Thursday, 18 May 2017

Review: The Names They Gave Us by Emery Lord

The Names They Gave Us by Emery Lord

Publisher: Bloomsbury
Publication Date: May 16th, 2017
Pages: 400
Source: ARC from Publisher
Rating: 4/5
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Lucy Hansson was ready for a perfect summer with her boyfriend, working at her childhood Bible camp on the lake. But when her mom’s cancer reappears, Lucy falters—in faith, in love, 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?

I like Emery. I really do. Her first two books are two of my all-time favourite contemps. I had some issues with her last book, but that was a me thing. Of course, I was dying to get my hands on The Names They Gave Us. Even though I had some reservations. I wasn't sure how well I'd connect, even like The Names They Gave Us. It is about the daughter of a pastor struggling with her faith. I am not a religious person and can find that when faith and religion are one of the main plot points I find myself unable to connect to the story. Or even find that it's too in my face. Clearly, I shouldn't doubt Emery and her story telling abilities. I may not have been able to relate to Lucy on those aspects of her life but that did not take away from the enjoyment of this book. The Names They Gave Us may not be my favourite of Emery's books but I do believe it's her strongest(to date).

I had some misgivings about Lucy pretty much right away. You get this immediate impression of her; daughter of the pastor, clean cut, captain of the swim team, perfect upstanding boyfriend, hiding a few of her passions from her parents; she has a certain image to uphold. Or at least she thinks she does. My views on Lucy changed pretty quickly. She obviously had a lot of personal growth to go through. And it's not that she was a bad person, it's more that her true self had yet to have the time to shine through. Lucy was hidden behind her faith, the comfortable feeling of her trusting loyal boyfriend and captaining the swim team. The news of the return of her mother's cancer is ultimately the catalyst summer Lucy and all she'll learn. I loved Lucy for being curious and fiercely loyal. Even when shocking secrets are revealed and she has every right to be mad, Lucy remains unselfish and a decent person.

Obviously, her mom's cancer is tragic, but I want to point out the bright light that came from it for Lucy(besides her boyfriend pausing them because yea dude is nice but Lucy needs more than nice), her spending the summer as a counsellor at the camp next door. This isn't her families bible camp. It's a camp for troubled kids. Lucy goes in with misgivings. It is a very different setting than her normal summer. But that's the point. Lucy needs to get out of her comfort zone. To realize how strong of a person she is. To form new friendships. To strengthen her bond with her parents. And the big one for Lucy, learning to trust her faith and to know that it will change and grow as she does. I feel like a lot of readers will find themselves relating to Lucy in one way. Even if you live different lifestyles, personal growth and change is always a scary thing when you're a teenager. Even more so in the throes of tragedy.
Quick note on the cancer plotline; this is far from a "cancer book". Yes, Lucy mom's cancer is an element of the book but it is not the book. Far from it.

The Names They Gave Us is a character driven novel, as you would assume a contemp would be. Lucy is our leading lady, but there is a whole slew of characters that I came to love as they dealt with their own baggage, well also helping Lucy along on her summer of growth. The power of friendship really shines through for Lucy when she starts to form relationships with some of her fellow counsellors. I don't think she realized how lonely she was until that point. The four main friendships she forms are some of the best moments in the book. As a group they're dynamic is amazing and fun. They have that familial bond that is missing in a lot of YA books out there. Lucy starts to fit seamlessly into the group. Forming those new relationships, with the group and some of the other kids at the camp is truly what helps Lucy in her journey.

There is a romance; which is sweet and swoony and exactly what I wanted it to be. Never at any point does it take over the story. The romance is quite a few rungs down that plot ladder. Friends, family, faith and Lucy herself all squish up front and centre. Which is exactly how it should be for this story. I mean, I wouldn't mind more of Lucy and Jones in the future. Their relationship is super adorable. The whole always being yourself and honest with each other thing makes their lasting power as a couple believable. Even with them being so young.

