Review: Love Songs & Other Lies by Jessica Pennington

Love Songs & Other Lies
Author: Jessica Pennington
Publication Date: April 24, 2018
Publisher: Tor Teen
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary Romance
Note: This review is for an ARC and is my unbiased opinion.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ 

Synopsis:

It’s summer romance and second chances, the songs that stay in your head, and the boy you’ll never forget.

Two years after rock-song-worthy heartbreak, Virginia Miller is looking forward to a fun, carefree summer. Her friends just landed a spot on a battling bands reality show, and Vee is joining them for her dream internship on tour. Three months with future rockstars seems like an epic summer plan. Until she learns she’ll also be sharing the bus with Cam. Her first love, and her first heartbreak. Now Vee has more than just cameras to dodge, and Cam’s determination to win her forgiveness is causing TMZ-worthy problems for both of them. With cameras rolling, she’ll have to decide if her favorite breakup anthem deserves a new ending. And if she’s brave enough to expose her own secrets to keep Cam’s under wraps.


Every so often I read a tweet or blog post by someone wanting a young adult novel set in college. Love Songs & Other Lies might just fit the bill for those people. It’s set in two different time periods. The present is the summer after Vee and Cameron’s freshman year in college when they are 19 years old. Vee has been conned into touring with Cameron and the rest of her friends in the band. That wouldn’t be so horrible if Vee and Cameron hadn’t had a rocky break up a couple of years ago. The second is when they’re seniors in high school. That part is the story of how Vee and Cam got together and then fell apart. The mix of these two ages give the book a not quite YA but also not quite NA feeling. It’s actually a really great mix of the two genres.

It’s not very often you get a second chance romance in YA. Normally, there’s several a break up spanning several years before the characters get back together. I like that Vee and Cam didn’t have to wait that long. Both of Vee and Cam’s love stories were good. I liked getting to know how their relationship began, ended, and then began again. I also liked their individual back stories and how it affected their relationship. They were great characters.

I only had one problem with it all. The story started out great. I was instantly drawn into Vee and Cam’s lives. I was invested in their characters within a short period of time — in the present. I liked what was happening in the past, but I got frustrated with how slowly that part unraveled. What it comes down to is that Love Stories & Other Lies didn’t give me what happened in the past quickly enough for me to know why I should want Cam and Vee together. Their original love story was still unfolding — way too slowly and almost boring. I needed to know what the problem was so that I could root for them to get back together.

Once everything was out in the open, I was back to being entranced with the story. I loved the last third of the book. I felt like I was back in my YA summer contemporary happy place. I could forgive the moments of boredom in the middle because everything turned out exactly right. I gave it 4 stars because by the time I finished reading it, I was in love with Love Songs & Other Lies. 

Series Review: Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarry

The past couple of weeks I’ve been reading the Pushing the Limits series by Kate McGarry. I’ve wanted to go back and read this series ever since I read the Thunder Road series. Rather than do individual reviews, I’m going to one big review for all of them.
Here we go!


Pushing the Limits (#1) ★ ★ ★ ★

I was impressed with Katie McGarry’s début novel. It didn’t feel like a début. It was so well written. Echo and Noah were adorable. They both had major family issues they were dealing with. Echo was recovering from an injury that she couldn’t remember. Her injury and memory loss unsettled her family, and caused all kinds of conflict between then. Noah lost his family, and he would do anything to get back the members he can. Echo and Noah were so different, but they related to each other in an important way. I loved how their relationship bloomed, and how they grew together and individually. I was especially fond of Noah. Pushing the Limits was a great start to the series.

Crossing the Line (#1.1) ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Lila and Lincoln’s story wasn’t long enough in my opinion! I really, really wish Crossing the Line had been a full length novel. I loved Lila and Lincoln. How they met and kept in contact was so special. I wanted to know even more about their family lives and what made them who they were. They had such great back stories! I also wanted more of their futures.

