Book Review – ‘Hold My Hand’ (#2 One Man Guy) by Michael Barakiva

There is a lot to love about Hold My Hand.

Genre: Y/A, Contemporary, Romance, LGBT

No. of pages: 272

Alek Khederian thinks about his life B.E. and A.E.: Before Ethan and After Ethan. Before Ethan, Alek was just an average Armenian-American kid with a mess of curly dark hair, grades not nearly good enough for his parents, and no idea of who he was or what he wanted. After he got together with Ethan, Alek was a new man. Stylish. Confident. (And even if he wasn’t quite marching in LGBTQ parades), Gay and Out and Proud.

With their six-month anniversary coming up, Alek and Ethan want to do something special to celebrate. Like, really special. Like, the most special thing two people in love can do with one another. But Alek’s not sure he’s ready for that. And then he learns something about Ethan that may not just change their relationship, but end it.

Alek can’t bear the thought of finding out who he’d be P.E.: Post-Ethan. But he also can’t forgive or forget what Ethan did. Luckily, his best friend Becky and madcap Armenian family are there to help him figure out whether it’s time to just let Ethan go, or reach out and hold his hand.

There are a lots of wonderful things to love about ‘Hold My Hand.’ The representation and essence of Armenian culture woven into the narrative (and the food. The Food!) As well as a frank discussion on education, discrimination and acceptance in society as a whole. When Alek points out that with helicopter parents, parental controls on devices at home and at school, and the curriculum refusing to teach sexual health for the LGBTQIA+ community, there was nowhere for him to learn about issues concerning his health and development. Alek also tackles the Armenian church his family attends, still holding fast to bygone attitudes and interpretations that discriminate not only against him for being gay, but women, people of colour, issues like abortion, etc. ? I have to say it was refreshing the tone and frank discussion Alek brings to the narrative. It does feel a bit dated, because shouldn’t we have addressed these inequalities and moved on by now? Its popular opinion that attitudes need to change – and they are changing. But ‘Hold My Hand’ lets you know that the fight of social justice is still alive and surging. That we should not become complacent. There is still work to do to improve the human race.

I feel like we get a lovely character arc with Alek, building on his growth from ‘One Man Guy.’ We really start to see him stand his ground while remaining true to his heritage and family values. I haven’t felt such a clear cut path into adulthood in a YA novel yet. And I loved it. It really resonated with me. Though Alek is still a nerd, a little neurotic, he is not this angsty emo teen we get a lot of in YA, he feels balanced and grounded. I like his stance on honesty and forgiveness. It’s something I feel we can all aspire to.

I wasn’t as sold on Ethan. He let me down as much as he did Alek – but I am much less forgiving. I would have liked to see him work harder to earn Alek’s trust – though is was great to read, he was proactive in dealing with the situation later in the book. I think there is something about his easy-breezy laid back attitude that still annoys me. He is a great counter balance to Alek, but still, he’s not a love interest I am totally invested in.

Remi as one of the stories antagonists was a stroke of genius. He was like a Bond villain and I wanted to reach through the pages and punch him in the face… though he doesn’t paint a particularly pleasant picture of Australians. As an Aussie girl I was grinding my teeth: but I do know some guys like this. Too slick for their own good, and always seem to end up on their feet despite the carnage they leave in their wake.

‘Hold My Hand’ was a cute, understated love story with a relevant social message. While I think the pacing was a little slow and there was a mix of the tone being immature and then mature at times, like it was slipping between target demographics, Michael Barakiva’s writing style is as breezy as Ethan’s demeanour.

Very easy to read and escape into, I thoroughly enjoyed my time reading ‘Hold My Hand’ and feel like it did this series a justice. I definitely want to read more from this author.

It was educational on sensitive topics without being offensive. The romance is realistic with a social conscience, and this is a novel that is as thought provoking as it is endearing. Representation for the win! A soft recommendation from me.

Overall feeling: Oh, my heart!

