Book Review – ‘The Ice Twins’ by S.K. Tremayne

Slow-burn twisty thriller on a haunted island.

Genre: Mystery, Thriller

No. of pages: 373

After one of their  identical twin daughters, Lydia, dies in an accident, Angus and Sarah Moorcroft move to a remote Scottish island, hoping to mend their shattered lives. But when their surviving child, Kirstie, claims they have mistaken her identity – that she, in fact, is Lydia – their world comes crashing back down.

They know one of their daughters died. But can they be sure which one?

This was a spooky psychological thriller with a brilliant setting and unreliable narrators to keep you guessing.

The Ice Twins’ and I did not gel. I liked the unfolding mystery, but it took a long time to get interesting. I put this novel down multiple times due to boredom and read five other books intermittently before returning; it was only after reaching the halfway mark when the story finally got interesting.

The story is told in multiple perspectives – and when it was necessary to reveal plot points, it did so in an abrupt manner. No build up. Just – here is a twist you won’t see coming. There was no context, no grounding in the story. It didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. Like the author was intentionally throwing in the wildest thing they could think of to shock and awe the reader. I would have appreciated this mastery if there had been some clue or precedence in the narrative… there was the teeny-tiniest hint, but not enough to give it any substance and make the reveal knock me for six.

There was so much secret holding and distrust within the family that it all left a bad taste in my mouth and prevented me from really getting into the story. What young family exists in this manner? It felt so unrealistic. It had a tough of a gothic thriller: over dramatized and spooky atmosphere.

Sarah dominates with her perspective throughout ‘The Ice Twins.’ While it is clear she loves her family and is trying to make things work after the loss of one of her twin girls in a tragic accident; slowly my unease with her grew. She was wishy-washy, impulsive, and at times unstable. There was a lot of naffing about that you simply don’t do when caring for the well-being of a child navigating grief. It’s like the Mamma Bear in me reared up and rejected half of the narrative of this book. So I did not connect with Sarah’s story, or any other characters for that matter, and consequently did not get immersed into the story of ‘The Ice Twins.’

Sarah’s husband, Angus felt distant the entire story. It was like his actions and motivations were in conflict. I felt he was pretty much useless apart from the sporadic plot reveals his narrative provided. And even then I was shocked at his inaction to take care of his family.

The twins, Kirstie and Lydia – such a tragic story. Their experience is the only thing that my heart went out to. They were neglected on so many levels before and after one of them reaches their demise. I liked the touch of the supernatural of this story (if you want to interpret it that way, others may see it in a more practical sense) but the beginnings of this storyline took far too long to set up.

This is my first foray into S.K. Tremayne, and I hate to say, but their writing style just did not do it for me. It felt dry, emotionless, and the characters not developed enough early on. But for building ambience and world building, their skills really shine. I think maybe a lack of empathy is what I’m sensing in S.K. Tremayne’s writing style. It was rich and colourful, but lacked an emotional connection. It didn’t help that any of the characters in the story were not relatable.

I don’t think I’m going to recommend this one. I’ve read so many other thrillers that I enjoyed much more; and, consequently, will not be going out of my way to purchase any more of Tremayne’s titles. It’s mainly the writing style that did it for me. But I can see how some readers will love ‘The Ice Twins’ or any other title from Tremayne’s catalogue.

Overall feeling: Just like soggy chicken

© 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 – ‘If We Were Us’ by K. L. Walther

Cute premise, but flat delivery.

Genre: YA, Contemporary, Romance, LGBT

No. of pages: 368

Everyone at the prestigious Bexley School believes that Sage Morgan and Charlie Carmichael are meant to be….that it’s just a matter of time until they realize that they are actually in love.

When Luke Morrissey shows up on the Bexley campus his presence immediately shakes things up. Charlie and Luke are drawn to each other the moment they meet, giving Sage the opportunity to steal away to spend time with Charlie’s twin brother, Nick.

