Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid #AudioBookReview

Malibu Rising


A lifetime holding it together.

One party will bring it crashing down.

Malibu: August, 1983. It’s the day of Nina Riva’s annual end-of-summer party and anticipation is at a fever pitch. Everyone wants to be around the famous Rivas: Nina, the talented surfer and supermodel; brothers Jay and Hud, one a championship surfer, the other a renowned photographer and their adored baby sister, Kit. Together, the siblings are a source of fascination in Malibu and the world over—especially as the offspring of the legendary singer, Mick Riva.

The only person not looking forward to the party of the year is Nina herself, who never wanted to be the centre of attention and who has also just been very publicly abandoned by her pro-tennis player husband. Oh, and maybe Hud—because it is long past time to confess something to the brother from whom he’s been inseparable since birth.

Jay, on the other hand, is counting the minutes until nightfall, when the girl he can’t stop thinking about promised she’ll be there.

And Kit has a couple secrets of her own—including a guest she invited without consulting anyone.

By midnight the party will be completely out of control. By morning, the Riva mansion will have gone up in flames. But before that first spark in the early hours before dawn, the alcohol will flow, the music will play and the loves and secrets that shaped this family’s generations will all come bubbling to the surface.

Malibu Rising is a story about one unforgettable night in the life of a family: the night they each have to choose what they will keep from the people who made them…and what they will leave behind.

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star three and a half

Even though Malibu Rising isn’t typically the genre of novel I’m used to reading, I don’t regret giving it a go. This was my second read by the author and having listened to this novel I think I already have a good idea what her bestseller The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo would be like.

Malibu Rising is a family drama about the Riva’s. The story starts with a very young and yet to be famous Mick who tries to win the heart of June and it ends with the current love lives of their children Nina, Jay, Hud and Kit (Katherine).

I really loved the chapters set in the past with the heartbreaking romance between Mick and June. I was captivated with their push and pull relationship and I rooted hard for them, well for June most of all because the pitfalls of fame and the lure of Mick’s many female admirers make him quite an absentee father. All things considered it’s quite a tragic story, and the star of the whole novel is Nina, which was clear quite early on and I’m so happy the ending revolved around her as well.

The narration by Julia Whelan was fabulous all the way through and although there were many scenes worth mentioning then I’d say the scene between Carrie Soto and Brandon, shouting on the lawn in front of Nina’s house was done with so much vigour that it’s one of my favourite moments.

The only remark I can make is that the party wasn’t all that interesting and when it is finally in full swing there were too many characters arriving and they didn’t really add anything important to the story. When they were mentioned again in the round up I didn’t know half of them anymore. Against all this background turbulence the Riva children flock together once again and the big question they’ll have to answer is what they’re going to do, whether they’ll stand together as a family or not. I’m happy I didn’t need to make that choice on their behalf but I believe they did the right thing.

Overall this was an enjoyable audiobook where I enjoyed some parts more than others. The party guests took away from the story and they dominated that part a bit too much but the ending was so apt. The Riva mansion going up in flames as mentioned in the synopsis and in the prologue of the novel didn’t even feel so bad anymore in the end, which was a finding I hadn’t expected at all. It wraps up the story beautifully.


Where We Belong by Anstey Harris #BookReview

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Cate Morris and her son, Leo, are homeless, adrift. They’ve packed up the boxes from their London home, said goodbye to friends and colleagues, and now they are on their way to ‘Hatters Museum of the Wide Wide World – to stay just for the summer. Cate doesn’t want to be there, in Richard’s family home without Richard to guide her any more. And she knows for sure that Araminta, the retainer of the collection of dusty objects and stuffed animals, has taken against them. But they have nowhere else to go. They have to make the best of it.

But Richard hasn’t told Cate the truth about his family’s history. And something about the house starts to work its way under her skin.

Can she really walk away, once she knows the truth?

