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

Diversity, superheroes and an expert plot.

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

No. of pages: 320

goodreads banner by Casey Carlisle

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

Page border 2020 by Casey Carlisle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Overall feeling: Yee-haw!

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

Not Your Backup (#3 Sidekick Squad) Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

Critique Casey 2020 by Casey Carlisle

© Casey Carlisle 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Book Review – ‘Not Your Villain’ (#2 Sidekick Squad) by C.B. Lee

A sequel that super excels in all areas.

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

No. of pages: 307

From Goodreads:

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

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

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

page-border-by-casey-carlisle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Overall feeling: I totally geeked out!!

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

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

critique-casey-by-casey-carlisle

© Casey Carlisle 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Book Review – ‘Not Your Sidekick’ (#1 Sidekick Squad) by C.B. Lee

Comic book heroes that leap from the page.

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

No. of pages: 262

From Goodreads:

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

Page border by Casey Carlisle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Overall feeling: Wee!

not-your-sidekick-book-review-pic-03-by-casey-carlisle

not-your-sidekick-book-review-pic-04-by-casey-carlisle

Critique Casey by Casey Carlisle

© Casey Carlisle 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Film vs Novel – Naomi and Ely’s No Kiss List

Love happens in many different ways…

Naomi and Ely's No Kiss List Film vs Novel Pic 01 by Casey Carlisle

After doing a comparison of ‘Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist,’ I was keen to give another title by this duo a go… where the book by David Levithan and Rachel Cohn is witty, punchy and just a little emo, the film is like an adorable alternative romantic comedy. ‘Naomi and Ely’s No Kiss List’ brings another contrast to the colourful characters Levithan and Cohn are praised for.

Naomi and Elys No Kiss List Film vs Novel Pic 02 by Casey CarlisleI honestly liked the movie better than the book. I found Naomi to be whiny and immature, flying off the handle randomly, or failing to see reason – which is the point her character is so interesting… but in the movie, you get a break from her character. Naomi is played by Victoria Justice, and I think I’ve only seen her in some Disney movie, but Justice played Naomi to perfection, I got all the same feels from her performance as I did while reading the book.

Ely, played by Pierson Fode brings some incredible eye-candy. I was literally drooling at the screen. Fode compliments Ely’s character with an aloofness that added dimension to the character that I did not get from the novel. We know he was clueless, but in the novel, he came across as selfish, where in the movie we get to see it’s all in Naomi’s head and Ely is just being Ely.

Other notable performances that excelled my reading experience was Gabriel played by Matthew Daddario and Bruce 2 played by Ryan Ward… maybe it had something to do with the hotness metre blowing a gasket, but these boys really fleshed out the characters. I don’t think I liked Gabriel all that much in the book, but Matthew Daddario totally redeemed him in my eyes. Bruce 2 had the opposite effect, I got a geeky confidence from him in the novel, even though he is an introvert, but the film Bruce 2 felt like a lost lamb falling prey to both Naomi and Ely. I got the vibe of his self discovery from the page – not so strongly on the screen.

Plus, New York, with all of Naomi and Ely’s friends was so much more interesting in bright colour on the big screen – I didn’t get such a rich feeling of subculture from the novel. It is such a short book, and its focus is on Naomi and Ely’s relationship, so superfluous description of the setting would have been a hindrance, so I’m greatful to the film for adding yet another layer to my enjoyment.

The emotion was dialled down a lot more in the movie as well, which I appreciated, leaving me with a more rounded experience from all the cast, other than just Ely and Naomi.

I’d recommend to read the book before the movie, but it is totally the film for the win!

Naomi and Elys No Kiss List Film vs Novel Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Critique Casey by Casey Carlisle

© Casey Carlisle 2015. 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 – None of the Above by I. W. Gregorio

Unique.

None of the Above Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Contemporary, GLBT

No. of pages: 352

From Goodreads:

What if everything you knew about yourself changed in an instant?

