Sunday, May 25, 2014

Taking the Week Off

Hey Everyone!

I am taking the week off from the blog. Remember that moving stress I talked about? Yeah. It completely overwhelmed me this week. I have read very little, and what I have read I do not want to write about. Hopefully this will only be a one week break and not two. I still have not arrived at my house with my stuff yet so we shall see....I'm hoping to get at least some things read and written this week so I'm expecting to be back to business as usual by June 2.

I am stock piling some of my most anticipated reads for this:
This year's challenge will be June 6th-9th and you can sign up at Mother Reader here

Friday, May 23, 2014

Shorter Musings: Fun Romantic YA Contemporaries

Sometimes I read a book, and I even enjoy it, but I don't have much to say about it. I jot down a few thoughts and then I move on. When these start to pile up, I put them together in one post.

Here are some reviews of fun romantic contemporary YAs perfect for summer reading.

The Art of Lainey by Paula Stokes
I really enjoyed this. I'm all about these light fun contemporary YA reads right now. I liked how Lainey acts like a typical teenage girl. Her post break-up self is full of drama and overreactions and a little bit selfish. All of us who have been there and lived that can relate and know how it feels. I like when books for teens have real teens in them, and not adults masquerading as teens. This book does a good job of that. I thoroughly enjoyed the banter between the romantic leads in it too. I loved the best-friendship between Lainey and Bianca as well. Review of ARC received by publisher, Harper Teen, via Edelweiss.

Taste Test by Kelly Fiore
This is a fun fluffy story that takes place on a reality TV show for seniors in high school who have culinary ambitions. Any one who has ever watched The Food Network will recognize the set-up and they will know exactly what is going on. I was really enjoying the first half of the book. It was fun and the easy banter between Nora and Christian was snappy. He was a little too much of a jerk and I felt the whole hate to love thing was starting with a little too much hate, but I was enjoying myself. Then the hate part of the relationship kept going on and on and on. And on. As a result I never really believed in the relationship so by the time the happy ending came around it was anticlimactic. Still it is a fun premise and mostly well done, particularly for a debut novel. I will certainly read the next book the author writes.

Wish You Were Italian by Kristin Rae
A fun, light read that is exactly what I needed last night. I enjoyed the descriptions of Italy (most especially the food). It brought back memories of my own time there. I wasn't a big fan of the second boy and all the angst that caused. I would have liked this far more if it had merely focused on Darren and the growing relationship between Pippa and him. Too much unnecessary angst with Bruno, especially as Pippa was causing a lot of eye-rolling with her stupidity over that. BUT every other part of the book I adored. Review of ARC received from publisher, Bloomsbury Children's US, at ALA Midwinter.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

WoW: Winterspell

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill of Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

New York City, 1899. Clara Stole, the mayor's ever-proper daughter, leads a double life. Since her mother's murder, she has secretly trained in self-defense with the mysterious Drosselmeyer.

Then, on Christmas Eve, disaster strikes.

Her home is destroyed, her father abducted--by beings distinctly nothuman. To find him, Clara journeys to the war-ravaged land of Cane. Her only companion is the dethroned prince Nicholas, bound by a wicked curse. If they're to survive, Clara has no choice but to trust him, but his haunted eyes burn with secrets--and a need she can't define. With the dangerous, seductive faery queen Anise hunting them, Clara soon realizes she won't leave Cane unscathed--if she leaves at all.

The Nutcracker plus Claire Legrand's amazing writing? YES! YES! YES!

Winterspell comes out September 30th and that day can't get here fast enough.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

TTT: Books About Friendship

This week's TTT topic: Books About Friendship

Do I consider all of these books to be "about" friendship? No. But the friendships in them are PIVOTAL to the character and plot development.

In completely random order:

 It's a pretty good mix of YA and MG too, if I may say.

Monday, May 19, 2014

The Castle Behind Thorns

Merrie Haskell is one of those authors that always surprises me. I have gone into each of her three books expecting one thing, and getting something entirely different. Is The Castle Behind Thorns a retelling of "Sleeping Beauty"? Yes. But it is a throughly unique and different take on the story. And I adored it.

This is a review of an ARC received from the publisher in exchange for a fair review.