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Anstey Harris was an unknown author to me but I’m happy that this isn’t the case any more. Sometimes going in with no expectations pays off because Where We Belong pleasantly surprised me. Slowly but surely the story gripped me and I was becoming very invested in the characters and the museum itself. The descriptions of the unprofitable Hatters museum were so vivid that my heart ached and I kind of wish I could really walk along the exhibits and see the majestic elephant and giraffe statues, or the adorable netsuke (miniature sculptures original from Japan carved in ivory) for myself. It wasn’t only the setting that was so evocative and interesting to read about but the characters, Kate and her son Leo also wormed their way into my heart, and I knew there was also more about Araminta than meets the eye.

At first Kate is not very happy to be stuck so far from bubbly London but then she sees her son Leo making friends and she knows it’s not such a bad place after all. Her relationship with Leo and how Cate navigates everything was simply wonderful. Leo is a little different, I won’t say more than that, but I really appreciate that the author introduced him and made me see how Cate and Leo tried to make their life together in this place they didn’t really choose of their own.

There are different hurdles along the way to overcome, there is some disappointment and a few setbacks but the longer into the novel the more I rooted for all of them to create a success of the museum, to have more visitors so they could stay in the house and living quarters above the museum. There’s a strong sense of community in this novel and lots of friends offering a hand so that really gave it a positive vibe.

There’s tragedy and emotional turmoil in this novel as well with scenes providing the background of Richard’s last few weeks, as well as the lifelong secret of Araminta which made me quite sad as she felt the need to keep it for so many decades. The overriding feeling is very much one of contentedness though and in the end Where We Belong seriously warmed my reader’s heart.

I received a free proof copy of this novel (I have to say that I love the cover of my proof more than the cover of the published novel above so if you feel the same then you should still pick it up). This is my honest opinion.

After The Rain by Lucy Dillon #BookReview

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First, the clouds…
Tara Hunter is a therapist on a mission to restore Longhampton’s community spirit after catastrophic flooding. But with her boyfriend AWOL, her family fragmented, and only a cat for company, Tara’s own life is crumbling.

Then the storm…
On top of everything, Tara’s father – last seen as he walked out on her when she was ten years old – is suddenly back, with a surprising offer that could change everything.

And after the rain…
Dr David Dalloway is Longhampton Wellness Centre’s new star counsellor. He’s charming, caring and has a knack for reading people’s minds – which is the last thing Tara needs right now. Will having David and her dad around make for a bigger storm on the horizon? Or is this Tara’s chance for a fresh start?

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What a delightful novel!

I’m not going to lie, it was the cat and dog on the cover of this novel that did it the most and made me choose to read this. Much to my surprise the pets in this novel, cat Sybil and dogs Branston and Lloyd actually steal the limelight. This novel is so much about our four-legged companions!

Tara works at the local Wellness Centre as a consultant along with lots of other therapists with other specialties. At times it looked more as if she was working at a vet’s office instead because David, another therapist, seems to be quite the pet whisperer. It seems to be helping their owners with their therapy though so he puts his skills into good use.

Tara has a lot on her plate next to her work because her father who abandoned his family when she was a child unexpectedly shows up, wanting to be back in her life and he offers to help rebuild the village hall, but can she really count on him or will he walk away again? She wants to discuss it with her brother Toby on the other side of the world but he’s not answering her calls most of the time and the guy she’s been seeing hasn’t been in touch for weeks either. So she unburdens to her colleague-therapist David, only to wonder the day after if that was such a good idea.

All of these different threads were well developed but the one involving her father Keith is the one that stays with me the most. Tara has hated her father for so long, her mother despised him from the day he left and now that she has to work on the same community project, it makes her feel confused. Her father plays a major part and there’s also a shocking discovery that she’s struggling with at first with but I don’t want to give it away, only that I enjoyed reading about her babysteps towards a better relationship with her family.

Now I did have to suspend some belief on this front with this added touch of magical realism but we’re talking cats and dogs here, so that’s one area that has my blessing, it didn’t bother me at all and I loved that David could somehow connect with animals.

There’s drama on lots of different fronts (there is a flooding after all), there’s suspicion about her father’s intention too but next to the more serious topics there’s also friendship and warmth and care to be found in this novel. This title, After The Rain, is so well chosen and resonates on so many levels.

I finished this novel with a happy and contented sigh and I definitely want to read more of her novels when I’m in need of another lift-me-up!

