Book Review – ‘One of Us is Lying’ (#1 One of Us is Lying) by Karen McManus

A murder in the middle of The Breakfast Club.

One of Us is Lying (#1 One of Us is Lying) Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Contemporary, Mystery, LGBT

No. of pages: 361

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Pay close attention and you might solve this.

On Monday afternoon, five students at Bayview High walk into detention.

Bronwyn, the brain, is Yale-bound and never breaks a rule.

Addy, the beauty, is the picture-perfect homecoming princess.

Nate, the criminal, is already on probation for dealing.

Cooper, the athlete, is the all-star baseball pitcher.

And Simon, the outcast, is the creator of Bayview High’s notorious gossip app.

Only, Simon never makes it out of that classroom. Before the end of detention, Simon’s dead. And according to investigators, his death wasn’t an accident. On Monday, he died. But on Tuesday, he’d planned to post juicy reveals about all four of his high-profile classmates, which makes all four of them suspects in his murder. Or are they the perfect patsies for a killer who’s still on the loose?

Everyone has secrets, right? What really matters is how far you would go to protect them.

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This feels difficult for me to rate and review. It has been hyped so much, and many friends, and bloggers I follow have raved about ‘One of Us is Lying.’ On the whole, this was well written and the plot unfolded masterfully. We get interesting fleshed-out characters and tension is maintained from beginning to end. We follow four protagonists, the narrative jumps to each of their perspectives frequently, so at the start I was all over the place and even had to jot down some notes to get the characters straight in my head – because not only do we get the four protagonists, but their friends and families as well. I struggled to fall into the world of ‘One of Us is Lying.’ It felt like it took half the novel for things to really get going. I put this novel down and read 3 others before picking it up again. But after the halfway point I was totally gripped.

I think because it took so long to develop so many characters, and set the scene, the first half suffered pacing issues with my reading experience. I was also frustrated with some of the things which happened in the novel – like the police or press contacting the kids directly; and even the kids fraternizing with each other after the fact. In real life, police can have their case thrown out the window, or even get suspended for questioning a minor without a parent or guardian present. News reporters risk jail for questioning an unaccompanied minor. And parents should be locking these kids up and keeping them away from each other – I mean we’re dealing with murder here. Hello? Is anybody in there? *knocking on your skull*

One of Us is Lying (#1 One of Us is Lying) Book Review Pic 02 by Casey CarlisleI understand what Karen M. McManus was doing, and I appreciate how she crafts a story. But having a background as a high school teacher and a person of authority, some aspects triggered me and pulled me from the narrative. I wish I could have just enjoyed it like fiction instead of poking holes in the plot.

With each cast member having a secret was a great tool for developing each character, and by default, giving them a nuance and point of interest. It is the kind of writing tool that attracted me to the novel in the first place.

I won’t say I easily predicted the story, but I will say I had some very strong hunches about some characters that proved to be true. I say this because I can’t pinpoint any facts that foretold the way the plot was going to unfold… it was just little things, character reactions which tingled my spidey senses that got me thinking. I have to hand it to McManus in structuring a marvellous mystery.

Her writing style is top notch and easy to read, but I would have liked some more separation between the character voices. If not for the name of each character in the title heading I may not have known who we were following. She could have used particular words and sentence structure unique to each character to differentiate and aid in identify differing points of view.

I think the other thing that contributed to this rating is that I did not connect/relate to any of the protagonists. I mean I cared about them, but there was no deep emotional bond with any of the cast. I felt like an observer rather than getting to experience the predicament through their eyes, this level of separation kept me from really getting into ‘One of Us if Lying.’

I’m going to be picking up the sequel ‘One of Us is Next,’ and now that I am familiar with the characters and the scene is set, having understood their history, I’ll should be able to forge a stronger connection, and ultimately, enjoy the read more.

