#bookporn #coverlove

I have to get to catching up on my Creekwood (or Simonverse) series to justify buying ‘Love, Creekwood.’ I have to admit, the tv show ‘Love, Victor‘ has played a great part in re-igniting my passion to read more from this universe. But nothing has topped ‘Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda‘ yet.

Book Review – ‘Never, Always, Sometimes’ by Adi Alsaid

Doing what you’ve ruled as taboo can make for an interesting journey.

Genre: Y/A, Contemporary, Romance, Realistic Fiction

No. of pages: 320

Never date your best friend.

Always be original.

Sometimes rules are meant to be broken.

Best friends Dave and Julia were determined to never be cliché high school kids—the ones who sit at the same lunch table every day, dissecting the drama from homeroom and plotting their campaigns for prom king and queen. They even wrote their own Never List of everything they vowed they’d never, ever do in high school.

Some of the rules have been easy to follow, like #5, never dye your hair a color of the rainbow, or #7, never hook up with a teacher. But Dave has a secret: he’s broken rule #8, never pine silently after someone for the entirety of high school. It’s either that or break rule #10, never date your best friend. Dave has loved Julia for as long as he can remember.

Julia is beautiful, wild and impetuous. So when she suggests they do every Never on the list, Dave is happy to play along. He even dyes his hair an unfortunate shade of green. It starts as a joke, but then a funny thing happens: Dave and Julia discover that by skipping the clichés, they’ve actually been missing out on high school. And maybe even on love.

The best word I can use to describe ‘Never, Always, Sometimes’ is quaint. I can’t remember the impulse that had me purchasing this book, and it had been sitting on my shelf for so long that I began reading without any knowledge of what to expect other than it was a contemporary. Adi Alsaid crafted a clever story with plenty of teen angst and drama. I think on the whole though, there weren’t a lot of surprises for me, and a lot of teens making bad decisions… which is kinda the point of this novel with Dave and Julia crossing items off their ‘Nevers’ list. Things they deemed never to do, but anxious of graduating high school as nerdy goody-two-shoes and not having an authentic experience is what motivates them to tackle the taboo items. In theory it sounds like fun, but as sensible and intelligent as Dave and Julia are, I can’t see why they would tackle some of the things written on the list. It was such a terrible moralistic vacuum of adventure in some cases. But I guess it fits with the demographic for the characters and targeted readers – famous for their penchant of making poor judgement calls.

The novel is broken into three sections, the first told from Dave’s perspective, the second from Julia’s, and a third from an omnipresent perspective from both of their points of view. It’s not usually a great idea to jump from first person narrative to third at the end, but it really worked in ‘Never, Always, Sometimes.’

Both our leads make mistakes and learn from them, and it seems Dave is the more sensible of the two. Julia is all about romanticising the high school experience, and to that fault her moral compass becomes corrupted.

Never, Always, Sometimes’ is a tale pondering the question that if two best friends discover they are in love, is it a good idea to abandon the friendship and initiate a relationship. That question is subjective, and so will readers opinions be on the outcome.

Alsaid’s writing style has a way of sucking you into the world of Dave and Julia, and the pages fly by. I found ‘Never, Always, Sometimes,’ an easy, light, and pleasant read. He manages to craft a lot of emotion and tension into the story – I was just yearning for a more complex plot to really nail this book home. The story outline was pretty pedestrian in comparison to many of the contemporaries I’ve been reading of late. But that was the only (and biggest) drawback for me. It has great pacing and interesting characters. Alsaid managed to paint traits I find personally unattractive as quaint and loveable.

I’d recommend this for lovers of contemporary romances set in high school – they’re fun, easy to read tomes you can devour pretty quickly. But on the whole it was pretty forgettable for me. So it’s not something I’d rave to my friends about. But Alsaid’s writing is something I’m definitely going to keep an eye on when he pens some subject material that piques my interest.

Overall feeling: Teen logic bewilders me.

© 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.

#bookquotes

I love the sentiment of this quote – how a simple act by some may not be so simple for others. Be it through challenges like discrimination, social justice, disability, I hope there comes a time somewhere in the near future where the simple act of loving someone, or showing love and affection is accepted by all – without it having to be some sort of statement.

