Book Review – ‘Leah on the Offbeat’ (#2 Creekwood) by Becky Albertalli

Another coming out story from the Simonverse… .

Genre: Y/A, Contemporary, Romance, LGBT

No. of pages: 352

Leah Burke—girl-band drummer, master of deadpan, and Simon Spier’s best friend from the award-winning Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda—takes center stage in this novel of first love and senior-year angst.

When it comes to drumming, Leah Burke is usually on beat—but real life isn’t always so rhythmic. An anomaly in her friend group, she’s the only child of a young, single mom, and her life is decidedly less privileged. She loves to draw but is too self-conscious to show it. And even though her mom knows she’s bisexual, she hasn’t mustered the courage to tell her friends—not even her openly gay BFF, Simon.

So Leah really doesn’t know what to do when her rock-solid friend group starts to fracture in unexpected ways. With prom and college on the horizon, tensions are running high. It’s hard for Leah to strike the right note while the people she loves are fighting—especially when she realizes she might love one of them more than she ever intended.

Many of my book friends did not like ‘Leah on the Offbeat’ but I thought it was a comical romp through coming out.

Maybe if so much time hadn’t passed, and I was comparing it to ‘Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda,’ then yes, I would have rated it lower. For this sequel, we follow Leah coming to terms with her bisexuality and crush(es). We get all the comedic timing that was in the debut of this series, though I have to admit our protagonist fell a touch flatter. I think because we never get any deep exploration around the relationship with her mother (and mother’s new boyfriend,) or any resolution to the issues these two share. It’s all very perfunctory. Also, with ‘Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda’ we get how Simon and Bram’s relationship affect the gang – and the larger circle of friends they share. Again, we don’t get this exploration in ‘Leah on the Offbeat.’

Leah is a very private, closed-off, and sarcastic protagonist. She’s confident but self-depreciating. So it makes a bit of sense that the plot is a little reserved. We get teen angst, but it felt understated in comparison to ‘Simon and the Homo Sapiens Agenda,’ but again, it fits the character profile of Leah. I loved how she is sensible. Practical. Considerate of others. Too often in YA we get self-righteous or self-absorbed protagonists who’s character arc is the realisation of their small worldly view, or selfish actions affecting others… not so in ‘Leah on the Offbeat,’ it’s kind of the reverse. Leah learning to take care of herself, and become a little selfish. Letting others in.

It’s a testament to what happens when someone gets bullied for the colour of their skin, their weight, their sexuality, or any other challenge a person may face. They build up walls to protect themselves. In this case, Leah keeps everyone at a distance and deals with the world through sarcasm and dry wit. It’s hard to let people get close to you again because your heart is still in pain from the past.

We get a lot of Simon and Bram and see the progression of their relationship. It fill in the gap between ‘Simon and the Homo Sapiens Agenda’ and the television show ‘Love, Victor.’

Leah on the Offbeat’ is easily predictable, falling into the trope contemporaries are famous for, and I’m not mad at it – it’s the reason I picked up the novel in the first place. I’m glad I had left so much distance between reading this and the debut of the series to let it have headspace in its own right. Becky Albertalli has an expert writing style that really gets into the head of an angsty teen facing personal obstacles around love and identity. I would have loved her to delve into the subject of bisexuality and the stigma the label faces in the wider community, or even bring in more support for Leah from the bisexual community in the story.

There are many missed opportunities in the narrative, but overall it was a hilarious tale of a girl overcoming anxiety and embracing her sexuality while on the verge of that tenuous time when we graduate high school and the fear of losing your friendships as everyone scatters into adulthood.

Overall feeling: A little flat, but cute.

© 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 – ‘Not Your Backup’ (#3 Sidekick Squad) by C.B. Lee

Diversity, superheroes and an expert plot.

Not Your Backup (#3 Sidekick Squad) Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Science Fiction, Fantasy, LGBT

No. of pages: 320

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Emma Robledo has a few more responsibilities than the usual high school senior, but then again, she and her friends have left school to lead a fractured Resistance movement against a corrupt Heroes League of Heroes. Emma is the only member of a supercharged team without powers, and she isn’t always taken seriously. A natural leader, Emma is determined to win this battle, and when that’s done, get back to school. As the Resistance moves to challenge the League, Emma realizes where her place is in this fight: at the front.

