Book Review – ‘The Problem With Forever’ by Jennifer L. Armentrout

Taking your life back can be hard… but it’s easier with a hunk at your side.

Genre: YA, Contemporary, Romance

No. of pages: 474

A story about friendship, survival, and finding your voice.

Growing up, Mallory Dodge learned that the best way to survive was to say nothing. And even though it’s been four years since her nightmare ended, she’s beginning to worry that the fear that holds her back will last a lifetime. Now, after years of homeschooling, Mallory must face a new milestone—spending her senior year at a public high school. But she never imagined she’d run into Rider Stark, the friend and protector she hasn’t seen since childhood, on her very first day. 

It doesn’t take long for Mallory to realize that the connection she shared with Rider never really faded. Yet soon it becomes apparent that she’s not the only one grappling with lingering scars from the past. And as she watches Rider’s life spiral out of control, Mallory must make a choice between staying silent and speaking out—for the people she loves, the life she wants and the truths that need to be heard.

A realistic tale of child abuse survivors attempting to live in the real world, finish high school, and reconnect.

To summarise my roller-coaster of feelings while reading ‘The Problem With Forever’ : a little long. Pacing was good. Nearly ugly cried at the end. Some melodrama (as expected). Loved the characters and character development, felt fresh from JLA, not a lot of surprises, but an enjoyable read. Shocked me once.

It’s been a minute since I’ve read anything from Jennifer L. Armentrout, I think I’ve been avoiding her titles because at times her writing feels too melodramatic and over-angsty. I actually love those elements in a story, but many times after reading one of JLA’s books I got the impression that it was heavy-handed (and sometimes repetitive) with theses story elements. ‘The Problem With Forever’ felt like a refreshing take for Armentrout in the context of my reading experience. I guess removing any science fiction or fantasy elements, we get more of her core writing skills with character development and dynamics. Admittedly I’ve only read a handful of her steamy contemporary romance stuff at present, so it’s hard to draw that comparison. But overall I really enjoyed ‘The Problem With Forever’ showcasing a unique protagonist, Mallory ‘Mouse’ Dodge attempting regular high school after years of home-schooling and dealing with the mental and physical aftereffects of abuse.

This was paced really well, but at times felt like it was dragging, or the story a little too long; but I think that comes down to the author liking to indulge in the romance and angst (and sometimes repeating a lot of what is already established) typical of YA and JLA’s writing style. But this did not detract from my enjoyment of ‘The Problem With Forever’ that much.

I enjoyed reading about a protagonist who was attempting to grow and push herself, to start using coping mechanisms for her PTSD, anxiety, and depression and get out in the world, function efficiently rather than living cooped up inside and away from crowds. I did get a sense of the love interest, Rider (ugh, that name) playing protector too much, like she was broken and needed a saviour. Setting up a premise of Mouse conquering her fears only to have Rider swoop in many times rubbed my skin the wrong way. I would have liked to see him in a more supportive role than the man who comes in to fix the problem… I don’t mind a damsel in distress moment, but as long as it is not set up as a repeating trope.

Rider is that cool, bad boy from the wrong side of the tracks. JLA loves this trope, I see it a lot in her books. It’s a fun fantasy, and at least he wasn’t being mean or aloof ‘for her own good,’ and even though I cringed a bit at this trope, Rider grew on me as we see more and more of his motives come to light. The fact he has his own demons to wrestle from the same childhood abuse redeemed his character in my eyes.

You get the sense of some real underlying research into child abuse, mental illness, and how children cope, adapt, and it’s repercussions in later life. I would have liked to seen more practical advice and support presented in the narrative, but the story was pretty solid. It goes without saying that there should be a big trigger warning around child abuse for ‘The Problem With Forever.’

Mouse gets bullied – there is an element of girl warfare we see all the time in high school, it adds some great tension, and a worthy antagonist for the story, but something about Rider’s excuses, Mouse’s tendency to brush it off, and Paige (said antagonist) felt a little two-dimensional, painted as the villain a little too heavily. We also get a lot of holding back of information, and misunderstandings to amp up the drama which lost a little bit of realism for me.

