Mini!Reviews: The Disenchantments (Nina LaCour) & There You’ll Find Me (Jenny B. Jones)

I’ve made it my New Year’s Resolution to attempt to review every (or nearly every) book that I read in 2013, but sometimes I read so quickly and am so busy that I don’t have enough time to thoroughly write a detailed review. I’m trying to remedy this with a series of “mini” (or rather, smaller-than-usual-but-not-quite-“bite-sized”) book reviews. Though they won’t be as detailed or as long as my usual book reviews, they’ll still be long enough to convey my thoughts.

Today’s mini!reviews are of the novels The Disenchantments by Nina LaCour and There You’ll Find Me by Jenny B. Jones.

the disenchantments - nina lacour

Colby and Bev have a long-standing pact: graduate, hit the road with Bev’s band, and then spend the year wandering around Europe. But moments after the tour kicks off, Bev makes a shocking announcement: she’s abandoning their plans — and Colby — to start college in the fall.

But the show must go on and The Disenchantments weave through the Pacific Northwest, playing in small towns and dingy venues, while roadie- Colby struggles to deal with Bev’s already-growing distance and the most important question of all: what’s next?

The Disenchantments is a complex novel about a complicated, close friendship, set on the backdrop of a cross-country band-touring road trip. I initially picked it up because I can’t remember the last time I read a YA novel narrated by a male protagonist, written by a female author, and this was something I never knew I wanted until I started reading. The themes of art, music, growing up, and self-discovery make up this book. However, it is the two main characters that drive these themes home, and the reason why I really enjoyed this book.

Girls with platonic relationships with boys are constantly singled out for being “cruel”, for “leading them on”, and for “friendzoning” them. What I liked about this novel was that although Colby was in love with his best friend, Bev and had been for years — to the point where he had dreams that one day she would give him a chance — his hurt doesn’t stem from some ridiculous notions of being “friendzoned”. In fact, it’s hinted that Bev might even return his feelings, but she has so much going on in her life that she doesn’t want to pursue them and ruin probably her closest relationship. But even if she doesn’t, romance is not the point of this book, nor would it be healthy for Colby and Bev to be in a relationship — not with Colby’s misconceived, built-up perception of Bev, or with Bev’s personal insecurities and issues with her family (and herself).

Though I can’t say I agreed with some of Bev’s choices, especially the way she risked Colby’s future by not telling him of her plans or back-up plans throughout their senior year, I understand why it was difficult for her to even bring up the subject. (Beneath the surface, she truly cares about him, and after listening to him talk about this Europe trip for so long, how could she easily tell him that she wanted to go to this college instead, especially when — back then — it was a chance she was taking for herself and she had no idea if she’d even get in?) But Colby’s hurt at not being told, especially since he had rearranged his life around the plan to Europe they were no longer taking, and had not applied to colleges for the fall, is equally justified and real. (Misconceived perceptions or not, wouldn’t you be miffed that someone made a huge life-affecting plan with you, only to cancel it last-minute and leave you unsure of what the next year brings because you never thought to make a back-up plan, thinking you’d never need it?) The humanity in these characters, their fragile feelings and imperfections, truly resonated with me.

I also loved that the band featured in the Disenchantments was a girl band, and the focus was not on improving musical ability or talent or making great manufactured records that hide the fact that no one in the band can actually play their instruments. I’ve never seen this in a book about musicians, even amateur teenage musicians, and I found the idea behind their band’s existence and the reason for their tour compelling. They might be a group of beautiful girls, but their audience, after the initial shock of the not-so-great music, ended up enjoying their shows because they were mesmerized by their energy and passion. These feelings resonated with people, enough for them to be carried away by the band’s vivacity and enjoy the performance anyway. Could such a band sell a CD? Probably not. But on stage, their enthusiasm was electrifying and their audience was enchanted, watching them fall completely for the music.

