Book Review – ‘Openly Straight’ by Bill Konigsberg

Getting a chance to redefine yourself… and discovering you are so much more than you first thought.

Openly Straight Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Contemporary, GLBT

No. of pages: 320

From Goodreads:

Rafe is a normal teenager from Boulder, Colorado. He plays soccer. He’s won skiing prizes. He likes to write.

And, oh yeah, he’s gay. He’s been out since 8th grade, and he isn’t teased, and he goes to other high schools and talks about tolerance and stuff. And while that’s important, all Rafe really wants is to just be a regular guy. Not that GAY guy. To have it be a part of who he is, but not the headline, every single time.

So when he transfers to an all-boys’ boarding school in New England, he decides to keep his sexuality a secret — not so much going back in the closet as starting over with a clean slate. But then he sees a classmate break down. He meets a teacher who challenges him to write his story. And most of all, he falls in love with Ben . . . who doesn’t even know that love is possible.

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I really loved the perspective in this novel and its discussion on the importance we place on labels, and the type of people we are without them.

I found the friendship/relationship growing between Rafe and Ben adorable. How some people you can just click with, and others are doomed to simply remain superfluous. It was a great character study in friendships.

I’ve heard a lot of people complain about the ending… I actually found it poignant. The object of this novel was about Rafe finding himself and learning the importance of the labels he’d let himself get classified into. Life is messy, it’s coloured with other people’s perceptions, there is no clear black and white… and it’s an ongoing journey.  I feel this was set up at the beginning of the novel and then commented upon at the end, comparing where Rafe ended up to where he started. Very cerebral, loved this aspect.

The friendships were great too. How Rafe felt freer to be himself by metaphorically going back into the closet. I get the whole thing about people constantly seeing him in a certain way – generally speaking we all do that. They are identifiers that help us to relate to the world at large. But they certainly not all we are. The more you get to know someone, the more they deconstruct the labels you have put on them.

It was wonderful to read a novel about a gay youth experience that didn’t involve single parent families, or unsupportive families, violence and discrimination, there were some elements of bullying and heterosexim used to illustrate the differences between a gay perception and a straight one. The whole book felt positive and informative about friendships and how to find your comfort zone with the outside world.

The relationship between Rafe and Ben was like a slow burn. It grew organically and was introspective. It was if they both decided to take the blinkers off and come at their growing feelings in a different way. I found it refreshing. A little unrealistic, because I’ve yet to meet a teen who approaches the world this way. But I appreciated it for what it is.

Openly Straight Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Claire Olivia is cute too. Wise beyond her years. Like most of the cast in this book they are all proficient at character studies of those around them.

I also got some great writing tips from Mr Scarborough’s critique of Rafe’s writing – pushing him to think about the motivation behind his prose. Also the different forms of writing – a short story compared to free writing (stream of consciousness) it can only serve to enrich my own journey.

The humour in this novel is fantastic. Many times I was chortling so loud I sounded like a misfiring hairdryer! The characters have a dry sarcastic wit that translates well off the page.

The only downside, and the reason I’m not awarding top marks is because I felt like I wanted more from this novel. More meat. While highly philosophical, I found myself yearning for more plot, more story. As it stands this novel is fantastic, but as a reader, that sense of needing substance is not a great thing. It’s speculative, adorkable, and even educational, but not filling.

I’m definitely keen to read on in this series – with a novella (‘Openly, Honestly’) and a second book recently published ‘Honestly Ben,’ you can bet I’m going to be diving in as soon as I can. I also will be adding some of Bill Konigsberg back catalogue – his writing style is effortless, introspective, and deliciously hilarious. Dude – you’ve made me a fan!

