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

A disappointing sequel.

Genre: Y/A, Science Fiction

No. of pages: 359

Empress

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

Fugitive

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

Princess

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

Madman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Overall feeling: Disappointing.

© Casey Carlisle 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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

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

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

No. of pages: 314

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Crown Princess Rhiannon Ta’an wants vengeance.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Overall feeling: Yay for space operas!

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

Empress of a Thousand Skies (#1 Empress of a Thousand Skies) Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

Critique Casey 2020 by Casey Carlisle

© Casey Carlisle 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Book Review – ‘Someday’ (#3 Every Day) by David Levithan

A peep into the mythology of A, a change in direction, but there’s still more story to tell.

Someday (#3 Every Day) Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Fantasy, GLBT

No. of pages: 393

From Goodreads:

Every day a new body. Every day a new life. Every day a new choice.

For as long as A can remember, life has meant waking up in a different person’s body every day, forced to live as that person until the day ended. A always thought there wasn’t anyone else who had a life like this.

But A was wrong. There are others.

A has already been wrestling with powerful feelings of love and loneliness. Now comes an understanding of the extremes that love and loneliness can lead to—and what it’s like to discover that you are not alone in the world.

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I loved the themes and philosophy ‘Someday’ forces you to think about.

There are a lot of perspectives in this novel, but it stays mostly focused on A, Rhiannon, X, and Nathan. I’m not sure if that’s the reason if felt slow with pacing (especially in the first half of the novel), or the amount of information needed to explore the themes of the novel, and while I enjoyed the head-jumping, I’m feeling like it wasn’t really all that necessary to the story. It left ‘Someday’ feeling bulky.

We get glimpses into other body jumpers – but I have to ask from a reader’s point of view, getting invested in these characters, what was the point? Yes, it goes to establish some evidence of others like A, and reinforce the good and bad choices we make – but I was left with the start of a story… and then nothing.

So too was the concept of A discovering others out there like them. Learning about their condition, the mythology, their origin. I also wondered about A and X’s theory that they are born normally and simply jump to another body after the first day… does the baby then die – it would be soulless right? I hurts my brain. I am still wishing for more exploration into A’s condition and for there to be a connection to some sort of community. Also, for a more solid answer to what A and Rhiannon’s relationship is going to be like into the future. It’s touched on briefly as a concept, and we get different ideas of what it could be like through the experiences of other body jumpers – but it’s not an answer.

It feels like there is at least another sequel to explore A’s existence and a happily ever after yet.

One thing that did stand out to me in ‘Someday’ that was missing – both ‘Every Day’ and ‘Another Day’ also had ties with family (Rhiannon’s) and A beginning to explore the boundaries of his existence. We have those dismissed in this third novel of the franchise and it left me with a feeling of being somewhat untethered. Was it intentional to highlight the loneliness A was experiencing? It left Rhiannon not as complex as she was in the previous two novels.

Loved the development of Nathan. His perspective felt like it represented one of acceptance. Of societies acceptance. Of how many of the LGBTQIA+ community shape their own family. But again in the previous novels we see him struggling with questions around faith and they seemed to have been abandoned in ‘Someday.’

X/Xenon/Poole, although clearly making some harmful choices, does raise the issue as to when are you able to look after yourself, chase your own needs and wants: and is that even possible for beings like X and A? It was something I would have loved to seen explored (or even discussed further. It felt like we suddenly humanise X, get a brief discussion and then it was all over.

I’m really hoping we get another instalment to tackle issues like family (biological or community made), faith, self-care, and ambition; along with the mythology around A and his kind. See him finding a place where he fits.

Discussing the themes of this series with a few friends, we thought it was a nice analogy to those with disassociation disorders. A friend who has undergone gender confirmation surgery, but was born intersex, said having lived through the experience of people perceiving you as one gender and then another – almost like different people in different bodies was very similar to A’s experience. You perceive things differently, there are different physical sensations and others relate to you differently. I think it’s marvellous that we can have discussions like this, brought up from popular YA novels; it’s not something that I would have been exposed to in my youth. We are getting a language and awareness of the human condition through novels like ‘Someday.’

I definitely did not predict what was going to happen in ‘Someday’ at all. As I eluded to I previously, I was expecting quite a different story. The themes were different to those tackled in the prequels, and I still got no resolution to what I wanted after reading ‘Every Day’ and ‘Another Day.’ I really enjoyed the tension and direction of the plot, but felt it could have been 100 pages shorter and told the same story.

I think this is more a book for lovers of Levithan’s writing, those who loved ‘Every Day’ and are keen to continue with A and Rhiannon’s story, and those who enjoy queer literature, I’m on the fence if I’d recommend this to anyone outside those circles.

Overall feeling: Swinging between enlightened and unfulfilled.

Someday (#3 Every Day) Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Someday (#3 Every Day) Book Review Pic 02 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 – ‘Another Day’ (#2 Every Day) by David Levithan

Same story – just a switch in perspective.

Another Day (#2 Every Day) Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: YA, Contemporary, Romance, Fantasy, LGBT

No. of pages: 327

From Goodreads:

Every day is the same for Rhiannon. She has accepted her life, convinced herself that she deserves her distant, temperamental boyfriend, Justin, even established guidelines by which to live: Don’t be too needy. Avoid upsetting him. Never get your hopes up.