The Disenchantments is a story about the intricacy of people and relationships. Fans of John Green’s work, especially Paper Towns, will enjoy this.

there you'll find me - jenny b. jones

Finley Sinclair is not your typical eighteen-year-old. She’s witty, tough, and driven. With an upcoming interview at the Manhattan music conservatory, Finley needs to compose her audition piece. But her creativity disappeared with the death of her older brother, Will. She decides to study abroad in Ireland so she can follow Will’s travel journal. It’s the place he felt closest to God, and she’s hopeful being there will help her make peace over losing him. So she agrees to an exchange program and boards the plane. Beckett Rush, teen heart-throb and Hollywood bad boy, is flying to Ireland to finish filming his latest vampire movie. On the flight, he meets Finley. She’s the one girl who seems immune to his charm. Undeterred, Beckett convinces her to be his assistant in exchange for his help as a tour guide.
Once in Ireland, Finley starts to break down. The loss of her brother and the pressure of school, her audition, and whatever it is that is happening between her and Beckett, leads her to a new and dangerous vice. When is God going to show up for her in this emerald paradise?

All I knew about There You’ll Find Me before I started reading was that it took place in Ireland. As a fan of books with foreign settings and a girl who very much wants to travel everywhere I possibly can one day, it was a book I had to pick up. What I was not expecting was a beautiful, poignant novel about grief, endurance, and personal faith.

There You’ll Find Me begins with Finley Sinclair, an eighteen-year-old hotel heiress (I laughed) on her way to Abbeyglen, Ireland to work on her audition piece for the New York Conservatory. She ends up sitting beside teen heart-throb Beckett Rush, an actor in a vampire franchise (I laughed again) who is more than his tabloid headlines, and though she doesn’t know it at the time, the chance encounter (the first of many) is the start of a hilarious, adorable love/hate friendship and a relationship that ends up strongly impacting her life.

What I loved about this novel was how it transcended the clichés and tropes Jenny B. Jones threw in it. Finley struggles with an eating disorder after her older brother Will was killed in a terrorist attack. She comes from a religious family, but because of her grief, she feels as if God has forsaken her. Her brother was a deeply religious person, and he felt God everywhere in Abbeyglen, so she wants to travel there and see the same sights he did, if not to reclaim the faith that had once been the cornerstone of her being, than to feel that connection with Will again, to fall in love with the country that took his breath away and made him feel something within his core. Throw in a cute movie star who is nothing like his public persona (and uses every opportunity to tease or flirt with Finley), an ambitious (and irritating) schoolgirl nemesis, and a seemingly angry, bitter elderly woman dying of cancer (with an enormous load of regrets and a huge secret), and you have an interesting romantic comedy in the making. Despite these commonly used and somewhat-unrealistic plots (how many hotel heiresses and vampire actors are you personally familiar with?), I found the heart of the story — Finley’s story — to be compelling, and it is the reason why reading this novel felt worthwhile. Finley’s search for faith and her failure at coping with loss are two things I felt anyone could relate to. As much as they may annoy the hell out of me sometimes, I can’t imagine losing either of my siblings. Her feelings, the fact that after all this time she was still finding it difficult to deal with the lack of her brother’s presence in her life, really resonated with me, and I found myself meandering Ireland’s gorgeous landscape beside her, in search of the faith I once held strongly but could no longer feel.

The one thing that made me hesitant to read There You’ll Find Me was how much religion played in the story. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that this book was not preachy, and though biblical verses are scattered within the novel, I thought it was realistic the way Finley, someone who had once been very religious, grasped at them for strength (especially a verse she had selected to recite whenever she needed to remind herself that she, who had already endured so much, could conquer anything she faced head-on), and it made sense to me that in this Irish location, so many people would be as faithful as Finley’s family. I never once felt overwhelmed by the story’s spiritual nature, nor did I ever feel like the mentions of Christianity or God were unnecessary. This book is essentially about a girl who is only trying to figure things out in a world where someone close to her is no longer alive, and because religion was a huge part of who she and Will were, it plays a huge role in her quest to rediscover who she is now.

