Friday, February 10, 2012

[Blog Tour] Blue Sky Days by Marie Landry: Review

*A copy of the book was provided by the author for review.

Marie Landry has been a friend of mine for a long stretch of the time that I have been a blogger. When I found out she was a fellow writer I thought that was pretty cool. When I found out that she was going to be publishing her first book independently in January I felt that was very brave. And when I was asked to be part of her tour for Blue Sky Days, I felt very happy -- and very panicked.

I always strive for two things when I review a book: honesty and fairness. I knew, regardless of how I ended up feeling about the book, that at the very least whatever I said would be said with taste. But considering that Marie and I both tend to love love stories, and that this is what her book is, I was pretty confident that I would at the very least enjoy what I was about to read.

I am now finished reading Blue Sky Days, and I can tell you this, here and now: "enjoyed" does not begin to describe what I felt about this book. But I'm getting ahead of myself here. Read on and let me tell you what is so fabulous about the book and why it deserves a place on your keeper shelf. I certainly know it's earned a spot on mine.

The Plot: (Summary from GoodReads)
A year after graduating from high school, nineteen-year-old Emma Ward feels lost. She has spent most of her life trying to please her frigid, miserable mother - studying hard, getting good grades, avoiding the whole teenage rebellion thing - and now she feels she has no identity beyond that. Because she spent so many years working hard and planning every moment of her life, she doesn't have any friends, has never had a boyfriend, and basically doesn't know who she is or what she really wants from life. Working two part-time jobs to save money for college hasn't helped her make decisions about her future, so she decides it's time for a change. She leaves home to live with her free-spirited, slightly eccentric Aunt Daisy in a small town that makes Emma feel like she's stepped back in time.

When Emma meets Nicholas Shaw, everything changes - he's unlike anyone she's ever met before, the kind of man she didn't even know existed in the 21st century. Carefree and spirited like Daisy, Nicholas teaches Emma to appreciate life, the beauty around her, and to just let go and live. Between Daisy and Nicholas, Emma feels like she belongs somewhere for the first time in her life, and realizes that you don't always need a plan - sometimes life steers you where you're meant to be.

Life is wonderful, an endless string of blue sky days, until Nicholas is diagnosed with cancer, and life changes once again for Emma in ways she never thought possible. Now it's time for her to help Nicholas the way he's helped her. Emma will have to use her new-found strength, and discover along the way if love really is enough to get you through.

In the interest of honesty, the first thing you need to know about Blue Sky Days is that the prologue is great, Chapter one starts off slow, but by the time you get to Chapter two you'll likely be hooked and probably won't care. Marie has a gift for descriptions that turns ordinary living things into something almost magical and otherworldly.

She absolutely excels at taking the small pleasures and often over;ooked beauties of life -- a splash of vibrant blue on a house door in contrast to it's white finish, the shades of a sunrise, the smell or taste of a favorite food -- and succeeds in describing these things not just so that the reader can imagine hearing, seeing or tasting, but so that the reader seems to truly experience them with the characters. This is a rare gift. Descriptions, especially within YA, often run the risk of seeming bulky and unnecessary. But this quality rivals other favorite 'word painting' books, such as The Sky Is Everywhere and Graffiti Moon.

Why am I talking about this in the plot section? Because through these descriptions, the mundane and natural things that happen in this book become enchanting. Every little moment -- a picnic, taking photographs with a camera, dancing -- is shown in a light that the reader may never have viewed it through before. Although the issues dealt with are definitely contemporary and the characters (and their actions) ring very real and true, the writing itself gives a pinch of fairy dust to what is going on that I didn't expect to find here when I started. And I must admit that when this happens and I do find it in a contemporary book, it does tend to make me smile.

Okay, enough fluff. Let's get to the next issue: writing about cancer is hard. Illness of any sort is essentially the ultimate assassin. It has no sense of mercy, or compassion. There's nothing to reason with or bribe. It's kill or be killed. And cancer is a breed all its own, because the majority of us know someone who has had it -- and quite a few likely know someone who has died from it. I know I can say yest to both of those. And I'd be lying if I didn't tell you I was nervous going into this book because of that fact.

