Book Review – ‘The Ice Twins’ by S.K. Tremayne

Slow-burn twisty thriller on a haunted island.

Genre: Mystery, Thriller

No. of pages: 373

After one of their  identical twin daughters, Lydia, dies in an accident, Angus and Sarah Moorcroft move to a remote Scottish island, hoping to mend their shattered lives. But when their surviving child, Kirstie, claims they have mistaken her identity – that she, in fact, is Lydia – their world comes crashing back down.

They know one of their daughters died. But can they be sure which one?

This was a spooky psychological thriller with a brilliant setting and unreliable narrators to keep you guessing.

The Ice Twins’ and I did not gel. I liked the unfolding mystery, but it took a long time to get interesting. I put this novel down multiple times due to boredom and read five other books intermittently before returning; it was only after reaching the halfway mark when the story finally got interesting.

The story is told in multiple perspectives – and when it was necessary to reveal plot points, it did so in an abrupt manner. No build up. Just – here is a twist you won’t see coming. There was no context, no grounding in the story. It didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. Like the author was intentionally throwing in the wildest thing they could think of to shock and awe the reader. I would have appreciated this mastery if there had been some clue or precedence in the narrative… there was the teeny-tiniest hint, but not enough to give it any substance and make the reveal knock me for six.

There was so much secret holding and distrust within the family that it all left a bad taste in my mouth and prevented me from really getting into the story. What young family exists in this manner? It felt so unrealistic. It had a tough of a gothic thriller: over dramatized and spooky atmosphere.

Sarah dominates with her perspective throughout ‘The Ice Twins.’ While it is clear she loves her family and is trying to make things work after the loss of one of her twin girls in a tragic accident; slowly my unease with her grew. She was wishy-washy, impulsive, and at times unstable. There was a lot of naffing about that you simply don’t do when caring for the well-being of a child navigating grief. It’s like the Mamma Bear in me reared up and rejected half of the narrative of this book. So I did not connect with Sarah’s story, or any other characters for that matter, and consequently did not get immersed into the story of ‘The Ice Twins.’

Sarah’s husband, Angus felt distant the entire story. It was like his actions and motivations were in conflict. I felt he was pretty much useless apart from the sporadic plot reveals his narrative provided. And even then I was shocked at his inaction to take care of his family.

The twins, Kirstie and Lydia – such a tragic story. Their experience is the only thing that my heart went out to. They were neglected on so many levels before and after one of them reaches their demise. I liked the touch of the supernatural of this story (if you want to interpret it that way, others may see it in a more practical sense) but the beginnings of this storyline took far too long to set up.

This is my first foray into S.K. Tremayne, and I hate to say, but their writing style just did not do it for me. It felt dry, emotionless, and the characters not developed enough early on. But for building ambience and world building, their skills really shine. I think maybe a lack of empathy is what I’m sensing in S.K. Tremayne’s writing style. It was rich and colourful, but lacked an emotional connection. It didn’t help that any of the characters in the story were not relatable.

I don’t think I’m going to recommend this one. I’ve read so many other thrillers that I enjoyed much more; and, consequently, will not be going out of my way to purchase any more of Tremayne’s titles. It’s mainly the writing style that did it for me. But I can see how some readers will love ‘The Ice Twins’ or any other title from Tremayne’s catalogue.

Overall feeling: Just like soggy chicken

© 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 – ‘Bookish and the Beast’ (#3 Once Upon a Con) by Ashley Poston

Another hilarious addition to the CONtemprary twists of fairy tales.

Genre: YA, Contemporary, Romance, LGBT

No. of pages: 320

Rosie Thorne is feeling stuck—on her college application essays, in her small town, and on that mysterious General Sond cosplayer she met at ExcelsiCon. Most of all, she’s stuck in her grief over her mother’s death. Her only solace was her late mother’s library of rare Starfield novels, but even that disappeared when they sold it to pay off hospital bills.

On the other hand, Vance Reigns has been Hollywood royalty for as long as he can remember—with all the privilege and scrutiny that entails. When a tabloid scandal catches up to him, he’s forced to hide out somewhere the paparazzi would never expect to find him: Small Town USA. At least there’s a library in the house. Too bad he doesn’t read.

