Book Review – ‘If There’s No Tomorrow’ by Jennifer L. Armentrout

A cautionary tale for teen love.

If There's No Tomorrow Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Contemporary, Romance

No. of pages: 384

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Lacey Barnes has dreamed of being an actress for as long as she can remember. So when she gets the opportunity to star in a movie alongside one of Hollywood’s hottest actors, she doesn’t hesitate to accept the part.

But Lacey quickly learns that life in the spotlight isn’t as picture perfect as she imagined. She’s having trouble bonding with her costars, her father has hired the definition of a choir boy, Donavan Lake, to tutor her, and somewhere along the way she’s lost her acting mojo. And just when it seems like things couldn’t get any worse, it looks like someone on set is deliberately trying to sabotage her.

As Lacey’s world spins out of control, it feels like the only person she can count on—whether it’s helping her try to unravel the mystery of who is out to get her or snap her out of her acting funk—is Donavan. But what she doesn’t count on is this straight-laced boy becoming another distraction.

With her entire future riding on this movie, Lacey knows she can’t afford to get sidetracked by a crush. But for the first time in her life Lacey wonders if it’s true that the best stories really do happen when you go off script.

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I didn’t mind this contemporary, it’s a slow burn romance with a heavy dose of survivor’s guilt. Compared to many other reads from JLA, where there is a lot of action, angst, or paranormal, ‘If There’s No Tomorrow’ is more realistic fiction, and with a teen protagonist facing some heavy issues, it did not feel as gripping as I’m used to. But this is a great story. A precautionary tale that I feel is important for the demographic of this novel.

I did go in to this with no prior knowledge, I skipped reading the blurb, because Jennifer L. Armentrout is one of my auto-buy authors and I love her angsty, escapist tomes. So I was expecting just that – some drama filled teen romance of some description. And ‘If There’s No Tomorrow’ is that… and more. Protagonist Lena is navigating decisions for graduating high school, telling her crush about her feelings, keeping together her girl squad, and then, bam! Underage drinking, driving while intoxicated, death. I was not expecting any of the latter. But I have to hand it to JLA, she really landed an experience of loss, grief, and survivor’s guilt. Even the situation of a father’s role in taking responsibility for their child. I related to this a lot. It was quite a sobering read. Though, in hindsight, I did not get the gut-wrenching feels, the man-cry sobs, or the tummy butterflies of yearning I wanted. This was somewhat vanilla. And I can understand why; there are some very heavy topics discussed here, but in effect ‘If There’s No Tomorrow’ is a love story. Bogging down the narrative with the more realism-laden issues would take the narrative in a completely different and depressing direction and move well away from JLA’s typical fare. This is meant to be a love story – I get it.

If There's No Tomorrow Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

Lena was a fun protagonist, she loves volleyball, parties, hanging with her girls, and reading. So there was a lot to connect to. Thank goodness she wasn’t some snarky waif that we get a lot in YA, though she was a little of that plain jane stereotype.

The love interest, a jock, boy next door type, again felt a little stereotyped and typical for this genre, but I enjoyed how he is depicted as a man and not some idiot teen boy with impulse control issues.

I predicted the ending when it came to the love story – come on its expected and obvious, that’s why I picked up the book. But the other stuff around the accident and the aftermath was a complete surprise. Though if I had read the blurb, it’s all right there. So I’m not spoiling the book. I probably wouldn’t have picked this up if I had read the Goodreads description to be honest, but it was a great read nonetheless. But I probably would have rated it lower because it gives the entire story away.

Jennifer L. Armentrout’s writing style is effortless, and lends to a quick read, though I would have liked some more atmosphere built and less inner lamenting to build a stronger emotional connection. Symbolism always works better than someone having a whine.

I’d only recommend this for tried and true fans of JLA, or for young teens (as a precautionary tale). I think romance lovers and contemporaryphiles not familiar with Jennifer’s catalogue may find it a little bland. In fact as I check other reviews I can see this reflected in reader’s reactions. I appreciated ‘If There’s No Tomorrow’ for what it is and am glad to add it to my collection.

Overall feeling: not what I was expecting…

If There's No Tomorrow Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

If There's No Tomorrow Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

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© 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 – ‘The Burning World’ (#2 Warm Bodies) by Isaac Marion

Breathing more life into the apocalyptic series.

