Book Review – ‘The Gravity of Us’ by Phil Stamper

The countdown to first love and finding your voice.

Genre: Y/A, Contemporary, Romance, LGBT

No. of pages: 314

As a successful social media journalist with half a million followers, seventeen-year-old Cal is used to sharing his life online. But when his pilot father is selected for a highly publicized NASA mission to Mars, Cal and his family relocate from Brooklyn to Houston and are thrust into a media circus.

Amidst the chaos, Cal meets sensitive and mysterious Leon, another “Astrokid,” and finds himself falling head over heels—fast. As the frenzy around the mission grows, so does their connection. But when secrets about the program are uncovered, Cal must find a way to reveal the truth without hurting the people who have become most important to him.

This book was set out to be a sure-fire hit for me – vlogging and journalism; diversity rep with POC, sexual orientation, and mental illness; general nerdiness around space travel and the race to colonise Mars; all wrapped up in an angsty teen coming of age bow… The concept of ‘The Gravity of Us’ had me from the first line of the blurb.

The Gravity of Us’ was a read of mixed feelings for me. Our protagonist, Cal, while rich with journalistic integrity, a passion for his home town Brooklyn, and commitment to best friend Deb, came across a little flat and obnoxious. I had difficulty in relating to him on an emotional level. I admired his ethics and drive for perfection and a career, but there wasn’t enough vulnerability for me to truly empathise with him. Plus he was always justifying himself in the narrative, and it comes off as, well, shallow.

I also didn’t quite blend with Phil Stamper’s writing style. It was sparse in areas where we had a chance to jump into deep emotion of a character, and the romance was all repeated phrases of a more physical reaction. I didn’t feel any deep connection growing between Cal and his love interest Leon. The romance fell real flat for me. Maybe it had something to do with Leon’s struggle with depression and anxiety, but I have read other novels where this struggle can bring the reader closer to the character, but in this case it isolated me to the point that I felt I didn’t really know Leon.

Plot wise ‘The Gravity of Us’ is fantastic. Stamper uses the first person narrative expertly to hide motives from the reader, and reveals plot points slowly throughout the novel, twisting this way and that. With interspersed chapters of Shooting Stars episodes (The NASA reality show around the astronauts getting ready for a Mars venture) each account reveals something for the plot, driving it forward. Because of these well placed developments throughout the story the pacing is perfect. Despite some of the issues I had with the characters and writing style, I was never bored.

We do see character development from all the cast, and it was sweet to follow Cal’s growing awareness for the wider world (despite abovementioned obnoxiousness) and I think if I had been able to make a stronger emotional connection to him and the other characters, I would have adored ‘The Gravity of Us.’

The plot is mostly predictable from the outset – I won’t mention them here and spoil the story for those of you yet to read ‘The Gravity of Us,’ but everything I guessed in the first twenty or so pages came to pass. There was only one twist I did not see coming, and quite frankly, is a redeeming feature of this novel.

There is some language use and underage drinking, talk of depression and running away if any of those are triggers for you, but we never get into any frank discussions for any of these topics. Neither do we touch on sexual intimacy when its clear Cal and Leon are heading in that direction… all the ‘hard’ topics are glazed over. Which is a pity, with Cal’s journalistic voice and love for fact and practicality we could have seen some relevant discussions on topics that affect all teens (and help add complexity to the characters.)

I want to say there was meant to be humour in ‘The Gravity of Us,’ but it comes across as snarky (almost bitchy) so none of the comedic tone landed with me.

All in all ‘The Gravity of Us’ did not meet my expectations and turned out to be a pretty average read. Cute, moralistic, and missed a lot of opportunity to find a real voice.

Overall feeling: Good, but not great.

© 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 – ‘Heartstopper : Volume 1’ by Alice Oseman

Heart-warming innocence.

Genre: Y/A, Contemporary, Romance, LGBT, Graphic Novel

No. of pages: 278

Charlie, a highly-strung, openly gay over-thinker, and Nick, a cheerful, soft-hearted rugby player, meet at a British all-boys grammar school. Friendship blooms quickly, but could there be something more…?

Charlie Spring is in Year 10 at Truham Grammar School for Boys. The past year hasn’t been too great, but at least he’s not being bullied anymore. Nick Nelson is in Year 11 and on the school rugby team. He’s heard a little about Charlie – the kid who was outed last year and bullied for a few months – but he’s never had the opportunity to talk to him.

