Once and for All by Sarah Dessen

*Last summer I made it my mission to read all 12 of Sarah Dessen’s books in a series I called Summer Sundays with Sarah. You can click HERE to see my full wrap up. I’m happy to say Dessen has released her 13th book this month, which I review below!

“But really, in a perfect wedding–or world– you wanted the best possible beginning. Start on a high note and, no matter what song follows, chances are just better that it will be music to your ears.”

Synopsis from GoodreadsLouna, 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.

Feelings: I think that Dessen made a lot of smart choices in this storyline. The way the story was structured was the best way to let us slowly understand Louna as her understanding of herself grew as well. Events in Louna’s past shaped her and impacted her at multiple points in the story, so it was great to go  back to those moments and see how it all came together. I also really appreciated that we saw multiple love stories going on and that they all came together in different ways. No couple had the same experience, so it was really refreshing.

Also refreshing? The wedding planning. This was so fun to read about and to see all the different kinds of brides and weddings.

Issues: Something I think all of Dessen’s books have in common is that they’re slow to get started. It always takes me a few chapters to really get hooked in and invested and that was true with this book. However, Dessen goes back and forth in time every other chapter, making it even trickier for me to catch on. It just took a little while, but I was into the rhythm before I made it to the halfway point.

Even though we had a lot of love stories all woven into one, the main storyline got jipped. I wish we’d gotten to see these two characters actually together for a lot longer than the last chapter.

Jilly felt like a useless character. She adds to the conflict at the end, but that’s seriously her only purpose. It just seemed like she was there because Louna needed a best friend.

Finally, I wish we’d gone a little deeper into the school shooting conflict. It seemed like she never got any kind of help. The only side of it that we got was what related to Ethan. I wonder how the story would have been if we’d chosen ONE major conflict for Louna to navigate through, rather than her juggling one in the past and one in the present, mostly unrelated.

Characters: Louna reminds me of a few other Dessen heroines, but she still has her own unique experiences. As the reader, I could totally understand why Louna was so guarded. I was able to empathize with her and root for her to heal. We were set up at the end to guess how her healing could continue, but I maybe would have loved a smidge more resolution for her.

I didn’t like Ambrose at first. I think it’s because I was limited to Louna’s point of view, so because she was annoyed by him in the beginning, I was, too. It really didn’t take long for my opinion of him to change, though. I think he really matured over the course of the summer that we spend with him. He not only starts to see Louna differently, but himself and his abilities, too. I like that this book wasn’t just about growth for Louna.

Louna’s mom and William were a really great set of parental figures. We haven’t seen a pair quite like these two in Dessen’s other books, so it was kind of a breath of fresh air. We didn’t see failure parents or rocky relationships between daughter and adults, which I liked. This was a modern family experience and I thought it was fresh and enjoyable to read.  These two parental characters kind of took the place of a big friend group, in my opinion. I’m glad Louna had a couple of friends and these parents, rather than a big group. That would have just been too much.

Connections: If you’ve read Dessen’s books before, then you know that they all exist in the same “world”. It’s our world, but we sometimes see characters from other books interact or go to the same places. These are some of the connections I made. I’m not listing out which books these references are from, though. If you’ve read Dessen’s books before, you’ll recognize them! Otherwise, they’ll mean nothing and you can skip them. Ha!

  • In this book, our characters talk about going to Bendo.
  • The wedding crew plans a wedding that takes place in Colby.
  • Louna sees a sign in Colby that reads, “WHO NEEDS TRAFFIC? RENT A BIKE FROM ABE’S!”
  • Bee says that she attended Defriese.
  • Louna and Ethan go for pie in the middle of the night at see a “dark-haired boy and his girlfriend, clearly regulars” and the girl was wearing a Clementine’s t-shirt (Eli and Auden). They recommend World of Waffles to Louna and Ethan.
  • Louna tells Ethan that when he goes to Lakeview, she’ll take him to Luna Blu for friend pickles. She also mentions an Angel statue made with bottle caps that spin when the wind blows.
  • Ben linked Louna to his Ume.com page.

Final thoughts: It’s Sarah Dessen, so I’m going to read it and I’m going to like it. In terms of Dessen’s other books, this one was kind of on the same level as Saint Anything. I liked it, but there was a lot going on. I don’t know that all conflicts were justified in the end. If you like Sarah Dessen’s other books, then definitely pick this one up. If you’ve never read Dessen before, I wouldn’t suggest starting here. I always recommend reading her books in publication order.

