Book Review – ‘Without Merit’ by Collen Hoover

Messy can be beautiful… or just plain miserable. But there is also beauty in misery.

Without Merit Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: YA, Contemporary, Romance

No. of pages: 385

From Goodreads:

Not every mistake deserves a consequence. Sometimes the only thing it deserves is forgiveness.

The Voss family is anything but normal. They live in a repurposed church, newly baptized Dollar Voss. The once cancer-stricken mother lives in the basement, the father is married to the mother’s former nurse, the little half-brother isn’t allowed to do or eat anything fun, and the eldest siblings are irritatingly perfect. Then, there’s Merit.

Merit Voss collects trophies she hasn’t earned and secrets her family forces her to keep. While browsing the local antiques shop for her next trophy, she finds Sagan. His wit and unapologetic idealism disarm and spark renewed life into her—until she discovers that he’s completely unavailable. Merit retreats deeper into herself, watching her family from the sidelines when she learns a secret that no trophy in the world can fix.

Fed up with the lies, Merit decides to shatter the happy family illusion that she’s never been a part of before leaving them behind for good. When her escape plan fails, Merit is forced to deal with the staggering consequences of telling the truth and losing the one boy she loves.

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What a train wreck of a family! ‘Without Merit’ is all about keeping secrets and putting up a front that contributes to this family imploding. But you don’t get the info dump of all the elements that have built up this tension – Colleen Hoover reveals them like peeling back layers of an onion in an organic way through the perspective of our protagonist Merit. It is a moderately paced book with a slow burn romance. It’s not overly traumatic, and has a cute ending but is very engaging. I completed it in two sittings and found the characters – and their arcs – delightful. It is just another novel that adds to the proof of Hoovers’ deft writing and stylistic flare.

We’re introduced to Merit as someone who is angry yet hopeful… and then slowly shown why she is both of these things. I related to her because she is both flawed, intelligent, and resourceful. She questions and challenges the world in her loner fashion.

Without Merit Book Review Pic 02 by Casey CarlisleThe rest of her siblings each have a different dysfunction – their mechanisms for dealing with the repercussions of their parents’ divorce and parental style. Utah, Honor, and Moby were still connected enough to be a family unit, but had their own story arcs going on. It was great to read that all the characters were so intricately crafted.

Two other characters of note revolving around the family: Luck seems like a bright addition to the family, but is soon discovered as the grenade that starts the inciting moment of self-inspection the family desperately needs. And Sagan, who comes across as the tattooed brooding love interest with a touch of mystery about him – and while he is all of those things we soon discover there is more: an artist, a compassionate soul. I really enjoyed discovering him through Merits eyes, though the whole quiet brooding thing was starting to get a little tired towards the end.

We also get the neighbour’s dog that Merit adopts; who is by far my favourite character and a wonderful symbol of moving on from a painful past.

I like how mental illness is represented and discussed in ‘Without Merit.’ It doesn’t necessarily paint a pretty picture, but once brought out into the open and dealt with, can be treated in a way that is not destructive.

The novel really deals with how perceptions and assumptions are continually deconstructed and the truth revealed.

The first half takes a while in setting up the characters and plot, so the pacing feels moderately slow, but after the halfway mark, things really get interesting and I did not want to put the book down. It’s not really an angsty novel. More one of uncovering one sensational thing after another, like some telenovela, it was tragically juicy and I was hooked.

Hoovers writing style slayed me yet again, and it was hard to predict what was going to happen because the predicament Merit finds herself in is just so deliciously messy. It all made great reading and a novel I’d happily recommend.

Overall reaction: Knock me down with a feather.

Without Merit Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Without Merit 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.

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Book Review – ‘Love, Life and the List’ by Kasie West

An idea to broaden one’s horizons for the sake of art – great idea, flat delivery.

Love, Life and the List Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Contemporary, Romance

No. of pages: 384

From Goodreads:

Seventeen-year-old Abby Turner’s summer isn’t going the way she’d planned. She has a not-so-secret but definitely unrequited crush on her best friend, Cooper. She hasn’t been able to manage her mother’s growing issues with anxiety. And now she’s been rejected from an art show because her work “has no heart.” So when she gets another opportunity to show her paintings Abby isn’t going to take any chances.

Which is where the list comes in.

Abby gives herself one month to do ten things, ranging from face a fear (#3) to learn a stranger’s story (#5) to fall in love (#8). She knows that if she can complete the list she’ll become the kind of artist she’s always dreamed of being. But as the deadline approaches, Abby realizes that getting through the list isn’t as straightforward as it seems… and that maybe—just maybe—she can’t change her art if she isn’t first willing to change herself.