They quickly become friends, and soon Charlie is falling hard for Nick, even though he doesn’t think he has a chance. But love works in surprising ways, and sometimes good things are waiting just around the corner…

I was encouraged to pick this up from many, many of my friends recommending this. I’m not one to read a lot of illustrated novels, but ‘Heartstopper’ is charming in its innocence. We meet Charlie, an out gay year 10 student who gets paired with a year 11 student, Nick in peer group for school. They become friends and need to learn to navigate their new feelings and what they mean. Charlie is determined not to fall for a straight boy, and Nick is surprised by his attraction to Charlie.

‘Heartstopper’ is cute! The story is paired back and sticks to the main storyline without too much dramatics. I’ve read manga in the past, where it’s melodramatic and packs a lot into the narrative – ‘Heartstopper’ keeps the main couple in its crosshairs from start to finish. In this fashion, I found the novel to be a little, well, plain. I wanted stronger emotion and some more plot. But I guess that is the charm of ‘Heartstopper,’ it’s a light romance of two boys finding each other in high school.

We get some character development from both boys, it’s not a lot, but enough to have me invested in their story and I have already ordered the rest of the published volumes to find out what happens next.

The illustrations are expressive and have a stylistic grungy aspect to set it apart from the common manga fare. I kind of wanted a more finished look on the page though – but that is a personal preference on my behalf. ‘Heartstopper’ is a happy addition to my library.

Because of the graphic novel treatment I flew through this novel in about an hour, the scenes weren’t too emotional and the characterisation in the illustrations didn’t really have me starting at the page to soak up tone or additional undertones in the scenes. This is paired back, simple, fitting of quiet and understated Charlie and Nick’s slow burn relationship.

It ends on a cliff hanger, so be prepared to invest in this series as a whole.

If you like queer stories and graphic novels without all the melodrama than this one is for you. Excited to hear it is being adapted for a Netflix series and eager to see their take on Charlie and Nick’s story.

Overall feeling: First kiss angst!

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

Book Review – ‘The Last 8’ (#1 The Last 8) by Laura Pohl

Alien Invasion meets The Breakfast Club.

Genre: Y/A, Science Fiction, LGBT

No. of pages: 357

Clover Martinez has always been a survivor, which is the only reason she isn’t among the dead when aliens invade and destroy Earth as she knows it.

When Clover hears an inexplicable radio message, she’s shocked to learn there are other survivors—and that they’re all at the former Area 51. When she arrives, she’s greeted by a band of misfits who call themselves The Last Teenagers on Earth.

Only they aren’t the ragtag group of heroes Clover was expecting. The group seems more interested in hiding than fighting back, and Clover starts to wonder if she was better off alone. But then she finds a hidden spaceship, and she doesn’t know what to believe…or who to trust.

The cover art for this title is what really grabbed my attention, then the blurb – an alien invasion! It’s not a secret I love sci-fi. ‘The Last 8’ is a solid YA read full of sass and intrigue.

I will say this book read young, the protagonist (Clover) and her merry band of fellow survivors, though many with high intelligence, acted like tweens. These characters are meant to be on the verge of adulthood, but if I didn’t know their age, by the way they acted, I would have guessed 12-13 years of age. This was the biggest drawback for me. I was constantly on the verge of eye-rolling or sighing. The kind of patience I had for my younger sibling when he was doing something stupid, but I had to let him be and learn to navigate the world in his own way.

Leading on from this, with the characters floundering a lot, being reactionary, the plot felt like it too meandered a bit. Like the teenagers attitude bled through. I love the concept and reveals in ‘The Last 8,’ but I just wish the tone would have been a touch more mature. (Granted, I’m am waaay too old to be the demographic for this novel.)

The premise of the aliens was an interesting one, though it read like something you would see in an animated Disney film, it was, almost… comedic. You’ll understand if you have read the book. You don’t really get a sense of the terror from the aliens, just the fear and isolation inflicted from the actual invasion.

I do love the way Laura Pohl can craft an atmosphere. Her characters and character development are pretty great too – but I think maybe the tone of the novel stopped this aspect of her writing from being truly outstanding.

