Book Review – ‘The Music of What Happens’ by Bill Konigsberg

One of the best contemporaries I’ve read this summer.

The Music of What Happens Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlilseGenre: Y/A, Contemporary, Romance

No. of pages: 338

From Goodreads:

Max: Chill. Sports. Video games. Gay and not a big deal, not to him, not to his mom, not to his buddies. And a secret: An encounter with an older kid that makes it hard to breathe, one that he doesn’t want to think about, ever.

Jordan: The opposite of chill. Poetry. His “wives” and the Chandler Mall. Never been kissed and searching for Mr. Right, who probably won’t like him anyway. And a secret: A spiraling out of control mother, and the knowledge that he’s the only one who can keep the family from falling apart.

Throw in a rickety, 1980s-era food truck called Coq Au Vinny. Add in prickly pears, cloud eggs, and a murky idea of what’s considered locally sourced and organic. Place it all in Mesa, Arizona, in June, where the temp regularly hits 114. And top it off with a touch of undeniable chemistry between utter opposites.

Over the course of one summer, two boys will have to face their biggest fears and decide what they’re willing to risk — to get the thing they want the most.

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This is a quaint contemporary with two gay protagonists told in alternating perspectives, switching with each chapter. Max and Jordan each have their own issues to wrestle with, and ‘The Music of What Happens’ is a fantastic character driven story that had me hooked from the first page.

Max is a sporty ‘dude guy’ who on the surface seems to have it all going his way. Out to his closest circle of friends, he’s comfortable in his role as the smiling, friendly jock – that is until he gets to know Jordan after accepting a job to work in his food van. Later he begins to question why he puts up this smiling front, stand up to his father who may be exuding some toxic masculinity, and falling into a dangerous situation which will have long standing repercussions.

Jordan has a reactionary personality, but is the responsible one in the family ever since his father died three years ago. Jordan and his mother are still dealing with the loss. With the bank threatening to repossess their family home because of his mother’s gambling addiction, Jordan rolls up his sleeves and runs his father’s food truck in hope of making enough money to keep their house. But it’s difficult when you don’t know a thing about food trucks. It’s a steep learning curve – especially when being prepared is not a part of your personality. Jordan is pretty naive and innocent in terms of the wilder world, him and his two female best friends (his wives) live in their own little bubble. Meeting Max helps bring him out of his shell and learn to be a little more independent. Take a stand. It’s a good thing too because like the frequent dust storms that weather Mesa, Arizona, Jordan will need these new skills, and his friends, to make it through an oncoming storm of a different nature.

Having two well-rounded main characters, flaws and all, draw and grow from each other was a wonderful concept to slowly evolve on the pages of ‘The Music of What Happens.’ The best friends of both of our main characters are supportive, have their own small arcs, and it was a real testament to friendship. We also see parents have a fairly strong presence in the narrative, warts and all.

The Music of What Happens Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlilse

The Music of What Happens’ was instantly relatable for me. Having lost a parent, being a proud furbaby parent, and knowing what it’s like to have to get your head down and bum up and work your behind off for fear of losing your home… I saw so much of my youth in this novel. Not to mention the witty, catty banter of Jordan’s ‘wives’ is so much like my high school girlfriends. Revealing tragic family secrets – like coming out in a sense… this book has a lot going on, and it’s all handled with a gentle composure.

I’ve enjoyed Bill Konigsberg’s writing style in everything of his I’ve read. He always managed to make me cry, laugh and gasp in every novel. For a contemporary this is paced really well. I never had a moment of needing to rest or skim forward. Totally engaging. And I loved the inclusivity of the narrative with diverse backgrounds across the board.

Some trigger warnings around sexual assault, addiction, minor swearing, but it’s all dealt with in a delicate and responsible manner that does not have me concerned in letting the younger end of the YA demographic reading ‘The Music of What Happens.’

