Book Review – ‘This Vicious Cure’ (#3 This Mortal Coil) by Emily Suvada

A beautiful conclusion to a possible future where biology and technology merge.

Genre: Y/A, Science Fiction, Dystopia

No. of pages: 440

Two factions at war.

A plague that can’t be stopped.

A cure that could destroy them all…

Cat’s hacking skills weren’t enough to keep her from losing everything – her identity, her past, and now her freedom.

Meanwhile, the person who’s stolen everything from her is close to realizing a hacker’s dream: the solution to humanity’s problems in gene form. Or so she thinks…

But now a new threat has emerged – a threat that could bring the world to the brink of a devastating war.

Both sides will stop at nothing to seize control of humanity’s future, and that the centre of this war is Cat, and a race against the clock save millions of lives . . .

This is hands down one of my most favourite science fiction series read to date. Emily Suvada manages to surprise the reader in each instalment. Face crack of the season for me.

This, as a conclusion, had all the plot points I was expecting, but the climactic ending took an emotive humanitarian route (and rightly so) which was a departure from the scrappy band of soldiers fighting for freedom. So half of me wanted an all stakes battle, blood and guts everywhere, casualties, and world at the brink of an apocalypse… and the other half understands that the underlying battle of this series was to be fought in a laboratory and none of that balls-to-the-wall gore can actually play out in that scenario. I think Suvada did justice to this trilogy at the end, but it did not end with that definitive thump I was craving.

We see character arcs galore in ‘This Vicious Cure.’ I loved how everyone has to face personal demons in order for the world to change. Hats off to you Suvada, you know how to structure a character driven story with a plot engorged with action.

The ending, though slightly sickly sweet (cure Disney theme music) really leaves the reader with a sense of hope and wonder. I actually appreciated it. It was also easy to see that the job of healing the world was not over, neither was the growing developments in science, technology, and biology… each character finds new drive and motivation in the changed climate.

I really gelled with Suvada’s writing style. She manages to leave enough space for you to get to fall for a character without bogging you down with too much plot (info dumping) which is prevalent in science fiction. While I have read a few novels around technology and biology merging, and the ramifications of advancing in this area, none of them explored it in detail as much as Suvada. This trope was a character in the storyline in its own right; it wasn’t a plot device. You could see that this biotechnology was the heart and soul of this trilogy, and not a by-the-way aspect to show some futuristic wonder in setting a scene.

In hindsight, I think there were a lot of characters to keep track of (especially in book 2) but by the time I started reading ‘This Vicious Cure’ I was used to the cast and it did not feel like a struggle to keep all the characters straight in my head. Even though the pacing was a little slower at the beginning of the novel, it was not noticeably so, and this final instalment flew by and kept me engaged throughout. I only put the book down because I needed to sleep.

I don’t want to talk about the characters too much because it will spoil too many plot points for the series, but many of the main cast get a lot more fleshed out, motivations come to the forefront, and we really get to see them test their mettle.

A massive recommendation from me. This is a great exploration into a dystopian world where genetic tampering and biotechnology have brought the world to its knees with a masterful plot and interesting, driven characters. This is definitely sitting in my top 10 list.

Overall feeling: Inspirational

© 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 – ‘This Cruel Design’ (#2 This Mortal Coil) by Emily Suvada

Human evolution and technology start to take on a new meaning to me…

Genre: Y/A, Science Fiction, Dystopia

No. of pages: 435

In bunkers and strongholds across the world, people are celebrating. There’s a vaccine to the virus that has ravaged the planet for years.

But the vaccine isn’t working. The virus is evolving. Catarina – genehacker, reluctant warrior – must find the one person who can help: her estranged father, who is guilty of unimaginable crimes.

Time is ticking. She has three days before the shadowy gentech corporation Cartaxus will use lethal code to wipe out every person on the planet’s surface: kill the hosts, kill the virus.

Forced to question everything she knows and everyone she trusts, and with the end approaching, Cat discovers that the biggest threat of all may be buried in her own mind.