The Names They Gave Us is a personal growth story. Lucy starts out pretty subdued and nieve. She believes there is so much holding her back from learning to be herself. Lucy believes things about her parents just based on their faith and that is a dangerous thing. This is where Lucy's curiosity and her ability to learn and change shape her as a person. What you believe in people, how you think they'll react or think is second nature to us. Lucy realzing that her parent's faith or somebodies home life isn't a good enough reason to judge. Just like Lucy loving make-up or not knowing what her future holds should stop her exploring her life and options in the present. The Names They Gave Us is just a great YA contemp for anyone looking for a solid one sitting read; it's got the fun times, the sad times, family, friendship and a pinch of romance. A total win for me. 

P.S. I get what Emery was doing with that ending, but open endings are my enemy. Just be forewarned. I'd like to think that leaves room for a sequel. I know that is very very wishful dreaming on my part.

Happy reading!


Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Review: The Love Interest by Cale Dietrich

The Love Interest by Cale Dietrich

Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Publication Date: May 16th, 2017
Pages: 384
Source: ARC from publisher
Rating: 2/5
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There is a secret organization that cultivates teenage spies. The agents are called Love Interests because getting close to people destined for great power means getting valuable secrets.

Caden is a Nice: The boy next door, sculpted to physical perfection. Dylan is a Bad: The brooding, dark-souled guy, and dangerously handsome. The girl they are competing for is important to the organization, and each boy will pursue her. Will she choose a Nice or the Bad?

Both Caden and Dylan are living in the outside world for the first time. They are well-trained and at the top of their games. They have to be – whoever the girl doesn’t choose will die.

What the boys don’t expect are feelings that are outside of their training. Feelings that could kill them both.

Friends, I am a huge ball of disappointment right now. Excuse me well I devour some pizza to get me through this review.

The Love Interest immediately made it to the top of my most need now, give me ARC in exchange for my black soul list when I realized it was about a school that trains spies to infiltrate these girls lives for whatever reason. They send in two boys to compete to win her heart. That part didn't get me. The twist was the boys end up falling for each other. I'M HERE FOR THAT!
What actually proceeded to happen was a hot fucking mess. The sort with poor execution and extremely one-dimensional characters.

In theory, The Love Interest should have been wonderfully meta. It literally plays on every trope and cliche that YA has overused throughout the past ten years. An M/F/M love triangle that consists of the bad boy and nice boy competing to win the heart of this unique and unknowingly beautiful girl, who is not like ANY OTHER GIRL. EVER. This spy school makes(trains) these boys to be YA cliches. The boys know nothing about the real world except for what they watch and read in popular teen media. This should have been fucking hilarious. And for the first fifty pages or so I was so into it. I'm thinking this could be possibly one of the best things to happen to my YA loving heart. We now all know how that thinking turned out...

The three most important things about a book failed me here. Let's start with the characters. Caden, Dyl and Juliet were literal personifications of their main traits. Caden the nice. Dyl the bad. And Juliet the different beautiful girl. Let's just outright scratch Juliet from the rest of this review. There is nothing to say except zzzzzzzzz. Caden and Dyl, every time the scene gave them the opportunity to explore their true personalities, away from acting as the cliched nice or bad, I had high hopes. We're going to get some swoony and fun gay moments. GIMMIE. Maybe once or twice, yes, but holy god was the rest terrible. These three characters, the satire, and fun that could have been had. What a missed opportunity.

There's no plot. There's no world building. And hey, I tell you guys every time that I am a character driven reader. So world building isn't the end all be all for me. BUT, when a book is missing everything that lack of world building and plot development becomes an issue. The Love Interest is about a spy school and the main character realizing how much he wants freedom and to be himself. So let's take down the establishment, bro. The end. There is zero development or movement from that line.

I think the absolute real killer for me was the writing. Like I said, the satire that was expected to come from this read was non-existent. The dialogue was flat, flat, flat. One cheesy, cliched, unemotional line after another. At the 60% mark, I was so over everything. I was bored and thus commenced the skimming. I thought about giving up, but this book still had me hoping for something to save it from itself.