But Charlie is afraid of what others will think if he accepts that he has much more than a friendship with Luke. And Sage fears that things with Nick are getting too serious too quickly. The duo will need to rely on each other and their lifelong friendship to figure things out with the boys they love.

I had a lot of hopes for ‘If We Were Us,’ the blurb sounded like this would be a cute contemporary with a touch of diversity, and the cover art matches some similar titles in this genre, but that comparison left me wanting a whole lot more from this story. The narrative felt discombobulated. A lot of info dumping. And the fist chapters introduces a lot of characters on the way side. I felt like I was scrambling to catch up and make sense of what was happening in those opening scenes. The tone did not grab me… felt like smarmy teen characters without any likeable traits. ‘If We Were Us’ was really difficult to get into.  The story is told in alternating perspectives between the ‘it’ couple Charlie and Sage. But there was something about the way closeted Charlie was written did not feel genuine – I feel like an #ownvoices author would have done him a lot more justice. 

The pacing was really slow. So much info dumping. A lot of telling and not showing. The narrative felt flat – like a bunch of descriptions of college students going about their menial lives without any strong emotion behind it. It also did not feel like an authentic coming out. K.L. Walther missed so many nuances that on #ownvoices author would have given the story, or even an author who had done some proper research into real-life experiences of young adults coming out in college. On the plus side, there were some good scenes dealing with anxiety near the end, and the overall plot was cute – but it took way too long to get there, and the entire plot was handed to the reader in the first few chapters… no surprises were dealt along the way. This story would have greatly benefited from some sub-plots, a few unexpected twists, less descriptions of college life and more emotion driven scenes.

If We Were Us’ was okay, but not one I want to recommend to anyone. It felt like the author was trying too hard to look young, or appeal to a young audience and missed all the best things about that age – the uncertainty, angst, the adventure. And the college life was a little white-privileged experience to me.

Protagonist Charlie was stubborn and annoying, self-sabotaging. While interesting because of these conflicts, I found myself wanting some part of his personality and passion (outside of the relationship) to balance this character out. But unfortunately that’s all we got. So that, combined with the ‘telling’ of history and college, Charlie didn’t feel like he developed too much, his story felt flat despite his journey with anxiety and coming out.

Sage, though fiercely loyal, had little going for her other than pining for Nick. I grind my teeth thinking that female characters commonly come across as all about the love interest. I wanted more dimension form Sage. She felt like she was written as a much younger version of herself, like she was 13 or 14 years old.

This story was solely two dimensional about their relationships… there was no other complexity to the story or to the characters.

I also wanted to take out my red pen in parts because the editor had seriously let the author down with some amateur sentence structure. There was nothing particularly individual about K.L. Walther’s writing that made her stand out. This felt like I was reading one of my year 11 student’s English prose. I know this sounds harsh, but a decent editor/publisher team would have worked with and developed the story to shine Walther in her best light. I feel like they really dropped the ball with this one. I can see the bones of a good writer – hints of interesting and engaging characters, perplexing situations, a romantic notion, imaginative settings – it just needed to be pulled together more effectively. A good developmental editor would have pointed out the pacing issues and maybe suggested to increase the level of complexity for the plot.

It was a struggle to read apart from a few chapters near the end when all of a sudden there was tension… but besides that, ‘If It Were Us’ was relatively boring… and ultimately forgettable. Given this was K.L. Walther’s first published novel, I’m expecting her writing prowess to grow and develop and am interested to see how it presents in her second novel ‘The Summer of Broken Rules’ and the fact that it is not dealing with queer characters may play in her favour, but I’m not going to be rushing out to purchase it.

Overall feeling: a bit of a snooze-fest.

© Casey Carlisle 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Book Review – ‘The Gravity of Us’ by Phil Stamper

The countdown to first love and finding your voice.

Genre: Y/A, Contemporary, Romance, LGBT

No. of pages: 314

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Overall feeling: Good, but not great.

