Book Review – ‘It Starts With L’ by Cassandra Fear

A book of promises that was unfortunately, broken.

It Starts With L Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: N/A, Contemporary, Romance

No. of pages: 172

From Goodreads:

High school is tough, and Arielle knows this all too well. 

She’s slightly chubbier than most of the other girls and gets reminded of this every day. And the fact that she’s never had a boyfriend makes her prime meat for the bullying crowd. 

But then in walks Blake, the cute new boy who sweeps her off her feet and stands up to her bullies. Instant swoon. 

Now with a guy at her side, and the promise of a blooming love, Arielle realizes it’s easy to lose sight of what is important. Her best friend, Jess, is on a downward spiral toward disaster, and Arielle needs to find a way to help her. 

Unfortunately, Arielle discovers not everything in life is simple. Sometimes things happen, tragedy strikes, and it leaves you with wounds that might never heal.


I actually feel a bit lost for words… ‘It Starts With L’ didn’t feel like a novel, more like an extended journal entry. It is a journey of self-discovery through a series of events, but I feel like we don’t get resolution to the challenges set up at the start of the book.

It Starts With L Book Review Pic 02 by Casey CarlisleIt is realistic and has a wonderful portrayal of family. Arielle feels like the clueless teen I was in high school. Half the time going with the flow, the other feeling out directions to take life in. The relationship thing felt a tad overdramatic; and yet the writing fell flat for me. It was a case of an interesting story but a subdued writing style. For such a short novel I lost interest frequently and found myself skimming forward.

Blake as a love interest is the embodiment of flip-flopping teen men. Hard to understand, hot and cold, loveable and infuriating. I would have loved to have seen his storyline resolved more fully.

There are a few curve balls towards the end that I did not see coming, and really redeemed Cassandra Fear’s writing for me. I was feeling the story was pretty uninteresting up until that point. Then my heart strings were tugged.

But overall, ‘It Starts With L’ l felt unfinished. The writing style not quite realized. There is some real talent here, but it failed to impress upon completion. The ending had me disappointed and I had difficulty in relating to the protagonist.

Unfortunately I don’t think I’d recommend this to anyone.

Overall reaction: Had hopes, but hopes weren’t met.

It Starts With L Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

It Starts With L Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle


© Casey Carlisle 2018. 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 – ‘Hex Hall’ (#1 Hex Hall) by Rachel Hawkins

A paranormal plot with punch.

Hex Hall (#1 Hex Hall) Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Paranormal, Comedy, Romance

No. of pages: 323

From Goodreads:

Three years ago, Sophie Mercer discovered that she was a witch. It’s gotten her into a few scrapes. Her non-gifted mother has been as supportive as possible, consulting Sophie’s estranged father—an elusive European warlock—only when necessary. But when Sophie attracts too much human attention for a prom-night spell gone horribly wrong, it’s her dad who decides her punishment: exile to Hex Hall, an isolated reform school for wayward Prodigium, a.k.a. witches, faeries, and shapeshifters.

By the end of her first day among fellow freak-teens, Sophie has quite a scorecard: three powerful enemies who look like supermodels, a futile crush on a gorgeous warlock, a creepy tag-along ghost, and a new roommate who happens to be the most hated person and only vampire student on campus. Worse, Sophie soon learns that a mysterious predator has been attacking students, and her only friend is the number-one suspect.

As a series of blood-curdling mysteries starts to converge, Sophie prepares for the biggest threat of all: an ancient secret society determined to destroy all Prodigium, especially her.


For some reason I did not connect that this was the same author that had written the ‘Rebel Belle’ trilogy – more stupid me! I had a lot of fun reading that Palladin adventure, and so too did I enjoy this witchy-demon-magic boarding school romp through the grounds of Hecate Hall.

I’d seen this book pop up in my recommendations repeatedly on several different sites – but something about the cover art, and it being a witch-based tale had me dismissing it. But because I was looking for some quick reads to help reach my reading goals back in 2017 (futilely) ‘Hex Hall’ fit the bill… and I was pleasantly surprised. This was not some mass produced paranormal romance I’d predicted. While still in the YA wheelhouse of tone, our protagonist Sophie had some wit and humour that kept me engaged, and I never felt bored for a moment. With a murder mystery entwined into the storyline, a romance, a fish-out-of-water arc, I was always waiting to see what would unfold on the next page. Needless to say this novel was a wonderful surprise and an engaging read. I’m definitely looking forward to adding the rest of this collection to my library as soon as possible.

