Review: The Names They Gave Us by Emery Lord

The Names They Gave Us
Author: Emery Lord
Publication Date: May 16, 2017
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Childrens
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Synopsis:

Lucy Hansson was ready for a perfect summer with her boyfriend, working at her childhood Bible camp on the lake and spending quality time with her parents. But when her mom’s cancer reappears, Lucy falters-in her faith and in her ability to cope. When her boyfriend “pauses” their relationship and her summer job switches to a different camp-one for troubled kids-Lucy isn’t sure how much more she can handle. Attempting to accept a new normal, Lucy slowly regains footing among her vibrant, diverse coworkers, Sundays with her mom, and a crush on a fellow counselor. But when long-hidden family secrets emerge, can Lucy set aside her problems and discover what grace really means?

Emotionally charged and unforgettable, Emery Lord’s storytelling shines with the promise of new love and true friendship, even in the face of life’s biggest challenges.


I’m going to apologize before I start this review because it might be a little scattered. I had a hard time reconciling my thoughts and feelings after reading The Names They Gave Us. On one hand, I loved what Lucy discovered about her faith and the world around her in this book. On the other hand, this book might have tried to accomplish too much.

Religion and faith make up a huge part of this book. That wasn’t a problem for me. I grew up going to church. I’m not part of organized religion now, but I do have my own personal beliefs and faith that was shaped by my early years in church. Even though I wasn’t as religious as Lucy was growing up, I found myself identifying with some of the teenage questioning of her faith. I liked the way her doubts and confusion regarding certain decisions were portrayed. At times, I did feel like Lucy’s faith felt overly dramatic or built up, but then I had to remind myself that Lucy’s experiences may be another reader’s, even if they weren’t mine. Overall, I really liked the message this book sent.

As for the accomplishing too much…This will sound bad, but there might have been too much diversity and too many issues included. I know, how can I say that when everyone is crying for more diverse books these days? While I applaud Emery Lord for trying to include someone from every walk of life in this book, it felt forced in the time span of a summer. It was overwhelming for both Lucy and me. There just wasn’t enough time to devote to every separate person or issue.

One more thing I need to talk about is the ending of this book. It left me reeling. And crying. Yes, crying. It was perfectly imperfect. I wasn’t exactly happy with it, but I got it. I just needed more. I was disappointed that I didn’t get more. You’ll understand if you read this book.

Overall, I enjoyed reading The Names They Gave Us. I was immediately immersed in Emery Lord’s writing, and I couldn’t wait to find out how things would turn out for Lucy. I loved Lucy and Jones’ new found relationship, and all the friendships she made. The Names They Gave Us felt relevant and important to today’s teens, even in moments that felt like too much.

Review: The Upside of Unrequited

The Upside of Unrequited
Author: Becky Albertalli
Publication Date: April 11, 2017
Publisher: Balzer & Bray/HarperTeen
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Romance, GLBT+

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Synopsis:

Seventeen-year-old Molly Peskin-Suso knows all about unrequited love—she’s lived through it twenty-six times. She crushes hard and crushes often, but always in secret. Because no matter how many times her twin sister, Cassie, tells her to woman up, Molly can’t stomach the idea of rejection. So she’s careful. Fat girls always have to be careful.

Then a cute new girl enters Cassie’s orbit, and for the first time ever, Molly’s cynical twin is a lovesick mess. Meanwhile, Molly’s totally not dying of loneliness—except for the part where she is. Luckily, Cassie’s new girlfriend comes with a cute hipster-boy sidekick. Will is funny and flirtatious and just might be perfect crush material. Maybe more than crush material. And if Molly can win him over, she’ll get her first kiss and she’ll get her twin back.

There’s only one problem: Molly’s coworker Reid. He’s an awkward Tolkien superfan with a season pass to the Ren Faire, and there’s absolutely no way Molly could fall for him. Right?


I don’t even know where to start reviewing this book. There are so many things to talk about! To me, it was utter perfection. The writing was fantastic, and the characters were perfectly flawed. I loved every moment of it. Once I started reading it, I couldn’t put it down. I read it in one evening, sacrificing much-needed sleep to finish it.

The Upside of Unrequited is told from Molly’s point of view in first person narration and was very easy to relate to. She’s this sweet girl (everyone confirms it) with some extra weight on her frame. That weight defines Molly. It’s hard for it not to when her twin sister, Cassie, and the rest of their friends are thin. Molly feels like she’s always in the background. She’s always the sidekick, never the one the attention is on. Guys don’t like her, they like her friends.

