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.

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

There is a lot to love about Hold My Hand.

Genre: Y/A, Contemporary, Romance, LGBT

No. of pages: 272

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Overall feeling: Oh, my heart!

© Casey Carlisle 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Book Review – ‘The Princess and the Fangirl’ (#2 Once Upon a Con) by Ashley Poston

A cutesy modern take on an old fairy tale…

Genre: YA, Contemporary, Romance, LGBT+

No. of pages: 320

Imogen Lovelace is an ordinary fangirl on an impossible mission: to save her favorite character, Princess Amara, from being killed off in the Starfield movie sequel. The problem is, Jessica Stone, the actress who plays Amara, desperately wants to leave the franchise behind.

When a case of mistaken identity at ExcelsiCon throws look-a-likes Imogen and Jess together, they quickly become enemies. But when the script for the Starfield sequel leaks, and all signs point to Jess, she and Imogen must team up and trade places to find the person responsible.

That’s easier said than done when the girls step into each other’s shoes and discover the darker side of fandom — as well as unexpected romantic possibilities. Can these “princesses” find a way to rescue themselves from their own expectations and redefine what it means to live happily ever after?

I was really looking forward to where Ashley Poston was going to take the Once Upon a Con series with this sequel ‘The Princess and the Fangirl’ because her writing style is charming and adds a modern, diverse twist with the fairy tale re-telling trope.

Told in alternating perspectives between protagonists Imogen and Jess. Jess is an actress and star from the hit film ‘Starfield’ in which her character, Princess Amara sacrifices herself in the end. She is glad to be done with the franchise as she views it as a pop culture phenomenon and not serious acting to include in her portfolio, but no denying the movie has increased her exposure and opened doors to many new opportunities. The Convention is the last bit of publicity Jess is contracted to do before moving on to other possibilities. That is, if the twitter campaign #SaveAmara does not catch on and force the producers of the hit film to tie her down with a long-term contract… and a franchise she is coming to loathe.

Imogen is a massive fan of ‘Starfield’ and dead ringer for the actress playing the role of Princess Amara. She is also behind the #SaveAmara campaign as she sees the character as a phenomenal role model for young women everywhere. Her two mums have been running a booth at the Conventions forever and their lives are drenched in everything pop culture.

So what follows is a parent trap-esque storyline (al-la The Prince and the Pauper) and hi-jinx of a conspiracy to expose a confidential script of the sequel to ‘Starfield,’ which if revealed could get Jess fired and eliminate any chance of her working in Hollywood ever again. Not to mention meeting Imogen’s friend who she is inexplicably attracted to – but one problem: she’s met her under the pretence of pretending to be Jess while she tries to track down the person leaking snapshots her script online. Meanwhile Imogen is all too happy to ply the role of Jess in hopes she can help grow the following to her #SaveAmara directive.

The Princess and the Fangirl’ is tropey and campy, but in the best way. I laughed out loud and even managed to shed a couple of tears in some more touching scenes. ‘The Princess and the Fangirl’ was an easy read I managed to speed through in a couple of sittings. Ashely Poston really manages to grasp the turmoils and anxiety of teen crushes, headstrong tantrums at parental figures, and rules trying to keep them in a box and on schedule. Be prepared for cookies galore of pop culture references. This is soaked in Con culture. It was delightful and nostalgic as well as entertaining.

At first, upon reading ‘Geekerella’ I was – okay, this is cute. But now I’m really starting to fall in love with Ashley Poston’s writing and the characters she creates. The pace strikes at a lighting speed, I really did not want to put the novel down. There is also wholesome innocence that shines through which is endearing. I think the issue with re-tellings is that it eliminates much of the possibility of creating surprise – we know how the story is going to end. While the mystery of the person behind leaking the ‘Starfield’ sequel script added some much needed mystery, I did not feel like ‘The Princess and the Fangirl’ was all that original. But that is the fault of the genre and nothing to do with the writing. Ashely Poston has written some interesting characters and their ‘voice’ was easily distinguishable between chapters – even though the chapter headings let you know which protagonist we were following.

I know I am not the target demographic for this novel, and as such, felt like there could have been more complexity, and the characters more dynamic – though to be fair, a book written like that would have ruined the aesthetic and charm of the story. It’s just my personal preference in stories I find engaging. ‘The Princess and the Fangirl’ is a fantastic follow-up to ‘Geekerella’ and I’ve already ordered sequel ‘Bookish and the Beast.’ Ashley Poston has slowly woven her way into my heart and made me a fan!

