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.

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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.

Mental Illness in Writing Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

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.

Book Review – ‘The Treasure Map of Boys’ (#3 Ruby Oliver) by E. Lockhart

Ruby Oliver does it again in her boy-obsessed crazy world.

The Treasure Map of Boys (#3 Ruby Oliver) Book Review Pic 01 by Casey Carlisle.jpgGenre: Y/A, Contemporary

No. of pages: 208

From Goodreads:

Things are looking good for Ruby Oliver. It’s the thirty-seventh week that she’s been in the state of Noboyfriend. Ruby’s panic attacks are bad, and her love life is even worse, not to mention the fact that more than one boy seems to giving Ruby a lot of their attention. 

Rumours are flying, and Ruby’s already not-so-great reputation is heading downhill. Not only that, she’s also:

* running a bake sale
* learning the secrets of heavy-metal therapy
* encountering some seriously smelly feet
* defending the rights of pygmy goats
* and bodyguarding Noel from unwanted advances.

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This didn’t feel as annoying or juvenile as the previous two books in the series. You can feel our protagonist Ruby is growing up. But she is still all-boy-consumed. Boy-crazy. I kept wondering if she was going to find something else in life other than her obsession with the opposite sex and what everyone thought of her… and we get a glimpse of it.

I feel like she slowly starts to come to the realisation of how the people around her actually treat her. What their real motives are. It was the first refreshing moment I’ve had while powering through this series.

The Treasure Map of Boys (#3 Ruby Oliver) Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle.jpgThe addition of Polka-dot was also a breath of fresh air. So too was working at the zoo. Something about animals and Ruby’s interactions with them humanised her more than anything else I’ve read so far.

It was nice to read that all the boys had faults and good points. That they were real. That there are no movie styled endings or plotlines to how life pans out.

And this book actually felt like it had some substance and an ending. Ruby finally had a turning point, or and epiphany that spoke to me. I’d been breezing through this series with no real connection or interest, waiting for E. Lockhart to dazzle me like I have experienced in her other novels, and I finally got a tiny glimpse of it. While I’m not yet ready to shout about this book series from the roof tops, I’m beginning to grow an appreciation for it. Yes, it is pitched at a tween girl demographic, and usually the writing is easy enough to digest – but with all the footnotes, the ‘ags!’ and goldfish attention span, it was very difficult to connect with the material. But I’m sensing a shift in the dynamic. With only one book left in this collection – and the glimmer of hope I’ve gotten, I’m actually looking forward to the final book. Slightly invested in Ruby’s plight.

Stay tuned to what will seal the deal of my opinion of the Ruby collection in ‘Real Live Boyfriends’….

Overall feeling: mmm I’m starting to like it…

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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.