Book Review – ‘Never, Always, Sometimes’ by Adi Alsaid

Doing what you’ve ruled as taboo can make for an interesting journey.

Genre: Y/A, Contemporary, Romance, Realistic Fiction

No. of pages: 320

Never date your best friend.

Always be original.

Sometimes rules are meant to be broken.

Best friends Dave and Julia were determined to never be cliché high school kids—the ones who sit at the same lunch table every day, dissecting the drama from homeroom and plotting their campaigns for prom king and queen. They even wrote their own Never List of everything they vowed they’d never, ever do in high school.

Some of the rules have been easy to follow, like #5, never dye your hair a color of the rainbow, or #7, never hook up with a teacher. But Dave has a secret: he’s broken rule #8, never pine silently after someone for the entirety of high school. It’s either that or break rule #10, never date your best friend. Dave has loved Julia for as long as he can remember.

Julia is beautiful, wild and impetuous. So when she suggests they do every Never on the list, Dave is happy to play along. He even dyes his hair an unfortunate shade of green. It starts as a joke, but then a funny thing happens: Dave and Julia discover that by skipping the clichés, they’ve actually been missing out on high school. And maybe even on love.

The best word I can use to describe ‘Never, Always, Sometimes’ is quaint. I can’t remember the impulse that had me purchasing this book, and it had been sitting on my shelf for so long that I began reading without any knowledge of what to expect other than it was a contemporary. Adi Alsaid crafted a clever story with plenty of teen angst and drama. I think on the whole though, there weren’t a lot of surprises for me, and a lot of teens making bad decisions… which is kinda the point of this novel with Dave and Julia crossing items off their ‘Nevers’ list. Things they deemed never to do, but anxious of graduating high school as nerdy goody-two-shoes and not having an authentic experience is what motivates them to tackle the taboo items. In theory it sounds like fun, but as sensible and intelligent as Dave and Julia are, I can’t see why they would tackle some of the things written on the list. It was such a terrible moralistic vacuum of adventure in some cases. But I guess it fits with the demographic for the characters and targeted readers – famous for their penchant of making poor judgement calls.

The novel is broken into three sections, the first told from Dave’s perspective, the second from Julia’s, and a third from an omnipresent perspective from both of their points of view. It’s not usually a great idea to jump from first person narrative to third at the end, but it really worked in ‘Never, Always, Sometimes.’

Both our leads make mistakes and learn from them, and it seems Dave is the more sensible of the two. Julia is all about romanticising the high school experience, and to that fault her moral compass becomes corrupted.

Never, Always, Sometimes’ is a tale pondering the question that if two best friends discover they are in love, is it a good idea to abandon the friendship and initiate a relationship. That question is subjective, and so will readers opinions be on the outcome.

Alsaid’s writing style has a way of sucking you into the world of Dave and Julia, and the pages fly by. I found ‘Never, Always, Sometimes,’ an easy, light, and pleasant read. He manages to craft a lot of emotion and tension into the story – I was just yearning for a more complex plot to really nail this book home. The story outline was pretty pedestrian in comparison to many of the contemporaries I’ve been reading of late. But that was the only (and biggest) drawback for me. It has great pacing and interesting characters. Alsaid managed to paint traits I find personally unattractive as quaint and loveable.

I’d recommend this for lovers of contemporary romances set in high school – they’re fun, easy to read tomes you can devour pretty quickly. But on the whole it was pretty forgettable for me. So it’s not something I’d rave to my friends about. But Alsaid’s writing is something I’m definitely going to keep an eye on when he pens some subject material that piques my interest.

Overall feeling: Teen logic bewilders me.

© 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 – ‘Savage Drift’ (#3 Monument 14) by Emmy Laybourne

Great concept for a dystopian. One of my favourites.

Genre: YA, Dystopia

No. of pages: 306

The survivors of the Monument 14 have finally made it to the safety of a Canadian refugee camp. Dean and Alex are cautiously starting to hope that a happy ending might be possible.

But for Josie, separated from the group and trapped in a brutal prison camp for exposed Type Os, things have gone from bad to worse. Traumatized by her experiences, she has given up all hope of rescue or safety.

Meanwhile, scared by the government’s unusual interest in her pregnancy, Astrid (with her two protectors, Dean and Jake in tow) joins Niko on his desperate quest to be reunited with his lost love Josie.

This didn’t have the same punch as the two prequels, though it is still a great book and wraps up everything nicely for the trilogy.

