Book Review: Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater

Book Review: Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater

Blue Lily, Lily Blue

 by Maggie Stiefvater

blue lily, lily blue

 Expected Publication Date: October 21, 2014
Length: 416 pages
Publisher: Scholastic Press

Obtained Via: Advanced Reader’s copy given by the publisher through NetGalley. This in no way influenced my opinion of the book.
#3 in the Raven Cycle
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the story morning glory

There is danger in dreaming. But there is even more danger in waking up.

Blue Sargent has found things. For the first time in her life, she has friends she can trust, a group to which she can belong. The Raven Boys have taken her in as one of their own. Their problems have become hers, and her problems have become theirs.

The trick with found things though, is how easily they can be lost.

Friends can betray.
Mothers can disappear.
Visions can mislead.
Certainties can unravel.

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Note: There may be spoilers for the first two books in this review.

I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that The Raven Cycle is one of the strangest series I’ve ever read. It combines complex interpersonal dynamics(of both friends and family), mythology, and paranormal aspects. To evaluate each of these aspects individually would make this a very long review indeed, so I’ll stick more with my general impressions than anything to in-depth.

I found both The Raven Boys and The Dream Thieves to be really good books, but Blue Lily, Lily Blue takes it to another level. For the first time, I felt truly invested in the fate of these characters. Everything was so layered and complex and my emotions got involved. There were so many scenes that affected me on a very basic level. Stiefvater is always good at writing characters that seem real, but the characters in Blue Lily, Lily Blue even more so than normal. I was always invested in Blue and Gansey, and to some extent Ronan, but Blue Lily, Lily Blue made me care about everyone. I anticipated every scene and cheered for the characters when things went their way and choked on sobs when it didn’t.

However, perhaps the biggest thing about Blue Lily, Lily Blue is the new view of the world that Stiefvater gives us. There’s always been a tenuous connection between Blue’s family and Gansey’s quest, but in this book everything just becomes more connected and complex. Blue Lily, Lily Blue is that moment when the camera angle widens and you realize what you’ve been seeing all along is only a part of the whole. This happens not only with the plot, but also with the characters. One of my favorite aspects of Blue Lily, Lily Blue was this theme that ran underneath about “knowing” people. Almost all of the characters struggle with this in some way–with wondering if they really know their friends or if they even know themselves. A few quotes that go to highlight this:

“It seemed impossible for all of Ronan to exist in one person. Adam was beginning to realize that he hadn’t known Ronan at all. Or rather, he had known part of him and assumed it was all of him.”

“Gansey thought of how strange it was to know these two young men so well and yet to not know them at all.”

Of course, because this book is written by Maggie Stiefvater there’s no easy answer to the knowing or unknowing of someone else. However, as the characters continue to explore this idea, it all feels so heartfelt. There’s so much going on under the surface of Blue Lily, Lily Blue that it would be difficult to make a list of it all, but the relationship between Blue and her Raven boys continues to deepen and grow.

There’s also a ton going on plot-wise as well. The first two books in this series felt filled to the brim, but Blue Lily, Lily Blue is dense. This is not a quick read, though it never feels slow or lifeless. Stiefvater’s prose has a very dreamy, airy quality to it, but the plot is thick and twisted and at times made me think I needed to diagram out what was happening. Blue Lily, Lily Blue was filled with enough twists and turns that it began to feel uncommon for my jaw to hit the floor. For the first time in this series, Blue Lily, Lily Blue kept me guessing from beginning to end.

 

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The Raven Cycle was already towards the top of my favorite series list, but Blue Lily, Lily Blue solidified my love for it. The first two books were good, but this one was so much better that it doesn’t even feel fair to compare this book to The Raven Boys or The Dream Thieves. One of my favorite books of the year. 5/5 cupcakes.

5cupcakes

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Book Review: Landline by Rainbow Rowell

Book Review: Landline by Rainbow Rowell

Landline

by Rainbow Rowell

Landline

Original Publication Date: July 8, 2014
Length:310  pages
Obtained Via: Library
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press

Standalone
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the story morning glory

Georgie McCool knows her marriage is in trouble. That it’s been in trouble for a long time. She still loves her husband, Neal, and Neal still loves her, deeply — but that almost seems beside the point now.