I bought an ecopy of this novel. This is my honest opinion.

The Secrets We Keep by Jonathan Harvey #BookReview

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Told from the point of view of four family members, The Secrets We Keep, by Coronation Street scriptwriter Jonathan Harvey, is a funny and poignant story.

It’s hard being that woman, the one whose husband disappeared. It’s made me quite famous. I just wish it was for something else.

He went out five years ago for a pint of milk and never came back. So here I am with a daughter who blames me for all that’s wrong in the world, a son trying his best to pick up the pieces and a gaggle of new neighbours who are over friendly, and incredibly nosy.

Then I find a left luggage ticket in the pocket of one of his old coats and suddenly I’m thinking . . . What if he’s not dead? What if he’s still out there somewhere?

You think you have the perfect life, the perfect kids, and then it’s all turned inside out. What if I don’t like what I find? And is it a chance I’m willing to take?

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star three and a half

The Secrets We Keep is a character-driven story and is told through the voices of all four members of the Bioletti family. At the start of the novel Danny is standing on the cliff and it’s a long time waiting before I found out if he really killed himself and why. Why would he do this to his wife and children? This novel focuses on much more than on the missing person of this family though.

16 year old daughter Cally is dreaming of becoming a famous model and wants to take her first steps in the business after being discovered by a scout, even though her mother Natalie wants her to focus on getting a degree first. She’s headstrong though and she will fight for her dream to come true. Her gay older brother Owen is in a relationship with Matty and he struggles with his relationship. Cally often gave jibes to her brother about his being gay but I know she never meant it in a derogatory manner, she was just this cheeky teen. It was totally cool as far as I’m concerned.

Don’t let the luggage ticket fool you, it is this discovery that makes Natalie spring into action but I never actually found out what was in the luggage or why he left both luggage and ticket behind. It is only a means to crack the story open and while Natalie is finding out her husband Danny kept some things from her the author dives into Danny’s past. Danny recounts his life from the time he was a young boy and this section of the novel was the most compelling for me. His teenage life was very hard, he even slept on the streets before meeting Natalie and I felt for him in these sections. It also felt like he loved her the minute he saw her so it was a big mystery to me why he would walk out on his family.

I sort of received an answer in the end why he did what he did but it didn’t entirely satisfy me. The sympathy he had built up was slowly evaporating. He could have gotten a divorce surely if he wanted an escape. Then at least his wife and kids would have had closure and known what had happened to him.

The last 20 pages or so also felt a little rushed and it wasn’t wrapped up like I would have wanted it. Owen receives an important visit for example but you don’t know how that unfolds anymore. The lingering feeling after I finished reading remains that Danny is quite egoistic and thinks only of himself which is a bit disappointing after all.

I bought a paperback copy of this novel. This is my honest opinion.

Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll #BookReview

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Her perfect life is a perfect lie . . . Ani FaNelli is the woman who has it all: the glamorous job, the designer wardrobe, the handsome and rich fiancé. But behind her sharp edges and meticulously crafted facade lies the darkest of pasts . . .

When a documentary producer invites Ani to tell her side of the chilling and violent incident that took place when she was a teenager at the prestigious Bradley school, she hopes it will be an opportunity to prove how far she’s turned her life around since then. She’ll even let the production company film her lavish wedding, the final step in her transformation.

But as the wedding and filming converge, Ani’s past threatens to come back and haunt her. And as her immaculate veneer starts to crack, she is forced to question: will breaking her silence destroy all that she has worked for – or, will it at long last, set Ani free?

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star three and a half

Another title from my backlist that I picked up now because Reese Witherspoon saw something in it and it’s now a major Netflix film starring Mila Kunis. I really wanted to read the novel before watching the movie, but in all honesty I originally bought it years ago because of  the cover love!

Ani (pronounced Ah-nee, not Annie cos that’s too pedestrian for her) is introduced as a shallow and rather nasty character. Obsessed with looks and wealth she’s on the verge of marrying a rich guy, for status rather than love as it seems. It’s hard to like her and I wondered if there was anything that would make me actually interested in getting to know this person better.