Cassie disagrees with Molly on this point. She thinks Molly needs to abandon her meaningless crushes and put herself out there. When Cassie falls for a new girl, she takes the opportunity to hook Molly up with her girlfriend’s best friend. The opportunity excites Molly — or at least it should. Will’s cute and funny, but Molly can’t keep her mind off her co-worker Reid.

Weight is a tough topic. Everyone has one, but rarely does anyone seem happy with theirs. I’ve been fit. I’ve been fat. I’ve been somewhere in between. At all of those stages I felt like Molly did in this book. Feeling uncomfortable with your body and knowing it affects how people see you is tough. Not letting your weight dictate how you feel about yourself and the actions you take is really hard. I think it’s especially tough for a teenager. Becky Albertalli did an amazing job conveying the thoughts and feelings Molly had. They felt truthful and real. I could identify with each and every one of them. I applaud her for the way she wrote this book.

I’ve also felt the way Molly felt about her sister trying to hook her up with Will. I remember my best friend always being in a relationship. She would try to push her boyfriend’s friends at me. It was exciting, but also uncomfortable. No one wants to be forced on a guy (or girl) just because your best friend is dating theirs. It rarely works out and is so awkward. I loved watching Molly try to navigate through the situation and discover that maybe Will wasn’t what would hold her relationship with Cassie together.

Molly’s friendship with Reid made me smile so hard. He wasn’t the super cool guy Will was, but he was cool in his own way. The way he was unapologetic about his likes was awesome. I loved how that was Molly’s favorite thing about him. It was cute how Molly’s attraction to Reid came in bits and pieces.

Another thing that struck me as true was the evolution of Cassie and Molly’s relationship as girlfriends/boyfriends entered the picture. It’s so true that the dynamic of friendships change when one or both of the people are in a relationship. It’s no longer just the friends against the world. You do kind of lose part of your relationship. The way Molly and Cassie thought about this really made me think back to my younger years and how I handled that will all of my friends. I thought this was a great topic to include in the book because this happens to everyone at some point, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen it discussed anywhere.

This is really random, but I also totally got the Molly looks like everyone thing. That is so me. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been told by people they know someone who looks like me. It’s cool, but strange. Once, someone even showed me a picture of their friend. We did look exactly alike and it was creepy.

I know this review has been one big ramble, but I couldn’t help it. I loved The Upside of Unrequited so much. It’s a book I think every teenager (and adult!) should read. It’s filled with so many great moments and topics. It really made me examine some of my thoughts and feelings from the past and present that I wouldn’t have if I hadn’t read it.

Review: The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo
Author: Taylor Jenkins Reid
Publication Date: June 13, 2017
Publisher: Washington Square Press
Genre: Women’s Fiction; Romance; LGBT+
Note: I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an unbiased review.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ½

Synopsis:

From Taylor Jenkins Reid, “a genius when it comes to stories about life and love” (Redbook), comes an unforgettable and sweeping novel about one classic film actress’s relentless rise to the top—the risks she took, the loves she lost, and the long-held secrets the public could never imagine.

Aging and reclusive Hollywood movie icon Evelyn Hugo is finally ready to tell the truth about her glamorous and scandalous life. But when she chooses unknown magazine reporter Monique Grant for the job, no one in the journalism community is more astounded than Monique herself. Why her? Why now?

Monique is not exactly on top of the world. Her husband, David, has left her, and her career has stagnated. Regardless of why Evelyn has chosen her to write her biography, Monique is determined to use this opportunity to jumpstart her career.

Summoned to Evelyn’s Upper East Side apartment, Monique listens as Evelyn unfurls her story: from making her way to Los Angeles in the 1950s to her decision to leave show business in the late 80s, and, of course, the seven husbands along the way. As Evelyn’s life unfolds—revealing a ruthless ambition, an unexpected friendship, and a great forbidden love—Monique begins to feel a very a real connection to the actress. But as Evelyn’s story catches up with the present, it becomes clear that her life intersects with Monique’s own in tragic and irreversible ways.

Written with Reid’s signature talent for “creating complex, likable characters” (Real Simple), this is a fascinating journey through the splendor of Old Hollywood into the harsh realities of the present day as two women struggle with what it means—and what it takes—to face the truth.


