Book Review – ‘I Wish You All The Best’ by Mason Deaver

Beautifully understated and gorgeously representing minorities.

Genre: Y/A, Contemporary, Romance

No. of pages: 329

When Ben De Backer comes out to their parents as nonbinary, they’re thrown out of their house and forced to move in with their estranged older sister, Hannah, and her husband, Thomas, whom Ben has never even met. Struggling with an anxiety disorder compounded by their parents’ rejection, they come out only to Hannah, Thomas, and their therapist and try to keep a low profile in a new school.

But Ben’s attempts to survive the last half of senior year unnoticed are thwarted when Nathan Allan, a funny and charismatic student, decides to take Ben under his wing. As Ben and Nathan’s friendship grows, their feelings for each other begin to change, and what started as a disastrous turn of events looks like it might just be a chance to start a happier new life.

A beautiful queer romance that brings representation from a close-to-invisible group on the rainbow spectrum, told in an understated but cherished tone that touched my heart.

Loved the representation of a non-binary protagonist and the unique challenges they face. With a quiet-toned storyline and how it matches the tone of the narrative told from protagonist Ben’s perspective. The story did feel slow in pace and took a while to get places. I feel like I wanted more complexity, but in saying that, I don’t think it would have worked with ‘I Wish You All the Best.’

This had a bit of a feeling of educating the reader and not making things too difficult for Ben – even though what they go through is pretty rough… a more realistic approach would’ve been messier and lost the tone ‘I Wish You All the Best’ has. It’s cute, quiet, but resounding. 

Because of this quiet tone – be it from Ben being an introvert, having to protect themselves from hurt and rejection, as well as dealing with mental illness; it made it difficult to relate to them. There was always a distance between Ben and other characters. And a distance with the reader. I think this element was why I wasn’t sold on the romance between Ben and Nathan. I enjoy romances which aren’t afraid to get messy and get down to the bones of character development. This in comparison felt as though it was whispered through a tin can telephone.

There was a bit of repetition that I felt an editor should have addressed which pulled me from the narrative a handful of times. While this is a beautiful story, I did not get that emotional connection I was hoping for.

Overall feeling: Not too shabby

© Casey Carlisle 2023. 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 – ‘Bloom’ (#1 Bloom) by Kevin Panetta

Mood inducing art in this delightfully innocent queer tale

Genre: Y/A, Contemporary, Romance, Graphic Novel, GLBTQIA+

No. of pages: 368

Now that high school is over, Ari is dying to move to the big city with his ultra-hip band—if he can just persuade his dad to let him quit his job at their struggling family bakery. Though he loved working there as a kid, Ari cannot fathom a life wasting away over rising dough and hot ovens. But while interviewing candidates for his replacement, Ari meets Hector, an easygoing guy who loves baking as much as Ari wants to escape it. As they become closer over batches of bread, love is ready to bloom . . . that is, if Ari doesn’t ruin everything.

A lovely story. Atmospheric, but very simple and didn’t give much attention to the periphery characters. The aquamarine colouring marries with protagonist Ari’s depression and the seaside location, and the artwork is beautiful.

Ari’s feelings aren’t thoroughly explored – why he’s so unhappy. I would have liked some more examination into his isolation and sadness, maybe uncover the contributing factors to give the reader a full character arc.

The relationship with Hector jumpstarts with a kiss, there felt like there was little build up or angst. They were friends, and suddenly seeming boyfriends… nothing is addressed before the story ends. I feel cheated as a reader that there was no build-up and pay-off for their relationship. I craved more emotion and higher stakes.

The story, because it is simple in plot and structure is very predictable, but don’t let that discourage you from a beautifully innocent tale. I felt like I needed to see a lot more to happen. More intense feeling explored. As cute as ‘Bloom‘ is, it felt a little flat. With ‘Bloom II‘ schedules for release in 2023 we might see some more complexity, and the secondary characters fleshed out more… I’m looking forward to this sequel.

