Daybreak is Not Your Normal Summer Camp | The Names They Gave Us by Emery Lord [ARC]

The Names They Gave UsLucy is ready for her summer to go exactly according to plan. She’ll be spending the summer at the Christian summer camp that her parents own just like she does every summer. When she gets back, she’ll spend time with her perfect boyfriend Lukas until her senior year starts. Unfortunately, her mom’s cancer is back with a vengeance. Before she knows it, Lukas has paused their relationship and Lucy is headed to be a counselor at Camp Daybreak for the summer at her mother’s request. Lucy is baffled as to why her mom would send her away to a “hippie camp” instead of wanting to spend an entire summer together at their Christian camp. The summer has a lot in store for Lucy and she’ll question her faith while finding that her family’s history isn’t as cut and dry as she once thought.

I keep trying Emery Lord’s books because I hope that something will compare to The Start of Me and You (which I LOVED)¬†but I’m starting to think that it’s never going to happen. Stephanie @Stephanie’s Book Reviews really hit the nail on the head in her review¬†where she talks about feeling like Lord is just trying too hard. For me, I just felt like she was trying to cram in SO MANY ISSUES. First, we have Lucy who’s trying to reconcile her faith with all of the things that are going on in her life. Then we have her mom who has cancer. Then there’s also a transgender character and all of the stuff that comes out about Lucy’s family history…it’s just a little much. I wish that the author had maybe edited some of that stuff out. It was just a little overwhelming as a reader.

Lucy was okay as a protagonist but I had a really hard time with some elements of her character. For example, as I started this book I was super excited because I have been WAITING for an author to give us a portrayal of a normal Christian character outside of Christian Fiction. I really thought Lucy was going to be that character for me, but almost immediately she starts having this crisis of faith which is completely understandable for her situation, but wasn’t what I was hoping for. In addition, I felt like she was just kind of unrealistic? I feel that Christians get a bad rap a lot of the time for being “sheltered” or “naive”. Like, Lucy gets uncomfortable when people around her use Christ’s name in vain, but then she doesn’t blink an eye when a character comes out as transgender. That’s just not consistent! First of all, I don’t think that a normal Christian teenager is going to blink at somebody else saying “Jesus Christ” about something–I know I didn’t. It was just stuff like that…I don’t know. One positive about her, is that in the end I really did like her relationship with her parents.

The secondary characters were pretty good and mostly well developed. Everybody at Daybreak has a past and we get into that a little bit with Jones and Annabelle and others. The one thing I will say is that Jones seemed too good for Lucy and honestly kind of unrealistic. I know he had some stuff in his life that made him more mature than his age, but is any teenage boy really going to act like him? It honestly felt like he was closer to 25 than 17 or 18.

Overall, I thought this book was just okay. I didn’t dislike it as much as When We Collided but it’s nothing compared to¬†The Start of Me and You. Some people have had an issue with the ending, but I’ll go on the record as saying that I didn’t hate it. It was definitely bittersweet, but that’s life, right? Some trigger warnings real quick: this book contains some mention of suicide, physical abuse, and bullying. Probably others too, but sorry those are the ones I can come up with right now.

Overall Rating: 3
Language: Moderate
Violence: Mild
Smoking/Drinking: Moderate. Some underage drinking.
Sexual Content: Moderate

Note: I received this book free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

When will people realize that honor means nothing if you’re DEAD | Duels & Deceptions by Cindy Anstey [ARC]

Duels and DeceptionLydia Whitfield has a problem. She’s the heiress to a large fortune, but her drunkard of an uncle seems intent on squandering it all by attempting to grow pineapples on their property. Pineapples. Despite this, Lydia is determined to succeed and if that means marrying her neighbor as her late father planned, then so be it. Lydia has the rest of her life planned out, but she didn’t count on meeting her solicitor’s soon-to-be apprentice, Robert Newton. When Robert enters her life, some of Lydia’s plans start to go awry.