Taylor Jenkins Reid is an author I’ve always wanted to read a book by but hadn’t yet. I was very excited to get to read The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, and experience her writing. I had heard such great things about her books.

I was a little nervous about reading The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo because a couple of my trusted blogger friends were not impressed by it. After reading it, I can understand why this book may not be for some readers. It’s filled with uncomfortable situations and moments. Evelyn was unabashedly candid in the telling of her life story. She was unapologetic about the people she hurt or wronged. Some, if not all, of her decisions will disgust some readers. Evelyn was simply unlikable.

I wasn’t a fan of Evelyn’s, but I did appreciate her story. The methods she used to get what she wanted were brash, but she acknowledged that. Everything she did, right or wrong, made for an interesting tale. I wasn’t put off by most of her actions. I liked how they led to and explained her seven husbands. I truly enjoyed the journey through Evelyn’s life and loves.

Monique wasn’t much of a character at first. Her story loosely wove around Evelyn’s, and I also found it hard to like her. I don’t know that I ever ended up liking her, but I did end up respecting her. The things she learned about Evelyn and from Evelyn were profound. I loved that she put to use what she learned.

From the book blurb, the reader knows going into the story that Evelyn and Monique’s lives intertwine in some way. I never could have guessed how. It was definitely a twist I didn’t see coming. It was perfect and I really like what it did to the story line. It made the ending all that more perfect.

I may not have fallen in love with the characters of The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, but I was mesmerized by the story. Taylor Jenkins Reid is a talented writer capable of weaving a multifaceted tale. I loved her writing style, and I am looking forward to reading her other books.

Review: We are Never Meeting in Real Life by Samantha Irby

We are Never Meeting in Real Life
Author: Samantha Irby
Publication Date: May 30, 2017
Publisher: Vintage Books
Genre: Memoir, Essays, Humor
Note: I received an ARC from the publisher via Goodreads in exchange for an unbiased review.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Synopsis:

Sometimes you just have to laugh, even when life is a dumpster fire. With We Are Never Meeting in Real Life., “bitches gotta eat” blogger and comedian Samantha Irby turns the serio-comic essay into an art form. Whether talking about how her difficult childhood has led to a problem in making “adult” budgets, explaining why she should be the new Bachelorette–she’s “35-ish, but could easily pass for 60-something”–detailing a disastrous pilgrimage-slash-romantic-vacation to Nashville to scatter her estranged father’s ashes, sharing awkward sexual encounters, or dispensing advice on how to navigate friendships with former drinking buddies who are now suburban moms–hang in there for the Costco loot–she’s as deft at poking fun at the ghosts of her past self as she is at capturing powerful emotional truths.


I learned of We are Never Meeting in Real Life on Goodreads. I was sorting through the giveaway section and saw it. The witty title and adorable cover drew my attention immediately. When I read the blurb, I knew I had to enter to win it. And I did, so I’m lucky!

We are Never Meeting in Real Life is a group of essays about blogger/author Samantha Irby’s life. She has a straight forward way of telling things like she sees them and is great at describing the outrageous experiences of her past. Her tone is sometimes upbeat, sometimes not, but it’s always humorous. Irby has a way of saying things that others will either detest (language and issue sensitive) or wish they had thought of (down with the swearing and oversharing).

I fell in the latter category. I truly enjoyed reading We are Never Meeting in Real Life. I wasn’t aware of Samantha Irby prior to reading her essays, but I loved her style. She wasn’t apologetic about her thoughts and experiences, and I liked that. My favorites in this collection were My Bachelorette Application, You Don’t Have to Be Grateful for Sex, Fuck It, Bitch. Stay Fat, and A Christmas Carol.

I probably would have given this set of essays 5 stars if I hadn’t been slightly concerned about the way the author presented some of her stories. She has been dealt with some very crappy situations in life, and while this book seemed upbeat about it all, there was a hint of sadness behind some of it. Like if she made fun of her own life enough, it wouldn’t be so depressing. That made me sad. She seems like a cool, introverted chick. I wanted sunshine and rainbows for her. Hopefully, the rest of her life will be.

Review: Goodbye Paradise by Sarina Bowen

Goodbye Paradise
Series: Hello Goodbye, #1
Author: Sarina Bowen
Publication Date: March 21, 2015 (previously published as In Front of God and Everyone in 2015)
Publisher: Sarina Bowen
Genre: New Adult, Contemporary Romance, LGBTQ+
Note: I received an ARC from the author in exchange for an unbiased review.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Synopsis:

Most people called it a cult. But for twenty years, Josh and Caleb called it home.