I’m really looking forward to the television series adaptation currently in development, the visual format is better suited for following so many main cast and with a longer format of a full season of television allowing the story to unfold slowly, yet keeping up the pace… it opens the possibility that I may like the tv show better.

A fun read and one I’m happy to recommend.

Overall feeling: Had me raising an eyebrow…

One of Us is Lying (#1 One of Us is Lying) Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

One of Us is Lying (#1 One of Us is Lying) Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

Critique Casey 2020 by Casey Carlisle

© 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

Critique Casey 2020 by Casey Carlisle

© 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 – ‘Freakboy’ by Kristin Elizabeth Clark

A queer book in prose!

Freakboy Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Poetry, Y/A, Contemporary, Realistic Fiction, LGBT

No. of pages: 448

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From the outside, Brendan Chase seems to have it pretty easy. He’s a star wrestler, a video game aficionado, and a loving boyfriend to his seemingly perfect match, Vanessa. But on the inside, Brendan struggles to understand why his body feels so wrong—why he sometimes fantasizes having long hair, soft skin, and gentle curves. Is there even a name for guys like him? Guys who sometimes want to be girls? Or is Brendan just a freak?

In Freakboy’s razor-sharp verse, Kristin Clark folds three narratives into one powerful story: Brendan trying to understand his sexual identity, Vanessa fighting to keep her and Brendan’s relationship alive, and Angel struggling to confront her demons.

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Freakboy’ kinda didn’t go anywhere – but that matches the aesthetic of some forms of poetry, or a story told in verse, they are about a moment, a feeling, not a story.

Some of the formatting of the pages was interesting. Like stanzas posing a question forming a question mark on the page. Or the shape of a bowling pin when the character is at the bowling alley.

I’m not a big poetry reader. I usually avoid it. But this kind of poetry was okay to read. Though I did stall at the beginning of the novel a number of times, and even stopped around the 80 page mark to read another 2 books before picking it back up again. I think it took a bit for my brain to kick into gear with this style of writing to follow the three different perspectives and grasp the narrative.

We don’t get much character development – it’s more of a snippet in time. We follow Brendan as he starts to explore his gender identity; Vanessa – the least interesting character – just struggling to hold on the Brendan as he pulls away; and Angel, a transgender female at the Youth Centre who reaches out to help Brendan… and has many flashbacks of her past. And that’s it. It doesn’t really go anywhere.

Freakboy Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

This also reads as a book written by a cis gendered person. Like they are using it to educate other cis gendered people. Which is not a bad thing. It’s executed pretty well and I’m all for representation in literature. But there is a big difference when it comes to the soul and tone of the novel in relation to its authenticity. Own voices novel are much more nuanced, and the characters are about much more than just their gender identity. To further is argument the author mixes up gender identity with sexual identity, and uses the incorrect pronouns throughout given that it is told in past tense and should reflect the protagonist’s genuine gender expression. Big, obvious things like that would have been second nature to an own voices author and avoided in the narrative. But everything is a learning curve, and who knows it may be intentional to reach a larger cis gendered audience.

The prose does feel denser than regular contemporary fiction – as with most poetry – and rich with symbolism. ‘Freakboy’ may look like a long book on the outside, but this is poetry, there are less words to a page, more space to shape the stanzas on the blank surfaces, so it will feel like you’re flying through the novel if you’re not stopping to ponder and resonate with the words too often.

It’s a good book to read in that it is accessible. You don’t have to be a big lover of poetry to understand ‘Freakboy.’ It is simple in its themes and message. It represents a marginalized community beautifully. So while I have strong opinions about some of the content, ‘Freakboy’ is breaking through some walls and giving a voice to people who previously had little to no representation. I guess this is a tentative recommendation from me. I value the message, the representation, but don’t quite gel with the delivery.

Overall feeling: Torn between two worlds

Freakboy Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Freakboy Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

Critique Casey 2020 by Casey Carlisle

© 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 – ‘Stand-off’ (#2 Winger) by Andrew Smith

Now this is how you do a sequel.