When Rosie and Vance’s paths collide and a rare book is accidentally destroyed, Rosie finds herself working to repay the debt. And while most Starfield superfans would jump at the chance to work in close proximity to the Vance Reigns, Rosie has discovered something about Vance: he’s a jerk, and she can’t stand him. The feeling is mutual.

But as Vance and Rosie begrudgingly get to know each other, their careful masks come off—and they may just find that there’s more risk in shutting each other out than in opening their hearts.

This was an adorably cute, saccharine sweet tale inspired by ‘Beauty and the Beast’ for the Once Upon a Con series. If you love to indulge in the fantasy, then this title will tickle you pink. Being based on a tale as old as time expect to read a lot of tropes, but tropes done in a fun campy sort of way. The narrative definitely lends to a quick read with chapters alternating in perspective between love interests/protagonists Rosie and Vance. I took a little longer to read ‘Bookish and the Beast’ to have a short break every now and then because of the cuteness overload. Especially if you’re not in that mindset…

Rosie is a small town geeky type dealing with grief after the loss of her mother. She and her mother shared a love of the Starfield extended universe – the films, the television show, and the novels released under the franchise, and finds comfort amongst the collection her mother had amassed… but then they hit financial hardship and had to sell off all the collectibles to keep their head above water. So Rosie is clambering, feeling the loss, trying to shape an uncertain future after she graduates high school. I love how Rose is unapologetically a book nerd, and sci-fi geek, and have friends and family equally invested in these things. I really feel a modern twist on the wallflower trope. I loved her growth in learning how to feel deserving of things, and go out and grab them.

Vance in our bad boy. Aggressive attitude, rude, media fodder, and exiled to a small town mansion to decompress and let the string of bad press cool so he doesn’t destroy his acting career. He’s been burned by so-called friends many times when they cash in on his fame; he’s like a punching bag for social media. He’s sarcastic, sullen, and is always putting up a front. I seriously had a lot of eye-rolling in his chapters, but hey, it fit with the character and wasn’t without its comedic moments. In fact I laughed a surprising amount throughout ‘Bookish and the Beast.’ Vance has a great character arc in learning to let people in, be confident in himself instead of a persona he fronts in the public eye… and to stop punishing himself for his mistakes.

I love dogs, so the German Shepard Sansa was a great inclusion in the narrative and had me clucking at the pages every time he appeared.

I also like the topic of consent and how boys sometimes don’t really listen to girls, instead doing what they think girls want, and how this was approached through the character of Garrett.

We get a lot of pop culture references in ‘Bookish and the Beast’ that readers and Con enthusiasts alike will identify with. Though, this book does not indulge in the Con events like its predecessors.

As we are following a very over-represented tale in the media, it was so very easy to predict the story, but it was an entertaining modern twist. I loved Ashely Poston’s writing style, some of the phrases she uses are delightful and really stood out to me. My enjoyment for this series has definitely increased with reading ‘Bookish and the Beast.’ Though I would have liked a bit more complexity in this book to really push it over the edge.

Again we see some great representation of the LGBTQIA+ spectrum in a positive light that is a part of the characters – not their defining trait.

A pleasant ride through an old classic for anyone who loves retellings, cutesy contemporaries, and anything to do with nerd culture around conventions and reading. I’d recommend this, but make sure you read the two sequels as each book deals with other characters from the same universe and you may lose some context.

Overall feeling: hilarious contemporary tale!

© 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 – ‘The Sky is Everywhere’ by Jandy Nelson

I can see why this author gets all the hype.

The Sky is Everywhere Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Contemporary, Romance

No. of pages: 292

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Adrift after her sister Bailey’s sudden death, Lennie finds herself torn between quiet, seductive Toby—Bailey’s boyfriend who shares her grief—and Joe, the new boy in town who bursts with life and musical genius. Each offers Lennie something she desperately needs… though she knows if the two of them collide her whole world will explode.

Join Lennie on this heartbreaking and hilarious journey of profound sorrow and mad love, as she makes colossal mistakes and colossal discoveries, as she traipses through band rooms and forest bedrooms and ultimately right into your heart.

