Book Review – ‘If There’s No Tomorrow’ by Jennifer L. Armentrout

A cautionary tale for teen love.

If There's No Tomorrow Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Contemporary, Romance

No. of pages: 384

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Lacey Barnes has dreamed of being an actress for as long as she can remember. So when she gets the opportunity to star in a movie alongside one of Hollywood’s hottest actors, she doesn’t hesitate to accept the part.

But Lacey quickly learns that life in the spotlight isn’t as picture perfect as she imagined. She’s having trouble bonding with her costars, her father has hired the definition of a choir boy, Donavan Lake, to tutor her, and somewhere along the way she’s lost her acting mojo. And just when it seems like things couldn’t get any worse, it looks like someone on set is deliberately trying to sabotage her.

As Lacey’s world spins out of control, it feels like the only person she can count on—whether it’s helping her try to unravel the mystery of who is out to get her or snap her out of her acting funk—is Donavan. But what she doesn’t count on is this straight-laced boy becoming another distraction.

With her entire future riding on this movie, Lacey knows she can’t afford to get sidetracked by a crush. But for the first time in her life Lacey wonders if it’s true that the best stories really do happen when you go off script.

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I didn’t mind this contemporary, it’s a slow burn romance with a heavy dose of survivor’s guilt. Compared to many other reads from JLA, where there is a lot of action, angst, or paranormal, ‘If There’s No Tomorrow’ is more realistic fiction, and with a teen protagonist facing some heavy issues, it did not feel as gripping as I’m used to. But this is a great story. A precautionary tale that I feel is important for the demographic of this novel.

I did go in to this with no prior knowledge, I skipped reading the blurb, because Jennifer L. Armentrout is one of my auto-buy authors and I love her angsty, escapist tomes. So I was expecting just that – some drama filled teen romance of some description. And ‘If There’s No Tomorrow’ is that… and more. Protagonist Lena is navigating decisions for graduating high school, telling her crush about her feelings, keeping together her girl squad, and then, bam! Underage drinking, driving while intoxicated, death. I was not expecting any of the latter. But I have to hand it to JLA, she really landed an experience of loss, grief, and survivor’s guilt. Even the situation of a father’s role in taking responsibility for their child. I related to this a lot. It was quite a sobering read. Though, in hindsight, I did not get the gut-wrenching feels, the man-cry sobs, or the tummy butterflies of yearning I wanted. This was somewhat vanilla. And I can understand why; there are some very heavy topics discussed here, but in effect ‘If There’s No Tomorrow’ is a love story. Bogging down the narrative with the more realism-laden issues would take the narrative in a completely different and depressing direction and move well away from JLA’s typical fare. This is meant to be a love story – I get it.

If There's No Tomorrow Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

Lena was a fun protagonist, she loves volleyball, parties, hanging with her girls, and reading. So there was a lot to connect to. Thank goodness she wasn’t some snarky waif that we get a lot in YA, though she was a little of that plain jane stereotype.

The love interest, a jock, boy next door type, again felt a little stereotyped and typical for this genre, but I enjoyed how he is depicted as a man and not some idiot teen boy with impulse control issues.

I predicted the ending when it came to the love story – come on its expected and obvious, that’s why I picked up the book. But the other stuff around the accident and the aftermath was a complete surprise. Though if I had read the blurb, it’s all right there. So I’m not spoiling the book. I probably wouldn’t have picked this up if I had read the Goodreads description to be honest, but it was a great read nonetheless. But I probably would have rated it lower because it gives the entire story away.

Jennifer L. Armentrout’s writing style is effortless, and lends to a quick read, though I would have liked some more atmosphere built and less inner lamenting to build a stronger emotional connection. Symbolism always works better than someone having a whine.

I’d only recommend this for tried and true fans of JLA, or for young teens (as a precautionary tale). I think romance lovers and contemporaryphiles not familiar with Jennifer’s catalogue may find it a little bland. In fact as I check other reviews I can see this reflected in reader’s reactions. I appreciated ‘If There’s No Tomorrow’ for what it is and am glad to add it to my collection.

Overall feeling: not what I was expecting…

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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 – ‘Life Expectancy’ by Dean Koontz

Fun and weird characters, murder, humour and a twist I didn’t see coming.

