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.

#ReadADessen Revew: This Lullaby

 

 

When it comes to relationships, Remy doesn’t mess around. After all, she’s learned all there is to know from her mother, who’s currently working on husband number five. But there’s something about Dexter that seems to defy all of Remy’s rules. He certainly doesn’t seem like Mr. Right. For some reason, however, Remy just can’t seem to shake him. Could it be that Remy’s starting to understand what those love songs are all about?

I wasn’t sure if I wanted to write a review of This Lullaby just because it is extremely hard for me to try not to gush about how much I love this novel and try to give it an actual critique-type review.  I am going to try though, but be forewarned: this is one of my favorite books of all time, so be prepared for gush.

Let me start off by saying that Dessen does an excellent job of establishing Remy’s, the narrator, voice immediately.  Not only is Remy a bit snarky, but she has some serious sarcastic and bitchy moments that really help characterize her for the rest of the novel.  Remy has a rock solid group of girlfriends to spend the summer with before college, and a typical place to hang out and sneak drinks underage.  I had all of these things as well.  Probably one of the reasons when I read this originally when it came out I felt like Dessen was writing about my life and my initial love for the novel.

After reading it again, I find that I am impressed by Dessen’s story telling ability and the subtle growth that Remy makes as the book continues.  Not only does Remy’s attitude start to shift, but she begins to become the person she needs to be in order to succeed in life.

Dexter, oh Dexter.  What can I really say about my first laugh-out-loud enjoyment and crush on a fictional character?  This doofus would likely be the love of my life if he was real.  The whole scene where Dexter and John Miller are discussing their respective relationships while sitting outside the QuikZip is brilliant.  Kudos to Dessen to making such an endearing character so vibrant and, well, crushworthy.

I will leave you with some of my favorite quotes from This Lullaby, and an active plea for you to pick up a copy of this novel as soon as you can.  You will not regret it!

Favorite Quotes:

“Everything, in the end, comes down to timing. One second, one minute, one hour, could make all the difference. So much hanging on just these things, tiny increments that together build a life. Like words build a story, and what had Ted said? One word can change the entire world.”

“I meant what I said to you. I wasn’t playing some kind of summer game. Everything I said was true, from the first day. EVERY GODDAMN WORD.”

“Huffah.”

5 Bards to the story I’ve always loved and for the story I will always re-read.

fivebards

#ReadADessen Review: The Truth About Forever

Are you as excited about the release of Sarah Dessen’s newest young adult novel, Once and For All (out June 6, 2017) as I am?! We teamed up with Penguin Teen to celebrate the release by counting down the weeks with reviews of her previous novels. Check out the description of Once and For All, and then our review of The Truth About Forever.  Stick around until the end of the post, you can enter to win a full set of Dessen’s catalog in paperback!

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.

 

REVIEW:

In The Truth About Forever, when asked how she is coping with her father’s death, invariably seventeen year old Macy Queen’s answer is “fine,” when nothing could be further from the truth. In actuality, she is drowning in grief while maintaining a flawless façade of good grades and unblemished behavior. Though she feels lost when her boyfriend heads to “Brain Camp” for the summer, she finds herself a job with the quirky Wish Catering crew, and meets “sa-woon”-worthy Wes, whose chaotic lifestyle is in direct opposition to her own.

As the two share their stories over the summer, Macy realizes she can no longer keep her feelings on ice. Though it feels like her future ended with her dad’s death, Macy’s learns that forever is all about beginnings.

I sit here, after finishing The Truth About Forever for about the 20th time, and I am crying.  This book isn’t just important to me because of how long I’ve been a Dessen fan, but because I grew up with a lot of death in my life.  Yes, that doesn’t sound ideal or even something that you’d want to hear about, but it’s true.  I’d been to more funerals in the first 12 years of my life than I would go to in the next 12. So this book spoke to me in so many ways.

Another aspect that was important to me was the accurate representation of disease like breast cancer (my mother is a survivor) and heart disease (two of my grandparents passed away from heart attack’s like Macy’s father).  So obviously, so many ways I connect to this novel that have nothing to do with the love story, which, in my opinion is much more of a third tier narrative compared to that of Macy’s healing and her growth as someone who was no longer defined by her grief.

Sure, I love a good romance like the next person, but I think I fell in love with the friendship that Macy and Wes developed before anything romantic happened.  Honestly, I think this type of relationship development is so much more rewarding than immediate physical intimacy.  Not saying that I don’t enjoy physical intimacy (I now feel like I need to apologize to my mother), but the friendship foundation has always made any relationship worthwhile for me.

I am working on a piece that explains how much Sarah Dessen’s writing has meant to me, and how her books have always provided a light in the darkness any time I needed it.  I find picking up her books, even if I’ve read them more than twenty times, to be so fulfilling and beautiful.

I will always give this story, one of my heart (hand in heart, anyone?!), 5 Bards.

 

 

 

 

Enter to win! 

Giveaway Details:

Enter for a chance to win one (1) set of Sarah Dessen’s books in paperback (ARV: $132.00).