Breaking the Rules (#1.5) ★ ★ ★ ★ ½

I don’t know why, but this was the hardest book in the series for me to read. It was hard to go back to Echo and Noah’s relationship. I loved those characters so much, and I guess I wanted to believe they got their happy ending after Pushing the Limits. It was hard to see them struggle again. I don’t mean I didn’t like the story because I did. I loved it. Echo and Noah’s story went in a direction I liked. Breaking the Rules was bittersweet to read, but I loved what Noah and Echo learned about themselves and their relationship.

Dare to You (#2) ★ ★ ★ ★

Dare to You is one of my favorite books in this series. I loved Beth and Ryan’s journeys. Both needed to take a look at their lives and families. Beth needed love, support, and guidance when it came to her mother. Ryan needed the same things, but in a different way. He needed to figure out what his dreams were outside of how he had been raised. Beth and Ryan learned so much together, and that’s what made this book so special.

The only reason this book wasn’t a 5 star was because of all of the mystery around what was behind the door in the apartment. I easily guessed it, but I expected it to be something even worse. I don’t know. I just wasn’t a fan of that part of the story for some reason.

Crash Into You (#3) ★ ★ ★ ★

Here’s the thing… I loved Isaiah and Rachel together. Everything about their relationship was so sweet and cute. I adored how he treated her and stuck by her. I also loved getting to know Rachel’s family. There were several of her brothers I would love to read more about. What I didn’t love about this book was the street racing thing. That’s a personal preference. I’m just not into it. It didn’t have too much of an impact on my enjoying this story, though. Isaiah and Rachel were just that perfect for each other. 😉

Red at Night (#3.5) ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Katie McGarry kills me with these Pushing the Limits novellas. I love them so much, but I always want more story from them!!! Stella and Jonah had such a great, little story. I loved their connection to each other and how it changed both of their lives.

Take Me On (#4)★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Take Me On was another one of my favorites in this series. Haley and West’s story was so much fun to read. I loved seeing the transformation in both their characters throughout the book. West’s were more apparent during the book, while Haley’s came more toward the end. They learned a lot from each other, and it made their relationship stronger. I especially loved West’s discoveries about himself and his family in Take Me On.

Chasing Impossible (#5) ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

This series got better and better as it went along. I loved Chasing Impossible! Logan and Abby totally surprised me! I knew they had great chemistry and already had a little bit of a relationship. What I wasn’t expecting was their back stories! Both surprised me. I loved what the newly revealed did to the story. Chasing Impossible was so much fun to read! This was definitely my favorite book in the series.


Overall, Pushing the Limits was an amazing series. I loved every moment I spent with it. I could go on reading books about every single character in it. I highly recommend reading it.

Review: Cracked Kingdom by Erin Watt

Cracked Kingdom
Series: The Royals, #5
Author: Erin Watt
Publication Date: February 28, 2018
Genre: Romance, Contemporary, Young Adult

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ 

Synopsis:

These Royals will ruin you.

Ever since Hartley Wright met Easton Royal, her life hasn’t been the same. There are enemies behind every corner and dangers beyond each door. When tragedy strikes and steals her memories, she can’t trust anyone, not even the blue-eyed boy who promises her that everything will be all right.

Because while Hartley’s memory is full of gaps, her instincts tell her Easton is dangerous. She doesn’t know if he’s the snake in the garden or her chance at salvation. The chaos he brings wherever he goes is too much to handle, the intense feelings he evokes are too confusing to unravel.

Easton wants her to remember. Hartley thinks it’s better to forget.

She might be right.

Tragedy. Treachery. Trust. Hartley has to face the facts—in this world, you can’t escape the Royals.

Either you live by their rules or you die by them.


Fallen Heir, book four in The Royals series, gave us an Easton we weren’t familiar with. Gone was the protector and friend we thought we knew. In his place was a womanizing alcoholic. It was hard to match the Easton of the first three The Royals books up with the broken boy from Fallen Heir. Because of this change in Easton, some people weren’t very happen with that book. I still really enjoyed it, but I was curious to know how Erin Watt would get us back to the Easton we knew and loved.