Life Expectancy Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Thriller, Mystery

No. of pages: 401

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Jimmy Tock comes into the world on the very night his grandfather leaves it. As a violent storm rages outside the hospital, Rudy Tock spends long hours walking the corridors between the expectant fathers’ waiting room and his dying father’s bedside. It’s a strange vigil made all the stranger when, at the very height of the storm’s fury, Josef Tock suddenly sits up in bed and speaks coherently for the first and last time since his stroke.

What he says before he dies is that there will be five dark days in the life of his grandson—five dates whose terrible events Jimmy will have to prepare himself to face. The first is to occur in his twentieth year; the second in his twenty-third year; the third in his twenty-eighth; the fourth in his twenty-ninth; the fifth in his thirtieth.

Rudy is all too ready to discount his father’s last words as a dying man’s delusional rambling. But then he discovers that Josef also predicted the time of his grandson’s birth to the minute, as well as his exact height and weight, and the fact that Jimmy would be born with syndactyly—the unexplained anomal of fused digits—on his left foot. Suddenly the old man’s predictions take on a chilling significance.

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It has been a while since I’ve indulged in a Dean Koontz creation, and ‘Life Expectancy’ reminded me of all the things I love about his writing. Witty banter, fun and weird characters, a good chase, serendipity, and some obtuse cyclical element that you never expect.

Life Expectancy’ is a deliciously weird tale intertwined with prophecy, mad men, fate, and family. We get different sections of the novel centred around the dates Jimmy Tock’s grandfather foretold as days of great importance and sorrow.

Jimmy Tock, born in an electric storm at the same moment as the child of a weird man, who then goes on a killing spree through the country hospital kicks this story off with a bloody mess and dragged me into the narrative with ease. The different parts jump to the dates that Grandad Tock magic-eight-balled for Jimmy to look out for and keep the pace of this novel cranked up to maximum. Even when Jimmy meets love interest Lorrie, we get instant great chemistry, and I became besotted with the pair from the get-go. True to Koontz’s writing style, there is a brilliant mix of comedy (humour) and horror (needless death and destruction) that was cinematic in form.

Life Expectancy Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

We don’t just get one bad guy either… antagonists that are sociopathically driven to enforce their justified point of view, all interwoven together in a crazy plot really threw me for a six. It was such a delicious delight to have these little unexpected twists.

The quaint backdrop of Snow Village – somehow reminding me of the set from ‘The Ghost Whisperer’ television show. A small town with a square, around which all the important buildings orientate. It just goes to show the descriptive abilities of Koontz’s writing style.

Because I’m such a fan of Dean Koontz and read countless of his tomes, I can say with confidence I predicted the ending pretty early one – however, there were a few surprising serendipities to that ending. And they were doozies. A one-two punch that had me making googly eyes at the page.

This hits the sweet spot of all the things I enjoy about Dean Koontz’s writing and happily recommend ‘Life Expectancy’ for your TBR.

Overall feeling: This!

Life Expectancy Book Review Pic 03 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 Burning World’ (#2 Warm Bodies) by Isaac Marion

Breathing more life into the apocalyptic series.

The Burning World (#2 Warm Bodies) Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Dystopian, Horror

No. of pages: 500

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A romance between a zombie boy and a human girl is bound to have its problems, but after battling against the odds and the undead, it seemed that Julie and R had earned their happy ending. But they soon must face a new enemy more terrifying than the walking corpses that still roam the wasted cities: a faceless and merciless corporation who are seeking control of the ruins of America. The key to survival and victory may lie in R’s past life, but can he finally face his own demons?

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This almost feels like a road trip novel. The characters go from A to B and some plot points are tied up and some aren’t… it seems like this would suffer a middle book syndrome, but it doesn’t. To be honest I was a little worried going into to ‘The Burning World’ with its 500 page length for a zombie dystopian, it has the potential to have an ambling pace, but Isaac Marion put his foot on the accelerator and did not let up until the end. It was a journey with so many things coming at the characters hard and fast.

You get a real sense of humanity through the characters, they react in a realistic way to the circumstances they face. ‘The Burning World’ picks up just after the events in ‘Warm Bodies.’ I’d say this novel primarily deals with filling in R’s backstory. It gives us a hint about the start of the zombie virus, but not quite. I’m hoping it all comes to light in the last book of the franchise ‘The Living.’