Goodreads rating: 3.97/5

Amazon.com rating: 4.2/5

My rating: 4/5

Happy reading! – Caitlyn

Reading Challenge Update #2

It’s time for another reading challenge update! I posted my first update in March and at that time, I’d only “traveled” to 8 places in my reading. At this halfway point of the year, I’ve read about 16 places. I included London, England twice because those two books showed me very different experiences. I’ve done most of my book traveling in North America, so I’d like to branch out a little more soon. If you have any recommendations, let me know in the comments!

Travels Completed: 16/80

My reading has taken me to:

Africa

Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah (South Africa)

Asia

– Listen, Slowly by Thanhha Lai (Vietnam)

The Secret of the India Orchid by Nancy Campbell Allen (Bombay, India; Modern Day Mumbai)

Europe

London Belongs to Me by Jacquelyn Middleton (London, England)

– May I Have Your Attention, Please? by James Corden (London, England)

– Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging by Louise Rennison (Easbourne, England)

– The Alchemist by Paolo Coelho (Andalusia, Spain)

North America

– March: Book One by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell (Washington, D.C.; Troy, Alabama)

– The Inconceivable Life of Quinn by Marianna Baer (Brooklyn, New York)

It Started With Goodbye by Christina June (Alexandria, Virginia)

The Hammer of Thor by Rick Riordan (Boston, Massachusetts)

Summerlost by Ally Condie (Utah)

– Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon (Los Angeles, California)

– Geekerella by Ashley Poston (Charleston, South Carolina)

Jack & Louisa: Act 1 by Andrew Keenan-Bolger and Kate Wetherhead (Shaker Heights, Ohio)

– Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery (Prince Edward Island, Canada)

Happy reading! – Caitlyn

Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging by Louise Rennison

This is the first installment in my Summer with Georgia! Come back here every Sunday for the next 10 weeks to see my reviews of each book in this series.

“I can already feel myself getting fed up with boys and I haven’t had anything to do with them yet.”

Synopsis from GoodreadsIn this wildly funny journal of a year in the life of Georgia Nicolson, British author Louise Rennison has perfectly captured the soaring joys and bottomless angst of being a teenager. In the spirit of Bridget Jones’s Diary, this fresh, irreverent, and simply hilarious book will leave you laughing out loud. As Georgia would say, it’s “Fabbity fab fab!”

Feelings: British humor lovers, rejoice! I would say from the synopsis, the word “irreverent” certainly seems relevant, but I’m totally ok with it. It’s so on par with the mind of a teenage girl. This book is a quick read and one that I first read in college during my Maymester in Young Adult Literature. I’ve seen the movie adaptation, as well, which is a combination of the first two books in this series of 10.

Issues: She repeated a lot of the same phrases and worries, which felt like a broken record at times. It wasn’t THAT big of an issue, but if it continues into the other books, then it would be.

Robbie’s interest in Georgia totally came out of left field. It sets the next book up well, but seemed disjointed and convenient. They barely even came in contact with one another. It makes sense for Georgia to moon over him, as teenage girls commonly do, but their actual coming together probably wouldn’t have happened like that in the real world.

When it comes to the family dynamic in YA literature, we often see neglectful or detached family members, especially parents. In this book, mom takes insult after disrespect from Georgia and kind of moves on. Dad is kind of here and there; sometimes he calls her on it and other times, he seems to ignore it. I’m hoping that in the next few books, we’ll see some stronger parenting going on. But at the same time…that can be a realistic dynamic!

Characters: Georgia annoyed me at first, but it just takes a bit to get into her rhythm. Now, I can say that her voice is one of my favorites to read. She’s so freaking funny and the writing is so witty.  I love the way her mind goes back and forth between what’s happening and the future and going backward…SO like a middle school girl.

I liked Jas a lot more in the movie. I think that’s because we see Georgia and Jas almost equally in the film, whereas in the book we’re stuck in Georgia’s point of view, so when she’s annoyed with Jas, so are we. They’re an odd friend pair. Georgia is definitely the more dominant friend and Jas just goes along with her and takes her insults. I think now that Jas has a boyfriend, we may start to see her sticking up for herself more.

We really didn’t spend much time with other side characters in this book. They’re mentioned here and there, but I’m hoping for more of them in the next few books. I want more of the Ace gang!

Final thoughts: This book is really fun. Georgia is a total nutter and she keeps the reader on their toes! I’m looking forward to the next book and some (hopefully) more development. The first book is all pretty surface level, so fingers crossed we dig a little deeper. I’d recommend this book if you’re looking for a quick, light, and funny read.

