Book Review – ‘Chosen’ (#2 Slayer) by Kiersten White

A red-headed slayer… count me in!

Genre: YA, Paranormal

No. of pages: 368

Nina continues to learn how to use her slayer powers against enemies old and new in this second novel in the New York Times bestselling series from Kiersten White, set in the world of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Now that Nina has turned the Watcher’s Castle into a utopia for hurt and lonely demons, she’s still waiting for the utopia part to kick in. With her sister Artemis gone and only a few people remaining at the castle—including her still-distant mother—Nina has her hands full. Plus, though she gained back her Slayer powers from Leo, they’re not feeling quite right after being held by the seriously evil succubus Eve, a.k.a. fake Watcher’s Council member and Leo’s mom.

And while Nina is dealing with the darkness inside, there’s also a new threat on the outside, portended by an odd triangle symbol that seems to be popping up everywhere, in connection with Sean’s demon drug ring as well as someone a bit closer to home. Because one near-apocalypse just isn’t enough, right?

The darkness always finds you. And once again, it’s coming for the Slayer.

Another fantastic and nostalgic trip into the Buffyverse with the twins. I can’t properly explain my joy at how many characters from the original series made an appearance – I was flashed back to my bedroom at home, snuggled on the couch in the dark with a cup of tea. A time when I was surrounded by happiness and safety, when all of my family members were still alive. Buffy always brought me joy and wonder, and ‘Chosen’ managed to dredge all that back up again. It was bittersweet. Much like the journey the characters take in ‘Chosen’ and a little bit like my feelings upon completing the novel.

I really enjoyed ‘Chosen’ it has such a strong connection for me, but the pacing in the first half of the novel was a little slow. I kept putting down this book so many times. It was interesting, had fun characters, but didn’t necessarily move the plot forward too much. I think in paying so much lip service to characters from the television show, we sacrificed some of the pace… but I don’t think I would have connected with the novel as much without their occasional appearance. So it’s a catch twenty-two that you can’t really win. But Kiersten White managed to find the perfect balance and it is an accolade that she manages to keep the story interesting even when the plot was a little slower.

In comparing ‘Chosen’ to the debut of the series, ‘Slayer’ I have to say I enjoyed ‘Slayer’ better. There weren’t so many characters to keep track of, and it fit more into the serialised stories we got from the television show; whereas ‘Chosen’ felt more like a series arc… which is why I think the pacing felt slower in the first half, there was just so many plot points to set up. But it does end in apocalyptic fashion, the thing the television series is famous for.

We switch perspectives between Nora, the last slayer, and Artemis, her twin sister every few chapters. Given that they were separated for nearly the entirety of the novel the dual perspectives added a lot the narrative, though there were moments when an omnipotent consciousness slipped in, which I didn’t think was needed. Those small instances were explanatory or info-dumping in nature and you slipped out of the organic nature of the tone of the book.

Both our protagonists get great arcs and character development. The only niggling issue I have with this instalment is given we are at a Watcher stronghold we didn’t get as much Watcher lore (like we did in ‘Slayer.’) I felt it disconnected a bit in the reason for the characters being there… it was like they were morphing into a new version of The Scooby Gang instead of carving out their own identity and reviving the importance of the Watcher mythos. The waters all felt a bit muddy in that respect; but the connection between the cast forging a makeshift family and Slayer sanctuary rings through clear as a bell.

The notable appearances from the original television series include: Buffy, Faith, Clem, Sineya (the first slayer), and a Chaos Demon (Anya’s ex-boyfriend).

I really hope we get more instalments in this series and explore/evolve the Watcher lore. But I have not seen any evidence Kiersten White will be penning another installation to date. *sigh* I guess I’ll just have to keep hoping that the new Slayer television series moves forward in production.

Definitely recommend this one – for Buffy fans, and lovers of paranormal fantasy novels.

Overall feeling: Melancholic

© 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 – ‘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.

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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 – ‘Slayer’ (#1 Slayer) by Kiersten White

Re-visiting my ultimate fandom.

Slayer (#1 Slayer) Book Review Pic 01 by Casey Carlisle

Genre: YA, Paranormal

No. of pages: 404

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Into every generation a Slayer is born…

Nina and her twin sister, Artemis, are far from normal. It’s hard to be when you grow up at the Watcher’s Academy, which is a bit different from your average boarding school. Here teens are trained as guides for Slayers—girls gifted with supernatural strength to fight the forces of darkness. But while Nina’s mother is a prominent member of the Watcher’s Council, Nina has never embraced the violent Watcher lifestyle. Instead she follows her instincts to heal, carving out a place for herself as the school medic.