As much a celebration of love as a poignant portrait of loss, Lennie’s struggle to sort her own melody out of the noise around her is always honest, often uproarious, and absolutely unforgettable.

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I don’t think if I hadn’t lost someone close to me this novel would have resonated with me so much. Jandy Nelson’s writing style is beautiful and melodic. I was in serious writers envy at how she crafted a scene and created atmosphere. There were moments that my eyes stung a little, holding back tears – but I didn’t get to a point where I all-out cried. So while this was an emotional read, it didn’t knock me off my feet and leave me with a massive book hangover.

My personal opinion over protagonist Lennie and what happens in ‘The Sky is Everywhere’ is in dichotomy: one is intolerant of some of her behaviour, it’s inexcusable. But on the other hand, having lived through something similar, you really do act in uncharacteristic ways when dealing with grief. Besides that, Jandy Nelson has a divisive skill of picturing this unique artistic family in a way that I can relate to, endearingly, even though I know little about painting, poetry, or music. In other books broaching this topic I always find myself skipping parts, yet in ‘The Sky is Everywhere’ I read every single word. Gripped from cover to cover.

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The Sky is Everywhere’ is a lyrical, quick read I managed to complete in a day. And such an unusual read for me. I do like contemporaries, but this is not in the style I usually gravitate towards. But I’m really glad for the experience and already have ‘I’ll Give You the Sun’ on my nightstand to pick up soon to indulge in more of Jandy Nelson’s words.

The symbolism is picturesque. If you let the book sit with you, marinate on the words, you can see the layers. It was lovely.

With Lennie not knowing who she is anymore. Feeling untethered. I can strongly relate. Grief stays with your forever and you really do navigate the world feeling a little lost. It lessens over time, but it’s always there.

Though it has a romance, it wasn’t a novel that I really predicted. It’s a personal story of grief, overcoming the bitterness, the abruptness, of such events; so it was more of a personal journey for the protagonist rather than just a story of girl meets boy, girl gets boy.

I did feel like one of the love interests, Toby was a bit of a dick. Even though he is grieving too, he is older, and making the moves on a vulnerable young girl felt a bit skeevie.

I’d recommend this for the writing of Jandy Nelson alone. Can’t wait to see the film adaptation currently in pre-production. It was recently announced that actress Grace Kaufman will play the protagonist Lennie.

Overall feeling: Truly, deeply impressed.

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The Sky is Everywhere Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

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© 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 – ‘History Is All You Left Me’ by Adam Silvera

An endearing character study in grief and loss.

History Is All You Left Me Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Contemporary, Romance, LGBT

No. of pages: 294

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Griffin has lost his first love in a drowning accident. Theo was his best friend, his ex-boyfriend and the one he believed he would end up with. Now, reeling from grief and worsening OCD, Griffin turns to an unexpected person for help. Theo’s new boyfriend.

But as their relationship becomes increasingly complicated, dangerous truths begin to surface. Griffin must make a choice: confront the past, or miss out on his future.

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Told in alternating narratives in time, one from 2016 (the present) after Theo, Griffin’s boyfriend, has passed away from a drowning incident; and another from 2014, a happier time when Theo was alive…

To be honest, 3 months had passed since reading ‘History is All You Left Me’ until writing a review. I usually write up notes straight away, and I don’t know if I omitted my review because of the emotional impact, and I needed a few days to let it sit and simply forgot, or jumped in to the next read to get away from the book hangover and started to avoid writing a review. But the sad fact is that I forgot everything about ‘History Is All You Left Me’ and I needed to skim through the whole book to collect my thoughts. That is not a good sign. Usually I remember enough to write up a review… let’s see what my opinion is after a quick flip through the novel:

