Book Review – ‘Never, Always, Sometimes’ by Adi Alsaid

Doing what you’ve ruled as taboo can make for an interesting journey.

Genre: Y/A, Contemporary, Romance, Realistic Fiction

No. of pages: 320

Never date your best friend.

Always be original.

Sometimes rules are meant to be broken.

Best friends Dave and Julia were determined to never be cliché high school kids—the ones who sit at the same lunch table every day, dissecting the drama from homeroom and plotting their campaigns for prom king and queen. They even wrote their own Never List of everything they vowed they’d never, ever do in high school.

Some of the rules have been easy to follow, like #5, never dye your hair a color of the rainbow, or #7, never hook up with a teacher. But Dave has a secret: he’s broken rule #8, never pine silently after someone for the entirety of high school. It’s either that or break rule #10, never date your best friend. Dave has loved Julia for as long as he can remember.

Julia is beautiful, wild and impetuous. So when she suggests they do every Never on the list, Dave is happy to play along. He even dyes his hair an unfortunate shade of green. It starts as a joke, but then a funny thing happens: Dave and Julia discover that by skipping the clichés, they’ve actually been missing out on high school. And maybe even on love.

The best word I can use to describe ‘Never, Always, Sometimes’ is quaint. I can’t remember the impulse that had me purchasing this book, and it had been sitting on my shelf for so long that I began reading without any knowledge of what to expect other than it was a contemporary. Adi Alsaid crafted a clever story with plenty of teen angst and drama. I think on the whole though, there weren’t a lot of surprises for me, and a lot of teens making bad decisions… which is kinda the point of this novel with Dave and Julia crossing items off their ‘Nevers’ list. Things they deemed never to do, but anxious of graduating high school as nerdy goody-two-shoes and not having an authentic experience is what motivates them to tackle the taboo items. In theory it sounds like fun, but as sensible and intelligent as Dave and Julia are, I can’t see why they would tackle some of the things written on the list. It was such a terrible moralistic vacuum of adventure in some cases. But I guess it fits with the demographic for the characters and targeted readers – famous for their penchant of making poor judgement calls.

The novel is broken into three sections, the first told from Dave’s perspective, the second from Julia’s, and a third from an omnipresent perspective from both of their points of view. It’s not usually a great idea to jump from first person narrative to third at the end, but it really worked in ‘Never, Always, Sometimes.’

Both our leads make mistakes and learn from them, and it seems Dave is the more sensible of the two. Julia is all about romanticising the high school experience, and to that fault her moral compass becomes corrupted.

Never, Always, Sometimes’ is a tale pondering the question that if two best friends discover they are in love, is it a good idea to abandon the friendship and initiate a relationship. That question is subjective, and so will readers opinions be on the outcome.

Alsaid’s writing style has a way of sucking you into the world of Dave and Julia, and the pages fly by. I found ‘Never, Always, Sometimes,’ an easy, light, and pleasant read. He manages to craft a lot of emotion and tension into the story – I was just yearning for a more complex plot to really nail this book home. The story outline was pretty pedestrian in comparison to many of the contemporaries I’ve been reading of late. But that was the only (and biggest) drawback for me. It has great pacing and interesting characters. Alsaid managed to paint traits I find personally unattractive as quaint and loveable.

I’d recommend this for lovers of contemporary romances set in high school – they’re fun, easy to read tomes you can devour pretty quickly. But on the whole it was pretty forgettable for me. So it’s not something I’d rave to my friends about. But Alsaid’s writing is something I’m definitely going to keep an eye on when he pens some subject material that piques my interest.

Overall feeling: Teen logic bewilders me.

© Casey Carlisle 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

#bookporn #coverlove

I wanted to take a walk down memory lane to my scholastic years and how these books, along with the encyclopedias at the library saw me through matriculation. Did your parents construct a reference library for your education at home. I know it’s kind of redundant now with online access to tomes and libraries, but I still like the feel of physical books and having many copies of reference material open at once across my table to refer to when writing… any one still do this?

