Book Review – ‘I Wish You All The Best’ by Mason Deaver

Beautifully understated and gorgeously representing minorities.

Genre: Y/A, Contemporary, Romance

No. of pages: 329

When Ben De Backer comes out to their parents as nonbinary, they’re thrown out of their house and forced to move in with their estranged older sister, Hannah, and her husband, Thomas, whom Ben has never even met. Struggling with an anxiety disorder compounded by their parents’ rejection, they come out only to Hannah, Thomas, and their therapist and try to keep a low profile in a new school.

But Ben’s attempts to survive the last half of senior year unnoticed are thwarted when Nathan Allan, a funny and charismatic student, decides to take Ben under his wing. As Ben and Nathan’s friendship grows, their feelings for each other begin to change, and what started as a disastrous turn of events looks like it might just be a chance to start a happier new life.

A beautiful queer romance that brings representation from a close-to-invisible group on the rainbow spectrum, told in an understated but cherished tone that touched my heart.

Loved the representation of a non-binary protagonist and the unique challenges they face. With a quiet-toned storyline and how it matches the tone of the narrative told from protagonist Ben’s perspective. The story did feel slow in pace and took a while to get places. I feel like I wanted more complexity, but in saying that, I don’t think it would have worked with ‘I Wish You All the Best.’

This had a bit of a feeling of educating the reader and not making things too difficult for Ben – even though what they go through is pretty rough… a more realistic approach would’ve been messier and lost the tone ‘I Wish You All the Best’ has. It’s cute, quiet, but resounding. 

Because of this quiet tone – be it from Ben being an introvert, having to protect themselves from hurt and rejection, as well as dealing with mental illness; it made it difficult to relate to them. There was always a distance between Ben and other characters. And a distance with the reader. I think this element was why I wasn’t sold on the romance between Ben and Nathan. I enjoy romances which aren’t afraid to get messy and get down to the bones of character development. This in comparison felt as though it was whispered through a tin can telephone.

There was a bit of repetition that I felt an editor should have addressed which pulled me from the narrative a handful of times. While this is a beautiful story, I did not get that emotional connection I was hoping for.

Overall feeling: Not too shabby

© Casey Carlisle 2023. 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 – ‘Bloom’ (#1 Bloom) by Kevin Panetta

Mood inducing art in this delightfully innocent queer tale

Genre: Y/A, Contemporary, Romance, Graphic Novel, GLBTQIA+

No. of pages: 368

Now that high school is over, Ari is dying to move to the big city with his ultra-hip band—if he can just persuade his dad to let him quit his job at their struggling family bakery. Though he loved working there as a kid, Ari cannot fathom a life wasting away over rising dough and hot ovens. But while interviewing candidates for his replacement, Ari meets Hector, an easygoing guy who loves baking as much as Ari wants to escape it. As they become closer over batches of bread, love is ready to bloom . . . that is, if Ari doesn’t ruin everything.

A lovely story. Atmospheric, but very simple and didn’t give much attention to the periphery characters. The aquamarine colouring marries with protagonist Ari’s depression and the seaside location, and the artwork is beautiful.

Ari’s feelings aren’t thoroughly explored – why he’s so unhappy. I would have liked some more examination into his isolation and sadness, maybe uncover the contributing factors to give the reader a full character arc.

The relationship with Hector jumpstarts with a kiss, there felt like there was little build up or angst. They were friends, and suddenly seeming boyfriends… nothing is addressed before the story ends. I feel cheated as a reader that there was no build-up and pay-off for their relationship. I craved more emotion and higher stakes.

The story, because it is simple in plot and structure is very predictable, but don’t let that discourage you from a beautifully innocent tale. I felt like I needed to see a lot more to happen. More intense feeling explored. As cute as ‘Bloom‘ is, it felt a little flat. With ‘Bloom II‘ schedules for release in 2023 we might see some more complexity, and the secondary characters fleshed out more… I’m looking forward to this sequel.

Overall feeling: she cute

© Casey Carlisle 2023. 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 – ‘Heartstopper : Volume Four’ (#4 Heartstopper) by Alice Oseman

Heartstopper practically stopped my heart with endearing cuteness.