There are a lot of interesting elements in ‘The Burning World.’ We get interspersed chapters following a younger R; A young Nearly Dead boy with amber eyes; and some collective consciousness observing the planet and its evolution that seems to have some sort of vast knowledge. There was something like that in ‘Warm Bodies’ with the Boneys – but we don’t see them in this book. There is a sense that everything is connected, that a tangled mess of plot points is being set up. I’m hoping for an epic conclusion.

The Burning World (#2 Warm Bodies) Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

Isaac Marion’s writing style is both concise and poetic. Descriptions and actions are written with brevity, but philosophy and ambience are waxed lyrical. It is a unique and interesting tone of voice to read.

There does not feel like a tonne of character development. R’s eyes and personality are growing both with the return of his memories, and seeing Julie in the differing scenarios they survive. The other characters have minor realisations of their own, but nothing that pivots or redirects the plot. As you can guess I’m saying this is a plot driven story, rather than a character driven one.

It’s hard to say I predicted anything about ‘The Burning World’ because I didn’t really know where it was heading… and the journey is still yet to be completed. We get enough plot points resolved to finish the novel at a natural point and felt satisfied, but it didn’t altogether feel like a resounding conclusion. I was surprised at many of the elements introduced in this novel – ‘Warm Bodies’ feels simplistic in comparison.

Definitely looking forward to ‘The Living’ to complete the story and see where this all leads. Recommend this to fans of ‘Warm Bodies’ and any of the zombie and dystopian niches, but you must get your hands on both ‘The Burning World’ and ‘The Living’ to skip disappointment. (Luckily I have my copy waiting to go.)

Overall feeling: Didn’t see that one coming…

The Burning World (#2 Warm Bodies) Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

The Burning World (#2 Warm Bodies) 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 – ‘Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between’ by Jennifer E. Smith

Cute high school romantic fare.

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

No. of pages: 246

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Overall feeling: Meh.

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

 

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

A murder in the middle of The Breakfast Club.

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

No. of pages: 361

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Pay close attention and you might solve this.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Overall feeling: Had me raising an eyebrow…

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

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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

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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 – ‘Freakboy’ by Kristin Elizabeth Clark

A queer book in prose!

Freakboy Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Poetry, Y/A, Contemporary, Realistic Fiction, LGBT

No. of pages: 448

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From the outside, Brendan Chase seems to have it pretty easy. He’s a star wrestler, a video game aficionado, and a loving boyfriend to his seemingly perfect match, Vanessa. But on the inside, Brendan struggles to understand why his body feels so wrong—why he sometimes fantasizes having long hair, soft skin, and gentle curves. Is there even a name for guys like him? Guys who sometimes want to be girls? Or is Brendan just a freak?

In Freakboy’s razor-sharp verse, Kristin Clark folds three narratives into one powerful story: Brendan trying to understand his sexual identity, Vanessa fighting to keep her and Brendan’s relationship alive, and Angel struggling to confront her demons.

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Freakboy’ kinda didn’t go anywhere – but that matches the aesthetic of some forms of poetry, or a story told in verse, they are about a moment, a feeling, not a story.

Some of the formatting of the pages was interesting. Like stanzas posing a question forming a question mark on the page. Or the shape of a bowling pin when the character is at the bowling alley.

I’m not a big poetry reader. I usually avoid it. But this kind of poetry was okay to read. Though I did stall at the beginning of the novel a number of times, and even stopped around the 80 page mark to read another 2 books before picking it back up again. I think it took a bit for my brain to kick into gear with this style of writing to follow the three different perspectives and grasp the narrative.

We don’t get much character development – it’s more of a snippet in time. We follow Brendan as he starts to explore his gender identity; Vanessa – the least interesting character – just struggling to hold on the Brendan as he pulls away; and Angel, a transgender female at the Youth Centre who reaches out to help Brendan… and has many flashbacks of her past. And that’s it. It doesn’t really go anywhere.