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Another cutesy addition to my collection of Kasie West novels. But this one feels average in its place of West novel rankings. ‘Love, Life and the List’ lacked complexity, and quite frankly, failed to drag out any of the feels. Where some of her novels feel like a blockbuster rom-com, ‘Love, Life, and the List’ felt like a made-for-tv movie on the Hallmark channel. Not that it is any way a bad thing, just that it felt like it lacked layers and sophistication. I wasn’t even feeling the angst. For some, this might be the death knell for a book. But we still get West’s ever-present positivity and sunshine. Cuteness overload. It’s vanilla, very vanilla. Which is great for an afternoons escapism when you don’t necessarily want to be dragged over the coals of hurt and pain to get some character development, and where you know you’re going to get happy smiles at the end.

Our protagonist Abby felt a little flaky, though I love how she decided to challenge herself with ‘the list.’ Notably, her achievements weren’t character defining, but merely experiences to help broaden her worldly view.

The chemistry between love interest Cooper was already existing – like an old married couple – so there wasn’t a lot to expand on. So consequently the vibes between these two felt a little flat. And also because the ‘G’ rating of this book don’t expect any twixt of your nethers, or engorging love scenes. This is very Disney.

Love, Life and the List Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

But the concept is intriguing… like a bucket list for personal growth. Testing out things you know to be true. And West does write an interesting complementary cast. Addy’s mother was a great addition to the story struggling with anxiety, and the all-knowing-but-hip grandfather was endearing. He reminded me of ‘Pop’s’ from ‘The Goldbergs’ in a way.

So while I enjoyed this book, and had a pleasant afternoon whiling in its pages – for the most part it’s forgettable. I think if there were some bigger challenges to test Addy personally and emotionally, and a more dynamic storyline with an arc or two thrown it, it would’ve ticked all the boxes for me.

I still enjoy West’s writing style, it is so easy to fly through, and just descriptive enough to let your imagination fly.

This is the start of a trilogy of companion novels, so it may have felt flat because of setting up all the characters in this universe (but it didn’t really feel like that) so we’ll see what characters take the torch in the next few novels and how they stack up against ‘Love, Life, and the List.’

Only recommend for hard core West fans, and younger readers with a thing for contemporary romances.

Overall feeling: cute, but flat.

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© Casey Carlisle 2018. 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 – ‘It Starts With L’ by Cassandra Fear

A book of promises that was unfortunately, broken.

It Starts With L Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: N/A, Contemporary, Romance

No. of pages: 172

From Goodreads:

High school is tough, and Arielle knows this all too well. 

She’s slightly chubbier than most of the other girls and gets reminded of this every day. And the fact that she’s never had a boyfriend makes her prime meat for the bullying crowd. 

But then in walks Blake, the cute new boy who sweeps her off her feet and stands up to her bullies. Instant swoon. 

Now with a guy at her side, and the promise of a blooming love, Arielle realizes it’s easy to lose sight of what is important. Her best friend, Jess, is on a downward spiral toward disaster, and Arielle needs to find a way to help her. 

Unfortunately, Arielle discovers not everything in life is simple. Sometimes things happen, tragedy strikes, and it leaves you with wounds that might never heal.

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I actually feel a bit lost for words… ‘It Starts With L’ didn’t feel like a novel, more like an extended journal entry. It is a journey of self-discovery through a series of events, but I feel like we don’t get resolution to the challenges set up at the start of the book.

It Starts With L Book Review Pic 02 by Casey CarlisleIt is realistic and has a wonderful portrayal of family. Arielle feels like the clueless teen I was in high school. Half the time going with the flow, the other feeling out directions to take life in. The relationship thing felt a tad overdramatic; and yet the writing fell flat for me. It was a case of an interesting story but a subdued writing style. For such a short novel I lost interest frequently and found myself skimming forward.

Blake as a love interest is the embodiment of flip-flopping teen men. Hard to understand, hot and cold, loveable and infuriating. I would have loved to have seen his storyline resolved more fully.

There are a few curve balls towards the end that I did not see coming, and really redeemed Cassandra Fear’s writing for me. I was feeling the story was pretty uninteresting up until that point. Then my heart strings were tugged.

But overall, ‘It Starts With L’ l felt unfinished. The writing style not quite realized. There is some real talent here, but it failed to impress upon completion. The ending had me disappointed and I had difficulty in relating to the protagonist.