Though I adored the romance (I fell hard for Beckett Rush, and then I discovered his real name was Michael — if you know anything about my Nikita obsession, you’ll realize why I was a goner even before I’d realized — and fell harder) and Beckett and Finley’s banter (which ended up fueling this beautiful love/hate relationship), I felt that There You’ll Find Me was a little too ambitious, trying to cover a great expanse of serious subjects and cute scenes all at once. While at times, Jenny B. Jones was able to balance the heavy elements with the light, at other times, the novel felt a bit congested, and things like Beatrice, the caricature teenage villain who seemed to add nothing to the novel other than present another (kind of unnecessary) obstacle for Finley, and Beckett’s problems with his father and his acting career, get lost in the mix. I was also really confused why Mrs. Sweeney’s side story about her poor relationship with her sister, their complicated history, and the beautiful-but-soap-opera-ish thing she did for her took over story midway, but this ended up immensely influencing Finley’s own journey so strongly that I didn’t mind at all by the time I finished the book (even though it did make the novel seem a little unfocused).

The musical component, every scene in which Finley and Beckett traipse around Ireland enjoying the almost dreamlike scenery (especially for Finley, who has already “viewed” the place through Will’s eyes in his journal), and the way that Finley ultimately attains closure and rediscovers faith truly touched me. I’m a religious person (even if Finley and I don’t share the same religion), so I have no idea how a person who does not actively practice a religion or is agnostic or atheist would react to this book, but I personally thought Finley’s loss (of both her brother and her faith), search for closure and control within herself after that loss was something anyone could relate to, regardless of his or her beliefs. The emotions in There You’ll Find Me truly took my breath away (and made me cry into my Kindle) so much that I didn’t even mind the slightly-rushed resolution. If you’re a fan of emotional journeys in gorgeous locations, you should give this novel a try.



Review: The Moon and More – Sarah Dessen

the moon and more - sarah dessen

Luke is the perfect boyfriend: handsome, kind, fun. He and Emaline have been together all through high school in Colby, the beach town where they both grew up. But now, in the summer before college, Emaline wonders if perfect is good enough.
Enter Theo, a super-ambitious outsider, a New Yorker assisting on a documentary film about a reclusive local artist. Theo’s sophisticated, exciting, and, best of all, he thinks Emaline is much too smart for Colby.
Emaline’s mostly-absentee father, too, thinks Emaline should have a bigger life, and he’s convinced that an Ivy League education is the only route to realizing her potential. Emaline is attracted to the bright future that Theo and her father promise. But she also clings to the deep roots of her loving mother, stepfather, and sisters. Can she ignore the pull of the happily familiar world of Colby?
Emaline wants the moon and more, but how can she balance where she comes from with where she’s going?

Sarah Dessen novels have been a summer staple of mine since I stumbled upon The Truth About Forever in high school and absolutely fell in love. Her books were some of the first contemporary romance YA novels I ever read, and I adore them so much that I revisit my favorites year after year after year, whenever it’s the season and I need something adorable to read. There is just something about her books and her writing… She is able to capture the mundane in a way that is both interesting and emotionally resonating. To the point where I almost always find myself engrossed in the lives of her characters and their stories, wanting to see them learn and grow.

The problem with being such an avid reader of Sarah Dessen’s is that I’ve read every book she’s ever written. I’ve reread all of the books I really loved. I know her formula as well as I know the back of my hand, but there are quirks in some of her novels, subtle differences in the characters and their circumstances and even in the setting, that are still able to make the story interesting for me. Something that sets it apart from other Sarah Dessen novels, but still pulls at my heartstrings in the same manner. And for the most part, these are the novels that I adore (my favorites are The Truth About Forever, This Lullaby, and Just Listen). So whenever a new Sarah Dessen novel has been published, I approach it with excitement and a little reluctance. Because I know I’ll enjoy the story, but I won’t be able to stop comparing it to what I consider the hallmark of Dessen’s work (even if this may seem a little unfair). I need it to be able to stand on its own. But also, I need the feelings — its heart — to be very much the same.

For this reason… I have absolutely no idea what to say about The Moon and More. Like every Dessen novel published after Just Listen, I presented it with the same challenge. Like Lock and Key and Along for the Ride, it nearly succeeded, and then, ultimately I’m not sure if it failed or if it gave me exactly what I asked for.