Picture vs. Page – Call Me By Your Name

Call Me By Your Name’ is the story of a crush. A love affair between Elio, a high schooler, and Oliver, a PhD student from the University that Elio’s father teaches at. There is a melancholic romantic tone in the novel’s writing style, which is duplicated expertly in the cinematography with sweeping vistas of the Italian countryside, and lengthy silences throughout the narrative.

The books narration has a beautiful cadence and reads like Elio’s journal, complete with inner musings, pontifications, daydreams and erotic fantasies. However I found it difficult to immerse myself into and speed-read the entire novel. The writing style did not sit well with me. It felt fanciful and full of itself… selfish. I found myself craving for more structure, more dialogue. For the film adaptation, with a slower pace too, but it worked a bit better because we get countryside and cinemaphotography to keep the viewer engaged.

Elio as a protagonist felt like a mix of intelligence, petulance, and aggressive/possessive hormone fuelled adolescence for the novel. However, the film version of Elio (played by Timothée Chalamet) feels a little more mature and less predatory – maybe because we are spared his inner monologue.

It felt uncomfortable the boy lusting after a man, Oliver, more than 7 years his senior. (This situation is legally statutory rape in our country.) Elio’s overtly flirtatious nature – and his intentions sometimes returned. A mix between grooming behaviour of a paedophile from Oliver and removing himself from the equation as to not be overcome by his desires. The teacher in me felt extremely uncomfortable. Elio and Oliver wouldn’t be sneaking around and trying to hide their actions if they didn’t know what they were doing was wrong.

Then in the novel, Oliver gives in to his desires and confirms to me of being the paedophile he is. Elio has regret, then turns into a tremendous flirt only to then go and have sex with Mariza… completely ruled by his lower region. What a floozy. This book is making me feel sick where everyone is throwing their cat around and ignoring the ramifications. For having such an inconsolable crush on Oliver, when Elio sleeps with Marzia on a whim and apparently likes it, wants to brag about it. No loyalty, no conviction. This increased my loss of respect for Elio. We get some detail in the film adaptation with this encounter, its clumsy and short (realistic) but what is it with Elio then chasing after Oliver straight after having sex with Marzia? (Esther Garrel) That’s effed up. Elio comes across as insensitive. Considering this is a romantic/erotic tale and the book gets explicit at times, the film is not as sexually charged as the book.

Oliver (played by Armie Hammer) makes the first move (pedo) in the film adaptation and Elio becomes sexually aggressive out of the blue. It did not feel like there was a build-up of tension or feeling between the two. Oliver is an idiot for instigating the encounter and then citing he couldn’t do any more so they had nothing to be ashamed of. Then it seems his mother gives him permission to start a relationship with a grown man… what tha?! Besides the nature of this story all the actors gave a beautiful and believable portrayal and I feel added further nuance to the story I did not get out of the novel.

Did they seriously watch each other pooh and marvel at it in the toilet bowl. *retching sounds* The other thing that had me throwing up in my mouth is of Oliver eating the peach that Elio had climaxed into. Some may see it as twistedly romantic in a symbolic way, but I couldn’t bet over the hygienic aspect of it. I am such a clean freak. I want to scream triggered! It’s hilarious in a meta perspective. The pooh scene is omitted in the film version of ‘Call Me By Your Name,’ and the peach scene is much more subtle (Oliver does not eat the peach though.) However there are a few scenes that jumped out at me that did not appear in the novel version: The dancing scene had me in stitches. Plus, Elio and his friends smoke a lot. Ew! But I guess it translates well for the time period this story is set in (1980’s) and the European town. Adding to that, we also see a lot of underage drinking.

There was an understated – delicate even – understanding of Elio’s father which I found endearing in the novel. However his hands-off approach leaves little to be desired. I would have preferred a father figure to help educate and guide Elio, instead of leaving his son to flounder around in the dark and figure things out by himself, and potentially placing him in dangerous situations. Elio’s father’s talk in the film adaptation makes you realise he treats Elio like an adult shows that his parents did not view their relationship as paedophilia. Father confesses he loved a man once too. Again, an excellent portrayal by Michael Stuhlbarg.

