Magan: The Chapel Wars by Lindsey Leavitt

book cover for The Chapel Wars by Lindsey LeavittThe Chapel Wars by Lindsey Leavitt (twitter | website)
Previously Reviewed: Sean Griswold’s Head // Going Vintage
Publication Date: May 6, 2014
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Children’s
Pages: 304
Target Audience: Young Adult
Keywords: family rivalries, loss of a grandparent, secret romance
Format Read: ARC from Publisher via Edelweiss. (Thank you!)

Summary: Not only does Holly inherit her grandfather’s wedding chapel in Las Vegas when he passes away, but she continues the rivalry with the chapel across the parking lot and becomes responsible for saving the chapel when she realizes how much debt they’re in.

 

So you know when you think something is a really awesome concept, but then there’s just a little bit of spark that’s lacking to make it perfect? Essentially, that’s what I walked away from The Chapel Wars feeling. Set in Las Vegas, Holly’s grandfather passes away and she inherits his the wedding chapel he’s lovingly owned and operated. While others (particularly the one across the parking lot) have sold out to commercialize weddings and take theatrics to the extreme, Holly’s grandfather stayed true to his vision of weddings by trying to appeal to the elegant Las Vegas bride. What Holly and her family didn’t realize was the debt her grandfather was in and the race Holly must enter to keep them afloat, all while secretly falling in love with the competition’s grandson and facing an imminent deadline.

The chapel is passed down to Holly because she’s a go-getter who is obsessed with numbers. She’s a problem solver; if anyone’s going to save the chapel, it will be her. Her father is a little spacey and her mother lacks the passion. Holly really struggles with everyone taking her seriously and finding a balance between modernizing the chapel and falling into the money-trap that is Vegas by offering themed weddings and Elvis. The owner of the chapel across the parking lot had a long-withstanding war with her grandfather, and he’d like nothing more than to see Holly’s chapel crash and burn. But his grandson, Dax, enters the picture right around the time of Holly’s grandpa’s funeral. And Holly has a letter she’s been instructed to give him.

Dax and Holly have an instant attraction, but she feels like she’s cheating on her family if she pursues a relationship with him. Thus begins this whirlwind courtship that involves lots of sneaking around, secret dates, and stolen kisses between the chapels. As much as I enjoy seeing characters overcome obstacles, the relationship with Dax and Holly often felt rushed and a little forced. Coupled with the pacing feeling a little off and and an imbalance between the focus on the relationship, chapel, and Holly’s family problems, I always felt intrigued by what the outcome might be, but I didn’t feel invested. (I felt so distanced from Holly that at times I even felt myself not remembering her name.)

I applaud Leavitt for trying to give us more than just a slice of the pie by including multiple aspects of Holly’s life, but some details felt like nibbles when I really wanted to dissect the entire slice. Holly felt distant and difficult to connect to; she’s a very unemotional character who had a lot of barriers that, while intended to keep Dax at a distance, negatively impacted how attached I was to her. When Holly finally begins to loosen up and release some of her tension, her quick judgments felt out-of-character and that really made me feel like her actions were being manipulated for the intention of moving the story along.

If you’re looking to read your first book by Leavitt, I definitely recommend you begin with Sean Griswold’s Head; both Estelle and I have nothing but good things to say for it!

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joint book review of Where the Stars Still Shine by Trish Doller

Book Report: Where the Stars Still Shine by Trish Doller

Hello, friends! It’s been a long, long while (over a year!) since we’ve done a joint review (aka: book report around here) together. How this works is we each read the same book and have a nice, long chat about it. We really try not to be spoilery, and if we think something might be, we’ll let ya know. This time we’re discussing Trish Doller’s new release Where the Stars Still Shine.

joint book review of Where the Stars Still Shine by Trish DollerWhere the Stars Still Shine by Trish Doller ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: September 24, 2013
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Childrens
Pages: 352
Target audience: Young Adult
Keywords: kidnapping, Greek family, reunification with family
Format read: ARCs from the publisher (Thank you!)

Summary: Callie and her mother have been on the run for over ten years. After her mother’s arrest, Callie is reunited with her large Greek family and biological father, from whom her mom kidnapped Callie. She’s torn between making a new life with him and being loyal to her mother.

We’re changing up the formatting a little bit for this review. You can keep track of who said what by our little photographs. Just in case you’re not familiar with what we look like, here ya go:

Magan Blasig Magan

Estelle Hallick Estelle

Magan Blasig Where the Stars Still Shine is Trish Doller’s second book. We both loved Something Like Normal. After finishing WtSSS, how do you feel about Doller’s writing?

Estelle Hallick Something Like Normal was fantastic and I think my only disappointment was the length. I wanted more! So as far as that goes, I think Trish really nailed it in her new book. It felt developed in a different way and gave us a longer amount of time to spend with these characters.