I was here for the promised gayness. Caden had some decent moments well he was coming to terms with his sexuality. The dude grew up in a place that probably wasn't super okay or open about being your true self. So I was alright with giving him a minute to figure that out.

Caden and Dyl's "relationship" on the other hand was not the burning focal point that I expected it to be. Again, it had its moments. But there was also a whole bunch of harmful bits. In fact, for like 50 pages it veered into queer baiting territory, and this girl was fucking livid. From that point on, their relationship wasn't salvageable.

Disappointments are the hardest. I can handle a terrible read when I didn't have any expectations. But when I feel like I'm promised something and the execution fails so epically, it's a letdown. There's your Catch-22; are expectations the real one to blame here?

I mean, if you can get over a very flat story and characters, The Love Interest delivers on the fun scale. It doesn't take its self seriously. It's a cliched mess in exactly the way it's meant to be. There are no surprises. The Love Interest is ten years of YA tropes in 400 pages.

Happy reading!


Monday, 15 May 2017

Review: A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J Maas

A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J Maas

Publisher: Bloomsbury
Publication Date: May 2nd, 2017
Series: A Court of Thorns and Roses #3
Pages: 705
Source: Purchased
Rating: 3/5
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A nightmare, I’d told Tamlin. I was the nightmare.

Feyre has returned to the Spring Court, determined to gather information on Tamlin’s maneuverings and the invading king threatening to bring Prythian to its knees. But to do so she must play a deadly game of deceit—and one slip may spell doom not only for Feyre, but for her world as well. As war bears down upon them all, Feyre must decide who to trust amongst the dazzling and lethal High Lords—and hunt for allies in unexpected places.

I just want to point out the obvious spoiler warning. This review doesn't hold back. Enter at your own risk.

If I'm being completely honest with myself, ACOWAR is more a 3*. It's just really hard to choose that star number for a trilogy I have been shouting to the stars about being my favourite. The ToG series turned out to be a dumpster fire; it's like Maas can write this fantastic first book, an even better second book, and that third book, that's where it starts to get messy. Maybe duologies should be her thing?...

Although I didn't hate ACOWAR, I had a lot of problems. So this review? It's probably going to seem much more negative than positive. I don't really care. Those problems are what stick out for me because I needed this book to be near perfect, and it just wasn't. But I can start with what I liked.
Feyre, Rhys, Az, Mor, Cassian, Armen, Nesta, Elain and even Lucien; I still like you guys. It's not your fault you were toned down at times. Look how far Feyre has come! She is a strong bamf of a High-Lady. Rhys, you've come just as far with starting to defeat your demons. Nesta, though, that girl is a stone-cold wall and I am here for that. I get you, girl.

We all know there are more books to come in this series, and I mean it's pretty damn obvious who those books will be about. Maas did a good enough job of setting up those characters for their stories. I mean, you can't just touch on their new lives or reveal secrets like that and not wrap them up. So if the next three books aren't centered around who I assume they will be, things will get ugly real fast.

The banter and relationship with Feyre, Rhys and the Inner Circle was still pretty much on point. They fight and love like a family. Even better was the inclusion of more of the different courts. Meeting more High Lords and High Fae was fun. Especially when they all have very long histories with Rhys.

Okay, so I don't know if I want to blame this disappointment on myself, for I clearly put ACOWAR on a very high pedestal. After ACOMAF, I expected ACOWAR to deliver the moon and well it didn't even come close. ACOWAR was fine. But who the hell wants just fine when you're expecting epic?!
I can't even pinpoint what really was my biggest issue. It was more a cumulation of a bunch of smallish things.

I've yet to have issues with Maas's writing, but this time, woah batman. If you dislike the word Mate, well.... It's the repetitiveness of words and those damn - and ... multiple times on a page. HOW IS AN EDITOR LETTING THIS SLIDE?!

