This Lullaby by Sarah Dessen

This will be the last Dessen I review for a while, on account of the fact that I have reviewed all but one in my personal collection! I’ll keep it short as well, because I’m in the process of packing for my spring vacationnnnn!

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This Lullaby starts off introducing Remy, a rough-around the edges, no-nonsense senior who had just graduated from high school. She can’t wait to start her freshman year at Stanford and get out of her small town, as well as out from under all the responsibilities of taking care of her mother. Remy’s mom has been married four times, not counting Remy’s father, and is just about to get married to husband number five. A hopeless romantic, her mother thinks this will be the last time, but Remy doesn’t want to stick around for the practically inevitable. Remy is the opposite of her mother in the romance department. She knows what she wants, has high standards, and isn’t going to let herself get carried away. Right after graduation, as she plans on dumping her current boyfriend, Remy finds out he’s been cheating on her. Though it makes her angry, she shakes it off- she’s still gotten what she wanted, just not how she wanted it. But then, there’s Dexter.

Dexter is immediately enamored with Remy. Despite her hard shell and determination not to date musicians, he isn’t giving up on her. Remy keeps trying to stay clear from him, but they continuously bumping into each other, and he is persistent. Then one bad night, Dexter comes to Remy’s rescue. What she thought was in her past rears it’s ugly head, he comes swooping in, despite Remy’s drunken protests, and offers up an out from what could have been another terrible mistake. Not understanding exactly why, she decides to break her own rules and starts dating Dexter. Even though she’s enjoying his company, she makes sure to maintain her distance, not wanting to jeopardize her departure for college come fall. Dexter, however, isn’t making it easy.

Remy starts to realize that even though she’s hardened her heart, Dexter may be the one who can soften it. It’s a little young-adult-corny-trope, but yet again, Dessen writes convincingly enough to bypass that knowledge and fall headlong into the story. It’s cute and clever, and the reader does get invested in what is going to happy between the main and supporting characters. Overall, I’d say if you’re a fan of the author’s work, this is another adorable read from her that I’d recommend.

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Still Me by Jojo Moyes

If you haven’t read Me Before You or After You, then please do so or read my reviews of them before you proceed, because this review will include spoilers of them!

Alrighty, are we on the same page?

Okay, good, because in Still Me, the reader follows Louisa over the pond to New York City, with the blessings of Sam and her family to take such an opportunity. She’ll be assistant to the new Mrs. Gopnik, Agnes, a Polish immigrant who married a wealthy mogul with a fifth avenue home and vicious ex-wife. Louisa is to be a sort of companion and shield against the glares, stares, and gossip pointed at Agnes, but it proves to be a difficult task. Appearances must be kept up, which means Agnes is pushed to attend charity events, balls, and luncheons with the cronies of the ex-wife, and there are many family obligations that include Tabitha, the step-daughter who is only three years younger than Agnes and ferociously loyal to her mother. Louisa is shuttled off with Agnes, dubbed her friends in public, and thrown into the ring with the wolves as well.

Louisa knows this is part of the job and what she signed up for, and she has tough skin. She takes the retribution in stride, and tries to befriend Agnes while still maintaining her professionalism, knowing it is a fine line. She knows this is an opportunity of a lifetime, and she’s enjoying her time in the Big Apple. She’s made a few friends and learned a few local tricks, and has genuinely tried to make New York feel like home, but she still gets bouts of homesickness, especially for Sam.

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Their long distance relationship has been more difficult to maintain than anticipated, and their visits are excruciatingly short, rushed, or tense. Sam has gotten a new work partner who appears awfully keen on Sam, irritating Louisa; Louisa’s friendship with Josh, a man who looks just like Will, has likewise gotten under Sam’s skin. The jealousy that has sprung up in their relationship has become detrimental.

She’s only been in New York for three months when things start hitting bottom for Louisa, but just as she’s done before, she finds a way to turn her luck around and pick herself up. Digging deep, she finds that she has to figure out what she wants- not what Will, Sam, or Josh want for her.