We get a diverse cast, of both nationality and sexual orientation, and while I praise the representation, it was still used as a plot device, a reveal, rather than simply a part of the character. There are subtle differences in approaching this sensitive topic if you compare this to how sexual orientation is dealt with from #ownvoices authors. I can’t speak for Clover and her Spanish heritage because I have no personal experience in that sense, but the fact you could read her thoughts in Spanish was fantastic.

There was a bit of language that I’m on the fence about. I don’t mind swearing when it services the plot or character, I felt it did neither here, merely used to attempt to give ‘The Last 8’ some street cred.

There is an element of mental illness, grief, PTSD, anxiety and depression in the story as well, which given the tone of ‘The Last 8,’ I was surprised at how this was handled… with the swearing, sensitive topics, the tone really clashes with the subject matter.

I feel like there were parts missing from the story – which are done on purpose to keep the pace going, but I feel like there were a few developmental moments skipped in building character motivation, despair, and tension. This is part and part of the tone I mentioned earlier.

I enjoyed reading ‘The Last 8’ and am keen to see where the story goes in the final instalment to this duology ‘The First 7.’ We might see the tone change as the characters grow and overcome challenges, and because it sets up such a wonderful opportunity for world building, with what I’ve liked of Laura Pohl’s writing so far, she could really shine and bring home this series with a bang.

Overall feeling: fun, but a little let down.

© 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 – ‘Date Me, Bryson Keller’ by Kevin van Whye

Great book, shame about the plagiarism.

Genre: Y/A, Contemporary, Romance, LGBT

No. of pages: 336

Everyone knows about the dare: Each week, Bryson Keller must date someone new–the first person to ask him out on Monday morning. Few think Bryson can do it. He may be the king of Fairvale Academy, but he’s never really dated before.

Until a boy asks him out, and everything changes.

Kai Sheridan didn’t expect Bryson to say yes. So when Bryson agrees to secretly go out with him, Kai is thrown for a loop. But as the days go by, he discovers there’s more to Bryson beneath the surface, and dating him begins to feel less like an act and more like the real thing. Kai knows how the story of a gay boy liking someone straight ends. With his heart on the line, he’s awkwardly trying to navigate senior year at school, at home, and in the closet, all while grappling with the fact that this “relationship” will last only five days. After all, Bryson Keller is popular, good-looking, and straight . . . right?

This book grabbed my cold heart and didn’t let go. I think I had tears in my eyes half the time I was reading – it’s just so adorably sweet and expertly captures that first crush scenario. The desperation to be seen, loved, to find your person.

Kai, a mixed race protagonist, and closeted gay year 11 student takes the opportunity while Bryson Keller has been dared to date a new person for a week with in an unexpected surge of courage. Kai has to force himself not to fall in love with straight Bryson, but revels in finally being able to express his true self (even if it is in secret.) Bryson has to come to terms with new feelings and what it means.

I was going to award this novel 5 stars, but after doing a little research I found Kevin van Whye was accused of plagiarism from ‘Seven Days’ by Venio Tachibana and Rihito Takarai. And only after the allegations persisted did Kevin claim that the story is a literary critique of the BL manga, trying to bring about a more realistic representation of queer youth. I might have been inclined to believe that interpretation except that the storyline is practically identical to the original ‘Seven Days.’ So I can’t in good conscience rate this from my initial impression. I’m a little flabbergasted how this was not flagged through the critical reading and editing stages.

It’s such a pity about the plagiarism because I loved Kevin van Whye’s writing style. I was sucked into the narrative and completed the book in one sitting. He should have had one of the characters making the dare in the preface mention they had read ‘Seven Days’ and were using it as the source of inspiration for the dare… then this story would have credited the source material and the story made sense, avoiding claims of plagiarism. And there, in the narrative, you could source the inspiration for the dare. I’ve seen this storytelling device successful in other novels and television shows, it pays homage to the creator of the idea rather than claiming it as your own. Isn’t hindsight a beautiful thing?

I’m not going to discuss the book further because it makes me feel a bit icky…

Overall feeling: Anger rising. Heart sinking.

© 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 – ‘Midnight Sun’ (#5 Twilight) by Stephenie Meyer

The book all the fans were begging for is finally here…

Genre: Fantasy, Paranormal, Romance

No. of pages: 756

When Edward Cullen and Bella Swan met in Twilight, an iconic love story was born. But until now, fans have heard only Bella’s side of the story. At last, readers can experience Edward’s version in the long-awaited companion novel, Midnight Sun.

