Keeping track of my yearly goals – Mid-year freak out – June reading wrap-up

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With the world in a weird place right now – politics kinda scaring me, cancel culture burning through the internet, pandemics, weather catastrophes, huge social issues around discrimination and questioning a person’s right to live… and many of us are out of work, stuck at home wondering about our future, the security of our homes and families. My little list of goals for 2020 feel so trivial and somewhat irrelevant. This list was made in a time when I wasn’t fearing if I could put food on the table, have access to medical care, or being able to keep my house. But I know the planet will get through this. There will be a time of getting a back to normal – even if it is a new normal. So I will keep this list and track it for now. But depending on the direction of our communities and climates I may have to change and revisit my priorities towards the latter end of the year. So, for now, here’s an update on where I’m at on all things related to my reading and writing goals…

Book worm:

Quarterly Goals 2020 Pic 02 by Casey CarlisleI’ve managed to get my TBR down from 453 to 417 so far with no new book purchases. With reading as widely in genre as I possibly can and the COVID-19 shutdown, I’ve managed to get a lot more reading accomplished, finishing off neglected series, discovering some more enjoyable reads, and it’s re-ignited my love for reading again. Though, admittedly, I haven’t made any inroads into my promise to include text books and reference material: mainly for professional development and feeding a curious mind. But I will get there.

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Books I’ve managed to complete for June 2020

Scribe and scribble:

Quarterly Goals 2020 Pic 03 by Casey CarlisleI have been determined to get my word count up and finish some projects this year – with three novels waiting final edits and 2 novels both at the halfway point… I have been writing, but in comparison to the previous three years I’m not getting as much work done. I know I took April off writing when sick, but I’m going to have to seriously pick up my game if I want to reach my goals. And this is the most important goal for me! I have to take a conservative look at my habits, stop making excuses, and put my head down and work!

Levelling Up:

PrintThe online certification in marketing that I wanted to finish in March is still waiting to get completed… it’s starting to feel boring and repetitive, but I just have to suck it up and get it done. With all this isolation, it was a prime time to knock off this achievement and I have dropped the ball. On a different note, I’ve been doing a lot of research and networking with other authors and the publishing industry, so it has not been a complete waste. Knowledge is knowledge.

 

Social Butterfly:

Quarterly Goals 2020 Pic 05 by Casey CarlisleThe shutdown has meant no social interaction in person – which was the whole point of me including this in my goals list. Being a writer is pretty isolating and I was missing catching up with friends and being a social butterfly. Having some fun. Attending some writing conventions or workshops. Welp, nothing has happened here. Doh! Damn virus! Though I managed to catch up with nearly all my friends and family online as they suddenly had time to chat, skype, and email. So at least everyone knows I’m not dead.

 

Get creative:

Quarterly Goals 2020 Pic 06 by Casey CarlisleAll of the creative projects that I have earmarked have also screeched to a halt. Mainly because of the money I would need to spend (and shops I’d have to visit) to complete them. And with all my household out of work and social isolation still in place, getting my creative on has proven difficult. Though I have started making a list of new projects that I can complete without spending money or leaving the house… though it just feels like I’m adding to the list rather than completing the ones that I’m halfway through. For now, I’m concentrating on writing and raising our household’s income. The fun stuff is going to have to wait.

 

 Cash grab:

Fist Full of Money

Everyone started having online garage sales with the self-isolation to help many losing their source of income. So it felt like the market was saturated and I was hesitant to join the fray. Plus I’m having to pick up the slack with the rest of the household unemployed. I can still earn and operate my business online, so I’ve been bidding for more writing gigs and leaving this clearing out of clutter and selling online business until I have the time and people are feeling confident with spending again.

 

Work that body:

Quarterly Goals 2020 Pic 08 by Casey CarlisleI was actually starting to make progress with managing my health and fitness until the COVID-19 shutdown. My gym only opened last week. Though I was taking daily walks in the bushland behind my house, using the elliptical, and following some fitness workouts on YouTube, I’ve actually gained weight and lost mobility with the frequent flare-ups of my back injury and no access to specialised gym equipment and my chiropractor. I’m actually a little miserable at this back-slide.

 

So professional:

Quarterly Goals 2020 Pic 09 by Casey CarlisleMy goal to start expanding my digital platform has made a little progress. More development in specifics of the ideas and their execution, but I still need a bit more knowledge to pull it off – unless I pay someone for it, and right now we’re watching our pennies. Plus I’d rather have the knowledge and control over my own business and intellectual property as much as I can. I’d hoped to have achieved more in this area by now, but I’m giving myself a break because of needing to concentrate on boosting my income and a few health issues taking up my time.

