Review of Once and for All by Sarah Dessen

Once and for All
Sarah Dessen
Published June 6, 2017

Sarah Dessen is one of the queens of YA contemporary books, with loads of best-sellers. I tend to read more fantasy YA than contemporary, so I’ve only read one of Dessen’s books in the past. But Once and for All sounded like the perfect summer read, so I decided to give Dessen another try.

Once and for AllOnce and for All is a great beach read. In one sense, it’s a light read, but it also has a lot of depth. It’s the story of Louna, who doesn’t believe that love can last. She had a perfect romance, but it ended tragically and she doesn’t think she’ll ever find another lasting love. She works for her mother Natalie’s wedding planning business, and Natalie and her business partner take bets after each wedding about whether the marriage will last. All this cynicism about lasting love isn’t exactly helping Louna’s attitude toward love.

Then along comes Ambrose. He’s the charming, but disaster-prone brother of one of Natalie’s clients. To keep him occupied and out of his sister’s hair, Natalie hires him, and Louna is stuck working with him all summer, the firm’s busiest season. Ambrose is the opposite of Louna. He believes in love, so much so that he finds a new love every day. He’s all about the chase and is not interested in the follow-through. Louna finds him very annoying at first, but they grow closer as they work together and Louna begins to question whether it’s possible she can find love again. (I also found Ambrose annoying at first, but he grew on me, just as he does with Louna.)

I really enjoyed the behind the scenes look at the wedding industry. Natalie runs a tight ship, and no detail is too small for her planning services. They deal with last-minute wedding cancellations, jittery brides, and annoying relations. (There’s a really funny bit with a mother of the bride from hell who tries to walk off with anything that isn’t nailed down.) Louna and Ambrose have to work together on all kinds of weird tasks, and it’s a nice way to watch their relationship grow.

There were two things that I found a little annoying about this book. One is that Louna’s best friend, Jilly, is constantly trying to get Louna to date new people. This seems like bad best friend behavior when she knows all about the horrible way that Louna lost her first love (no spoilers, but it’s very sad). It’s been less than a year–let the girl grieve. The other issue I had is that there’s a wrench thrown into the romance in the third act that felt unnecessary, as if it were just there to extend the book another 50 pages.

Despite these issues, I really enjoyed Once and for All, and I would recommend it to anyone looking for a light beach read. It’s a solid 3.5 stars.

I received an ARC from Amazon Vine.

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Review of Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

Strange the Dreamer
Laini Taylor
Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers March 2017

Strange the Dreamer is a beautiful, spellbinding book. It’s one of those books that’s hard to describe. It’s the story of Laszlo Strange, an orphan raised by monks, who is obsessed with the mythical lost city of Weep, an obsession he researches tirelessly through his work as a librariaStrange the Dreamern. Laszlo thinks that his obsession is just a dream and that he’ll never leave the library, but one day, a chance to fulfill his greatest dreams comes along and Laszlo is off on the adventure of a lifetime.

This is such a dreamy, beautiful books. It’s filled with gods, goddesses, heroes, monsters, magic, and one wonderful librarian with a magnificent dream. Laini Taylor has a unique, wonderful writing style and every word feels rich with meaning. I’m usually a very fast reader, tearing through books, but I took my time with Strange the Dreamer, wanting to savor it for as long as possible. Taylor builds an incredibly rich, multilayered fantasy world. I didn’t realize when I started the book that it’s not a stand-alone, so I was a bit surprised when it ended on a cliffhanger, but I’m very glad there will be a second book and I can’t wait to see where Taylor takes the story. This is a world I want to revisit.

Review of Defy the Stars by Claudia Gray

I’m really behind on writing about the many children’s books I’ve read over the past few months, and I will get to them soon, but in the meantime, I’ll be posting the occasional review of a new (or at least not vintage) book.

Defy the Stars
Claudia Gray
Published by Little Brown Books for Young Readers April 2017

I tend to avoid books that take place in space, but I loved Claudia Gray’s Firebird trilogy, so I jumped at the chance to read Defy the Stars. I’m glad that I did, because I loved it.

Defy the Stars is the story of Noemi, a young soldier from the planet Genesis, a former colony of Earth. Genesis won its independence years earlier, but now they’re in a protracted war with a dying Earth, who wants to reestablish control over the former colony. Noemi has volunteered for what is basically a suicide mission to help save her planet, when she’s separated from her fleet and ends up on an abandoned Earth spaceship. The ship is empty except for Abel, a very Defy the Starsadvanced “mech,” which is basically a human-looking robot. Now that Noemi has taken over the ship, Abel’s programming requires him to view her as his commander and they begin a desperate journey across the stars to try to fulfill her mission and save Genesis.

Defy the Stars may be a young adult book, but it deals with some big issues, like immigration and what it means to be human. Genesis is something of a utopia, an egalitarian society living in harmony with nature and strictly conserving resources. But this utopia has been built on isolation and they feel that the people of Earth have screwed up their own planet, so why should be allowed onto Genesis, where they may do the same thing. On the other hand, Earth is dying and its citizens need somewhere to go. Many of them have already spread out to other planets, but most of those planets are barely habitable and can’t take many people. Gray’s take on these issues is nuanced. Noemi is firmly on her planet’s side at the beginning, but her travels through the planets cause her to question her beliefs.

Abel’s creator was also responsible for many other models of mech, all of which are built for specific purposes (combat soldiers, sex workers, etc.) and thus their programming is limited. Abel is the only one of his model, and he has very special abilities and in many ways, he is almost human. Noemi has encountered mechs before, but only in a combat capacity, so she has prejudices against them, but Abel’s abilities and emotions cause her to question her beliefs, while all of the feelings that Abel experiences during his journey with Noemi are new and exciting and he starts to wonder why his programming allows him to feel so much. Both Abel and Noemi have to rethink their concepts of what it means to be human.

Besides the big issues, there’s a romance, but it’s not the central focus of the book. It’s an important plot point, but it’s not the only thing going on and that was a refreshing thing to find in a YA book. There is going to be a sequel, but this book doesn’t end on a cliffhanger and it can stand on its own.

(I received an ARC to review from Amazon Vine.)