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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Book Cover For You Look Different in Real Life by Jennifer Castle

Magan: You Look Different in Real Life by Jennifer Castle

Book Cover For You Look Different in Real Life by Jennifer Castle

You Look Different in Real Life by Jennifer Castle {website | twitter}
Publication Date: June 4, 2013
Publisher: HarperTeen
Pages: 368
Target audience: Young Adult
Keywords: documentary, realistic fiction, strained friendships, teenage reality movie
Format read: ARC received via Edelweiss from the publisher. (Thank you!)

Summary: At 16, Justine, Rory, Felix, Kiera, and Nate are soon to begin filming another documentary. Beginning when they were 6, a film crew followed them around for a few months to document their lives. They’ve followed up every five years and plan to continue doing so until they’re 21. Oh, how things have changed since they were 11. Justine thinks she’s already lived through the best part of her life and she’s going to let down viewers.

Have you ever misjudged a book? Maybe just thought it would tell a different story than what you read? When I began reading You Look Different in Real Life, I expected something a bit more light-hearted that I would breeze through. I stopped reading book summaries a few months ago because I felt like they were spoiling so much for me, but in this particular case, I think maybe the cover eludes to a different story. (Thoughts?) But I digress… — WOW! — am I so glad I was so misguided. What I read — what Jennifer Castle wrote — is absolutely phenomenal.

In a nutshell, You Look Different in Real Life is deep, engaging, so meaty and full of story — there’s past and present stories that makes everything flow effortlessly. I laughed, I cried. I couldn’t put it down.

Justine, the main character, is uncertain of who she is. When she was six years old, she partook in a documentary film with four other six-year-olds (Rory, Nate, Felix, and Kiera) that followed them throughout the course of a few months. When they turned eleven, the film crew popped back into their lives to begin filming again. At sixteen, Justine is expecting a phone call. She knows they’ll return because the intent was to follow them until they turned 21. She’s hesitant of their return because at 6 and 11, she was somewhat the standout kid — she was quirky and full of personality. She won the hearts of thousands. At 16, she feels she’s digressed because she peaked at 11. Justine now feels like she’s lost herself — she has no hobbies and no particular talents. Everyone who loved her in the previous films will be disappointed with who she’s become.

To make matters more interesting, Justine, Rory, Nate, Kiera, and Felix aren’t really a close group of friends. They’ve all, in multiple ways, hurt one another. Rory is Justine’s ex-best friend; she’s odd and blatantly honest. Justine has things she wants to say to Rory, genuinely, but is afraid that they will come off as being timed for the film. Nate has made the biggest turnaround of the group; he used to be a misfit who got teased endlessly, but now he’s a popular jock. Justine resents him because she thinks (but doesn’t know the details of the exact encounter) he did something to Felix, her present day best friend. Felix wants to be a star; he’s always felt overshadowed and wants to have a bigger role in the next film. And lastly, there’s Kiera. She and Justine orbit in different worlds and don’t particularly get along. Kiera is friends with Nate and she’s pretty/popular.

What the film crew expects to find is the complete opposite of the reality they stumble upon. So much so that they have to intervene and begin to manipulate situations to get these very hesitant-to-interact teenagers together. What really makes the story feel like a fresh breath of air are the many, many details put into aspects of who these kids are/were. Everything feels completely believable and realistic. We aren’t always given all of the details upfront, but I trusted Castle would carefully lead us to the end of the rainbow where all the answers awaited. There’s not a moment I felt like she, Castle, was providing unsubstantial information; each sentence was flooded with supportive details and full of character-building. Every progression in the story felt natural and made so much sense.

But maybe my most favorite aspect was how well-rounded everything felt. Castle set the scene and created a whole picture throughout the book by including a barrage of family and friendship moments. With all the transitions, growth, uncertainty. I find it impressive that a story based on the “reality” of five teenagers being filmed and documented could ironically feel so flawless and full of life; maybe because reality TV has conditioned me to believe only 5% of what’s being aired, I assumed Castle’s story would take the same over-the-top approach since it tackled a familiar situation. But I just couldn’t have been more wrong.

You Look Different in Real Life turned out to be one of the happiest surprises of 2013 for me!

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Book Cover for Thousand Words by Jennifer Brown

Magan: Thousand Words by Jennifer Brown

Book Cover for Thousand Words by Jennifer BrownThousand Words by Jennifer Brown ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: May 21, 2013
Publisher: Little Brown Books for Young Readers
Pages: 282
Target audience: Mature Young Adult
Keywords: realistic contemporary fiction, sexting, community service, break-up
Format read: ARC provided by the publisher via NetGalley (Thank you!)

Summary: Ashleigh’s boyfriend, Kaleb, spreads a nude photograph she privately sent him after their break-up. Parents are infuriated by the photograph and provoke the school administrators to take action. Suspension from school isn’t enough; she’s arrested and sentenced to sixty hours of community service for distributing child pornography.

One text. One text has ruined Ashleigh’s life.

After about a year together, Ashleigh and Kaleb would soon face their greatest challenge — he would be leaving for college. Ashleigh wants to soak up every minute with Kaleb before he leaves, but he’s focused on spending time with his boys, and playing baseball every chance they get because they’ll be spread throughout the country at different schools.

Fed up with his abandonment, Ashleigh drunkenly confides in her friends, Vonnie and Rachel. They recommend she capture his attention by texting him a nude photo. How could he possibly ignore Ashleigh after that?

Fast-forward through the details of Kaleb’s departure and Ashleigh’s insecurity to their ugly, vengeful breakup. One thing leads to another, but Ashleigh never expected Kaleb to send out a mass text of her nude photo to every one of his contacts. The text is forwarded and shared and Ashleigh’s name and contact information are added to the photograph. Soon, Ashleigh finds herself in the middle of a sexting scandal that has her school in an uproar and she’s in trouble for distributing child pornography.

She faces sixty hours of community service as her court ordered sentence. She’s all alone — her relationship long over, friendships on the brink of destruction, she’s bullied, and her father’s superintendent job could be terminated. One seemingly innocent text has ruined Ashleigh’s clean record and reputation.

Thousand Words is the first experience reading Jennifer Brown. I’ve heard praises for her work by so many of my book-loving friends, and thankfully, can now join the choir to spread the word. Brown tackles a relevant and extremely difficult topic. Was Ashleigh wrong for sending the photo? Should she have gotten in trouble? What are the repercussions for Kaleb sharing the photo? There are so many complexities that make a resolution darn near impossible, but Brown explores each sector so well. Ashleigh goes through the ups and downs of feeling like she’d been pressured into sending the photograph, the anger at Kaleb for not being the upstanding guy she thought he was, and the devastation of realizing that she was as guilty as anyone else. If she hadn’t sent the text, none of this would have ever happened. Hindsight is 20/20, right?

Brown’s Thousand Words tells the very realistic tale of a situation that’s happening across the country. Laws are currently being revised in multiple states to tackle this situation. Ashleigh’s story isn’t easy to read — it’s uncomfortable and frustrating. I was angered by Ashleigh’s attitude and reluctance to accept responsibility for the part she played. She could be very “woe is me” and didn’t always have me convinced she was actually going to learn anything from the situation, other than pointing fingers at everyone else. (But, thankfully, a boy named Mack teaches her a lot about what it is to truly lose everything.) While Thousand Words isn’t a happy, feel-good read, Brown’s writing is spot-on. It’s beyond necessary for her story to be read, shared, and discussed.

Since I’m very much a Jennifer Brown newbie, can you tell me which of her books to read next?

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