Book Review: Once and For All by Sarah Dessen

Louna, daughter of famed wedding planner Natalie Barrett, has seen every sort of wedding: on the beach, at historic mansions, in fancy hotels and clubs. Perhaps that’s why she’s cynical about happily-ever-after endings, especially since her own first love ended tragically. When Louna meets charming, happy-go-lucky serial dater Ambrose, she holds him at arm’s length. But Ambrose isn’t about to be discouraged, now that he’s met the one girl he really wants.

If you aren’t aware of my pure love of Sarah Dessen’s work, feel free to check out my essay titled, “Discovering Dessen,” here.

I want to give a huge shout out to my OTSP Secret Sister for sending me an ARC of this book for my birthday, it was SUCH a wonderful surprise, and I read the whole novel in one sitting the night it arrived. Thank you so much!

Okay, now that my “business” is attended to, let’s get to the real reason any of you are here: the review of Dessen’s 13th novel. Her publishing career is officially a teenager! Now I’m embarassed because that was a ridiculous joke, but anyway…

Dessen never dawdles when it comes to kicking off her narratives and the voice of Louna comes to life immediately.  She’s headstrong, levelheaded, and really good at helping her mom out with the family wedding business. We find out rather quickly how cynical she is and how much pain she is in over a lost love, but the exact details about this are told in a very brilliant way.

Dessen weaves together flashbacks (told from most recent to the very beginning of the relationship that Louna had with her first love), and I think it’s absolutely wonderful.  Not only since she’s telling it backwards, kind of, but that there’s flashbacks to showcase the emotions that Louna was feeling and it really puts the reader head first into the same love that Louna felt.  Plus, we get some shoutouts to former characters and places from her books, which I always enjoy.  I know that some people don’t like the use of flashbacks as a narrative device, but I think Dessen’s way of doing it makes it much more fresh and less like an  old storytelling trick.

My Dessen Collection

I applaud Dessen for including a very heavy topic in this book that we haven’t really seen in her work before (don’t get me wrong, she’s had some very emotional topics), and I think she did it respectfully and showed the effect it can have.  It also brought tears to my eyes, but I guess it really wouldn’t be a Sarah Dessen book if I didn’t cry!

The meet cute for Louna and Ambrose is pretty adorable as she has to literally grab him and drag him to his own  mother’s wedding.  This is just a sneak peek of the shenanigans that Ambrose does throughout the whole novel.  In all honesty, he’s probably my favorite male character/love interest that Dessen has written since Dexter in This Lullaby.  Ambrose is witty, clumsy, laid back, and anxious at the same time.  He is fabulous. I do love how Dessen is able to show the reader, through Louna’s point of view, how much he cares for her…without Louna actually realizing it throughout the majority of the novel. It’s awesome.

Also, the secondary characters of Louna’s mom and her business partner are so well rounded in this novel too.  I think the main issue I have with some contemporary novels is that only the main couple characters will be fully fleshed out, but Dessen doesn’t do this in Once and For All.  They made me laugh out loud multiple times.

Keep an eye out for this one, out next week June 6.  You definitely don’t want to miss this.

5 Bards.

Discovering Dessen: A Brief Essay

There was this old used book store about five minutes from where I grew up that my Mom and Mawmaw used to take me to.  Now, when I say “take me to,” it wasn’t necessarily for my own enjoyment. Although I did fall in love with a good murder mystery there, and it’s where I found my first copy of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None.

The store was built out of what looked like singed wood from a moldy forest, and it smelled like moth balls inside.  The majority of the store was filled with old Harlequin romance novels, the same thing that my Mawmaw always read.  You know the type; the covers were always a beefcake with no shirt and a scantily clad woman in what looked like ripped lingerie.  Either way, she’d wander her way through the stacks, and I’d just play hide and seek with an invisible friend while I was in my early years, and then would just strut around bored in my early teens.  