Unfortunately I don’t think I’d recommend this to anyone.

Overall reaction: Had hopes, but hopes weren’t met.

It Starts With L Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

It Starts With L Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

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© Casey Carlisle 2018. 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 – ‘November 9’ by Collen Hoover

Trashy tropes and shenanigans.

November 9 Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: N/A, Contemporary, Romance

No. of pages: 310

From Goodreads:

Fallon meets Ben, an aspiring novelist, the day before her scheduled cross-country move. Their untimely attraction leads them to spend Fallon’s last day in L.A. together, and her eventful life becomes the creative inspiration Ben has always sought for his novel. Over time and amidst the various relationships and tribulations of their own separate lives, they continue to meet on the same date every year. Until one day Fallon becomes unsure if Ben has been telling her the truth or fabricating a perfect reality for the sake of the ultimate plot twist.

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I loved reading this book. The Drama! I was hooked from the first line.

I think this book is great in illustrating that we are all fallible. Everyone makes assumptions, mistakes, and it is how we recover from these that defines our character.

All the characters are great: fully realised, they jump from the page, warts and all! You get clear character development from the cast too, so by the end you feel like you’ve gone through a journey, and it has changed you.

I really liked our protagonist, Fallon – her insecurities can translate to any girl with aspects of her body that she does not like. It was also great to see her get over her wallowing and deciding to make something of her career. That get-up-and-go attitude really resonated with me, and I instantly became invested in her story. That and the hilarious and sassy conversation with her father at the start of the book had me hooked.

As for the worst: I found Fallon’s love interest Ben to be a little long-winded, a little whiny, and a little over-expository. But I loved his character. I think the failings I had with his personality is another reason I deducted half a mark… Though he is tenacious, altruistic, and incredibly romantic. After finishing ‘November 9’ I decided his good traits outweighed the bad.

November 9’ is an easy read with some great wit. I did get a little annoyed and the small amount of swearing – and Ben calling Fallon ‘babe’ – but that is just a pet hate of mine and I didn’t let is sway my rating. Colleen Hoover weaves angst and tension in there as seamlessly as she always does, and one of the elements in her writing style that always has me coming back for more.

I would have rated this higher if something about the story didn’t creep me out a little. But that’s all personal. And I won’t discuss it here because I don’t want to spoil your reading experience with giving away the best part of the plot.

The discussion of ‘insta-love’ and other bookish elements was a great touch, using them as an underlying theme had me cheering. The pacing is well done too, even though it takes place over many years, you don’t get bogged down with too many irrelevant aspects not important to the main storyline.

I will say I did not see, or remotely guess the plot twist. I revelled in the drama. For me the ending was sweet, if a bit meh… but that is my personal taste given the situation, not the writing, how everything was brought to culmination. Again all of the issues I had with ‘November 9’ stem from my own reactions to the situations faced by Fallon. Another great title from CoHo herself and something I’d recommend to all faithful fans and lovers of contemporary romance.

Overall reaction: Messy people make for a great read.

November 9 Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

November 9 Book Review 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.

Film vs Novel – Fallen

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Where some angles fear to read.

I read the book over three years ago, and wasn’t overly impressed, but was interested to see if the movie could improve on my opinion.

On the surface, ‘Fallen’ is a thrilling story about forbidden love. And I enjoyed all the supernatural elements in the novel, though its execution was burdened with over-used tropes glutting the YA market. The movie did little to fix this, the characters still felt two dimensional, and it even managed to create a worse insta-love scenario between Luce and Daniel.

The whole age-old mythology of angels vs demons and reincarnation lost its edge.

The story itself is interesting, although nothing new or surprising, and if it hadn’t been such a lumbering read I would have rated it higher. You could predict the plot easily and I was a little disappointed how the climax (battle) of the book took place off screen. There were some unique devices within the novel, like the use of shadows to glimpse a window into the past, I really liked how this was done. But amnesia and flashbacks are two of my pet hates in a novel – they are cliché and overused.  The film watered down the story line so much – dropping out the roles of certain characters that teach and interact with Luce to the point that I just about wanted to puke. The reason/role the school of the Sword and Cross was also omitted. By the end of the film, I felt like I’d only gotten half of the story. The film failed to do a lot of the set up established in the novel, and did a gross disservice to ‘Fallen’ in my opinion.