© Casey Carlisle 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Picture vs. Page – The Danish Girl

I have mixed feelings about the novel ‘The Danish Girl,’ I love the representation but once you start to get into the novel you find the representation is nothing like it should be. The story and historical setting are well crafted, but the psychology, physiology, and medical treatment around Einar/Lili are grossly fantasized. The author has little understanding of transgender, intersex, sexual orientation, sexual identity and what is means to live the experience any of these.

The first situation describing Einar and women’s clothing in the book was romanticised to the point of fetishism. I know Einar is meant to be transgender, but the description felt off – not really the type of experience a true transgender woman would have. The continual descriptions of Einar being small, tiny, frail, and acting in a passive way and how Greta was tall and the dominant of the pair painted a picture of them having swapped gender roles in a spiritual sense. I wasn’t quite sold on the characterisation – especially for the time period. I know this is based loosely on a true story, but it is obvious the subject matter has been romanticized and written from a cis white man’s viewpoint. In the film, Einar is obviously fascinated by women’s clothing but resistant at first, and is pushed into it by his wife Greta – who is played to ‘see’ Einar as feminine, her artistic eye breaking through the façade to view who Einar really is. Though, this is juxtaposed later when she starts to resist and pressure Einar for acting on their feelings. Like it was okay at home, as long as it fit her comfort level. But at the narrative progresses her thoughts transform after witnessing the pain Einar is in, and having conversations with Lili.

I get a strong sense like there is a mix of multiple personality disorder, fetishism, an intentional lens from the author of the novel that misses the mark on what it means to be a transgendered woman on so many points. The story had me squirming and uncomfortable. In the film they play a lot more to mental illness rather than identity – and Einar doing research to find his/her answer from medical and psychology journals alone.

The casting of Eniar/Lili was way off. The actor in no way represented the portrayal of Lili from the novel. Eddie Redmayne’s physicality in no way captured the character of Lili depicted in the novel. The actor reinvented the character for the film version, and while Eddie Redmayne is an exceptional actor, this character should have been played by a transgender actor. Having a cis gendered male play the part, contributes to negative stereotypes many have of male to female transgendered individuals – that they are playing dress up. Seeing Eddie Redmayne dressed and presenting as male in the public eye, as opposed to a transgender actress who lives the experience and presents as female, would help dismantle inappropriate myths spread about transgender individuals. There were an important points made like this in the Netfix documentary ‘Disclosure.‘

The film lacked the transition and personal history of Einar/Lili. Lili is born of drag in the film, where in the book she already had the physical attributes of Lili and did not need to learn how to be female, but embodied that side of her personality inherently.

In the movie it seems no-one is fooled by Lili – that she doesn’t ‘pass’ however in the novel it is much the opposite case. Again, the whole notion of ‘passing’ shows how little the author, and film producers of ‘The Danish Girl’ really understand about the transgender experience.

The movie shows a fully masculine Einar transitioning into Lili, a transgender narrative; where the novel shows in intersex Einar confirming her gender. In the film – 2 operations are required for the physical transformation, yet in the novel 3-4 operations are required (and include something medically impossible.) In the novel Lili goes back for a uterine transplant, where in the film she goes back to have a vagina constructed. This was so not representative of any type of gender confirmation surgery all I can do in reaction to this is a *facepalm*

The novel presents more of a dichotomy between Einar and Lili, like they are two separate people, but the film it is more Einar realising and wishing she could be Lili.

Lili\Einar is intentionally deceptive and selfish with a lot of their actions both in the film and the novel. Both the film and novel do injustice to the character when they deal with being transgender. There is more to a person than a single aspect. We go from a dynamic character, to a two-dimensional character. 

It’s hard to resolve this story with today’s understanding of being transgender and the setting of Coppenhagen, Paris, and Dresden in 1920-30’s. There are so many misrepresentations and inaccuracies I was quietly enraged.

