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.

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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.’

Film vs Novel – Thirteen Reasons Why

Thirteen Reasons Why Film vs Novel Pic 01 by Casey Carlisle

I have a lot of emotions about this novel. One is that I think is it an important topic, that it was valuable to experience life through the eyes of a teen pushed to a point of seriously considering suicide as an option. The other is the total despair and sadness, the loss of life of someone who had their whole life in front of them. That so much value was placed on silly teenage pranks and behaviour. That she couldn’t see that life does get better, that there is help. But the main theme of the novel is not about suicide, but what we can do for each other to stop it. To put an end to apathy. That everything we do impacts on someone else, and even the smallest gesture can turn someone’s life around.

Thirteen Reasons Why’ has been on my radar for a very long time, but I never picked it up. Suicide is such a sensitive, heavy topic, I didn’t want to put myself through the emotional ringer. I don’t like to think about the consequences for such actions. It’s dark and depressing. I did not want to put myself in that headspace. But this novel does not drag you into shadowed corners and lament at how hopeless life is. This is more of a factual account of circumstances that leads Hannah to her decision. Our protagonist Clay his hope. A shining beacon that lets the reader know that all is not lost. This tone is also reflected in the television series throughout the first season that follows the plot of the novel.

Though it is never stated outright, there are hints in the text of how Hannah is suffering depression, which it has been happening for a while. A condition that goes undiagnosed and it compounded by a series of unfortunate events… all narrated by herself on the set of cassettes she addressed to the main people who affected her life and turned her to a path of loneliness.

Thirteen Reasons Why Film vs Novel Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

The first half of the novel is a little slow, introducing characters slowly as each is discussed until about halfway when we start to get more shocking revelations. After that, I was glued to the page. A sort of morbid fascination. What drove Hannah to do what she did? What is going to be Clay’s reaction? So much more happened than I was expecting. The television show follows suit with flashbacks, but is has the luxury of multiple perspectives, where in the novel it is solely Clay, and Hannah through the tapes. Katherine Langford plays Hannah in the show and exudes that lost child putting up a happy front to disguise all the turmoil underneath. The novel focuses on Clay piecing together a timeline through each tape, where the screen interpretation focuses on events and hypes up the bullying more. We see many of the reveals in the novel much earlier in the screen version to keep an episodic pace.

Clay is a great protagonist. He reacts to the circumstances appropriately – a guide to how you should react to what is happening, as testament to so many characters in the story who lack that compassionate behaviour. He is the litmus test for all of the other characters in the story. The narration treated the events respectfully and lets the reader make pragmatic decisions with compassion. I too loved the depiction of actor Dylan Minnette’s of Clay; he captures the quiet nature and determination that is so strong in this character.

Thank goodness for the screen adaptation, otherwise I may never have read this book. It’s what spurned me to bite the bullet and read the novel before indulging in the series. Because, again, suicide = scary and depressing. I like to read fun, happy, escapist books much of the time.

Definitely thought provoking and I can see it as a great conversation starter for teens (or anyone) who feels they are in the same situation as Hannah. The novel even highlights that there were people who cared, who wanted to help, but she just didn’t give them the chance. So I never got that complete isolation and spiralling pit of despair that this topic generally deals with. We get a balanced view of all parties involved.

The novel ends on a great note too. Hope. Looking forward to see where the tv shows takes these themes beyond the scope of the book… dealing with real issues and hopefully not turning it into another overwritten teen drama.

Highly recommended. It’s not as depressing as it may seem. I didn’t fall into a sopping mess, rather just felt sadness and pity. At this point I have to say both the book and screen adaptation are a solid tie.

Thirteen Reasons Why Film vs Novel Pic 03 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.