Book Review – ‘Bookish and the Beast’ (#3 Once Upon a Con) by Ashley Poston

Another hilarious addition to the CONtemprary twists of fairy tales.

Genre: YA, Contemporary, Romance, LGBT

No. of pages: 320

Rosie Thorne is feeling stuck—on her college application essays, in her small town, and on that mysterious General Sond cosplayer she met at ExcelsiCon. Most of all, she’s stuck in her grief over her mother’s death. Her only solace was her late mother’s library of rare Starfield novels, but even that disappeared when they sold it to pay off hospital bills.

On the other hand, Vance Reigns has been Hollywood royalty for as long as he can remember—with all the privilege and scrutiny that entails. When a tabloid scandal catches up to him, he’s forced to hide out somewhere the paparazzi would never expect to find him: Small Town USA. At least there’s a library in the house. Too bad he doesn’t read.

When Rosie and Vance’s paths collide and a rare book is accidentally destroyed, Rosie finds herself working to repay the debt. And while most Starfield superfans would jump at the chance to work in close proximity to the Vance Reigns, Rosie has discovered something about Vance: he’s a jerk, and she can’t stand him. The feeling is mutual.

But as Vance and Rosie begrudgingly get to know each other, their careful masks come off—and they may just find that there’s more risk in shutting each other out than in opening their hearts.

This was an adorably cute, saccharine sweet tale inspired by ‘Beauty and the Beast’ for the Once Upon a Con series. If you love to indulge in the fantasy, then this title will tickle you pink. Being based on a tale as old as time expect to read a lot of tropes, but tropes done in a fun campy sort of way. The narrative definitely lends to a quick read with chapters alternating in perspective between love interests/protagonists Rosie and Vance. I took a little longer to read ‘Bookish and the Beast’ to have a short break every now and then because of the cuteness overload. Especially if you’re not in that mindset…

Rosie is a small town geeky type dealing with grief after the loss of her mother. She and her mother shared a love of the Starfield extended universe – the films, the television show, and the novels released under the franchise, and finds comfort amongst the collection her mother had amassed… but then they hit financial hardship and had to sell off all the collectibles to keep their head above water. So Rosie is clambering, feeling the loss, trying to shape an uncertain future after she graduates high school. I love how Rose is unapologetically a book nerd, and sci-fi geek, and have friends and family equally invested in these things. I really feel a modern twist on the wallflower trope. I loved her growth in learning how to feel deserving of things, and go out and grab them.

Vance in our bad boy. Aggressive attitude, rude, media fodder, and exiled to a small town mansion to decompress and let the string of bad press cool so he doesn’t destroy his acting career. He’s been burned by so-called friends many times when they cash in on his fame; he’s like a punching bag for social media. He’s sarcastic, sullen, and is always putting up a front. I seriously had a lot of eye-rolling in his chapters, but hey, it fit with the character and wasn’t without its comedic moments. In fact I laughed a surprising amount throughout ‘Bookish and the Beast.’ Vance has a great character arc in learning to let people in, be confident in himself instead of a persona he fronts in the public eye… and to stop punishing himself for his mistakes.

I love dogs, so the German Shepard Sansa was a great inclusion in the narrative and had me clucking at the pages every time he appeared.

I also like the topic of consent and how boys sometimes don’t really listen to girls, instead doing what they think girls want, and how this was approached through the character of Garrett.

We get a lot of pop culture references in ‘Bookish and the Beast’ that readers and Con enthusiasts alike will identify with. Though, this book does not indulge in the Con events like its predecessors.

As we are following a very over-represented tale in the media, it was so very easy to predict the story, but it was an entertaining modern twist. I loved Ashely Poston’s writing style, some of the phrases she uses are delightful and really stood out to me. My enjoyment for this series has definitely increased with reading ‘Bookish and the Beast.’ Though I would have liked a bit more complexity in this book to really push it over the edge.

Again we see some great representation of the LGBTQIA+ spectrum in a positive light that is a part of the characters – not their defining trait.

A pleasant ride through an old classic for anyone who loves retellings, cutesy contemporaries, and anything to do with nerd culture around conventions and reading. I’d recommend this, but make sure you read the two sequels as each book deals with other characters from the same universe and you may lose some context.

Overall feeling: hilarious contemporary tale!

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

Book Review – ‘The Haunted’ (#1 The Haunted) by Danielle Vega

The Grudge and Amytiville House all rolled into one.