The novel did feel altogether too long – Ebershoff frequently meanders with flowery language and asides of landscape, backstory, daydreams, and the like. It does match the dreamlike quality of his beautiful writing, but slows down the pacing of the story incredibly. I can see how this style of writing is best matched for historical fiction though.

The reveal of Lili later being intersex in the book confirmed my suspicions given the mostly feminine stature and physical attributes. And the journey of Lili’s operations for gender confirmation surgery are gruesome. Though while interesting reading and set a tone for the novel, feel poorly researched. Even for the time, medical operations and the healing of the human body afterward do not span the length of time described in the novel.

My opinion on ‘The Danish Girl’ (both film and novel) was a hodge-podge of concepts that were not thoroughly researched around identity, mental disorders, and medical knowledge. Though, like the art that Einar and Greta create, ‘The Danish Girl’ is merely an interpretation on Lili’s story. It’s is viewed through different lenses of the characters of the book. Like anecdotal histories, it is warped, interpreted and skewed by the narrator. And adapted by movie producers, again a little insensitive to the transgender experience.

Some notable instance where the film and novel diverge, is that Lili does not get caught going to naughty places in the novel by Greta. And most importantly, Lili does not die at the end of the novel, it ends on a hopeful note, even in there is a symbolic description that could be interpreted as her dying, though it does not describe a traditional death. It’s more a symbolic freeing. She has been set free to live her own life. The prospect of marriage. The scene in the book is of a boys kite breaking from its tether and drifting towards Lili and up into the sky, maybe depicting her rise to heaven. In the film, its Lili’s scarf that Greta is wearing, accidently blown away into the sky and Greta saying ‘Leave, it, Lili will find it.’ So the film depicts a certain death and the novel leaves it open to interpretation.

I have to admit actor Alicia Vikander as Gerda (Greta in the novel) was too short, petite and pretty in comparison to her literature counterpart. But Alicia Vikander was outstanding in her acting chops and is the standout in the film.

Regarding Lili’s first kiss: Lili was a willing participant in the novel, even excited about it, but in the film it was awkward, almost abusive, you could see she was pushing herself. I don’t quite understand the relevance of the scene in the film – they were trying to infer that she didn’t want to kiss because the gentleman whom she was entangled with thought of her as a man… again the tone of the film is that Einar is in drag, seen as a man. Where in the novel, Lili is a fully realised woman.

Greta/Gerda was much more supportive and accepting in the novel, she seemed more jealous and emotionally distraught in the film like it was a choice between Einar and Lili. In the novel Greta admired Einar’s feminity and softness. She lived for the opposite of societies norms. She was a rebel. So again we see the depiction of Lili’ transgenderism through different lenses of the same character, one where it is embraced, and the other where it is viewed as harmful.

In the film the nosebleed from Einar – symbolising a menstrual cycle happens only once; where in the novel it was happening a lot, even from downstairs (it is never stated exactly, but I’m assuming from Einar’s bottom – again this makes no medical sense.)

 The line “Lesbienne” is said from two men instead of children in the film, followed by the men harassing Einar/Lili in the park, and then physically assault her. This violence is not in the book, the scene is meant to show how Einar/Lili is passing as a woman.

Ultimately even though this is a fascinating story and character study, the novel was flourished with a heavy hand and I found myself putting the book down frequently because I was getting a bit tired. I almost wanted the narrative tied a little more to history, to events to ground the story. The characters are really well developed but difficult to relate to and even to love. They are all selfish in their own way and live out of step with the real world. Though in saying that, this creative bubble Greta and Einar lived in was the only environment which could have nurtured Lili in taking her first steps into the world.