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I’ve been getting a real kick out of this series – the diverse cast, superheroes, espionage, and teen angst. ‘Not Your Backup’ did not hit all the same marks as its two prequels for me. The pacing felt slower and there were a lot of characters to follow, and given the amount of time passed since having read ‘Not Your Villain,’ it took me a minute to get back into the swing of the story.

I love how it picks up not long after the events in ‘Not Your Villain’ following Emma as a protagonist. The only one on the Sidekick Squad who does not possess meta-human abilities… though she does have a high IQ and has been dubbed Mastermind. I was a little tired of her ‘woe is me no-one takes me seriously because I’m a child and don’t have superpowers’ shtick. It was a great plot device but it felt like it dragged on for too long. I would have liked her to use it as an advantage – let people underestimate her and become more cloak and dagger.

Not Your Backup (#3 Sidekick Squad) Book Review Pic 02 by Casey CarlisleEmma’s self-discovery around being asexual (ace/aro) was interesting and educational, as too the discussion of queerplatonic relationships.

Bells as the love interest is cute as all get out (the protagonist from ‘Not Your Villain.’) And you could see him revelling in all the character growth he’d made from that sequel.

Plot-wise ‘Not Your Backup’ is outstanding, we get seeding of clues and threads, many of the characters have their own arc (some of them off-page.) I think though, compared to the other two novels published so far, there was less action, less gadgets, less uncertainty in the people around them, which left most of the novel feeling bare and the pace lagging. The last section of the novel, leading up to the conclusion was back at what I expect from C.B. Lee. Great pacing, twists and turns aplenty, all ending in a big bang. Where ‘Not Your Sidekick’ and ‘Not Your Villain’ were introducing characters, ‘Not Your Backup’ followed these characters and started setting up plot points to be resolved in the finale ‘Not Your Hero’ which was initially set to be due out this June 2020, but I haven’t seen an update in a while, and with many titles getting pushed pack, we may not see this released until around Christmas or in 2021. So I guess ‘Not Your Backup’ has a bit of that old middle book syndrome playing out. Something of a necessity. And that’s not to say I was bored or anything, quite the contrary, I remained engaged throughout and love Lee’s writing style. It was just a little slower than I was used to.

Going in, I already knew there was a final book coming for this series, so the whole overturning of the Hero’s League of Heroes and dethroning the reigning council members was not going to be resolved in this instalment. And after being declared fugitives in the previous novel, the only thing I predicted was the Sidekick Squad getting back together and attempting guerrilla warfare tactics. Besides that, I had no idea what was around the corner, and C.B. Lee managed to throw in a few curve balls giving me a few WTF moments. Genius.

I am expecting an epic conclusion in the final novel and can’t wait for its release. And I’d definitely recommend this novel (and series) to lovers of superheroes, YA, and queer literature. It’s certainly a well-written fun romp through a genre that has outlasted many throughout our written history. Though ‘Not Your Backup’ cannot be read as a standalone – you definitely need to read the sequels to get a proper understanding of the characters and world building.

So C.B. Lee not only entertains me, but gives me snippets of queer culture education along the way in a superhero wrapping.

Overall feeling: Yee-haw!

Not Your Backup (#3 Sidekick Squad) Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Not Your Backup (#3 Sidekick Squad) 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 – ‘Bonfire’ by Krysten Ritter

Small town secrets scare you silly.

Bonfire Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Mystery, Thriller

No. of pages: 288

From Goodreads:

Should you ever go back?

It has been ten years since Abby Williams left home and scrubbed away all visible evidence of her small town roots. Now working as an environmental lawyer in Chicago, she has a thriving career, a modern apartment, and her pick of meaningless one-night stands.

But when a new case takes her back home to Barrens, Indiana, the life Abby painstakingly created begins to crack. Tasked with investigating Optimal Plastics, the town’s most high-profile company and economic heart, Abby begins to find strange connections to Barrens’ biggest scandal from more than a decade ago involving the popular Kaycee Mitchell and her closest friends—just before Kaycee disappeared for good.

Abby knows the key to solving any case lies in the weak spots, the unanswered questions. But as Abby tries to find out what really happened to Kaycee, she unearths an even more disturbing secret—a ritual called “The Game,” which will threaten the reputations, and lives, of the community and risk exposing a darkness that may consume her.

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I was really interested to see Krysten Ritter’s foray into writing. I have been a fan of her acting work and wanted to see how her talents translated to the written word. She excelled. Ritter’s writing style has the perfect way of world building and describing the scene in a few sentences before delving into the story.