The plot is fairly simple, though it has a great reveal at the end which really squeezed my heart. Jennifer L. Armentrout’s writing style is breezy, lending to a quick read despite its 474 page length. As with most contemporary romances the plot was easily predictable, but it is a satisfying ending that wraps up the plot points nicely. I’ve seen chatter on the blogs about wanting a companion novel following Ainsley (Mouse’s bff from home-schooling online) and Hector (Rider’s foster brother) and I can see the opening for that – their story is left up in the air, and I’d be down to read that book if it is ever written and get more of a glimpse into Mouse and Riders future.

An interesting, heart-wrenching, realistic contemporary that I thoroughly enjoyed. Definitely recommend this one.

Overall feeling: She’s back in the saddle

© 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 – ‘If We Were Us’ by K. L. Walther

Cute premise, but flat delivery.

Genre: YA, Contemporary, Romance, LGBT

No. of pages: 368

Everyone at the prestigious Bexley School believes that Sage Morgan and Charlie Carmichael are meant to be….that it’s just a matter of time until they realize that they are actually in love.

When Luke Morrissey shows up on the Bexley campus his presence immediately shakes things up. Charlie and Luke are drawn to each other the moment they meet, giving Sage the opportunity to steal away to spend time with Charlie’s twin brother, Nick.

But Charlie is afraid of what others will think if he accepts that he has much more than a friendship with Luke. And Sage fears that things with Nick are getting too serious too quickly. The duo will need to rely on each other and their lifelong friendship to figure things out with the boys they love.

I had a lot of hopes for ‘If We Were Us,’ the blurb sounded like this would be a cute contemporary with a touch of diversity, and the cover art matches some similar titles in this genre, but that comparison left me wanting a whole lot more from this story. The narrative felt discombobulated. A lot of info dumping. And the fist chapters introduces a lot of characters on the way side. I felt like I was scrambling to catch up and make sense of what was happening in those opening scenes. The tone did not grab me… felt like smarmy teen characters without any likeable traits. ‘If We Were Us’ was really difficult to get into.  The story is told in alternating perspectives between the ‘it’ couple Charlie and Sage. But there was something about the way closeted Charlie was written did not feel genuine – I feel like an #ownvoices author would have done him a lot more justice. 

The pacing was really slow. So much info dumping. A lot of telling and not showing. The narrative felt flat – like a bunch of descriptions of college students going about their menial lives without any strong emotion behind it. It also did not feel like an authentic coming out. K.L. Walther missed so many nuances that on #ownvoices author would have given the story, or even an author who had done some proper research into real-life experiences of young adults coming out in college. On the plus side, there were some good scenes dealing with anxiety near the end, and the overall plot was cute – but it took way too long to get there, and the entire plot was handed to the reader in the first few chapters… no surprises were dealt along the way. This story would have greatly benefited from some sub-plots, a few unexpected twists, less descriptions of college life and more emotion driven scenes.

If We Were Us’ was okay, but not one I want to recommend to anyone. It felt like the author was trying too hard to look young, or appeal to a young audience and missed all the best things about that age – the uncertainty, angst, the adventure. And the college life was a little white-privileged experience to me.

Protagonist Charlie was stubborn and annoying, self-sabotaging. While interesting because of these conflicts, I found myself wanting some part of his personality and passion (outside of the relationship) to balance this character out. But unfortunately that’s all we got. So that, combined with the ‘telling’ of history and college, Charlie didn’t feel like he developed too much, his story felt flat despite his journey with anxiety and coming out.

Sage, though fiercely loyal, had little going for her other than pining for Nick. I grind my teeth thinking that female characters commonly come across as all about the love interest. I wanted more dimension form Sage. She felt like she was written as a much younger version of herself, like she was 13 or 14 years old.

This story was solely two dimensional about their relationships… there was no other complexity to the story or to the characters.