The Burning World (#2 Warm Bodies) Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Dystopian, Horror

No. of pages: 500

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A romance between a zombie boy and a human girl is bound to have its problems, but after battling against the odds and the undead, it seemed that Julie and R had earned their happy ending. But they soon must face a new enemy more terrifying than the walking corpses that still roam the wasted cities: a faceless and merciless corporation who are seeking control of the ruins of America. The key to survival and victory may lie in R’s past life, but can he finally face his own demons?

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This almost feels like a road trip novel. The characters go from A to B and some plot points are tied up and some aren’t… it seems like this would suffer a middle book syndrome, but it doesn’t. To be honest I was a little worried going into to ‘The Burning World’ with its 500 page length for a zombie dystopian, it has the potential to have an ambling pace, but Isaac Marion put his foot on the accelerator and did not let up until the end. It was a journey with so many things coming at the characters hard and fast.

You get a real sense of humanity through the characters, they react in a realistic way to the circumstances they face. ‘The Burning World’ picks up just after the events in ‘Warm Bodies.’ I’d say this novel primarily deals with filling in R’s backstory. It gives us a hint about the start of the zombie virus, but not quite. I’m hoping it all comes to light in the last book of the franchise ‘The Living.’

There are a lot of interesting elements in ‘The Burning World.’ We get interspersed chapters following a younger R; A young Nearly Dead boy with amber eyes; and some collective consciousness observing the planet and its evolution that seems to have some sort of vast knowledge. There was something like that in ‘Warm Bodies’ with the Boneys – but we don’t see them in this book. There is a sense that everything is connected, that a tangled mess of plot points is being set up. I’m hoping for an epic conclusion.

The Burning World (#2 Warm Bodies) Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

Isaac Marion’s writing style is both concise and poetic. Descriptions and actions are written with brevity, but philosophy and ambience are waxed lyrical. It is a unique and interesting tone of voice to read.

There does not feel like a tonne of character development. R’s eyes and personality are growing both with the return of his memories, and seeing Julie in the differing scenarios they survive. The other characters have minor realisations of their own, but nothing that pivots or redirects the plot. As you can guess I’m saying this is a plot driven story, rather than a character driven one.

It’s hard to say I predicted anything about ‘The Burning World’ because I didn’t really know where it was heading… and the journey is still yet to be completed. We get enough plot points resolved to finish the novel at a natural point and felt satisfied, but it didn’t altogether feel like a resounding conclusion. I was surprised at many of the elements introduced in this novel – ‘Warm Bodies’ feels simplistic in comparison.

Definitely looking forward to ‘The Living’ to complete the story and see where this all leads. Recommend this to fans of ‘Warm Bodies’ and any of the zombie and dystopian niches, but you must get your hands on both ‘The Burning World’ and ‘The Living’ to skip disappointment. (Luckily I have my copy waiting to go.)

Overall feeling: Didn’t see that one coming…

The Burning World (#2 Warm Bodies) Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

The Burning World (#2 Warm Bodies) Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

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© 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 – ‘Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between’ by Jennifer E. Smith

Cute high school romantic fare.

Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Contemporary, Romance

No. of pages: 246

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On the night before they leave for college, Clare and Aidan have only one thing left to do: figure out whether they should stay together or break up. Over the course of twelve hours, they retrace the steps of their relationship, trying to find something in their past that might help them decide what their future should be. The night leads them to family and friends, familiar landmarks and unexpected places, hard truths and surprising revelations. But as the clock winds down and morning approaches, so does their inevitable goodbye. The question is, will it be goodbye for now or goodbye forever?

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Jennifer E. Smith never fails to grab you with a cute contemporary, and ‘Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between’ is just that.

This wasn’t the best read for me – maybe I wasn’t it the right mood for a contemporary like this – and maybe there wasn’t enough story for me to sink my teeth into. Following our protagonist Clare as she is about to head off to the other side of the country for college and saying goodbye to her boyfriend by revisiting all of the places that benchmark developments in their relationship before ending things for good… and that’s the entire plot. I have to say there wasn’t a lot about ‘Hello, Goodbye’ and Everything in Between’ that grabbed my attention. In fact I skimmed nearly this entire novel. And it’s only a short book… but it still took me a really long time to finish. I kept putting it down due to lack of interest.

Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

It’s a pity. Smith’s writing is endearing and she really paints a landscape in setting a scene. We get some poignant symbolism. But I was really missing some more interesting (possibly diverse) characters. And something other than angst about saying goodbye to your high school boyfriend. I hate to say it, but ‘Hello, Goodbye and Everything in Between’ felt a little self-indulgent and shallow. I feel if the main characters had a couple of more realistic problems to navigate and didn’t feel so privileged white middle class America; this story would have been a much different creature.

There’s not much else I can say about ‘Hello, Goodbye and Everything in Between’ because it is so short, and not a lot happens. No big character arcs or personal growth, no huge obstacles… because of this the pacing felt slow and the tension was fairly non-existent. I did like the angst, but when that is all you have in the plot it can become tired.

So, a cute novel, I think a younger demographic would really enjoy it because of the relevance to their situation, but for an old duck like me, it wasn’t that inspiring. I wouldn’t recommend this one (but maybe if you are a total stan for Jennifer E. Smith, or a junkie for high school romance.)

Overall feeling: Meh.

Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

 

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© 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 – ‘Dispel Illusion’ (#3 Impossible Times) by Mark Lawrence

Awesome conclusion for this trilogy of novellas.

Dispel Illusion (#3 Impossible Times) Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Science Fiction

No. of pages: 234

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Sometimes being wrong is the right answer.

Nick Hayes’s genius is in wringing out the universe’s secrets. It’s a talent that’s allowed him to carve paths through time. But the worst part is that he knows how his story will end. He’s seen it with his own eyes. And every year that passes, every breakthrough he makes, brings him a step closer. Mia’s accident is waiting for them both in 2011. If it happens then he’s out of choices.

Then a chance 1992 discovery reveals that this seeker of truth has been lying to himself. But why? It’s a question that haunts him for years. A straw he clings to as his long-awaited fate draws near.

Time travel turns out not to be the biggest problem Nick has to work on. He needs to find out how he can stay on his path but change the destination. Failure has never been an option, and neither has survival. But Nick’s hoping to roll the dice one more time. And this new truth begins with a lie.

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Another fun instalment for this franchise, upping the ante and revisiting the concepts introduced from the start… with a twist. ‘Dispel Illusion’ wraps up this trilogy with style.

I had predicted this novel from the start – given the title and the discovery in the cave – the conclusion was inevitable. Additionally, with heavier elements of the science fiction of time travel, setting things up, and resolving all the plot points for this collection of novellas, I found myself putting the book down frequently. Mainly because I like character driven stories, and there was a lighter dose of character development and connection between the cast because this is a plot driven story. It is very clever, but I did not get the emotional connection I was expecting to help keep the tension and pace (especially in the first half.)

Dispel Illusion (#3 Impossible Times) Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

There is definitely some masterful weaving from Mark Lawrence. The way he unfolds the plot was exceptional. I wish there was more time spent on staying with the main set of characters to develop conflict, emotional tension, and angst. This aspect of the story fell a bit flat for me. Maybe it’s just his writing style? But I found myself caring more for the characters in the first two novels… there is also the possibility that I had sleuthed out the plot very early on in ‘Dispel Illusion’ so without any additional surprises or some heavy raw emotion to hook me in, my reading experience suffered.

The concept of marrying fantasy and science fiction (especially with heavy symbolism) was a treat to read. This trilogy has certainly got me keeping an eye on Mark Lawrence and his publications. Definitely recommend this to fantasy and sci-fi lovers alike. They are quick intriguing reads with a solid foundation in both writing and concept.

Bravo Mr Lawrence!

Overall feeling: Timey-wimey goodness!

Dispel Illusion (#3 Impossible Times) Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Dispel Illusion (#3 Impossible Times) Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

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© 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 – ‘One of Us is Lying’ (#1 One of Us is Lying) by Karen McManus

A murder in the middle of The Breakfast Club.

One of Us is Lying (#1 One of Us is Lying) Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Contemporary, Mystery, LGBT

No. of pages: 361

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Pay close attention and you might solve this.

On Monday afternoon, five students at Bayview High walk into detention.

Bronwyn, the brain, is Yale-bound and never breaks a rule.

Addy, the beauty, is the picture-perfect homecoming princess.

Nate, the criminal, is already on probation for dealing.

Cooper, the athlete, is the all-star baseball pitcher.

And Simon, the outcast, is the creator of Bayview High’s notorious gossip app.

Only, Simon never makes it out of that classroom. Before the end of detention, Simon’s dead. And according to investigators, his death wasn’t an accident. On Monday, he died. But on Tuesday, he’d planned to post juicy reveals about all four of his high-profile classmates, which makes all four of them suspects in his murder. Or are they the perfect patsies for a killer who’s still on the loose?