There was, lovely reader, there was. The past chapters took me back to her start at The Bradley School, a private school full of snobs and rich kids where she tries to blend in. In order to do that she has to reinvent herself. This desire of hers to be one of them coupled to several events that happened to her in her first year make her the troubled woman she is in the present. It helped to understand and make some allowances for the way she thinks although it didn’t mean she turned my feelings around completely.

The novel gets more compelling with the start of the incident at the school and everything that ensues with the documentary so many years later. At least I felt her emotions while she went through this. There’s another monumental event prior to this that shaped her but the emotions I was expecting to read about were not there. In fact this part was written in quite a detached manner and in the aftermath there’s not much pondering about what happened. She simply pretends nothing happened and she continues being friends with people who are definitely not worth being called friends, but her whole adult life is a testimony that it really did change her. I certainly felt for her but the Ani of the past could have touched me much more deeply if the author had given me her emotions.

Luckiest Girl Alive is a novel about bad things happening to you and coming out the other way. You might seem okay but are you really? The novel involves bullying, abuse and violence when you least expect it. This is definitely a book with trigger warnings.

This novel is compared to Gone Girl but there is no Gone Girl twist so don’t go in expecting a similar experience as Ani is only a woman coping with her past.

* I watched the movie now as well and I had a different experience from reading it. The build up in the novel was much longer with a very cold and snobbish Ani, whereas the movie made me feel more compassion and comprehension for Ani. I’m still not saying she’s the warmest person in the room but I felt they at least shaved off some of it. In the movie it also becomes much sooner clear what the events were, I didn’t have have to wonder repeatedly what had happened in her past (of course I already knew but I still felt the lead up wasn’t so long and mysterious). Then again the scenes about Ben and Arthur in the book had more of an impact on me and at least her friendship with Arthur received more attention, but all in all they stayed quite close to the original and I think it is definitely worth watching.

I bought a paperback copy of this novel. This is my honest opinion.

Reasons To Go Outside by Esme King #BookReview

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Pearl Winter hasn’t been outside in forty-three years.

Since she arrived on Dartmoor as a girl, an isolated family cottage has been her whole world. A place of safety. But now fifty-nine-year-old Pearl is utterly alone – except for the postman, the local crows, and memories of the summer of 1976.

Teenager Connor Matthews feels like a stranger in his own home.

Since his mother’s death he’s been adrift from his remaining family, troubled by the reality of moving on, and unable to see a future ahead. But when Connor begins a summer job as Pearl’s gardener, an unexpected friendship opens the door to a fresh start for them both. If only Pearl and Connor can take the first steps . . .

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I received an invitation to read this novel so that’s how it got on my radar but I was doing just fine reading my backlist so I declined the offer. It didn’t let me go however and I kept thinking about it because the main character’s agoraphobia intrigued me, so I ended up buying an ecopy anyway.

The novel starts in August 1976 with 16 year old Pearl, her mother Lana and stepfather Ray in a car, arriving at their new home Highview. Pearl then already struggles to get from the car to the front door, she knows she won’t step a foot outside after their arrival and unbelievably so, her resolution becomes true.

Jumping to the present, Pearl is 60 years old. She spends her days cleaning, reading, feeding the crows from a distance, and as for exercise she walks the stairs up and down. But her parents have passed away and now the garden really needs tending. 18 year-old Connor answers her ad because he loves the outdoors and gardening and soon enough he comes inside and she feeds him cake, they start talking and even with the major age gap a warm friendship starts to develop between them. Sometimes all you need is for someone not to judge right? In other chapters there’s Nate who was made redundant at the insurance company after 30 years of loyalty. He finds himself making new friends too at the Happy Tails Rescue Centre, with the four-legged ones and others.

I loved how Pearl and Nate’s characters grew and found happiness, they each have a set of wonderful side characters. Unfortunately it doesn’t change Pearl into going outside or Nate from wanting to be on his own. In flashbacks I learned how Pearl and Nate knew each other quite well when they were teenagers. It was a mystery why they hadn’t stayed in touch because they still think about each other after all this time and there’s a longing that is quite endearing. You have to imagine though that times were different when she left, the means to stay in touch were not the same as nowadays, there was no mobile phone or internet, and it’s not that her parents didn’t seek help for Pearl’s conditions but the professional help back then was not at all what it would be today, so she didn’t get the help she needed basically.

