Book Review – ‘The Love Interest’ by Cale Dietrich

A great satire with heart.

The Love Interest Book Review Pic 01 by Casey Carlisle.jpgGenre: Y/A, Contemporary, GLBT

No. of pages: 377

From Goodreads:

There is a secret organization that cultivates teenage spies. The agents are called Love Interests because getting close to people destined for great power means getting valuable secrets.

Caden is a Nice: the boy next door, sculpted to physical perfection. Dylan is a Bad: the brooding, dark-souled guy who is dangerously handsome. The girl they are competing for is important to the organization, and each boy will pursue her. Will she choose the Nice or the Bad?

Both Caden and Dylan are living in the outside world for the first time. They are well-trained and at the top of their games. They have to be—whoever the girl doesn’t choose will die.

What the boys don’t expect are feelings that are outside of their training. Feelings that could kill them both.

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This book far exceeded my expectations. I’ve see blazing reviews and some flaming ones, and after reading the blurb, I was definitely interested, but didn’t have lofty predictions. Some parts of the book are cheesy, some ironic, but I didn’t expect the subtext of hopeless desperation through most of the novel. I was in tears more than once because of the helplessness that the characters faced, but still managed to have hope. It was heartbreaking.

The Love Interest’ does a great job of presenting stereotypes and tropes and throwing them into the harsh light of day to show that they really don’t exist. The characters have layers and motivations and aren’t simply the label that has been given to them.

The Love Interest Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle.jpgCaden is a fun protagonist. He is determined, a little stubborn, but compassionate. It was a great mix, and I was relieved that even with the fact that he is the protagonist – he also is not. That he is not ‘the chosen one’ or ‘the solo hero of the world.’ It takes a team – and you get a strong sense of that.

Dylan (‘Dyl’) kept surprising me… and for all the right reasons. I think he is my favourite character from this story. We never truly know his motivations because the novel is told only from Caden’s perspective, and this narrative adds delicious tension – as it does between all the cast – for each are pretending, hiding secrets, tenuous with trust. As hard as it was to peg Dylan, he also felt the most genuine.

Our female love interest, and target of the boy spies, Juliet fell a bit flat for me. She has skills and towards the second half of the book really shines; but during the first half felt more like a prop to tell Caden and Dyl’s story.

I think the only thing holding me back from giving this a perfect score is that I would have loved to see more complexity in the female characters, and maybe a bit more angst develop between the Caden and Dyl. But that’s me being picky, because I thoroughly enjoyed ‘The Love Interest.’

There are a number of plot twists and events that I did not see coming. I was literally questioning “What?” out loud and re-reading the paragraph. It’s been a while since a book had done that to me, so I have to applaud Cale Dietrich in causing me alarm. Brilliant!

I think the reason behind such polarising reviews is because on the subtext of irony – on the surface it’s a love triangle, Dyl and Caden are gorgeous teens, parentless, and forced into becoming spies for a corporation – it’s very YA. But underlying that plot, the narrative flies in the face of all those tropes. Right up to the last page. It is amusing, touching and poignant.

Dietrich’s writing style is effortless, I read the book in one sitting, fully engaged the entire was through. I did have a slight pet peeve of the boys calling each other ‘man’ in their dialogue with frequency – like when girls get called ‘babe’ or ‘baby,’ it’s just something I find irritating. But that’s my personal problem and didn’t disrupt my enjoyment of ‘The Love Interest.’

The overall plot is, for the most part, easily predictable. However, Deitrich crafts angst beautifully, teasing you over and over again driving the story forward with a thrilling pace. I was also honestly surprised at the amount of action and James Bond styled gadgets. So while guessing the end was easy – the journey to get there is filled with surprises, laughter, tears, and hot bodies.

Although having a gay protagonist is not anything ground-breaking, it felt genius in this context. It was also dealt with in a respectful manner, and in a way anyone coming to terms with their sexuality should be treated. There was no fear or discrimination against their orientation, and it left me feeling all warm and fuzzy. I was really invested in the boys pairing up.

I was a little ‘iffy’ on the world building, and the relevancy for the organisation – and indeed the use of agents like Caden and Dyl. It is all so much overkill. But that too is a sarcastic pun at YA tropes. So you can either take it literally, of view it in the tone it is written, dripping with derision and satire.

Definitely giving ‘The Love Interest’ two thumbs up, and recommend this to all my friends. It’s a great adventure with tones of love and irony.

Overall feeling: tickled my fancy.

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© Casey Carlisle 2017. 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 – ‘Challenger Deep’ by Neal Shusterman

This book played with my brain…

Challenger Deep Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: YA, Contemporary, magical realism

No. of pages: 320

From Goodreads:

Caden Bosch is on a ship that’s headed for the deepest point on Earth: Challenger Deep, the southern part of the Marianas Trench.

Caden Bosch is a brilliant high school student whose friends are starting to notice his odd behavior.

Caden Bosch is designated the ship’s artist in residence, to document the journey with images.

Caden Bosch pretends to join the school track team but spends his days walking for miles, absorbed by the thoughts in his head.

Caden Bosch is split between his allegiance to the captain and the allure of mutiny.

Caden Bosch is torn.   

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On face value, I thought ‘Challenger Deep’ was about a psychological analogy between exploring the deep and discovering inner strength. And it is that, but you don’t get any real life adventure of the underwater world – it’s all in the protagonist’s head. And from a marine biologist aficionado, I felt a little duped.

From part way in, I found ‘Challenger Deep’ tedious to read, switching from realms and dreams – I wanted to be entertained, but didn’t get that. The narrative went all over the place and I found myself getting bored. In hindsight I understand there is a purpose to this style or narrative. The frequent tangents bulging with symbolism are meant to reflect Caden, (our protagonist) mental state, but for me it bogged down the pace and plot. It almost gave me a headache.

Neal Shusterman has done a marvellous job in describing the working mind of a person suffering mental illness, and can see where ‘Challenger Deep’ had received all of its accolades; but this just wasn’t the read for me.

I just have to mention there is a short paragraph on the topic of suicide (in the last quarter) that Caden inwardly muses upon, which I thought was excellent and poignant. This is by no means a horrible book, though, I would have liked to have seen it at least half as long; or have another aspect of the story introduced that isn’t touched by Caden’s illness. The only way I can describe my feelings over this book is that it was like peering through those glass bricks, where the view on the other side is warped and blurred to the point of bare recognition. Yes, that is the whole point of this novel, but I completed it with a sense of wanting more.

I may have rated it lower if not for such a spot on picture of a mentally ill person; and giving it a positive, uplifting spin. Ground-breaking really. But I guess in tackling such a topic, you fall into the danger zone of unrelatable characters – and that’s what happened to me.

Overall, I loved the message and depiction of a youngster in the grips of a manic episode, but if there was another aspect to this story which broke up all of the craziness and given me something to gain more of an outside perspective (and sub-plot). Sadly, I found myself not enjoying this book at all. It took a great deal of will power to finish it. And as a result would only recommend it to a more high-brow, critical reader.

Overall feeling: You really take a trip down the rabbit hole…

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© 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.