Review: The Chapel Wars by Lindsey Leavitt

Lindsey Leavitt
Bloomsbury USA Childrens
Publication Date: May 6, 2014

From the back cover:

Sixteen-year-old Holly wants to remember her Grandpa forever, but she’d rather forget what he left her in his will: his wedding chapel on the Las Vegas strip. Whatever happened to gold watches, savings bonds, or some normal inheritance?

And then there’s Grandpa’s letter. Not only is Holly running the business with her recently divorced parents, but she needs to make some serious money—fast. Grandpa also insists Holly reach out to Dax, the grandson of her family’s mortal enemy and owner of the cheesy chapel next door. No matter how cute Dax is, Holly needs to stay focused: on her group of guy friends, her disjointed family, work, school and… Dax. No wait, not Dax.

Holly’s chapel represents everything she’s ever loved in her past. Dax might be everything she could ever love in the future. But as for right now, there’s a wedding chapel to save.

I think the best way to describe THE CHAPEL WARS is cute. There is so much cuteness in this book that you’d think it would suffer from it, but somehow it doesn’t. Because beneath the layers of cute there’s a real lesson on grief that will resonate with anyone who’s experienced a great loss in their life.

Holly basically grew up in the wedding chapel, so losing it would be like losing her grandpa all over again. Problem is, no one knew how much financial trouble the business was in, and no one knows how to fix it. Which leaves Holly to step in and save the day.

Although I enjoyed watching Holly go from clueless teenager to budding businesswoman, there were times I wondered why her parents didn’t step in and take a greater role. It made them seem a bit dysfunctional. Maybe that was the point, as the family relationship does grow and evolve throughout the book, but there were times when it felt a bit frustrating.

And then there’s Dax, the boy from the wedding chapel next door, who is sometimes a bit difficult to like. Holly, of course, has no such trouble, falling for him almost instantly. While I realize page count limits come in to play, I would have liked to see a bit more development between them. As it was, I never fully understood what Holly saw in Dax, except for maybe a kindred spirit dealing with grief.

The Vegas wedding chapel setting is full of over-the-top glitz and fake Elvis (because a Vegas chapel would NOT be complete without one…or two!), which, I think, is really where the strength and uniqueness of the book lies. Lindsey Leavitt brings cheesy wedding chapels to life in a big way, and then tempers them with some real and poignant moments that keep the reader turning the pages.

I would recommend THE CHAPEL WARS to anyone who likes light contemporary YA romance with quirky characters and tons of cute.



Review: Open Road Summer by Emery Lord

Emery Lord
Walker Books
Publication Date: April 15, 2014

From the back cover:

After breaking up with her bad-news boyfriend, Reagan O’Neill is ready to leave her rebellious ways behind. . . and her best friend, country superstar Lilah Montgomery, is nursing a broken heart of her own.

Fortunately, Lilah’s 24-city tour is about to kick off, offering a perfect opportunity for a girls-only summer of break-up ballads and healing hearts. But when Matt Finch joins the tour as its opening act, his boy-next-door charm proves difficult for Reagan to resist, despite her vow to live a drama-free existence.

This summer, Reagan and Lilah will navigate the ups and downs of fame and friendship as they come to see that giving your heart to the right person is always a risk worth taking. A fresh new voice in contemporary romance, Emery Lord’s gorgeous writing hits all the right notes.

I picked up OPEN ROAD SUMMER because the premise combined road trips and country music, both of which I love. I didn’t have a whole of expectation for the book. I’d hoped to find a fun story with a cute romance, and OPEN ROAD SUMMER delivered on that score. It also delivers on unique, layered characters and wonderful emotional depth.

Reagan is an extremely flawed heroine, which I found refreshing, even when she wasn’t all that likeable. She’s made mistakes and throughout the book, she makes a whole lot more, but mistakes are a part of growing up (heck, they’re even a part of adulthood!) and so all of Reagan’s faults just make the story that much more real. Matt is the perfect counterpart for her to fall in love with, a boy with hidden depths and vulnerabilities that show through his weathered rock-star armor. The ups and downs of their romance provide a great backdrop to the real gem of OPEN ROAD SUMMER, and that is, the friendship between Reagan and Dee (Lilah).

It’s rare to find a book that centers so much on the relationship between friends and Emery Lord manages to capture Reagan and Dee’s friendship perfectly. They laugh, they cry, they fight like only life-long friends can, and it is through their friendship that readers really see the healing for the hurts in both Reagan and Dee’s pasts.

