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

A cautionary tale for teen love.

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

No. of pages: 384

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Overall feeling: not what I was expecting…

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

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

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

Book Review – ‘History Is All You Left Me’ by Adam Silvera

An endearing character study in grief and loss.

History Is All You Left Me Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Contemporary, Romance, LGBT

No. of pages: 294

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Griffin has lost his first love in a drowning accident. Theo was his best friend, his ex-boyfriend and the one he believed he would end up with. Now, reeling from grief and worsening OCD, Griffin turns to an unexpected person for help. Theo’s new boyfriend.

But as their relationship becomes increasingly complicated, dangerous truths begin to surface. Griffin must make a choice: confront the past, or miss out on his future.

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Told in alternating narratives in time, one from 2016 (the present) after Theo, Griffin’s boyfriend, has passed away from a drowning incident; and another from 2014, a happier time when Theo was alive…

To be honest, 3 months had passed since reading ‘History is All You Left Me’ until writing a review. I usually write up notes straight away, and I don’t know if I omitted my review because of the emotional impact, and I needed a few days to let it sit and simply forgot, or jumped in to the next read to get away from the book hangover and started to avoid writing a review. But the sad fact is that I forgot everything about ‘History Is All You Left Me’ and I needed to skim through the whole book to collect my thoughts. That is not a good sign. Usually I remember enough to write up a review… let’s see what my opinion is after a quick flip through the novel:

History Is All You Left Me Book Review Pic 02 by Casey CarlisleI think the main reason I didn’t get into ‘History Is All You Left Me,’ and also why it did not impact me as much as I was expecting was how Griffin behaved. He was literally a man-s!#t. Though there was no cheating on anyone, and yes, I know when someone is dealing with loss and grief (and maybe some guilt too) that lots of weird and unexpected things can happen. Like sleeping with your deceased ex’s boyfriend. And similar such destructive behaviours. So while I understand it, it did nothing to dispel the bad taste left in my mouth. I wanted a protagonist with a stronger character. Someone I could get behind. But Griffin is a mess. Both before and after Theo’s death. It does humanise Griffin and gives this story a level of realism. But I feel like if I praise this book, I’ll be condoning that type of behaviour. That it’s okay to be selfish in times of grief and hurt everyone around you. Um, yeah. This novel was triggering. I’ve lived through grief and loss of many loved ones and been the victim of other people’s destructive behaviour. It’s not nice.

Theo is painted as the innocent, the saint that everyone has lost. He wore his feelings on his sleeve and there were no secrets with him. Which was nice to read – illustrating the tendency to place those who have passed on a pedestal. Even if you are mad at them in your grief.

After Theo departs for college, and Griffin dumps him, Theo meets Jackson. Jackson’s time together is only brief before Theo drowns in an accident. I found it interesting, the different colours of grief and guilt played out between Griffin and Jackson in the chapters set in the present day. And how, as they work through the loss and memories of Theo, it changes them, and their relationship to each other, Theo, and those around them.

I will say I appreciated the inclusion of parental figures, and a professional therapist. Though they didn’t play as a prominent part as I would have wished, they were present and helped our characters navigate the new and heavy feelings associated with mental illness and grief.

I did not really predict much about this story. We already knew Griffin’s first love, Theo has died and that the book was going to be about him dealing with that and moving on… apart from that, it’s a wild guess as to what would happen. Because this is not a plot driven story, but a character driven one. Plus, we get a nice character twist that added an element of charm and hope for the future.

The tone of ‘History Is All You Left Me’ is an endearing one. As Griffin is addressing Theo’s memory through most of it. Keeping his memory alive. And the method of alternating timelines added something that broke up heavier scenes of loss with happier times and made this book easier to read.

Overall, a touching read, but not one that stabbed me in the heart like I was expecting. But a joy to read Adam Silvera’s writing and forging a legacy of interesting queer leads in literature. If you don’t mind a more emotionally challenging story then I recommend this one for you.

Overall feeling: A little sad, a little triggering, an okay read.

History Is All You Left Me Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

History Is All You Left Me Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

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

Book Review – ‘Famous Last Words’ by Katie Alender

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

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

No. of pages: 320

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Overall feeling: A satisfyingly spooky mystery

Famous Last Words Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Famous Last Words Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

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

Book Review – ‘Winger’ (#1 Winger) by Andrew Smith

A masculine approach to some heavy themes.

Winger (#1 Winger) Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Contemporary, Realistic Fiction

No. of pages: 439

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Ryan Dean West is a fourteen-year-old junior at a boarding school for rich kids in the Pacific Northwest. He’s living in Opportunity Hall, the dorm for troublemakers, and rooming with the biggest bully on the rugby team. And he’s madly in love with his best friend Annie, who thinks of him as a little boy.

With the help of his sense of humor, rugby buddies, and his penchant for doodling comics, Ryan Dean manages to survive life’s complications and even find some happiness along the way. But when the unthinkable happens, he has to figure out how to hold on to what’s important, even when it feels like everything has fallen apart.