I had a distinct case of writers envy with Ritter’s turn of phrase, it was almost melodic. She manages to intertwine the type of symbolism we usually get in contemporaries or Stephen King novels into the narration. The only thing stopping me from awarding this the perfect score was that the pacing was a little slow – but it usually is in this genre. Taking the time to set the scene, throw in some red herrings… it takes, well, time. For me, I wanted some more interesting or dramatic scenes in the way our protagonist Abby uncovers clues. It was still very gripping and realistic, but I love the melodrama and the gasps – always crave more from this type of novel.

I will say that I had absolutely no idea what was going to happen – I’m usually pretty good at predicting a novel, but ‘Bonfire’ had me completely stumped. Krysten Ritter literally baited me along the entire story and I loved it. She really knows how to craft a story. Just when you think the plot is about one thing, you discover it is about a totally different thing.

Bonfire Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

Abby as a protagonist is relatable, but a little difficult to love. Just about every character in this novel is flawed (including the protagonist) sometimes unapologetically, some out for redemption, some lost years ago and just treading water. Thus, it made for a compelling read, the characters are well developed, motivated and engaging. And while I was invested in Abby and her plight, I wanted a more innocent, relatable character to carry the story. But that’s my personal preference, and in all honesty, a character like that would have stolen some of the grittiness that seems from the tone of the novel and the town of Barrens in which ‘Bonfire’ is set.

And I’m a huge fan of characters returning to their childhood towns after getting out, revisiting old haunts and memories, so ‘Bonfire’ was right up my alley.

Some of the reveals I found shocking, and there are some trigger warning for this novel around date rape and paedophilia. There is also underage drinking and drug use. Additionally, I had a cringe away from the page from a certain moment in the climax worthy of a horror novel – so you have been warned.

I thought I would have a stronger emotional reaction to the events in ‘Bonfire.’ While Ritter writes great characters and can plot a marvellous storyline, I didn’t get that emotional attachment I needed to draw out the feels from some of the more dramatic plot points.

Still, an incredible strong debut I am proud to add to my library. I recommend you go grab a copy.

Overall feeling: What. Just. Happened?

Bonfire Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Bonfire Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

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© Casey Carlisle 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Book Review – ‘Love, Life and the List’ by Kasie West

An idea to broaden one’s horizons for the sake of art – great idea, flat delivery.

Love, Life and the List Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Contemporary, Romance

No. of pages: 384

From Goodreads:

Seventeen-year-old Abby Turner’s summer isn’t going the way she’d planned. She has a not-so-secret but definitely unrequited crush on her best friend, Cooper. She hasn’t been able to manage her mother’s growing issues with anxiety. And now she’s been rejected from an art show because her work “has no heart.” So when she gets another opportunity to show her paintings Abby isn’t going to take any chances.

Which is where the list comes in.

Abby gives herself one month to do ten things, ranging from face a fear (#3) to learn a stranger’s story (#5) to fall in love (#8). She knows that if she can complete the list she’ll become the kind of artist she’s always dreamed of being. But as the deadline approaches, Abby realizes that getting through the list isn’t as straightforward as it seems… and that maybe—just maybe—she can’t change her art if she isn’t first willing to change herself.

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Another cutesy addition to my collection of Kasie West novels. But this one feels average in its place of West novel rankings. ‘Love, Life and the List’ lacked complexity, and quite frankly, failed to drag out any of the feels. Where some of her novels feel like a blockbuster rom-com, ‘Love, Life, and the List’ felt like a made-for-tv movie on the Hallmark channel. Not that it is any way a bad thing, just that it felt like it lacked layers and sophistication. I wasn’t even feeling the angst. For some, this might be the death knell for a book. But we still get West’s ever-present positivity and sunshine. Cuteness overload. It’s vanilla, very vanilla. Which is great for an afternoons escapism when you don’t necessarily want to be dragged over the coals of hurt and pain to get some character development, and where you know you’re going to get happy smiles at the end.

Our protagonist Abby felt a little flaky, though I love how she decided to challenge herself with ‘the list.’ Notably, her achievements weren’t character defining, but merely experiences to help broaden her worldly view.

The chemistry between love interest Cooper was already existing – like an old married couple – so there wasn’t a lot to expand on. So consequently the vibes between these two felt a little flat. And also because the ‘G’ rating of this book don’t expect any twixt of your nethers, or engorging love scenes. This is very Disney.