Freakboy Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

This also reads as a book written by a cis gendered person. Like they are using it to educate other cis gendered people. Which is not a bad thing. It’s executed pretty well and I’m all for representation in literature. But there is a big difference when it comes to the soul and tone of the novel in relation to its authenticity. Own voices novel are much more nuanced, and the characters are about much more than just their gender identity. To further is argument the author mixes up gender identity with sexual identity, and uses the incorrect pronouns throughout given that it is told in past tense and should reflect the protagonist’s genuine gender expression. Big, obvious things like that would have been second nature to an own voices author and avoided in the narrative. But everything is a learning curve, and who knows it may be intentional to reach a larger cis gendered audience.

The prose does feel denser than regular contemporary fiction – as with most poetry – and rich with symbolism. ‘Freakboy’ may look like a long book on the outside, but this is poetry, there are less words to a page, more space to shape the stanzas on the blank surfaces, so it will feel like you’re flying through the novel if you’re not stopping to ponder and resonate with the words too often.

It’s a good book to read in that it is accessible. You don’t have to be a big lover of poetry to understand ‘Freakboy.’ It is simple in its themes and message. It represents a marginalized community beautifully. So while I have strong opinions about some of the content, ‘Freakboy’ is breaking through some walls and giving a voice to people who previously had little to no representation. I guess this is a tentative recommendation from me. I value the message, the representation, but don’t quite gel with the delivery.

Overall feeling: Torn between two worlds

Freakboy Book Review Pic 03 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 – ‘Stand-off’ (#2 Winger) by Andrew Smith

Now this is how you do a sequel.

Stand Off (#2 Winger) Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Contemporary, Realistic Fiction

No. of pages: 401

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It’s his last year at Pine Mountain, and Ryan Dean should be focused on his future, but instead, he’s haunted by his past. His rugby coach expects him to fill the roles once played by his lost friend, Joey, as the rugby team’s stand-off and new captain. And somehow he’s stuck rooming with twelve-year-old freshman Sam Abernathy, a cooking whiz with extreme claustrophobia and a serious crush on Annie Altman—aka Ryan Dean’s girlfriend, for now, anyway.

Equally distressing, Ryan Dean’s doodles and drawings don’t offer the relief they used to. He’s convinced N.A.T.E. (the Next Accidental Terrible Experience) is lurking around every corner—and then he runs into Joey’s younger brother Nico, who makes Ryan Dean feel paranoid that he’s avoiding him. Will Ryan Dean ever regain his sanity?

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This was a solid sequel. Many of the issues that I felt were brushed off or lightly resolved in ‘Winger’ have been addressed in ‘Stand-off.’ Especially the impact of Joey’s circumstances on our protagonist Ryan Dean. This finally felt like a more realistic reaction  – even if I didn’t altogether like the narrative lens, it gave me everything I was looking for.

So too was a lot of the toxic masculinity that was rubbing me the wrong way… though I understand it is very accurate to what teen boys are like in a boarding school environment, it was quite confronting to me as a reader.

There are themes of friendship, family, grief and loss, and consent; the latter which I thought handled so intelligently for the demographic. And the attitudes towards diversity are much more dominant in ‘Stand-off’ to symbolically bring the universe back into balance after the discrimination and bullying we get in ‘Winger.’

Stand Off (#2 Winger) Book Review Pic 02 by Casey CarlisleThe narrative is very age appropriate for our protagonist. Ryan Dean has definitely grown up since ‘Winger.’ As a result I found the writing style much more palatable.

The only thing I was certain of in ‘Stand-off’ is that I would see some form of resolution to Joey’s departure… and we got that. So I guess it is a fairly predictable plot, but there were many tangents and new characters that made a very interesting read. Add to that Ryan Dean’s distinct individual form of narration, and you have an engaging read that keeps the tension and pacing right to the end. I managed to complete reading ‘Stand-off’ in two sittings. Which is a great feat considering its 400 page length.

It’s a fun coming of age story and definitely had me shedding some tears in a few spots. I didn’t really “get” the humour – as much as it missed me in ‘Winger’ too… but that’s okay. Different strokes for different folks.

I’d definitely recommend this for younger male readers.

Overall feeling: Pretty good *two thumbs up*

Stand Off (#2 Winger) Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Stand Off (#2 Winger) Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

Critique Casey 2020 by Casey Carlisle

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

Book Review – ‘Never Fade’ (#2 The Darkest Minds) by Alexandra Bracken

Middle book syndrome at its longest.

