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

My Fairy Godmother is a Drag Queen by David Clawson

Synopsis from GoodreadsChris Bellows is just trying to get through high school and survive being the only stepchild in the social-climbing Fontaine family, whose recently diminished fortune hasn’t dimmed their desire to mingle with Upper East Side society. Chris sometimes feels more like a maid than part of the family. But when Chris’s stepsister Kimberly begins dating golden boy J. J. Kennerly, heir to a political dynasty, everything changes. Because Chris and J. J. fall in love . . . with each other.

With the help of a new friend, Coco Chanel Jones, Chris learns to be comfortable in his own skin, let himself fall in love and be loved, and discovers that maybe he was wrong about his step-family all along. All it takes is one fairy godmother dressed as Diana Ross to change the course of his life.

Feelings: I had to make myself finish this book more than any other book I’ve read before. I really wanted a different ending and decided to keep pushing through in the hopes that my picture would come true, but it really didn’t. I think this book had so much potential and I’m glad that it’s out there; a lot of people can see themselves represented in this story, which I’m all about. However, it could have been handled in a better way.

Issues: I felt like the narrator (or author) was talking down to me at different points. He’d say phrases like, “I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced this,” or “I don’t know if it’ll make sense to anyone else.” I get it that the narrator is speaking to the reader and that works sometimes, but in this book if just felt like the narrator was experiencing things that no one else could possibly relate to and he had to spell everything out.

There was one point where it was as though the author was brainstorming possible outcomes. It was like a laundry list of how things could play out. He also began and ended nearly every chapter by taking away all anticipation. He’d tell us something major was about to happen, so I knew to expect something, well…major. It made it hard for me to want to keep reading because there were zero surprises.

There were quite a few pity party information dumps. The narrator had to remind us how hard his life had been, try to make us feel sorry for him, then we’d move on. Multiple times.

There was so much tension between the two love interest characters and then literally in a matter of one sentence, it was over. Build up, build up, build up….and we didn’t even get details. It felt really anti-climatic.

Finally, there were a lot of moments that just bothered me. The characters talked about homosexuals, drag queens, and even mentally challenged people in really negative ways. Lots of awkward moments and things that just made me shake my head or roll my eyes from annoyance.

Characters: The way that Chris went back and forth between lying to his step-sister and being in love with JJ was something I hoped would get resolved. I see that the author hinted to us how she felt in the end, but it wasn’t enough for me. Chris had a hard back story, sure, but I felt like he used it as an excuse to make poor choices, then would remind the reader that he’d had it bad. As for JJ, I can see how he felt caught between two worlds, and I like that we got to read about that experience. He made a solid choice in the end and I think his character was the strongest throughout. There was a lot of character development there for him. In fact, I probably would have preferred this book if it was from JJ’s perspective.

There was so much selfishness going on up until the last 4 or 5 sentences, which made it hard to get through. Honestly, one more chapter could have made all the difference there. I felt like these characters were up in the air all the way through.

Kimberly deserved more. Was she this great and wonderful person? No. But nobody deserves what she got. Between her and Buck, we had some strong character development. Although with Buck, it probably wasn’t so much about development as it was about Chris finally understanding him.

Duane and Coco really added life to this book. I was worried that we’d meet Coco and then never really see her again, but I was really happy that she and Duane kept coming back. I think this character really brought out the best in everyone else.

Final thoughts: I didn’t love this story, obviously. I just felt like it needed another round or two of revising. I ended still needing some clarity and resolution. I know a lot of people will enjoy this story, again because they’ll see a bit of themselves. I’d love to hear what people who can relate think about this story!

Goodreads rating: 3.55/5

Amazon.com rating: 3.6/5

My rating: 2/5

*I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review. All opinions are my own

Happy reading! – Caitlyn

May 2017 Wrap Up

This is what I was able to read in May…I read 4 books, listened to 1 audiobook, and read 3 graphic novels, for a grand total of: 8!

NewsPrints by Ru Xu

  • Beautiful artwork and color. Twisted storyline. New favorite.
  • My rating: 4.5 stars

Always and Forever, Lara Jean by Jenny Han

  • Best of the trilogy. Great ending. Read in one day.
  • My rating 4.75 stars

X-Men, Volume 1: Primer by Brian Wood, Oliver Coipel, David Lopez

  • New characters. Old friends. Cool artwork.
  • My rating: 3.5 stars

March: Book Two by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell

  • Slow to start. New information to me. Powerful.
  • My rating: 4.5 stars

The Alchemist by Paolo Coelho (I also listened to the audiobook a little bit. I like Jeremy Irons as a narrator – would recommend!)

  • Dreamy. Full of metaphors. Slow at times.
  • Around the World in 80 Books Challenge: Andalusia, Spain
  • My rating: 4 stars

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

  • Diary. Funny. Teenage girl.
  • Around the World in 80 Books Challenge: England
  • My rating: 3.75 stars

Percy Jackson’s Greek Gods by Rick Riordan (audiobook)

  • Great narration. Fun storytelling. Lots of short stories.
  • Around the World in 80 Books Challenge: Mount Olympus, Greece (totally counting it)
  • My rating: 4.5 stars

On the Bright Side, I’m Now the Girlfriend of a Sex God by Louise Rennison

  • What a title. Love Georgia. Shenanigans continue.
  • My rating: 4 stars

What did you read this month? Let me know in the comments below!