© 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 – ‘So Hard to Say’ by Alex Sanchez

A superb contemporary glimmering with diversity.

so-hard-to-say-book-review-pic-01-by-casey-carlisleGenre: Y/A, Contemporary, GLBT

No. of pages: 230

From Goodreads:

When Frederick shows up at school, Xio is thrilled. The new boy is shy, cute, and definitely good boyfriend material. Before long, she pulls him into her lively circle of friends. 


Frederick knows he should be flattered by Xio’s attention. After all, she’s popular, pretty, and a lot of fun. So why can’t he stop thinking about Victor, the captain of the soccer team, instead?

Page border by Casey Carlisle

I felt ‘So Hard to Say’ was more aimed at a middle grade demographic, and in that sense, didn’t have the emotional punch I was looking for. Nor was the storyline complex. However, this novel was innocently concise and poignant. And definitely worth the read.

The narrative married perfectly with the inner voices of our protagonists Xio and Frederick. The Mexican culture that Xio brought, and the confusion and coming of age from Frederick’s story were nothing other than brilliant.

It completely captured those moments of questioning about first love, or attraction, and sexual orientation in the judgemental arena of high school. Even if you removed the aspect of Fredericks questioning his sexuality, the way he approached different friends directly translated to many friendships I had growing up – some you were friends with outside of school, some within… I liked that it showed multiple ways relationships develop throughout your childhood to teen years.

Even though it felt very innocent and stylized, it captures the issues facing our protagonists with an understated grace. This is not an angsty over dramatized account of Xio and Frederick’s life, but a great peek through their eyes with enough insight to set the scene and let you draw from your own emotions and experiences.

Xio’s inner monologue is mixed with culture and a lack of confidence that all teen girls seem to stumble through – what’s wrong with me? Why won’t he love me? I actually loved that realism about her, and her joy at embracing family and heritage.

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Frederick’s life in comparison felt sparse – but you soon realise it’s on purpose. He’s distanced many parts of his life because he’s not sure about things. It was a joy to grow with him through the novel and see him fill those empty spaces, on his way to becoming the person he is meant to be.

Xio’s closing chapter was the most touching and prophetic. I’ve had sexual and gender-diverse friends all my life and can’t imagine ever not sharing our journey together. Friendship is forever – especially when the bond is more like family than someone you happened to go to school with.

I personally learnt a lot from Xio; about Mexican culture and home life. It’s not something we get a lot of exposure to here in Australia. And the fact that the language was scattered into the dialogue was fun. Even in the end pages you get a glossary of terms that I found cool.

This is my first novel from Alex Sanchez and has definitely left me wanting to pick up more of his titles. They are short enough with a light writing style that lends to being able to complete in a day. A great book to give to a younger teen. It was educational, insightful and a cute contemporary. I’d recommend this to lovers of contemporary, diversity and simple love/friendships that can resound with you long after reading. It was certainly a pleasant surprise for me.

Overall reaction: How adorable (kinda like this panda – he’s black, he’s white, and he’s Asian.)

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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.

Book Review – Invaded by Melissa Landers

Exiled to an alien planet without your Boo…

Invaded Book Review Pic 01 by Casey Carlisle.jpgGenre: Y/A, Science Fiction

No. of pages: 356

From Goodreads:

Cara always knew life on planet L’eihr would be an adjustment. With Aelyx, her L’eihr boyfriend, back on Earth, working to mend the broken alliance between their two planets, Cara is left to fend for herself at a new school, surrounded by hostile alien clones. Even the weird dorm pet hates her.

Things look up when Cara is appointed as human representative to a panel preparing for a human colony on L’eihr. A society melding their two cultures is a place where Cara and Aelyx could one day make a life together. But with L’eihr leaders balking at granting even the most basic freedoms, Cara begins to wonder if she could ever be happy on this planet, even with Aelyx by her side.

Meanwhile, on Earth, Aelyx, finds himself thrown into a full-scale PR campaign to improve human-L’eihr relations. Humans don’t know that their very survival depends on this alliance: only Aelyx’s people have the technology to fix the deadly contamination in the global water supply that human governments are hiding. Yet despite their upper hand, the leaders of his world suddenly seem desperate to get humans on their side, and hardly bat an eye at extremists’ multiple attempts on Aelyx’s life.