I also wanted to take out my red pen in parts because the editor had seriously let the author down with some amateur sentence structure. There was nothing particularly individual about K.L. Walther’s writing that made her stand out. This felt like I was reading one of my year 11 student’s English prose. I know this sounds harsh, but a decent editor/publisher team would have worked with and developed the story to shine Walther in her best light. I feel like they really dropped the ball with this one. I can see the bones of a good writer – hints of interesting and engaging characters, perplexing situations, a romantic notion, imaginative settings – it just needed to be pulled together more effectively. A good developmental editor would have pointed out the pacing issues and maybe suggested to increase the level of complexity for the plot.

It was a struggle to read apart from a few chapters near the end when all of a sudden there was tension… but besides that, ‘If It Were Us’ was relatively boring… and ultimately forgettable. Given this was K.L. Walther’s first published novel, I’m expecting her writing prowess to grow and develop and am interested to see how it presents in her second novel ‘The Summer of Broken Rules’ and the fact that it is not dealing with queer characters may play in her favour, but I’m not going to be rushing out to purchase it.

Overall feeling: a bit of a snooze-fest.

© 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 – ‘You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost)’ by Felicia Day

Deconstructing feminity in a male-driven industry… plus gaming and D&D and stuff.

Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir

No. of pages: 272

From online entertainment mogul, actress, and “queen of the geeks” Felicia Day, a funny, quirky, and inspiring memoir about her unusual upbringing, her rise to Internet-stardom, and embracing her individuality to find success in Hollywood.

The Internet isn’t all cat videos. There’s also Felicia Day—violinist, filmmaker, Internet entrepreneur, compulsive gamer, hoagie specialist, and former lonely homeschooled girl who overcame her isolated childhood to become the ruler of a new world… or at least semi-influential in the world of Internet Geeks and Goodreads book clubs.

After growing up in the south where she was “home-schooled for hippie reasons”, Felicia moved to Hollywood to pursue her dream of becoming an actress and was immediately typecast as a crazy cat-lady secretary. But Felicia’s misadventures in Hollywood led her to produce her own web series, own her own production company, and become an Internet star.

Felicia’s short-ish life and her rags-to-riches rise to Internet fame launched her career as one of the most influential creators in new media. Now, Felicia’s strange world is filled with thoughts on creativity, video games, and a dash of mild feminist activism—just like her memoir.

I have to admit I was a massive fan of Felicia Day, mainly for her acting chops in shows like ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer,’ ‘Eureka,’ ‘The Librarians,’ ‘The Magicians,’ ‘Supernatural,’ and ‘Dollhouse’ and the film ‘Red: Werewolf Hunter.’ I loved the fact there was another red headed actress out there making strides. I also knew she was kind of a geek, but that was the extent of what I knew of her. Delving into this memoir I became infinitely impressed with her drive and determination despite crippling anxiety and depression. She has two degrees, and effectively launched her own television production company (through web content.) Wowzer! What a chick.

I particularly loved how she approached each roadblock in her unique way. There was no ball-busting bitch. Day is a self-confessed delicate flower, yet she found ways to stand up against the Hollywood meat grinder, internet trolls, and financial struggles. It was such a delight to read about the antithesis of the cold, stone-faced, barren, corporate spinster women thought they needed to be to achieve success in a male dominated society.

She is pretty witty too. I laughed a few times, and enjoyed the memes she included in the books format to accompany the narrative. It wasn’t a laugh-riot, but has an upbeat quirky tone that I haven’t experienced in another memoir to date.

There is a lot of content about ‘The Guild’ and ‘Geek and Sundry’ – which is a major life achievement for her, but I was unfamiliar with a lot of that stuff, and not really into gaming, so my interest waned on the material… which is like, one third of the book. But underlying all of that content are gems and life lessons you learn as you navigate your way through self-discovery, and building a business.

I was particularly confronted towards the end around the internet hate, trolling, and doxing. Such an extreme form or bullying and so obviously done by white men throwing their opinions around and trying to tear down anyone who does not fit into the image they want them to. Felicia Day never comes out and says it directly – probably for legal reasons – but there is some plain-as-day misogynists out there in places of power, and hiding behind the anonymity of the internet that need to be checked, or simply removed from their thrones. Period. My heart bleeds for Day that she had to live through that experience.

