Posts Tagged With: Sarah Dessen

Once and For All

Sarah Dessen has been my favorite author since I was fourteen.  I’ve read all of her books and get the new ones as quickly as I can.  Her latest, Once and For All, is obviously written by a different person, a Sarah Dessen who’s grown and is reacting to the world around her.

Louna has seen a lot of marriages come and go, courtesy of her mother’s wedding planning business.  But its hard to believe in true love because, if you only get one, she’s already lost her chance.  But Ambrose believes in second chances and wishes, and he hopes to make Louna believe in them too.

I enjoyed Once and For All, though the quality after the magic of her writing in Saint Anything was slightly disappointing.  It is clear she used this writing to work through her grief about recent news events.  I don’t fault her for this – it’s what writing is for – but it did affect the story’s cohesion.

The chapters alternated between the main story and flashbacks of Louna’s life before. It worked for Louna’s character, revealing crucial information about her past in a format that allowed the reader to know her as she is and what made her that way.  It shows the ways tragedy can affect a person.

Unfortunately, trying to write two love stories in one book distracted from the main plot.  Neither romance was as immersive as most of her books are.

Despite this, the characters are as charming as ever, including William, Louna’s mother’s gay business partner, and Louna’s best friend Jilly.  I mention them by name because they were my favorites, and every scene they appear in feels like hanging out with a friend.

Overall, I did enjoy Sarah Dessen’s Once and For All…I just wouldn’t recommend it as anyone’s first Dessen novel.

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Everything I’ve Learned About Healing I Learned from Sarah Dessen

On Tuesday I wrote about grief: what I felt, what I’m still feeling, and what I’m learning in the meantime.  One of the things I’ve learned is that grief is a process.  It’s not an easy one, but it goes hand-in-hand with healing.

I was still drowning in my grief when I first heard about The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen.  When I heard the synopsis, I went hunting for it, like searching for a lighthouse to lead me back to shore.  And it worked.  In Macy, I found my own fear and sadness reflect to me.  And in following her through it, I found my own way out.  When she mentions what it takes to mention someone, I think about our old kitchen, my dad clutching me to his side and singing his own version of “Let it Snow.”  When she talks about the packages that keep arriving from Maine, I think about the box of my dad’s things and how, for a while, I thought I’d find my own message within it.

Over time, the book became a “comfort food” to my soul.  Like I tweeted the other day, I feel a weight fall away from my shoulders when I read the words “Jason was going to Brain Camp.”

This time, when I recognized where I was headed, I went back to this book.  During this reading, I paid a lot of attention to Macy’s relationship.  Obviously, her one and a half-year relationship with a guy who wouldn’t even say “I love you” was different from my eight year relationship with the man who asked me to move in with him, but I completely understood the feeling of losing the one thing in life that makes any damn sense.  It also felt good to hear Kristy tell her she was a prize and that she deserved better than a guy who was going to pull away the moment she got too close.

Still, it was the overall message about grief that got to me (again): how everyone deals with things differently and it’s okay to fall apart, how the people who love you can handle more than you expect.  How things are always harder at first but they get better over time.

Mostly, Macy learns not to be afraid.  She learns being open is not a weakness and getting hurt is not the end of the world.  And even if she can’t talk to the most important person in her life and her boyfriend left, she isn’t alone.

My first copy of this book has more underlined than not.  This time, I started in a new edition.  Among the first things I underlined this go around where the sentences “Like so much else, I could not control that.” and “Shoulda, coulda, woulda.  It’s so easy in the past tense.”

The idea that I am entirely help in this situation, that I couldn’t have fixed things, is hard.  The idea that I could have is harder.

With my dad’s death, it took a long time to recognize that my actions wouldn’t have changed the outcome, but it didn’t affect my grieving as much (besides the added guilt) because, well…the outcome had happened and I could redo it now.  But with this break-up, the hardest part is to think I could have done better, because I am always looking to try again.  And thinking that way is so detrimental to my grieving and moving on.

But Macy teaches me that things aren’t as bad as they look.  She teaches me that who I am is enough, even if it falls short in some people’s minds.  And, more than anything, she teaches me that things do get better, so long as we open ourselves up to the possibilities.

So here’s to grieving.  And once that’s done, here’s to the healing.  Here’s to the entire world we’ve forgotten.  Here’s to the first steps being the hardest, but everything being easier now, after time, after letting yourself hurt and learning that it might be okay not to.