#bookquotes

The surprise hit of this year was the debut of ‘This Mortal Coil‘ for me, and I can’t wait to finish the trilogy and let you know how the rest of the series stacks up. It’s all about technology, gene editing… and ‘The Cruel Design‘ looks to be dealing with a killer virus. Life imitating art much?

#bookporn #coverlove

Another addition to the Wayward Children collection. This diverse series has got me interested in reading fantasy again.

For some reason I had too many fantasy titles in my TBR about five years ago, I got oversaturated and the genre fell out of favor. Has this happened to you?

Luckily things come back around again. No need to panic. Any book on my shelves will eventually get read.

Creating an atmosphere to write

Music, ambience, views, nature, books… what helps set the scene for you to pen your next great story?

I go through moods with how I like my environment while writing. I see so many of those playlists on the internet, sometimes I feel like I’m missing something, because while I like to have music playing in the background at times, I don’t associate particular songs to a scene in a storyline.

So I have different modes when I write. At times I like complete silence. Which is fine when your home by yourself, but when you’re not, I need to pull out those noise cancelling headphones to get some work done before I succumb to the urge to bludgeon someone with a heavy blunt instrument.

Other moments I love having an ‘80’s playlist in the background. Something about sense memory of a more innocent time when I was growing up helps to free up my inspiration. Like I’m shedding the stresses of adult life and going back to a time when anything was possible. Music from this time period is like that old oversized cardigan, it’s familiar, you know all the lyrics, and you could listen to the soundtrack and never get tired of the melody. Can’t say my housemate particularly love the retro playlist on repeat, but hey, it’s not about them… and I can always listen to it on my headphones. No harm, no foul, let me dwell in my happy place unencumbered.

I also have moments where I love some easy listening or playing Andrea Kirwan in the background. Her voice melts away my headache and puts me in the mood to write a more intimate, emotional scene. Great for love scenes or creating angst. I’m a mood reader and a mood writer. I don’t have to craft a story sequentially, I can jump forward and backward in the storyline and pen a scene if I have a particular feeling I need to currently capture… yes I’m a plantser! (A combination of a plotter and a pantser for those of you who have not heard that term before.)

Visit Andrea’s website at http://www.andreakirwin.com

Dance music: those feverish times when my fingers are flying over the keyboard, like a coffee fuelled writing sprint. The volume is not too loud to pierce the bubble of extreme concentration as I channel from some other creative dimension. This is particularly useful in action scenes, or when my fingers on the keyboard cannot keep up with my overactive brain. While it feels productive and fantastic in the moment, often when I re-read the days work, some of it is embarrassingly discordant… like and actual monkey took over and was banging at the keyboard.

Ambient noise. Rainforest. Café, office, library… Public places also makes me productive. Something about needing to block out your surroundings to write. And the other layer of people watching you sitting there at a laptop makes me want to look like I’m a productive member of society. Knowing you are being watched is a great motivator, or being surrounded by other productive people make you want to pull your socks up and get to work.

But no matter where I’m working, I need a clean and clear workspace. If I’m writing with paper and pen, I need a bright and light area, whether indoor lighting or plenty of sunlight. There are also moments where I like to sneak down to the computer at night time and write in the darkness. It feels sneaky, intimate, like you’re undertaking subterfuge.

I also love a view of nature. Whether I’m sitting on my balcony overlooking the coast line. Seeing the rolling hills meet the sand and a stretch of white-capped waves rolling in from the horizon. Or down in the sunroom amongst rainforest trees, colourful parrots singing a tune, and a natural spring that brings a serenity with its waterlilies and ducks.

I don’t think I could work in the same place every day forever. It would feel stale after a time. The creative beast needs to be fed with sensations, sights, sounds, and stimulated with verse. Reading helps, conversations, observation, even daydreaming. It is the best way for me to stave off writer’s block… well I don’t necessarily get writer’s block because I switch up my environment, habits, what I’m working on so much that it never gets boring. That, and having a routine (whether I follow it or not) are great guides to keep the prose flowing.