Maybe that was always beside the point.

Two days before they’re supposed to visit Neal’s family in Omaha for Christmas, Georgie tells Neal that she can’t go. She’s a TV writer, and something’s come up on her show; she has to stay in Los Angeles. She knows that Neal will be upset with her — Neal is always a little upset with Georgie — but she doesn’t expect to him to pack up the kids and go home without her.

When her husband and the kids leave for the airport, Georgie wonders if she’s finally done it. If she’s ruined everything.

That night, Georgie discovers a way to communicate with Neal in the past. It’s not time travel, not exactly, but she feels like she’s been given an opportunity to fix her marriage before it starts . . .

Is that what she’s supposed to do?

Or would Georgie and Neal be better off if their marriage never happened?

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It pains me to say it, but I have found a Rainbow Rowell book that I am sadly not head-over-heels in love with. Landline is a fine book, but when compared to Rowell’s previous work, it just doesn’t match up, from the characters to the prose. To be fair, I would never normally pick up a book with a synopsis like Landline, since books about people struggling with their marriage don’t really interest me, especially when there are kids involved. However, Rowell has managed to make me fall in love with premises I’ve side-eyed before(namely, Attachments), so I gave it a shot.

I don’t really read Rainbow Rowell’s books for plot–I read them for the writing and the characters. However, Landline completely subverted that. I found myself more interested in the plot and the idea of the magical phone than the characters and their problems. Unfortunately, Landline suffered from the fact that I found all the secondary characters infinitely more interesting than Georgie and Neal, especially Neal. I’m not sure if that was because of the narrative distance on Neal(after all, for most of the story Georgie is talking to a Neal in the past, not a Neal in the future).

In fact, I found the past much more interesting in the future, since in the flashbacks to college Georgie seemed dynamic and interesting and Neal seemed sweet, though still rather flat. Rowell is normally so good about writing chemistry between her romantic leads, and Georgie and Neal’s relationship wasn’t exactly flat but it didn’t sizzle or spark either. I’ve always appreciated the realness of Rowell’s romance so I wasn’t expecting flashy or perfect, but everything just seemed so mundane. I didn’t even know if I wanted to root for Georgie and Neal.

I did appreciate the work the characters had to put into their relationship, something that isn’t always portrayed realistically in fiction. I wanted to want them to work out, but there was never that pull while I was reading. Partially I think this was due to the nature of the story–so much of it takes place with Georgie and Neal talking over the phone, and that can only be so compelling, which might also be a reason I thought the college flashbacks were just more interesting and better written.

The one aspect I really enjoyed of Landline was the magic phone. I was skeptical of this not-quite-time-travel device until about halfway through, but I *did* like the situations present-Georgie and past-Neal found themselves in. I thought it would be waved away in the end, and while there’s no in-depth details of how the phone works, I found myself not being bothered by it because of the role it played in the story.

Unfortunately, Landline didn’t really do it for me, mostly because the characters seemed to really lack any spark. The relationship dynamic explored was interesting, but while reading I felt like I was observing it in a very detached, clinical way, like the way I might feel if I was examining some scientific specimen under a microscope in my 10th grade biology class.

 

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A least favorite Rainbow Rowell book is still a good book, but Landline just lacked the spark of life her previous works had. While I understood the motivations behind the story, I never got swept up in the characters and their lives. 3/5 cupcakes.

3cupcakes

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Book Review: This is Not a Test by Courtney Summers

Book Review: This is Not a Test by Courtney Summers

This is Not a Test

by Courtney Summers

This is Not a Test

Original Publication Date: June 19, 2012
Length: 326 pages
Publisher: St. Martins Griffin

Obtained Via: Borrowed from the library
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the story morning glory

It’s the end of the world. Six students have taken cover in Cortege High but shelter is little comfort when the dead outside won’t stop pounding on the doors. One bite is all it takes to kill a person and bring them back as a monstrous version of their former self. To Sloane Price, that doesn’t sound so bad. Six months ago, her world collapsed and since then, she’s failed to find a reason to keep going. Now seems like the perfect time to give up. As Sloane eagerly waits for the barricades to fall, she’s forced to witness the apocalypse through the eyes of five people who actually want to live. But as the days crawl by, the motivations for survival change in startling ways and soon the group’s fate is determined less and less by what’s happening outside and more and more by the unpredictable and violent bids for life—and death—inside. When everything is gone, what do you hold on to?