Until one day when I discovered a new shelf.  It was small, maybe twelve books that were for middle grade or young adults.  Granted, I can honestly say that the shelf wasn’t necessarily labeled, not that I remember, at least, but that the covers weren’t so risqué.  The covers were either illustrated or were of inanimate objects to indicate some sort of theme in the novel.  However, the book that caught my eye was a lonely pier jutting out into a beautiful blue body of water, and it had a solitary human image.  Naturally this was the book I picked up and begged my Mawmaw to buy for me for the $1.25 that the store was asking for. (I feel like it’s needless to say at this point that the store is no longer open, as their prices weren’t exactly sustainable.)

This book was Dreamland by Sarah Dessen.

Honestly, I don’t remember exactly what impact this book made on me, or if it was one of my favorite reads at the time, but her name stuck with me. I liked Dessen’s novel enough to remember to look for her name in the bookstore.  It wasn’t long before I had devoured her other three novels, That Summer, Keeping the Moon, and Someone like You. During this time I was playing on a traveling softball team on the weekends, so we would end up in the car for a few hours driving to and from fields, and we would also have an hour or two to kill between games…so I would read.

No other book that I can remember stuck out to me more than Dessen’s next novel This Lullaby.  This was the book that I found by chance in the bookstore when we were at the beach for a softball tournament as this was way before I got into book blogging or even knew what day new books were released.  We were just killing time, hitting up the food court for lunch, and wandering in and out of stores. Even then I was known as a bit of a book nerd, since I was the one who always had a novel on hand and a book suggestion on the tip of my tongue.  So it was no surprise that I practically demanded to go into the bookstore.  

At this point, I don’t remember if there was a specific young adult book shelf like there is now, or rather, a whole section, but I remember seeing Dessen’s name and immediately grabbing the hardcover off the shelf. This novel quickly became one of my all-time favorite books, and that hasn’t changed 15 years later.
Remy’s extreme negative attitude toward relationships and love spoke to me on so many levels.  As a teenager, I was extremely jaded already, because this character made me feel like I was reading my own thoughts.  Not only was Remy an amazingly relatable character, but Dexter quickly became my first book boyfriend (Huzzah!).

My first copy of This Lullaby eventually fell apart from me carrying it in my bat bag, my friends’ borrowing it, and from reading it over and over. I went to the store to pick up a new copy, paperback, this time, and found The Truth About Forever.

I cannot credit anyone with my love of young adult literature more than I can credit Sarah Dessen.  

When I was a teenager struggling with first love, my eating disorder, deaths in the family, etc, her novels spoke to me on a level I didn’t realize books could.

Two years ago I finally had the chance to meet Sarah in person for the first time, and it was like meeting a lifelong hero for me.  I was 28, but I may as well have been 13 again, because all those emotions of reading Dreamland and This Lullaby came back.  It was one of the highlights of being a book blogger and reader, so the release of Dessen’s thirteenth novel reminds me that I’ve been reading her novels since I WAS thirteen.  It’s serendipitous, in a way, because Once and For All takes me back to all of the feelings I had about This Lullaby more than any of her others.

Louna and Ambrose will sit in my mind just as much as Remy and Dexter, Macy and Wes, Auden and Eli, and so many more Dessen characters.

So I have to throw out a thank you to Sarah Dessen for being there for me since I was 13 and for being a go-to read for me for seventeen years. That’s crazy! Seventeen (which is fewer than the number of times I’ve read This Lullaby. Not a lie.)

Once and For All comes out on June 6, 2017 and it is not a book to be missed.

Celebration Giveaway!

I’m not sure if you all follow Sarah Dessen on Facebook or any of her other Social Media outlets, but she finally released that she is currently writing a new novel.

Now, maybe you aren’t as excited about this as I am, but Sarah Dessen is the reason I even enjoy contemporary young adult literature.  I frequently recommend my favorite of hers, This Lullaby, to those who are asking for contemporary book requests.


