Book Review – ‘The Problem With Forever’ by Jennifer L. Armentrout

Taking your life back can be hard… but it’s easier with a hunk at your side.

Genre: YA, Contemporary, Romance

No. of pages: 474

A story about friendship, survival, and finding your voice.

Growing up, Mallory Dodge learned that the best way to survive was to say nothing. And even though it’s been four years since her nightmare ended, she’s beginning to worry that the fear that holds her back will last a lifetime. Now, after years of homeschooling, Mallory must face a new milestone—spending her senior year at a public high school. But she never imagined she’d run into Rider Stark, the friend and protector she hasn’t seen since childhood, on her very first day. 

It doesn’t take long for Mallory to realize that the connection she shared with Rider never really faded. Yet soon it becomes apparent that she’s not the only one grappling with lingering scars from the past. And as she watches Rider’s life spiral out of control, Mallory must make a choice between staying silent and speaking out—for the people she loves, the life she wants and the truths that need to be heard.

A realistic tale of child abuse survivors attempting to live in the real world, finish high school, and reconnect.

To summarise my roller-coaster of feelings while reading ‘The Problem With Forever’ : a little long. Pacing was good. Nearly ugly cried at the end. Some melodrama (as expected). Loved the characters and character development, felt fresh from JLA, not a lot of surprises, but an enjoyable read. Shocked me once.

It’s been a minute since I’ve read anything from Jennifer L. Armentrout, I think I’ve been avoiding her titles because at times her writing feels too melodramatic and over-angsty. I actually love those elements in a story, but many times after reading one of JLA’s books I got the impression that it was heavy-handed (and sometimes repetitive) with theses story elements. ‘The Problem With Forever’ felt like a refreshing take for Armentrout in the context of my reading experience. I guess removing any science fiction or fantasy elements, we get more of her core writing skills with character development and dynamics. Admittedly I’ve only read a handful of her steamy contemporary romance stuff at present, so it’s hard to draw that comparison. But overall I really enjoyed ‘The Problem With Forever’ showcasing a unique protagonist, Mallory ‘Mouse’ Dodge attempting regular high school after years of home-schooling and dealing with the mental and physical aftereffects of abuse.

This was paced really well, but at times felt like it was dragging, or the story a little too long; but I think that comes down to the author liking to indulge in the romance and angst (and sometimes repeating a lot of what is already established) typical of YA and JLA’s writing style. But this did not detract from my enjoyment of ‘The Problem With Forever’ that much.

I enjoyed reading about a protagonist who was attempting to grow and push herself, to start using coping mechanisms for her PTSD, anxiety, and depression and get out in the world, function efficiently rather than living cooped up inside and away from crowds. I did get a sense of the love interest, Rider (ugh, that name) playing protector too much, like she was broken and needed a saviour. Setting up a premise of Mouse conquering her fears only to have Rider swoop in many times rubbed my skin the wrong way. I would have liked to see him in a more supportive role than the man who comes in to fix the problem… I don’t mind a damsel in distress moment, but as long as it is not set up as a repeating trope.

Rider is that cool, bad boy from the wrong side of the tracks. JLA loves this trope, I see it a lot in her books. It’s a fun fantasy, and at least he wasn’t being mean or aloof ‘for her own good,’ and even though I cringed a bit at this trope, Rider grew on me as we see more and more of his motives come to light. The fact he has his own demons to wrestle from the same childhood abuse redeemed his character in my eyes.

You get the sense of some real underlying research into child abuse, mental illness, and how children cope, adapt, and it’s repercussions in later life. I would have liked to seen more practical advice and support presented in the narrative, but the story was pretty solid. It goes without saying that there should be a big trigger warning around child abuse for ‘The Problem With Forever.’

Mouse gets bullied – there is an element of girl warfare we see all the time in high school, it adds some great tension, and a worthy antagonist for the story, but something about Rider’s excuses, Mouse’s tendency to brush it off, and Paige (said antagonist) felt a little two-dimensional, painted as the villain a little too heavily. We also get a lot of holding back of information, and misunderstandings to amp up the drama which lost a little bit of realism for me.

The plot is fairly simple, though it has a great reveal at the end which really squeezed my heart. Jennifer L. Armentrout’s writing style is breezy, lending to a quick read despite its 474 page length. As with most contemporary romances the plot was easily predictable, but it is a satisfying ending that wraps up the plot points nicely. I’ve seen chatter on the blogs about wanting a companion novel following Ainsley (Mouse’s bff from home-schooling online) and Hector (Rider’s foster brother) and I can see the opening for that – their story is left up in the air, and I’d be down to read that book if it is ever written and get more of a glimpse into Mouse and Riders future.