This was a lovely read, and some of the content I could not relate to directly, but the core messages, and Felicia’s personality shine through. I’d definitely recommend this to anyone interested in acting, YouTube, gaming, or struggling with online hate. She has since published another book ‘Embrace Your Weird: Face Your Fears and Unleash Creativity’ which I am particularly interested in, as it sounds to be more focused on life-lessons and strategies for a creative driven business. Right up my alley.

Overall feeling: Brilliant insight.

© 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 – ‘What If It’s Us by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera

The type of diverse novel I’ve been longing to read. No hate. Just meetcute.

What If It's Us Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Contemporary, GLBT

No. of pages: 437

From Goodreads:

Arthur is only in New York for the summer, but if Broadway has taught him anything, it’s that the universe can deliver a showstopping romance when you least expect it.

Ben thinks the universe needs to mind its business. If the universe had his back, he wouldn’t be on his way to the post office carrying a box of his ex-boyfriend’s things.

But when Arthur and Ben meet-cute at the post office, what exactly does the universe have in store for them?

Maybe nothing. After all, they get separated.

Maybe everything. After all, they get reunited.

But what if they can’t quite nail a first date . . . or a second first date . . . or a third?

What if Arthur tries too hard to make it work . . . and Ben doesn’t try hard enough?

What if life really isn’t like a Broadway play?

But what if it is?

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This was such an adorable story. Arthur and Ben are deliciously, awkwardly cute. A realistic things-don’t-always-go-right sort of thing.

What if it’s us’ is everything I expected it to be. Well written characters, a meet cute oozing innocence, awkwardness and angst. I may have rated it higher, but in comparison to ‘Simon vs the Homo Sapien Agenda’ this didn’t hit me as hard… or have as much comedy. So it just missed out on a perfect score. But that is not to say that is any less of a captivating read.

Four hundred pages and still ‘What if it’s us’ flew by. I was always eager to see where the next chapter would take me. The alternating perspectives between Arthur and Ben lead off on two different storylines that happened to intertwine more and more as the novel progressed without rehashing information as we head-jumped into each narrative. I will say that the writing style did not differ too greatly between each perspective – if it weren’t for chapter titles and references I would have difficulty discerning whose voice was whose. I’d love to have seen some idiosyncrasies, habits, common word usage and tone separate the two perspectives a little more.

What If It's Us Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

Arthur, the shorter college-bound nerd discovering his first love made me smile with his uncertainty in everything but love. His values in family and friendship. I think this is the first story where there is no bitchiness or bullying, so a surprisingly fun rom-com.

It felt like Ben had the biggest journey in this contemporary; discovering things about himself through introspection, friends, and of course, Arthur. He felt more like the stoic introvert that finally comes out of his shell.

It’s all about coming of age…

All of the secondary characters had their own stuff going on too: getting together, breaking up, fighting, and supporting each other. I really loved this aspect of ‘What if it’s us’ and really fleshed out the narrative.

It ends on the same note of the title as a question – like a true contemporary. One of hope that left me satisfied and hopeful myself.

The pacing is fairly steady. It’s not a fast read, but definitely does not feel like its dragging. The perfect timing for this type of genre.

Definitely recommend for lovers of stories of diversity, light romances, and New York City.

Overall feeling: A deliciously snuggy story

What If It's Us Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

What If It's Us 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 – ‘Without Merit’ by Collen Hoover

Messy can be beautiful… or just plain miserable. But there is also beauty in misery.

Without Merit Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: YA, Contemporary, Romance

No. of pages: 385

From Goodreads:

Not every mistake deserves a consequence. Sometimes the only thing it deserves is forgiveness.

The Voss family is anything but normal. They live in a repurposed church, newly baptized Dollar Voss. The once cancer-stricken mother lives in the basement, the father is married to the mother’s former nurse, the little half-brother isn’t allowed to do or eat anything fun, and the eldest siblings are irritatingly perfect. Then, there’s Merit.

