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

The Ask and the long-winded Answer….

Genre: YA, Science Fiction

No. of pages: 553

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Overall feeling: *jolts awake*

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

Book Review – ‘The Knife of Never Letting Go’ (#1 Chaos Walking) by Patrick Ness

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

Genre: YA, Science Fiction

No. of pages: 512

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book Review – ‘Fly on the Wall’ by E. Lockhart

A cheeky contemporary for younger audiences that has commendable insight on injustice.

Fly on the Wall Book Review Pic 01 by Casey Carlisle.jpgGenre: Y/A, Fantasy

No. of pages: 182

From Goodreads:

At the Manhattan School of Art and Music, where everyone is unique and everyone is ‘different’, Gretchen Yee feels ordinary. It doesn’t help that she’s known as the girl who sits alone at lunch, drawing pictures of her favourite superhero, just so she won’t have to talk to anyone. Her best (and only real) friend is there for her, but that’s only if she’s not busy – she’s always busy! 

It’s no surprise that Gretchen isn’t exactly successful in the boy department. Her ex-boyfriend is a cold-fish-sometimes-flirty ex who she can’t stop bumping into. Plus, she has a massive crush on a boy named, Titus but is too scared to make the first move. One minute he seems like a sensitive guy, the next, he’s a completely different person when he’s with his friends. She can’t seem to figure boys out!

Gretchen has one wish: to be a fly on the wall in the boy’s locker room. What are boys really like? What do they talk about?

This is the story of how one girl’s wish came true.

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Fly on the Wall’ is a fun contemporary with a magical realism twist.
Gretchen, our protagonist, feels like she is on the outside of everything and everyone at school. Like she’s in a holding pattern for life. Stagnant. Biracial and not quite arsty enough to be one of the Art Rats, and not generic enough to fit in to a normal crowd at a regular high school, Gretchen feels trapped.

fly-on-the-wall-book-review-pic-02-by-casey-carlisleWhen her parents break some big news, and she is frustrated about things going down at school. Gretchen  wishes she could see what goes on behind closed doors, get answers that seem hidden from her… and then it happens… literally! She becomes a fly on the wall, stuck in the boys locker room. She gets to see them naked, their “gerkins” up close, and all their emotional politics laid bare. It’s pretty hilarious and cool.

It gives Gretchen perspective. A look into other people’s lives at their most
vulnerable. And she learns some lessons. As well as some valuable truths that will help her out of the rut she’s been in.

I love the language and narrative style. Though, ‘Fly on the Wall’ has a simplistic plot and targeted to younger audiences. The storyline is not much of a mystery and fairly predictable; but fun and witty. This was an enjoyable quick read with loads of character development.

I loved how it tackled discrimination, machismo, and archaic views on patriarchy, and ultimately instigated change.  Also, I liked how it explores female sexuality and how it’s okay to feel want. To feel horny or sexual attraction. Not an awakening, just an awareness and acceptance that we are all humans and have desires. Refreshing for a YA novel to deal with sex, desire and body image without being sexualised.

Overall feeling: weird and surprising.

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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 – ‘Girl Walks Into a Bar’ by Rachel Dratch

Funny, poignant story about a positive and persevering girl continually one step behind.

Girl Walks Into A Bar Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Memoir, Comedy

No. of pages: 248

From Goodreads:

In this side-splitting memoir, the former Saturday Night Livestar recounts the hilarious adventures and unexpected joy of dating and becoming a mother when she least expected it-at the age of forty-four. Anyone who saw an episode of Saturday Night Live between 1999 and 2006 knows Rachel Dratch. She was hilarious! So what happened to her? After a misbegotten part as Jenna on the pilot of 30 Rock, Dratch was only getting offered roles as “Lesbians. Secretaries. Sometimes secretaries who are lesbians.”

Her career at a low point, Dratch suddenly had time for yoga, dog- sitting, learning Spanish-and dating. After all, what did a forty- something single woman living in New York have to lose? Resigned to childlessness but still hoping for romance, Dratch was out for drinks with a friend when she met John.

Handsome and funny, after only six months of dating long-distance, he became the inadvertent father of her wholly unplanned, undreamed-of child, and moved to New York to be a dad. With riotous humor, Dratch recounts breaking the news to her bewildered parents, the awe of her single friends, and the awkwardness of a baby-care class where the instructor kept tossing out the f-word.

Filled with great behind-the-scenes anecdotes from Dratch’s time on SNL, Girl Walks into a Bar… is a refreshing version of the “happily ever after” story that proves female comics-like bestsellers Tina Fey and Chelsea Handler-are truly having their moment.

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I’m starting to enjoy memoirs a lot more lately. Relating my life to theirs, learning about life’s difficulties by walking in someone else’s shoes and all that. And it definitely helps if they’re funny – I’m a positive person. So autobiographies from comedians always get to the top of my TBR when I’m in the mood.

Even though Rachel Dratch is another great favourite comedian/actor of mine, and for some reason I wasn’t expecting this memoir to be gut-busting hilarious the entire way. Maybe I’ve been educated from my past reads in this genre, or maybe it was the style of narrative in the first few pages that lead me to realise this was going to have much more of a story and a moral about it than a collection of funny stories.

I really enjoyed it. Yes, I had a number of laugh-so-hard-I-cried moments, and there is a lightness and positivity lurking underneath Dratch’s tales of misadventure. I related to her story. A lot. It’s my age, my gender, my experiences with many knock-backs, but an inevitable will to go for what I want. A mix of optimism, pig-headedness, cowardice and mysticism.

Girl Walks Into A Bar Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle.gifWe get a peek behind the curtain at SNL and some of her acting jobs which was interesting – more so about how she dealt with the environment rather than juicy back stage gossip. But it is her journey through life, and events/opportunities continually coming much later than typically expected (another thing I related to), that were touching and heart-felt. It was not meant to be a poor-me sob story or pity party. It was a plain statement of how society puts pressure and labels on women of a certain age in the various stages of their life. Sometimes it just makes you want to scream ‘Assface’ at everyone, like one of the crazy New Yorkers she talks about. It is unfair and discriminatory (and somewhat bitchy) but Dratch navigates around it all silently, forever searching for her own happily ever after. But – she’ ain’t dead yet, so don’t expect to read it by the end of the book – though the spirit still lives strong in her heart.

Girl Walks Into A Bar Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle.jpgI would have liked to read more about her creative process, and experienced a little more funny stuff in her book, but feel privileged to have been able to share this snippet of her life. It helped validate my own choices and circumstances.

I read the book in a day, there were no boring bits, no drawling on with dull events. It left me with a feeling of being ready to take life by the short and curlies. I remember to smile, laugh, cry, love my family, and revel in the roller-coaster that is life.

It was an interesting experience to strongly identify with a woman I don’t know, on the other side of the world living a life so drastically different from my own – but still the same in some ways.

A thoroughly entertaining, touching story of getting on with life…

Overall feeling: Gurl – you got me!

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© 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.