An interesting, heart-wrenching, realistic contemporary that I thoroughly enjoyed. Definitely recommend this one.

Overall feeling: She’s back in the saddle

© 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 – ‘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 – ‘Leah on the Offbeat’ (#2 Creekwood) by Becky Albertalli

Another coming out story from the Simonverse… .

Genre: Y/A, Contemporary, Romance, LGBT

No. of pages: 352

Leah Burke—girl-band drummer, master of deadpan, and Simon Spier’s best friend from the award-winning Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda—takes center stage in this novel of first love and senior-year angst.

When it comes to drumming, Leah Burke is usually on beat—but real life isn’t always so rhythmic. An anomaly in her friend group, she’s the only child of a young, single mom, and her life is decidedly less privileged. She loves to draw but is too self-conscious to show it. And even though her mom knows she’s bisexual, she hasn’t mustered the courage to tell her friends—not even her openly gay BFF, Simon.

So Leah really doesn’t know what to do when her rock-solid friend group starts to fracture in unexpected ways. With prom and college on the horizon, tensions are running high. It’s hard for Leah to strike the right note while the people she loves are fighting—especially when she realizes she might love one of them more than she ever intended.

Many of my book friends did not like ‘Leah on the Offbeat’ but I thought it was a comical romp through coming out.

Maybe if so much time hadn’t passed, and I was comparing it to ‘Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda,’ then yes, I would have rated it lower. For this sequel, we follow Leah coming to terms with her bisexuality and crush(es). We get all the comedic timing that was in the debut of this series, though I have to admit our protagonist fell a touch flatter. I think because we never get any deep exploration around the relationship with her mother (and mother’s new boyfriend,) or any resolution to the issues these two share. It’s all very perfunctory. Also, with ‘Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda’ we get how Simon and Bram’s relationship affect the gang – and the larger circle of friends they share. Again, we don’t get this exploration in ‘Leah on the Offbeat.’

Leah is a very private, closed-off, and sarcastic protagonist. She’s confident but self-depreciating. So it makes a bit of sense that the plot is a little reserved. We get teen angst, but it felt understated in comparison to ‘Simon and the Homo Sapiens Agenda,’ but again, it fits the character profile of Leah. I loved how she is sensible. Practical. Considerate of others. Too often in YA we get self-righteous or self-absorbed protagonists who’s character arc is the realisation of their small worldly view, or selfish actions affecting others… not so in ‘Leah on the Offbeat,’ it’s kind of the reverse. Leah learning to take care of herself, and become a little selfish. Letting others in.

It’s a testament to what happens when someone gets bullied for the colour of their skin, their weight, their sexuality, or any other challenge a person may face. They build up walls to protect themselves. In this case, Leah keeps everyone at a distance and deals with the world through sarcasm and dry wit. It’s hard to let people get close to you again because your heart is still in pain from the past.

We get a lot of Simon and Bram and see the progression of their relationship. It fill in the gap between ‘Simon and the Homo Sapiens Agenda’ and the television show ‘Love, Victor.’

Leah on the Offbeat’ is easily predictable, falling into the trope contemporaries are famous for, and I’m not mad at it – it’s the reason I picked up the novel in the first place. I’m glad I had left so much distance between reading this and the debut of the series to let it have headspace in its own right. Becky Albertalli has an expert writing style that really gets into the head of an angsty teen facing personal obstacles around love and identity. I would have loved her to delve into the subject of bisexuality and the stigma the label faces in the wider community, or even bring in more support for Leah from the bisexual community in the story.

There are many missed opportunities in the narrative, but overall it was a hilarious tale of a girl overcoming anxiety and embracing her sexuality while on the verge of that tenuous time when we graduate high school and the fear of losing your friendships as everyone scatters into adulthood.

Overall feeling: A little flat, but cute.

© 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 2’ by Alice Oseman

A gentle tale of discovering feelings.

Genre: Y/A, Contemporary, Romance, LGBT, Graphic Novel

No. of pages: 320

Nick and Charlie are best friends. Nick knows Charlie’s gay, and Charlie is sure that Nick isn’t.

But love works in surprising ways, and Nick is discovering all kinds of things about his friends, his family … and himself.

I liked volume 2 more than the debut. There is still that overwhelming cuteness in the narrative that simply captures your heart. Nick and Charlie are adorable innocence personified.