Until the morning everything changes. Justin seems to see her, to want to be with her for the first time, and they share a perfect day—a perfect day Justin doesn’t remember the next morning. Confused, depressed, and desperate for another day as great as that one, Rhiannon starts questioning everything. Then, one day, a stranger tells her that the Justin she spent that day with, the one who made her feel like a real person…wasn’t Justin at all.

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While I revelled in Levithan’s great writing – there wasn’t much else to this novel after reading ‘Every Day,’Another Day’ a companion novel recounting the events from the debut of this series told from Rhiannon’s perspective only added tiny glimpses of new information to the storyline. It did not, however introduce new plot points, new characters or add something new to the ending.

I found myself skimming over the dialogue as it is exactly the same as that from ‘Every Day.’ I was really hoping Levithan was going to do something new, enrich the tale of A and Rhiannon, but it was all predictable, re-hashed and flat.

Another Day (#2 Every Day) Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

I was still able to consume it in a day, love Levithan’s writing style, the themes of identity, gender, and humanity that were explored; but really, this felt like when you re-watch a movie with the Actor/Producer comments option on… it’s all the same, but just a little bit of extra padding. And it can either bore you and tarnish that first experience, or allow you to relive the splendour of your first time reading.

I am looking forward to ‘Someday’ the third book in the series (which I now have in my possession;) there were so many elements that were set up and not resolved, and I am anxious to see where it all leads. What is the mythology behind A’s condition? Are there others like A out there? How do they live/function in society? Is there the possibility of A remaining in one body? Do A and Rhiannon have a chance at a future together? Will we see Nathan Daldry play a part in this new instalment? What new aspects of identity and the human spirit will ‘Someday’ explore…. so many questions. So there is a lot to look forward to.

I’d only recommend ‘Another Day’ to die-hard fans of ‘Every Day,’ and maybe don’t marathon them, as it gets very repetitive. Otherwise, read the debut, and skip the second book and jump straight into ‘Someday’ you’ll probably enjoy the story much more (and won’t miss anything.) Or if you want a refresher on ‘Every Day’ before jumping into ‘Someday,’ then this could be a great way to do that.

Overall feeling: Argh! Not what I was expecting.

Another Day (#2 Every Day) Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Another Day (#2 Every Day) 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.

Film vs Novel – Every Day

Every Day Film vs Novel Pic 01 by Casey Carlisle.jpgThe book by David Levithan consumed me. I read it in one sitting, totally engrossed in the condition of the human soul and its ability to love. I was really excited to hear a movie was coming out, and when I finally got to see it, while not disappointed, though felt the tone and narrative had moved away from the text.

The spirit of protagonist A goes beyond gender and sexual identity and into a space of simply ‘being.’ An exercise in gender fluidity. It was such an amazing perspective on existence. Juxatpose that with the love interest, Rhiannon’s perception and interactions with A, and her gradual understanding and acceptance of A, and their humanity, and you end up with a universal attitude of love and acceptance of everyone. It was truly inspired. This theme rings true in the novel, however in the film version we don’t get the insights and expansion of A’s experiences and it loses a lot of soul and context of the narrative. Additionally Rhiannon spent a larger portion of the movies length struggling and coming to terms with A. So many cuts had to be made to get this novel to fit into an acceptable length for a movie, we miss much of the characters struggles and development. But the cuteness and romance are still front and centre, as is the sci-fi/paranormal element of A inhabiting different bodies every day.

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On the reverse side, being A was weird. Always the interloper, unsure of your very existence. It’s a hard place to be. Alone and transient. Enough to send you completely bonkers. But A finds a way to balance it all – A’s own desires and wishes without impacting the lives of the bodies that are being borrowed for the day. The novel delves into this a lot, where the film mentions it in passing a number of times, and it’s not really discussed until close to the end when religious zealots Nathan (a body A previously inhabited) and his father Reverend Poole challenge A. (Thinking A a demon.) But both novel and film end the story on a big question mark.

Every Day Film vs Novel Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

I loved the tone of zero prejudice about the physical being and of identity. I loved getting to walk, if somewhat briefly, in so many other people’s lives and feel that impact. The novel explores so many aspects, where in the movie much of it is reduced to a montage. I think that was the biggest let down for me. We lose all context of the connection and struggle between the characters and the tension that is slowly building throughout the plot.

While we only get the tiniest hint of the mythology behind A and his existence, the rest of the novel feels like a social commentary on identity and how we treat each other. How we are all different, yet the same. I wanted to get involved more into the reasons why A was the way he was – a wandering soul. I was hoping that in the sequel ‘Another Day’ I’d get more answers, but alas, only another brief touch on the mythology. I have my fingers crossed that we can really sink our teeth into the paranormal or science fiction of it all in the third book of the series ‘Someday’ due out on the 2nd of October this year. Not long to wait now! There is no news of a ‘Someday’ film as yet… and we may not see it given the performance of ‘Every Day’ at the box office. The themes weren’t fully explored and the social commentary on gender fluidity was not strong enough for audiences to pick up – at it still may be a confronting and confusing topic for the population of general movie goers. Maybe if there was more action and exploration of ‘soul-jumping’ it would appeal to a wider audience. I guess only time will tell.

There’s not much to say about this novel. It’s a romance, a character study with a heavy dose of philosophy. I loved it. The concept so fresh in YA! Unfortunately, for me the film fell much flatter than the novel. Still a fun romp and light escapism, but ultimately not quite there.

The book is a beautiful quick read that I highly recommend. The movie does not do it justice, but is still great viewing – though it concentrates more on the romance than of the theme – what is a soul and what makes us human.

Every Day Film vs Novel 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.