Magan Blasig I completely agree. I really felt time passing in this book and connected so deeply to the situation. From the very first chapters, I felt invested. We have Callie, a girl who was kidnapped from her father by her mother as a result of their divorce. She and her mother have lived in countless cities and assumed as many identities. The situation made me feel such a tightness in my chest. I’m pretty sure I didn’t breathe sometimes, especially as we learned more and more about Callie’s life growing up.

Estelle HallickSame here. I really felt for her. She had such love for her mom, even though she was pretty much absent and all of these terrible things were happening. When you read about a situation like that, you can’t help but think JUST HOW LONG CAN THIS GO ON? It made me think a lot about labels, and having affection for people because they are in this authoritative position. Like of course I love her because she’s my mom but she is not a stand up person. Does that make sense?

Magan BlasigYES! It really hurt because Callie knew right from wrong, but every time her mother re-entered her life, all logic went out the window. It made me realize how blind we can be. It’s no secret (per the book’s summary) that Callie is reunited with her biological father after her mother is arrested. I really, really felt for her dad. I admired his character so very much.

Estelle HallickME TOO. Wasn’t he the best guy? He could have so easily made Callie’s mom out to be this enemy but he didn’t.

 

Magan BlasigYou’re so right! He never bashed her or said negative things. Even though their marriage ended, it was clear that he would have tried to make it work. I think dads are so often absent in YA books, and I applaud Doller for how involved she made Greg. And really, her entire extended family. How much did you love her BFF/cousin, Kat?

Estelle HallickLike you, I loved loved all the supporting characters. Loved seeing a Greek family. I don’t remember seeing that in any other YA book. But Kat was awesome. So many times girls are feuding in books or being bitches and Kat was so open and warm and wonderful. It was interesting to watch Callie’s reactions to that.

Magan BlasigYES! I could visualize Kat and Callie’s family so well. One of my college friends got married last year and they had a big Greek wedding. I felt like Doller really nailed everything about this aspect. And I couldn’t agree more about Kat. She just inserted herself into Callie’s life — Callie had never had a friend, much less a best friend. I admired how they worked through the tense situations that came up, especially pertaining to Alex.

Estelle HallickYes. Alex. Did you not fear for the worst?

 

Magan BlasigIt really took some time for me to trust him. Their relationship was SO HOT from the very beginning and I just knew bad things were looming.

Estelle HallickWasn’t it?? Hearing about Callie’s relationship with sex was like… not what I was expecting.

 

Magan BlasigTotally. Doller was, to me, very bold with how she handled sex in WtSSS. She was very careful about how she described passionate scenes, not taking things too far, but at the same time, I felt like she pushed the limits, too. Does that even make sense? HAHA!

Estelle HallickTotally. I loved it.

 

Magan BlasigSo Callie has some… ghosts in her closet. She has some pretty serious issues to deal with. I personally struggled a lot with these revelations. I wanted to punch things, skip the scenes, and protect her all at the same time. Do you have reactions like this to these kinds of things in books?

Estelle HallickOf course, I felt terrible for her and I wanted her to be able to move forward from this. But sometimes I feel like these books are the most effective. (Like Live Through This.) Trish didn’t let this become “an issue” book because, just like in real life, when something nightmarish like this is occurring real life keeps rolling on.

Magan BlasigI’m really glad you brought up Live Through This. This book and WtSSS are the two books that stand out, in my mind, as being really effective at discussing the mental and emotional turmoil people suffer through. I found both of these to be a little difficult for me to read, but equally addicting. And I agree with you about WtSSS not becoming an issue book. I was pleased to see Callie learning to trust people and letting herself open up about certain things when the timing was right. Ideally, I hope this is what someone would do in real life.

Estelle HallickMe too! I really do. So what was your favorite scene and what do you think could have been improved?

 

Magan BlasigOh my goodness. TOUGH QUESTIONS. As much as I would love to say that my favorite was the scene where Alex and Callie go snorkeling, I think I have to say when Greg takes Callie to see a house that’s under construction. I felt that was a major breakthrough for them. (Actually, both scenes really were.) And I don’t really have anything that I feel super needs to be improved, but I think in the future, I would like to see Doller explore a family that has their shit together. In Something Like Normal, there were some pretty messed up dynamics, and there definitely were here as well. I would love to see her create a family that’s well-balanced and see where she goes from there. What would the major drama be there? I’m sure she could come up with something excellent. Now, right back atcha. What do you think?

Estelle HallickOh, I love everything you just said. The snorkeling scene was amazing and made me want to snorkel again. The exhilaration Callie feels? Amazing and so true to life. I also did love any scene with Callie and her Dad, like the one you mentioned. BUT I also loved how much books meant to Callie. I do think so many readers are going to love how connected she felt to them, and how much they meant to her.