And don’t forget to cut yourself a break. Good writing does not explode from you immediately. Writing is a process of inspiration and creativity, reviewing and editing, fine-tuning, and outside feedback. A solo endeavour, but a group experience. Writer, Reader, Reviewer…

There is no set structure for how to write, just many avenues you can try out for yourself and see what works. You’ll find your groove, fall out of it, and find inspiration again. The key is to never give up and never stop trying different methods. I routinely spring clean my office and re-arrange the furniture, pictures, colour scheme, it give the space a different feel and when I sit down to write it feels fresh and new – with no mistakes – and somehow leave me invigorated and ready to tackle the next challenges.

What are your tips for creating an ambience fit for writing? I’d love to get a writing group together, but living remotely, it’s not necessarily an option. Online doesn’t feel the same. Escaping to the university library is the next best thing. I even went and did a few weeks work at an empty desk in a friends office and it really helped get me out of a low productive moment. There’s always a way…

© Casey Carlisle 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Book Review – ‘Rogue’ (#3 Croak) by Gina Damico

Moody Emo Grim.

Genre: YA, Fantasy, Paranormal

No. of pages: 326

Lex is a teenage Grim Reaper with the power to Damn souls, and it’s getting out of control. She’s a fugitive, on the run from the maniacal new mayor of Croak and the townspeople who want to see her pay the price for her misdeeds. Uncle Mort rounds up the Junior Grims to flee Croak once again, but this time they’re joined by Grotton, the most powerful Grim of all time. Their new mission is clear: Fix his mistakes, or the Afterlife will cease to exist, along with all the souls in it.

The gang heads for Necropolis, the labyrinth-like capital city of the Grimsphere. There, they discover that the Grimsphere needs a reboot. To do that, the portals to the Afterlife must be destroyed…but even that may not be enough to fix the damage. Things go from bad to worse, and when at last the fate of the Afterlife and all the souls of the Damned hang in the balance, it falls to Lex and her friends to make one final, impossible choice.

The whole Grimsphere is against Lex and the gang of Junior Grims with Uncle Mort in the lead. Expect death, Damning and running, screaming for your life.

The plot for ‘Rogue’ was a lot of fun, plenty of action and twists that I enjoyed. Though there was something about the tone and narrative style that was lacking in comparison to the first two novels. The witty banter, Dad jokes, and sarcastic asides felt juvenile and did not pack a punch. Plus there was this whole dynamic between Uncle Mort and Lex where the parental figure was keeping information and facts from the junior ‘for their own good,’ that whole just do as I say thing. It was repeated so many times it was frustrating. It was set up this way for latter reveals in the plot… but, um… girl that’s not a good way to do it. Such a heavily guided hand by the author, instead of letting the story unfold organically and let the characters grow.

I found myself putting this book down a lot. A lot. I’d get five to ten pages read and then need a rest. The pacing did not start pick up until after the halfway point. I did enjoy the story overall, but it felt a little scattered. The cast are on the run from place to place, and there was no thread to anchor the narrative. Character reactions were all over the place, motives kept changing, some scenes were just messy. I think there was just too much going on in some places. This was not the concluding novel that I was hoping for. The snarky humour was gone, so there wasn’t much to balance out all the loss and death that kept happening.

And even the afterward did not tie up and address the main characters in a way that put the full-stop after The End.

Lex felt like a sullen whiny teen – I don’t get a feeling that she had a great character arc, not in this novel, and not since the start of this series. She was so funny in the first book, but the humour did not translate to the finale. Also I appreciated the more intimate moments between Lex and Driggs, but again it felt manufactured. Almost like cut scene, make out, and snap back to the action.

A cute-ish read that I think would have been awesome from a stronger developmental edit. A mostly satisfying end to the series, but not one that ended in an exclamation point.

Overall feeling: satisfactory finish.

© Casey Carlisle 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

#bookquotes

I love the sentiment of this quote – how a simple act by some may not be so simple for others. Be it through challenges like discrimination, social justice, disability, I hope there comes a time somewhere in the near future where the simple act of loving someone, or showing love and affection is accepted by all – without it having to be some sort of statement.

Book Review – ‘Night Probe!’ (#6 Dirk Pitt) by Clive Cussler

A not-so marine focused adventure that returns to Dirk Pitt form.