Hex Hall (#1 Hex Hall) Book Review Pic 02 by Casey CarlisleHex Hall’ has a Harry Potteresque feel. A prodigy magic user/outsider protagonist with a mystery to solve about their past. A magical boarding school with spells and student hijinks. A bully, some beasties and ghosts, wacky teachers and classes, and of course a library. But Sophie stands on her own – there is no Scooby Gang with a like-minded Hermione or Ronald, she does her own research, practices and develops skills and uncovers answers solo. I felt there could have been a bit more establishment of her character for me to connect with her quicker, and there are many tropes that gave this a I’ve-read-this-before vibe. But still, I was entertained and armoured by Sophie and her stumbling existence at Hecate Hall.

Qudos to Sophie’s roommate/vampire/best friend Jenna, by far my favourite character from the novel. She was sarcastic, juxtaposing and quirky… just as a best friend should be. I’m eager to see where this friendship will go in the series.

The writing style lends to an easy read, the tone is very teen-girl, I wanted a bit more sophistication, but it would have not hit its target market and confused readers. Hawkins writing is bang on for the demographic. And as a huge lover of all things YA, was charmed by this story. As there are new challenges and clues mixed with humour constantly scattered every page or so, it keeps the pace and tension building right to the end, and can quite easily be completed in one sitting, however I broke it in two, consuming it over lazy afternoons accompanied by a hot cup of tea.

There is enough of a mystery solved and plenty of resolution to feel like you get a pay-off at the end of the novel, even though this is a debut to a series. Plus, there are enough good teasers to leave you wanting to read on and get your hands on the next book. I’m definitely eager to dive right into ‘Demonglass’ as soon as possible. A super fun read and something I’d recommend to lovers of YA, and light witchy-toned books!

Overall feeling: Wowzer!

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Hex Hall (#1 Hex Hall) Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle.jpg


© Casey Carlisle 2018. 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 – ‘Sanctum’ (#2 The After Light Saga) by Cameo Renae

What a doozy… thumbs down from me.

Sanctum (#2 After Light Saga) Book Review Pic 01 by Casey Carlisle.jpgGenre: Y/A, Science Fiction, Dystopia

No. of pages: 272

From Goodreads:

The Arvy threat worsens each day. They continue to destroy the hive’s vital fuel resources, leaving us with one option— evacuate to the largest government bunker, located in South Dakota. 

The injured hive members are moved as first priority, but a disastrous event occurs on the way to our drop-off zone. We find ourselves in a ghost town, surrounded by spiteful, revenge-filled Arvies. Chaos ensues and our death toll rises. Just when we think the end has come, unsuspected help arrives. We are rescued and brought to an underground bunker.

They call it Sanctum.

With no way of reaching outside help, we must depend on each other to reach our pick-up zone, thirty miles away. If we don’t make it in time, we will be left for dead. 

Time is ticking.

My name is Abigail Park. I am a survivor.


This is the worst book that I have read in a while. I’m finding it difficult to even review ‘Sanctum’ because of the numerous issues I had with the writing…  This sequel is a step down in quality from the debut ‘ARV-3,’ and considering it was recommended to me from a well-known reviewer I am flabbergasted as to what entranced his attention so vigorously.

All the lovey-dovey stuff between protagonist Abi and her fiancé Finn was getting over the top. It felt inappropriate to the tone of the novel and failed to serve much of a purpose in the plot.

Additionally, since when are Finn and Abi the leaders and experts with all these army guys from the unit around them who have specialised training and instructions. I’m getting exasperated with the poor context of writing…

Sanctum (#2 After Light Saga) Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

The story concept was again interesting and had potential, but the plot was very simplistic. I found myself wanting more sophisticated storytelling. To be frank, I’ve read better from my high school students when teaching.

All I can say is lucky it was a quick skim-able read, especially the long drawn out love banter. I just wasn’t feeling it. So a saccharine sweet.

I’m still hoping that Cameo is going to up the ante and this series will improve with the next installments. Here’s wishing that ‘Intransigent’ brings some vast improvements, but I’m not holding my breath.

Notes on the physical book include how the chapter headings suddenly changed after chapter 9 like the book wasn’t formatted properly. And the cover art… using the same clip art throughout the series left it feeling amateurish.

