Review: Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy

Dumplin’
Author: Julie Murphy
Narrator: Eileen Stevens
Publication Date: September 15, 2015
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Romance

Rating: ★ ★ ★

Synopsis:

For fans of John Green and Rainbow Rowell comes this powerful novel with the most fearless heroine—self-proclaimed fat girl Willowdean Dickson—from Julie Murphy, the acclaimed author of Side Effects May Vary. With starry Texas nights, red candy suckers, Dolly Parton songs, and a wildly unforgettable heroine—Dumplin’ is guaranteed to steal your heart.

Dubbed “Dumplin’” by her former beauty queen mom, Willowdean has always been at home in her own skin. Her thoughts on having the ultimate bikini body? Put a bikini on your body. With her all-American-beauty best friend, Ellen, by her side, things have always worked . . .  until Will takes a job at Harpy’s, the local fast-food joint. There she meets Private School Bo, a hot former jock. Will isn’t surprised to find herself attracted to Bo. But she is surprised when he seems to like her back.

Instead of finding new heights of self-assurance in her relationship with Bo, Will starts to doubt herself. So she sets out to take back her confidence by doing the most horrifying thing she can imagine: entering the Miss Teen Blue Bonnet Pageant—along with several other unlikely candidates—to show the world that she deserves to be up there as much as any twiggy girl does. Along the way, she’ll shock the hell out of Clover City—and maybe herself most of all.


Hmm…This is going to be a tough review to write. Get ready for a long one.

Dumplin’ started out strongly. I loved Willowdean and her declarations about weight. I imagine anyone who has ever been overweight or self-conscious can relate to many of her thoughts and feelings. But…there were so many things that bothered me.

Willowdean’s negativity about herself and others got to me quickly. Her thoughts made me uncomfortable. Listening to them was rough. Mostly, I hated how she thought about and treated people.

I hated how she discounted Mitch and his feelings. Mitch was a nice guy. He didn’t deserve to be led on by Willowdean. She used him for his companionship, and I think she generally liked him, but she let him think they were more than they were. That made me sad. I don’t get why she didn’t feel a spark for him. I felt like there was a spark between them.

I hated how Willowdean thought about all of her new friends. She looked down on them. I didn’t get why she thought she was so much better than them. They were there for her when she was friendless and supported her. I was happy she learned what great people they were, but her thoughts were hurtful and upset me.

I hated Willowdean and Bo. There were some sweet moments between them, and they were a good couple. I just didn’t like how she thought of herself in relation to Bo. I didn’t understand her embarrassment of being seen with him. I get not liking to be the center of attention, but I figured she was be elated to be seen with someone who was so good-looking. (I only say that due to her low self-confidence and how she talked.) It was like being with Bo made her feel bad about herself, and that’s not healthy. Mitch didn’t have that same effect on her.

Last, I hated the way Willowdean handled everything with Ellen. I completely understood it because I’ve felt the way Willowdean felt at times in my life, but I feel like she should have apologized a whole heck of a lot sooner. Friendship is worth more than how she treated it.

This has been really negative so far, so let me tell you some of the things I loved.

I loved Willowdean’s new friends. They were all good people. They added so much to this story.

I loved Willowdean’s rocky relationship with her mom. I could relate to both Willowdean and her mother. You always want what’s best for your kids — want more for them than you had yourself.

I loved Mitch and all of his wisdom. He was a great human being who deserved more.

I loved Bo’s step-mom. She was a little kooky, but sweet.

I loved the performers and bouncer from the gay bar. Oh, and I can’t leave out Dolly. I loved all the Dolly Parton stuff.

I loved the narrator and the way she voiced Willowdean.

I loved how Elle and Willowdean worked out their friendship.

I loved how everything worked out with the pageant and her mom.

Most of all, I loved the many times Julie Murphy gave incredible thoughts and insight.

Despite all of these great things, reading Dumplin’ made me kind of miserable. Maybe it would have been better to read than listen to it. I don’t know. I felt consumed by Willowdean’s negativity and that was just so hard. I don’t know what else to say about this book. I think it will probably resonate differently for each person who reads it.

Review: Once and For All by Sarah Dessen

Once and For All
Author: Sarah Dessen
Narrator: Karissa Vacker
Publication Date: June 6, 2017
Publisher: Listening Library
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Romance

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ½

Synopsis:

From Sarah Dessen, the beloved New York Times bestselling author of SAINT ANYTHING and JUST LISTEN, comes a new novel set in the world of wedding planning!