History Is All You Left Me Book Review Pic 02 by Casey CarlisleI think the main reason I didn’t get into ‘History Is All You Left Me,’ and also why it did not impact me as much as I was expecting was how Griffin behaved. He was literally a man-s!#t. Though there was no cheating on anyone, and yes, I know when someone is dealing with loss and grief (and maybe some guilt too) that lots of weird and unexpected things can happen. Like sleeping with your deceased ex’s boyfriend. And similar such destructive behaviours. So while I understand it, it did nothing to dispel the bad taste left in my mouth. I wanted a protagonist with a stronger character. Someone I could get behind. But Griffin is a mess. Both before and after Theo’s death. It does humanise Griffin and gives this story a level of realism. But I feel like if I praise this book, I’ll be condoning that type of behaviour. That it’s okay to be selfish in times of grief and hurt everyone around you. Um, yeah. This novel was triggering. I’ve lived through grief and loss of many loved ones and been the victim of other people’s destructive behaviour. It’s not nice.

Theo is painted as the innocent, the saint that everyone has lost. He wore his feelings on his sleeve and there were no secrets with him. Which was nice to read – illustrating the tendency to place those who have passed on a pedestal. Even if you are mad at them in your grief.

After Theo departs for college, and Griffin dumps him, Theo meets Jackson. Jackson’s time together is only brief before Theo drowns in an accident. I found it interesting, the different colours of grief and guilt played out between Griffin and Jackson in the chapters set in the present day. And how, as they work through the loss and memories of Theo, it changes them, and their relationship to each other, Theo, and those around them.

I will say I appreciated the inclusion of parental figures, and a professional therapist. Though they didn’t play as a prominent part as I would have wished, they were present and helped our characters navigate the new and heavy feelings associated with mental illness and grief.

I did not really predict much about this story. We already knew Griffin’s first love, Theo has died and that the book was going to be about him dealing with that and moving on… apart from that, it’s a wild guess as to what would happen. Because this is not a plot driven story, but a character driven one. Plus, we get a nice character twist that added an element of charm and hope for the future.

The tone of ‘History Is All You Left Me’ is an endearing one. As Griffin is addressing Theo’s memory through most of it. Keeping his memory alive. And the method of alternating timelines added something that broke up heavier scenes of loss with happier times and made this book easier to read.

Overall, a touching read, but not one that stabbed me in the heart like I was expecting. But a joy to read Adam Silvera’s writing and forging a legacy of interesting queer leads in literature. If you don’t mind a more emotionally challenging story then I recommend this one for you.

Overall feeling: A little sad, a little triggering, an okay read.

History Is All You Left Me Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

History Is All You Left Me Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

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© 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 – The Past and Other Things That Should Stay Buried’ by Shaun David Hutchinson

A brilliant juxtaposition of contemporary and fantasy.

The Past and Other Things That Should Stay Buried Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Contemporary, LGBT, Paranormal

No. of pages: 304

From Goodreads:

A good friend will bury your body, a best friend will dig you back up.

Dino doesn’t mind spending time with the dead. His parents own a funeral home, and death is literally the family business. He’s just not used to them talking back. Until Dino’s ex-best friend July dies suddenly—and then comes back to life. Except not exactly. Somehow July is not quite alive, and not quite dead.

As Dino and July attempt to figure out what’s happening, they must also confront why and how their friendship ended so badly, and what they have left to understand about themselves, each other, and all those grand mysteries of life.

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Saying goodbye to your departed frenemy… who just happens to be a zombie.

The Past and Other Things That Should Stay Buried’ is a hilarious and heart-warming tale told in alternating perspectives of best friends turned enemies Dino and July. But, July is now dead, well… undead. Death has been put on hold while these two teens make amends with each other and some other issues they have been struggling with.

Dino’s family run a morgue, and he is currently undecided on a lot of things. His career path, his friendships, his relationship. How he can confront people. He’s kind of emo and artsy. He also has a gorgeous transgender boyfriend, Rafi, that he feels like he doesn’t deserve.

July is loud and brash, the centre of attention, and very jealous of Rafi. He’s stolen all of Dino’s attention away from her and she’s left to float around other less important friends. So how does she deal with this abandonment? With passive aggressive comments and pranks on Dino.

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Now July is back from the dead – zombie style without the hunger for brains and human flesh, and with Dino as her only confidant. The both have to overcome their antagonism to figure out why people aren’t dying and what to do with July now that she’s a slowly decomposing, flatulent corpse. With witty banter, great pacing, and emotional reveals, I was hooked from the first page.