NO PURCHASE NECESSARY. Enter between 12:00 AM Eastern Time on April 17, 2017 and 12:00 AM on May 29, 2017.  Open to residents of the fifty United States and the District of Columbia who are 13 and older. Winners will be selected at random on or about June 1, 2017. Odds of winning depend on number of eligible entries received. Void where prohibited or restricted by law.

 

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Waiting on Wednesday

waiting on wednesday

Every week Breaking the Spine hosts the bookish meme for book bloggers to share what books they are waiting on to be released!  This week I’m waiting on:

Release Date: June 6, 2017

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.

The Re-Read Frenzy

So, now that Summer has rolled around and changes are hitting the Midsummer team (Jess is starting a new job and Olyvia is moving to Texas) we have both been caught up in re-reading some of our favorites. Re-reading can be something that can make you feel comfortable and as if you are hanging out with an old friend.  There is also something to be said about how re-reading can encourage children to continue to discover new novels and stories similar to those they already love.  In fact, I really think that re-reading was a huge influence on how much I adore reading today.

Although, to be fair, the first book I liked to re-read was The Foot Book by Dr. Seuss and I didn’t so much read it as I had it memorized and would randomly flip the pages to make it look like I was reading! (I was a precocious kid)

Another benefit of re-reading favorites is that you will always find something new.  I’m yet to re-read a novel and be unsurprised by a small detail I’ve never noticed or even had a specific sentence or scene jump out at me in a whole new way.  It’s so fun.

From two book nerds to you: here are some of our favorite re-reads and why we enjoy taking time out of our busy reading schedule to sit back down and remember why we loved them in the first place.

Olyvia: It helps when I’m in a reading slump, but also when I can’t choose what to read next, if I go back to my favorites I’ll usually pick something new but similar.

Olyvia’s Go-To Re-Reads

The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling
Throne of Glass Series by Sarah J. Maas
Anything Libba Bray.

Jessica’s Go-To Re-Reads: 

Throne of Glass Series by Sarah J. Maas
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
This Lullaby by Sarah Dessen
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

What are some of your favorite re-reads?  What book do you always turn to in time of reading slump or indecision?

If anything, you can take this from our post: Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas is definitely a series you should pick up, read, and re-read.

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.

SarahDessenSelfie

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

Interview

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

 

 

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Summer of Sarah Dessen Review: Along for the Ride

It’s been so long since Auden slept at night. Ever since her parents’ divorce—or since the fighting started. Now she has the chance to spend a carefree summer with her dad and his new family in the charming beach town where they live.

A job in a clothes boutique introduces Auden to the world of girls: their talk, their friendship, their crushes. She missed out on all that, too busy being the perfect daughter to her demanding mother. Then she meets Eli, an intriguing loner and a fellow insomniac who becomes her guide to the nocturnal world of the town. Together they embark on parallel quests: for Auden, to experience the carefree teenage life she’s been denied; for Eli, to come to terms with the guilt he feels for the death of a friend.

I think the most wonderful thing about reading Dessen’s books after having met her and spoke with her about her characters is that while I can tell the difference between them, is that they have a specific thing in common.  Most of them are a bit socially awkward and have little experience in the social department, and Auden is no different.  Many of them are a bit bookish as well, which makes me love them more because I was the same way.  Auden is different from the others in that she is very independent.  I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t have been brave enough to go to a diner by myself at 4:00 AM when I was that young.  Auden’s brave streak really flourishes in Dessen’s narrative, and I think that it really defines her more than her intelligence or her being an introvert.

Along for the Ride really exemplifies how the “journey” trope in a narrative can be used without a character going on an actual, physical journey (i.e. a road trip, destination trip, etc).  Auden goes on a metaphysical journey over the course of living in Colby for the summer.  She has her first sexual experience, makes her first girlfriends, learns that there is more to life than studying and academic achievement.  There are a lot of themes that run throughout this novel, discovering who you really are is one of them, but the other one is with family.  Dessen is practically an expert at exploring familial relationships and dynamics in her narratives.  Auden has to deal with her estranged parents and their expectations for her, her father’s remarriage and newborn child, and her flighty brother flitting around Europe.

This novel’s pacing is wonderful and the story is over before you even realize it.  The characters introduced throughout the story are all important to understanding the dynamics of friend groups and how important friends are to becoming the person you want to be.  I especially love the friendship that grows between Auden and Maggie throughout this story, because it starts off pretty rough, but they come to really know one another.  Auden’s romantic interest in the book, Eli, is someone who comes from a damaged background too.  I like that there is a certain aspect of them helping one another discover how to pick up the pieces and move forward.

Along for the Ride: 5 Bards

fivebards

 

 

 

For more on Sarah Dessen here at A Midsummer Night’s Read, check out my INTERVIEW with her and read my reviews from the first two weeks of the Summer of Sarah Dessen.

Week 1 – Saint Anything
Week 2 – The Moon and More
Week 3 – That Summer

Be sure to follow along with the Summer of Sarah Dessen, and leave a link to your review in the comments!

SummerwithSarahDessen

 

Summer of Sarah Dessen Review: That Summer

9780142401729_ThatSummer_CV.inddThe more things change…

As far as Haven is concerned, there’s just too much going on.