Overall feeling: she cute

© Casey Carlisle 2023. 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 – ‘Heartstopper : Volume Four’ (#4 Heartstopper) by Alice Oseman

Heartstopper practically stopped my heart with endearing cuteness.

Genre: Y/A, Contemporary, Romance, LGBTQIA+, Graphic Novel

No. of pages: 353

 Nick’s journal:

I think I’m in love with Charlie. This summer with him and our friend has been amazing, and I want to say ‘I love you’, but… I guess I’ve had other things to worry about lately…

This series just keeps getting better and better. Another installment with cuteness overload. I love how expressive the characters faces are in the artwork. We are getting more and more story with the secondary cast, really rounding out the story.

We see Charlie begin to assert himself a bit more – standing up against over-bearing parents that are pressuring him about school (and exaserbating his eating disorder) and confessing his love for Nick.

We also see Nick loving and supporting Charlie, and broaching the topic about taking serious steps to deal with his eating disorder.

It’s great to see such character development, to be honest, I don’t expect much in graphic novels, but Alice Oseman manages to pack so much story into her novels with such a flair of innocence and endearment that I am in awe of her talents.

There is not a lot to predict – mainly because it is just a volume in an ongoing story – but what there is is obviously predictable, but that is the reason I am picking up this book – to see Charlie and Nick get together and navigate their lives as a couple.

Still highly recommend this series and am excited to see where the following sequesl take us. Not to mention that the television adaptation is not far away from hitting the air: and I’m all here for that!

Overall feeling: Just a little bit adorable… okay a lot adorable!

© Casey Carlisle 2023. 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 Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy’ (#2 Montague Siblings) by Mackenzie Lee

A delightful historical fiction that wrestles with society and feminism with immitigable humour.

Genre: Y/A, Historical Fiction, LGBT

No. of pages: 450

A year after an accidentally whirlwind grand tour with her brother Monty, Felicity Montague has returned to England with two goals in mind—avoid the marriage proposal of a lovestruck suitor from Edinburgh and enroll in medical school. However, her intellect and passion will never be enough in the eyes of the administrators, who see men as the sole guardians of science.

But then a window of opportunity opens—a doctor she idolizes is marrying an old friend of hers in Germany. Felicity believes if she could meet this man he could change her future, but she has no money of her own to make the trip. Luckily, a mysterious young woman is willing to pay Felicity’s way, so long as she’s allowed to travel with Felicity disguised as her maid.

In spite of her suspicions, Felicity agrees, but once the girl’s true motives are revealed, Felicity becomes part of a perilous quest that leads them from the German countryside to the promenades of Zurich to secrets lurking beneath the Atlantic.

The tone of this series is so delightful that I was immediately engrossed: it’s funny, witty, and pits modern-day realities against the restricted opinions and views of a past cultural set.

The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy’ certainly did not suffer the middle book slump. In this sequel we follow Felicity (Monty’s sister – but don’t worry, we still get to see the rogue and is new boyfriend) and her dream of becoming a surgeon, despite the male gatekeepers of the institutions and the belief that women should stick to domesticated tasks. (Ugh! Seriously why is it always old white men that make it difficult for everyone else?) But Felicity will not take no for an answer; she will find a way to pursue her passion, even if it takes her down some dubious paths.

We still get that comedy that was introduced in ‘The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue,’ as well as a heavy dose of feminism. I found this to be a powerful combination, and the pacing of this novel did not lag despite its length.

Felicity herself is determined but still maintains decorum expected in polite society. She is increasingly frustrated at the limited imagination and belief that women can do anything that men can, and desperately tries to find like-minded souls to allow her to follow her passion. We never really explore Felicity’s sexuality in ‘The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue,’ but in ‘The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy’ Felicity begins to notice stirrings of attraction that contra societies rules. Felicity could be bisexual or lesbian, and the attitudes towards this attraction are handled with sensitivity.

Sim – Felicity’s partner in crime (literally) – has found freedom from societies trappings, but still has to fight for what she wants… by any means necessary. She is a thief, a spy, a pirate. But I see her more as a revolutionary. She is proud, practical and empowered. Again, existing outside of polite society Sim has a ‘found family’ that gives her the space to live her truth; be it in her sexuality, opportunity, or euntrenprenureship.