In this sequel, we see Nick and Charlie grow closer and come out, forming friendships with other LBGTQIA+ youth. Where Vol. 1 deals more with Charlie’s anxiety over his feelings for Nick and worries about getting his heart broken; this edition deals with Nick coming to terms with his feelings and coming out to those close to him. It’s all about Nick sorting things out in his head.

Again another quick read, and it’s getting me to like the graphic novel medium. I recently heard that there is a screen adaptation underway, and I am really excited to see that comes to fruition.

The plot isn’t all that complicated, we get some resolution to an issue, but this is really an episode in a much bigger tale. So don’t expect any theatrics or magical reveals, ‘Heartstopper’ remains true to its core about LGBTQIA+ representation and the story of Charlie and Nick navigating the world and their relationship. We do get new introduced elements which will no doubt get explored in following editions of this series. And it all got me hooked!

The presentation of this story in graphic novel form lends to a fast paced storyline. It took me just over an hour to complete the novel in full. And ‘Heartstopper’ has got me wanting to venture into Alice Oseman’s back catalogue.

Again, the story is easy to predict, but we do get a few little bumps in the road that I did not foresee that were a joy to read.

There’s not a lot to say without spoiling or repeating what’s in Volume 2, it’s a sweet progression of Nick and Charlies love for each other that I found endearing. Love the rainbow representation and I’ll recommending this to all my friends. It’s also accessible to younger audiences, not only because of its medium, but because it tackles issues of identity and community in a gentle way.

Overall feeling: Beautiful.

© 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 Gravity of Us’ by Phil Stamper

The countdown to first love and finding your voice.

Genre: Y/A, Contemporary, Romance, LGBT

No. of pages: 314

As a successful social media journalist with half a million followers, seventeen-year-old Cal is used to sharing his life online. But when his pilot father is selected for a highly publicized NASA mission to Mars, Cal and his family relocate from Brooklyn to Houston and are thrust into a media circus.

Amidst the chaos, Cal meets sensitive and mysterious Leon, another “Astrokid,” and finds himself falling head over heels—fast. As the frenzy around the mission grows, so does their connection. But when secrets about the program are uncovered, Cal must find a way to reveal the truth without hurting the people who have become most important to him.

This book was set out to be a sure-fire hit for me – vlogging and journalism; diversity rep with POC, sexual orientation, and mental illness; general nerdiness around space travel and the race to colonise Mars; all wrapped up in an angsty teen coming of age bow… The concept of ‘The Gravity of Us’ had me from the first line of the blurb.

The Gravity of Us’ was a read of mixed feelings for me. Our protagonist, Cal, while rich with journalistic integrity, a passion for his home town Brooklyn, and commitment to best friend Deb, came across a little flat and obnoxious. I had difficulty in relating to him on an emotional level. I admired his ethics and drive for perfection and a career, but there wasn’t enough vulnerability for me to truly empathise with him. Plus he was always justifying himself in the narrative, and it comes off as, well, shallow.

I also didn’t quite blend with Phil Stamper’s writing style. It was sparse in areas where we had a chance to jump into deep emotion of a character, and the romance was all repeated phrases of a more physical reaction. I didn’t feel any deep connection growing between Cal and his love interest Leon. The romance fell real flat for me. Maybe it had something to do with Leon’s struggle with depression and anxiety, but I have read other novels where this struggle can bring the reader closer to the character, but in this case it isolated me to the point that I felt I didn’t really know Leon.

Plot wise ‘The Gravity of Us’ is fantastic. Stamper uses the first person narrative expertly to hide motives from the reader, and reveals plot points slowly throughout the novel, twisting this way and that. With interspersed chapters of Shooting Stars episodes (The NASA reality show around the astronauts getting ready for a Mars venture) each account reveals something for the plot, driving it forward. Because of these well placed developments throughout the story the pacing is perfect. Despite some of the issues I had with the characters and writing style, I was never bored.

We do see character development from all the cast, and it was sweet to follow Cal’s growing awareness for the wider world (despite abovementioned obnoxiousness) and I think if I had been able to make a stronger emotional connection to him and the other characters, I would have adored ‘The Gravity of Us.’

The plot is mostly predictable from the outset – I won’t mention them here and spoil the story for those of you yet to read ‘The Gravity of Us,’ but everything I guessed in the first twenty or so pages came to pass. There was only one twist I did not see coming, and quite frankly, is a redeeming feature of this novel.