There was the same element of risk for the characters, but less action due to having to set up the premise, and the story being set in many different locations (and having to travel between these places). Told through alternating perspectives between Dean and Josie also cut the pacing a bit, just as you got interested in one characters plight, you head-jumped to the other character. In some places this worked, in others, not so much for me.

We meet a lot of new characters, while other, established characters are relegated to the background. I understand the practicality of this, but my heart wanted the group to keep together for the sake of the romantic in me.

The realism noted for this collection is lost a little with Josie’s storyline – there were some major plot holes that I felt were missed. Maybe an internment camp strike or retaliation in protest to the conditions and treatment? There was knowledge of the camps, but no action or pressure from the outside when reporters are obviously on scene trying to get information. The USAMRIID facility felt a bit wish-washy with its governance and performance. I’ve been on both a military base, and in a top security medical facility… a little research would have gone a long way in painting a more realistic and bleak picture for Josie. We could have seen more play with politics and Josie bringing to front her stubborn streak (and her O blood condition.)

I think I felt like the story in this finale floundered a little. It could be down to the protagonists being teens and naive of their options… but I feel we’ve seen them grow and mature through their ordeal and gain a great deal of street smarts and survival skills, and I’d have liked to see them put these skills to use to circumvent a lot to complete an arc and show how the disasters they’ve survived, force them to become independent and more equipped to face the new world than any adult.

Also the exposure to the compounds released from the NORAD facility has obviously changed those to whom were exposed permanently – there did not seem to be closure on this element. What does it mean for the future? What becomes of USAMRIID? It felt like there was the possibility of the series continuing, or at least a possibility of a companion series to delve into this aspect of the Monument 14 universe.

Dean seemed to be reactionary throughout this whole book. In the previous novels he was more proactive, organisational, and had leadership qualities. I don’t think he was given a chance to shine as a character in ‘Savage Drift’ which was a pity. Closer to the conclusion a lot of the tension was pulled apart too early which was another reason I wasn’t invested as I would otherwise.

Similarly Josie’s story (plot holes aside) had her just surviving. We had glimpses of her determination and survival instinct and care for the little ones in the internment camp – but then it went nowhere because she was pulled out of that situation and forced into another which meant her motivation was eliminated.

I wish ‘Savage Drift’ were two novels the first dealing with the characters having been separated, reuniting at the end facing the might of the military regime; and the second taking on the military rule and USAMRIID (with allies and rebels).

I didn’t know what to predict going into ‘Savage Drift,’ but upon completion they must have been high because, while I enjoyed the read, many of my expectations did not feel met. After the last page I was left with a feeling of ‘is that it?

Having read a number of other novels in-between ‘Savage Drift’ and its prequel ‘Sky on Fire’ I also felt the writing style a bit sparse and dry. It did not capture my imagination as the first two novels. Again, it reflects the demographic, dystopian world of the Monument 14, and head space of its tween protagonists – but I wanted it to be a bit more reflective and expressive of the wider world. It could have felt intimate given the way the novel is narrated, instead it fell flat for me.

Overall a lovely conclusion but I wanted more – an elevation over the established precedence of the first two novels.

Overall feeling: Not too shabby.

© 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 Boy on the Bridge’ (#2 The Girl With all the Gifts) by M.R. Carey

A great companion piece for fans of ‘The Girl With All The Gifts.’

Genre: Y/A, science Fiction, Dystopian, Horror

No. of pages: 400

Once upon a time, in a land blighted by terror, there was a very clever boy.

The people thought the boy could save them, so they opened their gates and sent him out into the world.

To where the monsters lived.

This was a romantic conclusion to the duology. ‘The Boy on the Bridge’ loosely mirrors the debut in the series. An intelligent teen taken under the wing of a scientist and educated as what is left of this dystopian world eagerly scrambles to find a cure for the Hungry plague.

I feel more accurately ‘The Boy on the Bridge’ is a companion novel rather than a sequel as the timelines overlap. ‘The Boy on the Bridge’ takes place a little before ‘The Girl With All The Gifts’ but also manages to pick up after so that you can conclude characters journeys from both novels. The writing style here is excellent, I really envy M.R. Carey’s wordcraft. However, I did not feel as driven with my reading experience. The narrative jumps perspectives with every chapter and the pacing was slow. We do get plot points in each chapter, but there was an element of intrigue or desperation that was missing for me. It did not get interesting until after the half way point, and even then the pacing was only at a clipped pace. There was no cinematic culmination.