The Haunted (#1 The Haunted) Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Horror, Paranormal

No. of pages: 252

From Goodreads:

Hendricks Becker-O’Malley is new in town, and she’s bringing baggage with her. With a dark and wild past, Hendricks doesn’t think the small town her parents moved her to has much to offer her in terms of excitement. She plans on laying low, but when she’s suddenly welcomed into the popular crowd at school, things don’t go as expected.

Hendricks learns from her new friends that the fixer-upper her parents are so excited about is notorious in town. Local legend says it’s haunted. Hendricks doesn’t believe it. Until she’s forced to. Blood-curdling screams erupt from the basement, her little brother wakes up covered in scratches, and something, or someone pushes her dad down the stairs. With help from the mysterious boy next door, Hendricks makes it her mission to take down the ghosts . . . if they don’t take her first.  

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A brilliant little fast-paced read that feels like you’re watching a horror movie.

Danielle Vega has done it again! I loved ‘The Haunted.’ It created a sufficiently spooky atmosphere and walked that line of reality and supernatural. A fantastic haunted house storyline that slowly unfolds to a totally unpredictable ending. If I have one criticism, it’s that the story wasn’t complex enough. But I have noticed that about Vega’s writing. She likes short, to the point horrors that build intense imagery.

The Haunted (#1 The Haunted) Book Review Pic 04 by Casey CarlisleHendrick’s is a fun protagonist, moving to a new small town, enrolling in high school and dealing with some weird hallucinations that may or may not be connected to a troubled past. The town of Drearfield offers Hendricks a clean slate, one that she is determined to take advantage of. Straight off the bat she is a got-getter. Proactive. Despite past events, she is not wallowing in grief or self-pity. I instantly liked her. Hendricks was a battler right to the end.

We do get a lot of tropes however – the parents not believing or being involved in the paranormal storyline, the emo loner, the jock, the love triangle… it was a little bit cringey, but I have to admit, I enjoy those from time to time. Even with those tropes, the friends Hendricks makes at school does deconstruct the stereotypes a little, giving a taste of freshness to Vega’s writing style.

Eddie, the emo loner and next door neighbour, jilted from the ‘in’ crowd at school, knows more about the haunting than he’s letting on; and is one of the love interests for Hendircks. I enjoyed how Vega develops this character, even if it is somewhat predicable.

Our jock, Connor, seems to be the quintessential stereotype, turns out to have a heart of gold, oodles amount of patients, and once I got to see him interact with many of the other cast, came to favour him above all the rest… and it was interesting having him as Hendrick’s other suitor.

Notable mention: the not-quite-mean-girl, Portia played her role expertly. But I could take her or leave her, she was an integral part of the plot – as the tool for dragging our protagonist into unfamiliar situations. I felt like she needed a bit more development and wasn’t so stereotypical.

There are some triggers around torture, sexual assault and abuse, and definitely some gory scenes to boot.

Read easily in two sittings, and ties everything up nicely. Enjoyed the ending – that plot twist though… girl!

The dominant theme was about overcoming abuse and learning to stand up for yourself. And family.

Vega has cemented herself as one of my auto-buy authors. She’s highly recommended to those younger readers who love horror – like a Stephen King starter pack.

I thought this was going to be a standalone, but just found out there is a sequel slated for release in 2020 titled ‘The Unleashed.’  You can bet your first born I’m excited about this and can’t wait to get my hands on a copy!

Overall feeling: Holy Haunted House!

The Haunted (#1 The Haunted) Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

The Haunted (#1 The Haunted) Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

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

Book Review – ‘Bonfire’ by Krysten Ritter

Small town secrets scare you silly.

Bonfire Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Mystery, Thriller

No. of pages: 288

From Goodreads:

Should you ever go back?

It has been ten years since Abby Williams left home and scrubbed away all visible evidence of her small town roots. Now working as an environmental lawyer in Chicago, she has a thriving career, a modern apartment, and her pick of meaningless one-night stands.

But when a new case takes her back home to Barrens, Indiana, the life Abby painstakingly created begins to crack. Tasked with investigating Optimal Plastics, the town’s most high-profile company and economic heart, Abby begins to find strange connections to Barrens’ biggest scandal from more than a decade ago involving the popular Kaycee Mitchell and her closest friends—just before Kaycee disappeared for good.

Abby knows the key to solving any case lies in the weak spots, the unanswered questions. But as Abby tries to find out what really happened to Kaycee, she unearths an even more disturbing secret—a ritual called “The Game,” which will threaten the reputations, and lives, of the community and risk exposing a darkness that may consume her.