Everyone has secrets, right? What really matters is how far you would go to protect them.

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This feels difficult for me to rate and review. It has been hyped so much, and many friends, and bloggers I follow have raved about ‘One of Us is Lying.’ On the whole, this was well written and the plot unfolded masterfully. We get interesting fleshed-out characters and tension is maintained from beginning to end. We follow four protagonists, the narrative jumps to each of their perspectives frequently, so at the start I was all over the place and even had to jot down some notes to get the characters straight in my head – because not only do we get the four protagonists, but their friends and families as well. I struggled to fall into the world of ‘One of Us is Lying.’ It felt like it took half the novel for things to really get going. I put this novel down and read 3 others before picking it up again. But after the halfway point I was totally gripped.

I think because it took so long to develop so many characters, and set the scene, the first half suffered pacing issues with my reading experience. I was also frustrated with some of the things which happened in the novel – like the police or press contacting the kids directly; and even the kids fraternizing with each other after the fact. In real life, police can have their case thrown out the window, or even get suspended for questioning a minor without a parent or guardian present. News reporters risk jail for questioning an unaccompanied minor. And parents should be locking these kids up and keeping them away from each other – I mean we’re dealing with murder here. Hello? Is anybody in there? *knocking on your skull*

One of Us is Lying (#1 One of Us is Lying) Book Review Pic 02 by Casey CarlisleI understand what Karen M. McManus was doing, and I appreciate how she crafts a story. But having a background as a high school teacher and a person of authority, some aspects triggered me and pulled me from the narrative. I wish I could have just enjoyed it like fiction instead of poking holes in the plot.

With each cast member having a secret was a great tool for developing each character, and by default, giving them a nuance and point of interest. It is the kind of writing tool that attracted me to the novel in the first place.

I won’t say I easily predicted the story, but I will say I had some very strong hunches about some characters that proved to be true. I say this because I can’t pinpoint any facts that foretold the way the plot was going to unfold… it was just little things, character reactions which tingled my spidey senses that got me thinking. I have to hand it to McManus in structuring a marvellous mystery.

Her writing style is top notch and easy to read, but I would have liked some more separation between the character voices. If not for the name of each character in the title heading I may not have known who we were following. She could have used particular words and sentence structure unique to each character to differentiate and aid in identify differing points of view.

I think the other thing that contributed to this rating is that I did not connect/relate to any of the protagonists. I mean I cared about them, but there was no deep emotional bond with any of the cast. I felt like an observer rather than getting to experience the predicament through their eyes, this level of separation kept me from really getting into ‘One of Us if Lying.’

I’m going to be picking up the sequel ‘One of Us is Next,’ and now that I am familiar with the characters and the scene is set, having understood their history, I’ll should be able to forge a stronger connection, and ultimately, enjoy the read more.

I’m really looking forward to the television series adaptation currently in development, the visual format is better suited for following so many main cast and with a longer format of a full season of television allowing the story to unfold slowly, yet keeping up the pace… it opens the possibility that I may like the tv show better.

A fun read and one I’m happy to recommend.

Overall feeling: Had me raising an eyebrow…

One of Us is Lying (#1 One of Us is Lying) Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

One of Us is Lying (#1 One of Us is Lying) Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

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© 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 – ‘Stand-off’ (#2 Winger) by Andrew Smith

Now this is how you do a sequel.

Stand Off (#2 Winger) Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Contemporary, Realistic Fiction

No. of pages: 401

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It’s his last year at Pine Mountain, and Ryan Dean should be focused on his future, but instead, he’s haunted by his past. His rugby coach expects him to fill the roles once played by his lost friend, Joey, as the rugby team’s stand-off and new captain. And somehow he’s stuck rooming with twelve-year-old freshman Sam Abernathy, a cooking whiz with extreme claustrophobia and a serious crush on Annie Altman—aka Ryan Dean’s girlfriend, for now, anyway.

Equally distressing, Ryan Dean’s doodles and drawings don’t offer the relief they used to. He’s convinced N.A.T.E. (the Next Accidental Terrible Experience) is lurking around every corner—and then he runs into Joey’s younger brother Nico, who makes Ryan Dean feel paranoid that he’s avoiding him. Will Ryan Dean ever regain his sanity?