 

howwasit
Those who know me well know that I am not a fan of zombie novels. This is Not a Test is the third zombie novel I’ve actually tried, and I have yet to give one more than 3 stars. That being said, This is Not a Test isn’t a zombie novel–not really. Instead, it’s a character-focused novel that uses a zombie apocalypse as a sort of framing device and a way to get the main character to examine herself and her life.
Sloane is ready for it to be over, all of it. After her older sister left Sloane with their abusive father, Sloane is barely hanging on, and she’s ready to end it–when the zombies start coming up from the grave. Her survival is one of accident, not determination.By almost sheer accident she ends up trapped in her old school with five other people who want to live when she does not–but she’s also not willing to put them in complete danger just to escape life. The zombies take over the world outside while Sloane–and the five others–try to adjust to life inside.

It’s an interesting premise and I liked the zombies as almost a rhetorical device. They are real threats, and they are present, but they’re not constant. It creates a spooky affect, one I find almost always works better in books–the threat that you can’t see all the time, but is always there, just in the background. That alone made me more open to This is Not a Test than I might otherwise be.

Seeing the world through Sloane’s eyes was an interesting choice, and in the end, I think it worked. So often main characters in books such as This is Not a Test want to fight for survival, even if they don’t know what survival means. Having a main character who isn’t sure she wants to survive was a way for the book to ask some questions that are often glossed over in survival stories. The six students trapped in the school might figure out a way to ride out the zombies and survive, but what does that really mean for their lives–and it is a life worth fighting for? This is Not a Test doesn’t go the easy route and say life is worth it just for inherent value, but makes Sloane–and the reader–really think about survival instinct(or in Sloane’s case, the lack thereof).

However, while all the big questions and themes that surrounded This is Not a Test worked for me, the story itself felt a little lacking. While I appreciated the introspective questions that haunted Sloane, the story line itself dragged in places. The five other characters trapped in the school with Sloane felt underdeveloped most of the time. While there were character moments for them here and there, they were difficult to tell apart. The story depended on these other characters as well, and it was difficult to really think about This is Not a Test whenever the story line was so slow.

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I liked the idea of This is Not a Test more than I liked the story. While This is Not a Test raised some interesting questions, I found the storyline a little disappointing. I appreciated the book, but I’m not sure I really liked it. 3/5 stars.

3cupcakes

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3 Reasons: Pride & Prejudice

3 Reasons: Pride & Prejudice

3 reasons

Today I’m kicking off a new feature, 3 Reasons! 3 Reasons is basically a way to talk about books I either a)read before I started blogging, or b)thought I couldn’t properly review, even in a mini-format. 3 Reasons is basically me picking a book & discussing 3 things about it–either 3 reasons I loved it, 3 reasons it impacted me, 3 reasons I recommend it, or a mixture of all of those.

For the debut of this feature, the first book I wanted to talk about is Pride & Prejudice.

1. It’s a classic

Obviously P&P is a classic in the sense that it’s generally included in discussions of vague literary canon & such, but I mean this on another level too–the story, the plot, has become such a classic. Retellings aren’t limited to P&P, but I see more P&P retelling than I do any other type of retelling except maybe fairy-tales. When you add in works that aren’t quite retellings but are heavily inspired by P&P, that number jumps even higher. It’s an incredibly popular story and it seems to work.

2. Clever Characters

This is probably the main reason I love Pride & Prejudice. Both Darcy & Elizabeth Bennett are just so smart, and I love that.