The answer to that was Cracked KingdomCracked Kingdom felt more like the first three books than the fourth. It had Erin Watt’s amazing writing, all of my favorite (and not so favorite) characters, a swoon-y love, and drama galore. I also can’t leave out the shocking surprises it had in store. Those are what make The Royals series so hard to put down.

I have to admit that I was a little hesitant about Cracked Kingdom‘s storyline at first. I’m not usually into amnesia plots. This one really worked, though! It was set up a little differently, and I loved that. Hartley was uneasy most of the book, and that was actually fun. I also found myself connecting better with her character as she got to know herself. I ended up liking Hartley a lot more than I did in Fallen Heir. Having her own point of view really helped.

Easton… Well, Easton still had problems, but what happened at the end of the fourth book and the beginning of this one seemed to pull him out of what held him captive. I truly felt like I had one of my favorite characters back. I loved how he was with his family and Hartley in this one. This book felt almost like a fresh start for Easton and Hartley.

As for the rest of the Royal clan, they were as fun to read about as always. I loved being back in their world with all the deceitful people surrounding them. Every character brought something I wasn’t expecting to the story.  I even liked seeing those characters I hate.

I flew through Cracked Kingdom and enjoyed every minute with it. I was surprised by some of the directions the authors went, but I liked how it all worked out. I’m sad The Royals series is over because I would have loved a book about the twins (I still need to know exactly what was up with them and Lauren.), but I understand why the authors are ending things where they did. Cracked Kingdom was a great end to a truly amazing series.

Review: Far from the Tree by Robin Benway

Far from the Tree
Author: Robin Benway
Publication Date: October 3, 2017
Publisher: HarperTeen
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Fiction

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Synopsis:

A contemporary novel about three adopted siblings who find each other at just the right moment.

Being the middle child has its ups and downs.

But for Grace, an only child who was adopted at birth, discovering that she is a middle child is a different ride altogether. After putting her own baby up for adoption, she goes looking for her biological family, including—

Maya, her loudmouthed younger bio sister, who has a lot to say about their newfound family ties. Having grown up the snarky brunette in a house full of chipper redheads, she’s quick to search for traces of herself among these not-quite-strangers. And when her adopted family’s long-buried problems begin to explode to the surface, Maya can’t help but wonder where exactly it is that she belongs.

And Joaquin, their stoic older bio brother, who has no interest in bonding over their shared biological mother. After seventeen years in the foster care system, he’s learned that there are no heroes, and secrets and fears are best kept close to the vest, where they can’t hurt anyone but him.


Far from the Tree is about three biological siblings who have been raised in three separate homes. After giving her own baby up for adoption, Grace is desperate to find her biological mother. In her quest, she discovers she has two siblings: Joaquin and Maya. Grace and Maya were each adopted at birth. Joaquin, the oldest of three, was raised in the foster care system. As they get to know each other, the siblings begin to discover their similarities, their differences, and what family really is.

So here’s the deal. I just… I don’t even know how to put into words how I feel about Far from the Tree. Please forgive me if this review rambles or makes no sense. Far from the Tree broke me in so many different ways.

First, it broke me because I ached for Grace. Grace’s story was the one I was most curious about. After having my own child, I cannot imagine giving up a child — especially one I desperately wanted — no matter how much I knew it would be the best thing for that child. It would kill me. Grace’s experience brought me to tears more than once.

Second, I’m an adoptee. While I haven’t been through much of what happened to Grace, Maya, and Joaquin, I have felt some of the feelings they felt. Maya’s thoughts were the ones I could relate to the most. Our situations were the most similar. We are both adoptees whose adoptive parents went on to have biological children of their own. Maya’s thoughts gave validity to ones I have felt in the past. Her feelings combined with those of Joaquin and Grace touched something deep inside me.

Third, Joaquin’s whole situation hurt. I can’t imagine what it would be like to live in his world. It makes me ache for all the foster care children out there. I want an adoption as amazing as mine for them.

My review is making Far from the Tree a complete downer. It’s not. There’s heartache, but there are so many amazing moments. The characters learn so much about themselves and what family and loving someone means.