Everything is changing, and she’s not sure where she fits in.

Then her sister’s old boyfriend shows up, sparking memories of the summer when they were all happy and everything was perfect…

But along the way, Haven realizes that sometimes change is a good thing.

To be completely honest, it has been at least 10 years, if not more, since I originally read That Summer.  So while this novel isn’t one of my go to re-reads of Dessen’s, I still think that it is a really good exemplification of how much an author can grow from the beginning of their career to where they are now.  Speaking of NOW, you can check out my review of Sarah Dessen’s newest release, Saint Anything, by clicking on the title.

Anyway, there is a lot that goes on in That Summer, so much so that it can be an overwhelming narrative at times.  I think that Dessen has really improved from a narration stand point since this novel, but I also think that the jumbled narration fits really well with Haven’s character.  Haven is a girl who begins the novel stuck in the past.  She is constantly comparing the way things are currently in the story, with her parents divorced and her dad remarrying, to the way it once was during one specific summer.  Now, I firmly believe that Dessen did a superb job portraying Haven as a girl who looks back before she looks forward, and I believed it 100% because I was also that girl.  Haven is delightfully down to Earth and easy to relate to.

Ashley, her older sister, former serial dater turned conservative bride-to-be reminded me of a lot of girls that I knew in high school.  I found her to be very unrelatable, but I really liked the exploration of the sisterly bond and how it can ebb and flow over the course of changing personalities and the widening of different experiences.

I think that the thing I enjoy about all of Dessen’s novels is how the events of her novels really effect the family as a unit.  That Summer is more focused on that dynamic than some of her other books and I really think that since there isn’t a super sizzling romance involving the main character that a lot of readers didn’t enjoy the story.  But I think that this narrative is much more than that, it is really about the familial bond that can still be there under the duress of change.  Those with similar family issues would probably feel a very strong connection to this book, but even though I didn’t experience any of these, I really felt like I was witnessing a real experience.

4 Bards for That Summer.

fourbards

 

 

 

For more on Sarah Dessen here at A Midsummer Night’s Read, check out my INTERVIEW with her and read my reviews from the first two weeks of the Summer of Sarah Dessen.

Week 1 – Saint Anything
Week 2 – The Moon and More

Be sure to follow along with the Summer of Sarah Dessen, and leave a link to your review in the comments!

SummerwithSarahDessen

Summer of Sarah Dessen Review: The Moon and More

Luke is the perfect boyfriend: handsome, kind, fun. He and Emaline have been together all through high school in Colby, the beach town where they both grew up. But now, in the summer before college, Emaline wonders if perfect is good enough.

Enter Theo, a super-ambitious outsider, a New Yorker assisting on a documentary film about a reclusive local artist. Theo’s sophisticated, exciting, and, best of all, he thinks Emaline is much too smart for Colby.

Emaline’s mostly-absentee father, too, thinks Emaline should have a bigger life, and he’s convinced that an Ivy League education is the only route to realizing her potential. Emaline is attracted to the bright future that Theo and her father promise. But she also clings to the deep roots of her loving mother, stepfather, and sisters. Can she ignore the pull of the happily familiar world of Colby?

Emaline wants the moon and more, but how can she balance where she comes from with where she’s going?

It is no secret that Sarah Dessen is an author who pretty much defined my high school years and her novel This Lullaby is still one of my favorite novels of all time. So when I got this book last summer I devoured it and then put it aside.  It is almost personal for me to write a review of a novel by Dessen, since I adore her work so much.  Well, I decided to suck it up and re-read The Moon and More so I could finally start doing some reviews of Dessen’s work (to go along with PenguinTeen’s SUMMER OF SARAH DESSEN initiative! Schedule is below).  Oh yeah, have I mentioned that Dessen is a North Carolina based author, and a lot of her summer stories feature landscapes and beaches from the Outer Banks?  Yay North Carolina!

sarahdessen signedAll of Dessen’s novels have endings that are perfectly fitting and satisfying.  Now, saying this, be aware that not all of the novels end with a happy romance or anything like that.  Some of the stories are more based on the individual destiny of the character and the outcome of familial issues.  The Moon and More is one that is more based in Emaline’s destiny than about romance, which means that the summary can be a little misleading.  Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty of adorable romantic moments between Emaline and the two leading men, Theo and Luke, but the story is really about Emaline.

I love this about this novel because it really focuses on how Emaline has been disappointed by her family and the fact that she comes to realize that her dreams aren’t necessarily what she thought they were.  The novel basically outlines how Emaline comes to adore her half-brother, works hard the entire summer, and eventually she understands that the things that happen with her estranged Father are devastating, but that a relationship between them can still be salvaged.  It is especially a good read for those who aren’t 100% sure where their life is going, or if something has happened that is hard to recover from.  Go and read this book now.  Be sure to watch out for more of my Sarah Dessen reviews coming up…as I will be rereading my favorites!

For more on Sarah Dessen here at A Midsummer Night’s Read, check out my INTERVIEW with her and my review of her latest novel, Saint Anything.

four.fivebards4.5 Bards

 

 

Be sure to follow along with the Summer of Sarah Dessen, and leave a link to your review in the comments!

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