Overall feeling: It got me here, *points to head* and here *points to heart*

Openly Straight Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

Openly Straight Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

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© Casey Carlisle 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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Book Review – ‘My Lady Jane’ by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows

A fantastical romp through history…

My Lady Jane Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: YA, Fantasy, Historical

No. of pages: 491

From Goodreads:

The comical, fantastical, romantical, (not) entirely true story of Lady Jane Grey. In My Lady Jane, coauthors Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows have created a one-of-a-kind fantasy in the tradition of The Princess Bride, featuring a reluctant king, an even more reluctant queen, a noble steed, and only a passing resemblance to actual history—because sometimes history needs a little help.

At sixteen, Lady Jane Grey is about to be married off to a stranger and caught up in a conspiracy to rob her cousin, King Edward, of his throne. But those trifling problems aren’t for Jane to worry about. Jane is about to become the Queen of England.

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My Lady Jane’ was lyrical, humorous, melodic. Though not so much in the writing style. Don’t expect copious these and thous as expected in the historical setting of the novel. The narrative is decidedly modern and relatable. I was amused the entirety of the novel. It has sassy female characters helping to deconstruct the battle of the sexes and equality for women oodles before it’s time. Not to mention the magical element of characters suddenly transforming into one animal or another. It was all pulled off with charm and grace that befalls royalty – with all the political intrigue and macabre plots of assassination that comes in tow.

It strongly reminded me of ‘The Princess Bride’ and ‘Ella The Enchanted.’ Both with tones of whimsy, fun characters, and an interesting plot.

Jane is the epitome of every head-strong bookish heroine I’ve ever come across. She is stubborn and sticks fast to her beliefs – even in the face of certain death (which she may or may not see coming.) I love how she believes that books hold the answers to everything… a girl after my own heart. Even with the Victorian/Edwardian social pressures of being married off and being owned by a husband, Jane’s attitudes are years ahead of her time, making her obstinately endearing. The predicaments she finds herself in, dangerous or not, due to her pig-headedness and romanticism of life is something I myself do on a daily basis. So to say I related to Jane on a molecular level is not farfetched. And yes, I am a ginger too J

Edward, the king, is a man on the verge of an awakening – to that of the feminine whiles. Those of his cousin Jane, and the various women he meets on his journey. I remember at University, discussions on how history has been written primarily by white men in power and their perspective. Women and people of colour are often forgotten or villainised. If history were to be rewritten by women, I feel it should capture the spirit much like that of ‘My Lady Jane’ All those untold stories of female heroism and plotting and planning behind the scenes. Edward gets to experience the prejudices of class, gender, race (Edians) and have it shape him into a different person… I totally loved this.

My Lady Jane Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle.jpgG was adorable. Who doesn’t love horses. And cute guys? G (Gifford) was both rolled into one. While I found his ‘curse’ on the surface preposterous, it was in fact the source of great comedy. I think it also kept G in a state of innocence and adolescence longer to enable him to grow and develop as a character with Jane, rather than in the male aristocracy. He was in effect, mostly untouched by the prejudices of that era, and we see him go through an awakening similar to that of Edward.

My Lady Jane’ looks like a chunky book. And I have to admit, being classified with the historical fiction tag turned me off somewhat, that I had neglected to start reading for some time after its purchase. It was the continual positive reviews I saw popping up on my feed that finally did me in to give it a read… My idea of historical fiction is the likes of Chaucer and Jane Austin, where the language and social custom ooze from the page, where the tome is rich with subtext and symbolism – ultimately making it a little dense and difficult to read. You need to pay attention with these sorts of books. ‘My Lady Jane’ is nothing like that. It’s light, funny and has hints of fantasy.

Given this light tone of the narrative, I felt the novel for the most part was predictable – who would create a dark conclusion to such an upbeat novel – that is just nasty! This was like an entertaining rom-com, and I did not mind that things turned out the way I hoped they would – it gave me great satisfaction.

I almost cheered aloud when I read those famous words “Off with her head!”

My Lady Jane’ exceeded my expectations, granted they weren’t high, because I was anticipating an entirely different style of read, and while not exceptional, it definitely had me laughing and smiling. I engaged with the characters and was eager to see what was going to happen in the next chapter. A light Sunday read.

