Tag Archives: second chance

Review: Always Isn’t Forever by J. C. Cervantes

Always Isn't Forever by J. C. Cervantes cover shows a girl lying on the deck of a boat in the sun next to a boy lying on the deck of the boat, but it looks as though his half of the image is underwater.

Always Isn’t Forever
J. C. Cervantes
Published June 6, 2023

Amazon | Bookshop | Goodreads

About Always Isn’t Forever

Best friends and soul mates since they were kids, Hart Augusto and Ruby Armenta were poised to take on senior year together when Hart tragically drowns in a boating accident. Absolutely shattered, Ruby struggles to move on from the person she knows was her forever love.

Hart can’t let go of Ruby either…. Due to some divine intervention, he’s offered a second chance. Only it won’t be as simple as bringing him back to life–instead, Hart’s soul is transferred to the body of local bad boy.

When Hart returns to town as Jameson, he realizes that winning Ruby back will be more challenging than he’d imagined. For one, he’s forbidden from telling Ruby the truth. And with each day he spends as Jameson, memories of his life as Hart begin to fade away.

Though Ruby still mourns Hart, she can’t deny that something is drawing her to Jameson. As much as she doesn’t understand the sudden pull, it can’t be ignored. And why does he remind her so much of Hart? Desperate to see if the connection she feels is real, Ruby begins to open her heart to Jameson–but will their love be enough to bridge the distance between them?

My Review

I feel like I’ve seen a lot of books by J. C. Cervantes, but this is the first one I’ve ever read. Since it was compared to YOU’VE REACHED SAM, I really wanted to check it out.

It took me a few chapters to get into the story and really fall in love with Hart and Ruby. I’m not sure why, but once I invested, I felt like it was really easy to enjoy the story.

Some of the mechanics of the plot do require a bit of willing suspension of disbelief. As Jameson, Hart has a super limited amount of time in which he’ll retain his memories of his life as Hart. Once that passes, he’ll have Jameson’s memories but still be Hart in spirit or soul. The rules of Hart’s exchange (his soul in Jameson’s body) state that he can’t tell anyone the truth about who he is and what happened.

There’s a bit of dancing around the edges of those rules and bending them here and there. I think it might be harder to enjoy the story if you needed the spiritual/afterlife side of it to make perfect sense and be perfectly self-consistent.

Fortunately, I found it pretty easy to suspend my disbelief because I wanted to know if and how Ruby and Hart could find one another again. I’m always up for a “Can true love conquer all?” type of story, and this one definitely delivered on that trope.

All in all, I can see fans of YOU’VE REACHED SAM or THEY BOTH DIE AT THE END liking this one. It’s a great light summer book with a sweet love story.

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 14 up.

Hart and Ruby are Latine. Ruby’s sister Gabi is in a relationship with another girl.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
Extreme profanity used somewhat frequently.

Romance/Sexual Content
Kissing between boy and girl. References to sex. Ruby and Hart agreed to wait until college to have sex.

Spiritual Content
Hart meets an angel after his death who gives him a choice to return to life with his soul in the body of someone else.

Ruby’s sister Gabi has a tarot card deck made for her by Ruby’s aunt. When she does a reading with this deck, Gabi senses her ancestors speaking to her. The readings are always insightful and accurate.

Violent Content
Vague descriptions of a drowning death. Vague descriptions of a motorcycle accident. A player is injured during a game of football.

Drug Content
Hart learns Jameson was under the influence of alcohol when he crashed his motorcycle. Jameson drank a lot of alcohol, but Hart doesn’t.

Note: This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything to use, but which help support this blog. I received a free copy of ALWAYS ISN’T FOREVER in exchange for my honest review.

Review: The Loophole by Naz Kutub

The Loophole
Naz Kutub
Bloomsbury YA
Published June 21, 2022

Amazon | Bookshop | Goodreads

About The Loophole

Your wish is granted! This YA debut is equal parts broken-hearted love story, epic myth retelling, and a world-journey romp to find home.