So I was surprised as I zipped through the pages for a good half of the novel and things seemed to be going just fine. I loved watching Emma and Nicholas grow close and feeling like I was a fairy hovering on Emma's shoulder witnessing the whole thing, cheering them on every step of the way. But things were going so perfect. This was so fun. ...Even though I knew trouble was coming, thanks to the book blurb, when it struck it still succeeded in sweeping the rug out from under me. Because what I wasn't prepared for was just how attached Marie had succeeded in making me to her characters. And when Nicholas finally tells Emma what has happened, I actually cried for them.

If you are like me and are worried that this book is going to drown you in misery, you can relax. While I will own up to crying three or four times during the story, the attitude the characters portray -- the good and the bad of it -- is one of true heroic courage. (Which, if you're wondering, is the willingness to keep going even though things *are* difficult; not to be convinced that they are not difficult.) The joys and sorrows that occurred all seemed very genuine and real to me, yet I never felt so bogged down that I wanted to stop reading, not even at those moments when my eyes were misty.

I also want to commend Marie for writing a character who is watching a loved one fight for their life. So often we see stories of people who are engaged in that battle. And it can be so easy to forget that a serious illness reaches out from the person who has it and effects the lives of those who love that person, too. The amount of detail and care put into sharing Emma's experience leads me to believe that Marie must have personal experience with this situation, because she was able to transfer Emma's emotions on the page to me so thoroughly that I felt like I was there with her and I went though everything that she did. There are many things authors can 'fake' or 'research' or 'make up' -- as a fantasy writer I know that last one very well -- but something tells me this is not one of them. Which makes me feel that it was even more courageous for her to have written this.

The last two things I'll end the plot section (which is getting lengthy!) with are this: (1) The title of the book is absolutely brilliant. and (2) The ending is ... ahahahaha! You didn't think you were going to get that from me, did you? I'll put it this way: go read the book.

The Characters: 

Emma Ward may never wield a sword, but she's a true heroine in my book. Realizing that her life is not her own, she leaves everything that she has grown accustomed to, including the mother she has striven her entire life to please, to start over fresh with her aunt, Daisy, in the small town of Riverview. From there Emma must come out of her self-imposed shell, make new friends and figure out what she wants from life. Watching her fall in love with Nicholas, make friends with Vince and Maggie, reconnect with Daisy and become her own person was deeply inspiring.

As someone who was very solitary in high school (although my parents are some of my best friends), even though I actually love people, I found myself very drawn to her and I genuinely wanted to see her succeed. I liked the fact that as a reader I could clearly see both the work ethic she claimed to have through her schooling, as well as the struggle and uncertainty she claimed to feel about her future.

Nicholas is my kind of hero. Charming, romantic, thoughtful... Definitely one of my favorite book boyfriends ever. I especially liked the fact that despite all of the great qualities, he seemed very down to earth. Much like Emma's aunt Daisy, Nicholas had the gift to see the world through a different lens and this is something that he was extremely eager to share with Emma. Something I felt she truly needed.

The rest of the cast, which I'm not going into full details on for the sake of not turning my review into a novel of its own, was equally superb. I felt genuine affection for Emma and Nicholas' friends, Maggie and Vince. (And holy crap I now need to change the names of the hero and heroine in my A Merman's Tale book outline, thanks Marie. *is laughing* I'm not mad, btw. I had already been contemplating it. I actually find it funny. I mean really, what are the odds?) But I'm getting off topic here...

Daisy is a lovely character, and so is Nicholas' father, Sam. Even Doctor Roy seemed extremely well constructed and was very likable. If I was going to say anything that might have made things stronger, it would have been understanding more of what made Emma's mother, Tilly, the way she is. I realize Emma probably couldn't have given us this, but some form of scene between her and Diasy with some kind of reveal might have been interesting.

The last thing I want to say in relation to characterization is that the actual town of Riverview was so carefully designed, so gently quirky and so unique that it actually succeeded in being a character of it's own. It took all of the realities of an actual Canadian town and blended them with a hint of whimsy that made it stand out and become memorable. In Riverview, I found something that I could almost reach out and touch, and yet that had something special about it that made it seem like pixie dust that would slip through my fingers if I tried. Awesome.

The Romance:

The love story between Emma and Nicholas combined the best of both extremes of romantic fiction. The actual relationship between the characters felt very real and genuine to me. They felt like people that I would really love to meet and know, whose world I would love to inhabit. Yet at the same time, as with the actual way the book is written, I could feel a sort of magical and otherworldly vibe from them. The almost instantaneous way Nicholas connected with Emma, the way even Emma questions how there is still a guy who acts the way Nicholas does around her, the absolutely attached at the hip closeness that they seem to immediately develop...