Until the day Nina’s life changes forever.

Thanks to Buffy, the famous (and infamous) Slayer that Nina’s father died protecting, Nina is not only the newest Chosen One—she’s the last Slayer, ever. Period.

As Nina hones her skills with her Watcher-in-training, Leo, there’s plenty to keep her occupied: a monster fighting ring, a demon who eats happiness, a shadowy figure that keeps popping up in Nina’s dreams…

But it’s not until bodies start turning up that Nina’s new powers will truly be tested—because someone she loves might be next.

One thing is clear: Being Chosen is easy. Making choices is hard.

Page border 2020 by Casey Carlisle

It was fun to get reacquainted with the Buffyverse through ‘Slayer.’ While it is technically cannon and references many familiar characters, it didn’t quite match the tone of the television series ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer.’ Though it has elements of teen drama, horror, and dark comedy, it managed to carve out its own identity.

I found parts of the narrative repetitive – especially in the first half – and it became somewhat annoying, but once past the midway point ‘Slayer’ really starts to amp up. The pacing is pretty good, but in what we’ve come to expect from Whedon’s brainchild, ‘Slayer’ is the poorer cousin. There should have been much more drama and angst, much more action, and a heavy, more pronounced theme of good versus evil… and some core moral centre that the protagonist deals with.

The concept of twins and prophecy was a fun twist and great to explore. Stepping into the world post-Sunnydale where hundreds of potential slayers have realised their power, Watcher/medic in training Nina (‘Artemis’) has joined the ranks of newly awakened slayers. I feel like having Nina isolated and in hiding with the remainder of the Watcher brethren was a great storytelling perspective, but did little to create a lot of relatable content for the reader. Buffy was a typical teen who just wanted to be normal – Nina is a naive teen who doesn’t know what she wants… so for the first half of the novel I didn’t really care for her as a main character because she lacked the strength and interest. Though as she stretches her newly slayer abilities Nina grows into the role.

Slayer (#1 Slayer) Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

There was this whole kept-in-the-dark-for-your-own-protection trope and miscommunications which was okay as a plot device, but I’ve seen it executed much better; and not only did it feel obvious, but frustrating that I was able to not only predict the outcome of the novel, but pretty much all but one of the smaller story arcs. I feel like Kiersten White could have cut 100-150 pages out, only hinting at plot reveals, and this would have not only been a better paced read, but married true to the tone of the source material. But it was so nostalgic and squee-worthy to be back in the Buffyverse. Plus, a red-headed protagonist – fellow gingers unite!

So I may have rated this lower if not for the connection to my early years through the Whedonverse, and just the simple enjoyment of spending a few days back in that place. This was an emotional connection, and I felt like the story was really getting its legs in the second half. So I’m assuming the sequel ‘Chosen’ is going to be much better and I am definitely fangirling over these books.

I’d love to freely recommend this to everyone, but some hard-core Buffy fans may not take to ‘Slayer’ so easily. While this has elements of the franchise, it’s not delivered as tightly as the source material. Even the DarkHorse comics that continued the story after the television series ended with a team of the original writers (helmed by Jos Whedon himself) still retain that ‘it’ factor we’ve come to love in the Buffyverse that I felt wasn’t quite reached with Kiersten Whites take on the franchise. But hey, I’d would LOVE to be proven wrong.

Overall feeling: A fun frolic in a favorite fandom

Slayer (#1 Slayer) Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Slayer (#1 Slayer) 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 – ‘Without Merit’ by Collen Hoover

Messy can be beautiful… or just plain miserable. But there is also beauty in misery.

Without Merit Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: YA, Contemporary, Romance

No. of pages: 385

From Goodreads:

Not every mistake deserves a consequence. Sometimes the only thing it deserves is forgiveness.

The Voss family is anything but normal. They live in a repurposed church, newly baptized Dollar Voss. The once cancer-stricken mother lives in the basement, the father is married to the mother’s former nurse, the little half-brother isn’t allowed to do or eat anything fun, and the eldest siblings are irritatingly perfect. Then, there’s Merit.

Merit Voss collects trophies she hasn’t earned and secrets her family forces her to keep. While browsing the local antiques shop for her next trophy, she finds Sagan. His wit and unapologetic idealism disarm and spark renewed life into her—until she discovers that he’s completely unavailable. Merit retreats deeper into herself, watching her family from the sidelines when she learns a secret that no trophy in the world can fix.