Genre: Action, Adventure

No. of pages: 369

May 1914. Two diplomats hurry home by sea and rail, each carrying a document of world-changing importance. Then the liner Empress of India is sunk in a collision, and the Manhattan-Line express plunges from a bridge – both dragging their VIP passengers to watery oblivion. Tragic coincidence or conspiracy?

In the energy-starved, fear-torn 1980s, Dirk Pitt discovers that those long-lost papers could destroy whole nations, throwing him into his biggest challenge yet. Racing against hired killers, he launches his revolutionary deep-sea search craft and faces the horrors of the sea bed to hunt for the documents. ‘Night Probe’ has begun . . .

Another of Clive Cussler’s back catalogue under my belt. ‘Night Probe!’ was another international spy action adventure that tickled the childlike reader in me.

I did feel like the first half of the novel was paced slowly. The meticulous efforts to set up all the characters in the game, build the scene was fun to read; but I found myself putting the book down regularly because I wanted to get some story with Dirk Pitt in it, and get to the juicy parts of the story. While I appreciate the efforts to fill in all the threads of storyline that go into ‘Night Probe!’ I would have appreciated that some of this first half was compacted down and some scenes skipped over in favour of a backstory later in the novel.

We do see Dirk Pitt introduced earlier in the story than previous novels in this franchise, and you get a sense of Clive Cussler starting to hit his stride with the Dirk Pitt franchise. Honing the tone and writing style that is a trademark of these adventure novels.

The ending was cheese-ball city. But it always makes me smile – that James Bond/Indiana Jones style shtick that I love on the big screen translates well in this escapist fiction.

I particularly love the scientific elements, the history imbued in Cussler’s prose, and we definitely get it here. I particularly cherish all the maritime elements, and though there are two present in ‘Night Probe!’ this novel felt more like a land adventure and left me wanting.

We don’t get much of Al Giordino and their witty banter. There are only two women in the main storyline: one is killed for being an adulterer (and a villain), and the other falls in love with an antagonist, even though she is an intelligent, independent woman… it still feels all a little bit sexist. But I am getting a sense of a growing cultural ‘woke’ tone. Standard enjoyable fare.

As with most titles in this series, ‘Night Probe!‘ can be read as a standalone… a serial continuation in the Dirk Pitt universe.

Overall feeling: A return to form.

© Casey Carlisle 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Picture vs. Page – Call Me By Your Name

Call Me By Your Name’ is the story of a crush. A love affair between Elio, a high schooler, and Oliver, a PhD student from the University that Elio’s father teaches at. There is a melancholic romantic tone in the novel’s writing style, which is duplicated expertly in the cinematography with sweeping vistas of the Italian countryside, and lengthy silences throughout the narrative.

The books narration has a beautiful cadence and reads like Elio’s journal, complete with inner musings, pontifications, daydreams and erotic fantasies. However I found it difficult to immerse myself into and speed-read the entire novel. The writing style did not sit well with me. It felt fanciful and full of itself… selfish. I found myself craving for more structure, more dialogue. For the film adaptation, with a slower pace too, but it worked a bit better because we get countryside and cinemaphotography to keep the viewer engaged.

Elio as a protagonist felt like a mix of intelligence, petulance, and aggressive/possessive hormone fuelled adolescence for the novel. However, the film version of Elio (played by Timothée Chalamet) feels a little more mature and less predatory – maybe because we are spared his inner monologue.

It felt uncomfortable the boy lusting after a man, Oliver, more than 7 years his senior. (This situation is legally statutory rape in our country.) Elio’s overtly flirtatious nature – and his intentions sometimes returned. A mix between grooming behaviour of a paedophile from Oliver and removing himself from the equation as to not be overcome by his desires. The teacher in me felt extremely uncomfortable. Elio and Oliver wouldn’t be sneaking around and trying to hide their actions if they didn’t know what they were doing was wrong.