When Sand wakes up alone in a long-abandoned castle, he has no idea how he got there. The stories all said the place was ruined by an earthquake, and Sand did not expect to find everything inside-from dishes to candles to apples-torn in half or slashed to bits. Nothing lives here and nothing grows, except the vicious, thorny bramble that prevents Sand from leaving. Why wasn't this in the stories?
To survive, Sand does what he knows best-he fires up the castle's forge to mend what he needs to live. But the things he fixes work somehow better than they ought to. Is there magic in the mending, granted by the saints who once guarded this place?
Unexpectedly, Sand finds the lost heir, Perrotte, a girl who shares the castle's astonishing secrets and dark history. Putting together the pieces-of stone and iron, and of a broken life-is harder than Sand ever imagined, but it's the only way to gain their freedom, even with the help of the guardian saints.

This is a quiet tale, one that unfolds slowly. Sand spends a large part of the opening completely alone, isolated from the world in the castle trying to figure out a way to survive. He is inventive, clever, and hard working. He is also lonely and talks to himself. These chapters didn't seem to move at all slowly to me though. The language is so beautiful and Haskell is building the mystery even as she allows the reader to get to know Sand and what he is about before she brings in the other central character, the magically awakened princess. Perotte awakens remembering she was dead. Not asleep. Dead. She pulls herself into the light of day and Sand's path, and the two of them, after a rocky start, begin to piece the castle and her story together. Perotte comes off as a spoiled and indulged brat at first, but her behavior quickly changes as she realizes how unfair she is being. As the weeks pass her and Sand develop a deep friendship and connection. But there are parts of Perotte's past she wants to keep locked away and not remember. Unfortunately she needs to confront them if they are ever going to defeat the magic of the thorns and get out of the castle.

The story here is wonderful. I love political intrigue and there is quite a bit of that, but most of all it is a tale of friendship, perseverance, and the power of forgiveness. What I loved about the forgiveness aspect is that it is not about the power to affect the forgiven, but the forgiver, that release that comes from letting your anger and bitterness go so that it no longer consumes you. The way Haskell wove this into a thoroughly original retelling of a fairy tale makes this my favorite "Sleeping Beauty" retelling of all time. 

I received an e-galley from the publisher, Katherine Tegen Books, via Edelweiss. Castle Behind Thorns goes on sale May 27th. 

Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Night Gardener

Jonathan Auxier has a way with words. That was evident with his debut novel, Peter Nimble's Fantastic Eyes, and his latest offering, The Night Gardener, proves it beyond doubt. Atmospheric, mysterious, and chilling, it is a book whose words don't just beg to be read, they demand it.

This is a review of an ARC received by the publisher in exchange for a fair review.

Molly and Kip are recently arrived in England from Ireland. Alone in the world, they seek employment and find it with the Windsor family in an old house in a creepy and disturbing place called the sour woods. Along the way they meet an old storyteller named Hazel who gives them directions and warnings. Arriving at the Windsor family home, they discover a dilapidated house with a massive ugly overgrown tree right up next to it and a mysteriously ill and fading family living inside. As the days pass, Molly and Kip find their new situation to be far more dangerous than they ever imagined. For inside the house at night, a mysterious shadow of a man prowls from room to room and the inhabitants are plagued by nightmares that encapsulate their worst fears. But the house has a mysterious and inexorable pull on those who live there,  so leaving may not be an option.

Molly has a way with words and stories. She weaves her words together to create tales that are almost magical in their power to make others believe her and want to do as she says. Kip is talented with gardening. He loves the plants and tends them well. Together they are an intrepid team telling the type of story I love most, a sibling story. Within the house live another set of siblings, Alistair and Penny. Alistair is an unpleasant gluttonous bully. Penny is a little girl longing for someone to love her, play with her, and tell her stories. Kip and Penny, the younger siblings in each set, are easy to love and root for. As a reader, I felt a desperate need for neither of them to be injured in any way. Kip is hardworking and simply longs to be like other children despite his lame leg. Penny is exuberant and full of life and energy. Watching what the house and its secrets are doing to her is not pleasant. Molly and Alistair, the oldest two, are a bit harder to fully embrace. Alistair is meant to be unpleasant. He is there as a foil, mostly for Molly, who, while likeable, has plenty of flaws. The most serious of which is her inability to separate story telling and lying. She is also exceedingly stubborn and does not want to listen to anyone's counsel but her own. I think she will be relatable to child readers, as will Kip and Penny.