I don’t really want to recommend this novel (or film) solely on the amount of factual inconsistencies – this read more like a fantasy novel than something based in historical significance. David Ebershoff admits in an interview after the publication of ‘The Danish Girl’ that the representation of Lili’s transgender journey in his novel is not representative of today’s transgender population and is purely fictional… I’m not sure if that is ignorance, damaging, or laziness. Why would you want to create a character based on actual events and not have the core motivation of that character also based on factual elements? It’s misrepresentation at its core. I would have preferred an ownvoices author’s take on this subject matter.

I feel like the film completely missed the tone and intention of the novel. It’s great to have the representation, but both the mediums that present this story are different creatures. The film feels like it is a tragic story that punishes the Lili for becoming a woman, and feels like Greta (Gerda) is the protagonist; whereas the novel made me feel like Lili was the protagonist who pushed the envelope too far – the untested exploratory surgeries – when she could of lived a fulfilling life without needing to bear children… The film is more realistic but loses the hope the novel had, and the book lacks the realism.

In the novel, Lili was living life as a woman, was in a romance and about to relocate to New York and get married, where in the film, there was no romance and she died before getting to live any aspect of her life as a fully realised woman. I feel like both film and novel, were a disappointment. It is so easy to research the facts, and have conversations with members of the transgender community to ensure that this kind of story does not harm, if unintentionally.

© 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 – ‘Every Last Word’ by Tamara Ireland Stone

Cute romance, great rep of mental illness…

Genre: Y/A, Contemporary, Romance, Mental Health

No. of pages: 358

If you could read my mind, you wouldn’t be smiling.

Samantha McAllister looks just like the rest of the popular girls in her junior class. But hidden beneath the straightened hair and expertly applied makeup is a secret that her friends would never understand: Sam has Purely-Obsessional OCD and is consumed by a stream of dark thoughts and worries that she can’t turn off.

Second-guessing every move, thought, and word makes daily life a struggle, and it doesn’t help that her lifelong friends will turn toxic at the first sign of a wrong outfit, wrong lunch, or wrong crush. Yet Sam knows she’d be truly crazy to leave the protection of the most popular girls in school. So when Sam meets Caroline, she has to keep her new friend with a refreshing sense of humor and no style a secret, right up there with Sam’s weekly visits to her psychiatrist.

Caroline introduces Sam to Poet’s Corner, a hidden room and a tight-knit group of misfits who have been ignored by the school at large. Sam is drawn to them immediately, especially a guitar-playing guy with a talent for verse, and starts to discover a whole new side of herself. Slowly, she begins to feel more “normal” than she ever has as part of the popular crowd . . . until she finds a new reason to question her sanity and all she holds dear.

I am tossing up whether to award this a higher rating. The way it deals with mental illness, primarily OCD is masterful. The representation is top shelf. I feel accurate representation is paramount, and Tamara Ireland Stone deals with this topic sensitively through the experiences of our protagonist Samantha ‘Sam’ McAllister. But it was the tone of ‘Every Last Word’ that is holding me back. It’s hard to talk about a serious ailment without it feeling heavy or depressing, but I would have liked some more levity to break up the narrative and offer some respite. Maybe pose a great juxtaposition for what Sam has to suffer through?

Additionally this was a triggering story for me personally. I have OCD, and much of the descriptions of Sam’s attacks I’ve had to deal with in the past, so ‘Every Last Word’ may have a stronger negative emotional impact on me than another reader. Plus, some of the attitudes reflected from Sam’s high school friends feels very mean-girl-esque, and I simply have no time, and low tolerance, for this type of behaviour. Though, Stone addresses this in the novel brilliantly.

What we get in ‘Every Last Word’ is a brilliant first person experience of a young girl experiencing OCD, her triggers, her coping mechanisms, and how she grows and adapts throughout high school and friendships. I especially like how she was given new coping mechanisms and confidence as she faced new experiences/ outgrew old ones.

There was a lovely twist that I did not see coming (though a particularly overused trope,) but the main plot is fairly predictable. The language and characters suit a younger demographic for the YA market. But the pacing is spot on, I was able to read this very quickly in two sittings. It pulled out a lot of the feels, and concludes on a hopeful note.