The overall plot is predictable and obvious, but the subsequent plot points in-between were not. But all that middle-story stuff lent to some great character arcs for our two leads. With themes of friendship, redemption, loss, grief, and finding your place in this world ‘The Past and Other Things That Should Stay Buried’ is a brilliant read.

I’m loving the more graphic art trend of the cover illustration – you can see something similar on another of Shaun David Hutchinson’s titles, ‘The Apocalypse of Elena Mendoza’ which I’m keen to pick up.

Overall, a strong recommendation from me. Great characters, quirky storyline, and a well-paced read.

Overall feeling: Killed myself laughing.

The Past and Other Things That Should Stay Buried Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

The Past and Other Things That Should Stay Buried Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

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© Casey Carlisle 2019. 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.

Mental illness in writing

Mental Illness in Writing Pic 01 by Casey Carlisle

It might be a point of difference, a plot point, but mental illness in YA and literature can help save lives through education and lifting the veil on depression and related conditions. Before the person suffering takes drastic measures of their own…

I have a (secondary) character in one of my WIPs who suffers from depression, it provides one of the main characters in the story with motivation and characteristics important to their arc. However, while taking a break from framing out the second half of the novel, I jumped on social media for a nosey and catch up with friends. Two things happened that have me questioning my mentally ill character… first, a teenage girl in my family circle dealing with her own mental illness and a ton of online bullying; and secondly, the suicide of an idol. Part of the contributing factors leading him to his death were the continual hate he was getting online – he never felt good enough.

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It really hit home. I truly don’t fully understand what it is to be depressed enough to take your own life. I’m much too proactive and positive for that. It must be such a desperate and lonely place to be. And I wish others did not have to experience such a painful and debilitating emotion.

Professional psychologists attribute some of this to a chemical imbalance in the brain, as well as finding the coping mechanisms to train your thought patterns… it all sounds so clinical in the face of such a devastating state of mind.

I know there is no easy fix for something like this, but I always wonder why the two people mentioned above in particular don’t take some control of their exposure to the hate? Granted, they are the victims, and by right should not have to limit their activities. But why in the heck don’t they just delete all social media accounts? Or block the trolls? Online haters feel safe in anonymity; and the numbers and reach of these kind of people are incrementally greater online. Why not just switch off, unplug, and concentrate on you. On what you can control?

Mental Illness in Writing Pic 03 by Casey CarlisleI understand asking that of today’s youth would be like removing a limb – but wouldn’t you rather value your mental health than put up with idiots and haters? It has become such a huge problem that we are dealing with since the growth of online communities. Depression, anxiety, and bullies are a dangerous mix – it can lead to suicide, substance abuse, or fatal retaliation. Thankfully there are ways to deal. Help lines, organisations, peer counselors, teachers, parents, friends, doctors, mental health professionals. While life online has exposed people to more hate, it has also connected us to real help. Plus, we can control what we are exposed to with security settings, blocking profiles, reporting abusers to moderators. It’s not a hopeless situation. And seeking help online isn’t as difficult as reaching out in person. There is no shame or embarrassment.

I feel like including characters in my writing, and reading about them in fiction, can help educate people about this issue in an informal and personal way. I may not fully understand the things that go through someone’s head suffering depression, but with some research maybe I can help a reader feel like they are not alone, show them ways to handle these strong feelings, and seek out the help they need? Some of the novels I’ve read have certainly educated me in handling grief, bullying, depression, and anxiety. It’s also shed light on other mental illnesses and disabilities and how individuals cope with them in their lives, like bipolar, schizophrenia, being on the autism spectrum. When I was a child, things like this were taboo. Never mentioned. But what I see today is that dealing with mental illness doesn’t have to be struggled through alone. People can overcome the difficulties. And it’s more common than you think.

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It hurts my heart to see such a dark side of humanity laid bare when I think of those driven to take their own lives from bullying and hate. We don’t need to do that to each other. And to anyone surrounded by shadows and clouds, feeling worthless and alone – don’t believe those feelings. Don’t give in. You are a special, unique individual. A part of what makes this universe tick. Even though these words are coming from a complete stranger through a screen of some kind – you are loved.