I believed Nate would be the one to get her to go outside again, if only they could find each other again. But I was surprised that it is someone else who for the very first time gives her an incentive to want to venture outside. I’m not telling more but there is definitely a nasty turn of events that ultimately has a positive effect too. I also finally received an answer to the question I had been asking myself from the start, which is what had happened that made her this way. It all made sense suddenly and it made me feel quite sad for Pearl so there’s definitely not only happy but also some sad moments to be found in this novel.

Summing this novel up I’d say it’s a heart-warming and uplifting novel of friendship and love!

I bought an ecopy of this novel. This is my honest opinion.

Summer at the Cornish Café by Phillipa Ashley #BookReview

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Demi doesn’t expect her summer in Cornwall to hold anything out of the ordinary. As a waitress, working all hours to make ends meet, washing dishes and serving ice creams seems to be as exciting as the holiday season is about to get.

That’s until she meets Cal Penwith. An outsider, like herself, Cal is persuaded to let Demi help him renovate his holiday resort, Kilhallon Park. Set above an idyllic Cornish cove, the once popular destination for tourists has now gone to rack and ruin. During the course of the Cornish summer, Demi makes new friends – and foes – as she helps the dashing and often infuriating Cal in his quest. Working side by side, the pair grow close, but Cal has complications in his past which make Demi wonder if he could ever truly be interested in her.

Demi realises that she has finally found a place she can call home. But as the summer draws to a close, and Demi’s own reputation as an up and coming café owner starts to spread, she is faced with a tough decision . . .

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I hate to say this but after reading a few really great romance novels this one felt a bit meh. Personally I felt that the love story lacked some real romance.

Demi and her dog Mitch are out of a job thanks to the town’s villain Mawghan and they’re sleeping rough until her one and only friend tells her that Cal Penwith is looking for hired help with restoring the holiday cottages at Kilhallon Park. She gets the job and while they’re working hard side by side Demi starts to fall for this moody handsome man. He’s still visiting his ex-girlfriend a lot though, even though she’s engaged now, so Demi comes to the conclusion that she needs to tamp down her feelings for him even if that’s easier said than done.

Summer At The Cornish Café was a nice read about big dreams with a bit of will they/won’t they get together but there was no real tension or attraction building between them. I felt it was mainly a one-sided thing from Demi‘s side. Saying that Cal is an enigma is almost an understatement. There’s really no telling what was going on in his head or what he was feeling (almost like a real dude so points for being realistic but also very frustrating at times). He’s also keeping the past three years he spent abroad under lock and key and it’s clear that something traumatized him but unfortunately I never found out what it was. It was only after I finished the novel that I discovered this was the first one of a trilogy so that will probably play its part in the sequel. Unfortunately Cal didn’t really grow on me and I didn’t see his appeal because I simply never really got to know him. I think I prefer the dog Mitch (I still don’t know what breed he is though) who is a lovely steady presence in the novel too over him.

I enjoyed reading about the restoration and the lovely Cornish setting but as you might already suspect, I won’t be continuing with this series.

I received a free paperback copy of this novel in a giveaway. This is my honest opinion.

He Will Be My Ruin by K.A. Tucker #BookReview

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Twenty-eight-year-old Maggie Sparkes arrives in New York City to pack up what’s left of her best friend’s belongings after a suicide that has left everyone stunned. The police have deemed the evidence conclusive: Celine got into bed, downed a bottle of Xanax and a handle of vodka, and never woke up. But when Maggie discovers secrets in the childhood lock box hidden in Celine’s apartment, she begins asking questions. Questions about the man Celine fell in love with. The man she never told anyone about, not even Maggie. The man who Celine herself claimed would be her ruin.

On the hunt for answers that will force the police to reopen the case, Maggie uncovers more than she bargained for about Celine’s private life-and inadvertently puts herself on the radar of a killer who will stop at nothing to keep his crimes undiscovered.

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I’ll be honest, I certainly did not choose this novel for its cover, but I have already read 3 other books by this author (you can read my review of the last one Until it Fades on the blog in 2017, the others pre-date my blog) so I was able to look past first looks and decided it was time for another read by this author.