Is it really better to have loved and lost? Louna’s summer job is to help brides plan their perfect day, even though she stopped believing in happy-ever-after when her first love ended tragically. But charming girl-magnet Ambrose isn’t about to be discouraged now that he’s met the one he really wants. Maybe Louna’s second chance is standing right in front of her.

Sarah Dessen’s many fans will adore this latest novel, a richly satisfying, enormously entertaining story with humor, romance, and an ending that is so much more than happily ever after.


Wedding related romances have been all the rage lately. I’ve read books about wedding planners, bakers, photographers, etc. finding love a lot in the past year. They’re all different, but so similar. Each was focused on falling in love. That wasn’t what Once and For All was about. It was about more. That was surprisingly different — and in a great way.

Once and For All was a story about love, but also a story about dealing with the loss of love. Louna is the wedding planner’s daughter. She’s worked at weddings for as long as she can remember, but this year being surrounded by love isn’t easy. After losing her first love, Ethan, Louna has lost her faith in that forever sort of love. Louna doesn’t believe she will ever find a love as perfect as the love she had with Ethan.

Unfortunately (or fortunately!) for Louna, the newest employee of her mother’s business isn’t about to let her abandon love forever. Ambrose is annoyingly in love with the feeling of falling in love. He’s determined to prove to Louna that one bad breakup isn’t the end, and that there’s another great love out there for her.

I’m happy I listened to Once and For All. Karissa Vacker is an excellent narrator. I loved the way her voice brought Sarah Dessen’s words alive. It felt like a close friend was personally sharing her story with me. Louna was a great main character on her own, but hearing her thoughts through someone’s voice made it feel like she was a close friend personally sharing her complex feelings. All her thoughts and feelings felt that much more real and raw.

Ambrose was an interesting character. I loved the things he taught Louna. For someone I thought was going to be shallow, he really wasn’t. He may not have always made the smart decision, but everything he did was with good intention. Ambrose had more heart than I expected.

My favorite thing about this book was the way that it was written. One and For All alternated between the present and the past. Sarah Dessen shares both Louna and Ambrose’s, and Louna and Ethan’s love stories. There’s a natural progression of both couples’ stories and how one leads to the other. It was done in such a way that made Louna’s beliefs about love completely understandable and so easy to relate to. I was so impressed with how Sarah Dessen described the act of falling in love and all the excitement and emotion that goes with it.

Speaking of  Ethan… I am sad he and Louna didn’t get a longer love story. I loved him for so many reasons. I can see why Louna wasn’t sure there would be another love like his for her. I wish there had been a happily ever after for them, even though I’m happy how the story ended.

Another thing I loved was all the detail included about wedding planning. Some of those details brought back memories of my own wedding. It’s definitely harder planning a wedding than one would think. There are so many little things to organize and keep track of. I can’t imagine being a wedding planner and dealing with people getting married. You would have to be able to tolerate a lot!

With Once and For All Sarah Dessen continues her streak as the Queen of young adult contemporaries. It was a brilliantly written story filled with so much heart. I highly recommend it!

Review: The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater

The Raven King
Series: The Raven Cycle, #4
Author: Maggie Stiefvater
Publication Date: April 26, 2016
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Genre: Young Adult, Fiction, Fantasy

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★

Synopsis:

The fourth and final installment in the spellbinding series from the irrepressible, #1 New York Times bestselling author Maggie Stiefvater.

All her life, Blue has been warned that she will cause her true love’s death. She doesn’t believe in true love and never thought this would be a problem, but as her life becomes caught up in the strange and sinister world of the Raven Boys, she’s not so sure anymore.


I bought The Raven King when it was originally released. Several factors kept me from immediately picking it up and reading it like I wanted to. One of those factors was that I wasn’t quite ready to be done with The Raven Cycle. Blue, Gansey, Adam, Noah, and Ronan are some of my most cherished characters. I didn’t want to say goodbye yet. It took me over a year to pick it up. I’m happy I finally devoted the time to say farewell to the gang.