When Kristin Lattimer is voted homecoming queen, it seems like another piece of her ideal life has fallen into place. She’s a champion hurdler with a full scholarship to college and she’s madly in love with her boyfriend. In fact, she’s decided that she’s ready to take things to the next level with him.

But Kristin’s first time isn’t the perfect moment she’s planned—something is very wrong. A visit to the doctor reveals the truth: Kristin is intersex, which means that though she outwardly looks like a girl, she has male chromosomes, not to mention boy “parts.”

Dealing with her body is difficult enough, but when her diagnosis is leaked to the whole school, Kristin’s entire identity is thrown into question. As her world unravels, can she come to terms with her new self?  

Page border by Casey Carlisle

I loved this simply because of its subject matter.

Although there are some mixed feelings – on the one hand, the subject matter is fascinating and heart-touching and was dealt with intelligently and compassionately; on the other, I felt there wasn’t enough going on other than the main plot. The characters could have been developed more. An arc or two thrown in.

There were some issues that had me grinding my teeth – I felt there were too many times Kristin, our protagonist, contracted a bad case of verbal diarrhoea. Only because it lost a sense of reality. Girls with secrets like this don’t go and just blurt them out. They bottle them up, let it eat them up inside, and hopefully, a very close friend notices something is up, and manages to drag out the issue before the girl ends up doing self-harm. Psychological issues like this weren’t even hinted at – and given the author is surgeon who deals with the intersex community, I felt was a big disservice.

This book illustrated a lot about bullying and ignorance. Many of the taunts Kristin suffered didn’t even make sense because the idiots bandying about awful words were – in all the definitions of the word – stupid. I was angry for Kristin, I was embarrassed for her, I pitied her, but most of all I just wanted her to open her eyes and get her to stop putting herself in the position where she needed to defend herself.

She shouldn’t have to.

But I’ve known people in similar situations and they usually keep quiet. Be it for their own safety, or shame, or a million other reasons. Again, Kristin’s actions did not make a whole lot of sense other than the author forcing Kristin into a situation to illuminate a point…

Again, some other scenes that urked me were most of the kissing scenes, which progressed into some extremely intimate touching… going from never been kissed, to a full on snog and finger insertion – in a paragraph – and was insulting and not called for. It served no purpose other than the author trying to assert a point that had already been proven. Maybe I’m a prude, but there is no way in hell I’d let a boy do that to me during a first kiss!

I know it sounds like I’m bagging this book, when in fact I think it is original and brings up pertinent points and a new type of heroine. It helps educate the reader about something they may never (knowingly) get exposed to in real life. I believe we need more positive stories about the GLBT community. This novel is amazing, I just feel the story was forced to go places it shouldn’t have and missed others that were important to Kristin and her journey. Let’s hope, that in the least, it can start a dialogue, or reach some of the intersex kids out there, so they know they are not alone.

Gregorio has an easy enough to read style, a bit clunky (but maybe it was because I chose to take issue with the story) – but a novel that lends itself to be completed in a day. I would have liked to see heavier subject matter – it felt too light (trying to be a romance novel) for the issues of a girl discovering she is intersex. I also feel the rest of the cast were overlooked and underdeveloped for the sake of this topic as well.

A valiant little book that I’d recommend to anyone.

Overall feeling: Eyebrow raising!

None of the Above Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

None of the Above Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Critique Casey by Casey Carlisle

© Casey Carlisle 2015. 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 – Anything Could Happen by Wil Walton

Authentic as hell.

Anything Could Happen Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Contemporary, GLBT

No. of pages: 288

From Goodreads:

When you’re in love with the wrong person for the right reasons, anything could happen.

Tretch lives in a very small town where everybody’s in everybody else’s business. Which makes it hard for him to be in love with his straight best friend. For his part, Matt is completely oblivious to the way Tretch feels – and Tretch can’t tell whether that makes it better or worse.

The problem with living a lie is that the lie can slowly become your life. For Tretch, the problem isn’t just with Matt. His family has no idea who he really is and what he’s really thinking. The girl at the local bookstore has no clue how off-base her crush on him is. And the guy at school who’s a thorn in Tretch’s side doesn’t realize how close to the truth he’s hitting.

