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 – ‘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.

Restricted to bed – doctors orders.

Reading, writing and blogging slumps means no fun for this girl. I hate getting sick.

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I’m not beating myself up in taking an occasional break to routine. Recharge my batteries. Having a mini adventure.

And that’s what I’ve been doing. Indulging in a family visit and having marathon Canasta games over a glass of champagne. Exploring local markets and shopping up a storm. Late night chats over a hot cuppa. It may sound a little boring and simple, but living on top of a mountain in isolation writing means human contact of any kind is like a packed underground dance party. It really does leave you happily satiated and ready to hit the keyboard again.

Except immediately after I got food poisoning, and then fell ill with the flu that has been sweeping across the Sunshine Coast. So what was meant to me a 5-day reprieve, turned into just over a month, most of it spent moaning and wondering ‘why me?’ I agonised for three days hugging porcelain, praying for my stomach to stop spasming. My little puppy was quite alarmed at my retching noises, and my constant nursemaid.

I have to admit, I have not gotten ill in quite a long time. Not since I have gotten over the aftermath of cancer and acclimating to fulltime work and the stresses it took out on a recovering body. In the last four years I may of had one day here or there feeling poorly, maybe with a headache or hayfever. Nothing a day of rest or a Panadol didn’t fix. But a bout of food poisoning and the flu brought back all the worst sense-memories of cancer treatment.

Mainly the nausea and unending praying while in embrace of the toilet bowl. Feeling weak and shaky, overtaken in a hot and cold sweats. Not the funniest way to spend three days… I couldn’t even indulge in reading quietly in bed. Light sensitivity had the lamps off and blinds down. I would’ve love to watch a movie, read a blog or even catch up on my email… but no, I lay there wafting in and out of sleep waiting for the rolling of my stomach to cease. Hoping I hadn’t stripped away all the lining from my throat. The flu continued most of these symptoms along with dizziness and a wheezy cough. Many, many slime filled tissues later… It feels glorious to finally be coming out the other end of this seasonal illness.

I embodied all those caricature sickies on television – hair like a birds nest built in a drug haze, baggy sweats, and a blotchy face from tissue abrasions. If anyone can stick around after seeing me like this – they’re a keeper!

About once or twice a year I find myself in a period where life happens with such intensity that I have no time left for writing, reading, or blogging. And this is coming from someone who religiously makes time for her craft every day. When I was finally able to sit down, clear headed and write, I was simply too exhausted. Even when I started to read, I’d manage maybe a page or two before nodding off.

In hindsight, I always boggle at the amount of work I could’ve completed in that time frame. I very much live to write… but it’s important to live to share, love, and experience too. There’s a balance in there somewhere, and I falter from one extreme to the other in hopes of living a full, happy life. Following passion and sharing happiness.

Does anyone else suffer from writers or readers guilt? Tell me I’m not alone.

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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.

Book Review – ‘The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley’ by Shaun David Hutchinson

Desperate. Funny. Dark… I think that says it all. Read it!

 The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Contemporary, GLBT

No. of pages: 297

From Goodreads:

Andrew Brawley was supposed to die that night. His parents did, and so did his sister, but he survived.

Now he lives in the hospital. He serves food in the cafeteria, he hangs out with the nurses, and he sleeps in a forgotten supply closet. Drew blends in to near invisibility, hiding from his past, his guilt, and those who are trying to find him.

Then one night Rusty is wheeled into the ER, burned on half his body by hateful classmates. His agony calls out to Drew like a beacon, pulling them both together through all their pain and grief. In Rusty, Drew sees hope, happiness, and a future for both of them. A future outside the hospital, and away from their pasts.

But Drew knows that life is never that simple. Death roams the hospital, searching for Drew, and now Rusty. Drew lost his family, but he refuses to lose Rusty, too, so he’s determined to make things right. He’s determined to bargain, and to settle his debts once and for all.

But Death is not easily placated, and Drew’s life will have to get worse before there is any chance for things to get better. 

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When I first read the synopsis, I wasn’t entirely sure about reading this novel, but seeing the great reviews, and after some umming and erring, I finally picked it up. ‘The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley’ was a dark horse and has become one of my favorite GLBTQIA+ reads.

