Review | Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater

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.

5 cupcakes

As with its predecessors, Blue Lily, Lily Blue is very much a character-driven novel. There isn’t a whole lot of action, though the overhanging feeling of suspense and immediacy propels the story at the perfect pace before shedding its deceptively calm contents in favour of a rather intense ending. In the hands of other writers this could be a cause for concern, but Stiefvater has masterfully crafted complex characters and relationships that readers will easily become invested in and desire to learn more about.

While The Dream Thieves primarily focused on Ronan’s character growth, Blue Lily, Lily Blue devotes equal time to Blue and her Raven Boys (except for Noah, whose scenes were dark and somewhat creepy). The relationship dynamics between that group of friends is so intricate and beautiful, and since my description will in no way do it justice, here’s a quote that will:

“What she didn’t realize about Blue and her boys was that they were all in love with one another. She was no less obsessed with them than they were with her, or one another, analyzing every conversation and gesture, drawing out every joke into a longer and longer running gag, spending each moment either with one another or thinking about when next they would be with one another. Blue was perfectly aware that it was possible to have a friendship that wasn’t all-encompassing, that wasn’t blinding, deafening, maddening, quickening. It was just that now that she’d had this kind, she didn’t want the other.”

The relationship between Blue and Gansey will always be my favourite, as it’s slow-burn, awkward, tentative, sweet, and fraught with tension. That being said, I loved seeing Blue and Ronan slowly start developing a friendship, seeing how Adam and Ronan began opening up more to each other, and seeing just how important the Raven Boys are to one another.

Blue Lily, Lily Blue was also the book to make me fall wholeheartedly in love with Blue. Although I admired her tenacity and strength before, she truly started to come into her own in this book as she no longer had Maura to lean on and help her make decisions. It also made me appreciate Adam a bit more, as he truly changed for the better – namely, he finally learned that relying on others is a sign of strength, not weakness.

Overall, Blue Lily, Lily Blue might just be my favourite Raven Cycle book yet – and that’s saying a lot, given how much I adore the series. It was beautiful and enchanting, and as soon as I finished, I went back to reread my favourite scene (hint: it involves Ronan and Gansey running into a courtroom) and then proceeded to cry over how much I love Blue and her Raven Boys.

Review | Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer

If life were fair, Jam Gallahue would still be  at home in New Jersey with her sweet British  boyfriend, Reeve Maxfield. She’d be watching  old comedy sketches with him. She’d be kissing  him in the library stacks.

She certainly wouldn’t be at The Wooden Barn, a therapeutic boarding school in rural Vermont, living with a weird roommate, and signed up for an exclusive, mysterious class called Special Topics in English.

But life isn’t fair, and Reeve Maxfield is dead.

Until a journal-writing assignment leads Jam to Belzhar, where the untainted past is restored, and Jam can feel Reeve’s arms around her once again. But there are hidden truths on Jam’s path to reclaim her loss.

From New York Times bestselling author Meg Wolitzer comes a breathtaking and surprising story about first love, deep sorrow, and the power of acceptance.

2 cupcakes

Belzhar certainly has an interesting premise: a grieving girl writes in a journal and is able to be with her dead boyfriend again. In this place, though, Jamaica can only experience moments with Reeve that have previously occurred, allowing her to hold onto those happy memories. It was a neat way to explore the depths of Jam’s grief, and although it became repetitive, it was interesting to see how the visits enabled Jam to distance herself from Reeve and move on.

The relationship between Reeve and Jam was told only through these trips to Belzhar and, as such, it was emotionally distant and empty. Granted, that may have been because there weren’t too many memories that Jam could share with readers, given that her relationship lasted only a handful of weeks. I understood Jam’s attraction to Reeve – I would probably fall for a boy with a British accent quite quickly, especially if he represented someone who was quite my opposite. I know that the length of a relationship isn’t necessarily proportional to the depth of the feelings of those involved, and that emotions are often heightened in first relationships since there’s no previous expectations or a basis of comparison, however the extent of Jam’s love was told to me rather than shown so I couldn’t buy their whirlwind romance.

The characters also never seemed to be fully fleshed-out. They’re all emotionally fragile and troubled individuals and their deep bond resulted from Wolitzer telling readers that it was there instead of showing readers the interactions that led to this friendship. The scenes intended to provide these characters with depth (such as Jam helping birth a baby goat) just felt awkward and out of place, and the speeches that the secondary characters gave to explain how they arrived at The Wooden Barn negated any emotion that these tales of loss would normally have evoked.

Until the ending, I was convinced that Belzhar was going to be a solid 3 star read, despite my lack of emotional involvement. Unfortunately, the twisty ending didn’t shock me in the way that it was supposed to; instead, it felt like a mockery of mental illness, trivializing those who actually had experienced traumatic events.