Happy reading! – Caitlyn

Series Review: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han

*This series review will be spoiler-free as best I can! I’ll try not to be too vague, while also not spoiling anything.*

Book 1: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before

Book 2: P.S. I Still Love You

Book 3: Always and Forever, Lara Jean

Series Overview: This teenage trilogy follows Lara Jean as she navigates young love, family, and school. Lara Jean lives with her two sisters and her father, having lost her mother at a young age. When her sister decides to attend college in Scotland, Lara Jean has a new array of roles to take on in their home. At the same time, her younger sister sends out a series of letters that Lara Jean had kept private in her mother’s hat box, letters to boys she’s loved before. As the boys each receive their letter from Lara Jean, she learns more about herself and her feelings, growing closer to some as they come back into her life. She enters into a fake relationship, then a real one, then loses it, only to reach closure by the final page. By the end of this trilogy, Lara Jean has grown older and wiser. Her family dynamic has changed and she’s had to make some life changing decisions.

Feelings: I enjoyed this series a lot more than I thought I would. I was in the mood for a light, high school romance kind of a story and the first book in this series really delivered. As I continued reading, it wasn’t as much of a light-hearted series, but had a depth that I appreciated. It wasn’t really cheesy or annoying, as high school stories tend to be. The minor characters were a lot of fun and grew along with the series, adding another dimension to the storyline.

Sometimes with trilogies, the third book can make or break the whole series. In the case of this series, though, the third book did a great job of bringing closure and rounding out the story. Our characters got a nice landing pad for their “futures” and our questions were answered.

The characters are what really sold this series for me. Lara Jean annoyed me occasionally, but it was because she was being a high school girl. I also was able to relate to her in a lot of ways, though, which made her redeemable. She saw her own mistakes throughout the story, saw chances to grow and learn, and ran with them. She has a strong family unit, which we don’t always get in YA literature, so I enjoyed that dynamic.

Finally, this is the kind of high school romance I love reading. It’s innocent and sweet, but also realistic and something people can relate to. These two characters are so different, but they make it work by celebrating what makes them special. I found myself smiling as I read their conversations, which is always a plus.

Final thoughts: I would really recommend this series to anyone looking for an easy to read story with characters you’ll love. This is a series I’ve already started recommending to my personal friends and even a few of my 8th grade students.

Links to other reviews:

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han

My series rating: 4.5/5

Happy reading! – Caitlyn

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han

**The third book in this series came out TODAY! 

“My letters set me free. Or at least they’re supposed to.”

Synopsis from GoodreadsLara Jean keeps her love letters in a hatbox her mother gave her. They aren’t love letters that anyone else wrote for her, these are ones she’s written. One for every boy she’s ever loved—five in all. When she writes, she can pour out her heart and soul and say all the things she would never say in real life, because her letters are for her eyes only. Until the day her secret letters are mailed, and suddenly Lara Jean’s love life goes from imaginary to out of control.

Feelings: This book has had my eye for a while, but I have to be in the right reading mood for chick lit and high school love stories. I had a free Saturday and decided this book would fit the bill and BOY was I right! You guys, I read this book in a few hours, in basically one sitting. I was hooked in from the very beginning and was desperate to see how it would all unfold.

This story is not at all what I was expecting. I knew the basic premise, but I was thinking it would focus more on each of the boys who received letters, rather than zeroing in on two of them. But I found how different those two boys were was enough to keep me entertained.

Issues: The love triangle was annoying at times, but they have a tendency to be that way. Do we ever really enjoy love triangles? I certainly don’t. So the whole friend/boyfriend/like-a-brother thing went in circles a few times. But it wasn’t annoying enough for me to put the book down. Lara Jean was able to make a choice and run with it, so I was somewhat satisfied.

It was kind of hard to believe that some of those letters were written when she was in middle school. The language sounded older…and I would know, considering I teach middle school English.

I didn’t LOVE the ending; it was so abrupt! Boom – over. However, since the second book is already out, I know I can just grab it and move along with the story. If I’d read it before the sequel was out, it would have really annoyed me.

Characters: I was able to really connect with Lara Jean. I know a lot of people may not see themselves in her, but I have a lot in common with her – her personality, what she likes, how she acts around people, the way responsibility was thrust upon her. The relationship between the Song sisters was really fun, seeing how different they all were. They fight and argue, make up, and do it all over again. It came off as really realistic, which I appreciated.

Josh is a tricky character for me. I liked how he was basically part of the family and I can understand how his feelings were confused. Kitty may have been my favorite character in the book. She was so sure of herself and kind of in her own little world. By the end, though, you realize just how “in the know” she really is and how valuable she was to the plot. As for Margot, I was glad she was out of the country for the majority of the story. She needed to loosen up, even though I can understand the burden that she felt was on her shoulders and how she had to grow up a little bit faster. I didn’t really care for Peter at first because he just screamed douchebag, but by the end I could see that different side of him. I’m excited to see (hopefully) more development for him in the next book.