For the film he translation of the story Elio’s mum (Amira Casar) reads makes and important turning point in the story – giving Elio permission to talk about his feelings… and something I don’t remember occurring or standing out to me (maybe because I ended up skim-reading the book)

I can appreciate the romantic symbolism, the artistic eye, but the situation in the real world kinda makes me angry. It’s not about being gay, but about placing a boy in a sexually vulnerable situation where the parents do not seem to care, (in fact they encourage Elio to find his sexuality and explore) and an older man allegedly grooming a high school student – even if he wrestles with his conscience – grosses me out. If this were about two boys around the same age I would have liked it so much better. I feel the artistic tone of the writing covers up the reality of how inappropriate this relationship is. ‘Call Me By Your Name’ feels like a gay version of ‘Lolita.’

SPOILERS: Oliver got engaged?? This book/film is so messed up. The build-up for this relationship. The forbidden love of it all and then they both move on so quickly. It’s hard to believe they were in love – rather lust – because the events belie the tone of ‘Call Me By Your Name.’

Where the book and film both left me feeling a little unsettled, the film was also sad in a kind of way, both in tone and storyline.

I will not recommend this. There was no lesson to learn from the characters – the whole book read like some teen boy’s father-figure sexual fantasy. I couldn’t get over the age difference, one of them being an underage boy to be able to appreciate the love story, or the coming of age aspect. I was uncomfortable the entire time. I won’t be reading the sequel ‘Find Me’ either – after reading reviews and how it deals with more fantasy gratification adultery, I’m sorry, I just can’t.

© 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 – ‘Parrotfish’ by Ellen Wittlinger

A cute story of a transgender male finding his place in the world…

Genre: YA, Contemporary, LGBT+

No. of pages: 294

“Last week I cut my hair, bought some boys’ clothes and shoes, wrapped a large ACE bandage around my chest to flatten my fortunately-not-large breasts, and began looking for a new name.”

Angela Katz-McNair has never felt quite right as a girl. Her whole life is leading up to the day she decides to become Grady, a guy. While coming out as transgendered feels right to Grady, he isn’t prepared for the reaction he gets from everyone else. His mother is upset, his younger sister is mortified, and his best friend, Eve, won’t acknowledge him in public. Why can’t people just let Grady be himself?

Grady’s life is miserable until he finds friends in some unexpected places — like the school geek, Sebastian, who explains that there is precedent in the natural world (parrotfish change gender when they need to, and the newly male fish are the alpha males), and Kita, a senior who might just be Grady’s first love.

I feel a little conflicted with ‘Parrotfish.’

This novel is a great tale of learning how to accept change. It tells an experience, but maybe not a well-researched one of a transgendered FtM teen. But I think this represents more about learning to deal with how life evolves. How we grow up. How our needs and wants shift as we progress through like. No-one and nothing stays the same forever. It can be scary. It can be exciting. ‘Parrotfish’ illustrates a small slice of some of those things and how a group of family and friends adapt to the evolving situation.

I also liked how it approached bullying and relationships. It was a little romanticised, but kept the scenes grounded in reality.

The big thing I enjoyed is that ‘Parrotfish’ stayed focused on the human being, and did not try to force identity defined or authenticated through a romantic relationship. Too many times have I read a coming out story of a protagonist affirming their gender identity only to have it given weight, or rewarded with a love interest – when neither need this validation, or are about love. They are about the self, and I think ‘Parrotfish’ bulls-eyed this tone intelligently.

I didn’t get any gut-wrenching feels or angst typical from this genre; and to be honest. I preferred this. Family, friends, and teachers all play and important and active role in Grady’s growth.

Parrotfish’ did feel too short. Like a drive-by toilet paper attack, it was quick, made its point and was gone just as quick. I will say I did not expect to laugh as much. Especially towards the end of the novel. I’m really impressed with Erin Wittlinger’s writing and will look into exploring some of her other titles in the future.