Never Fade (#2 The Darkest Minds) Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Dystopian

No. of pages: 507

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Ruby never asked for the abilities that almost cost her her life. Now she must call upon them on a daily basis, leading dangerous missions to bring down a corrupt government and breaking into the minds of her enemies. Other kids in the Children’s League call Ruby “Leader”, but she knows what she really is: a monster.

When Ruby is entrusted with an explosive secret, she must embark on her most dangerous mission yet: leaving the Children’s League behind. Crucial information about the disease that killed most of America’s children-and turned Ruby and the others who lived into feared and hated outcasts-has survived every attempt to destroy it. But the truth is only saved in one place: a flashdrive in the hands of Liam Stewart, the boy Ruby once believed was her future-and who now wouldn’t recognize her.

As Ruby sets out across a desperate, lawless country to find Liam-and answers about the catastrophe that has ripped both her life and America apart-she is torn between old friends and the promise she made to serve the League. Ruby will do anything to protect the people she loves. But what if winning the war means losing herself?

Page border 2020 by Casey Carlisle

I really struggled to read this. I remember finding ‘The Darkest Minds’ as much the same type of creature. And now realise why so much time has passed for me to pick up this sequel. The plot and storytelling are great. Bracken can weave a masterful storyline, but I felt like it could do with some heavy editing.

Ruby as our protagonist felt a little immature. Single-minded and stubborn. There was something about her attitude, the other children around her, and the dystopian world they found themselves in that didn’t quite marry together. In comparing their level of mentality and maturity to real life children living through difficulty or tragedy, we see a much different mindset. One of mastering capability and street smarts as well as dealing with psychological issues of trauma, abandonment, and trust. I feel this latter treatment would have made the cast of The Darkest Minds Universe much more interesting and driven the story with a strength of character that also has vulnerability.

I still am not sure about the ranking system – the colours – what is the science behind how the virus affected the young and why some got an ability and why others died. Blood type? Brain Chemistry? I hope we get to uncover this in the final novel because it has been annoying me since the first book.

The entire middle chunk of ‘Never Fade’ lagged. The pacing was slow, my interest wandered. I kept questioning what was the relevance of these events to the plot.

Never Fade (#2 The Darkest Minds) Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

Additionally, I still feel like there is a bit of meandering with the storyline too. This novel could have been half its length and been a much better story. It was altogether too waffly and longwinded. Bracken’s writing style is eloquent, but at times left me feeling it was overly too flowery for some scenes. I’d like to see the word choice and sentence structure match the tone of the scene. Too many tangents off with Ruby’s thoughts that weren’t imperative to the plot, or setting the scene.

There was some great angst and build up without it becoming too cheesy. Though maybe drawn out too long – if suggested edits were done, it would have been perfect.

So too were there repeated words and phrases. I was pulled out of the narrative countless times wanting to cluck my tongue. It feels like the editing process really let Alexandra Bracken down.

There were some great twist and turns in the last 100 pages. I was gripped as the story unfolded.

I can’t say that this was easily predicted – I was too busy trying to figure out what the heck was going on. The plot really ambled in all different directions until the final act. From there on I really enjoyed ‘Never Fade.’ But it took me at least 50-100 pages in the beginning to get my bearings, and then schlepped through the middle where I could care less. I put the book down for nearly a week for a rest before forcing my way through. ‘Never Fade’ definitely had that middle book slump going on. And if you really think about it, Ruby is not too far from being in the position of where she was at the finale of ‘The Darkest Minds’ apart from a few plot points dropped at the very end of ‘Never Fade.’ So it had me wondering was it all necessary? What character development did she have different from the debut? It was all pretty much the same…

I may have rated this lower if not for the great reveals towards the end, and Brackens writing is pretty good when she’s not lost in exposition. So far both these novels in the series so far have been interesting, but long winded. I will read the final book in the trilogy before I make a concrete decision about recommending these books, because at the moment I’m on the fence.

Overall feeling: *snores and wakes up*

Never Fade (#2 The Darkest Minds) Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Never Fade (#2 The Darkest Minds) Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

Critique Casey 2020 by Casey Carlisle

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

Book Review – ‘Highway Bodies’ by Alison Evans

A zombie apocalypse Aussie style!