Fed up with the lies, Merit decides to shatter the happy family illusion that she’s never been a part of before leaving them behind for good. When her escape plan fails, Merit is forced to deal with the staggering consequences of telling the truth and losing the one boy she loves.

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What a train wreck of a family! ‘Without Merit’ is all about keeping secrets and putting up a front that contributes to this family imploding. But you don’t get the info dump of all the elements that have built up this tension – Colleen Hoover reveals them like peeling back layers of an onion in an organic way through the perspective of our protagonist Merit. It is a moderately paced book with a slow burn romance. It’s not overly traumatic, and has a cute ending but is very engaging. I completed it in two sittings and found the characters – and their arcs – delightful. It is just another novel that adds to the proof of Hoovers’ deft writing and stylistic flare.

We’re introduced to Merit as someone who is angry yet hopeful… and then slowly shown why she is both of these things. I related to her because she is both flawed, intelligent, and resourceful. She questions and challenges the world in her loner fashion.

Without Merit Book Review Pic 02 by Casey CarlisleThe rest of her siblings each have a different dysfunction – their mechanisms for dealing with the repercussions of their parents’ divorce and parental style. Utah, Honor, and Moby were still connected enough to be a family unit, but had their own story arcs going on. It was great to read that all the characters were so intricately crafted.

Two other characters of note revolving around the family: Luck seems like a bright addition to the family, but is soon discovered as the grenade that starts the inciting moment of self-inspection the family desperately needs. And Sagan, who comes across as the tattooed brooding love interest with a touch of mystery about him – and while he is all of those things we soon discover there is more: an artist, a compassionate soul. I really enjoyed discovering him through Merits eyes, though the whole quiet brooding thing was starting to get a little tired towards the end.

We also get the neighbour’s dog that Merit adopts; who is by far my favourite character and a wonderful symbol of moving on from a painful past.

I like how mental illness is represented and discussed in ‘Without Merit.’ It doesn’t necessarily paint a pretty picture, but once brought out into the open and dealt with, can be treated in a way that is not destructive.

The novel really deals with how perceptions and assumptions are continually deconstructed and the truth revealed.

The first half takes a while in setting up the characters and plot, so the pacing feels moderately slow, but after the halfway mark, things really get interesting and I did not want to put the book down. It’s not really an angsty novel. More one of uncovering one sensational thing after another, like some telenovela, it was tragically juicy and I was hooked.

Hoovers writing style slayed me yet again, and it was hard to predict what was going to happen because the predicament Merit finds herself in is just so deliciously messy. It all made great reading and a novel I’d happily recommend.

Overall reaction: Knock me down with a feather.

Without Merit Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Without Merit 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 – ‘Don’t Look Back’ by Jennifer L. Armentrout

A great story, but left me on the fence…

Don't Look Back Book Reivew Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Contemporary, Mystery

No. of pages: 384

From Goodreads:

Samantha is a stranger in her own life. Until the night she disappeared with her best friend, Cassie, everyone said Sam had it all – popularity, wealth, and a dream boyfriend.

Sam has resurfaced, but she has no recollection of who she was or what happened to her that night. As she tries to piece together her life from before, she realizes it’s one she no longer wants any part of. The old Sam took “mean girl” to a whole new level, and it’s clear she and Cassie were more like best enemies. Sam is pretty sure that losing her memories is like winning the lottery. She’s getting a second chance at being a better daughter, sister, and friend, and she’s falling hard for Carson Ortiz, a boy who has always looked out for her-even if the old Sam treated him like trash.

But Cassie is still missing, and the truth about what happened to her that night isn’t just buried deep inside of Sam’s memory – someone else knows, someone who wants to make sure Sam stays quiet. All Sam wants is the truth, and if she can unlock her clouded memories of that fateful night, she can finally move on. But what if not remembering is the only thing keeping Sam alive?

Page border by Casey Carlisle

This was a quick read. Mysterious. And the type of well written narrative I’ve come to expect from Jennifer L. Armentrout. A welcome change from the long, intimate and angsty titles she also writes.

I’ve been in the middle of three other books for a while, and though they are interesting and I’m enjoying them, my progress was sputtering and needed a novel that I could get through quickly, fast paced, and a story to keep me hooked – ‘Don’t Look Back’ was all that. And thank goodness, staved off the possibility of falling into a reading slump.

Don't Look Back Book Reivew Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle.gifI liked the aspect with memory loss, how Sam, our protagonist, was a blank slate and able to re-invent herself, leaving the mean girl she was behind. Her love interest, Carson is also another great excuse to indulge in ‘Don’t Look Back,’ gorgeous, loyal, and a voice of reason.