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Day 2, and The Importance of Living Authors

As promised at the beginning of June (or the end of May, I can’t recall any more), I’m going to spend today talking about my recent trip to Asheville to see Sarah Dessen’s book tour for Saint Anything.


You may recall me telling you about my experience reading the book (if not, refresh your memory).  It was a great book, so Emily and I were very excited to hear her talk about it.

I believe that reading the work of living authors is extremely important.  The classics are almost untouchable.  You read them, and that’s all you have.  I don’t think you can realize what you’re truly missing out on until you actually hear an author speak.  Sarah (can I call her Sarah?  is that too familiar?) didn’t only discuss this success, but also the book that she abandoned before she wrote Saint Anything.  She talked about her process, about how she gets herself into “work mode,” and about the role her agent, editors, and publishers have in the book.  She also told us that behind the twelve books she has published, there are thirteen that failed.

That is powerful for “aspiring writers” everywhere.  We read the published works and forget that even our favorite authors, the ones whose words make us weep and laugh and make our hearts swell with joy, once began where we are.  Hearing my favorite author say that she has bad writing days and projects that were better off abandoned is a comfort on the days that I feel like I am dragging the words out of a ten foot hole with nothing but a piece of floss, just like Neil Gaiman’s answer to my ask on Tumblr made me feel that much more secure about my career choice.

Neil's Answer

Reading classics is important, to show both the timelessness of human nature and a photograph of the time period in which it was written, but living artists breathe life into new artists.  Living writers will inspire the next great novel more than anything written a hundred years ago can.

It is with Sarah Dessen’s words in mind that I go back to write the second draft of my own novel tomorrow.  I hope I will do the story justice, that it will touch people like her books touched me, and that it too will become an inspiration.  But if it does fail, these two things will comfort me: that I have done well enough by putting in the time and work, and that I am in good company, even in my failures.

(By the way, if you want to hear about some other times I interacted with living authors, check out this blog post here.)

And today’s the last day to vote for July’s Reader-Voted Project!

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The Three-Parter

Like the Guinness cake I made for my boyfriend’s birthday last year, this blog post comes to you in three parts.

Part 1.

As promised, I’m going to share about the family event that happened on Sunday.  We drove down to Chester State Park for the day.  It’s really pretty down there.  I got a little carsick on the way (bumpy, twisty roads), which has never happened before, but once we got there, it was a lot of fun.  I played cards with my two younger cousins, who just finished their school year.  Then I went for a hike with my uncle and my oldest cousin.  We saw some birds and talked about books, movies, and my job.

The food was amazing.  We brought home four pieces of corn because the way my aunt made it was so good.  She also made chocolate chip scones which were equally delicious.

This is my dad’s brother and his family, who live in the next state, so we don’t see them as often as we’d like.  As such, it was really nice to catch up with them.  They’re planning a HUGE road trip for the summer and suggested some movies for me to watch as well.

Part 2. 

I saw Avengers: Age of Ultron and Mad Max: Fury Road this week.  To keep this post from being the length of a novel (or at least, the first draft of mine), I’m going to do very brief reviews in the form of Pros and Cons.

Age of Ultron:

  • Positives: The sass!  The sass is great.  The treatment of Steve’s PTSD, plus his treatment of the twins.  Tony’s characterization, culminating in the creation of Ultron.  Tony and Thor bragging about their women’s accomplishments.
  • Negatives: Basically everything else.  CGI mainly looked like a video game.  The Natasha/Bruce relationship came out of nowhere.  Clint’s hidden family?  Sucks and has no emotional weight because they also came from no where.  I actually wanted to see Jane and Pepper, and Falcon should have been involved in the fight more. Natasha’s only scenes were related to her relationship with Bruce.  And the fact that they made her barrenness about him was an insult.

Mad Max:

  • Positives: SO MANY KICKASS WOMEN!  We have Furiosa the warrior, the “wives” who were declaring their independence and that “we are not things,” the mothers who are protecting their own and set out to find a new home, and even the women at the end of the movie who used to pump milk but opened the floodgates to give the people water.  I LOVE THEM ALL!  Max handing Furiosa guns is the best thing ever.  The story of them looking for the “green place” and finding it where they started but without the warlord is amazing.  Every death (and there is death) is important and meaningful.  All the road rage is awesome.  Made me want to go drag racing…
  • Negatives: …I honestly can’t think of anything to put here.