In Still Me, Moyes yet again takes her readers on the emotional roller coaster that is Louisa Clark’s life. I still found myself cheering her on, especially when a few moments reflected episodes in my own life. Louisa’s thoughts, reactions, and observations are just so honest and outright, and I’ve truly enjoyed her narration because it’s so relatable. I also love the way Moyes slowly reveals everything, throwing little plot twists here are there. Many times I was caught off guard, thinking that I had predicted an outcome only to be proven incorrect. And I have to say, I didn’t actually cry during this one, which is a nice change of pace!

Naturally, I highly recommend you give this book a read if you’ve read the previous Moyes books, and I hope you enjoy them all as much as I have!

After You by Jojo Moyes

The sequel to Jojo Moyes’ bestseller! If you haven’t already read Me Before You, you know what to do…

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Alright, are we on the same page now? Good.

Louisa is having a hard time dealing with the grief accompanying the loss of Will. She’s tried to live the life he wanted her to have- traveling, experiencing new things, going outside her comfort zone… but none of it seems to satisfy the ache in her heart. She returns to her flat in London, depressed and unsure how to cope. Then, she accidentally falls off the roof of her five story apartment complex, and somehow survives. Forced to return home, which proves uncomfortable, Louisa works on physically healing while trying to suss out how she can mentally and emotionally heal. On return to London, she decides to start attending grief counseling, but then she is confronted by a teenager named Lily, who is desperate to learn about her biological father…. Will.

Louisa isn’t sure how to proceed with this news, but she tries her best to tell Lily about the Will she knew and loved, as well as introduces Lily to her biological grandparents. But, Lily is a wild child and quite the handful for Louisa, and things don’t go as smoothly as she planned. She consults her family and her grief counseling circle, but finds the best advice coming from Ambulance Sam. They informally met after Louisa’s near-death fall, and then again when Jake, a teen Louisa befriends from the counsel circle, introduced them. Louisa keeps Sam at a distance because of the stories that Jake confides in the circle, but she can’t help but appreciate his honesty and patience with her. Yet between Lily’s chaotic moods, her micromanaging boss/ terrible work attire, and her lack of life direction, Louisa is overwhelmed and afraid to add a relationship with Sam into the mix. So, she bumbles along, trying to figure out how to arrive at a state of equilibrium and happiness.

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Moyes has created a sequel with Louisa in a way that seems completely fitting to where the story left off in Me Before You. I adore Louisa, being a perfectly flawed protagonist, and relate to her in many ways. The way she handles the loss of Will absolutely breaks my heart, but every time she picks up a broken piece of herself,  the reader can’t help but cheer. Moyes writes so conversationally that sometimes I feel as if Louisa’s thoughts were my own, and yet she manages to provide plot twists so emotionally charged and unexpected that it leaves me agape. I loved where the book ending left off as well, and am eager to get started on Still Me. I don’t want to give away the ending here, so make sure you read this book before you check out my next review!

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

Louisa Clark doesn’t have a charmed life. She’s twenty-six, living with her nagging parents, her sister, and her young nephew in a small apartment. She helps financially support her family along with her father, who is bound to lose his job due to cutbacks at the factory where he works. Louisa has been dating a man named Patrick for seven year, and working at diner for almost as many years. Things have just been routinely going along, and Louisa is content with her life as it is, but then the unexpected happens- the restaurant closes and she’s out of a job.

She knows she has to quickly get a new job to supoort her family, but after a couple of misfit jobs, the employment market is looking bleek. Then, an ad pops up for a caregiver position for a quadriplegic. Even with her concerns and reluctance, Louisa takes the job because they pay is much more than the minimum wage jobs she’s been trying out. As she goes in for her first day, she isn’t sure what to expect, but she definitely didn’t anticipate a young, handsome man, named Will.

As she gets to know him over a series of rocky weeks, she learns her job isn’t just fetching tea and blankets. Camilla, Will’s mother, let’s Louisa in on the fact that Will has decided he doesn’t want to live this way anymore, and has struck a deal with his parents to give them six months to change his mind. Louisa undertakes this responsibility, desperately trying to show Will that there are many wonderful things to live for.