Overall feeling: Look to the stars! Aim! Ignite!

© 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 – ‘Never, Always, Sometimes’ by Adi Alsaid

Doing what you’ve ruled as taboo can make for an interesting journey.

Genre: Y/A, Contemporary, Romance, Realistic Fiction

No. of pages: 320

Never date your best friend.

Always be original.

Sometimes rules are meant to be broken.

Best friends Dave and Julia were determined to never be cliché high school kids—the ones who sit at the same lunch table every day, dissecting the drama from homeroom and plotting their campaigns for prom king and queen. They even wrote their own Never List of everything they vowed they’d never, ever do in high school.

Some of the rules have been easy to follow, like #5, never dye your hair a color of the rainbow, or #7, never hook up with a teacher. But Dave has a secret: he’s broken rule #8, never pine silently after someone for the entirety of high school. It’s either that or break rule #10, never date your best friend. Dave has loved Julia for as long as he can remember.

Julia is beautiful, wild and impetuous. So when she suggests they do every Never on the list, Dave is happy to play along. He even dyes his hair an unfortunate shade of green. It starts as a joke, but then a funny thing happens: Dave and Julia discover that by skipping the clichés, they’ve actually been missing out on high school. And maybe even on love.

The best word I can use to describe ‘Never, Always, Sometimes’ is quaint. I can’t remember the impulse that had me purchasing this book, and it had been sitting on my shelf for so long that I began reading without any knowledge of what to expect other than it was a contemporary. Adi Alsaid crafted a clever story with plenty of teen angst and drama. I think on the whole though, there weren’t a lot of surprises for me, and a lot of teens making bad decisions… which is kinda the point of this novel with Dave and Julia crossing items off their ‘Nevers’ list. Things they deemed never to do, but anxious of graduating high school as nerdy goody-two-shoes and not having an authentic experience is what motivates them to tackle the taboo items. In theory it sounds like fun, but as sensible and intelligent as Dave and Julia are, I can’t see why they would tackle some of the things written on the list. It was such a terrible moralistic vacuum of adventure in some cases. But I guess it fits with the demographic for the characters and targeted readers – famous for their penchant of making poor judgement calls.

The novel is broken into three sections, the first told from Dave’s perspective, the second from Julia’s, and a third from an omnipresent perspective from both of their points of view. It’s not usually a great idea to jump from first person narrative to third at the end, but it really worked in ‘Never, Always, Sometimes.’

Both our leads make mistakes and learn from them, and it seems Dave is the more sensible of the two. Julia is all about romanticising the high school experience, and to that fault her moral compass becomes corrupted.

Never, Always, Sometimes’ is a tale pondering the question that if two best friends discover they are in love, is it a good idea to abandon the friendship and initiate a relationship. That question is subjective, and so will readers opinions be on the outcome.

Alsaid’s writing style has a way of sucking you into the world of Dave and Julia, and the pages fly by. I found ‘Never, Always, Sometimes,’ an easy, light, and pleasant read. He manages to craft a lot of emotion and tension into the story – I was just yearning for a more complex plot to really nail this book home. The story outline was pretty pedestrian in comparison to many of the contemporaries I’ve been reading of late. But that was the only (and biggest) drawback for me. It has great pacing and interesting characters. Alsaid managed to paint traits I find personally unattractive as quaint and loveable.

I’d recommend this for lovers of contemporary romances set in high school – they’re fun, easy to read tomes you can devour pretty quickly. But on the whole it was pretty forgettable for me. So it’s not something I’d rave to my friends about. But Alsaid’s writing is something I’m definitely going to keep an eye on when he pens some subject material that piques my interest.

Overall feeling: Teen logic bewilders me.

© 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 – ‘Parrotfish’ by Ellen Wittlinger

A cute story of a transgender male finding his place in the world…

Genre: YA, Contemporary, LGBT+

No. of pages: 294

“Last week I cut my hair, bought some boys’ clothes and shoes, wrapped a large ACE bandage around my chest to flatten my fortunately-not-large breasts, and began looking for a new name.”

Angela Katz-McNair has never felt quite right as a girl. Her whole life is leading up to the day she decides to become Grady, a guy. While coming out as transgendered feels right to Grady, he isn’t prepared for the reaction he gets from everyone else. His mother is upset, his younger sister is mortified, and his best friend, Eve, won’t acknowledge him in public. Why can’t people just let Grady be himself?