The plot is predictable in that I could see the two main characters ending up together – but in contemporaries these days, its never certain that they remain that way. Besides that, there are plot twists I did not see coming. Really. I was shocked. It was a delicious read.

On a side note – loving the cover art. I’m seeing a lot more of the hand-drawn artwork, like for a manga or comic.

Highly recommend this one for lovers of YA Contemporaries and LGBTQIA+ representation.

Overall feeling: Atmospheric

The Music of What Happens Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlilse

The Music of What Happens Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlilse

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© Casey Carlisle 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Book Review – ‘The Way You Make Me Feel’ by Maurene Goo

Food truck fighting.

The Way You Make Me Feel Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Contemporary, Romance

No. of pages: 336

From Goodreads:

Clara Shin lives for pranks and disruption. When she takes one joke too far, her dad sentences her to a summer working on his food truck, the KoBra, alongside her uptight classmate Rose Carver. Not the carefree summer Clara had imagined. But maybe Rose isn’t so bad. Maybe the boy named Hamlet (yes, Hamlet) crushing on her is pretty cute. Maybe Clara actually feels invested in her dad’s business. What if taking this summer seriously means that Clara has to leave her old self behind?

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An adorable little contemporary. This book made me hungry with all its talk about food. At first I thought the characters were going to be annoying, but I ended up loving them with their individual charisma.

Yes, there are tropes and stereotypes in ‘The Way You Make Me Feel,’ but in a good way (well, for me.) The rebel, the nerd, the prissy one; but Maurene Goo does not shy away from quickly dismantling these stereotypes. This novel fell into my favourite wheelhouse of a light contemporary. Perfect for a lazy afternoon’s reading..

The humour was great in Goo’s writing style and had me laughing out loud, I even put the book down because I was laughing so hard, my eyes blurred up with tears. I can’t remember the last time a contemporary did that for me.

Great landscape and world building. I got a real feel for the LA climate and the food truck culture. Not to mention spattering of references to both Asian and Latino culture and language.

We get some great character arcs, and not your usual self-acceptance thing typical to this genre. We see a real transformation in our protagonist.

The Way You Make Me Feel Book Review Pic 02 by Casey CarlisleOur protagonist Clara is the big prankster – such a great hook – not the usual type of protagonist you get in this genre. I found her endearing from the get-go and loved reading her journey.

The frenemy/antagonist, Rose is the character I liked her the most. I know girls like this, heck, I was a girl like this. Striving to be perfect, scared of doing anything wrong or being perceived as colouring outside the lines. Stress, anxiety, all rolled up tightly and hidden away from all eyes as you prepare, study, and perform. It’s isolating and all-consuming. Leaving you constantly all-too-serious, uptight, and with a short fuse. A great place to start from and a fantastic character to counter Clara.

Hamlet, Clara’s love interest is a little straight-laced, and the most stereotypical of all the characters, but I had boy envy and was wishing for a Hamlet of my very own.

Have to say, I love the role of a present and involved parent. Adrain, Clara’a father is a tattooed hot D.I.L.F… ‘nuf said. But it was endearing how he cared for Clara, and juggled a small business with being an outstanding parent.

It is predictable, I pretty much guessed every plot point in advance – and even thought of one that never happened. But that is pretty much how it goes in most contemporaries I read. Its why I read them. The happy ending, the promise.

Definitely see what all the hype was all about and keen to check out a few more of Goo’s titles. A solid recommendation from me.

Overall feeling: Tickled my funny bone!

The Way You Make Me Feel Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

The Way You Make Me Feel Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

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© Casey Carlisle 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Secret Recipe

Tales of a Temp were never so tasty…

Secret recipie Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

I got kicked out of boarding school – but I won’t go into that story (maybe in another blog, it’s a comedic tale of rebellion). But that forced the issue that if I wanted to attend school in my home town, I’d have to pay for the fees, textbooks and everything else myself. That was my punishment. Enforced by my Father/Overlord. Otherwise I’d be shipped back to the cold halls filled with Nun’s wearing scowls and habits that smelled of mothballs. So I needed a job.

