Book Review – ‘The Sky is Everywhere’ by Jandy Nelson

I can see why this author gets all the hype.

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

No. of pages: 292

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Overall feeling: Truly, deeply impressed.

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The Sky is Everywhere Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

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

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

An endearing character study in grief and loss.

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

No. of pages: 294

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A brilliant juxtaposition of contemporary and fantasy.

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

No. of pages: 304

From Goodreads:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Overall feeling: Killed myself laughing.

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

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

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

Mental illness in writing

Mental Illness in Writing Pic 01 by Casey Carlisle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

And there is help.

 

Please call for help.

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

 

Rediscovering my passion for writing through loss…

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

… and setting up a cracker of a year!

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

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

Rediscovering my passion for writing through loss Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book Review – ‘Tell Me Three Things’ by Julie Buxbaum

A totally unexpected ride…

Tell Me Three Things Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Contemporary, GLBT

No. of pages: 328

From Goodreads:

Everything about Jessie is wrong. At least, that’s what it feels like during her first week of junior year at her new ultra-intimidating prep school in Los Angeles. Just when she’s thinking about hightailing it back to Chicago, she gets an email from a person calling themselves Somebody/Nobody (SN for short), offering to help her navigate the wilds of Wood Valley High School. Is it an elaborate hoax? Or can she rely on SN for some much-needed help?

It’s been barely two years since her mother’s death, and because her father eloped with a woman he met online, Jessie has been forced to move across the country to live with her stepmonster and her pretentious teenage son.

In a leap of faith—or an act of complete desperation—Jessie begins to rely on SN, and SN quickly becomes her lifeline and closest ally. Jessie can’t help wanting to meet SN in person. But are some mysteries better left unsolved?

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I really got a kick out of ‘Tell Me Three Things,’ it weaves poetry, pop culture, and social media neatly into the narrative. Though I did feel like the pacing was somewhat slow. The truth is not a lot happens in this book, however I wasn’t bored by any means. It has that type of quirkiness that I’ve come to like from titles by David Levithan. Imperfect characters, big city sarcasm, and witty dialogue.

The whole SN (Somebody Nobody) thing was a little trite. I liked it having an anonymous person to chat to as a story telling device – a Cinderella story in reverse of sorts, but in a world of social media awareness and predators, something was screaming in the back of my head that our protagonist Jessie was being gullible.

Tell Me Three Things Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

I related to Jessie and got all the feels. I’ve lost a large number of family members in the last three years, and the grief is still raw, so there were times I had to put this book down because I couldn’t breathe. Many of her words rang so true. It’s not something anyone can understand unless it’s happened to them. I related to her quiet bookishness, her nerdiness, but I felt like she should’ve had more of a backbone. Especially when dealing with her Father. I know I would have totally lost it much earlier, and had a major meltdown at his feet and blame him for everything. That’s what grief can do to you. It also makes you numb. Maybe it’s my own experience colouring my views on Jessie and how she handled everything. I wanted her to be a little more prickly, fragile, volatile… maybe to validate how I handled my own grief and loss.

I felt the ‘all the boys fall for the new girl’ thing was a little over done. Whether intended or not. Whether stated or not. It just felt that way; and it annoyed me to no end. But the relationships, be they potential romances or not, were all very cute and adorable. I actually had a lot of fun reading ‘Tell Me Three Things.’

Caleb, Ethan, and Liam felt interchangeable. Like there wasn’t a lot of difference between them. SN had more depth than any of these men. And Jessie objectified them most of the time. Their floppy hair, their piercing eyes… I was waiting for her to discover more.

I also liked how I was kept guessing about the identity of SN. I kept trying to sleuth it out myself – like who would have access to her private contact details (this fact alone which threw me in the wrong direction – and to which I’m still wondering about how SN got them in the first place). Buxbaum does a very good job at swaying opinion from one person to another through Jessie’s narrative. I finished the whole book in a day, even with many rests to pull my emotions back together, it’s a touching contemporary about finding yourself through the loss of a loved one and re-defining what it is when you are You, who is You, who is You.