 

Overall, progress towards my goals for 2020 has been damned poor! But you know the world is a much different place now than what it was in January. Some of these goals may have to change to fit the climate… it’s just a bit of wait and see at the moment. Mainly everything is being swayed with members of this household trying to return to work, shops and businesses being closed or restricted in how they operate, public places still closed or restricting numbers… there are a lot of roadblocks but I’m trying to stay positive and control what I can so that I am moving forward and taking steps to realise my dreams.

 

How has the current world climate affected you reaching your goals – are you putting them on hold too? What unexpected roadblocks do you now have to overcome?

UPPERCASE lowercase 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 – ‘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 – ‘Life Expectancy’ by Dean Koontz

Fun and weird characters, murder, humour and a twist I didn’t see coming.

Life Expectancy Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Thriller, Mystery

No. of pages: 401

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Jimmy Tock comes into the world on the very night his grandfather leaves it. As a violent storm rages outside the hospital, Rudy Tock spends long hours walking the corridors between the expectant fathers’ waiting room and his dying father’s bedside. It’s a strange vigil made all the stranger when, at the very height of the storm’s fury, Josef Tock suddenly sits up in bed and speaks coherently for the first and last time since his stroke.

What he says before he dies is that there will be five dark days in the life of his grandson—five dates whose terrible events Jimmy will have to prepare himself to face. The first is to occur in his twentieth year; the second in his twenty-third year; the third in his twenty-eighth; the fourth in his twenty-ninth; the fifth in his thirtieth.

Rudy is all too ready to discount his father’s last words as a dying man’s delusional rambling. But then he discovers that Josef also predicted the time of his grandson’s birth to the minute, as well as his exact height and weight, and the fact that Jimmy would be born with syndactyly—the unexplained anomal of fused digits—on his left foot. Suddenly the old man’s predictions take on a chilling significance.

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It has been a while since I’ve indulged in a Dean Koontz creation, and ‘Life Expectancy’ reminded me of all the things I love about his writing. Witty banter, fun and weird characters, a good chase, serendipity, and some obtuse cyclical element that you never expect.

Life Expectancy’ is a deliciously weird tale intertwined with prophecy, mad men, fate, and family. We get different sections of the novel centred around the dates Jimmy Tock’s grandfather foretold as days of great importance and sorrow.

Jimmy Tock, born in an electric storm at the same moment as the child of a weird man, who then goes on a killing spree through the country hospital kicks this story off with a bloody mess and dragged me into the narrative with ease. The different parts jump to the dates that Grandad Tock magic-eight-balled for Jimmy to look out for and keep the pace of this novel cranked up to maximum. Even when Jimmy meets love interest Lorrie, we get instant great chemistry, and I became besotted with the pair from the get-go. True to Koontz’s writing style, there is a brilliant mix of comedy (humour) and horror (needless death and destruction) that was cinematic in form.

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We don’t just get one bad guy either… antagonists that are sociopathically driven to enforce their justified point of view, all interwoven together in a crazy plot really threw me for a six. It was such a delicious delight to have these little unexpected twists.

The quaint backdrop of Snow Village – somehow reminding me of the set from ‘The Ghost Whisperer’ television show. A small town with a square, around which all the important buildings orientate. It just goes to show the descriptive abilities of Koontz’s writing style.

Because I’m such a fan of Dean Koontz and read countless of his tomes, I can say with confidence I predicted the ending pretty early one – however, there were a few surprising serendipities to that ending. And they were doozies. A one-two punch that had me making googly eyes at the page.

This hits the sweet spot of all the things I enjoy about Dean Koontz’s writing and happily recommend ‘Life Expectancy’ for your TBR.

Overall feeling: This!

Life Expectancy Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Life Expectancy 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 Burning World’ (#2 Warm Bodies) by Isaac Marion

Breathing more life into the apocalyptic series.

The Burning World (#2 Warm Bodies) Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Dystopian, Horror

No. of pages: 500

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A romance between a zombie boy and a human girl is bound to have its problems, but after battling against the odds and the undead, it seemed that Julie and R had earned their happy ending. But they soon must face a new enemy more terrifying than the walking corpses that still roam the wasted cities: a faceless and merciless corporation who are seeking control of the ruins of America. The key to survival and victory may lie in R’s past life, but can he finally face his own demons?