This unforgettable tale as told through Edward’s eyes takes on a new and decidedly dark twist. Meeting Bella is both the most unnerving and intriguing event he has experienced in all his years as a vampire. As we learn more fascinating details about Edward’s past and the complexity of his inner thoughts, we understand why this is the defining struggle of his life. How can he justify following his heart if it means leading Bella into danger?

This book felt over-written. But saying this rings true to Edwards’s nature. His cognitive processes are much faster than that of a humans, hundreds of thoughts to a single human pondering. He is melodramatic, angst-ridden, an over-analyser. And that’s without his extrasensory perception. So I get that ‘Midnight Sun’ is long and has a lot of information stuffed into its pages for the same timeframe as ‘Twilight.’ I was hoping we’d get more new information than what we did. Granted it does help flesh out the universe of ‘Twilight,’ let us peek behind the curtain if you will. It’s like Stephenie Meyer took all the criticisms and plot holes for ‘Twilight’ and explained them away. However, even though the book is a hefty 756 pages long, I did not feel like the pacing suffered. I was interested in the many asides, flashbacks, strategic ponderings, and glimpses into probable futures (through reading Alice’s mind.)

But I was particularly taken with the baseball scene and the fight scene at the ending chapters of ‘Midnight Sun,’ here Edward’s perception really adds a new complexity to the scenes.

I still got that addiction to the story, compelled to read as much as I could in one sitting. Still laughed at the satire. Though a bit of the magic was lost for me. Edward comes off as much more insecure and melodramatic than the brooding mystery man which Bella paints him as in ‘Twilight.’ Also ‘Twilight’ felt like it had a much more involved plot, and I was hoping we would see a new introduced side plot with Edwards’s perspective, but alas we did not get that… I guess there is not too much you can introduce and not diverge from the original storyline.

It was nice to get into the heads of the Cullens, because the knowledge and assumptions Bella had in ‘Twilight’ felt flimsy at best and induced some eye-rolling on my behalf.

This didn’t feel as swoon-worthy as I thought it would be either. Maybe it was killed off by Edward’s constant lamenting, or the fact that too much saccrine expository of love would have killed the reader with a heavy dose of diabetes. But I felt like I wanted more emotion from Edward in relation to Bella, less explained stalkery behaviour. After all it is the romance that is the major drawcard to this novel.

It was pleasant to revisit the world of ‘Twilight’ again after reading it over a decade ago. Maybe my review wouldn’t have been so appraising if I’d read ‘Midnight Sun’ closer to the debuts release – like I mentioned, not a lot of new information from the original story. But it was like a high school reunion, flashing back to fond memories and glancing at old friends from a place of experience. ‘Midnight Sun’ really is a book for the fans, and comparatively, it is only going to be fans of the franchise that will bother picking this book up – you’d have to have enjoyed the previous four books and novella to reach this point; and not be intimidated by the 756 pages.

So I had a great time indulging in the fantasy again, though there did feel like there was something missing – something I can’t quite identify, but I’m putting it down to the abovementioned elements. I’d definitely recommend this to stans of the Twilight franchise… if you weren’t into the films or enjoyed any of the previous novels, this is not for you.

I’ve seen many criticize Stephenie Meyer for releasing this book – a third reiteration of the debut tale – but it’s obvious it’s for the fans. They’ve been screaming for this novel to be published for so long now. You can have your opinions that it was a cash-grab, and that the news of another two books may be coming to the franchise. If you enjoyed the novels, it’s most likely amazing news; but if you’re no fan and only full of hateful comments, well, my only response is a yawn. Some readers are genuinely invested in the story. Stephenie obviously loved writing these books. Even if you think she is capitalising on her one truly big hit, well, I say that is smart business sense. Look at any other franchise, they all do it because there is a willing audience. And honestly, the hate speech is a form of bullying in my books – if it was constructive criticism it would be a different matter.

Overall feeling: Indulgent.

© 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 – ‘Come Tumbling Down’ (#5 Wayward Children) by Seanan McGuire

A more integrated story for the Wayward Children as they go to rescue Jack and Jill.