Since this is also one of those really cool books where the story is spread out leisurely over a span of time, the 'sparks fly' feeling of the romance was carefully balanced with these two getting some legitimate time to grow and know each other before the storm clouds came rolling in. We see Emma face her tag-along demons -- namely needing to figure out who she is outside of what her mother has designed for her -- long before Nicholas' struggle begins. I think that was a smart move, because in doing this Marie built a future for Emma in Riverview, her new friends, Nicholas, etc., and then showed us that she had the strength and courage to fight for that with everything she had.

I also thought it was sweet that we get glimpses of the type of couple Vince and Maggie are, as well as seeing Daisy and Sam together, too. This gave off a neat vibe that love seems to bloom just as readily in Riverview as all the pretty flowers. I liked that. (On a side note, Riverview as a whole made me think of Gram's roses in The Sky Is Everywhere.)

On the other end of the scale, I like the fact that we never think that standing beside Nicholas through his ordeal is easy. There are many times that Emma struggles under the pressures of being with him at this time, and when she feels like taking the next step forward may just be impossible. This didn't lessen her -- or their feelings -- to me. Instead, it kept them feeling very real and showed that Marie was not afraid to take on this topic for all it was worth.

In General: 

Part of the tagline for my own book reads: "He saved her soul, she'll save his life", and in a way I feel that is just as equally true here, even though the genres are completely different. Through her love with Nicholas, her friends, her aunt, etc. I truly do feel that Emma's soul *was* actually saved. I really, genuinely feared for this character at the start of the book. The absolutely heart wrenching level of dependence she had on her mother's approval was, in a word, scary. She needed to get away. And without meeting Nicholas, she may still have managed, but would it have been nearly as sweet? (I want to be clear that I am not suggesting or promoting the idea that falling in love can save you -- only that it can make life really awesome.)

Then we see her turn around and, with Nicholas and their friends, fight to save him -- and in doing so, essentially love and the foundation of what she has found in her new life. I know, I know. I'm really babbling now! But I think that understanding how brilliantly everything came together is majorly important. But okay. You win! Let's get to my verdict on the book...

Blue Sky Days is a breathtaking story of true love with beautifully written prose capable of making mundane things become magical. I loved it!

Be sure to drop by again tomorrow! I have a guest post from Marie where she talks about designing her cover!


  1. Wow. Just wow. I think this is my new favorite review, Kat! You really *got* the book and the characters, and as a writer that is one of the best feelings in the world. I'm so glad you enjoyed it! I've had the same problem of reading friend's books and worrying I won't like it, but knowing that as a reviewer, I have an obligation to be honest, so it's as big a relief to me as it was to you! lol Thank you so, so much for this beautiful review, and for being part of the tour!
    PS - You seriously had characters named Vince and Maggie?? That's too much! Seriously, what are the odds? lol

    1. I still remember the day I decided to sit down and read Blue Sky Days. It was actually a cold wet day in mid January and I think I drank four cups of tea. I wanted to get going on the book and ended up finishing it in the same evening.

      As for Vince and Maggie -- yep. The Vince in my notes is a merfolk prince and Maggie is a human who gets mixed up in stuff with the Merfolk and they eventually fall in love. I couldn't resist writing about that. As you said: what are the odds?

      Anyway, thank *you* for writing such a totally awesome book and for having me as part of the tour. I hope that everything regarding Blue Sky Days surpasses your wildest dreams. :)

  2. I have to admit, I had not heard of this book until I stopped by here. And now, after reading your review, I would very much love to read it.

    I love a book that can make me cry. I want to be so engrossed in a book that I feel for the characters and what is happening to them. The cancer situation in Blue Sky Days ... well, I can understand. My grandmother and one of my sisters died of cancer and I myself was diagnosed with a treatable form of skin cancer on my face a little over a year ago but it progressed to the point that I had to have reconstructive surgery to repair the damage from the cancer removal.

    Well anyway, thank you for the amazing review!


  3. This was a beautiful love story!! Emma set out on a journey to discover herself. And not only did she do that, but also found her soulmate. Her dedication and strength through Nick's illness was commendable. This book will remind you to appreciate the little thing in life and to not be afraid of living how you want.

    Allied Locksmith


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