Overall feeling: thththththth

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Sanctum (#2 After Light Saga) Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle


© Casey Carlisle 2018. 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.

Wrap up – Blackbird Duology by Anna Carey

When there is no-one you can trust, people are trying to kill you, all you can do is rely on yourself… and survive!

Blackbird Duology Wrap Up Pic 01 by Casey Carlisle.jpg

What a dynamic duology! I loved and devoured both of these books in quick succession. I would recommend reading these close together, or marathoning them, as ‘Blackbird’ ends on a cliff-hanger and if you get entranced as I was, you’ll be desperate to find out what happens next.

I will say that the whole memory loss/amnesia trope has been clubbed to death, especially in YA. However the majority of protagonists in this action/thriller genre tend to be male, so it was fantastic to read it from a female perspective. Especially since she is intelligent, resourceful, and follows her instincts. No fading wallflower or damsel in distress here.

One other note of contention that we never really get explained is how the protagonists get some of their spy-like survival skills. It was a bit of a reach for me to completely swallow this aspect.

But on the whole, I loved how quickly the series kicks off isolating the protagonist. The feeling of not being able to trust anyone is visceral and the writing style is punchy. Short chapters, so you can really power through these novels.

Once our protagonist begins to regain some of her memories, especially in ‘Deadfall,’ there were a lot of flashback scenes that pulled me from the narrative. I would have preferred different methods of revealing these memories to the reader though, because after three or four, to became too repetitive.

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There is a love triangle in here, but it does not devolve into an angsty mess. So I did not find myself rolling my eyes at this trope.

I have to say this is a solid four star rating across the board. The brief and punchy descriptive style of Anna Carey keeps the pace going from beginning to end and I was highly entertained and would happily recommend this to lovers of the YA genre. We get a decent amount of character development. The plot twists are pretty great and was completely satisfied with the pay-off upon completing the two novels. A fun cat-and-mouse type thriller.

Blackbird’ was optioned by Lionsgate back in March 2015, but there has been no news since the announcement. I can see how this would have appeal to the public as an action/thriller, especially since there have not been a lot of releases in this genre of late, so I guess we will have to wait and see if it comes to fruition, and what type of Hollywood treatment it gets. But it is certainly a film I’d be interested in seeing. But in digging further into the screenwriter attached to the project, Daniel Mackey (of ‘Aim High’ fame,) he hasn’t been involved in anything listed on the regular movie production sites since 2015. Plus ‘Blackbird’ is no longer listed on Lionsgate’s website as movies in development, so while it is optioned, at this point in time it is not being actively worked on. But I’ll keep my fingers crossed.

Blackbird Duology Wrap Up Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

For individual reviews click on the links below:


Deadfall’ –


© Casey Carlisle 2018. 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.

Decluttering your manuscript

De-cluttering your manuscript Pic 01 by Casey Carlisle.jpg

When doing one of the final edits for your novel, it’s hard to get a degree of separation from the words on the page. Because you wrote them all. There is emotional attachment in every syllable. So there are a few tools I use to help me remove superfluous material and keep the flow, pace, and tension up throughout my story.

This is pretty close to a contextual edit.

Firstly I like to clearly identify the basics of my story. The beginning, where the scene is set, the characters are introduced, the goal or challenge is stated, and what is risked or the challenges to be faced will entail. It’s about world building and setting the tone of your novel. Are all the themes introduced – what are they? The middle, where the protagonist faces obstacles, be they personal, emotional, or physical.  Character growth and development from facing these obstacles. Is there one or more turning points, and do they reflect on the theme/s of the story. And the climactic end. A lose-everything-or-die scenario. High emotion, fast pacing, and does it tie up the theme of the novel? Are all your plot points resolved? Does it feel like a natural conclusion? Have you revisited and reflected upon the questions you posed in your introduction? I know all of this sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised how many published novels do not fit this criteria. Identifying a clear start, middle and end will put a spotlight on scenes or chapters that diverge away from your core plot line.

Then I move to taking a closer look at each chapter or scene. It depends on your writing style. Some like to unfold part of the plot over a chapter, some do it through scenes. Some have long chapters, others short.