I’d definitely recommend this to lovers of contemporaries, it levels an accurate portrayal of OCD, and has a cute romance to boot. It’s not for everyone, but I am glad I got to experience Tamara Ireland Stone’s writing. I’ve looked at her other titles on Goodreads and it seems like she writes a lot of cute light romance contemporaries, but none that have ignited my interest at this point. Let me know if you’ve read any of her other titles and what you think about them. I’m on the fence with this author.

Overall feeling: *rocks my hand side to side*

© 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.

#bookquotes

#BQ The Yellow Wallpaper by Casey Carlisle

The next of the top 5 quotes from the most memorable novels read has to include the short story ‘The Yellow Wallpaper‘ by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. A narration on mental illness, post-partum depression, and being trapped in a archaic marriage, unable to play the role of a dutiful housewife. It was the first time I’d read anything so heavily steeped in symbolism. It was required reading for my first year of university and seemed to open my eyes in regards to feminism, equality, and gender roles.

Are there any books that opened your eyes to views on society?

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.

Book Review – ‘Made You Up’ by Francesca Zappia

What do you do when you don’t know what is real?

Made You Up Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Contemporary

No. of pages: 428

From Goodreads:

Alex fights a daily battle to figure out the difference between reality and delusion. Armed with a take-no-prisoners attitude, her camera, a Magic 8-Ball, and her only ally (her little sister), Alex wages a war against her schizophrenia, determined to stay sane long enough to get into college. She’s pretty optimistic about her chances until classes begin, and she runs into Miles. Didn’t she imagine him? Before she knows it, Alex is making friends, going to parties, falling in love, and experiencing all the usual rites of passage for teenagers. But Alex is used to being crazy. She’s not prepared for normal. 

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This was a brilliant little story that gripped me from beginning to end.

I don’t know if my deductive skills were on point, but I had sleuthed out all but one minor plot reveal well in advance. But even though the book felt predictable in that sense, it has a weird charm that enticed me.

Protagonist Alex’s schizophrenia is scary and comical, and kept me as a reader on my toes – eyes always sharpened to try and discern what was fact and what was delusion. ‘Made You Up’ has a certain style and charisma. A romantic heart. And all the characters are flawed in some way. Even though Alex sees things that aren’t there, they operate on an instinctual level, making sense of the world and confirming hunches, about what might be going on under the façade we all put up.

Made You Up Book Review Pic 02 by Casey CarlisleThere is a lot of subtext going on with ‘Made You Up.’ And I had to sit and think for a while after finishing the novel to form some realisations. I won’t go into any detail because I wouldn’t want to ruin anyone’s reading experience if you are yet to pick up ‘Made You Up.’ But suffice to say, there is very little in this novel that doesn’t have some sort of meaning to the plot.

I loved the positive message it sends to those afflicted with some sort of mental illness. It’s treatable, and doesn’t morph the sufferer into a criminal, a molester, or a monster. They are simply people who deal with the world in a different manner and should be afforded the rights and dignity of any human being.

I really wanted to see the bullying tackled in a more head-on way and dealt with responsibly. There was so much unchecked behaviour in this novel that had me, a former high school teacher, grinding my teeth. Totally unacceptable. And a large part in why events escalated as far as they did in ‘Made You Up.’

It was a wonderful depiction of schizophrenia – not that I have any experience or professional knowledge of the condition – merely just an observation on how Alex really could not distinguish reality from episodes. How that affected her relation to the world at large. How would any of us deal with not being able to trust what we see and hear without context? It was beautiful in a way.

Made You Up Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Miles was an interesting love interest. Quite possibly on the autism scale, but never confirmed. It was as if his way of viewing the world countered Alex’s. In their weird banter and practical jokes were a different form of witty conversation that we see a lot of in YA. This felt truly authentic and unique.