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This was a solid sequel. Many of the issues that I felt were brushed off or lightly resolved in ‘Winger’ have been addressed in ‘Stand-off.’ Especially the impact of Joey’s circumstances on our protagonist Ryan Dean. This finally felt like a more realistic reaction  – even if I didn’t altogether like the narrative lens, it gave me everything I was looking for.

So too was a lot of the toxic masculinity that was rubbing me the wrong way… though I understand it is very accurate to what teen boys are like in a boarding school environment, it was quite confronting to me as a reader.

There are themes of friendship, family, grief and loss, and consent; the latter which I thought handled so intelligently for the demographic. And the attitudes towards diversity are much more dominant in ‘Stand-off’ to symbolically bring the universe back into balance after the discrimination and bullying we get in ‘Winger.’

Stand Off (#2 Winger) Book Review Pic 02 by Casey CarlisleThe narrative is very age appropriate for our protagonist. Ryan Dean has definitely grown up since ‘Winger.’ As a result I found the writing style much more palatable.

The only thing I was certain of in ‘Stand-off’ is that I would see some form of resolution to Joey’s departure… and we got that. So I guess it is a fairly predictable plot, but there were many tangents and new characters that made a very interesting read. Add to that Ryan Dean’s distinct individual form of narration, and you have an engaging read that keeps the tension and pacing right to the end. I managed to complete reading ‘Stand-off’ in two sittings. Which is a great feat considering its 400 page length.

It’s a fun coming of age story and definitely had me shedding some tears in a few spots. I didn’t really “get” the humour – as much as it missed me in ‘Winger’ too… but that’s okay. Different strokes for different folks.

I’d definitely recommend this for younger male readers.

Overall feeling: Pretty good *two thumbs up*

Stand Off (#2 Winger) Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Stand Off (#2 Winger) Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

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© 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 – ‘Highway Bodies’ by Alison Evans

A zombie apocalypse Aussie style!

Highway Bodies Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Horror, LGBT

No. of pages: 376

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Who will you rely on in the zombie apocalypse?

*
Bodies on the TV, explosions, barriers, and people fleeing. No access to social media. And a dad who’ll suddenly bite your head off – literally. These teens have to learn a new resilience…

Members of a band wield weapons instead of instruments.

A pair of siblings find there’s only so much you can joke about, when the menace is this strong.

And a couple find depth among the chaos.

Highway Bodies is a unique zombie apocalypse story featuring a range of queer and gender non-conforming teens who have lost their families and friends and can only rely upon each other.

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Once I got into ‘Highway Bodies’ I could not put this book down – I stayed up until 3am to finish it, and every tap, scratch, and spook noise from outside my widow and I’d freeze like I was living in a zombie apocalypse too. Having lived in Melbourne, Australia for over 7 years, it was great to recognise many of the landmarks referenced in this novel. And it was additionally a breath of fresh air to read a story where cis, straight-gendered people were the minority. ‘Highway Bodies’ has a lot going for it.

Told in three alternating perspectives from differing groups of teenagers as they witness the initiation of a viral outbreak from a meat processing plant, turning the population into flesh eating zombies. One of the narratives in particular is expressed in dialect slang – which is jarring at first – I didn’t like it so much, but then as the novel progresses and you get used to it, it really shines through and separates this perspective or Eve from the other two. Eve is transgender and flees from his home after his father turns and attacks Eve’s mother and brother. There is a lot of gore in ‘Highway Bodies’ think ‘The Walking Dead’ starring a diverse group of teens.

Highway Bodies Book Review Pic 02 by Casey CarlisleDee leads the second narrative, a member of a rock band renting a house in the countryside while they practice and write new songs. Dee identifies as bisexual and we see many expression of genders and sexuality in her bandmates and throughout the novel. After the power cuts off and they cannot access the internet or get cell service they venture into town to find bodies everywhere, the whole town slaughtered. It doesn’t take them too long to run into their first zombie.

JoJo is our final non-binary protagonist, one of a pair of fraternal twins from a previously abusive home. Their mother is a nurse and after she returns to work and does not return home, JoJo and sister Rhea sneak to the hospital to investigate. Finding their mother, turned, and amongst a horde of caged zombies from a military presence.

After that things really to go hell in a fight for survival: from the zombies, the elements, and other survivors.