Love, Life and the List Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

But the concept is intriguing… like a bucket list for personal growth. Testing out things you know to be true. And West does write an interesting complementary cast. Addy’s mother was a great addition to the story struggling with anxiety, and the all-knowing-but-hip grandfather was endearing. He reminded me of ‘Pop’s’ from ‘The Goldbergs’ in a way.

So while I enjoyed this book, and had a pleasant afternoon whiling in its pages – for the most part it’s forgettable. I think if there were some bigger challenges to test Addy personally and emotionally, and a more dynamic storyline with an arc or two thrown it, it would’ve ticked all the boxes for me.

I still enjoy West’s writing style, it is so easy to fly through, and just descriptive enough to let your imagination fly.

This is the start of a trilogy of companion novels, so it may have felt flat because of setting up all the characters in this universe (but it didn’t really feel like that) so we’ll see what characters take the torch in the next few novels and how they stack up against ‘Love, Life, and the List.’

Only recommend for hard core West fans, and younger readers with a thing for contemporary romances.

Overall feeling: cute, but flat.

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Love, Life and the List Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle.jpg

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© Casey Carlisle 2018. 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 – ‘Not Your Villain’ (#2 Sidekick Squad) by C.B. Lee

A sequel that super excels in all areas.

Not Your Villain (#2 Sidekick Squad) Book Review Pic 01 by Casey Carlisle.jpgGenre: Y/A, Science Fiction, Fantasy, LGBT

No. of pages: 307

From Goodreads:

Bells Broussard thought he had it made when his superpowers manifested early. Being a shapeshifter is awesome. He can change his hair whenever he wants, and if putting on a binder for the day is too much, he’s got it covered. But that was before he became the country’s most-wanted villain.

After discovering a massive cover-up by the Heroes’ League of Heroes, Bells and his friends Jess, Emma, and Abby set off on a secret mission to find the Resistance. Meanwhile, power-hungry former hero Captain Orion is on the loose with a dangerous serum that renders meta-humans powerless, and a new militarized robotic threat emerges. Everyone is in danger. Between college applications and crushing on his best friend, will Bells have time to take down a corrupt government?

Sometimes, to do a hero’s job, you need to be a villain.

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Not Your Villain’ was a fun read. A great superhero adventure with a social conscience.

I am definitely going to re-read this entire series once it has completed its release. With a diverse cast and a unique, almost Star Trek mentality on the human condition, I was engrossed from start to finish.

Where the debut ‘Not Your Sidekick’ followed Jess, in this sequel we are treated to another member of the gang…

Not Your Villain (#2 Sidekick Squad) Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

Our protagonist, Bells was written beautifully, a trans (F-M) protagonist was treated as a human being, never was his identification as being male brought into question. It was simply accepted and we got on with the story. I think the viewpoint on acceptance and diversity is what adds layers to the story that we don’t see enough of in YA. In reality, gender, gender identity, and sexuality should not be issues for difference, as neither should be the colour of our skin, nationality, able-bodiedness, metal agility, or how much money we earn. C.B. Lee manages to create an environment where all these prejudices are eliminated and gets on with a quirky, amazing superhero story.

The cast is dynamic, and so too is the future dystopian world where resources are scarce.

Lee’s writing style and humour shine brightly, and even with each of the characters being funny and sassy, they each have their uniqueness and all come together to form their own superhero group that rocks.

Not Your Villain (#2 Sidekick Squad) Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

The novels so far read more like origin stories, so the plot points we get about the universe – the roles of heroes and villains, the control of the Collective, are introduced, explored slightly, and then left for further development in a later novel. So I was immediately wanting to read ‘Not Your Backup’ (this time following squad member Emma) upon finishing, because there is just so much juicy aspects left to solve.

We get a lot of character study and development in each novel, but ‘Not Your Villain’ managed to increase the complexity and stakes from the debut. We are starting to see more interaction with the cast of characters, and uncover differing factions fighting for dominance over the region.

Because of the writing style, sassy characters and punchy subject matter, I flew through this book. But because it’s largely about how Bells handles his identity, and relates to the world at large as a superhero in training, and the main over arcing plot is still continuing through for the next instalment, I can’t comment too strongly on predictability, because most of the plot points remain unsolved. Though, I found this novel refreshing and brilliant and can’t recommend it enough.

Overall feeling: I totally geeked out!!

Not Your Villain (#2 Sidekick Squad) Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

Not Your Villain (#2 Sidekick Squad) Book Review Pic 05 by Casey Carlisle

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© Casey Carlisle 2018. 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 – ‘Not Your Sidekick’ (#1 Sidekick Squad) by C.B. Lee

Comic book heroes that leap from the page.