This is the second book I’ve read from this author and I’m a lot more impressed with this one than I was with the last one. I felt that this heroine was much stronger. She was intelligent and not afraid to show it by speaking her mind. She didn’t necessarily need the men in the story to rescue her which I felt was something specific that Anstey’s last heroine lacked. Lydia was an enjoyable heroine and I found myself on her side, rooting for her immediately. Robert was also an enjoyable character and I didn’t mind that the points of view switched between him and Lydia. Some of the secondary characters were pretty one note and silly, but there were others that had surprisingly hidden depth. I especially liked how Lydia’s relationship with her mother grew throughout the story. It was subtle, but I thought it added another layer to the story and helped with Lydia’s personal development.

If you enjoy Jane Austen era novels, I think you’ll like this one as well. It’s set in the same time period with the same customs and similar narration and dialogue. There were times when I felt the narration was a little…much. It almost tried too hard to be witty and clever at times, but overall I still enjoyed it.

The plot was a lot more involved than I was expecting. It was interesting to see it all come together and I can honestly say that I didn’t see the ending coming–I was completely blindsided. This book has the kind of plot that begins almost right away and small clues are dropped throughout the book that an astute reader might be able to pick up on and predict the ending. I was not one of those astute readers, but perhaps you will be.

Overall, I thought this book was a fun read and I’ll definitely be reading more from this author to get my Austen fix. I recommend this book to anyone who is a fan of Austen or regency era romantic thrillers.

Overall Rating: 4
Language: None
Violence: Moderate
Smoking/Drinking: Moderate
Sexual Content: Mild

Note: I received this book free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

No traveling pants, but still a good read | The Whole Thing Together by Ann Brashares [ARC]

The Whole Thing TogetherRay and Sasha are more or less part of the same family. They grew up in the same house, with the same sisters, in the same bedroom…but they’ve never met. A long time ago, Ray’s mom used to be married to Sasha’s dad. A nasty divorce and two remarriages later, Ray and Sasha were born. 17 years later, their¬†worlds are about to collide for the first time.

Okay, so I know that Brashares has written more things than¬†JUST¬†The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, but I honestly haven’t read anything else by her. I remembered really like that series though, so I decided to give this one a shot since it had a really intriguing premise to me. Right away, I really enjoyed the writing. The narration and dialogue all flowed together really well and the writing made the book very easy to read. The plot wasn’t super predictable, but there also wasn’t much that happened that was super surprising. This book is more about the characters anyway.

Family dynamics are very interesting. I’m going to say that it’s impossible for a family to be completely drama-free and the family in this book is definitely not an exception. The narration rotates between the five kids: the original three sisters (Emma, Quinn, and Mattie) and the new kids (Ray and Sasha). That, at times, got confusing for me. I was reading a digital ARC and sometimes there wasn’t a clear indicator that the book was changing narrators–I hope that’s something that is fixed or different in the physical book. That being said, if the narrators had very different tones or voices, this wouldn’t have been so confusing. Unfortunately, all of the narrators pretty much sound alike. It was very difficult to tell them apart just from the language. The only signals we get are from context.

The good thing about having so many narrators, though, is that I really felt like I got to know each of the siblings on a pretty deep level. If there had just been one or two narrators, we would have only gotten to know the other characters on a superficial level from our narrator’s perspective. I enjoyed getting to know how characters were perceived but then also having the internal viewpoint for each of them. I expected to not like at least one of the siblings, but I honestly really came to care for each of them in separate ways. Obviously they each had some less desirable traits, but I was willing to overlook them because I felt like I knew each of them on a deeper level so those things didn’t matter.

The only kind of negative thing that really stood out to me was that Jaime’s family seemed a little random. They had a ton of drama as well, but then they’re not really explored at all. I would have either liked more exploration there, or less description of it.

After reading (and pretty much loving) this book, I was surprised to see that there were many negative reviews for this book on Goodreads. One reviewer in particular (who admits to being a straight, white, female) thought that this book displayed “blatant sexism, body-shaming of all sorts, stereotyping, and some racism”. While I could see her points, I just wanted to give my two cents on some of those things. I’m also straight and female, but I’m only a quarter white so I might have a slightly different perspective.