My rescue came in the form of a popular fast food chain restaurant. It was fairly new to our town at the time, and employed younger workers that could accommodate evening and weekend shifts. It took me a single day to find the job and get my first roster from what would be my third ever employer. I don’t think my father thought I was capable, that I’d cave in to his will and get sent back to his expensive boarding school with a tail between my legs. Well, I showed him! Watching his eyes bug out and veins pulsing along his forehead and neck, I informed him I had enrolled in the local (and Public) High School having fulfilled my required employment. I missed my friends, my home and was happy to never see the Nun run dorm rooms ever again.

Secret recipie Pic 02 by Casey CarlisleUnlike the institutionalised education I’d been surreptitiously ejected from, I became fast (food) friends with my blue-collar worker types. No snobs here… it’s hard to be stuck up when you’re covered in a thick layer of cooking fat and have mayonnaise stains in unfortunate places. Swapping pinstriped blue and grey uniforms for maroon polo shirts and tan pants, I bonded with my new mates facing similar dilemmas – needing money… from hard yakka. Plus, I was loving the new independence my own greenbacks afforded me.

I suffered through coming home smelling like grease, rude customers, hairnets, and a couple of occasions soaring into the air as I slipped on an oily floor. I don’t fall gracefully, I look like Bambi jumping on a trampoline: all flailing limbs and unco-ordination. All for the benefits of staying home and my own money. Another was left overs… my brother was my best friend. I’m sure he grew an entire foot over the year with all the extra food he kept sneaking out of the fridge.

Secret recipie Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleIt was a pretty cushy job, because of my big smile and eloquent diction, I was always placed on drive through. And I enjoyed it until someone did a grab and dash. But funny how you know everyone in a small town. Needless to say the culprits were caught on CCVTV and quickly tracked down.

Christmas brought a staff party, where three girls sung carols in beautiful harmony, affectionately dubbed the ‘Pointer Sisters’ (because they were aboriginal – I know – I shudder at small town mentality).

So by halfway through the year I had cracked my secret recipe to happiness: paid my tuition, bought my first car, expanded my wardrobe and had a social life. Even though the food may have had secret herbs and spices, it was the greens in my bank account I was more thankful for. Even though I’d been in the workforce before, this was the first job to make me feel like a grown up.

Tales of a Temp by Casey Carlisle

© Casey Carlisle 2015. 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 – On the Fence by Kasie West

A little on the fence about ‘On The Fence’ but ultimately enjoyed this cotton-candy contemporary.

On The Fence Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Contemporary, Romance

No. of pages: 296

From Goodreads:

For sixteen-year-old Charlotte Reynolds, aka Charlie, being raised by a single dad and three older brothers has its perks. She can outrun, outscore, and outwit every boy she knows—including her longtime neighbor and honorary fourth brother, Braden. But when it comes to being a girl, Charlie doesn’t know the first thing about anything. So when she starts working at chichi boutique to pay off a speeding ticket, she finds herself in a strange new world of makeup, lacy skirts, and BeDazzlers. Even stranger, she’s spending time with a boy who has never seen her tear it up in a pickup game.

To cope with the stress of faking her way through this new reality, Charlie seeks late-night refuge in her backyard, talking out her problems with Braden by the fence that separates them. But their Fence Chats can’t solve Charlie’s biggest problem: she’s falling for Braden. Hard. She knows what it means to go for the win, but if spilling her secret means losing him for good, the stakes just got too high.

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On The Fence Book Review Pic 03 by Casey CarlisleFor a fun contemporary romance, Kasie West is quickly cementing her place as one of my top go-to authors: interesting characters and stories that are like a warm hug.

I liked how Charlie was an athlete – I was starting to get over alternative, quirky, coffee addicts that have been teeming YA of late. Also, the family dynamic of Charlie’s all-male family added a great dynamic, how the men in her life are protective of her whether she is aware of it or not; and how they rough-house with her as well.