I really enjoyed The Raven King. The story from the previous books was continued, but everything still felt fresh. There were new discoveries to be made, and so many “ah ha” moments to enjoy. The complexity of it all was a little overwhelming at times. I had to take my time reading to really examine what each revelation meant to the story.

While I loved the journey The Raven King took me on, there were some things that struck me as strange and left me wanting more explanation. Blue’s father is the first one. The whole tree thing was just plain weird and I didn’t get what it meant for Blue. The second one was Piper, Henry’s mom, and Mr. Gray. Their last scene together left everything feeling really up in the air. The big ones, though, were Glendower and the Gansey-Blue kiss. Those two things left me wanting more.

Despite feeling a bit confused and possibly let down by the end of the story, I did appreciate the epilogue. I liked knowing what possibilities were ahead for my favorite characters. I did wish that we had been privy to what the ladies at Fox Lane had in store for them.

Overall, The Raven King was a strong ending to a great series.

Review: After the Game by Abbi Glines

After the Game
Series: The Field Party, #3
Author: Abbi Glines
Publication Date: August 22, 2017
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Romance, Sports

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★

Synopsis:

Two years ago, Riley Young fled from Lawton, Alabama. After accusing the oldest Lawton son, Rhett, of rape, everyone called her a liar and she had no option but to leave. Now she’s back, but she’s not at Lawton High finishing up her senior year. She’s at home raising the little girl that no one believed was Rhett’s.

Rhett is off at college living the life he was afraid he’d lose with Riley’s accusation, so Riley agrees to move back to Lawton so she and her parents could take care of her grandmother, who is suffering from Alzheimer’s. But the town still hasn’t forgotten their hate for her, and she hasn’t forgotten the way they turned on her when she needed them most.

When town golden boy Brady Higgens finds Riley and her daughter, Bryony, stranded on the side of the road in a storm, he pulls over and gives them a ride. Not because he cares about Riley, of course, but because of the kid.

But after the simple car ride, he begins to question everything he thought he knew. Could Brady believe Riley and risk losing everything?


In the last Field Party novel, Under the Lights, I felt bad for Brady. He was on the losing end of a love triangle. I was excited to learn After the Game was going to be his story and chance at love. What made me even more excited was that Brady’s love interest was going to be Riley. I liked what I learned of her in book two, and was excited to get to know her character better.

After the Game wasn’t simply a love story. It was a story about growing up. For Brady, that meant dealing with the harsh realities that some things in life might not be what they seem. The things Brady had to deal with were a slap in the face to a boy who had lived a charmed life. For Riley, After the Game was a story of redemption and moving on. She had been falsely accused of lying and lost all of her friends in that moment. Now, she was getting a chance at not only friendship, but love.

I loved that Riley and Brady first found friendship. They rekindled their relationship just when they both needed it. They were a support system for each other that no one else could have been. I loved that Brady wasn’t put off by Riley’s teenage motherhood. In fact, it was just the opposite. Riley’s determination and dedication to her daughter impressed him. That was very mature for a high school senior. I also loved that Riley was willing to forgive Brady and those who had thought poorly of her. The peace she offered Brady in his time of need was special. I loved that all of this lead to a romantic relationship between the two of them.

After the Game was a great addition to The Field Party series. Brady and Riley’s story was one I really enjoyed reading. I hope there are more books to come in the series.

Review: Genuine Fraud by E. Lockhart

Genuine Fraud
Author: E. Lockhart
Publication Date: September 5, 2017
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Genre: Young Adult, Mystery, Contemporary

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ½

Synopsis:

The story of a young woman whose diabolical smarts are her ticket into a charmed life. But how many times can someone reinvent themselves? You be the judge.

Imogen is a runaway heiress, an orphan, a cook, and a cheat.
Jule is a fighter, a social chameleon, and an athlete.
An intense friendship. A disappearance. A murder, or maybe two.
A bad romance, or maybe three.
Blunt objects, disguises, blood, and chocolate. The American dream, superheroes, spies, and villains.
A girl who refuses to give people what they want from her.
A girl who refuses to be the person she once was.


Genuine Fraud was an interesting tale. E. Lockhart continued to give the reader the unexpected with it. Genuine Fraud began in the present and each chapter went back in time. The effect was that I felt like I was reading the story backward. The story continued that way all the way until almost the end. It made for a great guessing game. Each chapter divulged just enough to make me keep reading.