“Blatant Sexism”. The reviewer points out a section of the book where one of our main characters, Ray, is looking at another character’s body–specifically her chest. The reviewer’s response: “This is a direct example of the ‘boys will be boys’ attitude that results in the normalization of rape and sexual assault. What could Ray do? Well I’ll tell you–he could have not looked down at Sasha’s dress, and kept his eyes to himself…” I see her point and I’m not at all trivializing the normalization of rape and sexual assault that is happening. However, I was listening to an interesting podcast the other day. It was a rerun for¬†This American Life (great podcast if you’re not already a subscriber). It was an episode completely about testosterone (listen here). In one of the sections the reporter was interviewing a transgender man about his transition. As part of the¬†transition, he had to be injected with a very high dosage of testosterone. It was really interesting to hear him talk about how he thought about women pre-transition (and testosterone) versus post. There was a stark difference. Obviously, we all have agency and can make our own choices, right? However, as a woman, I felt that my eyes were opened to this chemical thing that happens in boys that doesn’t happen in girls that I really had no idea about. It seems apparent to me that it’s not just a moral or ethical thing, but that natural chemicals and hormones are coming into play as well. I guess what my point is, is that even though I agree that Ray shouldn’t have been looking at Sasha’s chest, I¬†don’t feel that this interaction was necessarily out of place. I was uncomfortable when I read it too, but I’m not necessarily angry at Brashares for including it–I feel like I get it.

“Some Racism”. The reviewer describes her frustration that an Indian American man (actually he was raised in Canada)¬†is stereotypically a “tech genius”. Just as an aside here, I thought he was in finance, but I could have gotten that wrong. Another reviewer criticized the fact that this same character, Robert, was really trying to downplay the fact that he was Indian and wanted nothing more than to be just like all the white men out there. I can see why that’s bothersome, but I feel like we need to look at the overall context here. He was adopted by white parents and it sounded like he was raised in a white community. So from that perspective, it makes sense that he might not identify as being Indian–he wasn’t raised that way. In addition, it can be frustrating for people to make assumptions about you based on your physical appearance (I speak from personal experience here). I can understand why Robert would want to be “as white as possible” (for lack of a better term) since that’s more or less what he identifies as.

Those are just some of my thoughts about the negative comments that have been made about this book. I think a lot of the problems that people have with this book just need to be viewed in the appropriate context instead of being taken out and examined under a microscope. I, personally, was not offended by the book as a woman or as a person of color–in fact, I actually really enjoyed it! I’ll allow you to judge for yourself, but I don’t think these negative reviews should be enough to keep you from reading it if you would have picked it up otherwise.

Overall Rating: 5
Language: Heavy
Violence: Mild
Smoking/Drinking: Moderate (some drinking and some underage smoking)
Sexual Content: Moderate (nothing explicit).

Note: I received this book free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Somebody stop me from reading more books from this publisher | Incriminating Dating by Rebekah L Purdy [ARC]

Incriminating DatingAyla wants to make a difference at her school and the only real way to do that is by becoming class president. Unfortunately, that means running against the resident popular, mean girl who has been class president pretty much since Kindergarten. When Ayla catches golden boy Luke Pressler defacing public property, she sees her opportunity to get in with the popular crowd. If she blackmails Luke and his friends to support her, she could actually win this election. Unfortunately, what began as simply business threatens to become more as she starts to develop actual feelings for Luke. Ayla knows it’s stupid because he would never feel the same way about her, right?

I know I’ve talked about this before on here, but WHY DO I KEEP READING BOOKS FROM THIS PUBLISHER. They always have promising premises, but then they never payoff. I just need to learn my lesson and STAY AWAY. Seriously, next time I’m going to read one of these please, somebody stop me.

I liked Luke as a character but Ayla was just too much. I found her overbearing, judgmental, and more than a little self-righteous. To be honest, I’m not totally sure what Luke sees in her, but whatever. Luke had a surprisingly in-depth backstory and I feel like it was given enough screen time to really get to know who he is. Without giving anything away, I do question the plausibility of some things that happen towards the end…but maybe it’s a really big town.