 

And there is help.

 

Please call for help.

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© Casey Carlisle 2019. 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.

 

Rediscovering my passion for writing through loss…

Rediscovering my passion for writing through loss Pic 01 by Casey Carlisle

… and setting up a cracker of a year!

Holy Hanna! I can’t believe it is already March and this is the first blog post I’ve written for 2019… where did the beginning of the year go?

For the last two months I’ve done nothing bookish or indulged in writing. Sad face emoji. Over the holiday period it was my intention to get some much needed spring cleaning done and finally go through everything boxed up from my mother’s estate. I’ve put off the unboxing for far too long. Mum passed just over five years ago and there were always distraction and other things that took priority. But there were no excuses over the holidays and the job is well overdue. Yay for me being proactive and ticking some of the less desirable items from my to-do list. I’m patting myself on the back for this one!

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Here’s me thinking a few weeks was all that was needed. Erm… I didn’t take into account the emotional connection to objects and photos. Each day was a rollercoaster between the joys of unwrapping something I desired – like my birthday; and something triggering the loss and grief all over again. Two weeks stretched over an exhausting six weeks. My over-ambition hobbles me again *shakes fist at the sky* However the experience has left me feeling lighter, cleansed, and motivated. If not more connected to my mum.

It’s reminded me of all the things I started writing for in the first place. Flashbacks to mum’s words of encouragement. It has re-invigorated my drive. Last year was feeling like it was difficult to make any progress – even though I had been. It simply came down to nothing being finished. (That’s what you get for running too many projects at once.) But it has left this year as one where I can start crossing items off my goals list.

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It’s left me wondering if I should work less on the blog and concentrate on the professional landscape I’ve been building; or knuckle down and attempt to do both. I’m just a little concerned of burnout or overextending myself. (Like I always tend to do.) I don’t want to spend all my time at a keyboard, I value getting out and exploring the coast and Hinterland, connecting with family and friends. Guess I’ll give it a go and see how things work out. Both aspects of novel writing and blogging are fun – it’s just one is building a career, and the other is sharing the love of reading… choices.

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So now I’m back in the swing of things, and we’ll see where this journey takes me. What opportunities I can create… and hopefully the regular schedule of blog posts won’t suffer.

In the meantime, happy reading and lots of positive and creative vibes to those on their own writing journey.

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© Casey Carlisle 2019. 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 – ‘A Very, Very Bad Thing’ by Jeffery Self

A lie by omission brings about a very, very good thing too…

A Very, Very Bad Thing Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Contemporary, GLBT

No. of pages: 256

From Goodreads:

Marley doesn’t just want to be labeled The Gay Kid, but he doesn’t have much else going on. He doesn’t have any hobbies. Or interests. He’s the only kid he knows without a passion . . . until Christopher comes to town. He’s smart, cute, gay, and . . . the son of the country’s most famous, most bigoted television evangelist.

Marley and Christopher immediately spark — and become inseparable. For a month, it’s heaven. Then Christopher’s parents send him to a Pray Away the Gay program, which leads to even worse things. Hurt and outraged, Marley tells a very big lie — and then has to navigate its repercussions.  

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A Very, Very Bad Thing’ is a quaint novel with a heart-wrenching message. There is a big plot twist, something that I was not expecting, and turned my opinion of this book around.

A Very, Very Bad Thing’ started off slow and uninteresting. The writing wasn’t particularly engaging, and the storyline was something I’d read a zillion times before. All in all, I was starting to sum this book up as meh! But get to the plot twist just after the half way point and it’s a whole different kettle of fish. Suddenly it was interesting, emotional, and full of tension and conflict.

A Very, Very Bad Thing Book Review Pic 02 by Casey CarlisleThe wording our protagonist Marley says in public – especially in a speech giving scenario always felt very scripted and P.C. Given, it’s an emotionally distressed teenager, but I found it a little unbelievable for him to be so polished in those instances. Considering he was so goofy and sarcastic at the beginning.