The prologue alone had me hooked as Maggie finds herself quite ‘trapped’ and I immediately wanted to know why and who, what was going to happen to her and what led up to this. But before any answers are given the story loops back to the start where Maggie arrives in New York to clear her friend Celine’s room after her death.

Maggie and Celine were best friends, or so Maggie thought. After Celine’s death she finds a photo of a man who’s lying in bed almost naked. At the back of the photo her friend wrote “he will be my ruin”. Maggie wonders who he is and why Celine never told her of him. Was he her boyfriend? Even nosy neighbour Ruby (she’s an 81 year-old writer) who sees and hears everything knew nothing about him. As Maggie dives deeper into her friend’s life she is shocked to find out there’s a lot she didn’t know about Celine’s life. I loved the fact that Celine was into collecting antiques and I never thought I could feel so interested in this but the side-story of a theft that Maggie was looking into really only added to the intrigue.

In this murder mystery Maggie encounters two very good-looking men so there are some sexy times in this novel and the thought alone that she might just be making out with a killer was quite unsettling. Maggie is at least convinced that her friend didn’t want to kill herself. Initially I was looking in the opposite direction from where Maggie was looking – I thought it was kind of obvious even – but then the author pointed subtly to ‘my suspect n°1’ so I had to shift my opinion again, and again. I enjoyed how she kept me on my toes and while the suspect pool is very limited I couldn’t decide nor anticipate the ending.

The side characters were great to get to know and they all help to reveal the truth, from Hans the gay antique expert who helped Céline with her collection, Ruby the neighbour who bakes the best shortbread, detective Doug and hacker Zac. In addition there’s also worth mentioning Grady the sexy super of the building and Jace, the rich man who has all women lying at his feet.

He Will Be My Ruin was a decent mystery that kept my attention throughout and even when you find out who’s behind the wheel, the suspense is not over yet. She kept me hooked until the last page!

I bought an ecopy of this novel. This is my honest opinion.

The Cactus by Sarah Haywood #BookReview

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People aren’t sure what to make of Susan Green. Family and colleagues find her prickly and hard to understand – but Susan makes perfect sense to herself. Age 45, she thinks her life is perfect. She has a London flat which is ideal for one; a steady job that suits her passion for logic; and a personal arrangement providing cultural and other, more intimate, benefits.

Yet suddenly faced with the loss of her mother and, implausibly, with the possibility of becoming a mother herself, Susan’s greatest fear is being realised: she is losing control. And things can only get worse … at least in Susan’s eyes.

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A warning, there’s an unpopular opinion ahead so if you only want to read positive reviews you might want to skip this one.

I picked this novel because I read it’s similar in style to Eleonar Oliphant is Completely Fine (loved it!) and Meredith, Alone (waiting for my copy) and I also heard they’re adapting the novel into a Netflix series with Reese Witherspoon.

Well what can I say, those are hours I can’t get back. I wanted to read this novel as fast as I could, not because I loved it but because I wanted to get to the end of it. I couldn’t get on with Susan at all. I did want to find out if see was capable of loving someone and making friends but I didn’t hold out much hope to be honest. See Susan comments on everything and everyone ALL of the time, she’s spiteful and self-centered, jealous of her brother who received more attention and love from their mother than she had. There are a few people who try to engage with Susan, his brother’s friend Rob, her cousins, her upstairs neighbour Kate who’s a single mum and just looking for a friend but Susan’t not very interested in anyone. This changes thanks to their continued efforts towards the end but it’s quite a slow process. No the one thing that she invests herself in is finding a way to make her brother Edward move out of their mother’s house. It’s her mission and she’ll take it to court if she has to.

Believe it or not but Susan did manage to find a guy (Richard) to hook up with, on her terms of course and finds herself pregnant. She doesn’t want to lose her independence so she shuts the door on him too (in a text no less) after 12 years of Wednesday evenings spent in each other’s company. Why she wanted to keep the child is beyond me and I already felt for this unborn child. She’s not excited at all about the pregnancy and it doesn’t really occupy her thoughts, she doesn’t think about baby names, she isn’t into nesting, so I wanted to see how this would go. I’m happy the novel didn’t take me so far to see how she would exactly raise this child, and how she would cope with the noise and the mess. She did babysit once rather reluctantly when her neighbour had to rush to the hospital but I can’t say the scene warmed my heart and made me feel optimistic about her motherhood.