The plot is predictably infuriating. Lack of communication leads to all kinds of drama, etc., etc. Also, characters really need to learn how to passcode protect their phones. That’s pretty much all I have to say about the plot. It’s all just very blah. The antagonist throughout the whole thing is a girl named Jenna Lee who is the cardboard mean girl that makes her way into most of these books. We get nothing from her as far as motivations go–she’s just mean for no reason. So that doesn’t really help to drive the plot forward much or make it more interesting.

Overall, I would not recommend this book. There are plenty of other “blackmailed into dating” books to read if you’re interested in that trope. I’d say give this one a hard PASS.

Overall Rating: 2
Language: Heavy
Violence: None
Smoking/Drinking: Moderate
Sexual Content: Moderate

Note: I received this book free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

A book about grief and growing up too early | Letters to the Lost by Brigid Kemmerer [ARC]

Letters to the LostThe accident happened months ago, but to Juliet, it feels like it was just yesterday. Her mom took an earlier flight home as a surprise because Juliet begged her to. Now she’s dead. Hit and run. So Juliet writes her letters. Of course, she knows that her mom will never read them, but it feels good sometimes to put those emotions down on paper. When Declan finds one of Juliet’s letters at the cemetery where he’s doing community service, he can’t help but respond. They become pen pals of sorts and under the cover of anonymity they can admit things that they never had the courage to admit before.

I did not expect this book. It was deep and meaningful and was a really intense look at grief from all kinds of different angles. All of the characters in this book are flawed and the author doesn’t shy away from the ugly parts of their lives or personalities. Juliet and Declan are both kind of angry people, but I didn’t find that I minded like I have with characters from other books. Mostly I just felt sad for both characters. They’ve both had these huge events in their lives that completely change how they interact with the rest of the world. I wouldn’t say that either of them are particularly likable, but I still felt for them and I think that’s a sign of really well developed characters.

The cast of secondary characters was also amazing. I loved both Rev and Rowan, but especially Rev and I’m very excited that he’ll be getting his own book¬†coming out next year. They were a great support system for the two main characters and honestly just seem like really good people. At the same time, they had their own flaws that we don’t really have time to get into in this book–but they’re there. I also just want to give a shoutout to the fact that Rev is an unashamed Christian and isn’t portrayed as a complete freak. Then there are the adult characters. Frank, Juliet’s dad, Declan’s mom and step-dad, Rev’s parents, Mrs. Hillard, and Mr. Gerardi. A lot of times YA books portray adults as the enemies or like they just don’t understand or completely absent. There is a little bit of that in this book, but there are also a lot of times when adults are present and they are every bit as flawed as our teenage protagonists. Despite those flaws a lot of the adult characters are also super enabling. I especially loved the interactions that Declan had with Frank and Mrs. Hillard. It’s not always an us vs them thing when it comes to teens and adults–sometimes adults are on your side! So I give a big thank you to the author for illustrating that. I also loved Juliet’s gradual appreciation for her father.

There is a bit of a plot that runs as a constant thread throughout the book, but it’s definitely not the focus–we’re much more focused on the development of our main characters. I think my overall takeaway from this book is that we really shouldn’t judge other people before getting to know them. I think this is most apparent in the judgments that Rowan and Brandon make about Declan and Rev. Rowan and Brandon are nice, good people, but they don’t take the time to try to get to know either Declan or Rev. They only listen to the things they’ve heard about Declan and Rev is guilty by association and because he dresses strangely. How many of us are exactly like Rowan and Brandon? Let’s get to know and love the Declans and Revs of the world.

Overall, I thought this book was really great. While there were some¬†overused¬†elements (the “evil stepparent” for one), I also thought that the author included several refreshing elements. I think this book will, deservedly, stand apart from other books in the YA category.

Overall Rating: 4
Language: Moderate
Violence: Moderate. Some brief descriptions of child abuse.
Smoking/Drinking: Moderate
Sexual Content: Moderate. Mostly due to one scene at the end of the book–not graphic.

Note: I received this book free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Great premise, disappointing execution | Gilded Cage by Vic James [ARC]

Gilded CageIn an alternate world, there are those who are Equals and there are those who are not. Equals rule while non-Equals must donate ten years of their lives to working for them. In one of the factory towns, revolution is in the air–but can they really succeed when they’re fighting against people with such immense powers?