The Moon and More takes place in the summer, relating the story of a girl (Emaline) during the transitional period between high school and college, her teenage years and adulthood. It started the way several of its predecessors began, detailing the intricacies and complexities of the girl’s familial relationships, re-introducing a familiar setting through the eyes of this new protagonist, and introducing a boy (Theo) who would end up challenging the way the girl thinks, learning from her and helping her learn something new about herself. It was the Dessen formula in a nutshell, and though I felt disappointed that she hadn’t tried something new with this one, I had fallen into Emaline’s life easily, recognizing Dessen’s writing and her scenarios as something familiar, a home of sorts.

And yet, this novel surprised me. While it is true that these elements, key facets of Dessen’s works, are present in the novel, The Moon and More felt different for me in a way I had not expected at all. Mostly because The Moon and More is not actually a love story. It isn’t about an epic summer love; it isn’t about a girl meeting a boy and discovering him to be “the one”. I don’t know if I can call this a summer romance novel like most of Dessen’s other novels because even though there are romantic relationships in the novel, it is not the focus. Instead, any romance in The Moon and More is used directly to illustrate changes in Emaline, character development. This book is Emaline’s alone.

What I loved about The Moon and More is that essentially, it is about a girl trying to figure out the pieces of her life, her feelings about them, and how they fit in during this time when everything is changing. It’s a common Dessen plot, but instead of the romance fueling the character’s epiphany by the end, Emaline does it on her own, through her own observations. The romance is more or less something that just happens, something she learns from, and something that may or may not be irrelevant aside from the lessons it taught her.

My favorite feature of this book is the realism. Though many contemporary novels (including Sarah Dessen’s former ones) revolve around realistic situations, I think this is the first time I’ve seen a novel feature estranged parental relationships that don’t end well (and probably won’t… ever), great romantic relationships that end badly, and a seemingly great (non-abusive) relationship that isn’t actually great at all (it’s just…meh). The Moon and More‘s main theme is that everything in life cannot be “the best”. Every moment or relationship can’t possibly be epic (because then the ‘epic’ would become ‘the mundane’ and… where do you go from there?), there has to be ups and downs. This meant that while Emaline’s situation with her biological father constantly frustrated me, I understood why Sarah Dessen wrote it the way she did — situations like Emaline’s happen in real life all the time. The other main difference in this book is that it features not one, but two relationships, and the romance is basically up in the air. Emaline begins the summer with her long term boyfriend, Luke, whom she has been dating for four years. Though they’re a great couple (for the most part), they’ve been dating so long that neither of them feel much of a spark anymore, even though they still deeply care for each other. So their relationship is gradually falling apart. Not because they don’t love each other, not because Emaline’s intrigued by the new city boy who just arrived in Colby, but because they are teenagers who have dated since freshman year — they don’t know anything else, they don’t know anyone else, and they are at the point in their lives when new people, new experiences, and inquisitiveness reign.

The new romance that begins in The Moon and More, on the other hand, is such a dud that I had to question if I was “reading the book right” so many times. I could not believe Sarah Dessen, the queen of summer boys who take my breath away (Wes Baker and Dexter Jones) would introduce a character who was ridiculous, pretentious, way out of line, and constantly needed to be punched in the face. Especially when it takes Emaline longer than it took me to realize it. It was frustrating reading a novel I expected to be a romance with a relationship that was all wrong when the summary made it seem like I would like this new boy who was a refreshing change from the boys Emaline knew, this character who, for the most part, seemed to be artsy and quirky and interesting — the type of things I usually fall in love with. But everything about Theo only seemed to make me angry, and he never once respected Emaline as her own person (if she disagreed with him, she was simply wrong or confused or sheltered and did not yet “know better”). Strangely, being with Theo, who provided insight into city life (and the life of the wealthy), did help Emaline discover how much time she spends wishing for something better, taking for granted all the things she loves about her family and her home in Colby. He also taught her to go after the things in life that matter to her, that if there was something better out there, she should try her best to seize it. As a boyfriend, Theo was pretty unmemorable (I would erase him from my memory if I was Emaline, to be honest), but as a person, he was responsible for Emaline’s altered outlook on life. He affected her thoughts and opinions, and he helped her become more comfortable with whom she is (and whom she is not).