Having said that, though, ‘The Boy on the Bridge’ pays off on fan service. It has all the elements from the first novel. I was hoping for some new insights regarding the Cordyceps fungus infecting the world and zombie-fying all of humanity, but alas, no maas. What we get is another road trip comprising of military and scientific personnel, and a wayward teen who is emotionally stunted. I feel awful saying that because the teen Stephen ‘The Robot’ Greaves is on the autism spectrum and somewhat of a savant. I only say it in that manner to illustrate strong parallels to that of Melanie from ‘The Girl With All The Gifts.’ It stopped me from forging a strong emotional connection to the protagonists – that continual switching of points of view and the emotional unavailability of the main character – it was too distant. So when something shocking did happen, I just rolled with the punches, not even an inkling of a sigh, gasp, or tear.

I really like this duology, its desolate tone, a world evolving and scratching for survival. I appreciated Carey’s writing and look forward to tackling another of his titles.

Overall feeling: Damn girl, that’s pretty good.

© 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.

Book Review – ‘I’ll Give You the Sun’ by Jandy Nelson

Art, identity, and secrets all mix into this masterful contemporary.

I'll Give You The Sun Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Contemporary, Romance, LGBT,

No. of pages: 371

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“We were all heading for each other on a collision course, no matter what. Maybe some people are just meant to be in the same story.”

At first, Jude and her twin brother Noah, are inseparable. Noah draws constantly and is falling in love with the charismatic boy next door, while daredevil Jude wears red-red lipstick, cliff-dives, and does all the talking for both of them. Years later, they are barely speaking. Something has happened to change the twins in different yet equally devastating ways . . . but then Jude meets an intriguing, irresistible boy and a mysterious new mentor. The early years are Noah’s to tell; the later years are Jude’s. But they each have only half the story, and if they can only find their way back to one another, they’ll have a chance to remake their world.

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This was a surprise read for me. I had heard great things and noticed a lot of 5 star reviews but I kept away from all of that as much as I could. All I knew about ‘I’ll Give You The Sun’ was that the main protagonists were fraternal twins, a boy and a girl, where the male grapples with his identity.

I think the biggest surprise for me was the interconnectedness of this novel. Just about every point, seemingly irrelevant or not, has meaning. A symbolism, a prophecy, a reason for being. And because of that this novel has a strong interwoven web of plot and arc that kept surprising me at every turn.

And Jandy Nelson’s writing style was a delight. Such a lovely turn of phrase where the narrative deals a lot with art – Jandy’s writing was akin to art itself without being egotistical.

I'll Give You The Sun Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

Told in alternating perspectives by our two leads – the twins: Noah, 3 years in the past, and Jude, his sister in the present. I think the theme that is most heavy in the narrative and rings true for all the characters is that we are all fallible and struggling to find our way through this messy life, and find that safe place where we are expressing our true authentic selves. Add into that all the dramatic and familial themes that can happen like love, sex, sibling rivalry, coming of age, the deconstruction of childhood innocence, and ‘I’ll Give You The Sun’ really shines.

Going into this novel with little prior knowledge I guessed at the main plot fairly early on, but it was never solidified as the diaphanous nature of symbolism and art weighing heavily on the narrative, there was always some doubt. But those early guesses came to ring true, but there was so much subtext and many, many arcs that grew around this main thread which provided such serendipity. I was transfixed.

There was one spot about halfway through the novel in a chapter from Jude’s point of view where the pacing lagged a little, but in hindsight it was setting up a number of plot points for the rollercoaster ride to the conclusion.

I’ll Give You the Sun’ wraps up nicely, a bitter-sweet ending with a strong sense of hope. It’s been a while since I last got a book hangover from a contemporary, and I highly recommend this. It has a delicate hand on some difficult topics and an interesting lens through which to view the world. I treasure this reading experience.

Overall feeling: My reading just leveled up!

I'll Give You The Sun Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

I'll Give You The Sun 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 – ‘Perfect Ten’ by L. Philips

A cute contemporary, but ultimately didn’t hit the mark.

PerfectTen_BOM_2P.inddGenre: Y/A, Contemporary, Romance, LGBT

No. of pages: 352

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Who is Sam Raines’s Perfect Ten? 