First, I think that’s an awful cover. Despite that, I still thought the book’s premise sounded really promising. It sounded like there was going to be some star-crossed lovers, a revolution from the lower class, and a mysteriously powerful, game-changing person. And the book had all of that, but it all just felt so…bland. I didn’t really care about the characters–I feel like I wasn’t given a reason to care about them. Even though we get to see the story from both Abi and Luke’s perspectives, I don’t feel like I know who they are or what they care about or mostly WHY they care about what they do. I mean, obviously they care about their family, but is that their only motivation to do anything? I don’t know how to explain it…I just didn’t feel a connection there.

The romances and general relationships between characters were strange too. Honestly, it feels like the younger sister has been hypnotized or brainwashed or something. We saw no development in her relationship with the eldest brother (though not romantic in nature, still strange and slightly disturbing). The overall plot is hard to discern and may be more fleshed out in future books, but I’m not personally planning on continuing the series. Mostly I just feel confused. I don’t understand how powers work or what they do (but I guess nobody really does). There’s some weird generational explanation for some stuff, which didn’t really make sense and just seemed super random and more confusing.

I’ve seen so much hype around this book, but it seriously let me down. I didn’t hate it, but the story just felt so uninspired and flat. Too much happened with too little explanation. Despite such a great premise, I’m afraid I have to recommend that you give this one a hard pass.

Overall Rating: 3
Language: Mild
Violence: Heavy
Smoking/Drinking: Moderate
Sexual Content: Mild

Note: I received this book free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

No Mourners. No Funerals. | Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

The Dregs are just another gang in Ketterdam, but the one thing they have that others don’t is Kaz Brekker. He’s young, but he’s good at what he does. When he’s approached to pull off the most impossible heist, all he can see is the pile of money waiting for him at the end of it. He quickly pulls a talented crew together–the only ones with a glimmer of a chance at success. Can they pull it off? Or will this job prove to be too much–even for Kaz “Dirty Hands” Brekker?

Six of CrowsI LOVE a good heist. Book, movie–whatever. So with that in mind, I thought that I was going to like this book. Turns out that I REALLY liked this book. The characters were all just so complicated and had an enormous amount of depth. I thought that Bardugo did a great job of switching between narrators and between past and present. That way the reader can get into every character’s head and kind of understand what their motivations are. At the same time, even though we’re jumping between characters, we’re not privy to everything that’s going on. There were a couple of twists that had me going, “WHAAAAATT????”.

This book and the plot were giving me serious Mistborn vibes (which isn’t a bad thing) but the thing that I thought Mistborn did better was the timeline. In Mistborn, they take a whole year (if I’m remembering correctly) to pull of their “thing” whereas Kaz and his team take approximately a week before they’re off. I just felt like that seemed less realistic. Another point of “realism” that always bothers me is when we’re supposed to be in a completely different world, but then the characters use our swear words. I don’t know why that bothers me so much. I mean…as far as I’m concerned, the characters are speaking English, so doesn’t it make sense for them to use English swear words? But for some reason it just yanks me out of the story every time.

Another¬†thing that kind of took away from the book for me…I keep harping on this same topic of not having diverse characters for the sake of diversity. I thought Inej being a POC was great and I felt like that characteristic played into who she was as a character and how she had developed throughout her life. That being said, there were a couple of other characters that had a diverse trait that seemed more forced. While I’m not opposed to having LGBT characters in the books that I read, I didn’t feel like it added to who the characters were or had any consequence in their development as people. More, it felt like Bardugo just wanted to neatly pair off the six main characters and this was the easiest way to do that. Sorry, not a fan. Maybe more will be revealed in the second book about how this trait played into character development. We’ll see.

Overall, I thought this book was really fun and I loved seeing another part of the Grisha-verse. After finishing I wished that I could immediately get my hands on the second book (unfortunately, I had to wait until Christmas). It’s on my list now and I’m REALLY hoping to get to it this month! But I also don’t want to read it because I want the story to last forever–it’s quite the dilemma.

Overall Rating: 4
Language: Moderate
Violence: Heavy
Smoking/Drinking: Moderate
Sexual Content: Moderate