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This almost feels like a road trip novel. The characters go from A to B and some plot points are tied up and some aren’t… it seems like this would suffer a middle book syndrome, but it doesn’t. To be honest I was a little worried going into to ‘The Burning World’ with its 500 page length for a zombie dystopian, it has the potential to have an ambling pace, but Isaac Marion put his foot on the accelerator and did not let up until the end. It was a journey with so many things coming at the characters hard and fast.

You get a real sense of humanity through the characters, they react in a realistic way to the circumstances they face. ‘The Burning World’ picks up just after the events in ‘Warm Bodies.’ I’d say this novel primarily deals with filling in R’s backstory. It gives us a hint about the start of the zombie virus, but not quite. I’m hoping it all comes to light in the last book of the franchise ‘The Living.’

There are a lot of interesting elements in ‘The Burning World.’ We get interspersed chapters following a younger R; A young Nearly Dead boy with amber eyes; and some collective consciousness observing the planet and its evolution that seems to have some sort of vast knowledge. There was something like that in ‘Warm Bodies’ with the Boneys – but we don’t see them in this book. There is a sense that everything is connected, that a tangled mess of plot points is being set up. I’m hoping for an epic conclusion.

The Burning World (#2 Warm Bodies) Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

Isaac Marion’s writing style is both concise and poetic. Descriptions and actions are written with brevity, but philosophy and ambience are waxed lyrical. It is a unique and interesting tone of voice to read.

There does not feel like a tonne of character development. R’s eyes and personality are growing both with the return of his memories, and seeing Julie in the differing scenarios they survive. The other characters have minor realisations of their own, but nothing that pivots or redirects the plot. As you can guess I’m saying this is a plot driven story, rather than a character driven one.

It’s hard to say I predicted anything about ‘The Burning World’ because I didn’t really know where it was heading… and the journey is still yet to be completed. We get enough plot points resolved to finish the novel at a natural point and felt satisfied, but it didn’t altogether feel like a resounding conclusion. I was surprised at many of the elements introduced in this novel – ‘Warm Bodies’ feels simplistic in comparison.

Definitely looking forward to ‘The Living’ to complete the story and see where this all leads. Recommend this to fans of ‘Warm Bodies’ and any of the zombie and dystopian niches, but you must get your hands on both ‘The Burning World’ and ‘The Living’ to skip disappointment. (Luckily I have my copy waiting to go.)

Overall feeling: Didn’t see that one coming…

The Burning World (#2 Warm Bodies) Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

The Burning World (#2 Warm Bodies) 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 – ‘Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between’ by Jennifer E. Smith

Cute high school romantic fare.

Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Contemporary, Romance

No. of pages: 246

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On the night before they leave for college, Clare and Aidan have only one thing left to do: figure out whether they should stay together or break up. Over the course of twelve hours, they retrace the steps of their relationship, trying to find something in their past that might help them decide what their future should be. The night leads them to family and friends, familiar landmarks and unexpected places, hard truths and surprising revelations. But as the clock winds down and morning approaches, so does their inevitable goodbye. The question is, will it be goodbye for now or goodbye forever?

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Jennifer E. Smith never fails to grab you with a cute contemporary, and ‘Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between’ is just that.

This wasn’t the best read for me – maybe I wasn’t it the right mood for a contemporary like this – and maybe there wasn’t enough story for me to sink my teeth into. Following our protagonist Clare as she is about to head off to the other side of the country for college and saying goodbye to her boyfriend by revisiting all of the places that benchmark developments in their relationship before ending things for good… and that’s the entire plot. I have to say there wasn’t a lot about ‘Hello, Goodbye’ and Everything in Between’ that grabbed my attention. In fact I skimmed nearly this entire novel. And it’s only a short book… but it still took me a really long time to finish. I kept putting it down due to lack of interest.

Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

It’s a pity. Smith’s writing is endearing and she really paints a landscape in setting a scene. We get some poignant symbolism. But I was really missing some more interesting (possibly diverse) characters. And something other than angst about saying goodbye to your high school boyfriend. I hate to say it, but ‘Hello, Goodbye and Everything in Between’ felt a little self-indulgent and shallow. I feel if the main characters had a couple of more realistic problems to navigate and didn’t feel so privileged white middle class America; this story would have been a much different creature.