The Way clearly needs humans’ help . . . but with what? And what will they ask for in return? 

Page border by Casey Carlisle

I have been intrigued with this trilogy by Melissa Landers, the first novel ‘Alienated’ was fun and easy to read, though the insta-love and narrative style kept it from a 5 star review. I was hoping ‘Invaded’ would bring something new to the story… and while we got to explore Aelyx’s planet through Cara’s eyes and see if their relationship would survive being apart, this second instalment, although enjoyable failed to surpass my initial opinion and rating.

Not sure what it was that didn’t have me totally invested in our protagonists, Aelyx and Cara. Maybe they were a little too goody-two-shoes and didn’t make mistakes? There was no downfall. We see them go through difficulty, but it felt like neither lost all that much to give them opportunity to grow; and subsequently I wasn’t rooting for either character. They lost the underdog edge. Or a good redemption story. Only a little insecurity made them human (pun intended) with an otherwise cyclone of crap hurled at them. So I guess for me the story is great, but the character development lacking.

There are still some fangirly moments over Aelyx – if you enjoy that sort of thing, but understandably, they are few and far between with our OTP separated for the duration of the novel. The biggest thing I appreciate about Cara is her strength and determination, there is a tenuous line of feminism in her bearing.

Invaded Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

The political intrigue grew even stronger and is the best part of this series. Landers really knows how to write tension and collusion in each culture. She also is adept in how many of the secondary cast had separate character arcs.

I really savoured the storyline, it kept me guessing right to the end, and the narrative style is again, easy to read, lending me to complete the novel in a day. But having said that, I didn’t really get into ‘Invaded’ until the last third – a lot of set up for the storyline sapped the pacing. Though it did paint a fantastic landscape for the final instalment of this trilogy.

Which has me looking forward to the last book ‘United’ due for release in August this year. I’m anticipating that the pacing should really be amped up and foreseeing Cara and Aelyx reuniting and facing down their foes.

Overall feeling: cutting and cute.

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Invaded 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.

Book Review – Alienated by Melissa Landers

The school exchange program never looked so good..

Alienated Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Science Fiction

No. of pages: 344

From Goodreads:

Two years ago, the aliens made contact. Now Cara Sweeney is going to be sharing a bathroom with one of them.

Handpicked to host the first-ever L’eihr exchange student, Cara thinks her future is set. Not only does she get a free ride to her dream college, she’ll have inside information about the mysterious L’eihrs that every journalist would kill for. Cara’s blog following is about to skyrocket.

Still, Cara isn’t sure what to think when she meets Aelyx. Humans and L’eihrs have nearly identical DNA, but cold, infuriatingly brilliant Aelyx couldn’t seem more alien. She’s certain about one thing, though: no human boy is this good-looking.


But when Cara’s classmates get swept up by anti-L’eihr paranoia, Midtown High School suddenly isn’t safe anymore. Threatening notes appear in Cara’s locker, and a police officer has to escort her and Aelyx to class.

Cara finds support in the last person she expected. She realizes that Aelyx isn’t just her only friend; she’s fallen hard for him. But Aelyx has been hiding the truth about the purpose of his exchange, and its potentially deadly consequences. Soon Cara will be in for the fight of her life—not just for herself and the boy she loves, but for the future of her planet. 

Page border by Casey Carlisle

I’m not sure if I was sold on the premise of this novel – There seemed to be so much more world building and politics leading up to the point where an alien student exchange could take place. That fact annoyed me and kept me from really immersing myself into ‘Alienated.’ There were also a lot of similarities to the tv series (which is now cancelled) ‘Starcrossed,’ of which I had similar issues with. But ultimately I enjoyed both of these stories and the unique quandaries they offer.

I did appreciate the mythology and origin of the species introduced in ‘Alienated’ and noted the difference of how an alien race has evolved compared to our own. So much of the science behind their development supported the storyline.