Goodreads rating: 3.74/5

Amazon.com rating: 4.3/5

My rating: 3.75/5

Happy reading! – Caitlyn

Introducing Summer Sundays with Georgia

It’s almost summer time, friends! Here in Texas, that means a lot of staying indoors, if you’re pale and prone to burning, like me. I love reading during the summer. I’m a teacher, so I have much more free time during these months. Last summer, I read all 12 of Sarah Dessen’s books, posting reviews every Sunday. I called this my Summer Sundays with Sarah and I really enjoyed both reading and reviewing these books, one right after another.

This summer, I debated between a few authors and settled on reviewing a book series, instead. While I’m losing some alliteration steam, I’ve decided that this will be the summer of Georgia Nicolson – enter Summer Sundays with Georgia. I’ll be reading all 10 books in the Confessions of Georgia Nicolson series, starting with Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging.

I was first introduced to Georgia during college, believe it or not. I was assigned to read this first book during my Young Adult Literature class and instantly fell in love with her personality and her voice. Then I found out there was a movie adaptation, combining the first and second books. Watched it. Loved it. Have watched it many times since.

After reading the first book, I knew I wanted to continue the series, so I started collecting the books from Half Price Books. Every time I saw one, I’d pick it up. So I own the whole series, but haven’t read it yet! I’m really excited to take this summer journey with Georgia and the Ace Gang. Just like last summer, I’ll post reviews on Sundays, ending with a full series wrap up. Be sure to check back here every week!

Have you read this series? Let me know in the comments below!

Happy reading! – Caitlyn

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

*This review will contain spoilers. Also, because of my role as an educator, I’m approaching this book from that perspective. I’m seeing it both as an interested reader and someone who works with teenagers every day.*

“Everything…affects everything.”

Synopsis from GoodreadsClay Jensen doesn’t want anything to do with the tapes Hannah Baker made. Hannah is dead. Her secrets should be buried with her. Then Hannah’s voice tells Clay that his name is on her tapes– and that he is, in some way, responsible for her death. All through the night, Clay keeps listening. He follows Hannah’s recorded words throughout his small town. . .and what he discovers changes his life forever.

Feelings: I’ve been putting off writing this review because of all the hype surrounding both this book and the Netflix adaptation of it. I have read the book and seen the show, and quite frankly I see them as totally different stories.

In this BOOK, it’s very clear by the end, in my opinion, that Hannah is not seeking to place blame, but rather bring instances to peoples’ attention in the hopes that what happened to her wouldn’t happen again. Hannah shares her point of view on events where no one had previously cared about her input. She paints a different picture than Clay, and other characters, had seen before and she opens their eyes. The BOOK made me uncomfortable but in a good way. It made me want to see people a little bit better than I do now, to see their hurt and their feelings. And I’d like to think that was the whole point.

Issues: I really didn’t have issues with the BOOK. At first, I felt like it was all about casting blame and sending a message that the only way to be heard is once you’re dead. However, that narrative changed as the story went on.

Sometimes it got confusing, going back and forth between Hannah’s words and Clay’s thoughts. But I see why the author chose to write it that way.

Characters: I couldn’t put this book down. I needed to finish the journey with Clay and try and understand Hannah better. I was so invested after the first few pages. It’s different when you know what happens to a person from the very first page, then work backward to figure out how they got to that point. Clay was a great POV to read from; he’s kind and caring, hopeful and bright. He wasn’t whiny or annoying like some teenager perspectives can be.

The author doesn’t make it seem like Hannah only had one option, but shows us how she tried to reach out and never found what she needed, emotionally. He doesn’t try and justify her choice, just show her side of things. I think a lot of young people needed to see that and to feel what those left behind would feel after such a loss.

Comparisons: You guys, I honestly was upset while watching the Netflix SHOW. I wanted to throw up, it made me so physically uncomfortable. Unlike the BOOK, the uncomfortable feeling wasn’t a good thing. I didn’t feel motivated to help people. The characters constantly belittle Hannah and others going through similar feelings, they pity themselves and change the narrative to be about their own troubles, and we see struggling characters make the same desperate choices. There was no hope. No motivations to change our world. Just graphic depictions of suicide and more bullying. I can’t stress enough to parents to be careful letting your children watch this show. Reading the book is one thing. The show shouldn’t be targeted to a teenage audience. Parents, be in the know. And for the love, have conversations. The SHOW was just picked up for a second season and we have no idea what direction it will take, since the book is done. I know I’ll watch it because I’m so curious, but I also know that I won’t enjoy it. Parents, also be aware that people are now saying things like, “This will be on your tape,” when they get frustrated, referring to this book.

Final thoughts: I really respect what Jay Asher did with this story. He doesn’t glorify suicide or make excuses for something that’s so awfully realistic. If you’re a teenager in a situation similar to Hannah, know that talking to a trusted adult isn’t always a waste of time. Some of us are ready and willing to do anything it takes to help you. If one conversation fails, try another one. You’re worth the time and effort.