I also really liked how the adults are active and present participants in the story as well. The Windsor parents are even more caught up in the house and its secrets than the children are and are in need of help and rescue. Hazel, the old story teller, is also an important part of the story, and I like how she was there for information and guidance but didn't interfere with what the children were accomplishing.

On one level The Night Gardener is a creepy tale about a mysterious old house and the malevolent force at work inside it.  The plotting and pacing are done just right to pull readers in and keep them in, caught up in the story, on the edge of their seats wondering what is going on. It is exactly the right level of creepy too. Kids who want a book to creep them out and will expect exactly that after looking at the cover, will not be disappointed. As the eerie mysteriousness of the plot unfolds it is Auxier's brilliant use of imagery and the cadence of the writing that holds one spellbound. This would make a superior read aloud, but it is also beautiful read silently. This is not just a creepy story for the sake of having a spine-tingling read though. (Although that's always good fun on its own.) It is a story of family, courage, greed, selfishness, forgiveness, despair, love, hope, and redemption. And justice. (I really liked that element.) And all of that is layered in with the characters and action so seamlessly. The characters live it and the reader sees and feels it. Most of all, it is a story about the power of story and words. Auxier uses each and every one of his carefully to bind the reader to him, just as Molly does with hers. I love this realization Molly comes to at one point: "I think I figured it out. Hester asked me what the difference between a story and a lie was. At the time, I told her a story helps folk. Helps 'em do what? she asked. Well, I think I know the answer. A story helps folks face the world, even when it frightens 'em. And the lie does the opposite. It helps you hide." That is this story in a quote.

I would caution care and knowledge of the reader when giving this to younger kids reading MG books. There is enough darkness and horror to frighten the sensitive, but I think it is exactly the right amount for the majority of MG readers. The amount they long for and need, balanced with a great deal of hope and triumph as well. It is basically everything I love and look for in a book.

I read an ARC received from the publisher, Amulet Books, at ALA Midwinter. The Night Gardener goes on sale May 20th.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Biggest Flirts

Biggest Flirts is my first read by Jennifer Echols and I really enjoyed. It is a story that takes place in the midst of a high school marching band. What's not to like about that?

This is a review of an ARC provided by publisher in exchange for a fair review.

Tia and Will’s lives get flipped upside down when they’re voted Yearbook’s Biggest Flirts in this sassy novel from the author of Endless Summer and The One That I Want.
Tia just wants to have fun. She’s worked hard to earn her reputation as the life of the party, and she’s ready for a carefree senior year of hanging out with friends and hooking up with cute boys. And her first order of business? New guy Will. She can’t get enough of his Midwestern accent and laidback swagger. 
As the sparks start to fly, Will wants to get serious. Tia’s seen how caring too much has left her sisters heartbroken, and she isn’t interested in commitment. But pushing Will away drives him into the arms of another girl. Tia tells herself it’s no big deal…until the yearbook elections are announced. Getting voted Biggest Flirts with Will is, well, awkward. They may just be friends, but their chemistry is beginning to jeopardize Will’s new relationship—and causing Tia to reconsider her true feelings. What started as a lighthearted fling is about to get very complicated…

Tia is a girl who is crazy smart and a talented drummer, but breaks in to hives at the thought of any sort of responsibility. She sabotages herself on a regular basis, mostly out of fear. Fear that she may want more than she can have. Fear that she will fail. Fear that she will let other people down. If no one expects anything from her, they can't be disappointed, an she won't be disappointed in herself. Could I relate? No, but I found myself feeling for her and her situation. Like her best friends, I wanted to see her make better choices because she was selling herself short. Will is the new kid in town. I can not even imagine how hard it would be to move right before your senior year. I moved summer before junior year and that was bad enough. Will is leaving a school where he was supposed to be Drum Major and Student Body President for a school where he is a no one and knows nobody. Furthermore the change causes him to realize some things about himself that has him readjusting his entire way of thinking. He is at a point of crisis in many ways. Tia and Will are exactly perfect for each other at this moment. They just need to figure out how they are going to make themselves fit. Neither one of these characters is completely likeable. They both have rough edges and do stupid things. I felt this reflected their ages and made complete sense in the story being told. Is Will a jerk a couple time? Yes. Is Tia? Yes. Are they both also kind and good people most of the time? YES. I really loved the supporting cast of characters too. Tia's two best friends (who will be getting their own books), the other members of the band, Sawyer, and even the band director were all wonderful additions to the story. I liked how the people and details in both Tia's and Will's lives were mentioned making them full and real without bogging down the story.