De-cluttering your manuscript Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle.jpgThe main thing I focus on here is asking myself questions like: Is this relevant to the plot of my novel? Is this essential for the character profile, or their development? Is this part of a character arc? Does this tie into my theme/s or shed light on part of my story? Is it increasing the stakes? Generally, if the answer is a negative, I’ll re-read the part of the novel with the section in question omitted, and if I feel it still makes sense and haven’t lost anything in regards to the main story, I’ll cut it. You can highlight it, save a new version of your manuscript, or put all the cuts into a new document in case you change your mind later. On a side note, these cuts are great tools for marketing later – publishing them on your social media or website as extras to entice readers. Never delete!

De-cluttering your manuscript Pic 03 by Casey CarlisleDon’t be afraid to be brutal with your cuts. Having a focused story keeps the pace and interest of your novel at a premium. Resulting in a reader so excited after reading one scene, they can’t wait to read the next. Making cuts like this and focusing on chapter or scene individually allows you to ensure it’s the best it can be, that it is leading the story forward.

If some characters are not supporting the protagonist or the main plot, cut them. Or just mention them in passing. No need to develop a backstory and motivation if they are not adding to the narrative or plot. A rule of thumb is like they do in television shows and movies – if the character is not important, they generally don’t have a name in the credits. Like ‘lady on bus,’ or ‘guy with glasses.’ Keep non-essential characters with those descriptors, so that they are an interesting observation in the landscape and not dragging your narrative with unnecessary tangents.

So that’s the basic premise I use to declutter my manuscript. Further to this, which is usually for the final draft, is a line edit. When I ask the same questions per sentence… and then focus on sentence structure, tense, perspective, spelling and grammar. And usually by that point it’s as polished as I can get it, my brain is melting and dripping from my ears, and I send it out to another professional editor/s to make it even better.

I find addressing questions that always bring me back to deciding if the material is relevant to my story are the key indicators as to whether cuts should be made.

I hope my method of editing helps you in some way for your creative process. What methods do you use that are effective – let me know in the comments. I’m always looking for great tools to improve my writing and share with fellow authors.

In the meantime, write something every day, and carry on.   🙂


© Casey Carlisle 2018. 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 – ‘Unearthly’ (#1 Unearthly) by Cynthia Hand

The start of a surprisingly fun trilogy…

Unearthly (#1 Unearthly) Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Fantasy, Paranormal, Romance

No. of pages: 435

From Goodreads:

In the beginning, there’s a boy standing in the trees…

Clara Gardner has recently learned that she’s part angel. Having angel blood run through her veins not only makes her smarter, stronger, and faster than humans (a word, she realizes, that no longer applies to her), but it means she has a purpose, something she was put on this earth to do. Figuring out what that is, though, isn’t easy.

Her visions of a raging forest fire and an alluring stranger lead her to a new school in a new town. When she meets Christian, who turns out to be the boy of her dreams (literally), everything seems to fall into place and out of place at the same time. Because there’s another guy, Tucker, who appeals to Clara’s less angelic side.

As Clara tries to find her way in a world she no longer understands, she encounters unseen dangers and choices she never thought she’d have to make between honesty and deceit, love and duty, good and evil. When the fire from her vision finally ignites, will Clara be ready to face her destiny? 


I’m definitely not one to read books about angels – especially in YA. It’s been done to death. But ‘Unearthly’ surprised me. The mechanics of our protagonist Clara exploring her angel abilities was unique. As too was the mythology. It wasn’t so much religious based, or fire and brimstone. It read like an origin story of someone discovering their superpowers.

It was a slow read however, which is not the best thing, especially for a short novel. I found myself putting it down regularly for a break. Partly because, as I’ve mentioned, angels just aint my bag, and partly because the pacing was pretty slow.

Clara felt innocuous for the majority of the novel, she didn’t show much personality and seemed to swing in her light affection between love interests Christian (her charge) and Tucker, her besties brother.

I found Clara a bit bland.

Christian still feels like an unknown and we don’t really get a chance to get to know him before the novel ends.

Tucker becomes endearing, and I think the relationship growing between him and Clara is cute, but again, the story concludes before it gets a chance to really get going. I feel like we’re being set up for some love triangle angst over the course of this trilogy.

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

The second half started to ramp up the complexity a little, and there were a few interesting scenes – but they didn’t really seem to go anywhere – I’m guessing these are hints of story lines to be continued in the sequels.

The conclusion felt somewhat anticlimactic. It did resolve much of the plot, but didn’t really give me the big pay-off I was hoping for.

There’s not much else that happens besides that.