When I got to interview Sarah Dessen

I am super excited about the fact that she is working on a new novel, so I am giving away 2 Sarah Dessen paperbacks!

You can check out my reviews of some of her novels at the following links and read my interview with Sarah, too!

This Lullaby

Along for the Ride

That Summer

The Moon & More

Saint Anything


Enter to win these paperbacks now!  The contest ends on Monday, March 14.



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Top Ten Tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted for us book blogger types by the Broke and the Bookish. They provide a topic, and all of us participants post our answers on our blogs and we hop around checking out one another’s answers! This week’s topic is

Top Ten Books I wish Had Sequels

1. Such A Rush by Jennifer Echols
I loved this book so much that I really would love to keep living in Leah’s fictional world and figure out how her life went! 

2. This Lullaby by Sarah Dessen
I just really want to know where Remy and Dexter are, I loved the growth that Remy experienced through the story and how Dexter broke through her walls. 

3. The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen
This story was amazing and beautiful.  Not only were the descriptions of the artwork superb, but the relationship between Macy and Wes was so organic that I want to know how their life continued.

4. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
You know you want to know what happened with Young Catherine as much as I did.  Did she follow in her mother’s footsteps? 

5. Pushing the Limits by Katie McGarry
It would be wonderful to know how Echo continued to heal in the years following the novel and how her and Noah ended up after the small flash forward at the end of the novel. I just loved their story and wish I could have more!

6. Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
C’mon, did they ever see one another again? 

7. Stolen by Lucy Christopher
I really loved Christopher’s use of the second person point of view, and I would love to know how Gemma continued to adjust to life back with her parents. 

8. Stardust by Neil Gaiman
The world was brilliant, the storytelling amazing, and the writing was excellent. I want more!

9. Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
Just a glimpse into how Cath and Wren’s relationship was repaired, and how Cath continued to become a talented fiction writer and girlfriend.

10. A Midsummer’s Nightmare by Kody Keplinger
I just really want to know how this worked out! 

What are some novels you wish had sequels? 

Top Ten Tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted for us book blogger types bythe Broke and the Bookish. They provide a topic, and all of us participants post our answers on our blogs and we hop around checking out one another’s answers! This week’s topic is

Top Ten Beach Reads

1. My Horizontal Life by Chelsea Handler

I could go on and on about how much fun it is to read anything written by Chelsea Handler when relaxing.  It just really helps take your mind off the stress when you are tanning on the sand.

2. Such a Rush by Jennifer Echols
This one I chose based on the fact that I read it last year at the beach…and it is set at the beach I go to every summer with my family! If you haven’t read it, go check it out. 

3. Stardust by Neil Gaiman
Sometimes you just need a nice fairy tale to read when you are listening to the waves. 

4. Starcrossed trilogy by Josephine Angelini
Each of these books have come out right around the time I head to the beach, so I’ve taken one with me the past two years and I’ll take Goddess this weekend to the beach! 

5. Jessica Darling series by Megan McGafferty
I feel like this series is on a ton of my Top Ten Tuesday posts, but I can’t help it!  PLUS there is a new companion book coming out soon called Jessica Darling’s IT List: The (Totally Not) Guaranteed Guide to Popularity, Prettiness, & Perfection.

6. Sarah Dessen Novels
A lot of these novels take place in the summer, so it is really easy to get into the spirit of vacation while reading them.  Plus, they are normally fun and easy reads. 

7. Harlequin Kiss Novels
Harlequin’s newest imprint for older teenagers and young adults provides easy reading and lots of entertainment for a quick beach read.

8. Doctor Who Novels
These books always get me through the dry part of the year where there are no new Doctor Who episodes, and I tend to stick to the novels that feature David Tennant’s Doctor and Billie Piper’s Rose.  They are really fun to read! 

9. Are You There, Vodka? It’s Me, Chelsea by Chelsea Handler
Does it need saying? (Sorry, Doctor Who reference!) This book is hysterical, and it really gives me the urge to drink a vodka on the beach. 

10. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Sometimes I want to enjoy a heavy bit of reading, and this magical fantasy is always the first one I choose to pick up. 

Top Ten Tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted for us book blogger types by the Broke and the Bookish. They provide a topic, and all of us participants post our answers on our blogs and we hop around checking out one another’s answers! This week’s topic is a freebie, so I chose: 

Top Ten BEA Events I’m Looking Forward To:

1. Chelsea Handler Photo-Op
Is it safe to say that I’m obssessed with Chelsea Handler? I love her show, all of her books, and I have this strong urge to bring her a bottle of vodka. 

2. Grumpy Cat Photo-Op
I think this is pretty self explanatory, I just really want to cuddle that adorable kitty. 

3. Veronica Roth Signing
Finally, a chance to meet the author of the Divergent books? Yes, please. 

4. YA Author Breakfast
Octavia Spencer is hosting this star studded panel of Mary Pope Osborne, Rick Riordan, and Veronica Roth! 

5. BEA Editor’s Buzz YA Books 
Panel featuring upcoming authors and their books: Rainbow Rowell, Anna Jarzab, Cristin Terrill, Amy Rose Capetta, and Sara Farizan

6. Why Fiction is Dangerous: Neil Gaiman
He has two novels coming out this year, AND he has written some excellent episodes of Doctor Who. 

7. Book Bloggers Happy Hour
I’ve been a part of the blogging community for about a year and a half now, and I am so excited to get the chance to meet some of my fellow bloggers. 

8. Realistic Fiction: The next hot genre in Young Adult
Discussion panel featuring Robyn Schneider, Katie Cotugno, Corey Ann Haydu, Suzanne Young, and Cat Patrick. 

9. Sarah Dessen Signing
Not only is Dessen from my homestate, but she also teaches creative writing at UNC Chapel Hill.  I’ve been a huge fan since….well, I can’t remember.  Now I finally get to meet her! So excited.

10. New Adult Crossover: From YA to adult and back again
Discussion panel featuring Samantha Shannon and Sarah J. Maas about their crossover novels. 

Top Ten Tuesday!

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted for us book blogger types bythe Broke and the Bookish.  They provide a topic, and all of us participants post our answers on our blogs and we hop around checking out one another’s answers! This week’s topic is: 

Top Ten Books When You Need Something Light and Fun

1. Chelsea Handler: Chelsea, Chelsea, Bang, Bang; Are You There Vodka? It’s Me, Chelsea; My Horizontal Life —If you haven’t read these books, then you really need to pick up a copy of each.  They really make me laugh and always put me in a great mood! 

2. Secret Diary of a Call Girl:  Most definitely not suited for anyone under the age of 18, but that is up to you.  Not only was this made into a sassy and hilarious television show, but the book is very enjoyable.  

3. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland: I think this one is self-explanatory 🙂

4. Sookie Stackhouse Novels: Why? Well, why not?  Again, these are books that include some adult themes, but they really hit the spot when you need to read a book that doesn’t require a whole lot of thought.  Although I will say that there is a significant amount of confusion that can come out of it if you aren’t paying attention to the details. 

5. Jessica Darling Novels by Megan McCafferty: These are some of my favorite books to turn to when I’m having trouble dealing with depressing dystopians or outrageous paranormals.  In fact, these books are always a light at the end of the tunnel. 

6. Annotated Fairy Tales by Maria Tatar: Again, I feel like this is self explanatory.  Nothing suits for some light reading like the stories you grew up with. 

7. Dr. Suess books: Again, is it wrong to turn to childhood favorites? 

8. The Princess Bride by William Goldman: This book is incredibly entertaining and hilarious. 

9. Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams: So long and thanks for all the fish….

10. Sarah Dessen’s The Truth About Forever: This novel is full of emotional stuff, but for some reason it is one of my go-tos to put me in a better mood.  I think its because I know what to expect out of it, but I think the other part is just because I really love the story. 