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A realistic contemporary coming from a uniquely masculine protagonist.

Winger’ was a challenging read for me. On one hand, the narrative is quintessential for our protagonist Ryan Dean ‘Winger’ West. Short satirical chapters resounding clearly from his fourteen year old brain as he navigates private boarding school, playing rugby, bullies, girls, and having a best friend who happens to be gay. The writing style is perfect for the main character and the target market. It deals with themes and issues expertly through this lens.

Alternatively, it was really hard for me to swallow all the toxic masculinity and immaturity. I just about tore my hair out. But this is my personal choice – I tend to shy away books that blatantly wave these flags in my face. Understandably, as difficult as it was for me to stomach, if you set foot in any private boys’ boarding house, you’ll find this atmosphere front and centre.

The other thing that had me going ‘hrmm’ was the plot twist at the end. Maybe I’m missing something, but I don’t know how it affected the protagonists journey… he’d resolved and changed by this point. Then, in the aftermath of the event, I don’t think it was dealt with sympathetically. It felt an emotionless observation. And while it did affect Ryan Dean, it did not seem to have a resounding permanence. What was the lesson learned? How did it change him? Maybe we’ll explore these themes further in  the sequel ‘Stand-Off,’ but I failed to see what its inclusion in ‘Winger’ was apart from shock value and driving home the theme of toxic masculinity, bullying, and homophobia.

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

The characters were summarily interesting, but not altogether complex. I did not really find myself investing much in any of them… apart from maybe secretly shipping Ryan Dean and Joey. But, even considering ‘Winger’s’ length and simplistic plot and character outlines, the development and world building was fantastic and held up the story. So too did the witty anecdotes, short chapters, and large formatting of the hard cover. So ‘Winger’ was a relatively fast and easy read.

There is a certain type of dry immaturity to the humour in ‘Winger’ that would really appeal to a certain type of reader, and while it was hilarious in some spots for me, I did not find it as funny as I was expecting. I guess as an older female, all the young teen boy amusements were lost on me. In fact I was in danger of my eyes falling out of my skull from the excessive eye-rolling.

All in all, ‘Winger’ was an okay read for me. I’d only recommend it for younger male readers, or those looking to experience a new perspective. I appreciate this novel for all its merits, but it wasn’t a particularly enjoyable read. But I will finish the series with ‘Stand-Off’ as I am curious to see how author Andrew Smith addresses the themes presented towards the end of this novel, and whether protagonist Ryan Dean grows because of the experience. I’ll be very disappointed if it is another journal-esque account of boarding school and fails to address the damaging attitudes of Pine Mountain boarding school.

Overall feeling: Teen boy tunnel vision.

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

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

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

Book Review – The Past and Other Things That Should Stay Buried’ by Shaun David Hutchinson

A brilliant juxtaposition of contemporary and fantasy.

The Past and Other Things That Should Stay Buried Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Contemporary, LGBT, Paranormal

No. of pages: 304

From Goodreads:

A good friend will bury your body, a best friend will dig you back up.

Dino doesn’t mind spending time with the dead. His parents own a funeral home, and death is literally the family business. He’s just not used to them talking back. Until Dino’s ex-best friend July dies suddenly—and then comes back to life. Except not exactly. Somehow July is not quite alive, and not quite dead.

As Dino and July attempt to figure out what’s happening, they must also confront why and how their friendship ended so badly, and what they have left to understand about themselves, each other, and all those grand mysteries of life.

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Saying goodbye to your departed frenemy… who just happens to be a zombie.

The Past and Other Things That Should Stay Buried’ is a hilarious and heart-warming tale told in alternating perspectives of best friends turned enemies Dino and July. But, July is now dead, well… undead. Death has been put on hold while these two teens make amends with each other and some other issues they have been struggling with.

Dino’s family run a morgue, and he is currently undecided on a lot of things. His career path, his friendships, his relationship. How he can confront people. He’s kind of emo and artsy. He also has a gorgeous transgender boyfriend, Rafi, that he feels like he doesn’t deserve.

July is loud and brash, the centre of attention, and very jealous of Rafi. He’s stolen all of Dino’s attention away from her and she’s left to float around other less important friends. So how does she deal with this abandonment? With passive aggressive comments and pranks on Dino.

The Past and Other Things That Should Stay Buried Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

Now July is back from the dead – zombie style without the hunger for brains and human flesh, and with Dino as her only confidant. The both have to overcome their antagonism to figure out why people aren’t dying and what to do with July now that she’s a slowly decomposing, flatulent corpse. With witty banter, great pacing, and emotional reveals, I was hooked from the first page.

The overall plot is predictable and obvious, but the subsequent plot points in-between were not. But all that middle-story stuff lent to some great character arcs for our two leads. With themes of friendship, redemption, loss, grief, and finding your place in this world ‘The Past and Other Things That Should Stay Buried’ is a brilliant read.