There is some language use and underage drinking, talk of depression and running away if any of those are triggers for you, but we never get into any frank discussions for any of these topics. Neither do we touch on sexual intimacy when its clear Cal and Leon are heading in that direction… all the ‘hard’ topics are glazed over. Which is a pity, with Cal’s journalistic voice and love for fact and practicality we could have seen some relevant discussions on topics that affect all teens (and help add complexity to the characters.)

I want to say there was meant to be humour in ‘The Gravity of Us,’ but it comes across as snarky (almost bitchy) so none of the comedic tone landed with me.

All in all ‘The Gravity of Us’ did not meet my expectations and turned out to be a pretty average read. Cute, moralistic, and missed a lot of opportunity to find a real voice.

Overall feeling: Good, but not great.

© 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 1’ by Alice Oseman

Heart-warming innocence.

Genre: Y/A, Contemporary, Romance, LGBT, Graphic Novel

No. of pages: 278

Charlie, a highly-strung, openly gay over-thinker, and Nick, a cheerful, soft-hearted rugby player, meet at a British all-boys grammar school. Friendship blooms quickly, but could there be something more…?

Charlie Spring is in Year 10 at Truham Grammar School for Boys. The past year hasn’t been too great, but at least he’s not being bullied anymore. Nick Nelson is in Year 11 and on the school rugby team. He’s heard a little about Charlie – the kid who was outed last year and bullied for a few months – but he’s never had the opportunity to talk to him.

They quickly become friends, and soon Charlie is falling hard for Nick, even though he doesn’t think he has a chance. But love works in surprising ways, and sometimes good things are waiting just around the corner…

I was encouraged to pick this up from many, many of my friends recommending this. I’m not one to read a lot of illustrated novels, but ‘Heartstopper’ is charming in its innocence. We meet Charlie, an out gay year 10 student who gets paired with a year 11 student, Nick in peer group for school. They become friends and need to learn to navigate their new feelings and what they mean. Charlie is determined not to fall for a straight boy, and Nick is surprised by his attraction to Charlie.

‘Heartstopper’ is cute! The story is paired back and sticks to the main storyline without too much dramatics. I’ve read manga in the past, where it’s melodramatic and packs a lot into the narrative – ‘Heartstopper’ keeps the main couple in its crosshairs from start to finish. In this fashion, I found the novel to be a little, well, plain. I wanted stronger emotion and some more plot. But I guess that is the charm of ‘Heartstopper,’ it’s a light romance of two boys finding each other in high school.

We get some character development from both boys, it’s not a lot, but enough to have me invested in their story and I have already ordered the rest of the published volumes to find out what happens next.

The illustrations are expressive and have a stylistic grungy aspect to set it apart from the common manga fare. I kind of wanted a more finished look on the page though – but that is a personal preference on my behalf. ‘Heartstopper’ is a happy addition to my library.

Because of the graphic novel treatment I flew through this novel in about an hour, the scenes weren’t too emotional and the characterisation in the illustrations didn’t really have me starting at the page to soak up tone or additional undertones in the scenes. This is paired back, simple, fitting of quiet and understated Charlie and Nick’s slow burn relationship.

It ends on a cliff hanger, so be prepared to invest in this series as a whole.

If you like queer stories and graphic novels without all the melodrama than this one is for you. Excited to hear it is being adapted for a Netflix series and eager to see their take on Charlie and Nick’s story.

Overall feeling: First kiss angst!

© 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 – ‘Date Me, Bryson Keller’ by Kevin van Whye

Great book, shame about the plagiarism.

Genre: Y/A, Contemporary, Romance, LGBT

No. of pages: 336

Everyone knows about the dare: Each week, Bryson Keller must date someone new–the first person to ask him out on Monday morning. Few think Bryson can do it. He may be the king of Fairvale Academy, but he’s never really dated before.

Until a boy asks him out, and everything changes.

Kai Sheridan didn’t expect Bryson to say yes. So when Bryson agrees to secretly go out with him, Kai is thrown for a loop. But as the days go by, he discovers there’s more to Bryson beneath the surface, and dating him begins to feel less like an act and more like the real thing. Kai knows how the story of a gay boy liking someone straight ends. With his heart on the line, he’s awkwardly trying to navigate senior year at school, at home, and in the closet, all while grappling with the fact that this “relationship” will last only five days. After all, Bryson Keller is popular, good-looking, and straight . . . right?

This book grabbed my cold heart and didn’t let go. I think I had tears in my eyes half the time I was reading – it’s just so adorably sweet and expertly captures that first crush scenario. The desperation to be seen, loved, to find your person.