I was a fan of Robin Benway’s writing from her début novel, Emmy & Oliver, but Far from the tree blew me away. It is my favorite book I’ve ever read about adoptees. It encompassed so many different feelings surrounding being adopted. In my opinion, Far from the Tree was perfection. It’s a very special book.

Review: Long Way Home by Katie McGarry

Long Way Home
Series: Thunder Road, #3
Author: Katie McGarry
Publication Date: January 31, 2017
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary Romance

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ½

Synopsis:

Seventeen-year-old Violet has always been expected to sit back and let the boys do all the saving.

It’s the code her father, a member of the Reign of Terror motorcycle club, raised her to live by. Yet when her dad is killed carrying out Terror business, Violet knows it’s up to her to do the saving. To protect herself, and her vulnerable younger brother, she needs to cut all ties with the club—including Chevy, the boy she’s known and loved her whole life.

But when a rival club comes after Violet, exposing old secrets and making new threats, she’s forced to question what she thought she knew about her father, the Reign of Terror, and what she thinks she wants. Which means re-evaluating everything: love, family, friends . . . and forgiveness.

Caught in the crosshairs between loyalty and freedom, Violet must decide whether old friends can be trusted—and if she’s strong enough to be the one person to save them all.


Utter devastation. That’s what I’m feeling right now. I am so, so sad the Thunder Road series is over. Done. Caput. No more books. Finishing Long Way Home has given me book hangover.

Long Way Home was just as amazing as the first two books in the Thunder Road series. The plot was brilliant, the characters continued to shine, and it was just so much fun to read. My experience with reading it was a little different from my experience with the first two book because I listened to them. I enjoyed both formats. I do have to admit that I did miss listening to the narrators’ accents, though. They made the first two books exceptionally fun.

Katie McGarry had to up the ante in Long Way Home. We don’t just get one Reign of Terror / Riot plot with this one, we get two. Violet and Chevy face a life changing ordeal together. It faces them to deal with lingering questions they’ve had over the years. Each forced to deal with an issue they have regarding the clubs they’re dealing with. This made Violet and Chevy’s book more stressful than the last two books.

I can’t say I was particularly a fan of Violet in the past couple of books. I felt a dedication to the Reign of Terror like the other characters did. I wanted her to get over her problems with them. Long Way Home had me rethinking my judgement of Violet. I finally understood her point and got it. She was right in a lot of ways I didn’t realize. I loved how Violet stood her ground and didn’t back down based on tradition.

Chevy was as lovable as I knew he would be. He had a happy-go-lucky feeling to him. I enjoyed getting to know him better. I loved the realizations he came to in this book. He really matured from a teenager to a young man during Long Way Home.

Violet and Chevy’s relationship had a special magic to it. They were childhood best friend, practically siblings, who grew to love each other. I hurt for them when they weren’t together, and knew how tough their decisions to be apart and together were. Their love was cemented down deep, and I couldn’t imagine them not ending up together.

As for the other series characters, don’t worry, they make appearances. There were some great moments between both Violet and Eli. I especially liked the touching moments between Violet and her mom and Eli and his mom and Cyrus.

The only slight frustration I had with Long Way Home was some unanswered questions that lingered after finishing it. I had some confusion surrounding Issac’s mother in relation to his father. I didn’t how she ended up somewhere based on his job. It didn’t add up to me. Also, who was the new prospect mentioned toward the end that was mentioned with Addison? I really needed the fourth book we didn’t get to make things clearer for me. Dang Harlequin Teen for keeping it from me! 😉

Long Way Home was everything I expected it to be. It reunited Violet and Chevy in the best way possible. It was a fitting ending for the series, even if I wanted more. I guess the sadness of losing this series will motivate me to read the rest of McGarry’s books (I didn’t really need motivation. Her writing speaks for itself.).