The SPFX, especially that of angel wings, was pretty impressive though – it was my favourite aspect of the movie. ‘Fallen’ is aesthetically beautiful and melancholy. The visual tone is executed really well. But that old saying about polishing a turd…. with such a problematic story to begin with, there wasn’t a great deal you could do with it and remain true to the original novel. Personally, I wouldn’t have minded if it had a much darker, biblical tone, given the characters some depth and attitude that wasn’t steeped in an ancient battle of good and evil.

Fallen Film vs Novel Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Having said that, there were some scenes that felt like an ‘80’s music video : lighting effects, camera pulling in and out of focus, hair blowing in the wind… cue the ‘Heart’ soundtrack.

Luce, the main character, was too insipid for me in the novel. She reacted to the circumstances around her, and lacked strength. I can understand what Lauren Kate was trying to convey with this story, but neglected to give her main cast any sort of edge. Similarly Daniel and Cam, fighting for Luce’s affection, were equally two-dimensional. Both had strong chauvinistic attributes and I failed to connect with any of the characters or their love story. The film managed to give Luce an edge I was hoping for – I actually liked Addison Timlin’s portrayal of her. Daniel was played well by Jeremy Irvine (*swoons*), but I still found his character too aloof and brooding to care about. Cam felt much more dynamic on the screen (played by Harrison Gilbertson.) I had mixed feelings in the novel with him being painted as the tempting villain, but in the film, a layer of genuine concern of Luce’s well-bring shone through.

Fallen Film vs Novel Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

Lauren’s writing is easy to read, and I enjoyed her style – she just kept losing me. I feel if you cut the book down to half its size to ensure the pace pulled you through the story, Luce would have been seen as a survivor rather than someone who simply endures. By the end of the novel I was more interested in the periphery characters: they had powers and attitude that stirred my curiosity. In the film I sat there blinking at the screen when the end credits rolled – I did not know what was going on with the periphery characters at all. And Penn – what happened there? Blink and you miss it, and none of the cast seemed concerned or affected by what went down.

Many of the reveals in the novel are slowly released, where in the film, much of it is dumped on the viewer in the first fifteen minutes and I was left wondering where the story had to go. If it weren’t for the digital effects I would have gotten really angry.

I do know the studio bought the film rights for all the books – and some sequels could help redeem this series, because this movie debut did feel like the first instalment of a series or a tv pilot… so there may be more to come.

Given the movie managed to interest and entice me much more than the books, it definitely surpasses the written version; though I felt it missed out on some important elements of interest from the books – and the pacing was a little off.

But if you love epic love stories, and angels, and don’t mind a passive protagonist then you will love this book or film. I had rated the book two stars on Goodreads, and in comparison, I’d rate the movie 2.5… an improvement, but still, no cigar!

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

Book Review – ‘The Decisions We Make’ by RJ Scott

A bit of a bipolar read for me… great writing but poor story development.

The Decisions We Make Book Review Pic 01 by Casey Carlisle.jpgGenre: Y/A, Contemporary, GLBT

No. of pages: 137

From Goodreads:

Daniel Keyes is an orphan, fostered by the Walkers. The product of a lonely childhood, he is thrown into the chaos of the Walker family and into the life of his new foster brother Jamie. 

This story is the journey of Daniel and Jamie finding their place in the world. Through Jamie being a victim of hate crime to coming out to family and friends, there are many decisions the boys have to make before they become men.

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The Decisions We Make’ was a mixed bag for me. Many elements were so well done, and then others fell way short of the mark leaving the book looking a little amateur. I can’t remember how I came to purchase this book, whether it was on a recommendation from a friend or not, because based on the blurb it doesn’t have much appeal to me. Though, I can see a great amount of potential for the author.

RJ Scott’s narrative styling is a bit dry, but the story is touching and cute.

Our two main characters, Jamie and Daniel were okay, but this novel was so short I didn’t have the time to get me to connect with them. I felt this book was built around a few key scenes without setting the scene and developing the characters enough. We jumped straight into the good stuff and the remainder felt rushed.

The tone of ‘The Decisions We Make’ is blunt. Sexy. Garish. With moments of intense emotion and angst, bringing on all the feels. I lurve these elements in a story, and they are depicted so well, but without to softness of building a rapport with the reader it left me feeling somewhat juxtaposed.

Our cast face some scary moments – both physically and mentally – and I love how RJ can tap into that. I was really engaged in those scenes.