What are some of your lighthearted reads? 

Top Ten Tuesday!

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted for us book blogger types by the Broke and the Bookish. They provide a topic, and all of us participants post our answers on our blogs and we hop around checking out one another’s answers! This week’s topic is:

Top Ten Favorite Books I Read Before I was a Blogger

1. Are You There, Vodka? It’s Me, Chelsea by Chelsea Handler

2. Gemma Doyle Trilogy by Libba Bray

3. City of Bones, City of Ashes, City of Glass by Cassandra Clare

4. Number the Stars by Lois Lowry

5. Divergent by Veronica Roth

6. Sookie Stackhouse novels by Charlaine Harris

7. Fever series by Karen Marie Moning

8. This Lullaby by Sarah Dessen

9. The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen

10. Poison Study by Maria Snyder 

There were so many more, but I couldn’t list them all!

Top Ten Tuesday!

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted for us book blogger types by the Broke and the Bookish. They provide a topic, and all of us participants post our answers on our blogs and we hop around checking out one another’s answers! This week’s topic is:

Top Ten Books I Recommend the Most

1. Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta

2. Darkfever by Karen Marie Moning

3. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

4. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

5. The  Awakening by Kate Chopin

6. Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

7. Alice in Zombieland by Gena Showalter

8. This Lullaby by Sarah Dessen

9. Starcrossed by Josephine Angelini

10. Graceling by Kirstin Cashore

What books do you recommend to me?!

Top Ten Tuesdays!

Every week The Broke and the Bookish host a weekly meme called Top Ten Tuesday and each week is a different topic.  This week’s topic is: 

Top Ten Books I’d Recommend As Good Beach Reads

I can’t dictate what everyone else would enjoy reading on the beach, but I figured I’d approach this one as some of the books I remember reading on the beach in the past few years. 

1. Tangled Up in Daydreams by Rebecca Bloom

I read this on the beach when I was in high school, and I remember reading it twice all the way through during the week because I loved it so much.  Looking back on it, it was a very typical romance story: but it was the perfect beach read for me. 

2. Stephanie Plum Novels by Janet Evanovich

Once I was old enough to read these books, I made sure to call dibs on the newest one each summer for my beach read. I haven’t read the most recent installments, because I felt like the stories were becoming “filler.” Either way, I still loved Stephanie Plum’s adventures.

3. The Girl in the Steel Corset by Kady Cross

I was at the beach the week this novel was released and I absolutely loved it. I actually remember being sunburnt the next morning because I stayed out of the water for hours to finish it! 

4. This Lullaby by Sarah Dessen

This novel was absolutely perfect for me when I read it in high school.  I fell in love with Remy and Dexter and their story.  It wasn’t long after this that paranormal stories began to take over the young adult genre, but Dessen is one of my favorite realists.

5. Anything by Chelsea Handler

I’ve read all four of Handler’s non-fiction books, and I have read them all on the beach.  They are great, easy reads, and absolutely hilarious.  My Horizontal Life was the first, followed by Are You There Vodka? It’s Me, Chelsea, then Chelsea, Chelsea, Bang, Bang, and then Lies Chelsea Handler Told Me.  I recommend starting at the beginning, but it isn’t absolutely necessary.

6. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

In addition to The Girl in the Steel Corset, I read the entire Millennium Trilogy last summer. 

7. Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris

Easy, sexy beach reading. Team Eric all the way. 

8. Jessica Darling series by Megan McCafferty

I read all five of these in one week at the beach one year. Worth your while! 

9. The Uglies Series

Last summer I was also finishing up gathering research for my Master’s thesis–which included a chapter on the Uglies trilogy (Extras was not included in my thesis): Uglies, Pretties, and Specials

10. Tiger’s Curse by Colleen Houck

If you haven’t started the Tiger Saga yet, this summer is a good time to start!

What are some of your favorite beach reads? 
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