Overall, Belzhar had an intriguing premise, but my inability to form any emotional attachments with the characters and the way that the “big reveal” was handled made it fall flat.

Review | Open Road Summer by Emery Lord

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.

4.5 cupcakes

Open Road Summer has been highly recommended by so many book bloggers, which is probably why it took me so long to finally pick it up. Thankfully, it surpassed my already high expectations to quickly become one of my favourite reads of the year.

My favourite part about Open Road Summer was easily the strong, supportive friendship between Reagan and Dee. Like all relationships, it had its ups and downs, but at the end of the day, both girls were always there for one another. This is the kind of friendship that I wish I saw more often in YA novels, as it perfectly captured how I feel about my best friend.

Reagan is a character who could be tough to like, given her tough exterior. She’s angry, fairly judgmental, and stubborn, but despite this, I absolutely loved her. Her sarcastic quips made me laugh out loud, and I could relate to how she hid her heart behind a prickly exterior so that she wouldn’t get hurt again.

Emery Lord did an amazing job of portraying the both glamorous and less-than-lovely parts of living out your life in the public eye, humanizing Dee in spite of her celebrity status. Dee was sweet, ambitious, and incredibly down-to-earth so I truly felt sorry for her when the pressures of fame started to take their toll.

While the romance took the backseat to the friendship elements of the story, it was sweet and honest. Matt Finch has quickly found himself near the top of my list of book boyfriends, with his sweet, sensitive nature, genuinely nice attitude, and musical inclinations. I loved reading about his interactions with Reagan – while witty banter may be my weakness, I loved how they understood one another so well because they were both “broken.”

As an added bonus, Emery Lord’s songwriting abilities are just as perfect as her ability to craft believable, adorable relationships. I loved reading both Dee and Matt’s songs, and I feel like they would be fantastic if they were put to music.

The only complaint that I had about Open Road Summer was the heavy amount of girl hate, which was especially surprising given that the story was heavily focused on a strong female friendship. While I understand that jealousy and insecurities do lead to unkind thoughts, this behaviour was seen every time that another teenage girl stepped onto the page. If this had been mentioned and corrected as part of Reagan’s character growth, it would have been excusable, but that wasn’t the case.

Overall, Open Road Summer perfectly captures the feeling of summer: it’s fun, light, adorable, charming (here’s looking at you, Matt Finch), and put the biggest smile on my face. I’ll definitely be giving this a reread when the warmer weather rolls around!

Review | The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson

A princess must find her place in a reborn world.

She flees on her wedding day.

She steals ancient documents from the Chancellor’s secret collection.

She is pursued by bounty hunters sent by her own father.

She is Princess Lia, seventeen, First Daughter of the House of Morrighan.

The Kingdom of Morrighan is steeped in tradition and the stories of a bygone world, but some traditions Lia can’t abide. Like having to marry someone she’s never met to secure a political alliance.

Fed up and ready for a new life, Lia flees to a distant village on the morning of her wedding. She settles in among the common folk, intrigued when two mysterious and handsome strangers arrive—and unaware that one is the jilted prince and the other an assassin sent to kill her. Deceptions swirl and Lia finds herself on the brink of unlocking perilous secrets—secrets that may unravel her world—even as she feels herself falling in love.

2 cupcakes

I really enjoyed The Adoration of Jenna Fox and I love high fantasy, so I was really looking forward to reading The Kiss of Deception. Unfortunately, despite its strong start, The Kiss of Deception didn’t quite meet my expectations.

The Kiss of Deception started out quite strongly, however once Lia fled her kingdom, there wasn’t much plot progression. There were scenes of her travelling, scenes of her working as a barmaid in a tavern, scenes of her picking berries… and this carried on for ~300 pages. To add to this, the prince and the assassin didn’t live up to their promised roles; instead, they became hopelessly infatuated with Lia as soon as they set eyes on her, creating a love triangle that quickly overshadowed the main plot. Furthermore, the assassin possessed a secret delicate nature and was reluctant to kill his target, rather than creating gruesome murders and general tension/intrigue like expected.

Lia, herself, was an alright heroine. She wasn’t quite the badass I had expected, though I did appreciate her sharp tongue and willingness to stand up for herself and others. I didn’t agree with her decision to flee her kingdom, especially knowing the importance of the alliance, however I understood her need to create a future on her own terms.

The romance was interesting at first, as it wasn’t revealed which party member was the assassin and which member was the prince. Unfortunately, once the romance weighed down the plot progression, I no longer found myself invested in its outcome and became irritated by how Lia had chosen one boy but continued to lead on the other.