Highway Bodies Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Horror, LGBT

No. of pages: 376

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Who will you rely on in the zombie apocalypse?

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Bodies on the TV, explosions, barriers, and people fleeing. No access to social media. And a dad who’ll suddenly bite your head off – literally. These teens have to learn a new resilience…

Members of a band wield weapons instead of instruments.

A pair of siblings find there’s only so much you can joke about, when the menace is this strong.

And a couple find depth among the chaos.

Highway Bodies is a unique zombie apocalypse story featuring a range of queer and gender non-conforming teens who have lost their families and friends and can only rely upon each other.

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Once I got into ‘Highway Bodies’ I could not put this book down – I stayed up until 3am to finish it, and every tap, scratch, and spook noise from outside my widow and I’d freeze like I was living in a zombie apocalypse too. Having lived in Melbourne, Australia for over 7 years, it was great to recognise many of the landmarks referenced in this novel. And it was additionally a breath of fresh air to read a story where cis, straight-gendered people were the minority. ‘Highway Bodies’ has a lot going for it.

Told in three alternating perspectives from differing groups of teenagers as they witness the initiation of a viral outbreak from a meat processing plant, turning the population into flesh eating zombies. One of the narratives in particular is expressed in dialect slang – which is jarring at first – I didn’t like it so much, but then as the novel progresses and you get used to it, it really shines through and separates this perspective or Eve from the other two. Eve is transgender and flees from his home after his father turns and attacks Eve’s mother and brother. There is a lot of gore in ‘Highway Bodies’ think ‘The Walking Dead’ starring a diverse group of teens.

Highway Bodies Book Review Pic 02 by Casey CarlisleDee leads the second narrative, a member of a rock band renting a house in the countryside while they practice and write new songs. Dee identifies as bisexual and we see many expression of genders and sexuality in her bandmates and throughout the novel. After the power cuts off and they cannot access the internet or get cell service they venture into town to find bodies everywhere, the whole town slaughtered. It doesn’t take them too long to run into their first zombie.

JoJo is our final non-binary protagonist, one of a pair of fraternal twins from a previously abusive home. Their mother is a nurse and after she returns to work and does not return home, JoJo and sister Rhea sneak to the hospital to investigate. Finding their mother, turned, and amongst a horde of caged zombies from a military presence.

After that things really to go hell in a fight for survival: from the zombies, the elements, and other survivors.

It took me a bit to click to what was going on with the switching of narratives in the beginning, it’s not until 50 pages in that you get a sense of the rhythm of ‘Highway Bodies’ and after that the pace and tension keep increasing right up until the end. I enjoyed Alison Evans writing style much more in this novel than I did in her debut ‘Ida.’ ‘Highway Bodies’ has a gruesome realism befitting the dystopian landscape. I found myself invested and caring about these teens plight. The conclusion is a bit of a one-two punch, but satisfying.

The three things holding me back from awarding a perfect score for this novel were the fact I didn’t know what was going on initially with the switching of perspectives. Maybe some chapter titles to let the reader know whose story we were following would have been helpful. The other was the affirmation of gender pronouns to be used when characters were introducing themselves to each other. I get the practicality of it, but in the setting the dialogue did not feel natural and true to the characters… but it is only my opinion. I would have liked to have seen a more intimate setting, or a correction to make this scene feel more authentic. And finally, though there is romance in ‘Highway Bodies’ it wasn’t given enough time to develop to a point for me to really get into the couplings. They were cute and I was rooting for them, but it missed some angst or something.

I have to applaud the representation in ‘Highway Bodies’ it helps raise awareness and give a voice to minority groups. I’m enjoy experiencing a world through the eyes of someone other than a straight white cis-gendered protagonist.

I liken this to Mindy McGinnis ‘Not a Drop to Drink’ it has the same level of brutality, a survival story – and as such is mostly predictable. You want the protagonists to stay alive and make it to the end of the novel; but the journey there has many unexpected turns. ‘Highway Bodies’ is one of my most favourite zombie apocalypse reads to date. And I can’t recommend this enough.

Just some trigger warnings for younger readers for assault, violence, gore, murder, and you know general zombiness.

Overall feeling: Aussie Awesomeness!

Highway Bodies Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Highway Bodies Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

Critique Casey 2020 by Casey Carlisle

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