Grady’s life is miserable until he finds friends in some unexpected places — like the school geek, Sebastian, who explains that there is precedent in the natural world (parrotfish change gender when they need to, and the newly male fish are the alpha males), and Kita, a senior who might just be Grady’s first love.

I feel a little conflicted with ‘Parrotfish.’

This novel is a great tale of learning how to accept change. It tells an experience, but maybe not a well-researched one of a transgendered FtM teen. But I think this represents more about learning to deal with how life evolves. How we grow up. How our needs and wants shift as we progress through like. No-one and nothing stays the same forever. It can be scary. It can be exciting. ‘Parrotfish’ illustrates a small slice of some of those things and how a group of family and friends adapt to the evolving situation.

I also liked how it approached bullying and relationships. It was a little romanticised, but kept the scenes grounded in reality.

The big thing I enjoyed is that ‘Parrotfish’ stayed focused on the human being, and did not try to force identity defined or authenticated through a romantic relationship. Too many times have I read a coming out story of a protagonist affirming their gender identity only to have it given weight, or rewarded with a love interest – when neither need this validation, or are about love. They are about the self, and I think ‘Parrotfish’ bulls-eyed this tone intelligently.

I didn’t get any gut-wrenching feels or angst typical from this genre; and to be honest. I preferred this. Family, friends, and teachers all play and important and active role in Grady’s growth.

Parrotfish’ did feel too short. Like a drive-by toilet paper attack, it was quick, made its point and was gone just as quick. I will say I did not expect to laugh as much. Especially towards the end of the novel. I’m really impressed with Erin Wittlinger’s writing and will look into exploring some of her other titles in the future.

It was a bit hard to predict the path of the story. Obviously there is the theme of self-acceptance, but apart from that, given the more composed tone of Wittlinger’s writing style, I only had notions of what would eventuate, and they changed from chapter to chapter. I was never certain of what was going to happen. ‘Parrotfish’ ends on a positive note and was a sheer delight to read. I’ve read many novels dealing with a protagonist transitioning from female to male, and this one really grabbed my heart. It feels more inclined to the younger end of the YA demographic to help educate and increase awareness of people who struggle fitting in to rigid gender norms. The attitudes of the cast vary in their outlook to gender and sexuality as well in an un-obvious way that I found charming and delightful. I certainly wanted to go to high school with this gang of odd-balls.

I’m actually really proud to add this to my library and can see myself revisiting this story again.

Much of what I mentioned above is a typical straight cis-gendered response to ‘Parrotfish,’ but if you pass a more discerning eye over ‘Parrotfish’ you see elements of bullying and discrimination are greatly watered down. The internal torment and doubt someone like Grady faces is nearly non-existent. So too are the discussions over changing gender identity and sexual orientation… a mish-mash of coming out as a lesbian and then as a transgender male. In fact, I know most transgender men may find this story insulting and diminishing of their experience. Which plays into the need for real voices in this genre. So while ‘Parrotfish’ feels like it is a story given the ‘Disney’ filter from a cis-gendered heterosexual, I think it will add awareness and help start a conversation for those ignorant of the pressures transgender men growing through high school face; but it by no means represents the true experience.

I’m glad for the representation, the cute and funny story, but a little saddened for the misfire in the full picture of life a transgendered teen lives through. But given that ‘Parrotfish’ was published back in 2007, we will find there are more authentic stories out there now, especially coming from own voices authors.

Kita’s portrayal can also be seen as problematic. Yes she is a great ally, but as a love interest she is somewhat fetishized. Also, being set up as a love interest, and then the way the story was resolved adds to judging the worth of a transgender man… it felt icky.

So, if anything, ‘Parrotfish’ has stirred feelings (both good and bad) over transgender representation in literature, authentic or not, and the need for own voices in this genre. Which is a plus in my book – inciting a conversation over a minority that faces a great deal of discrimination. Though ‘Parrotfish’ at is a core is a fluffy, humorous tale and has a great theme that is well worth a read.

Overall feeling: Loved the story if a little conflicted….

© 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 Merciless IV : Last Rites’ (#4 The Merciless) by Danielle Vega

Lots of spooky old villages, catacombs, and demon possession.

The Merciless IV Last Rites (#4 The Merciless) Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Horror

No. of pages: 290

goodreads banner by Casey Carlisle

The ropes tighten on Berkley Hubbard’s wrists. Blood drips down her fingers and lands with a smack on the cold floor of the church basement. She’s trapped, bound, and petrified by fear. A knife punctures her fragile skin as Berkley’s captors search for the mark of the devil on her body. They say they want to save her–drive the devil away and cleanse her soul–but will she make it out alive?