Genre: YA, Fantasy, LGBTQIA+

No. of pages: 206

When Jack left Eleanor West’s School for Wayward Children she was carrying the body of her deliciously deranged sister–whom she had recently murdered in a fit of righteous justice–back to their home on the Moors.

But death in their adopted world isn’t always as permanent as it is here, and when Jack is herself carried back into the school, it becomes clear that something has happened to her. Something terrible. Something of which only the maddest of scientists could conceive. Something only her friends are equipped to help her overcome.

Eleanor West’s “No Quests” rule is about to be broken.

Again.

I felt this novella was definitely ‘serialised’ in this instalment. While it had elements of a story – and introduced objectives that were resolved at the end after our protagonists faced many obstacles… on its own, there was so much missing context that a reader would have had to completed the previous sequels to fully appreciate ‘Come Tumbling Down.’ I guess were getting close to the series concluding, so the individual stories following different characters have to end; it’s time to interact, and solve overarching storylines.

The characters are fun, diverse, and wonderful; so too is Seanan McGuire’s writing style – it’s melodic and suits the fantasy genre. Though overall, I just didn’t get into it as much as I had previously in the series. I have always said I’m not that big into fantasy anymore, so maybe my interest is wanning?  Plus the first half of the novella fell a little flat for me, for an already established universe and characters, we should be able to jump into the fray much quicker. Though in having said that, I did enjoy the pacing to appreciate the world… it’s got me at a stand-off as to what was missing for me. Were the characters a little flat? Was it the fact we were revisiting a world we’ve been to before and a lot of the time spent of describing the ambience of the Moors repetitive? Possibly a little of both.

Come Tumbling Down’ sees Jack return to the home and ask the rest of the Wayward Children help her get her body back and stop Jill from tipping the power of balance in the Moors causing mass destruction. In previous volumes, when Jack and Jill were exploring their identities and redefining themselves in the world of the Moors, layer that over with action and discovering a new world and there is a complexity to keep me interested. I didn’t get that this time. Much has already been established and all that’s left is a plot based storyline. I think that’s why this felt lacklustre in comparison to other books in this series.

There weren’t any new personal inner turmoils to overcome to provide depth to the characters. There wasn’t anything new explored in the Moors – some was lightly introduced, but it was just a brief touch to collect Cora and get the gang together before facing down Jill and her Vampire father.

So while it was a quaint read, it did not offer what I’ve come to expect from Seanan McGuire and the Wayward Children series. I see book 7 (‘Where the Drowned Girls Go’) looks to be dealing with Cora and maybe we’ll get that expansion on the Moors, or will she return to her own door world? I’m getting the feeling that we will be resolving all the remaining Wayward’s children’s fates in the remaining books of the series… though ‘Across the Green Grass Fields,’ the next sequel, follows a new protagonist.

Now that we are over halfway through the collection, I’ll see it through to the end no matter what.

The storyline was very predictable, I didn’t get any surprises, which I guess is another factor in this feeling like a pretty ordinary read.

Overall feeling: She cute…

© 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 – ‘Moment of Truth’ (#3 Love, Life, and the List) by Kasie West

Quaint and lovely.

Genre: Y/A, Contemporary, Romance

No. of pages: 320

At sixteen, Hadley Moore knows exactly who she is—a swimmer who will earn a scholarship to college. Totally worth all the hard work, even if her aching shoulders don’t agree. So when a guy dressed as Hollywood’s latest action hero, Heath Hall, crashes her swim meet, she isn’t amused. Instead, she’s determined to make sure he doesn’t bother her again. Only she’s not sure exactly who he is.

The swim meet isn’t the first event the imposter has interrupted, but a little digging turns up a surprising number of people who could be Heath Hall, including Hadley’s ex-boyfriend and her best friend’s crush. She soon finds herself getting caught up in the mysterious world of the fake Heath Hall.

As Hadley gets closer to uncovering the masked boy’s identity she also discovers some uncomfortable truths about herself—like she might resent the long shadow her late brother has cast over her family, that she isn’t as happy as she pretends to be with her life choices… and that she is falling for the last guy she ever thought she would like.

Moment of Truth’ is a lovely fast read rom-com that let me escape for a weekend from Kasie West. I was really sucked into the narrative and related to the underappreciated and overlooked protagonist Hadley Moore.