Kai, a mixed race protagonist, and closeted gay year 11 student takes the opportunity while Bryson Keller has been dared to date a new person for a week with in an unexpected surge of courage. Kai has to force himself not to fall in love with straight Bryson, but revels in finally being able to express his true self (even if it is in secret.) Bryson has to come to terms with new feelings and what it means.

I was going to award this novel 5 stars, but after doing a little research I found Kevin van Whye was accused of plagiarism from ‘Seven Days’ by Venio Tachibana and Rihito Takarai. And only after the allegations persisted did Kevin claim that the story is a literary critique of the BL manga, trying to bring about a more realistic representation of queer youth. I might have been inclined to believe that interpretation except that the storyline is practically identical to the original ‘Seven Days.’ So I can’t in good conscience rate this from my initial impression. I’m a little flabbergasted how this was not flagged through the critical reading and editing stages.

It’s such a pity about the plagiarism because I loved Kevin van Whye’s writing style. I was sucked into the narrative and completed the book in one sitting. He should have had one of the characters making the dare in the preface mention they had read ‘Seven Days’ and were using it as the source of inspiration for the dare… then this story would have credited the source material and the story made sense, avoiding claims of plagiarism. And there, in the narrative, you could source the inspiration for the dare. I’ve seen this storytelling device successful in other novels and television shows, it pays homage to the creator of the idea rather than claiming it as your own. Isn’t hindsight a beautiful thing?

I’m not going to discuss the book further because it makes me feel a bit icky…

Overall feeling: Anger rising. Heart sinking.

© 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 – ‘Midnight Sun’ (#5 Twilight) by Stephenie Meyer

The book all the fans were begging for is finally here…

Genre: Fantasy, Paranormal, Romance

No. of pages: 756

When Edward Cullen and Bella Swan met in Twilight, an iconic love story was born. But until now, fans have heard only Bella’s side of the story. At last, readers can experience Edward’s version in the long-awaited companion novel, Midnight Sun.

This unforgettable tale as told through Edward’s eyes takes on a new and decidedly dark twist. Meeting Bella is both the most unnerving and intriguing event he has experienced in all his years as a vampire. As we learn more fascinating details about Edward’s past and the complexity of his inner thoughts, we understand why this is the defining struggle of his life. How can he justify following his heart if it means leading Bella into danger?

This book felt over-written. But saying this rings true to Edwards’s nature. His cognitive processes are much faster than that of a humans, hundreds of thoughts to a single human pondering. He is melodramatic, angst-ridden, an over-analyser. And that’s without his extrasensory perception. So I get that ‘Midnight Sun’ is long and has a lot of information stuffed into its pages for the same timeframe as ‘Twilight.’ I was hoping we’d get more new information than what we did. Granted it does help flesh out the universe of ‘Twilight,’ let us peek behind the curtain if you will. It’s like Stephenie Meyer took all the criticisms and plot holes for ‘Twilight’ and explained them away. However, even though the book is a hefty 756 pages long, I did not feel like the pacing suffered. I was interested in the many asides, flashbacks, strategic ponderings, and glimpses into probable futures (through reading Alice’s mind.)

But I was particularly taken with the baseball scene and the fight scene at the ending chapters of ‘Midnight Sun,’ here Edward’s perception really adds a new complexity to the scenes.

I still got that addiction to the story, compelled to read as much as I could in one sitting. Still laughed at the satire. Though a bit of the magic was lost for me. Edward comes off as much more insecure and melodramatic than the brooding mystery man which Bella paints him as in ‘Twilight.’ Also ‘Twilight’ felt like it had a much more involved plot, and I was hoping we would see a new introduced side plot with Edwards’s perspective, but alas we did not get that… I guess there is not too much you can introduce and not diverge from the original storyline.

It was nice to get into the heads of the Cullens, because the knowledge and assumptions Bella had in ‘Twilight’ felt flimsy at best and induced some eye-rolling on my behalf.

This didn’t feel as swoon-worthy as I thought it would be either. Maybe it was killed off by Edward’s constant lamenting, or the fact that too much saccrine expository of love would have killed the reader with a heavy dose of diabetes. But I felt like I wanted more emotion from Edward in relation to Bella, less explained stalkery behaviour. After all it is the romance that is the major drawcard to this novel.