There’s not much else I can say about ‘Hello, Goodbye and Everything in Between’ because it is so short, and not a lot happens. No big character arcs or personal growth, no huge obstacles… because of this the pacing felt slow and the tension was fairly non-existent. I did like the angst, but when that is all you have in the plot it can become tired.

So, a cute novel, I think a younger demographic would really enjoy it because of the relevance to their situation, but for an old duck like me, it wasn’t that inspiring. I wouldn’t recommend this one (but maybe if you are a total stan for Jennifer E. Smith, or a junkie for high school romance.)

Overall feeling: Meh.

Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between Book Review Pic 03 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 – ‘Dispel Illusion’ (#3 Impossible Times) by Mark Lawrence

Awesome conclusion for this trilogy of novellas.

Dispel Illusion (#3 Impossible Times) Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Science Fiction

No. of pages: 234

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Sometimes being wrong is the right answer.

Nick Hayes’s genius is in wringing out the universe’s secrets. It’s a talent that’s allowed him to carve paths through time. But the worst part is that he knows how his story will end. He’s seen it with his own eyes. And every year that passes, every breakthrough he makes, brings him a step closer. Mia’s accident is waiting for them both in 2011. If it happens then he’s out of choices.

Then a chance 1992 discovery reveals that this seeker of truth has been lying to himself. But why? It’s a question that haunts him for years. A straw he clings to as his long-awaited fate draws near.

Time travel turns out not to be the biggest problem Nick has to work on. He needs to find out how he can stay on his path but change the destination. Failure has never been an option, and neither has survival. But Nick’s hoping to roll the dice one more time. And this new truth begins with a lie.

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Another fun instalment for this franchise, upping the ante and revisiting the concepts introduced from the start… with a twist. ‘Dispel Illusion’ wraps up this trilogy with style.

I had predicted this novel from the start – given the title and the discovery in the cave – the conclusion was inevitable. Additionally, with heavier elements of the science fiction of time travel, setting things up, and resolving all the plot points for this collection of novellas, I found myself putting the book down frequently. Mainly because I like character driven stories, and there was a lighter dose of character development and connection between the cast because this is a plot driven story. It is very clever, but I did not get the emotional connection I was expecting to help keep the tension and pace (especially in the first half.)

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There is definitely some masterful weaving from Mark Lawrence. The way he unfolds the plot was exceptional. I wish there was more time spent on staying with the main set of characters to develop conflict, emotional tension, and angst. This aspect of the story fell a bit flat for me. Maybe it’s just his writing style? But I found myself caring more for the characters in the first two novels… there is also the possibility that I had sleuthed out the plot very early on in ‘Dispel Illusion’ so without any additional surprises or some heavy raw emotion to hook me in, my reading experience suffered.

The concept of marrying fantasy and science fiction (especially with heavy symbolism) was a treat to read. This trilogy has certainly got me keeping an eye on Mark Lawrence and his publications. Definitely recommend this to fantasy and sci-fi lovers alike. They are quick intriguing reads with a solid foundation in both writing and concept.

Bravo Mr Lawrence!

Overall feeling: Timey-wimey goodness!

Dispel Illusion (#3 Impossible Times) Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Dispel Illusion (#3 Impossible Times) 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 – ‘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

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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

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.

Women in Writing – has the pay scale equalised with their male counterparts?

Women in Writing has the pay scale equalised Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

I was looking into the gender pay gap, chiefly in writing as a career, and I was pleasantly surprised.

Keep in mind that writing can include journalism, copywriting and marketing, book writing, technical writing, and the list goes on…

Drawing on general statistics from governing bodies and research biometrics we can conclude that writing does not suffer the gender pay gap as much as other pursuits. In general the figures show female writers are looking at 97-99 percent of a male counterpart’s wage. Though more media focused professions tend to see a larger gap, close to 80%. A prime example of this is in 2017 when Lisa Wilkinson abruptly departed her position as host of Channel Nine’s Today Show after almost a decade when the network refused to match her pay demands to that equaling her male co-host Karl Stefanovic.  Read more here: https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/datablog/2017/oct/18/australia-gender-pay-gap-why-do-women-still-earn-less-than-men

Women in Writing has the pay scale equalised Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Though, when doing research for this article I was gobsmacked at how much of a gender pay gap still exists on a global stage across all sectors of employment today. I could get very emotional about the injustice of it all and go on a rant, but I’m focusing on the facts I’ve gleaned within the writing community because it directly affects me. Publishing seems to be a much more accommodating environment for female careers. But if you want some interesting general facts about the gender pay gap check out this article: https://www.aauw.org/2019/04/02/8-surprising-facts-about-the-gender-pay-gap/

For general take home pay across all industries, I have found typically there is less of a margin of difference for differing sexes wages here in Australia compared to other countries. And it also seems skewed towards industries that are dominated by men, run or managed by men. Like favors like it seems. In industries dominated by female staff we see more of a balance, except in the retail sector where women typically earn more than men for the same job.