OPEN ROAD SUMMER is a wonderful debut by Emery Lord. I’m looking forward to see future releases from this bright new talent!


Review: Here to Stay by Melissa Tagg

Melissa Tagg
Bethany House Publishers
Publication Date: May 6, 2014

From the back cover:

Blake Hunziker has played nomad for five years and landed in his fair share of trouble too. But now he’s finally returning to his hometown–the Lake Michigan tourist town of Whisper Shore. Counting on a not-so-warm welcome, he’s surprised at not only a positive reception but also a job offer. Determined to settle down and prove himself responsible, he agrees to the catch that comes with the job offer–coordinating the annual Christmas festival–even though he has no idea how he’ll pull it off.

Autumn Kingsley, inn owner and experienced organizer of the Christmas festival, has always dreamed of traveling the world. Now she has a job opportunity in Paris and a surprise potential investor coming to town who just might take on her family’s inn and finally leave her free to go. The only problem is that she has just two weeks to whip the inn into shape.

Their families have a long history of not getting along, but when Blake comes to Autumn for help with the festival, she actually agrees…in exchange for his help with the repairs to her inn. They may have struck a simple deal, but complications are quick to pile on when the guy who’s had enough of running away and the woman who can’t wait to leave join forces.

MADE TO LAST was one of my favorite inspirational fiction reads from last year, so I was very excited to get the chance to review Melissa Tagg’s sophomore novel, HERE TO STAY.

HERE TO STAY picks up Blake’s story where MADE TO LAST ended–with Blake deciding it was time to stop running. He returns home to Whisper Shore, hoping to find a purpose for his restless heart. Instead, he finds forgiveness and a second chance. Autumn Kinglsey has been trying to get out of Whisper Shore for years, and now, with a job offer in Paris, she finally has the chance to fulfill her dreams. But sometimes, dreams have a way of changing, and you find that what you once wanted is no longer appealing.

Melissa Tagg writes a warm, heartfelt, funny story reminiscent of classic romantic comedies. Not only is her style super engaging and easy to read, but her characters ooze charm and her inspiring words of hope tug at the heartstrings. I loved the entire sentiment of this book–that sometimes, God opens doors you weren’t expecting or sends you in a different direction altogether. Sometimes you’re so focused on the end goal, you miss all the little opportunities in between and fail to appreciate all you have right in front of you.

I adored every page of this book from the small town charm that’s brought to life with Ms. Tagg’s words, to the witty banter, the humorous mishaps, and the poignant moments, this entire book is a delight to read. I did not want it to end! In fact, I loved HERE TO STAY even more than I loved MADE TO LAST.

Melissa Tagg is now one of my must-read authors. I can’t wait to see what she writes next! Highly recommended!






Review: #16thingsithoughtweretrue by Janet Gurtler

Janet Gurtler
Sourcebooks Fire
Publication Date: March 4, 2014

From the back cover:

Heart attacks happen to other people #thingsIthoughtweretrue

When Morgan’s mom gets sick, it’s hard not to panic. Without her mother, she would have no one—until she finds out the dad who walked out on her as a baby isn’t as far away as she thought…

Adam is a stuck-up, uptight jerk #thingsIthoughtweretrue

Now that they have a summer job together, Morgan’s getting to know the real Adam, and he’s actually pretty sweet…in a nerdy-hot kind of way. He even offers to go with her to find her dad. Road trip, anyone?

5000 Twitter followers are all the friends I need #thingsIthoughtweretrue

With Adam in the back seat, a hyper chatterbox named Amy behind the wheel, and plenty of Cheetos to fuel their trip, Morgan feels ready for anything. She’s not expecting a flat tire, a missed ferry, a fake girlfriend…and that these two people she barely knew before the summer started will become the people she can’t imagine living without.

I really enjoyed Janet Gurtler’s I’M NOT HER, a story about a girl struggling to cope after her sister is suddenly diagnosed with cancer, so when I heard of Ms. Gurtler’s newest, #16thingsithoughtweretrue, I was expecting the same emotional, heartfelt read. Unfortunately, this one left me flat.

I suppose part of the reason is that I had a hard time believing that the most pressing matter Morgan would have in her life is to get 5,000 followers on her Twitter account. It seems extremely shallow, especially with all the other events happening in her life. Events that should have made me sympathize with her, but somehow didn’t. Because it all felt so dispassionate.