I’ve actually been enjoying uncovering all the angelic powers as they unfold in the novel – and you get a sense that it is only the tip of the iceberg – that there is so much more to come in ‘Hallowed’ and ‘Boundless.’ So ‘Unearthly’ read like a great teaser.

Cynthia Hand’s writing style is easy enough to read. I actually liked the way she shaped her prose and wove a story. I did think the pacing was slow, like we needed an arc or two to create some more interest to drive the story forward.

All in all not a bad novel, much better than expected. Colour me impressed.

Overall feeling: Dude…

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

Unearthly (#1 Unearthly) Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle


© Casey Carlisle 2018. 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.


#BQ The Marque by Casey Carlisle.jpg

I came across a short story that has all the elements I enjoy in a Stephen King novel… I definitely want to read a full length novel by Mr Hicks because 57 pages just was not enough. Aliens, cowboys, bounty hunter, and gore!

Giving Your Story Relevance – Creating Subtext and Themes

Giving Your Story Relevance Pic 01 by Casey Carlisle.jpgAs an avid reader you get to experience a plethora of stories – get a feel for what is engaging and memorable, and what isn’t so much. Also having a literary degree under your belt also helps provide the tools to identify concepts to critique and improve your writing.

I’m primarily focusing on long-form fiction writing, novels that I like to read for this discussion, though the concepts can be loosely applied to many other forms of writing.

To help add complexity and depth to your narrative does not always mean throwing in a bunch of action scenes and having break-neck pacing. There are many novels that are quietly resounding – and those types of stories usually depict the use of subtext and theme more clearly.

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Is the girl in this photo comforting a friend, about to break up with them or wondering what groceries to buy on the way home… but what she says is “I know.”

Subtext is the goings-on between characters that is not said aloud in dialogue. Emotional energy. Motivations. This can be illustrated in symbolism, description of facial expressions and actions contra to the meaning of the dialogue, narrative tone, inner dialogue, things that are hinted at but not totally explained. It’s up to the reader to draw a line between all the dots to bring about a twist on the meaning. We usually see this in conflicted characters and/or motivations. The best way to convey this type of writing tool is by creating complex characters from the outset and planning out when to reveal certain aspects through interaction throughout the story or scene. Slowly revealing underlying motives of the character. It shows growth and development, hidden depth and complexity, and can lead to a transformative plot point later in the story.

On a lighter side it can add that little something extra to your narrative that is superfluous to the plot by adding some levity, interest, or tension.

Further to this concept, symbolism can be even more powerful. An object, thing, idea, quote, that captures the hero’s quest, transformation or state of being, can help the reader identify a deeper meaning hidden in your narrative. You can also use this kind of tool to substitute for controversial or difficult topics you many not wish to spell out directly in your narrative; or work around to keep your novel in a certain genre and demographic. For instance, dealing with death or child abuse in a middle grade novel: using symbolism to convey meaning without actually writing disturbing scenes is a great tool.

Symbolism is usually strongly connected to the core theme of your story.

Giving Your Story Relevance Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Having a theme for your novel is important to keep your narrative focused and on track. No meandering plots. A reader will lose interest if you are continually shooting off in tangents. Most of the time readers are in for a hero’s journey, overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds, an inner spiritual journey, or finding strength… there has to be an end goal. And the theme will reflect the tone of the novel, the path from the start to the end. For instance, revenge, growth, love. You will need to tie into this theme at the beginning, at a turning point in your story and again at the conclusion for it to work.

And there’s no rule to say you can’t have more than one theme – but don’t over complicate you novel.

I also find it handy to apply these concepts and tools to each character. Not only does this help to create a fully realised cast, but it also allows you to identify superfluous characters. That way you can cut them from the story to keep up the tension and pace.

The best idea is to start using these tools and concepts at the planning stage, but there is no reason why you can’t introduce them after a first draft to elevate the professional edge of your writing. We all have a different creative process, so it all depends on how you like to write.

But these are just some points to initiate a discussion, or things to think about when you cast a critical eye over your own writing. The more we can help each other produce amazing novels, the more enriched our literary landscape with be.

Happy writing.


© Casey Carlisle 2018. 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.



The cover grabbed me, and then after reading the bulb to discover that one of the protagonists identifies as genderqueer, I was immediately interested in finding out what this is all about. Plus ‘What We Left Behind’ deals with a couple heading off to separate colleges after high school and tackling a long-distance relationship and redefining their identities… Looks like a fun lazy weekend read someday soon 🙂