Marley’s relationship with Christopher is very sweet, but I guess because it was so easy, I wasn’t sold on it so much. Then during the conclusion with the summing up of the events – insert moral lesson here – it also comes off a bit contrite. I found myself wanting it to get ugly – or ugly cry. Some events weren’t given enough time to marinate in the narrative.

I wanted the start to be shorter, the words and experiences to have more impact, so that the second act of this novel can explore the themes more effectively and not rely on poignant monologues to make its point. Symbolism can be so much more resonating.

This is all me nit-picking. I guess because overall, even though I shed a tear or two, it felt a little bland than what I was expecting. Like the characters were all on a healthy dose of lithium. I want angst, drama, and at least one person to get slapped.

A Very, Very Bad Thing’ does have a unique story. I have to praise Jeffrey Self for the original take on this love story. Lies by omission, misunderstandings, and doing bad for the voice of good were handled with an unexpected flair. It brings out an important lesson learned that many young lgbtqia+ face today. I love some social commentary in my fiction.

Christopher as a love interest is adorkable. Like a bouncing puppy despite the religious oppression of his parents. But I felt like he could have gotten a bigger chance to shine. I wanted something to stand out so he wasn’t so much the stereotypical boy next door.

Audrey, Marley’s best friend adds some comic relief, but I also felt she too was a bit typecast. Insert quirky BFF here. For as close as these two are, she seemed mostly absent for the second half of the novel… and best friends tend to assert their presence in times of need.

This book is a little battler, it has lots of heart but needs a bit of polish to really shine – but not a novel you can dismiss easily. Luckily it’s short in length so I persevered after finding the beginning a little uninteresting. Definitely worth reading to the end. I went in without knowing anything of the plot and was totally taken on a whirlwind. I’m on the fence in recommending this one – it’s interesting, but I feel the writing style and pacing needs some maturation… Maybe for a tween demographic and lovers of lgbtqia+ genre specific novels.

Overall feeling: You got me there girl

A Very, Very Bad Thing Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

A Very, Very Bad Thing Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

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© 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 – ‘What to Say Next’ by Julie Buxbaum

Bring on the awkwardness!

What to Say Next Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Contemporary, Romance

No. of pages: 292

From Goodreads:

Two struggling teenagers find an unexpected connection just when they need it most.

Sometimes a new perspective is all that is needed to make sense of the world.

KIT: I don’t know why I decide not to sit with Annie and Violet at lunch. It feels like no one here gets what I’m going through. How could they? I don’t even understand.

DAVID: In the 622 days I’ve attended Mapleview High, Kit Lowell is the first person to sit at my lunch table. I mean, I’ve never once sat with someone until now. “So your dad is dead,” I say to Kit, because this is a fact I’ve recently learned about her. 

When an unlikely friendship is sparked between relatively popular Kit Lowell and socially isolated David Drucker, everyone is surprised, most of all Kit and David. Kit appreciates David’s blunt honesty—in fact, she finds it bizarrely refreshing. David welcomes Kit’s attention and her inquisitive nature. When she asks for his help figuring out the how and why of her dad’s tragic car accident, David is all in. But neither of them can predict what they’ll find. Can their friendship survive the truth?

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After ‘Tell Me Three Things,’ I picked up ‘What to Say Next’ in my following book haul eager for Buxbaum’s breezy narrative and quirky writing style. This novel did not disappoint, another light contemporary to while away an afternoon. I loved the unique viewpoint of a protagonist on the autism spectrum.

What to Say Next Book Review Pic 02 by Casey CarlisleThere were a few times I felt as though things were a little one-minded for the sake of drama, but hey – what teen does not live in that headspace. Everything is life and death, emotions exist in their amped up, purest form… mix in a touch of Asperger’s and it’s a force of nature. And I felt Buxbaum treated David with respect, and it felt like (as it should be) he was just another person in the mix of humanity getting through each day at high school. That he can have relationships, that he is independent and not someone to be sequestered into a special school just because of his bluntly honest outlook on life which may make some people uncomfortable.

They need to get over themselves.

