Book Review – ‘Without Merit’ by Collen Hoover

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

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

No. of pages: 385

From Goodreads:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Overall reaction: Knock me down with a feather.

Without Merit Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Without Merit Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

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

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Book Review – ‘November 9’ by Collen Hoover

Trashy tropes and shenanigans.

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

No. of pages: 310

From Goodreads:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Overall reaction: Messy people make for a great read.

November 9 Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

November 9 Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

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

Fiction or FanFic?

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When is a book not a book?

I recently came across a competition where an author was offering free publication for the winner, where the entrant can write a novel using the characters mentioned in his trilogy, with exception of the main characters.

While it sounds like a fun and exciting opportunity; a great way to expand the universe of a series you loved and get published. (Because, I gather you wouldn’t enter the competition if you did not like the series.) I even entertained the possibility for a moment. And then I realised that even if you get credit for the writing, you don’t own the intellectual property. The characters belong to someone else. And I’m sure the publishing deal would recoup the publishing costs and goodwill from the sales.

Which I hate to say, reduces the work you’ve put your blood sweat and tears into as simply fan fiction.

There is still a bit of stigma in the writing and publishing world around this kind of writing. It is slowly merging into a genre in its own right, but there are still legal issues around copyright, plagiarism, intellectual property and distribution rights that keep the waters muddy. Arrangements have to be made each step of the way with the author of the fan fiction and the creator or the source material for it to step into ‘big girl pants’ and become a real source of income from writing.

Maybe the author running the competition is looking for a co-writer to inspire him and keep the series alive, or grow the universe much like Marvel or DC Comics? I praise his ingenuity, but at the same time can see major pitfalls for emerging authors. Especially as a debut author. You’re not likely to get another traditional publishing deal when you have already pigeon-holed yourself as a fanfic writer.

That’s the information I’ve gotten back from many of the publishers I’ve questioned.

Having said that, many well-known authors are now writing in someone else’s intellectual landscape: Margaret Stohl with the Black Widow series, Leigh Bardugo with Wonder Woman, James Luceno within the Star Wars Universe, and I could continue listing more and more. Franchises are becoming larger and more lucrative, and writing fan fiction, is becoming a legitimate career. But, this would only be true for established, cult, and large franchises. Small and mostly unknown (like in the competition that sparked this blog) end up doing a huge disservice to an emerging author if they plan on releasing their own work in the future.

There’s a lot to be said for ghost writing, or releasing work under a pseudonym in these areas to protect your brand and credibility. But in a landscape that is in a major state of flux, the publishing industry struggling to catch up with technology and pop culture, claims professionals have made today, may change tomorrow.

In the end, it is the readers who hold all the power. Their decisions on what to buy and read will determine the future. Whether it be growing and expanding the fan fiction genre or not – remember YA and NA are only new genres specifically created from market trends in the last 5 or so years after the popularity of series like Harry Potter, Twilight, Divergent, and The Hunger Games.

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We even see this dilemma play out in Rainbow Rowells ‘Fangirl,’ as the protagonist, Kath, struggles to find a voice with her writing and her professors deeming fanfic not a real form of writing… Like Kath’s world, fan fiction is massive on the internet in real life. Even Amazon.com have recognised this growing market and launched its own Fan Fiction Publishing division, splitting royalties between the company, the original author, and the fanfic writer. Though all that time and effort only reaps you a 20% cut, compared to a 90% share for original work in e-book format. It’s certainly food for thought, and at the end of the day you need to be passionate about your work; and maybe the monetary recompense, or credibility, pale in the enjoyment you get from your creative outlet.

In any event, I’m fascinated to see where this phenomenon will go now that a wave of franchises and cross-media events are taking place in popular culture right now.

In the meantime, happy writing.

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