When Berkley arrived in Italy a week ago, the last thing she expected was that she’d end up fighting for her life. After spending six months at the Institute, confined to a room with the dangerous-yet-alluring Sofia Flores, Berkley was certain that a vacation in Italy with her two best friends would be the perfect getaway. But Berkley is hiding a terrible secret, one that threatens to undo everything. As she’s forced to face her wicked past, she learns that the devil is always watching, and no one is coming to save her.

Page border 2020 by Casey Carlisle

This one felt like it took a while to get anywhere. But ended with a bang. I liked the twist/message at the end, kind of like a warning to mean girls everywhere. The devil is watching.

I was a little lost with this one, it had been so long since I read the previous books in the series, and trying to place where it existed in the timeline and how it related to the other characters had me going over my old reviews. But this is another horror story following a different protagonist (Berkley) in the same universe as the rest of the novels.

Sofia does make an appearance, which delighted me no end.

The Merciless IV : Last Rites’ took a long time to get going. All of Daniele Vega’s past novels have been fast paced and quick to build up intrigue, but this one felt slow for most of the way through. I also got really frustrated with Berkley’s decisions just about all the way through.

While the ending was brilliant Vega fare, the rest of this book, and Berkley as a protagonist had me rubbing at my face in frustration. A great way to plot out the end of the franchise, and a masterful tone to wrap up the conclusion. But it did not feel as strong as any other of Vega’s titles. There didn’t feel like there was anything particularly new.

The Merciless IV Last Rites (#4 The Merciless) Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

The plot is simple. I didn’t get any camp horror fare. I predicted the whole story very early on, and because the pacing was so slow I didn’t get any of the fun stuff until the last few chapters. This read like a television episode rather than a cinematic culmination to The Merciless collection.

The setting of the novel was well done though. I enjoyed the mythology but I felt like there were so many missed opportunities to add in a scare or creep out the reader/Berkley.

This could easily be read as a standalone, and I’m on the fence recommending it. You get to revisit some familiar characters, and loved the note it ended on, but it’s not as good as its predecessors. Maybe I’ll just leave this for Vega fans.

Overall feeling: Underwhelming

The Merciless IV Last Rites (#4 The Merciless) Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

The Merciless IV Last Rites (#4 The Merciless) Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

Critique Casey 2020 by Casey Carlisle

© 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 – ‘Not Your Backup’ (#3 Sidekick Squad) by C.B. Lee

Diversity, superheroes and an expert plot.

Not Your Backup (#3 Sidekick Squad) Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Science Fiction, Fantasy, LGBT

No. of pages: 320

goodreads banner by Casey Carlisle

Emma Robledo has a few more responsibilities than the usual high school senior, but then again, she and her friends have left school to lead a fractured Resistance movement against a corrupt Heroes League of Heroes. Emma is the only member of a supercharged team without powers, and she isn’t always taken seriously. A natural leader, Emma is determined to win this battle, and when that’s done, get back to school. As the Resistance moves to challenge the League, Emma realizes where her place is in this fight: at the front.

Page border 2020 by Casey Carlisle

I’ve been getting a real kick out of this series – the diverse cast, superheroes, espionage, and teen angst. ‘Not Your Backup’ did not hit all the same marks as its two prequels for me. The pacing felt slower and there were a lot of characters to follow, and given the amount of time passed since having read ‘Not Your Villain,’ it took me a minute to get back into the swing of the story.

I love how it picks up not long after the events in ‘Not Your Villain’ following Emma as a protagonist. The only one on the Sidekick Squad who does not possess meta-human abilities… though she does have a high IQ and has been dubbed Mastermind. I was a little tired of her ‘woe is me no-one takes me seriously because I’m a child and don’t have superpowers’ shtick. It was a great plot device but it felt like it dragged on for too long. I would have liked her to use it as an advantage – let people underestimate her and become more cloak and dagger.

Not Your Backup (#3 Sidekick Squad) Book Review Pic 02 by Casey CarlisleEmma’s self-discovery around being asexual (ace/aro) was interesting and educational, as too the discussion of queerplatonic relationships.

Bells as the love interest is cute as all get out (the protagonist from ‘Not Your Villain.’) And you could see him revelling in all the character growth he’d made from that sequel.