It was a bit hard to predict the path of the story. Obviously there is the theme of self-acceptance, but apart from that, given the more composed tone of Wittlinger’s writing style, I only had notions of what would eventuate, and they changed from chapter to chapter. I was never certain of what was going to happen. ‘Parrotfish’ ends on a positive note and was a sheer delight to read. I’ve read many novels dealing with a protagonist transitioning from female to male, and this one really grabbed my heart. It feels more inclined to the younger end of the YA demographic to help educate and increase awareness of people who struggle fitting in to rigid gender norms. The attitudes of the cast vary in their outlook to gender and sexuality as well in an un-obvious way that I found charming and delightful. I certainly wanted to go to high school with this gang of odd-balls.

I’m actually really proud to add this to my library and can see myself revisiting this story again.

Much of what I mentioned above is a typical straight cis-gendered response to ‘Parrotfish,’ but if you pass a more discerning eye over ‘Parrotfish’ you see elements of bullying and discrimination are greatly watered down. The internal torment and doubt someone like Grady faces is nearly non-existent. So too are the discussions over changing gender identity and sexual orientation… a mish-mash of coming out as a lesbian and then as a transgender male. In fact, I know most transgender men may find this story insulting and diminishing of their experience. Which plays into the need for real voices in this genre. So while ‘Parrotfish’ feels like it is a story given the ‘Disney’ filter from a cis-gendered heterosexual, I think it will add awareness and help start a conversation for those ignorant of the pressures transgender men growing through high school face; but it by no means represents the true experience.

I’m glad for the representation, the cute and funny story, but a little saddened for the misfire in the full picture of life a transgendered teen lives through. But given that ‘Parrotfish’ was published back in 2007, we will find there are more authentic stories out there now, especially coming from own voices authors.

Kita’s portrayal can also be seen as problematic. Yes she is a great ally, but as a love interest she is somewhat fetishized. Also, being set up as a love interest, and then the way the story was resolved adds to judging the worth of a transgender man… it felt icky.

So, if anything, ‘Parrotfish’ has stirred feelings (both good and bad) over transgender representation in literature, authentic or not, and the need for own voices in this genre. Which is a plus in my book – inciting a conversation over a minority that faces a great deal of discrimination. Though ‘Parrotfish’ at is a core is a fluffy, humorous tale and has a great theme that is well worth a read.

Overall feeling: Loved the story if a little conflicted….

© 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 – ‘Every Last Word’ by Tamara Ireland Stone

Cute romance, great rep of mental illness…

Genre: Y/A, Contemporary, Romance, Mental Health

No. of pages: 358

If you could read my mind, you wouldn’t be smiling.

Samantha McAllister looks just like the rest of the popular girls in her junior class. But hidden beneath the straightened hair and expertly applied makeup is a secret that her friends would never understand: Sam has Purely-Obsessional OCD and is consumed by a stream of dark thoughts and worries that she can’t turn off.

Second-guessing every move, thought, and word makes daily life a struggle, and it doesn’t help that her lifelong friends will turn toxic at the first sign of a wrong outfit, wrong lunch, or wrong crush. Yet Sam knows she’d be truly crazy to leave the protection of the most popular girls in school. So when Sam meets Caroline, she has to keep her new friend with a refreshing sense of humor and no style a secret, right up there with Sam’s weekly visits to her psychiatrist.

Caroline introduces Sam to Poet’s Corner, a hidden room and a tight-knit group of misfits who have been ignored by the school at large. Sam is drawn to them immediately, especially a guitar-playing guy with a talent for verse, and starts to discover a whole new side of herself. Slowly, she begins to feel more “normal” than she ever has as part of the popular crowd . . . until she finds a new reason to question her sanity and all she holds dear.

I am tossing up whether to award this a higher rating. The way it deals with mental illness, primarily OCD is masterful. The representation is top shelf. I feel accurate representation is paramount, and Tamara Ireland Stone deals with this topic sensitively through the experiences of our protagonist Samantha ‘Sam’ McAllister. But it was the tone of ‘Every Last Word’ that is holding me back. It’s hard to talk about a serious ailment without it feeling heavy or depressing, but I would have liked some more levity to break up the narrative and offer some respite. Maybe pose a great juxtaposition for what Sam has to suffer through?

Additionally this was a triggering story for me personally. I have OCD, and much of the descriptions of Sam’s attacks I’ve had to deal with in the past, so ‘Every Last Word’ may have a stronger negative emotional impact on me than another reader. Plus, some of the attitudes reflected from Sam’s high school friends feels very mean-girl-esque, and I simply have no time, and low tolerance, for this type of behaviour. Though, Stone addresses this in the novel brilliantly.