Genre: Y/A, Contemporary, Romance, LGBTQIA+, Graphic Novel

No. of pages: 353

 Nick’s journal:

I think I’m in love with Charlie. This summer with him and our friend has been amazing, and I want to say ‘I love you’, but… I guess I’ve had other things to worry about lately…

This series just keeps getting better and better. Another installment with cuteness overload. I love how expressive the characters faces are in the artwork. We are getting more and more story with the secondary cast, really rounding out the story.

We see Charlie begin to assert himself a bit more – standing up against over-bearing parents that are pressuring him about school (and exaserbating his eating disorder) and confessing his love for Nick.

We also see Nick loving and supporting Charlie, and broaching the topic about taking serious steps to deal with his eating disorder.

It’s great to see such character development, to be honest, I don’t expect much in graphic novels, but Alice Oseman manages to pack so much story into her novels with such a flair of innocence and endearment that I am in awe of her talents.

There is not a lot to predict – mainly because it is just a volume in an ongoing story – but what there is is obviously predictable, but that is the reason I am picking up this book – to see Charlie and Nick get together and navigate their lives as a couple.

Still highly recommend this series and am excited to see where the following sequesl take us. Not to mention that the television adaptation is not far away from hitting the air: and I’m all here for that!

Overall feeling: Just a little bit adorable… okay a lot adorable!

© Casey Carlisle 2023. 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 Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy’ (#2 Montague Siblings) by Mackenzie Lee

A delightful historical fiction that wrestles with society and feminism with immitigable humour.

Genre: Y/A, Historical Fiction, LGBT

No. of pages: 450

A year after an accidentally whirlwind grand tour with her brother Monty, Felicity Montague has returned to England with two goals in mind—avoid the marriage proposal of a lovestruck suitor from Edinburgh and enroll in medical school. However, her intellect and passion will never be enough in the eyes of the administrators, who see men as the sole guardians of science.

But then a window of opportunity opens—a doctor she idolizes is marrying an old friend of hers in Germany. Felicity believes if she could meet this man he could change her future, but she has no money of her own to make the trip. Luckily, a mysterious young woman is willing to pay Felicity’s way, so long as she’s allowed to travel with Felicity disguised as her maid.

In spite of her suspicions, Felicity agrees, but once the girl’s true motives are revealed, Felicity becomes part of a perilous quest that leads them from the German countryside to the promenades of Zurich to secrets lurking beneath the Atlantic.

The tone of this series is so delightful that I was immediately engrossed: it’s funny, witty, and pits modern-day realities against the restricted opinions and views of a past cultural set.

The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy’ certainly did not suffer the middle book slump. In this sequel we follow Felicity (Monty’s sister – but don’t worry, we still get to see the rogue and is new boyfriend) and her dream of becoming a surgeon, despite the male gatekeepers of the institutions and the belief that women should stick to domesticated tasks. (Ugh! Seriously why is it always old white men that make it difficult for everyone else?) But Felicity will not take no for an answer; she will find a way to pursue her passion, even if it takes her down some dubious paths.

We still get that comedy that was introduced in ‘The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue,’ as well as a heavy dose of feminism. I found this to be a powerful combination, and the pacing of this novel did not lag despite its length.

Felicity herself is determined but still maintains decorum expected in polite society. She is increasingly frustrated at the limited imagination and belief that women can do anything that men can, and desperately tries to find like-minded souls to allow her to follow her passion. We never really explore Felicity’s sexuality in ‘The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue,’ but in ‘The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy’ Felicity begins to notice stirrings of attraction that contra societies rules. Felicity could be bisexual or lesbian, and the attitudes towards this attraction are handled with sensitivity.

Sim – Felicity’s partner in crime (literally) – has found freedom from societies trappings, but still has to fight for what she wants… by any means necessary. She is a thief, a spy, a pirate. But I see her more as a revolutionary. She is proud, practical and empowered. Again, existing outside of polite society Sim has a ‘found family’ that gives her the space to live her truth; be it in her sexuality, opportunity, or euntrenprenureship.

Johanna, another woman in Felicity’s orbit, remind me of the changing of the guard. She is taking her first steps from the old oppressive world of being property, or a domestic slave, into the future of equality and independence (but all within the constraints of the current era.)

The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy’ was a delicious read. Yes, it is mostly predictable, but the narrative is full of hair-brained adventure that makes for some entertaining reading with loveable characters. Another strong recommendation from me, and I have already pre-ordered the next in the series ‘The Nobleman’s Guide to Scandal and Shipwrecks.’