Such a fantastic book!! I have not read a science fiction series that I have been so engrossed in that is not based in space or alien planets ever. I bow to you Miss Suvada!

There is only a few teeny-tiny things that stopped me from giving this novel a perfect score. The first being I had difficulty getting my bearings at the start. I was about 50 pages in before everything clicked. Even though the story takes up right after the debut ended, there was no summary or re-cap and given the length of time between picking up ‘This Cruel Design’ since reading ‘This Mortal Coil,’ I was just floundering along trying to make sense of things and trigger memories – in a sense I was like Cat attempting to fill in gaps of memory.

I really think a foreward would have been helpful just to summarize and set the scene from ‘This Mortal Coil’ and then ‘This Cruel Design’ could have launched in earnest.

The other small aspect, was the novel had a bit of a slow start. ‘This Mortal Coil’ starts off with a bang, and I didn’t get that sense with ‘This Cruel Design.’ There is a lot of science and technology in this series. A true STEM geek-out (which I adore) but with having to get back into world building of a universe the reader was already familiar with felt counter intuitive.

Besides those niggling aspects, ‘This Cruel Design’ is an excellent read. I have not read a series that has continued to surprise and delight me multiple times with each instalment. I am so envious of Emily Suvada’s writing and ability to craft a plot and plot twists. She doesn’t drop obvious hints that have you sleuthing out the ending… she is a true master craftswoman. Add to that the science, theories, grounded in practical experience lends so much credence to the storyline. It may be isolating to some readers who don’t have a grasp on things like genetics, coding, and technology, but this was right up my alley. All those shows discussing the direction of human and technological evolution are like an appetiser to this series.

I felt we really got to see what Cat was made of in ‘This Cruel Design,’ like she became even more fully resolved. Plus the aspects of biology and technology she plays with is truly mind-bending. The relationship she had with Cole did feel slightly too fast. Not insta-love, but not a slow burn either, and did not feel quite organic.

The rest of the gifted children (genetically altered soldiers) while each a fully rounded characters – both endearing and annoying… there is always something holding me back from falling in love with them. Maybe it’s the military aspect with them withholding information; or the fact they may be controlled or manipulated to some extent, but that is a truly marvellous storytelling device. This is interwoven with the expansion on Cat and Jun Bei’s family through flashbacks, history and present day events.

I love the introduction of a counter-faction to Cartaxus; equal in diverging biology and technology.

A side note of things yet to come, like the Dax mystery, the Lachlan mystery, and Agnes (yaya) secrets – these should be the big ones in the final book of the trilogy. The pigeons still have a part to play – they’ve been mentioned far too much to not have any significance. I’m keen to find this out. Not to mention the final showdown between Cat and Jun Bei… I’m clenching my buttocks with excitement for that one. Oh, yeah, and the ending of Cartaxus and orientating the world towards a new freedom. No biggie.

Though the story concluded, you still get a sense that there is still a much bigger picture and fight to be had (sans abovementioned notes) – setting up ‘This Vicious Cure’ really well. Can’t wait to see what surprises are in store. What new twists Suvada has in store.

Overall feeling: Mind-blowing adventure galore!

© 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 – ‘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 – ‘Never, Always, Sometimes’ by Adi Alsaid

Doing what you’ve ruled as taboo can make for an interesting journey.

Genre: Y/A, Contemporary, Romance, Realistic Fiction

No. of pages: 320

Never date your best friend.

Always be original.

Sometimes rules are meant to be broken.

Best friends Dave and Julia were determined to never be cliché high school kids—the ones who sit at the same lunch table every day, dissecting the drama from homeroom and plotting their campaigns for prom king and queen. They even wrote their own Never List of everything they vowed they’d never, ever do in high school.

Some of the rules have been easy to follow, like #5, never dye your hair a color of the rainbow, or #7, never hook up with a teacher. But Dave has a secret: he’s broken rule #8, never pine silently after someone for the entirety of high school. It’s either that or break rule #10, never date your best friend. Dave has loved Julia for as long as he can remember.