Even though the parents weren’t absent, it felt like they were. It was almost abusive. It is a shame they did not get involved in Alex’s life more – or maybe it was easier to keep that distance? Maybe Alex would have pushed them away? It’s hard to get a beat on it, other than their behaviour did not sit well with me from the outset.

For some reason I thought it would be a shorter book – but it was still a quick read. Completed in a few sittings. Though the pacing got a lot better after the halfway mark, and the narrative interesting, I did feel like there was something missing to really push it up for a perfect rating. On reflection, I want to say emotion. Romantic angst. Something to drag more of the feels out of me. ‘Made You Up’ was intellectually interesting but emotionally so-so.

Definitely recommend this to everyone. It’s a standout for subject matter, style, and individuality.

Overall feeling: Superb!

Made You Up Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

Made You Up Book Review Pic 05 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.

Book Review – ‘Queens of Geek’ by Jen Wilde

Reading, Vlogging, and Book Conventions…

Queens of Geek Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Contemporary, GLBT

No. of pages: 262

From Goodreads:

Charlie likes to stand out. She’s a vlogger and actress promoting her first movie at SupaCon, and this is her chance to show fans she’s over her public breakup with co-star Reese Ryan. When internet-famous cool-girl actress Alyssa Huntington arrives as a surprise guest, it seems Charlie’s long-time crush on her isn’t as one-sided as she thought.

Taylor likes to blend in. Her brain is wired differently, making her fear change. And there’s one thing in her life she knows will never change: her friendship with her best guy friend Jamie—no matter how much she may secretly want it to. But when she hears about a fan contest for her favorite fandom, she starts to rethink her rules on playing it safe.

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I really enjoyed this book, it’s full of geek culture, diversity, and is totally kitsch. ‘Queens of Geek’ kicks off in great style and I could see great potential in the direction of the plot, but for me its conclusion travelled on the side of self-declarative cuteness rather than difficulty and drama. For some reason I wanted more, but that by no means alludes to a poor reading experience: instead I immensely loved the tone of identity, and the treatment of mental illness and sexual orientation.

I rounded ‘Queens of Geek’ up as a bit too contrite. The lovey-doviness between the couples too saccharine sweet, I either wanted some passion, some erotic tension, or some angst – none of that was translating.

Charlie was a fun character. Identifying as bisexual and dealing with her ex and a new love interest at the Con brought tension and some interesting altercations. Especially while trying to juggle her public persona at the same time.

Queens of Geek Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

Taylor was a bit boring for me. I loved how she struggles with anxiety, and way she tries to overcome her mental illness and finding support from new and old friends… but I wanted something else of interest about her other than this. I thought it was going to be her blogging – like we’d get some wit, humour, and great content that way; but it only resulted in a few journal-esque entries. As much as I thought Taylor was cute – and faced a lot of challenges, I wanted something other than her mental illness to stand out to me.

Jamie, the third friend in the trio and Taylor’s love interest – insert geeky, Labrador, floppy-haired BFF with secret crush here – I mean could he be any more stereotypical and non-descript? I was egging for some fights, some tension, some misunderstandings. He felt like a prop rather than another person in the plot. The only thing he did on his own was buy merchandise.

I love the angle for diversity and all the nerdiness of a Con rolled into a novel. A blogger, and vlogger, and an actress on the rise, characters dealing with mental illness; there is a lot to love about ‘Queens of Geek’ and I applaud Jen Wilde for writing such a cool novel – I just wanted her to take it further. I put this down a lot not only because I’m not a big fan of alternating P.O.V’s but also the pacing was a little slow.

The cover art is a great concept and what really attracted me to picking up this after a few glowing reviews from fellow bloggers.

Overall a masterful little gem that is a definite recommend for the YA reader- especially if you are one to geek-out over conventions.

Overall feeling: Cutesy-wootsey.

Queens of Geek Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Queens of Geek 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.