I love road trip books, but the plot lacked road trip adventure with a capital “A”, and I never really believed that Morgan would become fast best friends with a girl she just met (Amy) and then that girl, along with a love interest for Morgan, would just up and decide to go find Morgan’s dad. To make matters worse, Ms. Gurtler throws in a typical curve ball (I say typical because she threw in one very similar to it in I’M NOT HER) almost as a way of manipulating readers to feel something. Unfortunately, all it did was make me feel angry.

I’m sure tons of readers will love #16thingsithoughtweretrue, but I’m sorry to say, it just wasn’t my cup of tea.


Review: Another Little Piece of My Heart by Tracey Martin

Tracey Martin
Harlequin Teen (Digital)
Publication Date: December 1, 2013

From the back cover:

What if your devastating break-up became this summer’s hit single? In this rock-and-roll retelling of Jane Austen’s Persuasion, music can either bring you together or tear you apart.

At her dying mother’s request, Claire dumps Jared, the only boy she’s ever loved. Left with a broken family and a broken heart, Claire is furious when she discovers that her biggest regret became Jared’s big break. While Jared is catapulted into rock-star status, another piece of Claire’s heart crumbles every time his song plays on the radio.

The summer after her senior year, it’s been months since the big break-up, and Claire is just trying to keep her head down and make it through a tense trip to the beach with her family. But when Jared shows up, and old feelings reignite, can Claire and Jared let go of the past? Or will they be stuck singing the same old refrain?

I guess this is where I admit that I’ve never read Jane Austen’s PERSUASION, so I have know idea whether this rock-and-roll retelling does the classic justice. I can, however, tell you that ANOTHER LITTLE PIECE OF MY HEART is an angsty, emotional roller coaster ride with a lot of heart and depth that will keep you turning the pages from beginning to end.

I have loved music ever since I was a little girl, so any book that centers around music as this one does is guaranteed to be a winner for me. But Tracey Martin manages to write a beautiful story of second chances. The narrative is filled with voice, voice, and more voice. We really do view the world through Claire’s eyes as she struggles to come back to life after her mother’s death and all the changes that have turned her world upside-down.

Tracey Martin weaves love and loss and heartbreak and reconciliation together in a unique and timeless way, making ANOTHER LITTLE PIECE OF MY HEART a must-read for anyone who loves an epic romance.

Review: Wildwood Creek by Lisa Wingate

Lisa Wingate
Bethany House Publishers
Publication Date: February 4, 2014

From the back cover:

Allie Kirkland has never been one to take wild risks. But when she’s offered a costuming assistant’s job on a docudrama in the hills near Moses Lake, she jumps at the chance. She’s always dreamed of following in her director-father’s footsteps, and the reenactment of the legendary frontier settlement of Wildwood is a first step. The family expectations will have to wait.

But in 1861, the real Wildwood held dangerous realities. Town founder Harland Delevan held helpless residents, including young Irish schoolteacher Bonnie Rose, in an iron grip. Mysterious disappearances led to myths and legends still retold in the folk songs of Chinquapin Peaks. Eventually, the entire site was found abandoned.

When strange connections surface between Allie and the teacher who disappeared over a century ago, everyone in Wildwood, including Allie’s handsome neighbor on the film set, Blake Fulton, seems to be hiding secrets, and Allie doesn’t know who she can trust. If she can’t find the answers in time, history may repeat itself . . . with the most unthinkable results.

I remember reading one Lisa Wingate book years ago and while I liked it, it wasn’t all that memorable. (Case in point, I can’t even remember which book it was.) However, the synopsis for WILDWOOD CREEK sounded intriguing and mysterious, so I decided to give her novels another try.

All Allie Kirkland has ever wanted is to follow in her father’s film-making footsteps, but her mother and step-father’s repeated attempts to brand her as a failure have left her feeling hollow and unsure of her future. Landing a job on a super-secretive docudrama out in the middle of nowhere seems like an answer to prayer — a way to save the money she needs for her tuition while getting her foot in the door in the world of film. But nothing is as it seems in Moses Lake and Allie is drawn into a past she can’t shake. As past and present weave together, Allie must discover God’s plan in her life and trust in who He has made her to be.