Julia is beautiful, wild and impetuous. So when she suggests they do every Never on the list, Dave is happy to play along. He even dyes his hair an unfortunate shade of green. It starts as a joke, but then a funny thing happens: Dave and Julia discover that by skipping the clichés, they’ve actually been missing out on high school. And maybe even on love.

The best word I can use to describe ‘Never, Always, Sometimes’ is quaint. I can’t remember the impulse that had me purchasing this book, and it had been sitting on my shelf for so long that I began reading without any knowledge of what to expect other than it was a contemporary. Adi Alsaid crafted a clever story with plenty of teen angst and drama. I think on the whole though, there weren’t a lot of surprises for me, and a lot of teens making bad decisions… which is kinda the point of this novel with Dave and Julia crossing items off their ‘Nevers’ list. Things they deemed never to do, but anxious of graduating high school as nerdy goody-two-shoes and not having an authentic experience is what motivates them to tackle the taboo items. In theory it sounds like fun, but as sensible and intelligent as Dave and Julia are, I can’t see why they would tackle some of the things written on the list. It was such a terrible moralistic vacuum of adventure in some cases. But I guess it fits with the demographic for the characters and targeted readers – famous for their penchant of making poor judgement calls.

The novel is broken into three sections, the first told from Dave’s perspective, the second from Julia’s, and a third from an omnipresent perspective from both of their points of view. It’s not usually a great idea to jump from first person narrative to third at the end, but it really worked in ‘Never, Always, Sometimes.’

Both our leads make mistakes and learn from them, and it seems Dave is the more sensible of the two. Julia is all about romanticising the high school experience, and to that fault her moral compass becomes corrupted.

Never, Always, Sometimes’ is a tale pondering the question that if two best friends discover they are in love, is it a good idea to abandon the friendship and initiate a relationship. That question is subjective, and so will readers opinions be on the outcome.

Alsaid’s writing style has a way of sucking you into the world of Dave and Julia, and the pages fly by. I found ‘Never, Always, Sometimes,’ an easy, light, and pleasant read. He manages to craft a lot of emotion and tension into the story – I was just yearning for a more complex plot to really nail this book home. The story outline was pretty pedestrian in comparison to many of the contemporaries I’ve been reading of late. But that was the only (and biggest) drawback for me. It has great pacing and interesting characters. Alsaid managed to paint traits I find personally unattractive as quaint and loveable.

I’d recommend this for lovers of contemporary romances set in high school – they’re fun, easy to read tomes you can devour pretty quickly. But on the whole it was pretty forgettable for me. So it’s not something I’d rave to my friends about. But Alsaid’s writing is something I’m definitely going to keep an eye on when he pens some subject material that piques my interest.

Overall feeling: Teen logic bewilders me.

© 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 – ‘Obsession’ (#1 Arum) by Jennifer L. Armentrout

A more grown-up take of JLA’s famous franchise that didn’t quite do it justice.

Genre: Y/A, Science Fiction, Romance

No. of pages: 384

Hunter is a ruthless killer. And the Department of Defense has him firmly in their grasp, which usually doesn’t chafe too badly because he gets to kill bad guys. Most of the time he enjoys his job. That is, until he’s saddled with something he’s never had to do before: protect a human from his mortal enemy.

Serena Cross didn’t believe her best friend when she claimed to have seen the son of a powerful senator turn into something… unnatural. Who would? But then she witnesses her friend’s murder at the hands of what can only be an alien, thrusting her into a world that will kill to protect their secret.

Hunter stirs Serena’s temper and her lust despite their differences. Soon he’s doing the unthinkable—breaking the rules he’s lived by, going against the government to keep Serena safe. But are the aliens and the government the biggest threats to Serena’s life… or is it Hunter?

He’s arrogant, domineering, and… To. Die. For.