Moyes has created a beautiful, witty, gritty and honest novel that not only tells a heartbreaking love story, but also relays the difficulties faced by the disabled community and the struggle for understanding and respect between able-bodied and disable-bodied people. As an able bodied person, I kept finding myself understanding where Louisa’s mindset was, only to be completely abashed and corrected by Moyes through Will and her writing. The biggest impact on me was that of Will’s desperation to make his own choices, and his own actions. He wanted his life back in his own hands. I don’t want to give too much away, but there was a point where I understood that his decision wasn’t one of pride- it was one of understanding and love for those who changed their lives to support his.

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I know that there has been a lot of hype about this book, especially since the movie came out, but I have to say the book was nothing like I expected it to be, and though I was told to read with a box of tissues, I was surprised by how funny and clever this book was. I still cried though. And the hype is absolutely worth it, because I too highly recommend it, and I cannot wait ti buzz through After You.

The Color Purple by Alice Walker

I felt like I had struck gold when I found this one in my local Little Free Library branches. My bestie (Hi Josette!) had pointed the two LFL’s in town out to me shortly after I had moved into my new house, and after I had accumulated a few books that I wanted to donate, I went to drop them off in the tiny birdhouse-esque box. I skimmed the titles that were in there, and immediately noticed The Color Purple. Classic! So I made the swap, and took it home.

When I started reading, Celie’s story was very familiar to me, and I couldn’t remember why until I got about 25 pages in, when Shug Avery is mentioned. Then I remembered. I remembered that name, and an actress wearing the awesome red jazz dress, singing. I had seen the movie as a teen, flipping through the Starz freebies. I hadn’t seen the whole movie, just that quick scene, but it was striking enough to stick in my brain at least a decade later. With that in mind, I kept reading, wondering how Celie and Shug were connected, especially because at this point in the novel, I was just learning about Celie’s awful upbringing and abusive new husband.

Celie writes in letters, recounting her days and the things she tolerates just to survive daily. As a poor, uneducated black woman in the southern Georgia, most of the things she observes will break your heart. However, there are often lines in which she shows her strength, in that though she is being physically submissive, her mind is sharp and wanting to rebel. Many times, the cause for her will to rebel is her awful husband, Mr. Albert (no last name mentioned, and she only ever refers to him as Mr.) Then, there’s Shug, Mr.’s long-time mistress. She arrives in Celie’s household sick, and though she is mean to Celie at first, they end up striking up a friendship. Celie also can’t help but be attracted to Shug, which is something Celie has never felt for anyone before. Being horribly mistreated by her father, then shuffled off to Mr., Celie has never known love. She’s had children taken from her, and her sister Nettie never wrote after Celie left her childhood home- she’s lonely, and Shug’s attention is like a balm healing old wounds. Yet the relationship that springs up between Celie and Shug is complicated, and in a time period where class, race, sex, and abuse weren’t debated or discussed, so Celie just writes her feelings in her letters to God.

Then Shug figures something out- Mr. has been hoarding letters from Nettie to Celie. They plot together to get the letters so that Celie can finally read them. As she goes through the pages, Celie learns that her sister has left the small, godforsaken town that they grew up in, and has seen what else life has to offer. She writes of her journey to New York, of Harlem and the support of the black people who send money and well wishes to her and her missionary employers on their journey to Africa. She’s never seen this kind of tolerance, or been treated so kindly. Then, she becomes part of the community in the Olinka village, as well as family to the missionaries who brought her there. Then, the most surprising truth of all- after traveling all those miles, she learns the truth about her and Celie’s past.

There’s a reason this became a bestseller, not to mention a contemporary classic. The Color Purple is bold, honest, heartbreaking, and empowering, especially for women of color. When Celie finally finds strength to stand up for herself and speak her mind, I cheered. Walker’s frank conversational narration and emotionally charged scenes about the taboo topics create a fast paced, compelling novel. I highly recommend that if you haven’t, you should give it a read- though keep in mind, it’s still considered controversial and contains many triggers of abusive, violent, and sexual nature.

