal religious fanatic manipulating for control and power. The cast lamented with a lot of self-congratulation and postulating that felt tedious, as too did the religious aspect. It all gave me a stress headache.

Seth’s character arc is fantastic. Kieran’s was annoying, and Waverly’s was engaging, though a little frustrating. Though, I liked that all the characters had flawed moments and were given opportunity for redemption – whether they took it or not is a different matter.

(L-R) HAILEE STEINFELD and ASA BUTTERFIELD star in ENDER'S GAME

I will say there was much less violence and death – that had me cringing and uncomfortable in ‘Glow.’ But the overall tone felt dry and slow paced.

I got past the point of predicting things, or investing too much in the novel, and skimmed through it to find out what happens. The narrative style is drawn out, characters going off in tangents and flashback accompanied with long self-assuring flagellation. ‘Spark’ did not feel engaging or entertaining. But having said that, the tension in the last third of the novel was well done. I think if the novel was half it’s length, and involved more technology and science fiction elements, I would have been much more interested.

Loved the cliff hanger ending – eager to read the final book just to find out what happens (I pray that that the narrative is way more engaging.) I’m in a much different place at the end of this book than I was at the end of ‘Glow.’ I was of the opinion I’d never finish reading anything from Amy Kathleen Ryan ever again, but ‘Spark’ has changed my opinion a little. Though, it’s still not a book I’d easily recommend, however interesting.

Looking forward to reading ‘Flame’ and putting this trilogy behind me. It feels like I’m reading about a pack of violent crazies…

Overall feeling: frazzled.

Spark Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

Spark 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.

Trigger Warnings for me as a reader

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Things that make me want to vomit, scream or pitch a novel out the window…

I tend to shy away from content I know that will freak me out or cause mental anguish – I read to be entertained, to escape and sometimes to learn. It’s only on rare occasions I read to be challenged.

So some of the trigger warnings that I’ve found which send a book plummeting in my ratings include:

Trigger warnings Pic 11 by Casey CarlisleI know I’m a bit of a prude. That’s just how I am. And I don’t mind a bit of titillation – and there are times I pick up an erotic title for a bit of a change to my normal reading habits. But I like my erogenous encounters to mean something, to have a point to make within the plot. Pages and pages of banging bodies in different positions with no story is porn. Flashy, pointless and unsatisfying. It gets the same reaction I have with watching porn – I feel violated, objectified, and my skin feels itchy and dirty. If there is no emotional connection to the characters and plot it just feels wrong. For me. If that is something that you enjoy reading, I say wave that flag from the highest mountain… but it’s a big no-no for me. I’ll squirm, eye-roll and eventually put the book down. When did I turn into an old Nun?

Trigger warnings Pic 01 by Casey Carlisle

Trigger warnings Pic 12 by Casey Carlisle– if the ‘hook’ on the back cover does not hint at some emotional connection to the main character, or at least a point of interest, I’m not going to buy it. Nine out of ten times it has proven right that a terrible blurb has meant the story was lacking in some way.

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Trigger warnings Pic 13 by Casey CarlisleI’m no atheist or anything, but when I’m reading a book, I don’t want to feel like the author is shoving his or her spiritual beliefs down my throat. With fantasy books, we get magic systems, mythology and never do those aspects of the narrative feel like they are imposing on me as a reader. But for some reason when it comes to religion, many of the novels I read are so heavy with worship and forced opinion, I can feel the vomit gurgling in the back of my throat. It’s a sensitive topic to talk about, but I feel a fictional story should be balanced and not overshadowed by the authors personal beliefs. I feel a great author will not isolate their audience.

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Trigger warnings Pic 14 by Casey CarlisleSometimes they work if the author is great, but on the most part, I’ll skim over, or simply refuse to finish if it is littered with unoriginal content. The main reason for reading about characters is to walk in their shoes, experience something new… so it needs to be inspired and not a regurgitation of many books that have already been published. A number of books deal with stereotypes and tropes in a tongue-in-cheek way, completely aware of these devices, and that can be fun. Others submerge themselves into the genre but include a twist or great dialogue, which usually fit into the guilty pleasure category. But cookie-cutter writing is about as palatable as eating a brown paper bag.