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I was really interested to see Krysten Ritter’s foray into writing. I have been a fan of her acting work and wanted to see how her talents translated to the written word. She excelled. Ritter’s writing style has the perfect way of world building and describing the scene in a few sentences before delving into the story.

I had a distinct case of writers envy with Ritter’s turn of phrase, it was almost melodic. She manages to intertwine the type of symbolism we usually get in contemporaries or Stephen King novels into the narration. The only thing stopping me from awarding this the perfect score was that the pacing was a little slow – but it usually is in this genre. Taking the time to set the scene, throw in some red herrings… it takes, well, time. For me, I wanted some more interesting or dramatic scenes in the way our protagonist Abby uncovers clues. It was still very gripping and realistic, but I love the melodrama and the gasps – always crave more from this type of novel.

I will say that I had absolutely no idea what was going to happen – I’m usually pretty good at predicting a novel, but ‘Bonfire’ had me completely stumped. Krysten Ritter literally baited me along the entire story and I loved it. She really knows how to craft a story. Just when you think the plot is about one thing, you discover it is about a totally different thing.

Bonfire Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

Abby as a protagonist is relatable, but a little difficult to love. Just about every character in this novel is flawed (including the protagonist) sometimes unapologetically, some out for redemption, some lost years ago and just treading water. Thus, it made for a compelling read, the characters are well developed, motivated and engaging. And while I was invested in Abby and her plight, I wanted a more innocent, relatable character to carry the story. But that’s my personal preference, and in all honesty, a character like that would have stolen some of the grittiness that seems from the tone of the novel and the town of Barrens in which ‘Bonfire’ is set.

And I’m a huge fan of characters returning to their childhood towns after getting out, revisiting old haunts and memories, so ‘Bonfire’ was right up my alley.

Some of the reveals I found shocking, and there are some trigger warning for this novel around date rape and paedophilia. There is also underage drinking and drug use. Additionally, I had a cringe away from the page from a certain moment in the climax worthy of a horror novel – so you have been warned.

I thought I would have a stronger emotional reaction to the events in ‘Bonfire.’ While Ritter writes great characters and can plot a marvellous storyline, I didn’t get that emotional attachment I needed to draw out the feels from some of the more dramatic plot points.

Still, an incredible strong debut I am proud to add to my library. I recommend you go grab a copy.

Overall feeling: What. Just. Happened?

Bonfire Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Bonfire Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

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

Book Review – ‘Found’ by Fleur Ferris

Putting Australian YA Authors on the international map

Found Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Mystery, Thriller

No. of pages: 276

From Goodreads:

What happens when someone else’s past catches up with you? 

Elizabeth Miller had lived in Deni her entire life. In a small rural town, Beth’s biggest problem is telling her protective and fiercely private father that she has a boyfriend. 

But when her dad disappears before her and Jonah’s eyes, Beth discovers that he isn’t who she thought he was. Her family’s secret past has caught up with them, and someone wants her dead. 

Beth has been unwittingly prepared for this moment her entire life. Can she find a way out before they find her?

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I really like the way Fleur Ferris crafts a story. She creates an air of mystery and intrigue, and masterfully writes actions scenes that have me gripped to the page, eager to see what happens next. A small downside to this is there is a slight feeling of obvious plotting. ‘Found’ isn’t quite organic and believable. But it is only a minor part. I still enjoyed ‘Found,’ and could see it all play out like a movie in my mind’s eye.

Beth (Elizabeth) Miller discovers her father has been abducted, and from there secrets start spilling out… her life, her family is not what it seems. The only rock in these crazy revelations is her boyfriend, Jonah, but even things come to light that put that into jeopardy. Beth’s father, Bear, has raised her in militant style in an isolated Australian country town. Big on survival skills, Tae Kwon Do, practicing at the shooting range. All throwbacks to his military career. Beth suffers through it, but some of the activities she really loves. What struck me first about Beth is the tomboy protagonist who doesn’t indulge in girly things like dresses and makeup and is apparently some hidden beauty. I’d roll my eyes at this trope. But the thing is – I grew up in places like this. Kids are really like that. Riding around on bikes, hanging out together because there’s not much else to do. Even the girls I went to high school with, Beth could be at least half of the population of my classmates. So this protagonist could be polarising to readers outside Australia, seen as falling into the ugly duckling tomboy trope, when in fact it is representative of life in a lot of small remote towns in Aussieland. I found Beth a bit dry and boring – it was always about following rules and getting down to business, but she was always observant and intelligent. All of those traits helped her survive. A dippy sarcastic teen would have perished in the first act.

