book cover for Even in Paradise by Chelsey Philpot

Magan: Even in Paradise by Chelsey Philpot

book cover for Even in Paradise by Chelsey Philpot

Even in Paradise by Chelsey Philpot (website | twitter)
Publication Date: October 14, 2014
Publisher: HarperCollins
Pages: 368
Target Audience: Young Adult Fiction
Keywords: boarding school, Nantucket, family death, unlikely friendship
Format Read: ARC from the publisher via Edelweiss. (Thank you!)

Summary: When Julia and Charlotte meet, they become instant friends, always by each other’s side. Though they’re opposites in most every way, Julia and her family embrace Charlie and make her one of their own. Charlie protects Julia from succumbing to her depression when her sister’s death becomes too much to deal with, and she’s by her side when Julia’s planning something outrageous, too.

Charlotte attends St. Anne’s boarding school; she’s befriended her roommate, Rosalie, and two other girls, but she mostly lives in her own little artistic alcove of the school. Late one night, she hears voices stumbling around, drunkenly, outside her dorm window. As she eavesdrops, she realizes one of the girls has been abandoned so she sneaks outside to find Julia. She helps Julia to her dorm room and protects her from the school monitors. A new friendship is begun between these two very unlikely friends after Julia’s drunken debacle.

Charlie, as Julia nicknames her, is on scholarship to St. Anne’s; she’s not one of the privileged girls, doesn’t come from money, comes from a broken family, and she keeps to herself. Julia’s father is a well-known senator, comes from money, has a very close-knit family, and is given a lot of freedom to explore and be a free-spirit. Julia’s family, while so close, hides many secrets; her older sister, Gus, passed away, but no one really discusses it. Charlie realizes Julia needs some closure, but when they take one step forward to learning more about Gus, their friendship soon takes two steps backward.

Charlie becomes Julia’s constant — her support when she’s down and doesn’t want to leave her room, her sidekick when she wants to do something wild. One of the absolutely lovliest aspects of Even in Paradise is how Julia’s family embraces Charlie. They welcome her into their Nantucket beach home, Arcadia, and she easily blends in. Boom, Julia’s dad, becomes a fatherly figure for Charlie; Mummy provides the perfect motherly touch. Nanny sends the girls care packages while they’re at school. Charlotte has such a special bond with each and every family member that really provides so much insight; we see their concern for Julia, how they’re trying to survive after Gus’s death, and how despite all their wealth, they’re so normal and down-to-earth.

Philpot created such unique, rich characters that really popped and came alive, especially through all the ups and downs of Julia and Charlie’s friendship. We see Charlie struggle with being completely absorbed with Julia, but feeling this longing and hurt for the friends she had before. (I was particularly struck by this subtle message of how we don’t have to be just one type of person or friend. We have so many talents and interests and not one singular person will fill all of our needs; we shouldn’t feel like we’re cheating when we explore those other interests with other people. A good friend wouldn’t ask that of us.) She’s scared when she starts to have feelings for Julia’s older brother, Sebastian, but is afraid of what might happen should she act on them. There’s this amazing, lovely balance of Charlotte knowing who she is and where she stands and not lusting after this alternate lifestyle; she is never condemned or asked to separate from who she is to fit the Buchanan mold.

The writing is strong because absolutely every circumstance is handled so maturely. Just as Charlie feels swept away by this family she falls so dearly in love with, so too will Philpot’s readers be longing for every ounce of reading time they can get. One small note is that maybe the cover might lead you to think it’s a summertime book; I kind of wish it were a bit more season-neutral because quite a bit of time is covered throughout the book and doesn’t solely focus on their summer house. (That’s definitely a favorite setting of mine though!)

What a lovely surprise Even in Paradise was. Read it; devour it.

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book cover of exile by kevin emerson

Magan: Exile by Kevin Emerson

book cover of exile by kevin emerson

Exile (Exile #1) by Kevin Emerson (twitter | website)
Publication Date: April 29, 2014
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Pages: 320
Target Audience: Young Adult
Keywords: music promotion, bands, fame
Format Read: ARC from Publisher via Edelweiss (Thank you!)

Summary: After being burned by her ex-boyfriend once he was signed to a major record label (thanks to Summer’s skills/help/knowledge/hard work), she’s on the hunt for a new band and a new beginning. She doesn’t anticipate that this will lead her to Caleb, whom she falls for, or that they’ll be on the search to solve a big mystery.

 

Summer is a local band promoter. She’s got sneaky ways of figuring out how to get her bands into the hippest venues and is a social media connoisseur. In fact, she’s so good that the last band she was managing got signed to a major record label. Oh yeah…her boyfriend was in that band. And guess what happened when they got signed? He said sayanara to Summer and left her behind with the memories of his lies and deceptions. Aside from the heartbreak she’s suffering through, Summer is most frustrated that none of her heard work is paying off for her. Shouldn’t she get some sort of credit for all the gigs she got them and the fan base she helped develop?