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Trigger warnings Pic 15 by Casey CarlisleThis one is hard to judge until you’ve already made it a ways into your novel, but having protagonists constantly making silly decisions – just to fit into the plot are a sure fire way to have me throwing the book across the room. Nothing worse than being aware of the authors guiding hand – or having a delusional main character that can’t think for themselves. Some may find it endearing or even cute, I feel like I want to push them in front of a bus.

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Trigger warnings Pic 16 by Casey CarlisleYou can usually gauge this from the blurb, or by reading a few pages and a light skim. I’ve read some books that have great writing, but the whole novel ended up being a number of scenes attached together through a flimsy line of narrative. I need a discernible beginning, middle and end. I need to know what the protagonist is risking for the pay-off at the end of the novel – and a well written climax! There is a fine line between a great concept and fitting it into a story format…

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Trigger warnings Pic 17 by Casey Carlisle– they are a selling point! If you don’t go to the trouble of designing an attractive cover I’m going to think you don’t value your writing, and therefore, skip your title in favour of another. Also covers with models in a half-naked display are a big turn off, I’m going to think your book is one big naked sex romp… see first point above. Plus who wants to be on the tram flashing about sexy body parts on the cover – people will think you’re a sex fiend! Some other book covers look like they’ve been put together by a fifth grader with ‘Paint.’ With so many easy to use tools available, PhotoShop, and a bit of imagination there is no excuse not to have an attractive cover that fits to your genre and target audience. You spent a lot of time writing a book, so take some time to get the cover right. There are so many cover artists for hire out there too. When I see stock photos and crappy covers now, I take it as a personal insult. Boo to you!

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Trigger warnings Pic 18 by Casey CarlisleIf a character is living in their head all the time in ponderance, it often comes across as boring or whiny. It’s also a bit of a case of telling instead of showing. I like characters who act on their convictions and interpret them through the scene. Long lamentations also bog down the pacing of the novel – and continual navel gazing is not an attractive quality. I come across this from time to time, protagonists getting on their soapbox, all hidden in the stream of consciousness of their mind. All I can say is they probably look like those first person video game characters when they glitch and continually run into a wall. No fun for anyone.

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Trigger warnings Pic 19 by Casey CarlisleIf you are going to go to the point of describing facts, objects, or scenarios in your story, make sure you’ve researched them thoroughly – I’ve read too many novels where the scene is so unrealistic that it has pulled me from the narrative…. Ultimately leaving me with the thought that the author couldn’t be bothered taking the time to present a realistic story. Insulting. Sheesh, Google it, crack a reference book, it’s not that hard.

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There are many more, but these have been the generally issues over the past year of reading. And I think I’ve ranted on long enough. But it is all in fun, and my personal preferences. It is still a great accomplishment to actually publish a novel so I commend anyone who has spilled out half their brain to create a world on paper…

Happy reading.

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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.

Wrap up – The Teen Romance Series by Mark Zubro

Middle of the road, but addressed realistic issues.

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When I first saw these covers I dismissed this franchise – it looked like a cheap and badly written self-published affair. But I’m glad a small voice in the back of my head convinced me to take a second look. My main reason was hoping to expand the GLBT titles on my shelf. I really enjoy the aspects of identity, angst and the challenges usually faced in this genre – it makes for some compelling reading.

Unfortunately this genre is also glutted with steamy M/M erotica (or fortunately if that’s your thing), but I like a more contemporary title. ‘Safe’ and ‘Hope’ purported to be a YA mystery with a gay protagonist. Both these books are solid reads, entertaining and definitely tugged at my heart strings. My issues came from the a feeling that the story was too mature for the characters; and that many of the adult cast involved in the storylines had a bad case of verbal diarrhoea, blurting out facts and confiding in our protagonist. That left the plot feeling a little contrived and unrealistic.