The first half was a bit of a slow burn – but it goes with the tone in the way David’s mind works. It really set the tone on his perceptions, thought patterns, and prejudices he overcomes on a daily basis.

Miney was the ever protective big sister for David and I loved that family dynamic.

Kit, whose perspective is alternated with David’s, is the biracial love interest. I found it interesting how she was the only character that felt race and heritage was an issue, whereas the rest of the cast were pretty much colour-blind. It was a pleasant state to read about. And let’s face it, Kit, by all rights should be the only one to talk about race and discrimination.

I was a little annoyed at the role Kit’s mother played, it’s like she didn’t have much authority as a parent – but if you are always trying to be your child’s best friend, you walk that line…

Interactions between David and Kit felt like an innocent, beautiful blossoming friendship. So adorably cute. Some things get piled on this pair, well a lot of things, which made for great reading, especially to see how they overcame these obstacles. And the plot twist – where the heck did that come from? Totally side-swiped me.

The writing style is gorgeous, easy to read and in a tone distinct for both narrators.

Loved ‘Tell Me Three Things,’ this was a great addition to my library and look forward to what Buxbaum releases next. A definite recommend for me. Though it’s more of a slow burn contemporary that a short angsty tale.

Overall feeling: Shades of social inappropriateness (in a good way).

What to Say Next Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

What to Say Next Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

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© 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 – ‘We Were Liars’ by E. Lockhart

Elite drama and an unreliable narrator make for fantastic reading.

We Were Liars Book Review Pic 01 by Casey Carlisle.jpgGenre: Y/A, Contemporary, Mystery

No. of pages: 227

From Goodreads:

We are the Liars.

We are beautiful, privileged and live a life of carefree luxury.

We are cracked and broken.

A story of love and romance.

A tale of tragedy.

Which are lies?

Which is truth?

You decide.

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This totally blew me away. It had drama, mystery and obnoxious characters… Just from the title and tone of the novel I knew there would be a twist coming – and I kind of guessed it, but not entirely. More like I had the gist of it, but when the big reveal came at the end I was like Oooooohhhh…

I’m not usually one to favour stories that are fragmented or filled with flashbacks, but in this case it worked. With an unreliable narrator like Cady everything that is written has relevance – it’s a big puzzle and you just have to find the right way everything fits together.

There is also a tone of racism, elitism, entitlement, and social justice that resonates strongly in the subtext. Along with that are themes of selfishness, idiocy, and innocence lost. It’s like a big swirling mass just under the letters on the page: a strong reflection on real life. For such a short book it really packs a punch.

We Were Liars Book Review Pic 03 by Casey CarlisleMaybe I’m a little disconnected, or in shock, or simply disorientated from all the going’s on in the book, but I didn’t really laugh or cry. And I was expecting to. So that is the only reason I deducted a mark – lack of emotional connection. Quite possibly it is also because all the cast were flawed and there is no clear definition of what is good or bad and who deserves punishment or not.

I marvel on the weaving of the storyline, the craftsmanship of plot and character – clearly the best book I’ve read of E. Lockhart to date.

I will say that the writing style is brief and jarring at times – almost like slam poetry. It is intentional, reflecting the way the protagonist, Cady’s brain works, but it was another small aspect that pulled me from the narrative. Those few words built a strong picture, but I wanted to exist in the moment longer. It felt all too brief. Maybe that’s part of the reason I lack a strong emotional connection to the story because the writing style hit me like a drive-by….wham! And then it’s gone. Red taillights shrinking to blurry pinpricks in the distance.

I don’t feel we really got to know the characters that much either. The grown up’s stay in the periphery, bickering. The Littles (younger kids) are loud, messy and disruptive, but only present for mere moments. The Liars though, because they are hiding so much, or playing games, I felt like I only got the surface scratched before the story ended.

Though the conclusion was satisfying, there was still a sense that there were some lose ends… but I guess the story isn’t truly over – the family is still carrying on, still maintaining that Sinclar reputation.

Highly recommended – a delightful read with an unexpected twist.

Overall feeling: I love a surprise reveal at the end!

We Were Liars Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

We Were Liars Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

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© Casey Carlisle 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.