So you can see which I preferred.  Not sure I’ll watch another Marvel movie until Captain Marvel.  I guess we’ll see, but you should definitely go see Mad Max.  It isn’t your average action movie.  I mean, it definitely has explosions and fight scenes, but it also has emotional resonance and awesome female heroes.

Part 3.

This is the last Tuesday post of May, so I’m looking ahead to June.  Here’s what I’ll be writing next month, barring any surprises.

June 2: Brad Paisley concert (yay!)
June 9: Novel Writing: The First Draft.
June 16: June Reader-Voted Project.
June 23: Father’s Day, and the lack of.
June 30: Sarah Dessen at Malaprops!

And speaking of, this is the last week to vote in my Reader-Voted Project poll.  So cast your vote, and we’ll see what happens.

(Also, yes, I got the challenge in my comments.  I’m going to work on it during June, but won’t post until July.  But I will post it!)

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Saint Anything, and Who’s Your Favorite Superhero?

I read two books this week…plus more comics than I can say without admitting I might need help.  So this post is coming to you in three parts.

First, as I mentioned last Tuesday, the new Sarah Dessen, Saint Anything, came out two days ago.  I happened to be awake at five am and decided to head to Walmart to get it.  I started it when I got home at 5:30.  I slept about another hour and a half, went to work for four, and had tutoring for one, and I was still done with the book before 8 that night.

Now, my favorite Sarah Dessen book (and book period) is always going to be The Truth About Forever, but this one, Saint Anything, may be the best she’s written to date (objectively).  This exploration of cause and effect, the evolution of relationships (romantic, familial, AND friendly), and learning to show others who you are when you’re still working it out yourself is powerful, to say the least.  It’s also beautifully written with lovable characters and strong, real emotions.

In short, I loved it…like I love every Sarah Dessen novel.  But this one felt stronger and more substantial than even my favorites.  It is her twelfth book, and I believe we’ll discover, with every book that comes after, that apparently you can improve on perfection.

Of course, as this book came out only this week, it didn’t meet the requirement I set for my book challenge that it be a book I got before the end of last year.  So the book I’ve read that is actually going to check off an item is Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke.  My best friend bought it for me as a graduation gift, and I’ve been reading a little bit of it before I start writing hour every day.  It’s going to count as the book originally written in another language, German.  It’s been very inspiring (as Em hoped it would be) and encouraged me to continue my creative endeavors.

Book Challenge

And, finally…yes, I’ve been reading a lot of comic books.  Mostly female superheroes: Wonder Woman, Batgirl, Spider-Gwen, Ms. Marvel, and, my favorite, Captain Marvel.  I also just started Lumberjanes, which is a completely different thing but I’m liking from page one.

Who’s your favorite superhero?  And, if you read comics, what do you suggest I read next?

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Ahem.  Excuse me.  What I meant to say was:


…I’m just really excited, okay?

Anyway, this weekend was kind of busy.  Friday, I drove up to Chapel Hill with two friends, where we had lunch at Spanky’s with two of my OTHER friends.  We ended up at the comic book store.  Oh, and we saw this first hand.  We went to the mall and shopped at Hot Topic, and then really just chilled in our hotel for the night with a couple cocktails and comic books (which, now that I think of it, would be an awesome store concept).

Saturday was the day of things we were actually there for.  We got up in the morning and went to the Friends of the Durham County Library Book Sale and cleaned up.  (There will be more information about that on Thursday, fyi.)  We went to the Honeygirl Meadery, took the tour, and tried the mead.  If you’ve never had it, you should give it a try.  They use 900 pounds of honey per batch, and each batch has to sit for at least six months and then go through two filtration processes.  It’s pretty cool.

In the middle, we had lunch at Waffle House, and it was the WORST dining service I’ve ever had.  We waited for 30 minutes before they even put our order in (we heard them call it out) and then at least another twenty before it was done.  Basically, we waited an hour, and the food was fine (except I did find an eggshell piece on my ham), but NOT worth that wait.  We went to California Pizza Kitchen for dinner, and we were seated in the time they told us, food was out within 15 minutes, and besides the fact that the food was better, the service was really good too.

Sunday we went back to Chapel Hill, and had breakfast at Breadmen’s with Katie and Caroline.  They were pretty busy, but the food was really good and the place has some nice memories for me.  Caroline had to go back to her room and finish a paper, but the rest of us went to Flyleaf next.  I can’t go to Chapel Hill without going to Flyleaf.  In fact, when Jennifer asked me what she should expect, I described the entire layout to her.  After buying a book there (and yes, you will get the total on Thursday, and many of the titles), we went BACK to the comic book store.