At first I found this frustrating – like, how could a kid go unnoticed living in a hospital? I wondered if he was imagining things and this was some sort of dream. Then I wondered if he was actually suffering some sort of mental illness… but as it turned out ‘The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley’ was much grittier. And real. Well, as the title alludes to – these are our protagonist’s journey through the five stages of grief.

Interspersed between chapters were parts of Drew’s comic book ‘Patient K, – which was a symbolic telling of Drew’s innermost psyche – dark, entertaining and poignant.

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His friendships with the staff and patients is endearing, as is Drew himself. He is a loving, gentle soul who carries the weight of some major tragedy (or sin) along with him. He haunts the corridors of Roanoke General like a ghost – the only survivor left of his family.

Once you get past the half way mark the story really starts to open up – much like a tree spreading its roots in many different directions. It was a true marvel to read – Shaun David Hutchinson is a genius. His writing style is colorful, edgy and magnificent. I could not describe how jealous I was at how he expressed Drew’s thoughts in words. I became an instant fan!

Highly recommend you add this title to your collection 🙂

Overall feeling: Parts of my brain were applauding, other parts exploding…

The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

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© 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 – Translucent by Dan Rix

An alien encounter of a different kind.

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

No. of pages: 266

From Goodreads:

When a meteorite falls near her campsite in the San Rafael Wilderness, troubled teen Leona Hewitt ventures down into the crater looking for a souvenir. What she discovers changes her life.

Contained in the meteorite is a sticky, mucous-like fluid that bends light, cannot itself be seen, and seems to grow in the presence of living tissue. It’s drawn to her.

But when a government team arrives in hazmat suits and cordons off the meteorite impact site, Leona questions her decision to take it home with her. For one thing, there are rumors of an extraterrestrial threat.

For another, it has been speaking to her.

It wants to be worn . . . stretched on like a second skin. It’s seeking out her weaknesses, exploiting her deepest fear—that the only boy she’s ever loved will unearth the vile secret in her past and see her as a monster. Now it promises salvation.

It can make her invisible.  

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A great little science fiction read. It starts off cliché, and the protagonist, Leona, annoyed me many times. But the concept of the mythology is very interesting. ‘Translucent’ has been a great introduction into Dan Rix and his writing.

I must admit, the cover is what attracted me to this book – and don’t get confused – there is another novel by Lauren Bird Horowitz with a very similar cover. (Why do publishers do that?) But once I read the blurb, the addition of sci-fi and an alien substance that you can wear –ding- I’m sold and this title was instantly added to my cart for checkout.

Translucent Book Review Pic 02 by Casey CarlisleOur protagonist Leona. While I loved reading her story and the narrative style, I did not agree with many of her decisions. I understood her reasoning, but her actions had me shaking my head many times – but hey, it made good reading. We see some kind of arc and character development for her, (and then everything is left up in the air.) Leona, is tormented with guilt. With a fantastic back story which is unravelled throughout the course of the novel, you are able to see this history influencing many of her decisions. Even though she is not my favourite character, she is definitely well written.

Megan (the best friend) felt like my best mate. She embodied all the idiocy that we had in high school. And, while not the voice of reason, was genuinely looking out for both her and Leona. I was a little disappointed that her story line had dropped away towards the end. Without Megan ‘Translucent’ would have been considerably less entertaining.

Emory, Leona’s love interest, felt the least convincing character – I felt there was not a lot that justified his actions. Was he sad? Was he a bad boy? Why was he so predatory with Leona? I wanted more insight into his psyche in order to relate to him. Maybe we’ll get more in the following books, maybe we won’t. But I’m on the fence with Emory.

While there is resolution at the conclusion of ‘Translucent,’ I wanted more of a solid ending (though I do like a good cliff-hanger). There was a bit too much left hanging for me to feel totally satisfied – even if it is the first in a series– it’s the first in a four book series (at the time this review is being published.). It was as successful as many other debut novels. But I nonetheless was hooked, and really enjoyed the experience, devouring the novel in a day. I’m planning on reading ‘Of Starlight’ in the next few weeks and see if Dan Rix is going to hook me as another must have author.

It’s something I would recommend, but don’t expect amazing things; though the whole dark matter-invisibility thing is cool.

Overall feeling: Oooh, that was pretty good.

Translucent Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

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© 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.