Found’ is a beautiful nod to the Aussie psyche and small town living. It made me nostalgic for my youth.

Found Book Review Pic 02 by Casey CarlisleTold in dual perspectives, the second POV, that of love interest Jonah does help add dimension to the plot as both characters are in different places, thinking different things, and uncovering different clues to the overall plot. Usually dual perspectives can be a bit of a yawn because it’s just telling the same story from a different angle, but Fleur ensures Jonah drives the narrative on his own. Distinctly masculine and completely believable. He is fallible, and quite possibly not as smart as Beth. He pays the consequences for his rocky decisions. There are even revelations in story arcs not relating to the main story that I found delightful.

Found’ is a gripping, fast read. While it did not blow me out of the water, and had some issues with believability, I was nonetheless entertained and completed it in two sittings.

Fleur uses some Aussie slang in the narrative that threw me. While, as a native, it’s the dialogue we use in our heads, it was confronting to read them in print. I would have preferred keeping the narrative to correct English and leave the slang in dialogue as not to pull the reader from the narrative. I also feel another pass from an editor would have benefited ‘Found’ just to tie up some misspellings, missed words, grammar issues and tighten the plot a little… and maybe add some interest to our two leads. I like me a few quirks or awkwardness. Maybe a few more comical moments to break the tension in key moments.

I will say the second half of the novel, after a certain event was spot on. I’ve lived through something similar and it dragged out all the feels and had me re-living the experience.

Fleur has all the makings of a fantastic author and definitely someone I am now a huge fan of. Viva la Ferris!

Definitely recommend this one, some great action scenes and a gritty protagonist representative of a true Aussie.

I can’t say I predicted what was going to happen in ‘Found’ it literally surprised me with every turn. Absolutely brilliant.

And on a side note, loving the cover art. I’ve now got all of her published works and they have the same aesthetic. Single word titles, simple bold font and muted photography. Even though they are all standalones, the collection looks like a set and is a great marketing concept – making an instantly recognisable book on the shelves as that of Fleur Ferris.

Overall feeling: A great new author discovery and some nostalgia mixed in with a teen action storyline.

Found Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Found Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

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

Book Review – ‘Blueberry Boys’ by Vanessa North

Blueberry boys – a little too fruity for me, but has a sweetness to it.

Blueberry Boys Book Review Pic 01 by Casey Carlisle.jpgGenre: Y/A, Contemporary, GLBT

No. of pages: 186

From Goodreads:

Connor Graham is a city boy—a celebrated fashion photographer in New York. When his uncle’s death drags him back to the family blueberry farm, all he wants to do is sell it as quickly as he can. Until he meets his uncle’s tenant farmer.

Jed Jones, shy and stammering, devout and dedicated, has always yearned for land of his own and a man to share it with. Kept in the closet by his church, family, and disastrous first love, he longs to be accepted for who he is. But now, with his farm and his future in Connor’s careless hands, he stands to lose even the little he has.

Neither man expects the connection between them. Jed sees Connor—appreciates his art and passion like no one else in this godforsaken town ever has. Connor hears Jed—looks past his stutter to listen to the man inside. The time they share is idyllic, but with the farm sale pending, even their sanctuary is a source of tension. As work, family, and their town’s old-fashioned attitudes pull them apart, they must find a way to reconcile commitments to their careers and to each other. 

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I’ve really enjoyed a number of titles in GLBT contemporary, and after reading the blurb and loving the cover I bought ‘Blueberry Boys’ expecting a heart-warming tale to while an afternoon away on the couch.

There is a coming out story (as there generally is in GLBT Literature – no surprises there) but the way it was dealt with felt a little juvenile for the age of the characters Jed and Connor, and a farm setting.

The characters at the beginning were likeable, but I started to lose interest in their pairing as it was too rushed and focused on lustful encounters a lot of the time. There was also a heavy element of instalove between Connor and Jeb.

The narrative is beautiful – until the characters get intimate, then it turns into erotica. Which I didn’t expect. And there’s quite a bit of it. It ruined my reading experience somewhat as it was confronting and the language course – drained all the romance out of it for me.

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The dialogue and narrative is also a bit superlative heavy – there are a lot of curse words. I don’t mind them in a novel to enunciate a point, or fit in to with local colloquialism; but when it’s on every page I find it distracting and pulls me from enjoying the book.

I found myself craving more story – it just felt like one sexual encounter after another without any build or character development.

If you enjoy a light m/m love story with titillation this one is for you, but I was left craving more substance.

Overall feeling – *tttthhhh*

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Blueberry Boys Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

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