I’m loving the more graphic art trend of the cover illustration – you can see something similar on another of Shaun David Hutchinson’s titles, ‘The Apocalypse of Elena Mendoza’ which I’m keen to pick up.

Overall, a strong recommendation from me. Great characters, quirky storyline, and a well-paced read.

Overall feeling: Killed myself laughing.

The Past and Other Things That Should Stay Buried Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

The Past and Other Things That Should Stay Buried Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

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© Casey Carlisle 2019. 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

#BQ Scorch by Casey Carlisle

Thought experiment : What if you could date anyone in the afterlife, who would it be and why?

For me… hmm… maybe Edmund Hillary (a New Zealand explorer who conquered Mount Everest) because I like to go on adventures – as long as we can have all my dogs tag along. Hey it’s the afterlife, there are no rules.

Book Review – ‘Scorch’ (#2 Croak) by Gina Damico

Angsty Teen Grim Reaper.

Scorch (#2 Croak) Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: YA, Fantasy, Paranormal

No. of pages: 332

From Goodreads:

Sixteen-year-old Lex Bartleby is a teenage grim reaper with the bizarre ability to damn souls. That makes her pretty scary, even to fellow Grims. But after inadvertently transferring her ability to Zara, a murderous outlaw, Lex is a pariah in Croak, the little town she calls home.

To escape the townspeople’s wrath, she and her friends embark on a wild road trip to DeMyse. Though this sparkling desert oasis is full of luxuries and amusements, it feels like a prison to Lex. Her best chance at escape would be to stop Zara once and for all—but how can she do that from DeMyse, where the Grims seem mysteriously oblivious to Zara’s killing spree?

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It was fun to visit the emo, sarcastic teen protagonist (and Grim Reaper) Lex again. However ‘Scorch’ was a little lighter on the snark that I was so entertained by in the debut of this series.

Scorch’ left me wanting a meatier, more substantial plot development other than the cat-and-mouse chase with antagonist Zara.

I guess this suffered from the middle book syndrome. Though I was definitely engaged and entertained. I want to say an element was missing from the story to send me over the moon. So while a great concept, thrilling and kept me glued from the page; maybe some more character arcs, or a more intertwined plot would have bumped up my rating of ‘Scorch.’

Scorch (#2 Croak) Book Review Pic 02 by Casey CarlisleLex was always complaining about something, and though she was researching information to get Zara off her back, and save innocents from being ‘Damned,’ I did not get a sense that she was particularly proactive. Additionally, the ‘forced’ breaks to enjoy being a teen for Lex and some of the other characters felt out of place. It didn’t seem like it was to let off steam, but rather engage in teen activities to pique interest with the target demographic… it didn’t make a whole lot of sense to the story. I would have rather Lex been a bundle of nerves, on the edge of a breakdown, go smash up a car with a baseball bat, than go clubbing and gossip. Ya know?

There was an interesting twist with Lex and her gift at the end of ‘Scorch’ I did not see coming; but am conflicted about her justification, because her attitude earlier in the story contradicts the final standpoint.

The romance between Lex and Driggs was cute and funny, but something about it felt frivolous, not having as much heat and interest as it did in ‘Croak.’ I kinda wanted Driggs to become more independent and have an arc of his own. This couple was attached at the hip too much.

Uncle Mort was my favourite character in ‘Scorch.’ His fatherly duties mostly comic relief, but well placed throughout the novel. Although the non-explanations and ‘for you own good, just trust me’ standpoint were too common and started to get on my nerves. Granted, he is the only adult around Lex, and has much more knowledge about the Grim mythology, and his position lends his moving political chess pieces about the board, plotting steps ahead – it makes sense that Lex would be in the dark for most of this. We get a lot of her frustration of being kept out of the loop, but it only added to the parent-child relationship these two shared.

The whole Zara-as-the-villain, and another reveal in ‘Scorch’- while great fodder to pace the story forward – I’m still grabbling with some realistic motivation for what played out; though I’m anticipating an explanation in the last instalment in this trilogy ‘Rogue.’

Scorch’ is a fun easy read, the pacing is mostly tense and engaging. My issues came from plausibility and character motivations… and wanting a more intricate plot. But there are some great surprises. Gina Damico’s writing style is succinct, and captures the emo tone and dark business of being a Grim Reaper. Love the mythology of the business of death, and am keen to see where it all goes in ‘Rogue.’

I’m on the fence about recommending this one, because it’s more of a passion read – if you loved ‘Croak,’ then, yes, read on. If you weren’t particularly impressed with ‘Croak,’ then ‘Scorch’ is much of the same. But I thought it was a nice little escapist read for a lazy Sunday.

Overall feeling: Jan, Jan, Jan!

Scorch (#2 Croak) Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Scorch (#2 Croak) Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

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© Casey Carlisle 2019. 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

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‘Croak’ has been sitting on my TBR pile for over a year – recently got time to read it and fell in love – jumped online to buy the rest of the series, so keep a look out for the reviews to come 🙂 A sarcastic teen protagonist much in the same vein as the tv show ‘Dead to Me.’