It’s been two years since Sam broke up with the only other eligible gay guy in his high school, so to say he’s been going through a romantic drought is the understatement of the decade. But when Meg, his ex-Catholic-turned-Wiccan best friend, suggests performing a love spell, Sam is just desperate enough to try. He crafts a list of ten traits he wants in a boyfriend and burns it in a cemetery at midnight on Friday the 13th.

Enter three seemingly perfect guys, all in pursuit of Sam. There’s Gus, the suave French exchange student; Jamie, the sweet and shy artist; and Travis, the guitar-playing tattooed enigma. Even Sam’s ex-boyfriend Landon might want another chance.

But does a Perfect Ten even exist? Find out in this delectable coming-of-age romcom with just a touch of magic.

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This was a cute light romance. But it didn’t tick all the boxes for me. It did not feel like an authentic voice. Something about the position that Sam’s voice was coming from did not feel totally realistic for a young gay male. Yes, it was angsty and swoon-worthy, but there are subtle layers wrapped up in the identity that were not realised.

Additionally I just found Sam to be such a whiny privileged guy who was so thirsty for attention that he ‘threw his cat’ at any boy who paid him even the slightest amount of attention. For someone who was desperate for love, he acted in contradiction for the entire story.

The pacing is also slow.

This book feels like jamming as may experiences with boys in a PG setting as humanly possible to appeal to a tween audience. The dash of Wicca even further proved my point in baiting that demographic.

Perfect Ten Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

The character arc and character development were pretty good though. Even if I found Sam to be one massive sigh and eyeroll away from wanting to throw up in my mouth. L. Philips even crafted a commendable ending, throwing a few red herrings out there… but ultimately for me even that felt undercooked and drawn out.

I did love her depictions of art and music. I can see she has a talent for writing, but maybe steer away from the M/M romances, she’s writing an interpretation of the gay experience and missing some of the major issues that gay youth struggle with internally and externally.

Sam would have had to have been medicated to behave the way he did – a lot of his reactions are so far from biologically male it was laughable.

I liked Meg, though again, she was so stereotypically the >insert derogatory term for female best friend of the gay lead< that I was praying that she would have something else going on for her storyline other than seeking relationship advice and validation. It’s obvious their friendship is more than that, but L. Philips neglects to explore any of that.

Landon just felt like a cautionary tale for engaging in sexual activity too young. And to act as an antagonist. In all honesty after finishing the novel I really felt like he was a plot device. Again there were so many missed opportunities to increase tension and pace that were missed.

All the characters were so ‘nice.’ It was a pleasurable enough read but felt like it lacked substance and authenticity. I would have rated it lower if not for L. Philips lovely writing, great dialogue, and a sense that there is a lot more to her than presented in ‘Perfect Ten.’

I’m not going to recommend this one, there are a lot more contemporaries in this genre which execute a story much better, like Bill Koinigsberg, Cale Deitrich, David Levithan, and Adam Silvera. I really wanted to love ‘Perfect Ten,’ but it disappointed me… though it does show a lot of promise for L. Philips as a writer.

Overall feeling: Undercooked and inauthentic.

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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 Sky is Everywhere’ by Jandy Nelson

I can see why this author gets all the hype.

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

No. of pages: 292

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

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

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

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

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

The Sky is Everywhere Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

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

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

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

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

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

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

Overall feeling: Truly, deeply impressed.

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© 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 – ‘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…

If There's No Tomorrow Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

If There's No Tomorrow 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 – ‘Fame, Fate, and the First Kiss’ by Kasie West

Acting, school and boys – typical teen stuff. But sabotage – yikes!

Fame, Fate, and the First Kiss 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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It looks like Kasie West is back on her winning formula. Another enjoyable escapist romance with ‘Fame, Fate, and the First Kiss.’

Set in the same universe as ‘Love, Life, and the List’ we follow protagonist Lacey, and aspiring teen actor in her first big movie role as a zombie. Only she has a helicopter/hover father and schoolwork to contend with as well as her acting job. Enter the cute tutor Lacey’s father hires to ensure she at least gets a passing grade, because, you know this whole acting thing may just be a whim no matter how serious, and how long Lacey has taken on being an actor. Tutor Donavan is straight-laced and all business. The business of learning. Only adding to Lacey’s daily pressures. Then little things start to go wrong on set… nothing like piling on the stress.