Not Your Sidekick Book Review Pic 01 by Casey Carlisle.jpgGenre: Y/A, Science Fiction, Fantasy, LGBT

No. of pages: 262

From Goodreads:

Welcome to Andover… where superpowers are common, but internships are complicated. Just ask high school nobody, Jessica Tran. Despite her heroic lineage, Jess is resigned to a life without superpowers and is merely looking to beef-up her college applications when she stumbles upon the perfect (paid!) internship—only it turns out to be for the town’s most heinous supervillain. On the upside, she gets to work with her longtime secret crush, Abby, who Jess thinks may have a secret of her own. Then there’s the budding attraction to her fellow intern, the mysterious “M,” who never seems to be in the same place as Abby. But what starts as a fun way to spite her superhero parents takes a sudden and dangerous turn when she uncovers a plot larger than heroes and villains altogether. 

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There is a lot of fun to be had reading this book. ‘Not Your Sidekick’ is choc-full of superheroes, has a diverse cast, and some plot twists that come out of nowhere. Learning about a dystopian earth in the future suffering affects from a solar flare, and humans presenting powers (called meta-humans) run by the government as superheroes. That’s a pretty cool premise.

The first half of the book is a little slow, but still compelling. Mixed with a lot of humour and comic book styled tales, it didn’t bore me at any point. Lee’s writing style is witty and fresh, tapping into the psyche of a sullen confused teen expertly.

If the mention of super heroes hasn’t tipped you off – I’ll tell it to you straight. Expect campy goodness. Cheese and moments that are way over the top. It comes part and parcel with this genre.

not-your-sidekick-book-review-pic-02-by-casey-carlisleOur protagonist, Jessica Tran, an Asian bisexual high school student, with just the right mix of confusion, vulnerability and sarcasm to keep me glued to the page. I did find however, due to a few things in the storyline, she can come across as a little dumb at moments – which doesn’t work well with the fact she performs well at school and her new job. I think the author needs to revise that plot point so Jessica doesn’t appear so stupid. Her anxiety over approaching her crush was spot on – I felt all the angst right along there with her. The addition to a great relationship with her parents (also meta-humans) and two best friends, was refreshing. There was no “poor me I’ve suffered so much“ going on with Jessica. She was just a regular insecure teen trying to find her place in the world.

I wanted a bit more of Jessica’s friends, Emma and Bells in the first half. For such a great relationship and how they clicked together (and their humour) I found myself wishing for more of the trio. We hardly get to know a lot about them. Here’s hoping more is uncovered in the sequel/s.

Abby was an interesting character – the supposed ‘golden girl’ in Jessica’s eyes, but at the same time being completely mysterious and aloof. That is a difficult combination to pull off. I guess I would’ve like to see a bit more conflict, have this perception Jess has of her to be challenged more. I like a transformation story arc. As this relationship was the pin that the plot revolved around, it was nice and easy… which is fine, but me likes tension in my main characters. 😉

Lee also manages to deconstruct some tropes in this novel – and rightly so, she is tackling some newish ground with her bisexual main character. It’s not widely prominent in YA and adds a freshness to the storytelling. Her perspective and switching up of stereotypical characters adds that zing that I couldn’t get enough of. It was so pleasant not to be fed those same old types of characters that dominate the YA market.

There are so many undertones in this book which are truly marvellous – but I feel it would do a disservice to discuss them in full in a review, because the book is meant to be a light-hearted, fun read. So I’ll let you garner from the book your own versions of social awareness and hidden messages.

While some aspects of the story line are so predicable it’s painful (one in particular was dragged out so long it became annoying,) others took me completely by surprise. And in a good way. It adds a lot of complexity by the end of the novel and leaves you hanging out for the next instalment. At this stage the second book ‘Not You Villain’ has a release date of 2017; let’s hope it’s in the first half of the year otherwise I may develop an ulcer… or a stalking habit… yet Miss Lee I might hunt you down and annoy the crap out of you until ‘Not Your Villain’ hits the shelves (in the nicest way possible, of course.)

Not your Sidekick’ is engaging, light hearted and has hidden depths. Definitely recommend for the aspect of diversity and the fun ride that goes a long with them.

Overall feeling: Wee!

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Critique Casey by Casey Carlisle

© Casey Carlisle 2016. 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.