But it’s time for Summer to move on.

She connects with Caleb, who has recently had a major falling out with his own band. Taking him on is risky. Why are the people he spend forever making music with suddenly so anti-Caleb? Despite the warning signs, Summer is intrigued and helps him find new band members. Between Summer’s band promotion and Caleb’s songwriting, these two (oh so stereotypically) begin to fall for each other…which is exactly what Summer didn’t want to happen. Again.

Caleb, however, also has some major music industry connections that could propel his new band forward. Summer’s torn between wanting to respect Caleb’s wishes and doing what could really jumpstart their career. He wants to earn his fame on his own merit.

Exile is a fun, quick read that pulled me in simply because I’m a music lover. I thoroughly enjoyed the inside peek into what it might be like to manage a band and how burned Summer felt when she was cast aside when possibility came knocking on her former band’s door. I loved that Summer had to learn that you can’t help who you fall in love with, even if you’re trying your damnedest to guard your heart. The goose-chase to finding out what Caleb’s big news was and seeing how he would deal with each tidbit of information was really great, and I hope that readers connect with his strong desire to work hard and earn what they’re hoping for. (He really didn’t want to be given any handouts.)

Maybe my biggest point of conflict was connecting with Summer. There are hints at this double-life she’s living — the music promoter versus the good-student who might go to law school to please her father. There’s a lot of depth that can be explored there and I wish it hadn’t felt like as much of a side story. Realistically, I think it would have caused more of a struggle for Summer as she tried to perfectly balance all the plates she was juggling.

Final thought: Exile is the first book in a series. I’m terrible at keeping up with series these days. There’s something pretty refreshing about reading a book from start to finish and not waiting for more. I wish that had been the case for Exile.

PS: If you want to listen to a few of the songs from Exile, check them out on Kevin Emerson’s website and listen here.

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Extra bonus: I created a playlist of some songs I’m loving this summer. Enjoy!

 

book review for Empty by K.M. Walton

Magan: Empty by K.M. Walton

book review for Empty by K.M. Walton

Empty by K.M. Walton
Publication Date: January 1, 2013
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Pages: 256
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: depression, obesity, divorce, bullying
Format read: ARC from S&S via Edelweiss (Thank you!)
Previously read book by K.M. Walton: Cracked

Summary: Dell is kicked off her softball team for continuing to gain too much weight and no longer being able to perform athletically; her best friend, Cara, is distancing herself to get in with the popular crowd and uses Dell to make them laugh.

Adelle (Dell) is an obese girl who has lost everything – her father (to an affair), her softball team (she’s been cut because she can no longer play well due to her continuously increasing weight), her mother (to working too much and having a pill addiction), and is soon to lose her best friend, Cara (to the popular crowd). The only light amidst all the darkness is her baby sister, Meggie, who she helps care for after school, and the food she continues to sneak behind her mother’s back.

Dell is bullied at school and neglected by both parents. No one listens to her or asks how she is. She tries to deflect the ridicule of her peers and join in on the laughter, but inside she’s a girl breaking into a million pieces. She makes self-depricating jokes to make people laugh with her instead of at her, but she continues to turn to food to take the focus away from her pain. Many, many times I just wanted to say Put the food down. Don’t make jokes about yourself. Don’t care what they think. She needed someone to let her guard down with.

Dell has a crush on popular boy, Brandon, and there’s a very awkward (and disturbing) situation that happens with him. This was the point that I began to realize that Dell’s story wasn’t going to be a happy one. With no one to turn to and gossip spreading like wildfire about her, Dell’s downward spiral begins. No one ever takes the time to uncover her side of the story — not even Cara, who chooses to believe what the popular girls say about Dell. (There were bits of this twist in the story that sometimes had me wondering how they could believe the rumors, but I think it’s important to remember that people will believe what they want to hear. And teenagers don’t always make the most logical, sensible decisions.)

Empty is a fast-paced, absorbing story. It was a very difficult read for me because it’s most certainly not about a girl who learns how to cope and seek out help. I feel I must emphasize that this is not a happy story. (If you want a realistic, happy-ending story about an obese girl, read Skinny.) I feel, however, that my expectations for Empty were a bit skewed upon reading the summary of the book, or maybe I assumed this would be about a girl with anorexia or bulemia, but that wasn’t it at all. It’s full of sadness and grief, and ultimately, loss. It’s about being unloved, depression, and the affects of bullying.

K.M. did a phenomenal job tapping into the mind of a very lonely, dejected girl. So many people are facing different forms of bullying each day and we’re allowed to witness the huge risk K.M. takes by showing us the detrimental effects of that on a person’s life.

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