Again this is a cute contemporary, a quick read, as West has established as her brand. It didn’t quite have the quirky field of characters as her earlier works, but ‘Fame, Fate and then First Kiss’ still managed to captivate my attention and keep me engaged until the end. Lacey is cute and sassy but with a mostly level head. I almost wanted her to be a bit more headstrong to create some more tension. Or at least something so she wasn’t so… vanilla. So to with her love interest Donavan. He was very much a perfect wish-fulfilment type of guy. I’m used to a bit more character from West’s leading men.

Fame, Fate, and the First Kiss Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

Contrasting that we have some of Lacey’s co-stars who are very sure of themselves (or very full of themselves) which added some colour to the mix.

I did love the small mystery plot line as well; it helped keep the pace and tension right to the end, rather than this being an angst-fest. So a slightly different tone to West’s usual fare, but a welcome change. Though, please bring back those interesting characters…

There is not necessarily a lot of character development, rather more of a burgeoning understanding and better lines of communication being established. So while the plot is mostly predictable (small mystery aside) and because of the ‘vanilla’ characters and less angsty storyline, the pay-off wasn’t as great as I was hoping. Though still entertaining and definitely a step in the right direction after a lull in late 2018 to early 2019.

I liked the connection to Abby  and Cooper and am looking forward to the final book set in this universe ‘Moment of Truth’ to be released in March 2020.

A solid entry into my guilty pleasure collection, though I wanted a bit more complexity of plot and a dash more interest in the cast. Recommend to lovers of teen YA romances, it was a pleasant way to wile an afternoon on the lounge with a hot cup of tea.

Overall feeling: *sips tea*

Fame, Fate, and the First Kiss Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Fame, Fate, and the First Kiss 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 – ‘Sky on Fire’ (#2 Monument 14) by Emmy Laybourne

The kids from the school bus go on a rough ride.

Sky on Fire (#2 Monument 14) Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: YA, Dystopia

No. of pages: 215

From Goodreads:

Trapped in a superstore by a series of escalating disasters, including a monster hailstorm and terrifying chemical weapons spill, brothers Dean and Alex learned how to survive and worked together with twelve other kids to build a refuge from the chaos. But then strangers appeared, destroying their fragile peace, and bringing both fresh disaster and a glimmer of hope.

Knowing that the chemical weapons saturating the air outside will turn him into a bloodthirsty rage monster, Dean decides to stay in the safety of the store with Astrid and some of the younger kids. But their sanctuary has already been breached once. . . .

Meanwhile, Alex, determined to find their parents, heads out into the darkness and devastation with Niko and some others in a recently repaired school bus. If they can get to Denver International Airport, they might be evacuated to safety. But the outside world is even worse than they expected. . . .

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Another quick, realistic, and gritty read from Emmy Laybourne.

I loved the circumstances and the everything-that-can-go-wrong-will-go-wrong tone of this series so far. In this sequel we see the Greenway teens split into two groups, one on a journey to Denver International Airport for medical care of a gunshot wound and evacuation point; the other group, with blood type O – the beserker kind – remain behind waiting for rescue, scared to endanger the rest of the self-made family. They both go through the ringer.

I really appreciate Emmy Langborne’s writing style and how she can craft a story. The pacing kept me glued to the page from start to finish and I completed the novel within a day.

When you’re dealing with teens and children, they are selfish, naive and self-important at their worst… and seriously, I wanted to slap a bitch many times. A few of the characters were so narrow minded and stubborn I would have lost my patience and tossed them outside to fend for themselves, or like I said, clapped them about the ears. What a brilliant accolade for Langbourne’s writing and character development!

Sky on Fire (#2 Monument 14) Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

This book does not pull any punches, the debut sets up that tone, and again we see death, blood and guts – many trigger warnings. Underage Drug and alcohol use, suggested sexual assault, underage sex, violence, shootings, murder and dismemberment by chainsaw. ‘Sky on Fire’ is not for the faint of heart.

But the strongest theme that shines through is that of family and survival. These kids band together and do whatever it takes to get the whole team to safety.

Because of the violent nature and constant plot twists I really had no idea of where this was going to end up. So I did not predict the ending at all. It ends on a good note and sets up the final book of the trilogy (‘Savage Drift’) nicely and I am eager to continue solely because of Langbourne’s writing.

This is one of the better dystopias I’ve read, and recommend of lovers of this genre.

The cover art isn’t that great for any of the novels in this trilogy, but I urge you not to judge these books by their dust jackets.

Overall feeling: ajklfmnato!.

Sky on Fire (#2 Monument 14) Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Sky on Fire (#2 Monument 14) 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.