In Paradise, there is no television. No fast food. Just long hours of farm work and prayer on a dusty Wyoming ranch, and nights in a crowded bunkhouse. The boys of the Compound are kept far from the sinners’ world.

But Joshua doesn’t need temptation to sin. His whole life, he’s wanted his best friend, Caleb. By day they work side by side. Only when Josh closes his eyes at night can they be together the way he craves.

It can never be. And his survival depends on keeping his terrible desires secret.

Caleb has always protected Josh against the worst of the bullying at the Compound. But he has secrets of his own, and a plan to get away — until it all backfires.

Josh finds himself homeless in a world that doesn’t want him. Can Caleb find him in time? And will they find a place of safety, where he can admit to Josh how he really feels?

Warning: Contains a hot male/male romance, copious instances of taking the Lord’s name in vain, and love against the kitchen counter. This book was previously released under the title: In Front of God & Everyone.


I had no idea Sarina Bowen had published a M/M romance series under another name. I am so happy she decided to rerelease Goodbye Paradise because I probably never would have found out about these books without her doing it. That would have been a travesty because I love Sarina Bowen’s writing, and Goodbye Paradise was outstanding.

Goodbye Paradise captured my heart from the very beginning. I was immediately pulled in by Josh and Caleb’s thoughts and experiences in the Paradise cult. I also enjoyed experiencing all their new experiences through their eyes once they left the cult. Their world was fascinating to me. I was so impressed with the settings and characters Sarina Bowen created in this book.

Both Josh and Caleb were amazing characters. Caleb was a protector with Josh’s best interests at heart. He knew what he wanted and went for it, but he did so in such a sweet and controlled manner. I loved his inner strength and confidence. I absolutely adored Josh. I have to admit that he was my favorite. He may not have had the strength that Caleb had, but his soul was beautiful. Josh radiated kindness. His thoughts of inadequacy and his internal struggles with what was right and wrong were easy to connect to. There was so much depth to his journey.

Caleb and Josh’s romance wasn’t an easy one. Coming from the cult, they both had different ideas of how their lives together should progress. They not only had to navigate through concerns of what others would think of their relationship, but they had to discover and experiment to learn what type of physical relationship worked for them. The love and understanding between the two of them was very sweet.

Another amazing thing about Goodbye Paradise were its side characters. Everyone Caleb and Josh met along the way was special and contributed to their journey. I especially loved Daniel, Maggie and Chloe. Their support of the boys was heartwarming. I loved the family they made.

Goodbye Paradise has taken a special place in my heart — right behind Him and Us. I loved every minute of Caleb and Josh’s journey to freedom and love. Their story was such a special one, and M/M romance fans are not going to want to miss out on it. I also can’t forget to mention that fans of the True North series are going to love the little mentions here and there about some of their favorite people. 😉 I can’t wait to read the next book in this series!

PURCHASE LINKS:

Amazon: http://geni.us/GPamazon
iBooks: soon
B&N: http://geni.us/GPnook
Kobo: http://geni.us/GPkobo
Google: http://geni.us/GPgoogle

COMING SOON:

Hello Forever
Hello Goodbye, Book 2

Review: Off Campus by Amy Jo Cousins

Off Campus
Series: Bend or Break, #1
Author: Amy Jo Cousins
Publication Date: December 30, 2014
Publisher: Samhain Publishing
Genre: New Adult, Contemporary Romance, LGBT+

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ½

Synopsis:

Everyone’s got secrets. Some are just harder to hide.

With his father’s ponzi scheme assets frozen, Tom Worthington believes finishing college is impossible unless he can pay his own way. After months sleeping in his car and gypsy-cabbing for cash, he’s ready to do just that.

But his new, older-student housing comes with an unapologetically gay roommate. Tom doesn’t ask why Reese Anders has been separated from the rest of the student population. He’s just happy to be sleeping in a bed.

Reese isn’t about to share his brutal story with his gruff new roommate. You’ve seen one homophobic jock, you’ve seen ’em all. He plans to drag every twink on campus into his bed until Tom moves out. But soon it becomes clear Tom isn’t budging.

Tom isn’t going to let some late-night sex noise scare him off, especially when it’s turning him on. But he doesn’t want any drama either. He’ll keep his hands, if not his eyes, to himself. Boundaries have a way of blurring when you start sharing truths, though. And if Tom and Reese cross too many lines, they may need to find out just how far they can bend…before they break.