The pacing was so off at times. Even Rhys couldn't fix it for me; because the unthinkable happened, I GOT BORED WITH RHYS ON THE PAGE! WHAT EVEN?!?! It was so slow for so much of the book that I knew when we finally got to the battle and action things were going to be rushed. And that sure was what happened.

ACOWAR was missing that spark. Characters felt off, and sometimes one-dimensional. The plot was so fucking predictable and convenient. I never feared for any of the main guy's lives. I go into the last book in a trilogy like this, where war is coming and I know death and destruction are on the horizon. I fear for my precious tears. But at some point into ACOWAR I lost that feeling. So and so is epically hurt, someone screams because they think someone else is dying, but I just knew there was nothing to worry about. Was Maas trying to make up for QoS and mess she made of ToG with that book? I kind of felt like it. Don't get me wrong, I don't want to see ANY of my precious babies in pain or worse. BUT when war is happening, death is to be expected. When EVERYONE makes it out unscathed, that's super unrealistic, even for a fantasy. Especially when, fuckface Tamlin is given redemption.

Okay, so I'm sure everyone is aware of the criticism Maas gets for her lack of diversity. She's never addressed it, as happens a lot. ACOWAR has the inclusion of some LGBTQ+ characters. A few new characters, some we already know. Great. Some much needed diverse characters added. Maybe Maas isn't as blind to her world problems as we, the reader, assume. My issue though, how forced and unauthentic this came off. Adding a few gay characters in, having another known character reveal "their secret lifestyle" was very obviously a second thought. So yes, great, Maas realized how much she needs to diversify her world, but hey maybe don't make it seem like you're only doing that because you feel like you have to. You should want to. I sure as hell hope I'm wrong; it just felt so off when I was reading those passages and scenes. Like I said, unauthentic. That is the best word, to sum up how it made me feel every time that character and their lover was mentioned.

There is a lot of uncomfortable, inappropriate and harmful moments throughout the book. Like I mentioned above, the harmful LGBTQ+ representation is too prominent. The icky feelings Rhys gave me at times was super unexpected. From telling Mor that should suck it up and be okay with forming an alliance with her abusers to Rhys telling Feyre that the library is a safe spot for the Priestess who have been victims of sexual assault but then proceeds to stick his fingers in Feyre. Maas's writing and story telling felt super sloppy and almost like she didn't care enough to fix all these harmful scenes.

Fuck, Rhys and Feyre are overly obnoxious for 50% of the book. Now that they're mated, the innuendoes take a front seat whatever the moment. They could seriously be discussing a tragic moment and it quickly turns into something sexual and dirty. Which adds to how inappropriate this book feels way too many times. I realize it's a romance. I'M HERE FOR THAT. But it got old super fast. The banter and sexual tension from ACOMAF were missing. A lot was missing from ACOMAF, but their relationship was my everything from that book. I expected the dynamic to change because obviously(they're mated don't you know?...). I just thought it would change for the better. Not lose half of the elements I loved about them being together, to begin with.

I just am a ball of disappointment. ACOTAR and ACOMAF left me needing more. Wanting more. I had major book hangovers. I was rereading my favourite parts all the time. I finished ACOWAR, closed the book and didn't even want to look at it. I very easily picked up my next read and went on with my life. I had feelings, but they were ones that made me want to vent to Samantha and tell her to hurry up and finish the damn book so we could discuss ALL of my problems. When I should have been saying hurry up and finish so we can bask in our tears and happiness together. Fine is one of the worst words to describe something, especially ACOWAR. ACOMAF gave me so much life, that maybe I should have known ACOWAR couldn't give me that much. But fuck, I was expecting at least almost getting there.

I'm not going to kid myself, I will more than likely revisit ACOWAR before the next book releases next year. I'm not dreading the continuation of the series. The possibilities of where Maas can go in future books is endless. I will try my hardest to not let my lingering feelings over ACOWAR ruin what could be another epic installment to the ACOTAR world.

Happy reading!