The plot is a bit predictable and there was quite a bit of drama, particularly towards the end. It is a little more drama-rama than I tend to like in a book, but I didn't feel any of it was unrealistic. There were some over-reactions, but they were typical for 17 year old characters. What I like best about the plot is all the details about the band. I liked it so much that as soon as I finished reading it, I bought Echol's previous book, Major Crush, which is also about marching band. I'm looking forward to reading it and more books by her.

There will be two companion novels to this coming out, one each about Tia's best friends. I can't wait to read more about these characters.

CONTENT NOTE: This book has more descriptive sexy scenes than you ordinarily find in YA. If you try to avoid those, be warned.

I read an e-galley made available by the publisher, Simon Pulse, via Edelweiss. Biggest Flirts is on sale May 20th. 

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Shorter Musings: MG Realistic

Sometimes I read a book, and I even enjoy it, but I don't have much to say about it. I jot down a few thoughts and then I move on. When these start to pile up, I put them together in one post.

Here are a few recent MG realistic reads

Half a Chance by Cynthia Lord 
Half a Chance is a short fast read, which is good because not a lot happens in the book. It is one of those slow books about a summer at a lake with bird watching and a grandmother who is slowly losing her memory. It is also a book about friendship, family, and photography. All of these elements combine well. The characters are portrayed very simply and without a lot of depth but they are relatable. Nothing about the book stood out as being special or something to take note of though.

Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell
This is an enjoyable story about a girl found floating in a cello case after a shipwreck at the age of one. She is raised by the man who finds her, and together they go on a quest to find the mother she is certain is still alive. Half of the book covers Sophie growing up in England. The other half takes place in Paris and focuses on the search for the mother. The Paris rooftops play a significant role in the story as Sophie befriends the homeless orphan children who call them home. It is well written and engaging and will appeal to young readers who enjoy historical fiction and quiet stories about family and friendship.

The Spy Catchers of Maple Hill  by Megan Frazier Blakemore
There is not a lot of MG historical fiction about the McCarthy Era so this is a nice book to be able to have available for kids to read. I liked how the book showed the community fears and reactions of the time,but did it through a child's eyes and with a child's perception of the world. I loved how Hazel so fervently believed in what she learned about the Red scare and she took these lessons and thoughts to heart. I felt her reaction was completely genuine for some one her age. I did think the book was quite a bit longer than it needed to be to tell the story it was telling. It dragged in many places.

West of Moon by Margi Preus
This is an interesting combination of historical fiction and myth. The Norwegian folktales are woven into the story in Astri's head. They are the story she tells her self and her sister to keep herself sane and grounded. There is no true fantasy element in the story itself. It is a historical fiction novel. I found this a tad disappointing as I wanted a fairy tale retelling. i did really like Astri's character. She is bold, courageous, and not above doing hard things to change her life. She has her wits about her. I also liked how she was torn about her more difficult decision and what it meant about who she is as a person. I didn't like how once I had adjusted to this being straight up historical fiction some magical realism was thrown in toward the end. 

Friday, May 9, 2014

Birthday Books

May means Birthdays in the Painter house and I always like to share the books I'm giving (and receiving) for those birthdays.

LM is turning 6 and this is what he is getting:

Bit is turning 10 (still trying to wrap my head around that) and this is what she is getting:

And I had a birthday last week and here is what I picked up with a gift card I received:

Plenty of happy reading to keep us occupied during the move!

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

We Were Liars (Some Thoughts)

I really enjoyed most of E. Lockhart's Ruby Oliver series. (The first book is actually a favorite of mine.) I loved the writing in The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, but had some issues with the execution of the story and characterization. I was nervous going into We Were Liars, Lockhart's latest YA, as so many people have sung its praises and loved it. And again, I find myself torn.

These thoughts are on an ARC received from the publisher in exchange for a fair review.

A beautiful and distinguished family.
A private island.
A brilliant, damaged girl; a passionate, political boy.
A group of four friends—the Liars—whose friendship turns destructive.
A revolution. An accident. A secret.
Lies upon lies.
True love.
The truth.