Johanna, another woman in Felicity’s orbit, remind me of the changing of the guard. She is taking her first steps from the old oppressive world of being property, or a domestic slave, into the future of equality and independence (but all within the constraints of the current era.)

The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy’ was a delicious read. Yes, it is mostly predictable, but the narrative is full of hair-brained adventure that makes for some entertaining reading with loveable characters. Another strong recommendation from me, and I have already pre-ordered the next in the series ‘The Nobleman’s Guide to Scandal and Shipwrecks.’

Overall feeling: A titillating tome!

© Casey Carlisle 2023. 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 – ‘My Calamity Jane’ (#3 The Lady Janies) by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows

The historical retelling I didn’t know I needed…

Genre: YA, Fantasy, Historical, LGBT

No. of pages: 544

Welcome ​to 1876 and a rootin’-tootin’ America bursting with gunslingers, outlaws, and garou.

JANE (a genuine hero-eene)

Calamity’s her name, and garou hunting’s her game—when she’s not starring in Wild Bill’s Traveling Show, that is. She reckons that if a girl wants to be a legend, she should just go ahead and be one.

FRANK (*wolf whistle*)

Frank “the Pistol Prince” Butler is the Wild West’s #1 bachelor. He’s also the best sharpshooter on both sides of the Mississippi, but he’s about to meet his match. . . .

ANNIE (get your gun!)

Annie Oakley (yep, that Annie) is lookin’ for a job, not a romance, but she can’t deny there’s something about Frank she likes. Really likes. Still, she’s pretty sure that anything he can do, she can do better.

A HAIRY SITUATION

After a garou hunt goes south and Jane finds a suspicious-like bite on her arm, she turns tail for Deadwood, where there’s been talk of a garou cure. But things ain’t always what they seem—meaning the gang better hightail it after her before they’re a day late and a Jane short.

Another entertaining fantastical historical romp to conclude the My Lady Janies trilogy. ‘My Calamity Jane’ pairs western legend with werewolf mythology in a comedic venture into the Wild West.

A spaghetti western with a paranormal twist written with humour and hints of feminism. I really enjoy this trio of authors working together. I am always amused and entrenched in the stories they write, the little twists to story and character, the little asides breaking the 4th wall to the reader.

We follow multiple perspectives revolving around the anecdotal stories of Calamity Jane, Annie Oakley, Wild Bill and the Pistol Prince. Calamity Jane, a member of Wild Bill’s travelling show, marvelling townships with their skills in gun slinging, knife throwing, and whip-cracking. But it’s all a cover as they hunt down werewolves bent on killing or intentionally infecting the naive populace. Jane is a smart-mouthed tom boy, driven to forge her place in a male dominated world… and live up to the legend the group had crafted to sell tickets to their show. Annie is a determined young lady, if a little rough around the edges, eager to join the sharp shooting crew as it’s newest member – because there aren’t many places for a lady with her skills to find employment. Wild Bill and his posse are the ticket to a life she’s always dreamed of. Frank is slightly egotistical, but always up for a challenge. As the team track down the leader of the garou pack, bent on infecting every unsuspecting human they can to build an army of their own; Wild Bills group has their work cut out for them. Facing off this threat is going to uncover some secrets buried from the past and force the gang to open up to each other about their own hidden past and desires.

I literally flew through this book. It is highly entertaining with plenty of twist, turns, and reveals. I was saddened to hear this was an end to this series, but joyous to hear of another trilogy following Mary’s in history. This trio of authors have struck gold.

The writing style is very tongue-in-cheek and combines historical deportment and language mixed in with a contemporary sentimentality: the combination is magical. Hand, Ashton, and Meadows do comedy well in combination to creating fantastic, relatable characters, and encompassing worlds.

The plot wasn’t quite predictable; you get a sense of its direction at the beginning, and then the plot take you on a wild ride, the many reveals completely displacing you from the saddle. There is so much charm in ‘My Calamity Jane’ I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Overall feeling: Blow me down!