This book just wasn’t for me. I usually get a modicum of enjoyment from JLA titles, but the tone of ‘Obsession’ felt possessive bordering on abusive, and smutty (but not in a good way.) I missed the witty banter, the angst and slow burn romance. This was thinly disguised hate-banging. The whole book left me squirming uncomfortably.

Told in two different perspectives – that of Selena, attempting to clear her murdered girlfriends name… where sometime through the narrative it turned into retaliatory justice. And that of Arum Hunter. Hunter is quite frankly, a dick. Sexually aggressive, arrogant, and stays that way throughout the entire story. There is only a hint of a softer side as he develops feelings for Selena, but because of the nature of the tone in this novel, I am not convinced. I feel the heavy hand of the author weaving the threads of their fate. And Selena… you in danger girl. She just keeps overlooking warning signs. She reminds me of one of those supporting characters in a Mob Boss movie. You know, that girl who’s hanging around for sex and clout because she doesn’t feel like she deserves any better. That’s the impression I get of Selena.

There is a lot of death and dismemberment, a lot of swearing, and bumping uglies… and I’m sorry but some of the descriptions of the intimate times had me roaring with laughter than feeling my feels. I just can’t.

The plot is simple. I would’ve thought that bringing the Lux universe into an adult setting we would have gotten a more complex, ‘adult’ multi-thread storyline. This was even more simple that any of its YA counterparts. It felt like an excuse to have some characters in this universe finally get to have some sex scenes in the forefront. Total wish fulfilment. Given that it had such a one-note story, it was also extremely predictable. And I ended up speed-reading the entire novel only to slow down on the occasional good bit. I still like JLA’s writing style, but there was so much not working for me in ‘Obsession,’ that it didn’t really get a chance to shine.

Given this was published 5 years ago and there hasn’t been talk of a sequel as yet, I’m guessing it wasn’t as well received. It has potential, but it’s completely outshined by the rest of the novels set in the Lux universe.

This is a complete miss for me and I don’t recommend this unless you desperately want more of the Lux cannon. You won’t miss anything about the series if you skip this title. Maybe the more recent Origin series set in the same universe will fare better…

Overall feeling: left a bad taste in my mouth…

© 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 – ‘Every Last Word’ by Tamara Ireland Stone

Cute romance, great rep of mental illness…

Genre: Y/A, Contemporary, Romance, Mental Health

No. of pages: 358

If you could read my mind, you wouldn’t be smiling.

Samantha McAllister looks just like the rest of the popular girls in her junior class. But hidden beneath the straightened hair and expertly applied makeup is a secret that her friends would never understand: Sam has Purely-Obsessional OCD and is consumed by a stream of dark thoughts and worries that she can’t turn off.

Second-guessing every move, thought, and word makes daily life a struggle, and it doesn’t help that her lifelong friends will turn toxic at the first sign of a wrong outfit, wrong lunch, or wrong crush. Yet Sam knows she’d be truly crazy to leave the protection of the most popular girls in school. So when Sam meets Caroline, she has to keep her new friend with a refreshing sense of humor and no style a secret, right up there with Sam’s weekly visits to her psychiatrist.

Caroline introduces Sam to Poet’s Corner, a hidden room and a tight-knit group of misfits who have been ignored by the school at large. Sam is drawn to them immediately, especially a guitar-playing guy with a talent for verse, and starts to discover a whole new side of herself. Slowly, she begins to feel more “normal” than she ever has as part of the popular crowd . . . until she finds a new reason to question her sanity and all she holds dear.

I am tossing up whether to award this a higher rating. The way it deals with mental illness, primarily OCD is masterful. The representation is top shelf. I feel accurate representation is paramount, and Tamara Ireland Stone deals with this topic sensitively through the experiences of our protagonist Samantha ‘Sam’ McAllister. But it was the tone of ‘Every Last Word’ that is holding me back. It’s hard to talk about a serious ailment without it feeling heavy or depressing, but I would have liked some more levity to break up the narrative and offer some respite. Maybe pose a great juxtaposition for what Sam has to suffer through?