I felt there was some insensitivity when different family or friends kept asking Daniel or Jamie if they could’ve chosen an easier path – like it’s a choice, like it is wrong and dangerous… a very “straight” mentality. It totally rubbed me the wrong way. I’m guessing that’s the link to the title? But other than that, I’m really not sure how the book title is linked to the story. The cover art also threw me – it doesn’t really reflect the characters and, I hate to say it, not altogether polished.

There was a habit in the writing style of friends and family stating that they already knew about Jamie or Daniel’s sexual orientation, or were easily accepting (in a flash of a moment.) And that came across as being falsely and staunchly politically correct and not realistic. Only because everything was so summarised and rushed, it lost the importance and impact of such a declaration.

Some contextual facts that really destroyed the story for me revolved around Daniel being in foster care, and the admission he makes, would make him and his parents liable for persecution from Social Services – where was his Care Worker in this story? Relationships and boundaries as set up early and monitored by Care Workers closely to avoid this potentially psychological scarring event. The whole situation was so glossed over it was painful. I understand it is a simple storytelling device, but it didn’t work for me in this context.

There is a tone of the comical around ‘The Decisions We Make’ as well, there is funny dialogue and situations that had me snorting. Another point I applaud RJ Scott for is some of the educational aspects. It approached both Daniel and Jamie’s exploration and self-discovery in a practical and responsible manner.

Overall an okay read, with all the elements I love in a book, but fell short in the delivery. Sad to say I don’t think I’d recommend it, maybe when the author has had some more practice developing a story…

Overall reaction: Dude!

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© Casey Carlisle 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Book Review – ‘So Hard to Say’ by Alex Sanchez

A superb contemporary glimmering with diversity.

so-hard-to-say-book-review-pic-01-by-casey-carlisleGenre: Y/A, Contemporary, GLBT

No. of pages: 230

From Goodreads:

When Frederick shows up at school, Xio is thrilled. The new boy is shy, cute, and definitely good boyfriend material. Before long, she pulls him into her lively circle of friends. 


Frederick knows he should be flattered by Xio’s attention. After all, she’s popular, pretty, and a lot of fun. So why can’t he stop thinking about Victor, the captain of the soccer team, instead?

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I felt ‘So Hard to Say’ was more aimed at a middle grade demographic, and in that sense, didn’t have the emotional punch I was looking for. Nor was the storyline complex. However, this novel was innocently concise and poignant. And definitely worth the read.

The narrative married perfectly with the inner voices of our protagonists Xio and Frederick. The Mexican culture that Xio brought, and the confusion and coming of age from Frederick’s story were nothing other than brilliant.

It completely captured those moments of questioning about first love, or attraction, and sexual orientation in the judgemental arena of high school. Even if you removed the aspect of Fredericks questioning his sexuality, the way he approached different friends directly translated to many friendships I had growing up – some you were friends with outside of school, some within… I liked that it showed multiple ways relationships develop throughout your childhood to teen years.

Even though it felt very innocent and stylized, it captures the issues facing our protagonists with an understated grace. This is not an angsty over dramatized account of Xio and Frederick’s life, but a great peek through their eyes with enough insight to set the scene and let you draw from your own emotions and experiences.

Xio’s inner monologue is mixed with culture and a lack of confidence that all teen girls seem to stumble through – what’s wrong with me? Why won’t he love me? I actually loved that realism about her, and her joy at embracing family and heritage.

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Frederick’s life in comparison felt sparse – but you soon realise it’s on purpose. He’s distanced many parts of his life because he’s not sure about things. It was a joy to grow with him through the novel and see him fill those empty spaces, on his way to becoming the person he is meant to be.

Xio’s closing chapter was the most touching and prophetic. I’ve had sexual and gender-diverse friends all my life and can’t imagine ever not sharing our journey together. Friendship is forever – especially when the bond is more like family than someone you happened to go to school with.

I personally learnt a lot from Xio; about Mexican culture and home life. It’s not something we get a lot of exposure to here in Australia. And the fact that the language was scattered into the dialogue was fun. Even in the end pages you get a glossary of terms that I found cool.

This is my first novel from Alex Sanchez and has definitely left me wanting to pick up more of his titles. They are short enough with a light writing style that lends to being able to complete in a day. A great book to give to a younger teen. It was educational, insightful and a cute contemporary. I’d recommend this to lovers of contemporary, diversity and simple love/friendships that can resound with you long after reading. It was certainly a pleasant surprise for me.

Overall reaction: How adorable (kinda like this panda – he’s black, he’s white, and he’s Asian.)

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Critique Casey by Casey Carlisle

© Casey Carlisle 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.