© Casey Carlisle 2021. 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 – ‘Prime Deceptions’ (#2 Chilling Effect) by Valarie Valdes

This has it all, like a mash-up of ‘Firefly’ and ‘A Long way to a Small Angry Planet.’

Genre: Y/A, Science Fiction, LGBTQIA+

No. of pages: 448

Captain Eva Innocente and the crew of La Sirena Negra find themselves once again on the fringe of populated space—and at the center of a raging covert war. When Eva’s sister asks for help locating a missing scientist, promises of a big paycheck and a noble cause convince Eva to take the job despite lingering trust issues.

With reluctant assistance from her estranged mother, Eva and her crew follow the missing scientist’s trail across the universe, from the costume-filled halls of a never-ending convention to a dangerous bot-fighting arena. They ultimately find themselves at the last place Eva wants to see again—Garilia—where she experienced her most shameful and haunting failure.

To complete her mission and get paid, Eva must navigate a paradise embroiled in a rebellion, where massive forests and pristine beaches hide psychic creatures and pervasive surveillance technology. Can she find her quarry while avoiding the oppressive local regime, or will she be doomed to repeat past mistakes when her dark deeds come to light?

The sequel to ‘Chilling Effect’ brings back the problematic Hispanic Captain Eva and her crew on yet another outrageous adventure complete with psychic cats and a lingering need for a cup of coffee. There is a lot to love about this series.

I had to really think on this… why it was so hard for me to fall into this book, I mean, I really enjoyed the debut in this series. So what was going on? The protagonist. We all know those people: the cocky, always right, sarcastic person, and while entertaining, they are well… a little frustrating and grating to be around. Immature. Hard to relate to or sympathize with. And that’s what we have with our foulmouthed Captain Eva… and why I kept putting the book down. Because though I enjoyed the jokes, she bored me. Not to mention the constant breaks into Hispanic that I had to google translate to get the joke or understand the context. I was constantly being pulled out of the narrative because I have no reference point for the language or culture… way to isolate your reader. I love representation, but this did not give me access to the story.

The second, after a bit of thought, was the info dumping. I’d rather experience the world through a character or dialogue (or another storytelling device) than paragraphs of explanation slowing down the pace and detracting from the ambience of the moment.

I can tell the author had a lot of fun writing this. There is a lot of detail. We get plenty of technology, alien culture, and politics which is great, but it felt a bit too much and bogged down the pacing. 

Our protagonist also gets thrown a lot of obstacles… which are joyous, sometimes hilarious, and interesting, but it felt like Captain Eva was stumbling through the plot rather than driving it forward.

The quality of the paperback copy was much lower than that of the debut… I don’t know if it was because of the page count or cost cutting, but it did have a cheap feeling to it, especially the cover material. But I still adore the cover art: Julie Dillon is a master at her craft.

So this is a difficult book to review for me – it has so many things I praise and look for in my reads, and Valerie Valdes has a gritty, entertaining, and comedic writing style – but I felt a little excluded from the narrative and bogged down with pace and detail. I’m definitely going to be following this author and keen to see what she releases next. On the bright side, with the constant need for me to translate text and look up culture references, I’m getting an education on the Hispanic elements of protagonist Eva and that means easier immersion into the story if this series continues. The story does feel episodic in the Chilling Effect universe, so who knows where Valdes can take this franchise. ‘Prime Deceptions’ wraps up nicely, but there were enough hanging plot points and teasers that can lead to a sequel. As challenging as it has been to read so far, I am invested in the Chilling Effect series, love some of the periphery characters and have a love/hate relationship with Captain Eva. And well, authors grow, so Valdes writing can only skyrocket from here and I am intrigued. No word of another sequel as yet, but I’m going to be keeping my ear to the ground.

I have a lot of praise for this book, but it just did not marry well with my personal experiences. And yes, I’d still recommend this to my friends who love sci-fi and sassy female characters on a hijinks adventure.

Overall feeling: so many things…

© Casey Carlisle 2021. 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.