What we get in ‘Every Last Word’ is a brilliant first person experience of a young girl experiencing OCD, her triggers, her coping mechanisms, and how she grows and adapts throughout high school and friendships. I especially like how she was given new coping mechanisms and confidence as she faced new experiences/ outgrew old ones.

There was a lovely twist that I did not see coming (though a particularly overused trope,) but the main plot is fairly predictable. The language and characters suit a younger demographic for the YA market. But the pacing is spot on, I was able to read this very quickly in two sittings. It pulled out a lot of the feels, and concludes on a hopeful note.

I’d definitely recommend this to lovers of contemporaries, it levels an accurate portrayal of OCD, and has a cute romance to boot. It’s not for everyone, but I am glad I got to experience Tamara Ireland Stone’s writing. I’ve looked at her other titles on Goodreads and it seems like she writes a lot of cute light romance contemporaries, but none that have ignited my interest at this point. Let me know if you’ve read any of her other titles and what you think about them. I’m on the fence with this author.

Overall feeling: *rocks my hand side to side*

© 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 – ‘I’ll Give You the Sun’ by Jandy Nelson

Art, identity, and secrets all mix into this masterful contemporary.

I'll Give You The Sun Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Contemporary, Romance, LGBT,

No. of pages: 371

goodreads banner by Casey Carlisle

“We were all heading for each other on a collision course, no matter what. Maybe some people are just meant to be in the same story.”

At first, Jude and her twin brother Noah, are inseparable. Noah draws constantly and is falling in love with the charismatic boy next door, while daredevil Jude wears red-red lipstick, cliff-dives, and does all the talking for both of them. Years later, they are barely speaking. Something has happened to change the twins in different yet equally devastating ways . . . but then Jude meets an intriguing, irresistible boy and a mysterious new mentor. The early years are Noah’s to tell; the later years are Jude’s. But they each have only half the story, and if they can only find their way back to one another, they’ll have a chance to remake their world.

Page border 2020 by Casey Carlisle

This was a surprise read for me. I had heard great things and noticed a lot of 5 star reviews but I kept away from all of that as much as I could. All I knew about ‘I’ll Give You The Sun’ was that the main protagonists were fraternal twins, a boy and a girl, where the male grapples with his identity.

I think the biggest surprise for me was the interconnectedness of this novel. Just about every point, seemingly irrelevant or not, has meaning. A symbolism, a prophecy, a reason for being. And because of that this novel has a strong interwoven web of plot and arc that kept surprising me at every turn.

And Jandy Nelson’s writing style was a delight. Such a lovely turn of phrase where the narrative deals a lot with art – Jandy’s writing was akin to art itself without being egotistical.

I'll Give You The Sun Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

Told in alternating perspectives by our two leads – the twins: Noah, 3 years in the past, and Jude, his sister in the present. I think the theme that is most heavy in the narrative and rings true for all the characters is that we are all fallible and struggling to find our way through this messy life, and find that safe place where we are expressing our true authentic selves. Add into that all the dramatic and familial themes that can happen like love, sex, sibling rivalry, coming of age, the deconstruction of childhood innocence, and ‘I’ll Give You The Sun’ really shines.

Going into this novel with little prior knowledge I guessed at the main plot fairly early on, but it was never solidified as the diaphanous nature of symbolism and art weighing heavily on the narrative, there was always some doubt. But those early guesses came to ring true, but there was so much subtext and many, many arcs that grew around this main thread which provided such serendipity. I was transfixed.

There was one spot about halfway through the novel in a chapter from Jude’s point of view where the pacing lagged a little, but in hindsight it was setting up a number of plot points for the rollercoaster ride to the conclusion.

I’ll Give You the Sun’ wraps up nicely, a bitter-sweet ending with a strong sense of hope. It’s been a while since I last got a book hangover from a contemporary, and I highly recommend this. It has a delicate hand on some difficult topics and an interesting lens through which to view the world. I treasure this reading experience.

Overall feeling: My reading just leveled up!

I'll Give You The Sun Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

I'll Give You The Sun 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.