For contrast, I canvased over fifty writers that I know who have published 2 or more books in Britain, America, and Australia with an equal representation of genders to get a view if there was a gender pay gap in authors. Covering traditionally published fiction, Non-fiction, and differing genres. There were some interesting findings – but this may not represent the community at large because of the sample size, opportunity, how much independent effort the author undertook to boost sales – there are so many factors that can influence the results, but it’s a nice litmus test into my favoured profession.

Technical writers in non-fiction favor men over women (but I have a feeling this was due to professional qualifications and time in the industry. But that could also mean that men were favoured over women for opportunity and career advancement. It’s such a microcosm of a niche it was hard to get a handle on what the landscape was like.”

Women in Writing has the pay scale equalised Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

Women dominated YA and romance fiction and tended to not only get higher signing bonuses, but produced more novels per year on average, thus being seen as a better investment for publishing houses.

Men skewed higher than women in thriller, adventure, and horror genres. This has to do a lot with famous authors like Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Michael Crichton, and Clive Cussler to name a few, paving inroads and publishing houses wanting to emulate their success.

Science Fiction and contemporary novels came up and even odds. As did historical fiction.

Though when you look as historical non-fiction male authors dominated the field and drew in much larger signing bonuses and sales figures (you know what they say – history was written by old white guys.)

There is an increasing trend in feminist literature that is seeing some great in roads to a completely female dominated genre with great rewards.

Memoirs and Autobiographies were interesting to look at. Ten years ago it was mostly dominated with male writers pocketing huge bonuses, but it seems to be swinging to a more female dominated market. Though they are not getting the kind of bonuses the men saw in the past, but that has more to do with economics and the industry that it does gender and opportunity.

Children and middle grade books were also dominated with women and their income was actually higher than those offered to their male counterparts.

I think overall the trend I see is in more serious and factual based writing we see men getting the professional notoriety and opportunity – and that also being reflected in their offers and income streams. Whereas women dominate in the creative, touchy-feeling genres, or genres reaching into childhood and female literature.

Sarah Connell and Julia Flanders

The industry is also still going through even more change with profiles like Ursula LeGuin and J.K. Rowling getting accolades for their body of work and many contemporary female authors having their novels optioned for film and television, we are seeing the gender pay gap getting mostly obliterated, and more opportunities being afforded to women. As to opportunity for people of colour and those who don’t conform to gender norms, to those of a variety or sexualities. It’s great to see such diversity and equal opportunity spreading throughout the industry – and have that reflected in the amount we get paid for our craft.

I wish I could discuss specifics and figures, but a key part of getting information for this article was keeping personal financial information private. Fair enough. I’m just greatful for the opportunity.

There was also a skew in the results with certain publishing houses. Some were more generous in their signing bonuses than others. But in some of the cases where I was privy to a lot of information, I can see everyone was judged on their own individual merit and what they could bring to the table in the arrangement. So while the overall figures still show the men being offered larger signing bonuses in certain categories and as the bigger earners overall, there was a balance for writers across the board. I think the industry will balance out even more in the near future as we see staffing changes and old attitudes pushed out of the industry.

The take home summary of my research shows that even though the gender pay gap in writing and publishing is one of the smallest in comparison to other industries, there is still a lot of work and attention needed to bring it to an even, open opportunity landscape. It’s great that we can even have these types of discussions. I know if this topic was brought up when I first started writing I would have been tsk-tsked out of the room. For me personally when I applied for jobs, or put in a submission for work, my worth would also include my appearance. If I was too attractive, I couldn’t also be intelligent. If my qualifications exceeded those of the interviewer, I was seen as a threat. Such a delicate rope we walk in the social-political climate. But with more ‘woke’ attitudes, more exposure and open discussions on equality, and deconstructing discrimination we are seeing a more accepting, global movement for equality. And that gives me hope for the future… and for my writing career.

 

What have been your experiences in the gender pay gap? Do you know of any writing-centric experiences or statistics that can add to this topic? I’m interested to build a better snapshot of opportunity and remuneration afforded women writers.

UPPERCASE lowercase 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.