I may have rated it higher if the angst was dialled up slightly, and if I got that nervous energy in anticipation leading up to the climactic event of the novel. But the build was more subtle and the light comedic tone continued throughout – so not a big loss, but it softened the punch for me.

Some of the jokes felt like Dad jokes – but I always laugh at Dad jokes, so they appealed to my nature.

Looking forward to the next instalment of The Lady Janies ‘My Plain Jane’ due for release sometime in 2018 dealing with Jane Eyre and Charlotte Bronte. Bring it on!

Overall feeling: Surprisingly fun

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© Casey Carlisle 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Book Review – ‘The Retribution of Mara Dyer’ by Michelle Hodkin

Haunting.

The Retribution of Mara Dyer Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: YA, Paranormal,

No. of pages: 470

From Goodreads:

Mara Dyer wants to believe there’s more to the lies she’s been told.

There is.

She doesn’t stop to think about where her quest for the truth might lead.

She should.

She never had to imagine how far she would go for vengeance.

She will now.

Loyalties are betrayed, guilt and innocence tangle, and fate and chance collide in this shocking conclusion to Mara Dyer’s story.

Retribution has arrived.

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After a very long spate of novels where after the first 100 pages or so, I was still struggling to get into the book. ‘The Retribution of Mara Dyer’ broke that slump. It jumps right into the action and had me trying to puzzle things out, gripping me with every page. I had put off reading this last book of the trilogy for so long because of the difficulty I had getting into ‘The Evolution of Mara Dyer,’ but we get answers very quickly, and it puts the all the series of events up this this point into a new perspective straight away. Someone should had slapped me upside the head earlier on and forced me to get into this final book sooner…

With such a dark, captivating and complex tone, I was truly enraptured.

Our protagonist Mara is definitely a troubled teen – the way she handles the darkness, the things she does left me uneasy. It was compelling reading, but I don’t fully understand how the people around her can dismiss the gravity of what she has done (and what she is capable of) so easily. It’s the one issue I have with this book – zero repercussions for crime, murder and violence. All aspects of the mystery surrounding Mara Dyer are solved. And she is no longer the victim as I thought of her in book one, but an anti-hero. I really enjoyed her journey, but also found it disturbing.

The Retribution of Mara Dyer Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

Noah as lovely as he is, as gorgeous as the love between Mara and him is, is whipped. The romantic in me finds it endearing. But the realistic side of me wonders if he’s not being stupid… but that’s the thing with love isn’t it? It makes you do silly things. To have the gorgeous relationship blossoming between these two characters amongst so much tragedy is juxtaposing. A gothic romance.

At times the narrative felt a little long winded, but it did not detract from the excitement of the story. I was constantly wondering how the hell they were going to get out of the mess they were in. My mind was doing a lot of scrambling to work out what was going on. So any of my predictions flew out the window very early on.

With a great writing style, it comes off as lyrical and full of shadows. But also manages to give answers and real technical information to tie up the trilogy without spoiling the mystical feel of the novel. It was a brilliant end to the series. May I say cute even. Which is weird given the dark aspects to the story.

Highly recommend this trilogy, though I did struggle with the middle book. Recently hearing that The Shaw Confessions is getting added to this universe, with ‘The Becoming of Noah Shaw’ due for release on November 7th this year, I’m getting really excited. I may be making little squeaky noises, and jumping up and down…

Overall feeling: Blew me away, like a pile of ash.

The Retribution of Mara Dyer Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

The Retribution of Mara Dyer Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

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© Casey Carlisle 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Book Review – ‘Ready Player One’ by Ernest Cline

It’s like television, an arcade, and the internet were mashed together – and you get to live there!

Ready Player One Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: YA, Science Fiction

No. of pages: 372

From Goodreads:

It’s the year 2044, and the real world is an ugly place.