I have to admit that I got a bit bored in the middle of the book. I think it’s because I was frustrated. I just wanted to know what the deal was with Jule and Imogen! Once I got to that part, the story flew again for me. I loved the ending, and thought it was very clever.

Overall, Genuine Fraud was a fun read. It was a darker read, but light at the same time. It had great foreshadowing and a cool set up. It was the perfect book to read on my vacation.

Review: The Anatomical Shape of a Heart by Jenn Bennett

The Anatomical Shape of a Heart
Author: Jenn Bennett
Publication Date: November 3, 2015
Publisher: Feiwel and Friends
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary Romance

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★

Synopsis:

Beatrix Adams knows exactly how she’s spending the summer before her senior year. Determined to follow in Da Vinci’s footsteps, she’s ready to tackle the one thing that will give her an advantage in a museum-sponsored scholarship contest: drawing actual cadavers. But when she tries to sneak her way into the hospital’s Willed Body program and misses the last metro train home, she meets a boy who turns her summer plans upside down.

Jack is charming, wildly attractive, and possibly one of San Francisco’s most notorious graffiti artists. On midnight buses and city rooftops, Beatrix begins to see who Jack really is—and tries to uncover what he’s hiding that leaves him so wounded. But will these secrets come back to haunt him? Or will the skeletons in her family’s closet tear them apart?


Earlier this summer, I read Alex, Approximately. It was my first book by Jenn Bennett and I knew it wouldn’t be my last. I absolutely adored that book. It’s what lead me to read The Anatomical Shape of a Heart.

I didn’t immediately fall in love with The Anatomical Shape of a Heart the way I did with Alex, Approximately. It took me longer to get into. I didn’t connect with Beatrix or Jack the way I wanted to at first. I’m not exactly sure why. My best guess is that I personally dislike getting in trouble, and Jack had trouble written all over him. Beatrix’s connection to him and his secrets made me nervous for her. It wasn’t until about half way through the book when I started to get a better understanding for the characters and the importance of the story.

From that point on, I was in love with The Anatomical Shape of a Heart. I loved that it wasn’t simply about Bex and Jack connecting through art and falling in love. It was about what made them who they were. It was about family relationships, and how their lives were shaped by them. There were so many great learning moments between all of the characters. I loved that!

While The Anatomical Shape of a Heart may have started off slow for me, it ended up pleasantly surprising me. It was a heartwarming young adult novel that was well worth reading.

Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Books I Loved As a Teenager

Welcome to Top Ten Tuesday!

Top Ten Tuesday is an original weekly feature created by The Broke and the Bookish. This week’s topic is Throwback Freebie! I decided to go with Ten Books I Loved As a TeenagerI refuse to admit how long ago this was, but you can probably guess from the book choices. You’ll probably notice I was really into YA horror back in the day. I’ve come a far way from that.


1. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

 

I don’t remember much about this book now, but I remember I read the entire series. I loved it. I can’t wait to reread it and see the new movie.


2. Remember Me by Christopher Pike

 

This was my favorite book back in the day. I loved it so much. Heck, I loved all of Christopher Pike’s books.


3. The Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline B. Cooney

 

If you grew up in the decades I did, you remember the faces on the milk carton. I think we were all a little bit fascinated with them. This book took it to a new level.


4. Say Goodnight, Gracie by Julie Reece Deaver

My first tear jerker, I believe. I adored this book so much.


5. Double Love by Francine Pascal

My older twin neighbors gifted me a bunch of Sweet Valley High books growing up. I was too young to read them at the time, but luckily my mom held onto them for me until I could graduate from Sweet Valley Twins to High.


6. The New Girl by R.L. Stine

After falling in love with Pike, I found Stine.


7. The Awakening by L.J. Smith

Stine lead to Smith. I can say that I read this series WAY BEFORE it became a major TV show hit.


8. Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews

Obviously, I read this one in my late teenage years.


9. I Know What You Did Last Summer by Lois Duncan

All those Pike, Stine and Smith books lead me to discover this gem. Another book I read before it became a major motion picture with some famous stars. Even that movie is super old now! 🙁


10. Carnal Innocence by Nora Roberts

I could have inserted any Nora Roberts book here. In my very late teens, my mom introduced me to her books. I was hooked and read pretty much all of them I could get my hands on.


Did you read any of these books as a teenager or am I just too old?