The politics overtook the plot towards the end and subtracted from my enjoyment, it made it less personal. The developing relationship between our protagonist Cara and her love interest, Aelyx, was a nice slow burn, but not something I was totally invested in. But still a coupling I would ‘ship.

Alienated Book Review Pic 02 by Casey CarlisleCara, forever the overachiever and people-pleaser, is such a strong character, in that you can see the influences of her familial upbringing, giving her the confidence to stick to her morals and what is right. As much as I found it difficult to like Cara in the beginning, because she felt a little cold, I had warmed to her by the end of the book.

Aelyx is an interesting character, and yes, he’s the hunky aloof alien with an agenda very typical of the YA genre, but I liked him more than many others in this trope. Again, as with Cara, both of their descriptions felt a little stiff, and consequently, their burgeoning love felt unrealistic. However on the surface, Cara is the headstrong nerd with a conscious for the planet, and Aelyx the political stoic martian who comes to understand Cara and Earth, and through that journey finding a true connection and life mate.

There is plenty of secondary character arcs going on behind the scenes, and it has been one of the best plotted cast I‘ve read in a while. Melissa Landers weaves an expertly web of storylines that had me revelling in the world of ‘Alienated.’

Some aspects that pulled down the rating for me included the realism of the story line, as mentioned previously; the domination of politics; and at times some scenes felt written in just for the drama. I felt if more attention was given in setting up the landscape and development of the characters narrative if would have dragged me into the story more effectively.

This does end on a cliffhanger too – and am looking forward to jumping into book two: ‘Invaded’ soon to find out all of the characters fates…

A great solid fun read, I managed to complete in a day.

Overall feeling: okie dokie

Alienated Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Alienated 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.

Indigenous characters in popular Australian YA Fiction – do we represent? … by Casey Carlisle

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                The silence of our stolen generation echoes in our YA literature…

I’m not trying to be political, or clever, but growing up in Alice Springs, NT, aboriginals were my classmates, my friends, my neighbours… and it was only natural to include our native Australians as characters in my novels. I didn’t think twice about it. So when I did a little research recently on YA novels, particularly the Australian market – not only for interest’s sake, but a little market research – it upset me to find very little representation of not only Indigenous writers, but also Aboriginal characters within popular YA publications.

When tackling the global market and the most recent prolific titles for the YA industry, the only title that stood out depicting indigenous characters, was Twilight’s Jacob Black. Australian Authors didn’t even make the top ten on the list. When actively looking for cross-cultural content, you can find it. But you have to be looking, it’s not on best seller lists, shown in billboards, being made into movies (as is the current craze). Is it that we aren’t tooting our own horn enough? Going that extra mile to market Australian talent overseas? Staying true to the ‘Australian Brand’ in our writing?

Then I thought about my favourite movies and television shows produced in Australia and struggled to find any which had an Aboriginal character as a part of the main cast. Suddenly I felt very disappointed in our Entertainment Industry.

With a secondary character in the ongoing series ‘Smoulder’ and a half-cast protagonist for ‘The Understudy,’ Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders are in the forefront of my cast it was never my aim to be culturally diverse. And it was a surprise in recent feedback on drafts, with beta readers praising the inclusion of characters of colour, which had me responding, “It really shouldn’t warrant comment. These types of characters should be mainstream in Australian content. Their representation wasn’t on purpose, I write drawing from my experiences.”

So I guess this is my social commentary on the sad fact that the only exposure overseas readers get of Australians and our indigenous brothers and sisters is of stereotyped characters like Paul Hogan, Steve Irwin and the nameless shadows clad in a loin cloth, propped on one leg with a spear. I really hope that more modern, Australian content starts to appear. Characters artfully written in YA novels with intricate and intelligent storylines to challenge preconceived ideas of the developmental rift between our two cultures. This topic leaves me itchy and uncomfortable because there is so much more that could be said, and so much more light needs to be spread over this topic. But I want to refrain from getting on my soapbox and concentrate on staying true to my voice. I guess I have to be one of those instruments of change – keep writing, continue to include Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander characters in my novels. And hope that others will start to do the same and show Australia for the truly unique country it is.

 

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© Casey Carlisle 2014. 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.