Overall feeling: A titillating tome!

© Casey Carlisle 2023. 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 Gentleman’s Guide to Getting Lucky’ (#1.5 Montague Siblings) by Mackenzie Lee

Awkward First Times.

Genre: Y/A, Historical Fiction, Romance, LGBT

No. of pages: 113

Monty’s epic grand tour may be over, but now that he and Percy are finally a couple, he realizes there is something more nerve-wracking than being chased across Europe: getting together with the person you love.

Will the romantic allure of Santorini make his first time with Percy magical, or will all the anticipation and build-up completely spoil the mood?

This was a cute novella dealing with Monty and Percy finally getting their ‘groove’ on despite many interruptions. ‘The Gentleman’s Guide to Getting Lucky’ is a charming aside to the Montague Siblings series. It does not expand on the universe too much. We learn what happens with our characters between the first and second novels in this series and it gives resolution to a few small plot points.

Monty is still that bumbling self-absorbed rake we love, but his softer and loyal side are emerging, giving him a bit of substance. Percy is beginning to find security in his relationship with Monty. There is more sibling rivalry and sibling unity with Felicity helping out the love sick couple yet again.

Mackenzi Lee has an elegant and humorous writing style that matches perfectly with the tone of the story and which I enjoy getting lost in.

This is a quick read and a great addition to all MontyxPercy stans.

The plot itself is highly predictable, but all the obstacles that get in the way certainly make for a fun journey.

There is not much to add to this review, as ‘The Gentleman’s Guide to Getting Lucky’ is a short novella, dealing with a singular topic. Fans of the series will not be disappointed with this addition to the franchise. Highly recommend.

Overall feeling: Adorkable.

© Casey Carlisle 2021. 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 – ‘Heartstopper : Volume Three’ (#3 Heartstopper) by Alice Oseman

Love is in the air with a field trip to Paris.

Genre: Y/A, Contemporary, Romance, LGBTQIA+, Graphic Novel

No. of pages: 384

 The Heartstopper gang go on a school trip to Paris! Not only are Nick and Charlie navigating a new city, but also telling more people about their relationship AND learning more about the challenges each other are facing in private…

Meanwhile Tao and Elle will face their feelings for each other, Tara and Darcy share more about their relationship origin story, and the teachers supervising the trip seem… rather close…?

This volume of ‘Heartstopper’ just upped the adorable factor! We start to get developed side characters and their own arcs, there’s more complexity in the plot, and Charlie and Nick are facing greater challenges. Again this is not a self-encapsulated story, rather just an episode in the growing closeness of Charlie and Nick.

The representation is handled with kitten gloves, but does not water down the fears minority groups face. ‘Heartstopper’ still manages to encapsulate that innocent charm from the previous volumes.

’Heartstopper : Volume Three’ deals with more issues around Nick’s coming out to a wider circle of people, and the pair heading off on a school trip to Paris. There they also start to address intimacy, and how far they are willing to go… and getting close to using the ‘L’ word. It’s nice to read a story that builds the relationship at a more realistic pace and have frank honest discussions about becoming intimate, and comfort levels. It feels like such an intelligent approach and is a great example for today’s youth. I’m sick of the trope when teens get into relationships and weeks later (sometimes much sooner) they sleep together and it’s a magical experience and like a love they could never imagined. That is so unrealistic and robs the characters of being able to grow the foundations of real (loving and intimate) relationships.

Queer relationships from others characters in Charlie and Nick’s immediate circle are also getting air time in the narrative, again giving examples of the many different hues of the rainbow. Tao and Elle. Tara and Darcy. Mr. Ajayi and Mr. Farouk.

We also get a touch on the bullying that Nick suffers from his older brother, and I’m interested to see how the family is going to handle this issue. There is a little more about Charlie and his eating disorder. And the friendship dynamics the pair face in their separate friend circles. There is a lot to unpack from these graphic novels – Such a master of subtext and frank observations on the issues raised.

I’m loving the complexity and scope of this series now, and am eagerly ready to jump into Volume 4. Also with all the updates coming in about the screen adaptation by Netflix with casting and shots from filming on set, I’m incredibly eager to see what they churn out. Looks like we are getting eight 30 minute episodes, but no release date as yet.

Again, ‘Heartstopper : Volume Three’ was another quick paced tome I finished in about an hour. So sweet. I’ve become a major stan.