The biggest change, and the reason why I am uncertain about the feelings the novel leaves me with, is the fact that because the book is not about a romance, the timeline and the plot focus on Emaline. In the beginning, Emaline has doubts about her life and curiosity about the world. In the middle, she meets and dates Theo, challenging her opinions and feelings and discovering things about herself. By the end, her worldview is altered, she herself as reached some sort of conclusion — as much of a conclusion as a growing, learning individual about to leave for college (and change some more) can. Previous Dessen timelines revolve around the romance, the introduction, the things the boy and girl learn about themselves from the relationship, some kind of epiphany but also relationship-closure (which usually, except in the case of Dreamland, means that the relationship is solid by the end of the novel, or it will be solid when the characters meet again). There is no relationship-closure in The Moon and More. By the end of the novel, Emaline is in a good place with herself. She knows where she stands with her family. However, she has no idea where she stands with Luke. Even while she was dating Theo, it was obvious that she and Luke cared about each other. He was still there for her as a friend when she needed him, he still wanted to know why she was upset and to do whatever he could to make her feel better. I’ll be honest — I was rooting for them from the start. But like real relationships, the fact that they had feelings for each other was not enough, and both Emaline and Luke, who had spent their teenage years together, needed to learn who they are without eachother. It’s a mature decision not to reconcile by the end of the novel (not romantically, anyway), but it’s a decision that is so different from Sarah Dessen’s novels, so unexpected, that I found myself a little disappointed in the end. Emaline’s story is very much finished, but Emaline and Luke are a story that have barely just started. Maybe they’ll realize they found the real thing in high school, somewhere down the line, and find each other again. Or maybe they’ll just be that perfect high school romance they carry with them in memory, something that was a huge part of who they were as teenagers, but nothing more. I don’t know (though I want to believe the former), but this uncertainty, even if Emaline’s personal story was resolved, haunted me after finishing the novel. As realistic as it was, part of me could not help but wish for the usual Sarah Dessen endings. I needed some more closure.


Read-a-thon: Bout of Books

Considering I’m over ten books behind on my personal 2013 Goodreads challenge, and I don’t read as often as I’d like to, I’ve decided to participate in the upcoming Bout of Books read-a-thon. This will be the first read-a-thon I’ve ever done, so I am extremely excited (but also quite nervous). Feel free to join in!


top ten tuesday

The Bout of Books Read-a-thon is organized by Amanda @ On a Book Bender and Kelly @ Reading the Paranormal. It is a week long read-a-thon that begins 12:01am Monday, May 13th and runs through Sunday, May 19th in whatever time zone you are in. “Bout of Books” is low-pressure, and the only reading competition is between you and your usual number of books read in a week. There are challenges, giveaways, and a grand prize, but all of these are completely optional. For all “Bout of Books 7.0” information and updates, be sure to visit the Bout of Books blog.

— From the Bout of Books Team

Time Devoted to Reading
I honestly want to read as much as I can every day, but by this, I mean I have to finish at least one book. I’d prefer to get through a book and a manga (since I have to include some of those), but my minimum is definitely one book, no matter how many hours it takes to get to it. I (sort of) have the time to do so right now, so why not, right?

I’d like to get through at least ten total books, preferably six books and four manga volumes. Any combination is fine by me, as long as I read more books than manga.

I’d like to choose between…

Abandon - Meg Cabot Amy and Roger's Epic Detour - Morgan Matson An Abundance of Katherines - John Green Beauty Queens - Libba Bray
Epic Fail - Claire LaZebnik Meant to Be - Lauren Morrill Monstrous Beauty - Elizabeth Fama
Gakuen Alice 1 - Tachibana Higuchi Gakuen Alice 2 - Tachibana Higuchi Gakuen Alice 3 - Tachibana Higuchi
Skip Beat! 1 - Yoshiki Nakamura Skip Beat! 2 - Yoshiki Nakamura Dengeki Daisy 1 - Kyousuke Motomi Dengeki Daisy 2 - Kyousuke Motomi

I’ll be keeping track of how far I’m getting in the Read-a-thon over here on this page daily, noting which books I’ve read for that day, the number of books I’ve read (both YA and manga) for that day, the total number of books I’ve read in the read-a-thon thus far, and anything else of significance. I won’t review the books until after the read-a-thon in the following week(s). In the meantime, you can follow my progress on Goodreads and Twitter.


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