We had considered going to Duke, but we were all tired and had spent too much money, and so we ended up going home after that.  But I was really glad to see my Chapel Hill girls (who are growing up and moving on. sniff.), do some hardcore book shopping (since I haven’t bought myself a book since December), and see my beloved, second hometown again.

So this was a nice little adventure, and I’m glad to have been on it, even though I still don’t feel like I’m caught up on sleep.

The adventures I’m going to talk about in the coming month are:

5/5: Networking Meetings
5/12: Meeting Cary Elwes
5/26: A family gathering

…some of these clearly sound more exciting than others, but I’m excited about all of them, if for different reasons.  So I guess we’ll see.

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Random thoughts about this week.

  • I finally saw Jurassic Park last night.  For me, this counts as an accomplishment: 1, I read the book in 2013 for the express purpose of finally watching the movie and that’s only just now happened.  And 2, I got the movie from the library and it’s kind of overdue.
  • It’s been snowing this morning, so I cancelled my dentist appointment but I still have to go to work.  Which is fine, I guess, considering I’m being very expensive this week and really need the hours.
  • This is how I’m being expensive: tonight, dinner and drinks with a friend while we watch the Carolina/State game (which reminds me, must find a Carolina shirt to wear…), Saturday driving up to Chapel Hill and going to be eating out up there practically all weekend, so gas and food money.  Plus, I am buying this, you can’t talk me out of it, I’m ordering it as soon as I publish this post.
  • I have however continued to refrain from buying books.  It’s been two months, and I’m kinda proud of myself.  Also feel like I’m finally making some progress as far as getting books I already own read.  Working on Watchmen now, stay tuned for Book Club Thursday this week.
  • Tonight is my first tutoring “job.”  I decided to volunteer and at first I just said I’d babysit.  Then I thought, what the heck, and put down tutoring too.  Then she actually asked me to do tutoring and I realized I made a horrible mistake and now I’m going to be helping a kindergartener get ready for first grade.  Wish us both luck.
  • Because of that and the game, I won’t be able to watch the final Agent Carter or Parks and Rec live, which I’m both sad and relieved about.
  • The month of May is going to kill me.  It’s when the first draft of my book is supposed to be finished, plus Sarah Dessen’s new book and Pitch Perfect 2 are coming out, plus the Brad Paisley concert is happening.  I’m going to put in for meet and greet again, maybe this time I’ll actually get it.
  • How do you keep yourself accountable for imaginary deadlines you made up?
  • …It’s cold, and my laptop needs to be plugged in.  Carry on with your day.
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The Bucket List

Face it: Everybody has one.  Even if that isn’t what they call it, everyone has a bucket list.  It’s the things they would like to do, the things they would regret not doing if they knew they would die tomorrow.  Mine currently has 107 items.  I know.  Lots of things.  These 107 items include career items, like finish writing a novel, hear a song I wrote on the radio, and work on a Disney princess movie (by the way Disney, I already have a story in mind and I am totally available).  There are also some experiences I’d like to have like seeing the Grand Canyon and the Northern Lights and having lunch with Sarah Dessen.  There are some items that are going to take a little more time, like learn to play guitar, take a cross-country road trip, visit every Major League Baseball stadium in America.  And there are the growing up ones, where I want to get married and have and adopt kids.

I wrote them all down.  I came across them the other day, and it’s serving as a really nice reminder.  See, I’m currently living with my mom and working part-time at my local library.  Sometimes I worry that nothing is changing, that on December 31, 2015, I will look back and say, “I am in exactly the same place I was last year.”

But looking over my list, I accomplished several things in 2014.  I drank Irish coffee (in Ireland, of all places), I walked across the London Bridge, I studied at Oxford, and worked at Disney World.  But these were all big things that I mostly only managed because I was still in school.  But I also managed to drink a beer at a Brad Paisley concert while he sang “Alcohol,” which has been kind of a huge dream of mine since I was 18.

I’m currently working on the “finish a novel” thing.  The waltzing, guitar playing, and two-stepping I could learn, if I would just, you know, get started.  Having lunch with Sarah Dessen is going to be a little trickier, but maybe once I’m a published novelist, we can bond over being Tar Heel girls. (In case you haven’t noticed, Sarah Dessen is my favorite writer of all time.  It’s why she gets so many mentions.)  Some of the items are big and are going to take more resources than I have right now.  But some of them aren’t and I could do before the end of 2015.