Review: The Last to Let Go by Amber Smith

The Last to Let Go
Author: Amber Smith
Publication Date: January 6, 2017
Publisher: McElderry Books
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Fiction, LBGTQ
Note: This review is for an ARC and is my unbiased opinion.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Synopsis:

How do you let go of something you’ve never had?

Junior year for Brooke Winters is supposed to be about change. She’s transferring schools, starting fresh, and making plans for college so she can finally leave her hometown, her family, and her past behind.

But all of her dreams are shattered one hot summer afternoon when her mother is arrested for killing Brooke’s abusive father. No one really knows what happened that day, if it was premeditated or self-defense, whether it was right or wrong. And now Brooke and her siblings are on their own.

In a year of firsts—the first year without parents, first love, first heartbreak, and her first taste of freedom—Brooke must confront the shadow of her family’s violence and dysfunction, as she struggles to embrace her identity, finds her true place in the world, and learns how to let go.


Amber Smith’s The Way I Used to Be was one of my top reads for 2016. I couldn’t get over the fact that a début author had written such an emotionally raw book. I loved everything about that book. It touched me so deeply. I’ve been waiting for her next release from the minute I finished that book, so I was very eager to read The Last to Let Go.

Everything about The Last to Let Go was so raw. Brooke had too much to deal with in this book. Her mother killed her abusive father, she’s worried about her siblings, she’s making unexpected friends, meeting new family members, and she might just be finding love. Everything is more than she can handle. She was doing everything to hold onto her family and what she thought was important.

I felt so bad for Brooke. As much as I wanted her to get herself together, I completely understood why she was falling apart. It broke my heart. Luckily, I’ve never been in Brooke’s situation. It’s one I wouldn’t wish on anyone. Obviously, I can’t relate completely with her life, but I felt like her feelings of needing to control and having a hard time letting go were something everyone can identify with at some point.

The Last to Let Go was so good — in a painful sort of way. What I mean is that it was utterly heartbreaking. Amber Smith has a way of writing that makes me feel the emotions her characters are feeling. It’s breathtaking and it’s brutal. The Last to Let Go is a book that’s going to stick with me for a long time, and it’s one I definitely recommend.

Review: Nowhere But Here by Katie McGarry

Nowhere But Here
Series: Thunder Road, #1
Author: Katie McGarry
Narrators: Marguerite Gavin, Sean Pratt

Publication Date: July 14, 2015
Publisher: Harlequin Enterprises, Limited
Genre: Young Adult, New Adult, Contemporary Romance

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Synopsis:

An unforgettable new series from acclaimed author Katie McGarry about taking risks, opening your heart and ending up in a place you never imagined possible.

Seventeen-year-old Emily likes her life the way it is: doting parents, good friends, good school in a safe neighborhood. Sure, she’s curious about her biological father—the one who chose life in a motorcycle club, the Reign of Terror, over being a parent—but that doesn’t mean she wants to be a part of his world. But when a reluctant visit turns to an extended summer vacation among relatives she never knew she had, one thing becomes clear: nothing is what it seems. Not the club, not her secret-keeping father and not Oz, a guy with suck-me-in blue eyes who can help her understand them both.

Oz wants one thing: to join the Reign of Terror. They’re the good guys. They protect people. They’re…family. And while Emily—the gorgeous and sheltered daughter of the club’s most respected member—is in town, he’s gonna prove it to her. So when her father asks him to keep her safe from a rival club with a score to settle, Oz knows it’s his shot at his dream. What he doesn’t count on is that Emily just might turn that dream upside down.

No one wants them to be together. But sometimes the right person is the one you least expect, and the road you fear the most is the one that leads you home.


Nowhere But Here has been out for a couple of years. I’ve seen it around, and wanted to read it. I just hadn’t gotten to it yet. When I saw it was available as an audio book through my library system, I jumped on the chance to listen to it. I’m really mad at myself for not starting this series earlier!

Katie McGarry is a phenomenal writer. The way she puts words together and the story she tells… I’m trying to think of something to compare those to, and all that comes to mind is chocolate. Smooth, silky, and oh-so yummy. The plot of this book and how it was strung together was perfection. I loved the twists, turns, and revelations that were made. Somehow how Katie McGarry made a story involving a motorcycle gang sweet. That’s talent.