3. The plot

When people think of P&P, they tend to think about the romance between Darcy & Elizabeth, but I also love what this cast of characters is able to do. There’s so many twists & turns between Elizabeth, her sisters, and the men that enter(and sometimes leave) their lives. It gets quite twisty and maybe not exactly suspenseful, but complicated, on some level.

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Book Review: Beware the Wild by Natalie C. Parker

Book Review: Beware the Wild by Natalie C. Parker

Beware the Wild

by Natalie C. Parker

Beware the Wild

Expected Publication Date: October 21, 2014
Length: 336 pages
Publisher: HarperCollins

Obtained Via: I was given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review via Edelweiss from the publisher. I was not compensated for this review, and this is no way affects my opinion of the book.
Format Read In: E-ARC
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the story morning glory

It’s an oppressively hot and sticky morning in June when Sterling and her brother, Phin, have an argument that compels him to run into the town swamp — the one that strikes fear in all the residents of Sticks, Louisiana. Phin doesn’t return. Instead, a girl named Lenora May climbs out, and now Sterling is the only person in Sticks who remembers her brother ever existed.

Sterling needs to figure out what the swamp’s done with her beloved brother and how Lenora May is connected to his disappearance — and loner boy Heath Durham might be the only one who can help her.

This debut novel is full of atmosphere, twists and turns, and a swoon-worthy romance.

howwasit

I tend to stay away from books that hype up a “southern” setting. I’ve read plenty of books in the south that I’ve liked(and I’m from Texas, so, you know. . .) but for some reason “southern literature” tends to just grate on my nerves. I saw how much focus was on the setting for Beware the Wild in the blurb, but I decided to take a chance–and for once, it worked out. I thought I could feel the sticky, humid air on my skin while reading. It was incredibly atmospheric and transported me straight to Sticks, Louisiana. It was one of those reading experiences where my couch and living room faded away and I was as knee-deep in the muck of the swap as Sterling was.

Before reading I thought Beware the Wild would be a bit of a creepy read, but while it was atmospheric, creepy isn’t the word I would use. Unsettling, perhaps. There’s almost a folk-lore or fairy-tale like quality to the story, amplified by the town’s history with the swap. As Sterling tries to figure out the mystery of the swap and her brother, she learns about the town’s history and her own family’s history with the town.

There are some strange things that happen in Beware the Wild, but I was so caught up in the story I didn’t even realize until after I was done. And, of course, I’ve been known to like strange books. Sterling was a bit of an enigmatic character at first, but I came to find her endearing, especially seeing how much she cared about her brother. The sibling factor is played up a lot in Beware the Wild, as it plays into Lenora May’s back story too. I would say Beware the Wild is about siblings at heart.

About halfway through, it seemed like Sterling was making good progress with her quest to save her brother from the swap and I was a bit unsure. It felt like it was all playing too convenient, without enough conflict. Well, I certainly got my reader’s wish in the end. Nothing was as cut-and-dry as it seemed at the beginning. Early on, Lenora May appears completely villainous, sacrificing Phin to save herself from the swap. Sterling is understandably unsettled as everyone remembers Lenora May as Sterling’s sister and all Sterling can see is a monster. It becomes clear, though, that’s there’s some humanizing aspects to Lenora May. Beware the Wild flips character perception a LOT, and I loved the book a little for it.

Based on the blurb, I was expecting the romance to be a bigger part of the book than it was. The romance definitely took up some page time(including a few awe-worthy moments), but it never overshadowed the story of Beware the Wild like I was afraid it might. It’s also a romance that starts with two people coming together for a common interest, which is the romance I feel I tend to like more in books than just attraction. Sterling gets a LOT of stuff thrown at her in Beware the Wild and she definitely needs the support.

If you like atmospheric reads that have a folklore quality, I highly recommend Beware the Wild. It wasn’t really what I thought it would be at all. The paranormal aspects had a dreamy, hazy quality to them and the setting was painted wonderfully. While the plot seems pretty simple from the beginning, I enjoyed the journey.

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 Beware the Wild was definitely a different sort of story. It’s a book filled with atmospheric writing and characters that still don’t want to leave my head. 4/5 cupcakes.

4cupcakes

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