Warning: This book contains cranky roommates who vacillate between lashing out and licking, some male/male voyeurism, emotional baggage that neither guy wants to unpack, and the definitive proof that sound carries in college housing.


To be honest, I’m not sure how to explain how I feel about Off Campus. I enjoyed reading it, but there were some things that bugged me a bit. I think in order to simplify this review, I’m going to give you a list of likes and dislikes.

What I liked:

  • Tom’s simple way of describing his attraction to both male and females.
  • Tom’s confusion on his relationship with Reese, and what he went through to come to terms with the changes in his life.
  • Tom’s support of Reese, and the tenderness he showed him.
  • The way Reese stood up for what he needed.
  • Tom and Reese’s connection.
  • Reese’s dad. I loved that guy so much!
  • Cash. Another guy I loved so much.
  • The way Tom and Reese figured things out and the ending.

What I wasn’t super fond of:

  • The third person narration. It kept me from completely connecting with the characters.
  • The games Reese played at the beginning. I understood the reasoning behind what he did, but it did kind of make me wonder why Tom was eager to jump into something with him.
  • It felt like there was almost more sex than story at times. And while I like sex in my books, I’m not a huge fan of reading about one of the main characters with other people.
  • Jack. I don’t know why I wasn’t a fan of his part of this story. It just seemed like extra stuff the story didn’t necessarily need.

So, obviously, the good outweighs the not so good in Off Campus. I thought it was a great story exploring sexuality and how the pressure to “come out” can be completely overwhelming for a person. It wasn’t the best M/M romance I’ve read, but it’s a good one. I enjoyed it, and I will hopefully continue reading this series at some point.

Review: We Are the Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson

We Are the Ants
Author: Shaun David Hutchinson
Publication Date: January 19, 2016
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction, GLBT, Contemporary

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Synopsis:

There are a few things Henry Denton knows, and a few things he doesn’t.

Henry knows that his mom is struggling to keep the family together, and coping by chain-smoking cigarettes. He knows that his older brother is a college dropout with a pregnant girlfriend. He knows that he is slowly losing his grandmother to Alzheimer’s. And he knows that his boyfriend committed suicide last year.

What Henry doesn’t know is why the aliens chose to abduct him when he was thirteen, and he doesn’t know why they continue to steal him from his bed and take him aboard their ship. He doesn’t know why the world is going to end or why the aliens have offered him the opportunity to avert the impending disaster by pressing a big red button.

But they have. And they’ve only given him 144 days to make up his mind.

The question is whether Henry thinks the world is worth saving. That is, until he meets Diego Vega, an artist with a secret past who forces Henry to question his beliefs, his place in the universe, and whether any of it really matters. But before Henry can save the world, he’s got to figure out how to save himself, and the aliens haven’t given him a button for that.


Before I start this review, I must thank Kelly @ Here’s to Happy Endings for sharing her ARC of We Are the Ants with me. If she hadn’t passed this book onto me, I might not have read it and that would have been a travesty.

When I began reading We Are the Ants, I was immediately confused and unsure if this book was going to be for me. Science fiction isn’t normally my preferred reading genre, and there were some pretty big science fiction-y things happening right away. Normally, that probably would have bored me, but it didn’t. We Are the Ants enthralled me the entire time I was reading it. The author’s writing and storytelling were brilliant. I read it in one evening. That’s how good this book was. A non-science fiction reader couldn’t put it down.

I absolutely loved the cast of characters. Henry was a boy on the brink of manhood. Life was tough for him to begin with and being abducted by aliens didn’t help. The added pressure of trying to decide whether to save the world or not compounded his already stressful existence.

Henry’s relationship with his family a big part of this story. His family wasn’t as easy to love as Henry was, but the more I got to know them the more they grew on me. It took me a long time to understand their motivations and opinions. Their lack of support for Henry at times frustrated me, especially his mother. I wanted to give her a good shake a couple of times.

The other characters that had a large part in this story were Henry’s classmates. I had a love-hate relationship with them. I loved what they brought to the story, but I hated pretty much all of them. They were a true representation of what kids can be like when presented with someone who doesn’t fit the mold.

We Are the Ants was a beautiful and thought-provoking coming of age novel. It touched on so many issues that will resonate with today’s youth and adults alike. If you haven’t already read it, I would highly recommend doing so.