Stand Off (#2 Winger) Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Contemporary, Realistic Fiction

No. of pages: 401

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It’s his last year at Pine Mountain, and Ryan Dean should be focused on his future, but instead, he’s haunted by his past. His rugby coach expects him to fill the roles once played by his lost friend, Joey, as the rugby team’s stand-off and new captain. And somehow he’s stuck rooming with twelve-year-old freshman Sam Abernathy, a cooking whiz with extreme claustrophobia and a serious crush on Annie Altman—aka Ryan Dean’s girlfriend, for now, anyway.

Equally distressing, Ryan Dean’s doodles and drawings don’t offer the relief they used to. He’s convinced N.A.T.E. (the Next Accidental Terrible Experience) is lurking around every corner—and then he runs into Joey’s younger brother Nico, who makes Ryan Dean feel paranoid that he’s avoiding him. Will Ryan Dean ever regain his sanity?

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This was a solid sequel. Many of the issues that I felt were brushed off or lightly resolved in ‘Winger’ have been addressed in ‘Stand-off.’ Especially the impact of Joey’s circumstances on our protagonist Ryan Dean. This finally felt like a more realistic reaction  – even if I didn’t altogether like the narrative lens, it gave me everything I was looking for.

So too was a lot of the toxic masculinity that was rubbing me the wrong way… though I understand it is very accurate to what teen boys are like in a boarding school environment, it was quite confronting to me as a reader.

There are themes of friendship, family, grief and loss, and consent; the latter which I thought handled so intelligently for the demographic. And the attitudes towards diversity are much more dominant in ‘Stand-off’ to symbolically bring the universe back into balance after the discrimination and bullying we get in ‘Winger.’

Stand Off (#2 Winger) Book Review Pic 02 by Casey CarlisleThe narrative is very age appropriate for our protagonist. Ryan Dean has definitely grown up since ‘Winger.’ As a result I found the writing style much more palatable.

The only thing I was certain of in ‘Stand-off’ is that I would see some form of resolution to Joey’s departure… and we got that. So I guess it is a fairly predictable plot, but there were many tangents and new characters that made a very interesting read. Add to that Ryan Dean’s distinct individual form of narration, and you have an engaging read that keeps the tension and pacing right to the end. I managed to complete reading ‘Stand-off’ in two sittings. Which is a great feat considering its 400 page length.

It’s a fun coming of age story and definitely had me shedding some tears in a few spots. I didn’t really “get” the humour – as much as it missed me in ‘Winger’ too… but that’s okay. Different strokes for different folks.

I’d definitely recommend this for younger male readers.

Overall feeling: Pretty good *two thumbs up*

Stand Off (#2 Winger) Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Stand Off (#2 Winger) Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

Critique Casey 2020 by Casey Carlisle

© 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

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I’ve started organising monthly stacks for my TBR to inspire me to read more and ensure I am getting a variety of genres (plus finishing off some series that have been sitting on my shelves for way too long) Here’s a peek at some of the titles for the 3rd quarter of 2020.

How to you motivate yourself to read? Mood reading, stacks on the bedside table, read-a-thons…

Book Review – ‘Highway Bodies’ by Alison Evans

A zombie apocalypse Aussie style!

Highway Bodies Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Horror, LGBT

No. of pages: 376

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Who will you rely on in the zombie apocalypse?

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Bodies on the TV, explosions, barriers, and people fleeing. No access to social media. And a dad who’ll suddenly bite your head off – literally. These teens have to learn a new resilience…

Members of a band wield weapons instead of instruments.

A pair of siblings find there’s only so much you can joke about, when the menace is this strong.

And a couple find depth among the chaos.

Highway Bodies is a unique zombie apocalypse story featuring a range of queer and gender non-conforming teens who have lost their families and friends and can only rely upon each other.