Her fathers, attempts at raising a daughter, while commendable, did come across as a little cliché, I was wondering where the doting father went – he was too stand-offish and left me wondering if he was a good father at all. But he manages to redeem himself in my eyes.

Charlie was a good character to relate to, although at times I felt she was too immature, and her behaviour insulting to herself and her brothers (but sometimes her brothers deserved it.) There were also some trite moments that annoyed me, and I felt, did not need to be in the book. But I won’t talk about them here, because – spoilers!

On The Fence Book Review Pic 04 by Casey CarlisleI did take a little issue with the fact how the book step up Charlie (and her missing a female role model as her mother passed away when she was young) in knowing little about fashion and make-up as somewhat deficient in being female. I did not see her as anything less, or nothing other than a strong female role model in herself. It rubbed against my sensibility that an interest in the superficial world of clothing and facial products has anything to do with being female or acceptance by other female peers. But with that said, it was cute and fun (politics aside).

Braden was a sweet boy-next-door character, and again, very typical of this genre, but I liked his tenacity and acceptance of Charlie for who she is, without all the trappings of fashionable accessories.

On The Fence Book Review Pic 05 by Casey Carlisle

Some of the midnight conversations at the fence were touching, and others pointless and contrived. With such a poignant image defining the book, it would have been good that all these interactions were kept embodying the soul of the novel – as some of Charlie’s talks felt immature and irrelevant. But this is only a very small part (and my opinion), and the nocturnal blatherings are a fantastic part of the story and one of my favourites.

I really enjoy Kasie West’s writing style, and have not come across a book of hers that I have not liked. They are luscious uncomplicated reads, yes predictable, but quick, well-paced guilty pleasures that don’t come off too kitsch.

Overall feeling: Cute but average.

On The Fence Book Review Pic 06 by Casey Carlisle

On The Fence Book Review Pic 07 by Casey Carlisle

Critique Casey by Casey Carlisle

© Casey Carlisle 2015. 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.

Olfactory onslaught

The dangers of crappy first jobs…

Olfactory Onslaught Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

My very first job was at the age of 13 going on 14. I wanted a stereo and my parents said they would pay for half if I saved up the rest. Thinking I would start a paper route, or yard work on the weekends, the parents  figured it would be some time before I had the cash for the sound system of a generation (don’t forget, this was in the ‘80s, so big stereos were in – CD’d hadn’t been invented and massive collections of records and cassette tapes were all the rage.)

But my loving parents had momentarily forgotten how determined I can be. I still don’t know how I pulled it off, but I managed to land a job working at a shoe store, despite my youthful age and mouth full of metal and unruly red mop of hair (and the fact that I honestly looked like I was 10 years old).

It took me three weeks to collect the funds for my musical purchase and the ‘rents had to cough up.

That was when I discovered I could buy more things – big ticket items – in the same manner. Like a computer, or a car!

But there is a rub… I don’t think you understand how much of a challenge this was for me. Especially if your reading about it… Picture a small town in a desert climate with soaring temperatures, and remember this is a shoe store…

Got it yet? Sometimes it is a very stinky job!

Olfactory Onslaught Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Some of those Thursday nights and Saturday mornings were a constant procession of foot odours that had me using all my will power not to retch. It was enough to singe your nose hairs right off. Even though Hi-top sneakers were the bomb, plastic glitter gel sandals were quite popular… talk about petri dishes for sweat and toe jam strapped to your feet! And there I was crouched down on the floor amongst women insisting they were a size smaller than they were, and old men with ingrown or blackened toenails politely smiling.

I managed six months before quitting.  I think I’ll leave the stinky shoes to the enjoyment of my dog…

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I did find another job shortly after, because those big ticket items were still surely set in my sights… but that’s another story.

Tales of a Temp by Casey Carlisle

© Casey Carlisle 2015. 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.