I adored Emily and Oz. Their points of view were so distinctive and had so much personality. Emily was this girl who started out seeming really small and scared. I thought she was going to be a delicate snowflake throughout the entire book, but she wasn’t. Emily had more backbone than I expected, and I loved it. It made for so many fun moments! And Oz…I absolutely adored his character. He was such a mature 18-year-old. He was more a man than a teenager. Honestly, his parts were my favorite. The way he articulated his thoughts was just so cool.

The rest of the cast of characters were just as good as the main characters. I liked Emily’s relationship with her parents, especially her father. Their closeness was sweet. I did wish I got to know Emily’s mom a little bit better, though. I also liked Eli, Olivia and that side of Emily’s family. The entire Reign of Terror group won me over immediately. Their family ways were so cool. I’m excited to read more about them in future books.

Why did I wait so long to read this book??? If you’re like me and haven’t read it yet, you need to bump it up your list. Everything about it was amazing. I highly recommend the audio version. The narrators are so good — especially Sean Pratt. I could listen to his voice all day.

Review: Love, Life, and the List by Kasie West

Love, Life, and the List
Author: Kasie West
Publication Date: December 26, 2017
Publisher: HarperTeen
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Romance

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★

Synopsis:

Seventeen-year-old Abby Turner’s summer isn’t going the way she’d planned. She has a not-so-secret but definitely unrequited crush on her best friend, Cooper. She hasn’t been able to manage her mother’s growing issues with anxiety. And now she’s been rejected from an art show because her work “has no heart.” So when she gets another opportunity to show her paintings Abby isn’t going to take any chances.

Which is where the list comes in.

Abby gives herself one month to do ten things, ranging from face a fear (#3) to learn a stranger’s story (#5) to fall in love (#8). She knows that if she can complete the list she’ll become the kind of artist she’s always dreamed of being. But as the deadline approaches, Abby realizes that getting through the list isn’t as straightforward as it seems… and that maybe—just maybe—she can’t change her art if she isn’t first willing to change herself.

This is the first in a set of three standalone books with crossover characters.


Kasie West is one of my go-to YA contemporary romance authors. I love her writing. It’s cute, heartwarming, and addictive. I’m always excited to start one of her books because I know I’m in for a fun time. That’s exactly how I felt when starting Love, Life, and the List, and that’s exactly what I got.

Love, Life, and the List is all about friendship, love, and growing up. It’s about letting go of the things that hold you back and discovering who you really are. Abby had to do a lot of that in this book. She had to navigate an unrequited crush on her best friend. She had to deal with disappointment and learning how to express her emotions.

I loved how the Heart List helped Abby open herself up to new experiences and find who she was. I also loved that it helped her identify unhealthy relationships she had, and helped her stand up for herself.

The biggest one of those was with Cooper. Cooper wasn’t a character I liked. That was because I adored Abby and saw how destructive their relationship was. Yes, there were the cute times they shared. And, yes, I could see what Abby saw in him. I just didn’t like how he treated her. It wasn’t that he didn’t do nice things for her or treated her horribly. It was because he led her on. I know he wasn’t exactly trying to, but he took advantage of her love for him.

I do have to admit that I liked that Cooper didn’t hold Abby back on the love front. He pushed her to date other guys. I loved that he tried to set her up with Elliot. Elliot was an amazing guy, and I loved what he had in common with Abby. They were cute together.

Love, Life, and the List was almost perfect. Almost. The one thing that drove me nuts was the ending. I can’t say why, but I will say that it didn’t jive with what I wanted for Abby. It didn’t feel like it completely fit in my opinion. The end wasn’t my favorite outcome, but I do have to admit it was still cute.

Overall, I adored this book. It was cute, fun, addicting — all the things I mentioned before. I couldn’t put it down, and I didn’t want to. I am so excited that this is the first in a series of three crossovers. I can’t wait to see who shows up in those books!

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!