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Once I got into ‘Highway Bodies’ I could not put this book down – I stayed up until 3am to finish it, and every tap, scratch, and spook noise from outside my widow and I’d freeze like I was living in a zombie apocalypse too. Having lived in Melbourne, Australia for over 7 years, it was great to recognise many of the landmarks referenced in this novel. And it was additionally a breath of fresh air to read a story where cis, straight-gendered people were the minority. ‘Highway Bodies’ has a lot going for it.

Told in three alternating perspectives from differing groups of teenagers as they witness the initiation of a viral outbreak from a meat processing plant, turning the population into flesh eating zombies. One of the narratives in particular is expressed in dialect slang – which is jarring at first – I didn’t like it so much, but then as the novel progresses and you get used to it, it really shines through and separates this perspective or Eve from the other two. Eve is transgender and flees from his home after his father turns and attacks Eve’s mother and brother. There is a lot of gore in ‘Highway Bodies’ think ‘The Walking Dead’ starring a diverse group of teens.

Highway Bodies Book Review Pic 02 by Casey CarlisleDee leads the second narrative, a member of a rock band renting a house in the countryside while they practice and write new songs. Dee identifies as bisexual and we see many expression of genders and sexuality in her bandmates and throughout the novel. After the power cuts off and they cannot access the internet or get cell service they venture into town to find bodies everywhere, the whole town slaughtered. It doesn’t take them too long to run into their first zombie.

JoJo is our final non-binary protagonist, one of a pair of fraternal twins from a previously abusive home. Their mother is a nurse and after she returns to work and does not return home, JoJo and sister Rhea sneak to the hospital to investigate. Finding their mother, turned, and amongst a horde of caged zombies from a military presence.

After that things really to go hell in a fight for survival: from the zombies, the elements, and other survivors.

It took me a bit to click to what was going on with the switching of narratives in the beginning, it’s not until 50 pages in that you get a sense of the rhythm of ‘Highway Bodies’ and after that the pace and tension keep increasing right up until the end. I enjoyed Alison Evans writing style much more in this novel than I did in her debut ‘Ida.’ ‘Highway Bodies’ has a gruesome realism befitting the dystopian landscape. I found myself invested and caring about these teens plight. The conclusion is a bit of a one-two punch, but satisfying.

The three things holding me back from awarding a perfect score for this novel were the fact I didn’t know what was going on initially with the switching of perspectives. Maybe some chapter titles to let the reader know whose story we were following would have been helpful. The other was the affirmation of gender pronouns to be used when characters were introducing themselves to each other. I get the practicality of it, but in the setting the dialogue did not feel natural and true to the characters… but it is only my opinion. I would have liked to have seen a more intimate setting, or a correction to make this scene feel more authentic. And finally, though there is romance in ‘Highway Bodies’ it wasn’t given enough time to develop to a point for me to really get into the couplings. They were cute and I was rooting for them, but it missed some angst or something.

I have to applaud the representation in ‘Highway Bodies’ it helps raise awareness and give a voice to minority groups. I’m enjoy experiencing a world through the eyes of someone other than a straight white cis-gendered protagonist.

I liken this to Mindy McGinnis ‘Not a Drop to Drink’ it has the same level of brutality, a survival story – and as such is mostly predictable. You want the protagonists to stay alive and make it to the end of the novel; but the journey there has many unexpected turns. ‘Highway Bodies’ is one of my most favourite zombie apocalypse reads to date. And I can’t recommend this enough.

Just some trigger warnings for younger readers for assault, violence, gore, murder, and you know general zombiness.

Overall feeling: Aussie Awesomeness!

Highway Bodies Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Highway Bodies Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

Critique Casey 2020 by Casey Carlisle

© 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

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I think Magda is an amazing woman. I love her work in the film and television industry, the causes she supports, and have met her on several occasions. You can be beautiful, intelligent and funny… and I am interested to uncover more as she explores her more personal history.