It took me a bit to click to what was going on with the switching of narratives in the beginning, it’s not until 50 pages in that you get a sense of the rhythm of ‘Highway Bodies’ and after that the pace and tension keep increasing right up until the end. I enjoyed Alison Evans writing style much more in this novel than I did in her debut ‘Ida.’ ‘Highway Bodies’ has a gruesome realism befitting the dystopian landscape. I found myself invested and caring about these teens plight. The conclusion is a bit of a one-two punch, but satisfying.

The three things holding me back from awarding a perfect score for this novel were the fact I didn’t know what was going on initially with the switching of perspectives. Maybe some chapter titles to let the reader know whose story we were following would have been helpful. The other was the affirmation of gender pronouns to be used when characters were introducing themselves to each other. I get the practicality of it, but in the setting the dialogue did not feel natural and true to the characters… but it is only my opinion. I would have liked to have seen a more intimate setting, or a correction to make this scene feel more authentic. And finally, though there is romance in ‘Highway Bodies’ it wasn’t given enough time to develop to a point for me to really get into the couplings. They were cute and I was rooting for them, but it missed some angst or something.

I have to applaud the representation in ‘Highway Bodies’ it helps raise awareness and give a voice to minority groups. I’m enjoy experiencing a world through the eyes of someone other than a straight white cis-gendered protagonist.

I liken this to Mindy McGinnis ‘Not a Drop to Drink’ it has the same level of brutality, a survival story – and as such is mostly predictable. You want the protagonists to stay alive and make it to the end of the novel; but the journey there has many unexpected turns. ‘Highway Bodies’ is one of my most favourite zombie apocalypse reads to date. And I can’t recommend this enough.

Just some trigger warnings for younger readers for assault, violence, gore, murder, and you know general zombiness.

Overall feeling: Aussie Awesomeness!

Highway Bodies Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Highway Bodies Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

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© 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 – ‘Famous Last Words’ by Katie Alender

Moving into an old Hollywood starlet’s house in the hills and find it’s haunted – yes please!

Famous Last Words Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Paranormal, Mystery

No. of pages: 320

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Willa is freaking out. It seems like she’s seeing things. Like a dead body in her swimming pool. Frantic messages on her walls. A reflection that is not her own. It’s almost as if someone — or something — is trying to send her a message. Meanwhile, a killer is stalking Los Angeles — a killer who reenacts famous movie murder scenes. Could Willa’s strange visions have to do with these unsolved murders? Or is she going crazy? And who can she confide in? There’s Marnie, her new friend who may not be totally trustworthy. And there’s Reed, who’s ridiculously handsome and seems to get Willa. There’s also Wyatt, who’s super smart but unhealthily obsessed with the Hollywood Killer.All Willa knows is, she has to confront the possible-ghost in her house, or she just might lose her mind . . . or her life.

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This novel has been on my TBR shelf for years. Years I tell you! So glad I have gotten around to reading ‘Famous Last Words’  because it has reminded me why I like reading this genre so much.

Katie Alender has a really cool writing style. It feels effortless. So many YA paranormal mysteries shoot off in tangents with info dumping or tripping the spooky fantastic, ‘Famous Last Words’ felt grounded in the story. Admittedly there were a few moments I wanted to eye-roll or shudder, but on the whole this was a delight to read. Alender has a sense of timing and comedy that I found charming.

For the most part I will say the novel was predictable. I had a hunch how it would turn out very early on, but with Alender’s writing style I was never 100% certain. So I still managed to stay engaged and get really sucked into the story.

Willa was a great protagonist. We didn’t get clues intentionally left out of the narrative to red-herring the reader. We uncover facts as she does. We get great character development. Though there is a little element of ‘out there’ to the plot, it felt grounded in plausibility, and I really liked the paranormal twist on the murder mystery. Willa does not feel like a waif or wallflower, nor does she feel like some high achieving super sleuth. Just a regular teen overcoming tragedy and attempting to fit into a new life moving to the Hollywood Hills with her mother and new stepfather.

There was great character building, all the cast had distinct personalities and it was easy to pick their voice from a crowd – it made reading ‘Famous Last Words’ effortless. The pacing did not lull once from the start of this first person narrative told through Willa’s eyes. I devoured this novel in two quick sittings.

Famous Last Words Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

Once again it was great to see parental involvement in a YA mystery, though not as much as I would have liked. But on a side note the number of times Willa is asked if she was okay in the first half of this novel was a bit ridiculous. I may have been grinding my teeth after the third or fourth time.