Dreamland by Sarah Dessen

It’s been a while since I’ve had to write a review like this, so here it goes…

…I had to DNR this one.

There, I said it.

Nine times out of ten, I can get past the young adult predictable tropes and read with the bigger picture in mind, but Dreamland felt like a bad teen flick from the beginning, and that hurts me to say because I genuinely love Dessen novels. Here’s why.

We meet Caitlin, whose sister, Cass, runs away from home, leaving Caitlin to deal with the aftermath. It’s a lot for sixteen year old Caitlin to handle, but she realizes that she’s finally out of her perfect sister’s shadow. Caitlin makes the cheerleading squad, even though she really didn’t care to and was pressured into it by her friend, Rina. Then, she meets Rogerson Briscoe. He’s a bad boy, this Rogerson, and even though Rina has already set her up with a footballer who’s ready to give her his letterman jacket, Caitlin knows that Rogerson is more intriguing, and she thinks he’s a sign from her sister. So she starts up a relationship with him. And all the while, she’s worrying about her sister, and a note that her sister left in her birthday gift dream journal, telling her that she’ll see her in dreamland.

All thee above is laid out in 65 out of 250 pages, and I just wasn’t buying into the story. Caitlin and Rogerson seem like two outcasts made for each other, but I could already predict where this story was going to go. And because I don’t like to assume incorrectly, I skipped ahead and skimmed to see what would happen to the two. I was still right.

Now, just for the record, I still think Dessen is a wonderful, heartwarming, feel-good young adult author. I will still be reading and reviewing more of her novels. But, I feel that I’m just too old to buy into the storyline of Dreamland, and would rather move on to a more thought-provoking read. So, alas, I have. But, if you have read Dreamland, I’d love to hear your thoughts on it. I am human after all, and if you think I should give it a second chance, I’d love to know why.

The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

I don’t know when books are allowed to be tagged “oldie but a goodie”, but I think The Time Traveler’s Wife should definitely be considered in that category. Published 15 years ago, this book became a national bestseller, was turned into a movie, and is still popping up on my Instagram feed with people stating it’s on their TBR and they can’t wait to read it.

The book plot is ultimately a love story, compounded by time travel. In alternating points of view, we follow the relationship development of Clare Abshire and Henry DeTamble. Clare has known Henry almost her whole life, since she was six. At that time, Henry was 36, but in his life, the first time they met he was age 28. He can’t explain it, but he has been time traveling since he was five, moving between the past, present, and future with very little to no control, always landing at a different time period naked, hungry, and usually on the run.

Henry, the son of a violinist and a singer, had a wonderful childhood until he was five, when tragedy struck and his mother was killed. He too was in the same accident, but he managed to survive. Henry’s father was devastated, and turned to alcohol for comfort, in turn leaving Henry to practically fend for himself. This left him literally mentoring himself in the art of time travel (the duplicity is so complex!) with subjects such as pick-pocketing, lock-picking, and “how to use oddball things like Venetian blinds.” He wishes that he knew how he could control the time travel, but he does know that no matter what, he has to be ready to survive any situation he is tossed in.

Clare is the daughter of a well off family with problems of their own. She often spends time in the meadow a ways off from her house, and one day Henry appears. At first, she’s highly suspicious, but after some clever conversion with Henry, she’s excited to be let in on his secret. She provides him with clothes, food, and shelter, as well as safeguards him. As she ages, she is eager to hear more about him and his life in the future- which is also a large portion of her own future.

As the two stories weave together, we learn that Clare is one of the few constants in Henry’s life, and despite their hardships, they know their love is strong enough to withstand the test of time.

Niffenegger will have you giggling one moment and crying the next. Her ability to manage a timeline driven plot with a time traveler is outstanding and surprisingly easy to follow- not to mention the foresight and foreshadowing that is worked in. It’s so eloquently written, and I adore the language that comes from each character- so intelligent, witty, and honest. I’ll stop gushing, but if this is still on your TBR pile, definitely give it a read.