I am calling these "thoughts" because it isn't really a review. We are Liars is really impossible to discuss without spoilers. And this shouldn't be spoiled. I'm very much convinced of that. There will be people utterly shocked by the turn of some events. Some, like me, are going to know what is happening from the beginning. (No one spoiled me. I figured it out.) Those two reading experiences are very different. I can see that. And boy would I love to be a part of a discussion of this book with a room full of people who have read it and experienced it differently, because I am eager to see what everyone's different reactions. 

One thing I do know is the book is gorgeously written. Cady, the narrator, has a beautiful voice. It is a perfect balance of haughty, terrified, sarcastic, mournful, desperate, and broken. I love the way Lockhart used fables and fairytales through the story too, just briefly and in snatches. Cadence is piecing together a story about her life, a story that will explain her broken world and why she is the way she is. Each tale she uses to attempt to illustrate her situation is full of truth and full of lies at the same time. 

There are some aspects of the book that didn't sit perfectly with me, but it's one that anyone who works in the world of YA literature in any capacity should read. It is already being talked about everywhere, and I have a strong suspicion that will only increase as the year continues.

I read an e-galley received from the publisher, Delacorte Press, via Netgalley. We Were Liars goes on sale May 13th. 

Feel free to post spoiler discussions in the comments. DO NOT READ THE COMMENTS IF YOU WANT TO AVOID SPOILERS. I really am curious as to how everyone else read this. 

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

TTT: Book Covers I Would Frame

This week's TTT topic: Book Covers I Would Frame as Pieces of Art

I have actually thought of this a lot. It would be a way to show love for favorite books, and I'm always looking for ways to decorate my bedroom walls. I've never actually done anything beyond think about it of course, but here are some covers I would love to see hanging up in my house.

 Of course. It wouldn't be a list of mine if theses weren't on it. But come on, they are GORGEOUS. Not only is Megan Whalen Turner the best writer there is right now, but she gets amazing covers to go with her writing.

I can stare at the cover of this book for HOURS. It is beautiful. The colors, the detail, how it captures the fairy tale aspect.

 I love the vibrancy in the colors in all the Above World books, but I also love their simplicity and how much they capture of the books in that simplicity.

I love all of the new DWJ covers that have been released in the UK, but those two are probably my favorites. 

I think by my choices you can tell what I don't like on my covers, but is currently the trend.

What about you? Have you ever wanted to frame a book cover as art? 

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Shorter Musings: A Dragon and A Wizard

Sometimes I read a book, and I even enjoy it, but I don't have much to say about it. I jot down a few thoughts and then I move on. When these start to pile up, I put them together in one post.

Here are a couple recent YA Fantasy reads.

A Creature of Moonlight by Rebecca Hahn
The prose in this book are hauntingly beautiful and evocative. The imagery used paints a gorgeous picture of the kingdom, the flowers, the woods, loss, yearning, and the pain of growing up and taking on responsibility. The problem is that not much happened. Or rather, things were happening, but the action was described in circular prose that moved from flashback to present and never contained any urgency or sense of anything. There were so many beautiful words, but other than creating setting and mood, they didn't do much. I can see why this would be blurbed by Franny Billingsley. As I began reading it, I was reminded of her work. The major difference is she has always makes me care about her characters, even when I don't like them. Marni never became more that words on a page for me. Beautiful though this is, it is also incredibly dull.
I read an e-galley of this book made available by the publisher, HMH Books for Young Readers, via Edelweiss.

The Wizard's Promise by Cassandra Rose Clark
I really had fun reading Clark's former duology, The Assassin's Curse and The Pirate's Wish, so was excited when I discovered another book was coming out set in the same world. While still a fun and intriguing story, I didn't enjoy this one as much as the previous two. Hanna has an interesting past and eventually does some interesting things, but for a large portion of the novel she complains and flounces a lot. The story takes so long to go anywhere truly interesting. The majority of it is spent on the boat, and I don't love stories that take place on boats. Also, enough people I trust have called in to question Clark's research and knowledge of how boating works that I find myself distrustful now whenever her character is on a boat. This felt a bit repetitive too. The Mists need to be defeated by a girl on a boat with a boy who has a mysterious origin. AGAIN??? All of that combined to make it harder for me to get into. But I love the magic and world-building still.
I read an e-galley made available by the publisher, Strange Chemistry, via NetGalley.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

The Chapel Wars

Lindsey Leavitt is an auto-buy author for me. If she writes it, I will read it. No one does quite what she does in the realm of contemporary fiction, writing realistic stories that deal with hard issues but manage to maintain a lighter tone and feel. The Chapel Wars tackles some harder topics than her previous work, but is still a light quick read and is full of the little snatches of wisdom I have come to appreciate in her books. She is eminently quotable.