Sy is a timid seventeen-year-old queer Indian-Muslim boy who placed all his bets at happiness on his boyfriend Farouk…who then left him to try and “fix the world.” Sy was too chicken to take the plunge and travel with him and is now stuck in a dead-end coffee shop job. All Sy can do is wish for another chance…. Although he never expects his wish to be granted.

When a mysterious girl slams into (and slides down, streaks of make-up in her wake) the front entrance of the coffee shop, Sy helps her up and on her way. But then the girl offers him three wishes in exchange for his help, and after proving she can grant at least one wish with a funds transfer of a million dollars into Sy’s pitifully struggling bank account, a whole new world of possibility opens up. Is she magic? Or just rich? And when his father kicks him out after he is outed, does Sy have the courage to make his way from L. A., across the Atlantic Ocean, to lands he’d never even dreamed he could ever visit? Led by his potentially otherworldly new friend, can he track down his missing Farouk for one last, desperate chance at rebuilding his life and re-finding love?

My Review

For some reason I thought this book was going to be a romcom type of story? The cover copy makes it sound like this light, fun romp around the world for love, and it is those things. But it’s also got some heavy stuff in it that I wasn’t expecting. The scene where Sy’s dad beats him with a belt. Reggie’s clear and heartbreaking alcohol addiction.

I really liked Sy. He’s messy and flailing and desperately trying to figure his life out. The one thing he knows for certain is that he loves Farouk. That love is his guiding star, and I loved that element of the story. I loved that he learns so much on his journey and finds confidence in his independence.

There are two notes the story didn’t hit that I wished it did. So, Farouk left on this glorious world-traveling trip. Sy stayed behind because he was afraid. The cover copy tells us that much. But then we learn that Sy is seventeen. And has an abusive dad. And eventually we learn the circumstances surrounding Farouk’s request for Sy to come with him, but that’s spoiler-y, so I won’t clarify that. It didn’t help how I felt.

I think I wish that Sy had paused to examine what was happening there and ask whether it was actually reasonable for Farouk to expect him to come with him. Or whether it was reasonable to lay the blame for their breakup on Sy for not going. Or whether it was more complicated than him simply being afraid.

Another thing that I wish the story addressed is Reggie’s alcohol addiction. Sy seems to think he can manage her addiction by distracting her with his friendship. I wish that there had at least been some mention of her getting professional help or recognizing that rescuing someone from addiction is not a burden that a friend can carry.

All that makes it sound like I expected every issue to be fully examined and processed by Sy before the end of the story, which I know isn’t reasonable. I guess I tend to struggle with that in the books that I read. It’s pretty realistic for some things to be left unexplored by the hero. It also leaves a lot of space for readers to examine things and draw their own conclusions.

Anyway, I still loved a lot of things about THE LOOPHOLE, especially the way Sy grows and builds his friendship with Reggie. I loved the scenes in Istanbul especially. Fans of THE MUSIC OF WHAT HAPPENS by Bill Konigsberg or ARISTOTLE AND DANTE DISCOVER THE SECRETS OF THE UNIVERSE by Benjamin Alire Sáenz should check this one out.

Content Notes for The Loophole

Content warning for homophobia, Islamophobia and abuse.

Recommended for Ages 14 up.

Sy is Indian American, Muslim, and gay. Farouk is Pakistani American and gay.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
Extreme profanity used infrequently.

Romance/Sexual Content
Kissing between two boys. In one scene, they go skinny dipping together. Sy’s dad has a second family in India.

Spiritual Content
Sy visits a mosque and prays. His family believes being gay is a sin.

Violent Content
Sy’s dad beats him with a belt because Sy is gay. Sy reveals this isn’t the first time his father has done this. Sy learns of a terrorist attack in London. At an airport, officers detain Sy and threaten him with a strip search. Sy and Reggie hit an officer while trying to get through a police barricade.

Drug Content
Reggie drinks alcohol almost constantly. Sy drinks alcohol a couple of times.

Note: This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything to use, but which help support this blog. I received a free copy of THE LOOPHOLE in exchange for my honest review.