With WILDWOOD CREEK, Lisa Wingate has penned an engrossing dual point-of-view tale. Rich characters and an eerie history compliment each other beautifully to make for a unique page turner. Though the elements of romance are light and the Christian message super subtle, WILDWOOD CREEK manages to be both uplifting and sweetly romantic while still maintaining the mystery at the forefront.

Lisa Wingate weaves Bonnie Rose’s and Allie’s stories together so seamlessly and brilliantly that you can’t help wanting to know more, and if I found one downfall of the story, this is it. Because Ms. Wingate makes each point of view so interesting, there’s almost enough story for two separate books, and I found myself really wanting more of Bonnie Rose’s side of the tale. I was left with so many unanswered questions, and maybe that was the way the author intended it, but I’m a demanding reader and wanted those questions answered!

Still, I’m extremely glad I gave Lisa Wingate’s books another try. This one was a winner and although it is listed as the fourth book in the series, it is entirely stand alone.

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
-Jeremiah 29:11

Bright Before Sunrise by Tiffany Schmidt

brightbeforesunriseBRIGHT BEFORE SUNRISE
Tiffany Schmidt
Walker Childrens
Publication Date: February 18, 2014

From the back cover:

When Jonah is forced to move from Hamilton to Cross Pointe for the second half of his senior year, “miserable” doesn’t even begin to cover it. He feels like the doggy-bag from his mother’s first marriage and everything else about her new life—with a new husband, new home and a new baby—is an upgrade. The people at Cross Pointe High School are pretentious and privileged—and worst of all is Brighton Waterford, the embodiment of all things superficial and popular. Jonah’s girlfriend, Carly, is his last tie to what feels real… until she breaks up with him.

For Brighton, every day is a gauntlet of demands and expectations. Since her father died, she’s relied on one coping method: smile big and pretend to be fine. It may have kept her family together, but she has no clue how to handle how she’s really feeling. Today is the anniversary of his death and cracks are beginning to show. The last thing she needs is the new kid telling her how much he dislikes her for no reason she can understand. She’s determined to change his mind, and when they’re stuck together for the night, she finally gets her chance.

Jonah hates her at 3p.m., but how will he feel at 3 a.m.?

One night can change how you see the world. One night can change how you see yourself.

I was drawn to the twenty-four hour premise of BRIGHT BEFORE SUNRISE. I loved the idea of two people being thrown together over the course of one night and how it changed not only their perceptions of each other but also of themselves. I’ve made no secret of the fact that realistic, contemporary YA romances are my absolute favorite genre. Add in the dual POV of this book and the way Tiffany Schmidt counts down the hours through the eyes of both Brighton and Josh, and I couldn’t help but love almost everything about BRIGHT BEFORE SUNRISE.

Brighton is so well drawn, a girl still wading through a sea of grief over her father’s death, trying to figure out who she’s supposed to be now that her “compass” is gone. On the outside, she’s flawless, but inside, she’s falling apart. Enter Jonah, a boy that looks so different on the exterior, but the more readers (and Brighton) get to know him, the more we realize, he’s every bit as broken as Brighton. Jonah can be difficult to like sometimes. He’s a bit of a jerk to Brighton for a big chunk of the book but I felt his motivations were clear enough that I could overlook his attitude problem.

Tiffany Schmidt does a fantastic job of peeling back the layers of both Brighton and Jonah. Every scene reveals something new and brings them closer together. The love story is a very sweet element of the book, however, if I had one quibble to make it would be that I had a hard time believing Jonah could go from being completely in love with his girlfriend to breaking up with her to suddenly falling for Brighton. There are hints of subtext that Jonah and his girlfriend had been on the rocks for a while, but I would have like to seen more…disillusionment…feelings that they’ve been growing apart and not right for each other anymore. Especially on Jonah’s part. Because it almost started to feel more like he was going after Brighton on the rebound and not because he was genuinely falling for her.

Perhaps, the best part of this book doesn’t stem from the love story, even though it is both touching and charming, but from the way both Brighton and Jonah grow as characters just by seeing themselves through someone else’s eyes. My favorite kinds of books are the ones that are not only entertaining but have meaning as well. BRIGHT BEFORE SUNRISE manages to impart genuine life lessons about overcoming grief, dealing with change, and standing up for who you truly are.

BRIGHT BEFORE SUNRISE is wonderful and heartfelt, a story of loss, love and identity that manages to be both serious and funny. Highly recommended!