Like most of humanity, Wade Watts escapes his grim surroundings by spending his waking hours jacked into the OASIS, a sprawling virtual utopia that lets you be anything you want to be, a place where you can live and play and fall in love on any of ten thousand planets.

And like most of humanity, Wade dreams of being the one to discover the ultimate lottery ticket that lies concealed within this virtual world. For somewhere inside this giant networked playground, OASIS creator James Halliday has hidden a series of fiendish puzzles that will yield massive fortune — and remarkable power — to whoever can unlock them.

For years, millions have struggled fruitlessly to attain this prize, knowing only that Halliday’s riddles are based in the pop culture he loved — that of the late twentieth century. And for years, millions have found in this quest another means of escape, retreating into happy, obsessive study of Halliday’s icons. Like many of his contemporaries, Wade is as comfortable debating the finer points of John Hughes’s oeuvre, playing Pac-Man, or reciting Devo lyrics as he is scrounging power to run his OASIS rig.

And then Wade stumbles upon the first puzzle.

Suddenly the whole world is watching, and thousands of competitors join the hunt — among them certain powerful players who are willing to commit very real murder to beat Wade to this prize. Now the only way for Wade to survive and preserve everything he knows is to win. But to do so, he may have to leave behind his oh-so-perfect virtual existence and face up to life — and love — in the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape.

A world at stake.
A quest for the ultimate prize.
Are you ready?

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I had so much fun reading this book – the 80’s pop culture references, the inclusion of snippets around the origin of gaming… and a little exploration of social injustice. It turned out to be way more adventurous and inciteful than I was expecting.

Ready Player One’ was also more violent than I was expecting. Which was a good thing for the story. It really put some high stakes on the line. I was totally wrapped up in this futuristic universe.

One thing with all the pop culture references – not everyone is going to get them all, or understand the lengthy list of computer models and old model gaming consoles. So, while I appreciated the nostalgia of the references, at times I felt out of the loop, not geeky enough to fully understand the narrative. It made me sad, like my nerd status had been revoked. These moments that pulled me from immersion of ‘Ready Player One’ did not detract from my enjoyment of the story however, just moments of brow furrowing and googling for information. So if you don’t have an extensive knowledge of 80’s culture and gaming, you may find the endless list of name dropping tedious.

I marvelled at the growth and development of our protagonist Wade/Percival. His dedication, loyalty, and commitment grew organically through the length of the novel. Even though those traits were there to begin with, you see them move centre stage and become his driving force. It’s what had me relating and investing in his story. So too was his romance with Art3mis. We all want the geek to get the girl… even though it felt a little disconnected with the story, not entirely needed, I loved the inclusion and how it helped to humanise Wade and give him a connection to the outside world. The Oasis virtual reality had just about swallowed him up and she was the next adventure after he was to find a way through his online quest.

Ready Player One Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

The pacing was great – I think most of the book was a page turner for me. Some moments where Cline started prattling off specifics, or info-dumped a bit of history, or backstory, killed the momentum, but on the whole it’s the most engaged I’ve been in a while. I didn’t have a lot of free time to read, but when I did it was very easy to slip back in to. There was no confusion about who was who, or where the story was going. It was pure entertainment.

I enjoyed the subtext of ‘avatar perception vs real life’ – a comment on the possibilities of where we could be headed and how thing like ‘catfishing’ is happening more regularly.

The plot is fairly simple – it reads like a quest for a video game – and it’s intentional, so in that sense it’s fairly predictable. Though I found a lot of sub-plots and roadblocks delightfully surprising and entertaining. I’m looking forward to the film interpretation masted by Steven Spielberg, with Tye Sheridan playing Wade, slated for a March 30, 2018 release. *squee*

Highly recommend. Cline paints a colourfully graphic world, addressing issues we are facing now as we grow with technology, and with all the pop culture references, it’s like nerd porn.

Overall feeling: It’s like my brain exploded from all the references to childhood favourites.

Ready Player One Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Ready Player One Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

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© Casey Carlisle 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.