Then in the novel, Oliver gives in to his desires and confirms to me of being the paedophile he is. Elio has regret, then turns into a tremendous flirt only to then go and have sex with Mariza… completely ruled by his lower region. What a floozy. This book is making me feel sick where everyone is throwing their cat around and ignoring the ramifications. For having such an inconsolable crush on Oliver, when Elio sleeps with Marzia on a whim and apparently likes it, wants to brag about it. No loyalty, no conviction. This increased my loss of respect for Elio. We get some detail in the film adaptation with this encounter, its clumsy and short (realistic) but what is it with Elio then chasing after Oliver straight after having sex with Marzia? (Esther Garrel) That’s effed up. Elio comes across as insensitive. Considering this is a romantic/erotic tale and the book gets explicit at times, the film is not as sexually charged as the book.

Oliver (played by Armie Hammer) makes the first move (pedo) in the film adaptation and Elio becomes sexually aggressive out of the blue. It did not feel like there was a build-up of tension or feeling between the two. Oliver is an idiot for instigating the encounter and then citing he couldn’t do any more so they had nothing to be ashamed of. Then it seems his mother gives him permission to start a relationship with a grown man… what tha?! Besides the nature of this story all the actors gave a beautiful and believable portrayal and I feel added further nuance to the story I did not get out of the novel.

Did they seriously watch each other pooh and marvel at it in the toilet bowl. *retching sounds* The other thing that had me throwing up in my mouth is of Oliver eating the peach that Elio had climaxed into. Some may see it as twistedly romantic in a symbolic way, but I couldn’t bet over the hygienic aspect of it. I am such a clean freak. I want to scream triggered! It’s hilarious in a meta perspective. The pooh scene is omitted in the film version of ‘Call Me By Your Name,’ and the peach scene is much more subtle (Oliver does not eat the peach though.) However there are a few scenes that jumped out at me that did not appear in the novel version: The dancing scene had me in stitches. Plus, Elio and his friends smoke a lot. Ew! But I guess it translates well for the time period this story is set in (1980’s) and the European town. Adding to that, we also see a lot of underage drinking.

There was an understated – delicate even – understanding of Elio’s father which I found endearing in the novel. However his hands-off approach leaves little to be desired. I would have preferred a father figure to help educate and guide Elio, instead of leaving his son to flounder around in the dark and figure things out by himself, and potentially placing him in dangerous situations. Elio’s father’s talk in the film adaptation makes you realise he treats Elio like an adult shows that his parents did not view their relationship as paedophilia. Father confesses he loved a man once too. Again, an excellent portrayal by Michael Stuhlbarg.

For the film he translation of the story Elio’s mum (Amira Casar) reads makes and important turning point in the story – giving Elio permission to talk about his feelings… and something I don’t remember occurring or standing out to me (maybe because I ended up skim-reading the book)

I can appreciate the romantic symbolism, the artistic eye, but the situation in the real world kinda makes me angry. It’s not about being gay, but about placing a boy in a sexually vulnerable situation where the parents do not seem to care, (in fact they encourage Elio to find his sexuality and explore) and an older man allegedly grooming a high school student – even if he wrestles with his conscience – grosses me out. If this were about two boys around the same age I would have liked it so much better. I feel the artistic tone of the writing covers up the reality of how inappropriate this relationship is. ‘Call Me By Your Name’ feels like a gay version of ‘Lolita.’

SPOILERS: Oliver got engaged?? This book/film is so messed up. The build-up for this relationship. The forbidden love of it all and then they both move on so quickly. It’s hard to believe they were in love – rather lust – because the events belie the tone of ‘Call Me By Your Name.’

Where the book and film both left me feeling a little unsettled, the film was also sad in a kind of way, both in tone and storyline.

I will not recommend this. There was no lesson to learn from the characters – the whole book read like some teen boy’s father-figure sexual fantasy. I couldn’t get over the age difference, one of them being an underage boy to be able to appreciate the love story, or the coming of age aspect. I was uncomfortable the entire time. I won’t be reading the sequel ‘Find Me’ either – after reading reviews and how it deals with more fantasy gratification adultery, I’m sorry, I just can’t.

© Casey Carlisle 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

#bookporn #coverlove

‘Dyschronia’ sold out of the regular online bookstores really quickly and I finally tracked down a copy at a local bookstore who was happy to mail my purchase. It feels great to support local while maintaining social distancing… and get a book I’ve been coveting for ages. Additional points for supporting local authors too! Fingers-crossed it will live up to all the anticipation.