This review is of an ARC received from the publisher in exchange for a fair review.

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 she 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.

Holly is a fascinating main character. She is a math whiz and worked hard to get into a special magnet school where she could concentrate on business management even in high school. Her friends are all guys with the exception of her best friend Sam's girlfriend, who Holly mostly just tolerates. Her family life is not optimal. Her parents are recently divorced leaving her brother in a constant state of angry rebellion and Holly confused. But Holly finds feelings messy. She pushes them down and doesn't face them or release them. They are not neat and controlled like math equations. When her grandfather dies, she inherits an almost bankrupt business, and meets an attractive boy who happens to be from the enemy chapel across the parking lot, Holly finds her tightly controlled existence spiraling out of her control. I liked how this affected her. She makes some choices and responds in some ways that are not healthy and won't make a lot of sense to people who thrive on emotion, but her responses are highly realistic. Dax is even more flawed than Holly. I don't think Leavitt has ever written a hero as deeply flawed as Dax. He has experienced a lot of tragedy in the past year. Tragedy he is responsible for. He is working out a lot of his issues over this still, and on more than one occasion chooses to drown them in alcohol. He isn't drinking enough to have a problem  yet, but it's obvious he's on his way if he doesn't change something up. There are many aspects to Holly and Dax's interactions that would indicate she should be wary, yet there are equally as many aspects that point to Dax being exactly what Holly needs. Again,  I enjoyed the realism in this. Holly is wary, but she also sees the good in him and is willing to give him a chance. This is by far the most complicated relationship dynamic Leavitt has written and I think it works well for the story she is telling. I enjoyed how their relationship developed over time, but there was a definite irresistible attraction between the two of them. I particularly love how Holly assessed their situation on their second date:
We glowed at each other. Beamed. Radiated. I did not know that like could be like this. Like love, just not fully realized. I did not love this boy, because to love someone is to know them. But every moment I was with him made me happy, and every moment I wasn't with him, a small piece of me wondered where he was and what he was doing, like there was a satellite in our hearts.

As in all Leavitt's books, family dynamics play a large role in the story. Holly was incredibly close to her grandfather and is devastated by his death. She then has to jump into running his business, much to the irritation of her father and her grandfather's assistant. And she is fighting a losing battle. They owe more money than they have and could possibly earn in the three months Holly has to turn things around. Grieving someone under such circumstances is not the best of scenarios. Holly must also contend with her family's fractured dynamics. Again Leavitt excels at writing a great sibling story here between Holly and her younger brother James. James is angry and not hiding it. His behavior is moving rapidly toward delinquent in order to get attention. He is also fiercely loyal and protective of his sister and a piano prodigy. I adored every interaction between James and Holly and the interactions between James and Dax. Holly's best friend, Sam, and his girlfriend, Camille, are also important characters. Camille and Holly grow closer as the story unfolds, Camille helping Holly and becoming a confidant. At the same time, Camille and Sam have their own problems. 

There are a lot of characters and much is happening to all of them, and yet Leavitt managed to make them all feel so real. Everything that occurs, makes perfect sense and the story never feels weighed down or too much. My one quibble with the story is that Dax's drinking wasn't taken quite seriously enough, like it was excusable because he is a nice guy even when drunk. However, Holly's reactions are believable and her siblings and friends do caution her so I can't see this as a major problem.

I think this is Leavitt's most ambitious novel yet in terms of character development and realistic hard situations. While I didn't enjoy it quite as much as Going Vintage, it is very close. Anyone who loves Leavitt's other books should definitely check this one out. And if you haven't experienced her unique brand of contemporary fiction, this is a wonderful novel to start with.

I read an ARC provided by the publisher, Bloomsbury Children US, at ALA Midwinter. The Chapel Wars is available for purchase May 6.