It was pleasant to revisit the world of ‘Twilight’ again after reading it over a decade ago. Maybe my review wouldn’t have been so appraising if I’d read ‘Midnight Sun’ closer to the debuts release – like I mentioned, not a lot of new information from the original story. But it was like a high school reunion, flashing back to fond memories and glancing at old friends from a place of experience. ‘Midnight Sun’ really is a book for the fans, and comparatively, it is only going to be fans of the franchise that will bother picking this book up – you’d have to have enjoyed the previous four books and novella to reach this point; and not be intimidated by the 756 pages.

So I had a great time indulging in the fantasy again, though there did feel like there was something missing – something I can’t quite identify, but I’m putting it down to the abovementioned elements. I’d definitely recommend this to stans of the Twilight franchise… if you weren’t into the films or enjoyed any of the previous novels, this is not for you.

I’ve seen many criticize Stephenie Meyer for releasing this book – a third reiteration of the debut tale – but it’s obvious it’s for the fans. They’ve been screaming for this novel to be published for so long now. You can have your opinions that it was a cash-grab, and that the news of another two books may be coming to the franchise. If you enjoyed the novels, it’s most likely amazing news; but if you’re no fan and only full of hateful comments, well, my only response is a yawn. Some readers are genuinely invested in the story. Stephenie obviously loved writing these books. Even if you think she is capitalising on her one truly big hit, well, I say that is smart business sense. Look at any other franchise, they all do it because there is a willing audience. And honestly, the hate speech is a form of bullying in my books – if it was constructive criticism it would be a different matter.

Overall feeling: Indulgent.

© 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 – ‘Moment of Truth’ (#3 Love, Life, and the List) by Kasie West

Quaint and lovely.

Genre: Y/A, Contemporary, Romance

No. of pages: 320

At sixteen, Hadley Moore knows exactly who she is—a swimmer who will earn a scholarship to college. Totally worth all the hard work, even if her aching shoulders don’t agree. So when a guy dressed as Hollywood’s latest action hero, Heath Hall, crashes her swim meet, she isn’t amused. Instead, she’s determined to make sure he doesn’t bother her again. Only she’s not sure exactly who he is.

The swim meet isn’t the first event the imposter has interrupted, but a little digging turns up a surprising number of people who could be Heath Hall, including Hadley’s ex-boyfriend and her best friend’s crush. She soon finds herself getting caught up in the mysterious world of the fake Heath Hall.

As Hadley gets closer to uncovering the masked boy’s identity she also discovers some uncomfortable truths about herself—like she might resent the long shadow her late brother has cast over her family, that she isn’t as happy as she pretends to be with her life choices… and that she is falling for the last guy she ever thought she would like.

Moment of Truth’ is a lovely fast read rom-com that let me escape for a weekend from Kasie West. I was really sucked into the narrative and related to the underappreciated and overlooked protagonist Hadley Moore.

Still I miss the quirky characters and hijinks from the earlier novels she wrote in this genre, but nonetheless ‘Moment of Truth’ is addictive in its saccrine goodness. The mystery of who is the Heath Hall impersonator is a good one, but I sleuthed out the mystery very early on, so the reveal was lost on me… which left the climax somewhat deflated.

I’m starting to view Kasie West’s titles as pallet cleansers now, something to read in-between heavy, more interesting books; which is not what I want to happen. Her titles have been up and down in my ratings, but averaging a decline. I hope she taps into something new and ups the complexity in her writings otherwise I can see myself becoming bored with her future releases. I’m crossing my fingers. I have a feeling she was suffering a bit of a writing hump and has finally come out the other end.

I think I liked Hadley as a protagonist so much because she represents a lot of what I was like in high school. Focused, single-minded, and somewhat cut-off from the rest of the social scene in sacrifice for achieving her goals. Given this intense focus and limited interaction with her peers, Hadley could have been a boring, flat character, but we get to see her passion, her internal turmoil, and confusion when her goals are challenged. It was a great read.

The Heath Hall mystery was fun, but a little trite, and I liked Hadley’s need to expose the perpetrator as a revenge tactic other than just curiosity.

I wasn’t too sold on the romance, it felt supplementary to Hadely’s challenge of standing up to her parents and breaking the cycle of being overlooked and the compulsive behaviour from the loss of her older brother.

Kasie West’s writing style is effortless to read. You can zoom across the page and get enveloped the world she creates, and the pacing – thanks to the Heath Hall mystery drives the narrative efficiently.

I’d recommend this for those who love light contemporary romances, though definitely more for the younger end of the YA demographic.

Overall feeling: Expected cute reading

© 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.