Merit Voss collects trophies she hasn’t earned and secrets her family forces her to keep. While browsing the local antiques shop for her next trophy, she finds Sagan. His wit and unapologetic idealism disarm and spark renewed life into her—until she discovers that he’s completely unavailable. Merit retreats deeper into herself, watching her family from the sidelines when she learns a secret that no trophy in the world can fix.

Fed up with the lies, Merit decides to shatter the happy family illusion that she’s never been a part of before leaving them behind for good. When her escape plan fails, Merit is forced to deal with the staggering consequences of telling the truth and losing the one boy she loves.

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What a train wreck of a family! ‘Without Merit’ is all about keeping secrets and putting up a front that contributes to this family imploding. But you don’t get the info dump of all the elements that have built up this tension – Colleen Hoover reveals them like peeling back layers of an onion in an organic way through the perspective of our protagonist Merit. It is a moderately paced book with a slow burn romance. It’s not overly traumatic, and has a cute ending but is very engaging. I completed it in two sittings and found the characters – and their arcs – delightful. It is just another novel that adds to the proof of Hoovers’ deft writing and stylistic flare.

We’re introduced to Merit as someone who is angry yet hopeful… and then slowly shown why she is both of these things. I related to her because she is both flawed, intelligent, and resourceful. She questions and challenges the world in her loner fashion.

Without Merit Book Review Pic 02 by Casey CarlisleThe rest of her siblings each have a different dysfunction – their mechanisms for dealing with the repercussions of their parents’ divorce and parental style. Utah, Honor, and Moby were still connected enough to be a family unit, but had their own story arcs going on. It was great to read that all the characters were so intricately crafted.

Two other characters of note revolving around the family: Luck seems like a bright addition to the family, but is soon discovered as the grenade that starts the inciting moment of self-inspection the family desperately needs. And Sagan, who comes across as the tattooed brooding love interest with a touch of mystery about him – and while he is all of those things we soon discover there is more: an artist, a compassionate soul. I really enjoyed discovering him through Merits eyes, though the whole quiet brooding thing was starting to get a little tired towards the end.

We also get the neighbour’s dog that Merit adopts; who is by far my favourite character and a wonderful symbol of moving on from a painful past.

I like how mental illness is represented and discussed in ‘Without Merit.’ It doesn’t necessarily paint a pretty picture, but once brought out into the open and dealt with, can be treated in a way that is not destructive.

The novel really deals with how perceptions and assumptions are continually deconstructed and the truth revealed.

The first half takes a while in setting up the characters and plot, so the pacing feels moderately slow, but after the halfway mark, things really get interesting and I did not want to put the book down. It’s not really an angsty novel. More one of uncovering one sensational thing after another, like some telenovela, it was tragically juicy and I was hooked.

Hoovers writing style slayed me yet again, and it was hard to predict what was going to happen because the predicament Merit finds herself in is just so deliciously messy. It all made great reading and a novel I’d happily recommend.

Overall reaction: Knock me down with a feather.

Without Merit Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Without Merit 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.

Mental illness in writing

Mental Illness in Writing Pic 01 by Casey Carlisle

It might be a point of difference, a plot point, but mental illness in YA and literature can help save lives through education and lifting the veil on depression and related conditions. Before the person suffering takes drastic measures of their own…

I have a (secondary) character in one of my WIPs who suffers from depression, it provides one of the main characters in the story with motivation and characteristics important to their arc. However, while taking a break from framing out the second half of the novel, I jumped on social media for a nosey and catch up with friends. Two things happened that have me questioning my mentally ill character… first, a teenage girl in my family circle dealing with her own mental illness and a ton of online bullying; and secondly, the suicide of an idol. Part of the contributing factors leading him to his death were the continual hate he was getting online – he never felt good enough.

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It really hit home. I truly don’t fully understand what it is to be depressed enough to take your own life. I’m much too proactive and positive for that. It must be such a desperate and lonely place to be. And I wish others did not have to experience such a painful and debilitating emotion.