Towards the end she mellows a little bit and is slightly more open to other people which was of course what I wanted to see but the damage was done, she couldn’t atone enough for all the negativity I had to live through. The plotline involving her trying to get her brother out suddenly gets a spin to it with a twist that makes perfect sense and I hadn’t seen coming. The ending turns out quite positive for everyone involved but I can’t shake the negative atmosphere all through the novel. I thought she was cruel and unfair so many times and I rooted for Edward to win actually most of all. You’ll have to read this novel if you want to know the outcome of the disputed will!

I bought an ecopy of this novel and this is my honest opinion.

The Names They Gave Us by Emery Lord #BookReview

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When it all falls apart, who can you believe in?

Everything is going right for Lucy Hansson, until her mom’s cancer reappears. Just like that, Lucy breaks with all the constants in her life: her do-good boyfriend, her steady faith, even her longtime summer church camp job.

Instead, Lucy lands at a camp for kids who have been through tough times. As a counselor, Lucy is in over her head and longs to be with her parents across the lake. But that’s before she gets to know her coworkers, who are as loving and unafraid as she so desperately wants to be.

It’s not just new friends that Lucy discovers at camp—more than one old secret is revealed along the way. In fact, maybe there’s much more to her family and her faith than Lucy ever realized.

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I bought a copy of The Names They Gave Us in 2017. The cover sparkles so beautifully in the sunlight so that’s one of the reasons why I couldn’t resist, as well as for the glowing reviews I read at the time. But as the story goes so often, I lost sight of it until I recently held it in my hands again when I was looking for something emotional and charming to read.

After reading a few pages I did wonder if I would be able to fully enjoy this novel because I discovered right away that Lucy, the main character, is the daughter of a pastor and a very religious girl. She takes her faith pretty serious and at the start of the novel she’s struggling a bit with it after she finds out her mother is diagnosed with cancer for a second time. I don’t have anything against her faith but I was a bit afraid that I wouldn’t be able to build a connection with her. I needn’t have worried because Lucy was easy to sympathise with after all and the religious context doesn’t take over the story. As the novel progresses she becomes a lot more worldly and in the end her belief is integrated into a message of a more general nature.

Upon her mother’s request Lucy’s not going to church camp with her parents like she does every year but she’s filling in for someone at the Daybreak Camp on the other side of the lake. In Lucy’s opinion that is a ‘hippie camp’ but she can’t possibly say no to her mother when she’s just been diagnosed with cancer.

If there’s one thing I can say is that her stay at Daybreak Camp is a real eye-opener for this girl who lived such a sheltered life. This is a camp for troubled teens (where Lucy is responsible for a bunch of 8 and 9 year olds) but the camp leaders also come with their own baggage. This novel tackled several difficult topics, with loss and identity just to name some, but it never felt too heavy on me and there were lots of beautiful and fun moments too. It’s really not a sad book! The attraction to Henry was cute as well but I wouldn’t call this a romance novel, the focus fell more on the development of Lucy’s friendships and it definitely shows in the end how important they’ve all become for her.

‘What is a group of friends? A relief, a scaffolding, a safety net,…’

The camp and the people in it changed Lucy and she grew tons in this transformative novel. The Names They Gave Us refers to the labels the kids in Daybreak Camp get – even from Lucy before she arrived – but they are not just a group anymore, they are individuals and their personalities and voices touch Lucy and touched me as a reader as well. This novel holds a torch for more acceptance and understanding and delivers the message perfectly, without it being too much of a lesson but simply by showing some wonderful people and how they deal with things that life threw at them.

I enjoyed this novel more than I expected when I first started it so absolutely don’t let the religious background scare you off to read this one! I had a warm feeling when I finished reading it.

I bought a paperback copy of this novel at a local bookstore. This is my honest opinion.