And I think, if I didn’t finish them, it wouldn’t be the end of the world.  The “traveling to every MLB stadium in America” one was my dad’s, and I want to do it because he didn’t get to.  So maybe, when I’m gone, someone who loves me will find my list and start working on the rest.

The point is to take advance of every opportunity you’ve got, but also to work towards what you have to make happen yourself.  It’s a balance.

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Long Story Short, Continued.

I did finish the short story book this week, but that was it as far as books go. And I finished it Tuesday, so I have no excuse.

Everything I said last week still applies.  Short story books are hard to read in a few sittings.  All of the stories were very well written (I knew they would be; Marianne Gingher doesn’t take poor quality writing) but they were not all my cup of tea.  Since this book is different than many of the books I’ve talked about, I’m going to write this post differently.  Instead of an overall review, I’m going to share a little bit about my three favorite stories from the collection.

“Registry” by Sarah Dessen: this is the first story I actually read out of the collection, because Sarah Dessen is my favorite author of all time.  Her novels are all young adult, but the characters in registry are a little older and the situation a little more mature.  She uses the perfect amounts of subtlety and sensory descriptions to tell an amazing story.

“In New York” by Doug Marlette: I think my favorites in this collection were stories that were both realistic and things I would never do in a million years.  Being Southern, I loved how the main character reacted in this story.  Marlette perfectly balanced the attempt to live in a world while still belong in another.

“Devil’s Island” by Margaret Maron: this one actually isn’t realistic, and it’s one of the shorter stories in the collection, but at the end of the page my jaw dropped.  It’s so subtle and clever that you have to consider what she’s telling you very carefully but the payoff is incredible.

You might not love every story in the collection, but you can definitely find something that speaks to you, especially if you love North Carolina writers.

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And Happy New Year! And New Books.

Yay!  First Book Club Thursday of 2015!  Woohoo!

Those of you who have been keeping up know that I intend to complete a book challenge this year.  I talked about it at the end of my December book challenge.

The rules are: I have to tell you about every one of them, they can’t be books I have already read, and I have to choose them from books I already own.  Considering that I own almost 400 books I have yet to read, I think I should be all right (although I am a little worried about finding one set in my hometown as nothing is set in my hometown).

Since today is the start of a new year, I started a new book and checked off the “Book I can finish in a day.”  I was at my friend’s house this morning, bored since she hadn’t woken up yet, so my options were a little limited.  Not that she doesn’t have books, she has books, but it had to be one I owned and most of the options we both have, I’ve already read.  But not all, so I finally settled on a book she had been bugging me to read for a while.

Maybe I’m biased against James Patterson because he doesn’t write most of his books (he can’t! He puts out three a year), but I was not impressed.  The writing was fine, but not magical.  His characterization was spotty.  Jane was a completely different person while Michael was in her life, and it can’t all be contributed to her being happy.  It should have been a more gradual change, but instead it looks like all of her strength came from him.  Her mother was shown to be a harpy and to take everyone else’s side against Jane’s, but (spoiler alert) while she’s dying she says none of that was true.  It felt very out of character.

He made it seem like hunger was a bad thing, showing that Jane stopped eating once she was happy because she “wasn’t hungry.”  It would have been fine if she had stopped eating based on her emotions, but she just said she wasn’t hungry.  Obviously when she didn’t eat, she lost weight, but I hated that she had to do that.  Why can’t a heroine be a little bigger?

Also, I could not get over the weirdness of Michael falling in love with a nine year old and then finding her again and having sex with her years later.  And the story really could have started on page 129, if he had given us the background information as needed instead of as one big chunk in the beginning.

So basically, the first book of 2015 was kind of a dud.  But I read it.  Sarah Dessen says that what you do on New Year’s you’ll do all year, so I read, and now I’m writing.  That’s all I really need to do this year.

My favorite thing about this book:  Probably the scene where she buys her own ring at Tiffany’s.  I love Tiffany’s, and I’ve been wanting to buy my own “right-hand ring” for a while now.  I know that ad she mentioned, and I think it’s great.

My least favorite thing about this book:  The fact that he FELL IN LOVE WITH A NINE YEAR OLD!

Who I would most like to recommend this book to:  …probably no one, honestly.

Where I read this book:  In my best friend’s bedroom, as well as in my own home.

Where this book sits on my bookshelf:  Between S. Truett Cathy’s autobiography and The Perks of Being a Wallflower.  I filed it under Gabrielle Charbonnet because I think she deserves more credit.

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