Professional psychologists attribute some of this to a chemical imbalance in the brain, as well as finding the coping mechanisms to train your thought patterns… it all sounds so clinical in the face of such a devastating state of mind.

I know there is no easy fix for something like this, but I always wonder why the two people mentioned above in particular don’t take some control of their exposure to the hate? Granted, they are the victims, and by right should not have to limit their activities. But why in the heck don’t they just delete all social media accounts? Or block the trolls? Online haters feel safe in anonymity; and the numbers and reach of these kind of people are incrementally greater online. Why not just switch off, unplug, and concentrate on you. On what you can control?

Mental Illness in Writing Pic 03 by Casey CarlisleI understand asking that of today’s youth would be like removing a limb – but wouldn’t you rather value your mental health than put up with idiots and haters? It has become such a huge problem that we are dealing with since the growth of online communities. Depression, anxiety, and bullies are a dangerous mix – it can lead to suicide, substance abuse, or fatal retaliation. Thankfully there are ways to deal. Help lines, organisations, peer counselors, teachers, parents, friends, doctors, mental health professionals. While life online has exposed people to more hate, it has also connected us to real help. Plus, we can control what we are exposed to with security settings, blocking profiles, reporting abusers to moderators. It’s not a hopeless situation. And seeking help online isn’t as difficult as reaching out in person. There is no shame or embarrassment.

I feel like including characters in my writing, and reading about them in fiction, can help educate people about this issue in an informal and personal way. I may not fully understand the things that go through someone’s head suffering depression, but with some research maybe I can help a reader feel like they are not alone, show them ways to handle these strong feelings, and seek out the help they need? Some of the novels I’ve read have certainly educated me in handling grief, bullying, depression, and anxiety. It’s also shed light on other mental illnesses and disabilities and how individuals cope with them in their lives, like bipolar, schizophrenia, being on the autism spectrum. When I was a child, things like this were taboo. Never mentioned. But what I see today is that dealing with mental illness doesn’t have to be struggled through alone. People can overcome the difficulties. And it’s more common than you think.

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It hurts my heart to see such a dark side of humanity laid bare when I think of those driven to take their own lives from bullying and hate. We don’t need to do that to each other. And to anyone surrounded by shadows and clouds, feeling worthless and alone – don’t believe those feelings. Don’t give in. You are a special, unique individual. A part of what makes this universe tick. Even though these words are coming from a complete stranger through a screen of some kind – you are loved.

 

And there is help.

 

Please call for help.

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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 – ‘Made You Up’ by Francesca Zappia

What do you do when you don’t know what is real?

Made You Up Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Contemporary

No. of pages: 428

From Goodreads:

Alex fights a daily battle to figure out the difference between reality and delusion. Armed with a take-no-prisoners attitude, her camera, a Magic 8-Ball, and her only ally (her little sister), Alex wages a war against her schizophrenia, determined to stay sane long enough to get into college. She’s pretty optimistic about her chances until classes begin, and she runs into Miles. Didn’t she imagine him? Before she knows it, Alex is making friends, going to parties, falling in love, and experiencing all the usual rites of passage for teenagers. But Alex is used to being crazy. She’s not prepared for normal. 

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This was a brilliant little story that gripped me from beginning to end.

I don’t know if my deductive skills were on point, but I had sleuthed out all but one minor plot reveal well in advance. But even though the book felt predictable in that sense, it has a weird charm that enticed me.

Protagonist Alex’s schizophrenia is scary and comical, and kept me as a reader on my toes – eyes always sharpened to try and discern what was fact and what was delusion. ‘Made You Up’ has a certain style and charisma. A romantic heart. And all the characters are flawed in some way. Even though Alex sees things that aren’t there, they operate on an instinctual level, making sense of the world and confirming hunches, about what might be going on under the façade we all put up.

Made You Up Book Review Pic 02 by Casey CarlisleThere is a lot of subtext going on with ‘Made You Up.’ And I had to sit and think for a while after finishing the novel to form some realisations. I won’t go into any detail because I wouldn’t want to ruin anyone’s reading experience if you are yet to pick up ‘Made You Up.’ But suffice to say, there is very little in this novel that doesn’t have some sort of meaning to the plot.