Additionally this was a triggering story for me personally. I have OCD, and much of the descriptions of Sam’s attacks I’ve had to deal with in the past, so ‘Every Last Word’ may have a stronger negative emotional impact on me than another reader. Plus, some of the attitudes reflected from Sam’s high school friends feels very mean-girl-esque, and I simply have no time, and low tolerance, for this type of behaviour. Though, Stone addresses this in the novel brilliantly.

What we get in ‘Every Last Word’ is a brilliant first person experience of a young girl experiencing OCD, her triggers, her coping mechanisms, and how she grows and adapts throughout high school and friendships. I especially like how she was given new coping mechanisms and confidence as she faced new experiences/ outgrew old ones.

There was a lovely twist that I did not see coming (though a particularly overused trope,) but the main plot is fairly predictable. The language and characters suit a younger demographic for the YA market. But the pacing is spot on, I was able to read this very quickly in two sittings. It pulled out a lot of the feels, and concludes on a hopeful note.

I’d definitely recommend this to lovers of contemporaries, it levels an accurate portrayal of OCD, and has a cute romance to boot. It’s not for everyone, but I am glad I got to experience Tamara Ireland Stone’s writing. I’ve looked at her other titles on Goodreads and it seems like she writes a lot of cute light romance contemporaries, but none that have ignited my interest at this point. Let me know if you’ve read any of her other titles and what you think about them. I’m on the fence with this author.

Overall feeling: *rocks my hand side to side*

© 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 – ‘I’ll Give You the Sun’ by Jandy Nelson

Art, identity, and secrets all mix into this masterful contemporary.

I'll Give You The Sun Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Contemporary, Romance, LGBT,

No. of pages: 371

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“We were all heading for each other on a collision course, no matter what. Maybe some people are just meant to be in the same story.”

At first, Jude and her twin brother Noah, are inseparable. Noah draws constantly and is falling in love with the charismatic boy next door, while daredevil Jude wears red-red lipstick, cliff-dives, and does all the talking for both of them. Years later, they are barely speaking. Something has happened to change the twins in different yet equally devastating ways . . . but then Jude meets an intriguing, irresistible boy and a mysterious new mentor. The early years are Noah’s to tell; the later years are Jude’s. But they each have only half the story, and if they can only find their way back to one another, they’ll have a chance to remake their world.

Page border 2020 by Casey Carlisle

This was a surprise read for me. I had heard great things and noticed a lot of 5 star reviews but I kept away from all of that as much as I could. All I knew about ‘I’ll Give You The Sun’ was that the main protagonists were fraternal twins, a boy and a girl, where the male grapples with his identity.

I think the biggest surprise for me was the interconnectedness of this novel. Just about every point, seemingly irrelevant or not, has meaning. A symbolism, a prophecy, a reason for being. And because of that this novel has a strong interwoven web of plot and arc that kept surprising me at every turn.

And Jandy Nelson’s writing style was a delight. Such a lovely turn of phrase where the narrative deals a lot with art – Jandy’s writing was akin to art itself without being egotistical.

I'll Give You The Sun Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

Told in alternating perspectives by our two leads – the twins: Noah, 3 years in the past, and Jude, his sister in the present. I think the theme that is most heavy in the narrative and rings true for all the characters is that we are all fallible and struggling to find our way through this messy life, and find that safe place where we are expressing our true authentic selves. Add into that all the dramatic and familial themes that can happen like love, sex, sibling rivalry, coming of age, the deconstruction of childhood innocence, and ‘I’ll Give You The Sun’ really shines.

Going into this novel with little prior knowledge I guessed at the main plot fairly early on, but it was never solidified as the diaphanous nature of symbolism and art weighing heavily on the narrative, there was always some doubt. But those early guesses came to ring true, but there was so much subtext and many, many arcs that grew around this main thread which provided such serendipity. I was transfixed.

There was one spot about halfway through the novel in a chapter from Jude’s point of view where the pacing lagged a little, but in hindsight it was setting up a number of plot points for the rollercoaster ride to the conclusion.