Overall feeling: Gushing over this!

© Casey Carlisle 2021. 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 – ‘If We Were Us’ by K. L. Walther

Cute premise, but flat delivery.

Genre: YA, Contemporary, Romance, LGBT

No. of pages: 368

Everyone at the prestigious Bexley School believes that Sage Morgan and Charlie Carmichael are meant to be….that it’s just a matter of time until they realize that they are actually in love.

When Luke Morrissey shows up on the Bexley campus his presence immediately shakes things up. Charlie and Luke are drawn to each other the moment they meet, giving Sage the opportunity to steal away to spend time with Charlie’s twin brother, Nick.

But Charlie is afraid of what others will think if he accepts that he has much more than a friendship with Luke. And Sage fears that things with Nick are getting too serious too quickly. The duo will need to rely on each other and their lifelong friendship to figure things out with the boys they love.

I had a lot of hopes for ‘If We Were Us,’ the blurb sounded like this would be a cute contemporary with a touch of diversity, and the cover art matches some similar titles in this genre, but that comparison left me wanting a whole lot more from this story. The narrative felt discombobulated. A lot of info dumping. And the fist chapters introduces a lot of characters on the way side. I felt like I was scrambling to catch up and make sense of what was happening in those opening scenes. The tone did not grab me… felt like smarmy teen characters without any likeable traits. ‘If We Were Us’ was really difficult to get into.  The story is told in alternating perspectives between the ‘it’ couple Charlie and Sage. But there was something about the way closeted Charlie was written did not feel genuine – I feel like an #ownvoices author would have done him a lot more justice. 

The pacing was really slow. So much info dumping. A lot of telling and not showing. The narrative felt flat – like a bunch of descriptions of college students going about their menial lives without any strong emotion behind it. It also did not feel like an authentic coming out. K.L. Walther missed so many nuances that on #ownvoices author would have given the story, or even an author who had done some proper research into real-life experiences of young adults coming out in college. On the plus side, there were some good scenes dealing with anxiety near the end, and the overall plot was cute – but it took way too long to get there, and the entire plot was handed to the reader in the first few chapters… no surprises were dealt along the way. This story would have greatly benefited from some sub-plots, a few unexpected twists, less descriptions of college life and more emotion driven scenes.

If We Were Us’ was okay, but not one I want to recommend to anyone. It felt like the author was trying too hard to look young, or appeal to a young audience and missed all the best things about that age – the uncertainty, angst, the adventure. And the college life was a little white-privileged experience to me.

Protagonist Charlie was stubborn and annoying, self-sabotaging. While interesting because of these conflicts, I found myself wanting some part of his personality and passion (outside of the relationship) to balance this character out. But unfortunately that’s all we got. So that, combined with the ‘telling’ of history and college, Charlie didn’t feel like he developed too much, his story felt flat despite his journey with anxiety and coming out.

Sage, though fiercely loyal, had little going for her other than pining for Nick. I grind my teeth thinking that female characters commonly come across as all about the love interest. I wanted more dimension form Sage. She felt like she was written as a much younger version of herself, like she was 13 or 14 years old.

This story was solely two dimensional about their relationships… there was no other complexity to the story or to the characters.

I also wanted to take out my red pen in parts because the editor had seriously let the author down with some amateur sentence structure. There was nothing particularly individual about K.L. Walther’s writing that made her stand out. This felt like I was reading one of my year 11 student’s English prose. I know this sounds harsh, but a decent editor/publisher team would have worked with and developed the story to shine Walther in her best light. I feel like they really dropped the ball with this one. I can see the bones of a good writer – hints of interesting and engaging characters, perplexing situations, a romantic notion, imaginative settings – it just needed to be pulled together more effectively. A good developmental editor would have pointed out the pacing issues and maybe suggested to increase the level of complexity for the plot.

It was a struggle to read apart from a few chapters near the end when all of a sudden there was tension… but besides that, ‘If It Were Us’ was relatively boring… and ultimately forgettable. Given this was K.L. Walther’s first published novel, I’m expecting her writing prowess to grow and develop and am interested to see how it presents in her second novel ‘The Summer of Broken Rules’ and the fact that it is not dealing with queer characters may play in her favour, but I’m not going to be rushing out to purchase it.

Overall feeling: a bit of a snooze-fest.

© Casey Carlisle 2021. 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.