Magan BlasigOh, gosh, yes! THE BOOKSTORE!

 

Estelle HallickWasn’t that the best? I wanted to go there!

 

Magan BlasigYES! Me too! Soooo, what about improvement?

 

Estelle HallickI think there could have been a little more at the end? Another scene with the family? The pacing was great and the story felt whole but I could have used a few more scenes to get it going. Also I would love to see a companion novel about Kat.

Magan BlasigOH! That’s an awesome idea! I really did love Kat. She was such a standout character. I cannot say that enough. And yes, I can see how the ending felt a little unsatisfactory. I have to admit that I was a little bit shocked by how things ended, but I wasn’t unhappy.

Estelle HallickMe neither. So maybe it’s just a selfish desire to want more, as we do with really good books.

 

Magan BlasigAbsolutely. Well put! Any final thoughts about Where the Stars Still Shine?

 

Estelle HallickI think this is one of the most solid reads of the year for me. Trish does a great job of balancing a lot of different plotlines and personalities and her writing is just top notch. It’s definitely on the serious side but I think that makes the joyous, sweeter moments pop more.

Magan BlasigI completely, completely agree with you. When I wasn’t reading it, I was thinking about it and planning out the next time I could! I really, really want everyone to read this book. And I’m such a fan of Doller’s. You described it best: solid.

Estelle HallickAny final notes? Should we say something more about Alex?

 

Magan BlasigI’m not sure. I kind of liked the mystery surrounding him.

 

Estelle Hallick Me too. Haha!

 

Magan BlasigI will say that I think readers should set aside plenty of time to read this all at once. I hated that I had to read it over a few days.

Estelle HallickI agree. I rarely read books all in one sitting but it was nice to have airplane time to dive into this story. (Esp. when I was so sad to leave you!)

Magan BlasigAww, sad day!

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Magan: The Academy: Game On by Monica Seles and James LaRosa

The Academy Game On by Monica SelesThe Academy: Game On by Monica Seles and James LaRosa
Publication: June 4, 2013
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA for Children
Pages: 272
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: romance, friendship, tennis, new school
Format read: NetGalley eBook from Publisher (Thanks!)

Summary: From small town girl to up and coming tennis star at a prestigious school, Maya’s new life is nothing like she expected.

Who loves books full of competition, heart throb boys, and boarding school? Yes, yes, and yes please.

Maya’s just been accepted to The Academy to train to become a professional tennis athlete and finish high school. After four attempts to earn a scholarship, she finally feels like her dreams are within her reach. But she’s nervous and determined to prove herself. At least… that’s the attitude she has when she first arrives.

Maya is motivated, especially since she’s on a six-month probation period. Cleo, Maya’s roommate, is quite the opposite of Maya – disorderly, attention-seeking, and blunt – but is also a great source of inspiration for staying focused because she’s also on scholarship. Things are golden as Maya makes friends with Cleo and Renee, the beautiful girl with a naughty reputation, until she meets Travis.

Travis is Nails Reed’s son (the owner of The Academy). He’s a star football player and on his way to following in his father’s footsteps. New-girl Maya somehow catches Travis’ eye and her whole world seems to change and she’s experiencing so many new things – clubs with celebrities, a private flight to Brazil for a dance lesson, and a significant upgrade in her housing. Down-to-earth, work-hard-Maya is suddenly replaced with a girl who forgets to make it to the courts for practice because she’s spent so much time beautifying herself and she abandons her best friends in favor of hanging out with Nicole (the biggest celebrity at The Academy).

And then there’s this awkward situation with Travis’ brother, Jake. Maya finds herself caught in a professional game of tug-of-war with Travis and Jake. Her feelings, however, don’t always make sense. She seems physically attracted to Travis, but unsure of his motives. And the tension is pretty delightful between she and Jake, but there’s really not a whole lot of explanation before -  BAM! – Maya is in the thick of a sticky situation.

That really sums up a lot of my feelings toward The Academy: Game On. I assumed a large portion of the story would be about this unknown girl trying to make something of herself, and that just didn’t turn out to be so. Maya’s purpose at The Academy wasn’t clear. There was so little time practicing. There were never any meets, tournaments, or games to prepare for. Ultimately, I felt the focus of the story was lost and I much rather would have read about Maya trying to prove herself than gallivanting around, pretending to be someone she wasn’t. Everything that comes her way falls too easily in her lap.

I never really found myself settling into the rhythm of the story because I wasn’t quite sure who I could trust. The characters were constantly undulating back and forth between admirable and over-the-top dramatic. And the ending? It was left open-ended for the possibility of more to come, meaning that while Maya may have had some minor growth in the last pages of the book, we don’t really get the opportunity to see that come to fruition. Nor do we see where she ends up and what becomes of her time at The Academy.

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