Final thoughts: I really enjoyed this book – more than I thought I would! I didn’t finish Han’s earlier book, The Summer I Turned Pretty, because the main character was too annoying for me. However, I’m glad I gave THIS series a chance because I’m excited to grab the next one! Hoping for some more character development and a more satisfying break between some of the characters.

Pick this up if you liked:

The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick

Goodreads rating: 4.11/5

Amazon.com rating: 4.5/5

My rating: 4.25/5

Happy reading! – Caitlyn

April 2017 Wrap Up

This is what I was able to read in April…I read 5 books, listened to 1 audiobook, and read 0 graphic novels, for a grand total of: 6! We still have a few days left in this month, so there’s time for that number to go up!

Geekerella by Ashley Poston

  • Nerd central. Like Ever After. Diverse cast.
  • Around the World in 80 Books Challenge: Charleston, South Carolina
  • My rating: 4.25 stars

Anne of Green Gables audiobook by L.M. Montgomery, narrated by Rachel McAdams

  • Classic. Sweet story. Favorite.
  • Around the World in 80 Books Challenge: Prince Edward Island, Canada
  • My rating: 4.5 stars

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han

  • Quick read. Cute story. Strong writing.
  • Around the World in 80 Books Challenge: Virginia
  • My rating: 4.25 stars

P. S. I Still Love You by Jenny Han

  • First love. Decision making. Strong sequel.
  • My rating: 4.5 stars

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

  • Cute and easy read. Musical references. Middle grade.
  • Around the World in 80 Books Challenge: Shaker Heights, Ohio
  • My rating: 4 stars

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

  • So suspenseful. Lots of hype. Thought provoking.
  • My rating: 4.25 stars

What did you read this month? Let me know in the comments below!

Happy reading! – Caitlyn

Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

“Life is a gift. Don’t forget to live it.”

Synopsis from GoodreadsMadeline Whittier is allergic to the outside world. So allergic, in fact, that she has never left the house in all of her seventeen years. But when Olly moves in next door, and wants to talk to Maddie, tiny holes start to appear in the protective bubble her mother has built around her. Olly writes his IM address on a piece of paper, shows it at her window, and suddenly, a door opens. But does Maddie dare to step outside her comfort zone?

Everything, Everything is about the thrill and heartbreak that happens when we break out of our shell to do crazy, sometimes death-defying things for love.

Feelings: This book has been on my radar since it came out in 2015. I’d heard what it was about and I wanted to read it, but just never actually picked it up. I saw that the movie was coming out soon and KNEW that I’d want to read it first, so that motivated me to get my own copy of it. I start it at around 10 PM on a Saturday night, and was finishing it not even 24 hours later. That’s partly because I had time to read and partly because of how quickly it moves.

I really enjoyed the formatting of the writing and it’s something I’m starting to see more often. Some authors are moving away from traditional blocks of text (aka chapters) and towards more creative and engaging writing. We get drawings, emails and IMs, paragraph-long “chapters”, and longer chapters. Every few pages is different and it made me understand the main character a little bit better, like I was more part of her world.

Issues: About halfway through the book, I made a predication about how it would all unfold. And I was right…exactly right. I wish the author had anticipated how some of the details could lead the reader to a certain conclusion and added in a curveball or two. It wasn’t so obvious that it affected my overall enjoyment of the story, but it did effect the way I read the last 20 pages or so.

The ending left me somewhat unsatisfied, even outside of me knowing what to expect. Now that I’ve said that, I couldn’t tell you what would have been a satisfying ending. I wanted more closure for the main character and for those around her.

Characters: I found Madeline and Olly’s relationship to be really sweet. It made sense that they’d be drawn to one another and they complimented each other really well. There’s definitely a little bit of instalove between them and the way Maddy was so easily able to interact with Olly, even though she’d literally only been around like 5 people in her life, was a little bit unrealistic. But overall, I enjoyed reading their story and seeing them grow both together and individually.

I enjoyed having Carla there, like a voice of reason and understanding. She was a stable character that was holding the narrative up, at times. However, I was a little thrown off at how she bended to Maddy’s will (no spoilers) and disregarded her mother’s concerns. That seemed like something a younger character might do.

Maddy’s mom is a whole other story. She’s one of the reasons I was unsatisfied with the ending – I thought she deserved more. Her relationship with Maddy is really fun and sweet for the majority of the book, so we grow to sympathize with her. Then the book ends and she’s got some loose ends that could have been tied up a little better.

Final thoughts: While I did have a few small issues with predictability, the ending, and character motivations, I still overall really enjoyed this story. I especially liked the writing style and the narrator’s voice. It was really easy to read and is one I’ll be recommending to a lot of friends, including you!

Pick this up if you liked:

The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider

Goodreads rating: 4.1/5

Amazon.com rating: 4.6/5

My rating: 4/5

Happy reading! – Caitlyn