And I totally mis-guessed who SN was.

Doh!

The ending was cute.

I guess this book on a whole, although adorkable, had a tone of the uncomfortable. The grief and loss thing, the internet predator issue that was ignored, the feeling lost and out of place… it was hard for me to get engrossed in the romance when these issues were like the elephant in the room. It could have been so much more intense and angsty, but I appreciated the light nature of the narrative – it let me live in the fantasy.

Like I mentioned earlier, I found the pacing a little slow, but the writing style is easy to read and littered with pop culture acronyms (some of which I had to look up) and random references (which I Googled too): all of which I love. It sounds lame, but I always get a kick about learning something new from a book, no matter how obscure the reference. A big two thumbs up from me.

Overall feeling: cute and sad at the same time.

Tell Me Three Things Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

Tell Me Three Things Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

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

Love and Loss and Writing

Love and Loss and Writing Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

Love and Loss and Writing Pic 02 by Casey CarlisleI often wonder if Mum felt the way I did when Grandma died. I mean, I was there, and she was obviously devastated, but Mum picked herself up and soldiered on so much better than I have in losing a Mum. Maybe because we knew it was coming. Grandma was old and infirm. We’d seen her decline. And she had lived a full, wonderful and interesting life.

I lost Mum while she was still in the middle of things. She had so many unfinished plans. Her death was quick, sudden and final. One breath we were laughing, making plans for the future, complaining about our day. And the next. Gone.

It’s been years, and still, every day I miss her. Most of the time I can’t hold back the emotion and a few tears escape. These feelings have me watching other people who have lost someone close to them. They all seem to have it so much more together than I do. Better at being an adult.

Maybe I feel things more deeply than your average person? I hope that’s it.

Filling my life with purpose and love has helped dull the sting of grief. I cherish my friends, and tell them so. I hug my family. I spoil my dog. Each day I set myself little goals to achieve. I live life. Fill it with fun positive experiences. And it helps.

There are still those moments when something great happens and I want to share it with Mum. We always used to phone each other to share our news. We lived in different states, so picking up the phone was how we kept in touch. At least twice a week. Sometimes twice a day.

But now I whisper it in my mind and send it to her on the breeze. I like to imagine her close to me. Watching my life and appreciating the one-way conversations. The updates. The silent tributes.

Love and Loss and Writing Pic 01 by Casey Carlisle

Grief and loss is a funny thing. A personal thing. I’m actually horrified for those with large families now. It was just me, Mum, Dad and my brother. Dad left in my teens with my brother, so Mum was really all I had. When she passed, half my life went with her. I can’t imagine living through that experience again and again. Extended families and many siblings – all that potential for love and loss. So beautifully tragic.

I can’t think like that. But I do at times. It’s always there in the back of my mind. It’s hard to let people get close to you when you’re scared of the feelings that will come flooding in when they’re gone. I guess it’s like becoming gun-shy for relationships when you’ve suffered through an ugly breakup. You want to protect your heart, but it can’t work properly if you don’t take a risk.

Life is marvelous, ugly, euphoric, and crippling. I savour every day. Breathe in every minute and am thankful for every second. Every person I meet. Life is a strange beast upon which I ride to an unknown destination. I just hope the ride is long. The scenery vast and beautiful. Filled with more love and less grief.

If anything, apart from the experience of life, it has given me tools and character motivations for my writing. I remember reading about a character who had lost someone close to them, and I don’t think I fully grasped the gravity of the words until I had my own experience. All those feelings of hopelessness, being alone, feeling lost, crushed by grief… they are all hard and dark but help juxtapose the love, light and positive experiences we also have. It has supplied me with so much more context and colour for writing.

I may have lost a little innocence, but I have gained so much more depth.

So, while I will go on missing my Mum every day, I am greatful for her part in turning me into the person I am today, for showing me love, and being my inspiration in life and writing.

Love and Loss and Writing Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

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