Goodreads rating: 4.04/5

Amazon.com rating: 4.7/5

My rating: 4.25/5

Happy reading! – Caitlyn

5 Hidden Gems

I’ll admit it. I love a book that’s surrounded in hype. I enjoy seeing what other people say and then adding my own thoughts. Sometimes, though, I like to find myself off the beaten path of reading and explore what else is out there. These are 5 books that I wandered up and that turned out to be worth it.

Jack & Louisa: Act 1 

I came across this book because of Instagram. I follow a lot of Broadway stars and show pages and someone mentioned this book series. Come to find out, it’s written by people with actual Broadway experiences and it follows 2 middle school students as they navigate their love of musical theatre. They audition for shows, go to musical theatre camp, talk and sing about shows, and more. It’s a really fun read and is great for both MTN (musical theatre nerds) and parents alike.

NewsPrints

I came across this book in our school library and just gravitated towards it. This is a graphic novel, but it’s unlike any other I’ve seen. The art style and the color palette is really unique and cool to read. Each panel is interesting and has something going on. There are a lot of moving parts to this story about a young girl (pretending to be a boy, so “he” can deliver newspapers) named Blue who makes new friends and gets in trouble. The ending is really moving; we see the power of friendship and sticking up for others. It was way better than I was expecting!

It Started With Goodbye

I mentioned this book in my recent post about Cinderella retellings, but I think it’s worth bringing up again. This Cinderella adaption focuses on family and friendship moreso than lovey dovey stuff. I haven’t heard much about this story on the book blogosphere, but I’d recommend it. This book is full of very real characters and I enjoyed it!

The Loose Ends List

When I saw this book at my local bookstore last year, I was in a major reading slump. Nothing sounded good, nothing motivated me…it was just a bleh time. This book’s cover is what drew me in. I mean…right?! So attractive. I read the inside cover, then the first 2 pages and headed for the checkout line. I read it as soon as I got home, then started lending it out to my reader friends, bragging about how great it was. I haven’t heard much about this book on the book blogosphere, so I wanted to share it with you all…again!

Listen, Slowly

Not only did I really enjoy this story, I love the audiobook. Anytime I read a book where there are bits of another language within it, I struggle with how to pronounce words in my head. I value authenticity, so that’s where I tend to lean on audiobooks. This story is so fun and full of grit, definitely worth a read.

What hidden gems have you come across? Let me now in the comments below!

Happy reading! – Caitlyn

Jack & Louisa: Act 1 by Andrew Keenan-Bolger and Kate Wetherhead

Synopsis from GoodreadsA show-stopping series about life in the spotlight from Broadway actors and internet sensations Andrew Keenan-Bolger and Kate Wetherhead. Twelve-year-old Jack Goodrich was a Broadway star—until a sudden voice change cost him his dream role. Now he lives with his parents in Shaker Heights, Ohio trying hard to leave his acting past behind. But his new neighbor, Louisa—a self-proclaimed “musical theater nerd”—won’t stop until Jack auditions for a local production of Into the Woods.

Feelings: I bought this book for my classroom because I have a student who loves musicals, but doesn’t love reading. He was about halfway through it when I realized he was reading faster than I’d ever seen, so I immediately ordered the next 2 books in the series for him. He loved this book so much. He was able to finally find characters in a book that mirrored him. He encouraged me to read it as well, so I did and found it to be a really fun read. If you love musicals, this book is right up your alley.

Issues: At the end of the book, Jack is presented with an option. (No spoilers) But…why wasn’t this option made available to him sooner? This just didn’t make sense to me. If it really was a possible alternative, it would have been made known sooner…realistically.

Characters: I loved how different Jack and Louisa are. Sure, they’re both Musical Theater Nerds, but they both represent different types of theater fans. They love a lot of the same shows, but have different experiences that shape them. This makes sure the book doesn’t get boring or repetitive, even with all the theatre references, which I appreciate. If you aren’t a musical fan, the characters still have some depth to them. You don’t have to know musical theatre to understand these people, they’re very real. Their parents are good characters, too. We don’t always get strong parent and family relationships, so that was refreshing in this story. The parents are very supportive of their children’s interests and encourage them along the way.

Final thoughts: If you’re an MTN like me, you’ll really enjoy this book. There are so many references to various shows and places on Broadway that it makes for a fun ride. This is also a great read for parents of musical theatre nerds. You’ll get a little insight into their minds!

Pick this up if you liked:

Better Nate Than Ever by Tim Federle

Goodreads rating: 4.17/5

Amazon.com rating: 4.8/5

My rating: 4/5

Happy reading! – Caitlyn