That aside, the writing is pretty good and deals with many issues facing the gay community. It carried a message but managed it weave it into a pretty good detective style narrative.

This has been my first journey into this subgenre, and while I had some major issues with context, this series was thoroughly entertaining. I’d like to see it continued in a University setting, because I feel many of the problems I had with voice would be fixed in a more mature setting and lend the protagonist and his boyfriend (Roger and Steve) to really shine.

The heart of these books beats strong, (more soul, less angst) but not sure if I would give them a strong recommendation.

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For individual reviews click on the links below:

Safe’ – https://strokingfire.wordpress.com/2016/01/29/book-review-safe-by-mark-richard-zubro/

Hope’ – https://strokingfire.wordpress.com/2016/05/10/book-review-hope-by-mark-richard-zubro/

Critique Casey by Casey Carlisle

© Casey Carlisle 2016. 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 – ‘Hope’ by Mark Richard Zubro

Religious vilification with a twist on a young couple coming out.

Hope Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Contemporary, GLBT

No. of pages: 200

From Goodreads:

Coming out and family-not supposed to be a lethal combination.

Roger Cook and Steve Koemer have been dating. Their world is turned upside down when Steve’s father and mother find out he’s gay and throw him out of the house. Then the ugliness and fear begin to build. Steve’s father is murdered. The Church he was pastor of was in financial trouble, but the man was also involved in a plot against the two boys. A plot which was designed to destroy their relationship and which continues even after his death. The boys must race to find out who the killer is and who is plotting against them. When the whole world seems against them, they have the hope of their love to sustain them.

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This was a hit and miss kind of book for me – and the trouble is, the hits were amazing, but the misses were biggies as well. I think if I had fully immersed into the fantasy I would have rated this much higher, but the issues I had with ‘Hope’ were too hard to ignore.

Mark Zubro really knows how to write mystery and conspiracy, and paces his reveals expertly. The way he has plotted out the story in ‘Hope’ is true genius. Yes it was mostly predictable, but this is a romance series, so any wild plot twists just wouldn’t have worked in this genre.

Characters are fully realised and feel real, with personalities that reflect both motivation and hidden desires. I really enjoyed continuing on the story of our protagonist Roger and his love interest Steve.

The religious element introduced in ‘Hope’ has been overdone, but Zubro managed to give it a fresh spin. Thankfully, because I wouldn’t have gotten past the first few chapters otherwise.

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Things that dragged my rating down included the same issues I had with the debut in this series (‘Safe’): the fact that the narration and situation our high school couple found themselves in was farfetched and a little mature for the setting. I stand by my opinion that this would have been better suited to a University campus with older characters.

Also the adults involved in the plot around Roger kept bringing him in the loop and launching into great exposition. That just felt like a convenient storytelling tool. A little lazy. And frankly unrealistic to have such seasoned professionals dragging this youngster around explaining every thought and motive. I’d have liked to have seen Roger get his information more like he did in ‘Safe’ – Veronica Mars style.

I think the narrative and pacing suffered a little because of these long expository conversations as well. Though ‘Hope’ is a quick and easy read, I felt like it needed another run past an editor. A lot of the dialogue from different characters used the same phrases.

There were some sexy moments I thought a bit risqué, but not offensive. I really liked how Zubro built up Roger and Steve’s relationship based on trust and love. Though the physical side of things did feel a little rushed. But it could also be realistic of how some teen guys to rush into the tactile side of relationships as well, I guess it comes down to the readers personal taste.

I really enjoyed ‘Hope,’ ignoring issues I had with the characters being out of context with the setting, it is an intelligent read that offers many layers to grab your interest. Certainly an engaging GLBT read.

Overall feeling: Cute and fun, but I wanted to rearrange it a little bit.

 

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Critique Casey by Casey Carlisle

© Casey Carlisle 2016. 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.