I was frustrated for much of the book, though, as Sam struggled to fill in the gaps of her missing memories. I’m kind of over the whole I have amnesia plot line. It’s overdone. To compound my dissatisfaction, Sam was a little dumb. She dismissed clues too easily, didn’t push and ask questions, and ignored her instincts most of the time. It was infuriating. I was so close to screaming at the book for her to wake up and do something. So I guess Sam engaged me really well – even if it wasn’t in the best way possible. And to that effect, I did not relate to her all that easily, but I loved the mystery she was trying to puzzle out.

The other thing that irked me is that I had guessed the entire plot very early on in the book. It was like I’d already read a summary somewhere. I don’t know if I picked up on the clues without difficulty, or if the narrative did a poor job at setting up the story, but it was difficult to really immerse myself in the novel when the plot was so glaringly obvious.

But I have a soft spot for Jennifer L. Armentrout. I have fallen in love with so many of her other books. I love her writing style – it has an easy tenor, and she manages to round out the cast members, giving them fantastic back stories. She is an expert at building tension and angst and always has a hunky love interest.

Don’t Look Back’ had shades of the television series ‘Pretty Little Liars’ and ‘The Lying Game’ so if you enjoyed those – this will be right up your alley. I’m on the fence if I’d recommend it though. It’s written in a tone for younger audiences, so possibly tweens would get much more out of it than I did.

Overall feeling: pretty good.

Don't Look Back Book Reivew Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

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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.

Book Review – Faerie Tale

Faerie Tale Book Review Cover by Casey CarlisleGoodreads:

Successful screenwriter Phil Hastings decides to move his family from sunny California to a ramshackle farmhouse in New York State. The idea is to take some time out, relax and pick up the threads of his career as a novelist. Good plan, bad choice. The place they choose is surrounded by ancient woodland. The house they choose is the centrepoint of a centuries-old evil intent on making its presence felt to intruders.

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What an amazing world Raymond E. Feist paints, melodic, mysterious and enrapturing.

For some reason this book reminded me of ‘Pet Cemetery’ by Stephen King, moving to a small town, curious children exploring the woods about the house and getting into trouble, ominous scariness lurking… you get the picture.

Source: deviant art - dragoroth

Source: deviant art – dragoroth

This was the first book into the world of Raymond E. Fiest for me, and I have to say, he has a vivid and unabashed style. It may get over-descriptive at times, but I was never bored or skipping pages ahead. ‘Faerie Tale’ is sufficiently spooky and disturbing in parts, and magic and fantastical in others. It still stands the test of time, holding it’s own despite being written over twenty years ago. This is no childhood story re-telling as of the likes of ‘Cinder,’ or ‘Beastly,’ Feist has created his own story based in mythology and cultural history.

I am not one to get overly terrorised by scary books – it takes a lot to get me worrying what’s under the bed or tapping at the window – usually having something to do with the unknown, believability and a great build up in the mythology or world building: and ‘Faerie Tale’ has it. Many nights I had my legs neatly tucked safely under me, away from hooked claws and chitinous legs which may lie waiting in the shadows. The pacing is a little slow, given Feist’s over-descriptive manner, but he builds great suspense. The novel can get a little graphic too: so be prepared to get uncomfortable or grossed out. Additionally, given the slower tenor to the story, the ending did feel abrupt in comparison, but well executed.

The family on which this tale is centred, The Hastings, are slightly stereotypical, but have their own flaws and quirks so they feel real and flesh out the story. The Father, Phil’s reactions to the events that take place in the novel are realistic and add legitimacy to the fantasy, which is needed to juxtapose the experiences of his twin boys, Sean and Patrick. Without giving away the plot, you see a great deal of loyalty and family bonds being tested, which is a great change from rescuing damsels in distress 😉

With more than one Antagonist, the main being Erl King, a nasty faerie leader, who is conniving and terrifying, really makes you fear the dark places. He is supported by the Magi – a human sect intent on aiding the Kings desires. They all weave a bloodcurdling and thrilling ride for the Hastings family.

Source: tumblr a-touch-of-magic

Source: tumblr a-touch-of-magic

A pleasant break from the recently released spate of Young Adult reads, I’d definitely recommend ‘Faerie Tale’ for those who love great escapist novels that buck the trend of star-crossed lovers.

Faerie Tale Book Review  Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

 Critique Casey by Casey Carlisle  

© Casey Carlisle 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.