I loved the positive message it sends to those afflicted with some sort of mental illness. It’s treatable, and doesn’t morph the sufferer into a criminal, a molester, or a monster. They are simply people who deal with the world in a different manner and should be afforded the rights and dignity of any human being.

I really wanted to see the bullying tackled in a more head-on way and dealt with responsibly. There was so much unchecked behaviour in this novel that had me, a former high school teacher, grinding my teeth. Totally unacceptable. And a large part in why events escalated as far as they did in ‘Made You Up.’

It was a wonderful depiction of schizophrenia – not that I have any experience or professional knowledge of the condition – merely just an observation on how Alex really could not distinguish reality from episodes. How that affected her relation to the world at large. How would any of us deal with not being able to trust what we see and hear without context? It was beautiful in a way.

Made You Up Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Miles was an interesting love interest. Quite possibly on the autism scale, but never confirmed. It was as if his way of viewing the world countered Alex’s. In their weird banter and practical jokes were a different form of witty conversation that we see a lot of in YA. This felt truly authentic and unique.

Even though the parents weren’t absent, it felt like they were. It was almost abusive. It is a shame they did not get involved in Alex’s life more – or maybe it was easier to keep that distance? Maybe Alex would have pushed them away? It’s hard to get a beat on it, other than their behaviour did not sit well with me from the outset.

For some reason I thought it would be a shorter book – but it was still a quick read. Completed in a few sittings. Though the pacing got a lot better after the halfway mark, and the narrative interesting, I did feel like there was something missing to really push it up for a perfect rating. On reflection, I want to say emotion. Romantic angst. Something to drag more of the feels out of me. ‘Made You Up’ was intellectually interesting but emotionally so-so.

Definitely recommend this to everyone. It’s a standout for subject matter, style, and individuality.

Overall feeling: Superb!

Made You Up Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

Made You Up Book Review Pic 05 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 – ‘Queens of Geek’ by Jen Wilde

Reading, Vlogging, and Book Conventions…

Queens of Geek Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Contemporary, GLBT

No. of pages: 262

From Goodreads:

Charlie likes to stand out. She’s a vlogger and actress promoting her first movie at SupaCon, and this is her chance to show fans she’s over her public breakup with co-star Reese Ryan. When internet-famous cool-girl actress Alyssa Huntington arrives as a surprise guest, it seems Charlie’s long-time crush on her isn’t as one-sided as she thought.

Taylor likes to blend in. Her brain is wired differently, making her fear change. And there’s one thing in her life she knows will never change: her friendship with her best guy friend Jamie—no matter how much she may secretly want it to. But when she hears about a fan contest for her favorite fandom, she starts to rethink her rules on playing it safe.

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I really enjoyed this book, it’s full of geek culture, diversity, and is totally kitsch. ‘Queens of Geek’ kicks off in great style and I could see great potential in the direction of the plot, but for me its conclusion travelled on the side of self-declarative cuteness rather than difficulty and drama. For some reason I wanted more, but that by no means alludes to a poor reading experience: instead I immensely loved the tone of identity, and the treatment of mental illness and sexual orientation.

I rounded ‘Queens of Geek’ up as a bit too contrite. The lovey-doviness between the couples too saccharine sweet, I either wanted some passion, some erotic tension, or some angst – none of that was translating.

Charlie was a fun character. Identifying as bisexual and dealing with her ex and a new love interest at the Con brought tension and some interesting altercations. Especially while trying to juggle her public persona at the same time.

Queens of Geek Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

Taylor was a bit boring for me. I loved how she struggles with anxiety, and way she tries to overcome her mental illness and finding support from new and old friends… but I wanted something else of interest about her other than this. I thought it was going to be her blogging – like we’d get some wit, humour, and great content that way; but it only resulted in a few journal-esque entries. As much as I thought Taylor was cute – and faced a lot of challenges, I wanted something other than her mental illness to stand out to me.