Tretch has spent a lot of time dancing alone in his room, but now he’s got to step outside his comfort zone and into the wider world. Because like love, a true self can rarely be contained. 

Page border by Casey Carlisle

An awkward tale that is so sweet. It rings true to how we can all feel a little out of step as we battle through high school and adolescence. Even though this is a contemporary romance, I felt it had more to do with finding a happy place with who you are – accepting yourself – rather than finally getting the girl or guy; or a coming out story. Even though it’s all of those things, the undercurrent with Anything Could Happen is like a resounding boom. I loved it. It’s upbeat, quirky, and written to a familiar soundtrack. Halcyon (by Ellie Goulding) is featured prominently, and you can hear the lyrics singing up at you from the pages.

Anything Could Happen Pic 04 by Casey CarlisleWith an easy to read narrative, this is one of my favourite GLBT books at the moment. I’ve read half a dozen in this genre in the past month to experience a protagonist apart from young heroines – and it’s been fun. Walton’s book is a positive story, much like a warm hug, but oozing realism. A totally authentic account of Tretch’s journey. I particularly loved how he danced without abandon in his room… so cute!

The cast (notably Tretch’s family) are beautiful and very prominent in the story line and not in the periphery like in much of YA. And while there were some surprises around their story, the plot is a little predictable. But in a good way.

I’d definitely recommend this book for an afternoons reading in the sun – something to leave a smile on your face.

Overall feeling: I’m happy to be me!

Anything Could Happen Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

Anything Could Happen Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Critique Casey by Casey Carlisle

© Casey Carlisle 2015. 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 – Naomi and Ely’s No Kiss List by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan

A great realistic tale, but a little flat.

Naomi and Ely's No Kiss List Book Review pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Contemporary, Romance

No. of pages: 230

From Goodreads:

Naomi and Ely are best friends. Naomi loves and is in love with Ely, and Ely loves Naomi, but prefers to be in love with boys. So they create their “No Kiss List” of people neither of them is allowed to kiss. And this works fine…until Bruce.

Bruce is Naomi’s boyfriend, so there’s no reason to put him on the List. But when Ely kisses Bruce, the result is a rift of universal proportions. Can these best friends come back together again? Or will this be the end of Naomi and Ely: the institution?

Page border by Casey Carlisle

I managed to read this in a day. And while I got a kick out of it, I was still a little ‘meh’ by the end.

There are a lot of different POV’s in this book, so if that is a pet hate, steer clear! You’ve been warned. However, I felt it worked. It was great to take a break from some of the angst of the main narrator and see the situation from someone else’s eyes.

The material was witty and had a charm about it appealing to the coffeehouse crowd. And the style of narration flows with a simplistic young voice. I didn’t get any surprises out of the story – it is easily predictable… but it is also realistic. And that I liked.

I must admit I was expecting to get more feels from a contemporary like this; especially with David Levithan’s authorship, but felt more like a snapshot of your typical college drama. And that’s okay, this novel does not purport to be anything but.

Coming from the president of the Fag-hag club of everywhere – My best gay friend of twenty years and I are still fiercely close – this book depicts the very real perils of having a G.B.F. It’s pretty cool to see a book like this written, back when I started friendship with my bestie, you definitely would not see mainstream literature of this kind. It is great to find a relationship that is something other than girlfriends, or a romance which has the possibility to last a lifetime. In life, most of anything does not fit in to a stereotype or fix in a square box.

Naomi and Ely's No Kiss List Book Review pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

I’m really looking forward to viewing the film released this month starring Victoria Justice and Pierson Fode (maybe a little later in Australia), and see how they interpret the novel.

Overall feeling: Cute.

Naomi and Ely's No Kiss List

Naomi and Ely's No Kiss List Book Review pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Critique Casey by Casey Carlisle

© Casey Carlisle 2015. 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.