We have two possible love interests: Wyatt an OCD loner nerd who was catnip to this reader gal; and Reed with a too-cute-to-be-good kind of vibe. The instant nature Willa and Reed’s attraction set off alarm bells to me. Duh-duh-duuuhhh!

And then we have Marnie, the friend who happens to be a compulsive liar and attention seeker, but with a streak of genuine-ness to her. For some reason this felt very Hollywood.

I enjoyed my time reading ‘Famous Last Words’ and would happily recommend this to younger readers whom love mystery and paranormal – older readers may not get as much out of it…

Overall feeling: A satisfyingly spooky mystery

Famous Last Words Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Famous Last Words 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 – ‘Limited Wish’ (#2 Impossible Times) by Mark Lawrence

Poke your finger through the fabric of time and its likely to get snapped off.

Limited Wish (#3 Impossible Times) Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Science Fiction

No. of pages: 224

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One choice. Two possible timelines. And a world hanging in the balance.

It’s the summer of 1986 and reluctant prodigy Nick Hayes is a student at Cambridge University, working with world-renowned mathematician Professor Halligan. He just wants to be a regular student, but regular isn’t really an option for a boy-genius cancer survivor who’s already dabbled in time travel.

When he crosses paths with a mysterious yet curiously familiar girl, Nick discovers that creases have appeared in the fabric of time, and that he is at the centre of the disruption. Only Nick can resolve this time paradox before the damage becomes catastrophic for both him and the future of the world. Time is running out—literally.

Wrapped up with him in this potentially apocalyptic scenario are his ex-girlfriend, Mia, and fellow student Helen. Facing the world-ending chaos of a split in time, Nick must act fast and make the choice of a lifetime—or lifetimes.

Game on.

Page border 2020 by Casey Carlisle

There is a beautiful symmetry to ‘Limited Wish’ in relation to the debut of the series ‘One Word Kill.’ It’s kitsch in a good way. Once again we get disturbances in the timeline and reactions to things being where they don’t belong… tampering with time has consequences. There is definitely no middle book syndrome with ‘Limited Wish.’ This was a great read and a top notch follow-up to ‘One Word Kill,’ and had me even more excited to get on with reading the next sequel ‘Dispel Illusion.’

We pick up a while after the events from the ending of the previous novella, again following protagonist Nick as he grapples with the events that have changed his life forever and now entering college. We get the introduction of a few new characters and Demus once again pops into the story – but is it the same Demus, or one from another timeline?

I didn’t feel the action like we got in ‘One Word Kill,’ however there is more science fiction theory at play in ‘Limited Wish.’ It may give you a headache trying to figure out the physics of time travel, alternate timelines, and time-wimey-ness. Though ‘Limited Wish’ compounds on the original storyline, adds complexity; the stakes did not feel as personally high for Nick. (I wasn’t feeling the antagonist in this novella – the justification is tenuous at best) It was just a sense I got at reaching the end. Though this could be down to how the story is not quite finished – just merely this episode – and the feeling of conclusion (and that ah-hah moment) will come in the third instalment. Nonetheless ‘Limited Wish’ is cleverly written. I loved the era of 1986, the backdrop of Cambridge University, and the choices Nick is faced with. And Mark Lawrence ties all this into symbolism played out in Nick’s Dungeons and Dragon games. It’s executed so brilliantly.

Limited Wish (#3 Impossible Times) Book Review Pic 02a by Casey Carlisle

I think I missed a bit of action: chase scenes, things blowing up, and a heavy dose of teen angst. It’s only my personal preference. But I think that would have added to the epic-ness I wanted in my minds’ eye. But again, this is only the middle book of a trilogy, so all that bang-crash-sock’em may be yet to come for the finale.

Nick has matured as a protagonist, his decisions take on the experiences he’s lived through, and you get a definitive feel of how this character is growing.

The story moves along at a clipped pace; something you could read in one sitting easily. And I couldn’t have predicted much about this story if I tried. Mark Lawrence is one author that has been able to deliver one surprise after another for me and has earned a spot in my list of favourite authors without breaking a sweat.

Limited Wish’ may not be for everyone. It marries hard science fiction with YA. So readers not into the whole theoretical physics of sci-fi will feel a little lost. But if you love ‘Doctor Who’ – this is one series you must pick up.

Overall feeling: You beauty!

Limited Wish (#3 Impossible Times) Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Limited Wish (#3 Impossible Times) 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.