Jamie, the third friend in the trio and Taylor’s love interest – insert geeky, Labrador, floppy-haired BFF with secret crush here – I mean could he be any more stereotypical and non-descript? I was egging for some fights, some tension, some misunderstandings. He felt like a prop rather than another person in the plot. The only thing he did on his own was buy merchandise.

I love the angle for diversity and all the nerdiness of a Con rolled into a novel. A blogger, and vlogger, and an actress on the rise, characters dealing with mental illness; there is a lot to love about ‘Queens of Geek’ and I applaud Jen Wilde for writing such a cool novel – I just wanted her to take it further. I put this down a lot not only because I’m not a big fan of alternating P.O.V’s but also the pacing was a little slow.

The cover art is a great concept and what really attracted me to picking up this after a few glowing reviews from fellow bloggers.

Overall a masterful little gem that is a definite recommend for the YA reader- especially if you are one to geek-out over conventions.

Overall feeling: Cutesy-wootsey.

Queens of Geek Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Queens of Geek Book Review Pic 04 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 – ‘Real Live Boyfriends’ (#4 Ruby Oliver) by E. Lockhart

The final book in the Ruby Oliver Quartet… boys and mental illness.

Real Live Boyfriends (#4 Ruby Oliver) Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Contemporary

No. of pages: 225

From Goodreads:

Ruby Oliver is in love. Or it would be love, if Noel, her real live boyfriend, would call her back. Not only is her romantic life a shambles:
* her dad is eating nothing but Cheetos
* her mother’s got a piglet head in the refrigerator
* Hutch has gone to Paris to play baguette air guitar
* Gideon shows up shirtless
* and the pygmy goat Robespierre is no help whatsoever

Will Ruby ever control her panic attacks? Will she ever understand boys? Will she ever stop making lists? (No to that last one.) Ruby has lost most of her friends. She’s lost her true love, more than once. She’s lost her job, her reputation, and possibly her mind. But she’s never lost her sense of humour.

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‘Real Live Boyfriends’ was a pleasant end to the Ruby Oliver series. Overall, I didn’t enjoy it so much – it’s all high school drama and teen angst, and the writing style E. Lockhart uses in this collection is skewed for a tween demographic. So it left me feeling old and unsatisfied. At least they are quick reads and lightly entertaining in that watching your younger siblings or nieces and nephews go through those years when appearance, and boys and girls are EVERYTHING. Reminds me of similar books like ‘Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging.’

Real Live Boyfriends (#4 Ruby Oliver) Book Review Pic 02 by Casey CarlisleI enjoy realistic fiction in this target market and ‘Real Life Boyfriends’ is an important novel because it deals with love, crushes, parental relationships, and mental illness in a light-hearted but serious manner. Plus, protagonist Ruby seeing a Councillor (and recommending it in the footnotes) shows some great practical devices to deal with the issues brought up in the series as a whole.

It ends on a lovely note and we do see some character development from Ruby (finally) though I wouldn’t say it was as fully formed as I’d liked – but hey, she’s still a teenager and has a lot of growing up to do and life to experience. As with these novels, there are a lot of boys and flipping from one opinion to another on a dime, but Ruby seems more grounded in her convictions.

My favourite character has to be Polka-dot, the Great Dane and loving canine pet of Ruby and her family. At times he had more personality than his human counterparts.

Real Live Boyfriends’ was a cute reading experience, but on the whole, not something I particularly enjoyed or would want to read again. I’m too old and cynical to enjoy the writing style or subject matter. But that’s just because I’m not the intended audience, so duh! But I would recommend this to my tween nieces in a pinch. They would think these novels are hilarious.

I was entranced by some of E. Lockhart’s other works, hence the addition of this series to my collection. I’m glad I got to have read them, but it not a series that will resonate with me past the day I finished the book.

Overall feeling: Oh my hip! Boy I feel ancient!

Real Live Boyfriends (#4 Ruby Oliver) Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Real Live Boyfriends (#4 Ruby Oliver) Book Review Pic 04 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.