Still I miss the quirky characters and hijinks from the earlier novels she wrote in this genre, but nonetheless ‘Moment of Truth’ is addictive in its saccrine goodness. The mystery of who is the Heath Hall impersonator is a good one, but I sleuthed out the mystery very early on, so the reveal was lost on me… which left the climax somewhat deflated.

I’m starting to view Kasie West’s titles as pallet cleansers now, something to read in-between heavy, more interesting books; which is not what I want to happen. Her titles have been up and down in my ratings, but averaging a decline. I hope she taps into something new and ups the complexity in her writings otherwise I can see myself becoming bored with her future releases. I’m crossing my fingers. I have a feeling she was suffering a bit of a writing hump and has finally come out the other end.

I think I liked Hadley as a protagonist so much because she represents a lot of what I was like in high school. Focused, single-minded, and somewhat cut-off from the rest of the social scene in sacrifice for achieving her goals. Given this intense focus and limited interaction with her peers, Hadley could have been a boring, flat character, but we get to see her passion, her internal turmoil, and confusion when her goals are challenged. It was a great read.

The Heath Hall mystery was fun, but a little trite, and I liked Hadley’s need to expose the perpetrator as a revenge tactic other than just curiosity.

I wasn’t too sold on the romance, it felt supplementary to Hadely’s challenge of standing up to her parents and breaking the cycle of being overlooked and the compulsive behaviour from the loss of her older brother.

Kasie West’s writing style is effortless to read. You can zoom across the page and get enveloped the world she creates, and the pacing – thanks to the Heath Hall mystery drives the narrative efficiently.

I’d recommend this for those who love light contemporary romances, though definitely more for the younger end of the YA demographic.

Overall feeling: Expected cute reading

© 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 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 – ‘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 – ‘Night Hunt’ (#9 Harbinger P.I.) by Adam Wright

A faltering, flat instalment for the series.

Genre: Fantasy, Mystery

No. of pages: 201

The night is dark…and full of paranormal killers.

If Jason, Michael, and Freddy were merged into one being and given supernatural powers, the result would be something like Mister Scary. He’s been carrying out his murders from the Shadow Land for way too long now. It’s time to put him down.

It was fun to delve into the Harbinger franchise once again – this is a guilty pleasure read for me. Adam Wright has a great imagination and can weave the familiar and unfamiliar with ease. Thought to be honest, I felt like I was reading one of my high schoolers papers. At the end of Chapter 2 the last three pages were repeated again at the start of Chapter three. There were obvious grammatical errors and missing words that hampered an immersive experience. Additionally, Wrights writing style seemed to have devolved. This manuscript felt rushed into publication. There was a lot of telling and little showing, an awful amount of repetition, and a serendipity of events that seemed to fall together without an obstacle. ‘Night Hunt’ read like a first draft, still needing a bit of development and editing. It was really disappointing as this series has wormed its way under my skin.

The structure of the story is another episodic instalment to the franchise, ending in a cliff-hanger for more novels to come. Again, there is too much introduced in ‘Night Hunt’ that was not resolved to give me complete satisfaction, and the writing felt immature. Don’t introduce too many elements in your story that you intend to resolve in a sequel – it puts readers off. And it makes the author appear amateurish.

I really enjoyed the magical elements and setting of the story. But just about every character had no or little development; and again Alec assembled the ‘Scooby Squad’ magically and without argument – it was all too convenient. I really need to start seeing some character driven stories and not plot driven ones. If he continues to follow his current writing style I fear the sequels are going to be interesting but altogether flat.

The action scenes were crafted well, but too short, and again suffered from serendipity – it means you can sense the hand of the author guiding the story instead of it unfolding organically. You want to keep you reader engaged as much as possible.

There is still a great effort in creating suitable spooky ambiance for certain scenes, but I feel Wright could go a little further so we can attach an emotional connection to really hammer home the following scenes.

I see real potential in Wright as a writer, but hope that ‘Night Hunt’ is just a small falter in the development of his writing career. While entertaining, it did not feel up to his regular standard… and I want to see him, and this series, improve with each instalment.

In all honesty, after reading ‘Night Hunt’ I wouldn’t recommend this to a friend. It pains me to say there was so much going on with grammar, character development, and lack of editing that I didn’t get to really enjoy the story.

Not such a glowing review, but a hopeful one.

Overall feeling: Disappointed, but with a glimmer of hope.

© 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.