Plot-wise ‘Not Your Backup’ is outstanding, we get seeding of clues and threads, many of the characters have their own arc (some of them off-page.) I think though, compared to the other two novels published so far, there was less action, less gadgets, less uncertainty in the people around them, which left most of the novel feeling bare and the pace lagging. The last section of the novel, leading up to the conclusion was back at what I expect from C.B. Lee. Great pacing, twists and turns aplenty, all ending in a big bang. Where ‘Not Your Sidekick’ and ‘Not Your Villain’ were introducing characters, ‘Not Your Backup’ followed these characters and started setting up plot points to be resolved in the finale ‘Not Your Hero’ which was initially set to be due out this June 2020, but I haven’t seen an update in a while, and with many titles getting pushed pack, we may not see this released until around Christmas or in 2021. So I guess ‘Not Your Backup’ has a bit of that old middle book syndrome playing out. Something of a necessity. And that’s not to say I was bored or anything, quite the contrary, I remained engaged throughout and love Lee’s writing style. It was just a little slower than I was used to.

Going in, I already knew there was a final book coming for this series, so the whole overturning of the Hero’s League of Heroes and dethroning the reigning council members was not going to be resolved in this instalment. And after being declared fugitives in the previous novel, the only thing I predicted was the Sidekick Squad getting back together and attempting guerrilla warfare tactics. Besides that, I had no idea what was around the corner, and C.B. Lee managed to throw in a few curve balls giving me a few WTF moments. Genius.

I am expecting an epic conclusion in the final novel and can’t wait for its release. And I’d definitely recommend this novel (and series) to lovers of superheroes, YA, and queer literature. It’s certainly a well-written fun romp through a genre that has outlasted many throughout our written history. Though ‘Not Your Backup’ cannot be read as a standalone – you definitely need to read the sequels to get a proper understanding of the characters and world building.

So C.B. Lee not only entertains me, but gives me snippets of queer culture education along the way in a superhero wrapping.

Overall feeling: Yee-haw!

Not Your Backup (#3 Sidekick Squad) Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Not Your Backup (#3 Sidekick Squad) Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

Critique Casey 2020 by Casey Carlisle

© 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 – ‘Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between’ by Jennifer E. Smith

Cute high school romantic fare.

Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Contemporary, Romance

No. of pages: 246

goodreads banner by Casey Carlisle

On the night before they leave for college, Clare and Aidan have only one thing left to do: figure out whether they should stay together or break up. Over the course of twelve hours, they retrace the steps of their relationship, trying to find something in their past that might help them decide what their future should be. The night leads them to family and friends, familiar landmarks and unexpected places, hard truths and surprising revelations. But as the clock winds down and morning approaches, so does their inevitable goodbye. The question is, will it be goodbye for now or goodbye forever?

Page border 2020 by Casey Carlisle

Jennifer E. Smith never fails to grab you with a cute contemporary, and ‘Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between’ is just that.

This wasn’t the best read for me – maybe I wasn’t it the right mood for a contemporary like this – and maybe there wasn’t enough story for me to sink my teeth into. Following our protagonist Clare as she is about to head off to the other side of the country for college and saying goodbye to her boyfriend by revisiting all of the places that benchmark developments in their relationship before ending things for good… and that’s the entire plot. I have to say there wasn’t a lot about ‘Hello, Goodbye’ and Everything in Between’ that grabbed my attention. In fact I skimmed nearly this entire novel. And it’s only a short book… but it still took me a really long time to finish. I kept putting it down due to lack of interest.

Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

It’s a pity. Smith’s writing is endearing and she really paints a landscape in setting a scene. We get some poignant symbolism. But I was really missing some more interesting (possibly diverse) characters. And something other than angst about saying goodbye to your high school boyfriend. I hate to say it, but ‘Hello, Goodbye and Everything in Between’ felt a little self-indulgent and shallow. I feel if the main characters had a couple of more realistic problems to navigate and didn’t feel so privileged white middle class America; this story would have been a much different creature.

There’s not much else I can say about ‘Hello, Goodbye and Everything in Between’ because it is so short, and not a lot happens. No big character arcs or personal growth, no huge obstacles… because of this the pacing felt slow and the tension was fairly non-existent. I did like the angst, but when that is all you have in the plot it can become tired.

So, a cute novel, I think a younger demographic would really enjoy it because of the relevance to their situation, but for an old duck like me, it wasn’t that inspiring. I wouldn’t recommend this one (but maybe if you are a total stan for Jennifer E. Smith, or a junkie for high school romance.)

Overall feeling: Meh.

Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

 

Critique Casey 2020 by Casey Carlisle

© 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 – ‘One of Us is Lying’ (#1 One of Us is Lying) by Karen McManus

A murder in the middle of The Breakfast Club.

One of Us is Lying (#1 One of Us is Lying) Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Contemporary, Mystery, LGBT

No. of pages: 361

goodreads banner by Casey Carlisle

Pay close attention and you might solve this.

On Monday afternoon, five students at Bayview High walk into detention.

Bronwyn, the brain, is Yale-bound and never breaks a rule.

Addy, the beauty, is the picture-perfect homecoming princess.

Nate, the criminal, is already on probation for dealing.

Cooper, the athlete, is the all-star baseball pitcher.

And Simon, the outcast, is the creator of Bayview High’s notorious gossip app.

Only, Simon never makes it out of that classroom. Before the end of detention, Simon’s dead. And according to investigators, his death wasn’t an accident. On Monday, he died. But on Tuesday, he’d planned to post juicy reveals about all four of his high-profile classmates, which makes all four of them suspects in his murder. Or are they the perfect patsies for a killer who’s still on the loose?

Everyone has secrets, right? What really matters is how far you would go to protect them.

Page border 2020 by Casey Carlisle

This feels difficult for me to rate and review. It has been hyped so much, and many friends, and bloggers I follow have raved about ‘One of Us is Lying.’ On the whole, this was well written and the plot unfolded masterfully. We get interesting fleshed-out characters and tension is maintained from beginning to end. We follow four protagonists, the narrative jumps to each of their perspectives frequently, so at the start I was all over the place and even had to jot down some notes to get the characters straight in my head – because not only do we get the four protagonists, but their friends and families as well. I struggled to fall into the world of ‘One of Us is Lying.’ It felt like it took half the novel for things to really get going. I put this novel down and read 3 others before picking it up again. But after the halfway point I was totally gripped.

I think because it took so long to develop so many characters, and set the scene, the first half suffered pacing issues with my reading experience. I was also frustrated with some of the things which happened in the novel – like the police or press contacting the kids directly; and even the kids fraternizing with each other after the fact. In real life, police can have their case thrown out the window, or even get suspended for questioning a minor without a parent or guardian present. News reporters risk jail for questioning an unaccompanied minor. And parents should be locking these kids up and keeping them away from each other – I mean we’re dealing with murder here. Hello? Is anybody in there? *knocking on your skull*

One of Us is Lying (#1 One of Us is Lying) Book Review Pic 02 by Casey CarlisleI understand what Karen M. McManus was doing, and I appreciate how she crafts a story. But having a background as a high school teacher and a person of authority, some aspects triggered me and pulled me from the narrative. I wish I could have just enjoyed it like fiction instead of poking holes in the plot.

With each cast member having a secret was a great tool for developing each character, and by default, giving them a nuance and point of interest. It is the kind of writing tool that attracted me to the novel in the first place.

I won’t say I easily predicted the story, but I will say I had some very strong hunches about some characters that proved to be true. I say this because I can’t pinpoint any facts that foretold the way the plot was going to unfold… it was just little things, character reactions which tingled my spidey senses that got me thinking. I have to hand it to McManus in structuring a marvellous mystery.

Her writing style is top notch and easy to read, but I would have liked some more separation between the character voices. If not for the name of each character in the title heading I may not have known who we were following. She could have used particular words and sentence structure unique to each character to differentiate and aid in identify differing points of view.

I think the other thing that contributed to this rating is that I did not connect/relate to any of the protagonists. I mean I cared about them, but there was no deep emotional bond with any of the cast. I felt like an observer rather than getting to experience the predicament through their eyes, this level of separation kept me from really getting into ‘One of Us if Lying.’

I’m going to be picking up the sequel ‘One of Us is Next,’ and now that I am familiar with the characters and the scene is set, having understood their history, I’ll should be able to forge a stronger connection, and ultimately, enjoy the read more.

I’m really looking forward to the television series adaptation currently in development, the visual format is better suited for following so many main cast and with a longer format of a full season of television allowing the story to unfold slowly, yet keeping up the pace… it opens the possibility that I may like the tv show better.

A fun read and one I’m happy to recommend.

Overall feeling: Had me raising an eyebrow…

One of Us is Lying (#1 One of Us is Lying) Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

One of Us is Lying (#1 One of Us is Lying) Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

Critique Casey 2020 by Casey Carlisle

© 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

goodreads banner by Casey Carlisle

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.

Page border 2020 by Casey Carlisle

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

Critique Casey 2020 by Casey Carlisle

© 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.