I’ll Give You the Sun’ wraps up nicely, a bitter-sweet ending with a strong sense of hope. It’s been a while since I last got a book hangover from a contemporary, and I highly recommend this. It has a delicate hand on some difficult topics and an interesting lens through which to view the world. I treasure this reading experience.

Overall feeling: My reading just leveled up!

I'll Give You The Sun Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

I'll Give You The Sun 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 – ‘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.

Page border 2020 by Casey Carlisle

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 – ‘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 – ‘Perfect Ten’ by L. Philips

A cute contemporary, but ultimately didn’t hit the mark.

PerfectTen_BOM_2P.inddGenre: Y/A, Contemporary, Romance, LGBT

No. of pages: 352

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Who is Sam Raines’s Perfect Ten? 

It’s been two years since Sam broke up with the only other eligible gay guy in his high school, so to say he’s been going through a romantic drought is the understatement of the decade. But when Meg, his ex-Catholic-turned-Wiccan best friend, suggests performing a love spell, Sam is just desperate enough to try. He crafts a list of ten traits he wants in a boyfriend and burns it in a cemetery at midnight on Friday the 13th.

Enter three seemingly perfect guys, all in pursuit of Sam. There’s Gus, the suave French exchange student; Jamie, the sweet and shy artist; and Travis, the guitar-playing tattooed enigma. Even Sam’s ex-boyfriend Landon might want another chance.

But does a Perfect Ten even exist? Find out in this delectable coming-of-age romcom with just a touch of magic.

Page border 2020 by Casey Carlisle

This was a cute light romance. But it didn’t tick all the boxes for me. It did not feel like an authentic voice. Something about the position that Sam’s voice was coming from did not feel totally realistic for a young gay male. Yes, it was angsty and swoon-worthy, but there are subtle layers wrapped up in the identity that were not realised.

Additionally I just found Sam to be such a whiny privileged guy who was so thirsty for attention that he ‘threw his cat’ at any boy who paid him even the slightest amount of attention. For someone who was desperate for love, he acted in contradiction for the entire story.

The pacing is also slow.

This book feels like jamming as may experiences with boys in a PG setting as humanly possible to appeal to a tween audience. The dash of Wicca even further proved my point in baiting that demographic.

Perfect Ten Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

The character arc and character development were pretty good though. Even if I found Sam to be one massive sigh and eyeroll away from wanting to throw up in my mouth. L. Philips even crafted a commendable ending, throwing a few red herrings out there… but ultimately for me even that felt undercooked and drawn out.

I did love her depictions of art and music. I can see she has a talent for writing, but maybe steer away from the M/M romances, she’s writing an interpretation of the gay experience and missing some of the major issues that gay youth struggle with internally and externally.

Sam would have had to have been medicated to behave the way he did – a lot of his reactions are so far from biologically male it was laughable.

I liked Meg, though again, she was so stereotypically the >insert derogatory term for female best friend of the gay lead< that I was praying that she would have something else going on for her storyline other than seeking relationship advice and validation. It’s obvious their friendship is more than that, but L. Philips neglects to explore any of that.

Landon just felt like a cautionary tale for engaging in sexual activity too young. And to act as an antagonist. In all honesty after finishing the novel I really felt like he was a plot device. Again there were so many missed opportunities to increase tension and pace that were missed.

All the characters were so ‘nice.’ It was a pleasurable enough read but felt like it lacked substance and authenticity. I would have rated it lower if not for L. Philips lovely writing, great dialogue, and a sense that there is a lot more to her than presented in ‘Perfect Ten.’

I’m not going to recommend this one, there are a lot more contemporaries in this genre which execute a story much better, like Bill Koinigsberg, Cale Deitrich, David Levithan, and Adam Silvera. I really wanted to love ‘Perfect Ten,’ but it disappointed me… though it does show a lot of promise for L. Philips as a writer.

Overall feeling: Undercooked and inauthentic.

Perfect Ten Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Perfect Ten 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.