Overall, I likely would have enjoyed Kiss of Deception more if the love triangle wasn’t so heavy, and if the plot had more substance.

Review | The Bodies We Wear by Jeyn Roberts

A streetwise girl trains to take on a gang of drug dealers and avenge her best friend’s death in this thriller for fans of Scott Westerfeld and Robin Wasserman.

People say when you take Heam, your body momentarily dies and you catch a glimpse of heaven. Faye was only eleven when dealers forced Heam on her and her best friend, Christian. But Faye didn’t glimpse heaven—she saw hell. And Christian died.

Now Faye spends her days hiding her secret from the kids at school, and her nights training to take revenge on the men who destroyed her life and murdered her best friend. But life never goes the way we think it will. When a mysterious young man named Chael appears, Faye’s plan suddenly gets a lot more complicated. Chael seems to know everything about her, including her past. But too many secrets start tearing her world apart: trouble at school, with the police, and with the people she thought might be her friends. Even Gazer, her guardian, fears she’s become too obsessed with vengeance. Love and death. Will Faye overcome her desires, or will her quest for revenge consume her?

2.5 cupcakes

Having read and enjoyed Dark Inside and Rage Within, I was really looking forward to reading The Bodies We Wear. Its Kill Bill vibe and promise of delicious revenge drew me in, and while it delivered on some levels, I was left feeling fairly underwhelmed.

I loved the dark, gritty world that Roberts created. Although Heam’s origin wasn’t explained very much, it isn’t difficult to imagine its existence or why it would appeal to a significant portion of the population – a drug that allows you to glimpse Heaven for the price of dying momentarily is quite an interesting concept.

At first, I was intrigued by our protagonist, Faye. Her anger was all-consuming, so I was really interested to see how her self-destructive pathway to revenge would play out. Unfortunately, despite her constant reminders of how much of an amazing fighter she was, Faye wasn’t really that much of a badass. She spends the majority of the story pitying herself (which was understandable at first, but then began grating on my nerves) or fawning over the mysterious Chael, leaving much to be desired in the actual “revenge” aspect of The Bodies We Wear. Also, for an individual who has been exposed to Haem, she didn’t seem to suffer any of the side-effects that the other addicts did – aside from the scarring, that is. She barely spoke of her addiction and managed to attend school on a regular basis, all of which should have been impossible, given the way that Haem had previously been presented. Despite this, I did enjoy her transformation over the course of the novel as she learned about forgiveness and the power that it holds; I just wish that she had lived up to the Lisbeth Salander comparison.

The romance is where The Bodies We Wear really went downhill for me. The “mysterious” Chael (whose identity I had pieced together within the first ~50 pages) admits to stalking Faye, yet he’s gorgeous enough that it’s acceptable. It wasn’t the best first impression, and their interactions over the course of the story felt forced and unnecessary.

Overall, The Bodies We Wear had a strong start but it wasn’t quite what I was expecting (or what it was marketed as), leaving me fairly disappointed.

Top Ten Bookish Problems

ttt

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly book meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. Each week, she posts an idea relating to books and encourages other book bloggers to respond with their own top ten lists.

This week’s topic is “top ten book-related problems that I have.” It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these, and this looks like such a fun topic!

1. Finding time to read. 
I’m currently taking 5 biology courses and their associated laboratory components, which means that I’m at school from 9:30-5:30 on weekdays. On top of that, I’m the Marketing & Communications Director for a student-run group on campus, I visit elementary school classrooms with Let’s Talk Science to run fun biology experiments, and I’m on the Lab and Design Team for the University of Waterloo’s iGEM team (which I am incredibly excited about!). All of this has left me with very little time to blog, let alone read – if I can sneak in a few chapters over breakfast, I consider it to be a good day.

2. Deciding what to read next
I probably spend more time staring at my bookshelves to pick out my next read than I spend actually reading…

3. Buying matching covers/editions
In a perfect world, all of my books would be of the same type and same edition. Unfortunately, I’m really impatient, and insist on pre-ordering everything, so my series are a mix of hardcovers and paperbacks.

4. Saying “no” to pretty-looking books – especially when I already own another edition
I recently tried convincing my mother that a good 21st birthday present would be the new Bloomsbury editions of Harry Potter, since I love their covers. She said no, since I already have a perfectly good, original hardcover set… so I’m just going to have to buy them myself. And the illustrated editions, once those come out.

5. Binge-reading a series, only to find out that the next book is released a lot later than I originally thought
Here’s looking at you, Winter.

6. When none of my friends understand why I’m crying over a fictional character
The worst was when I was reading Blue Lily, Lily Blue and had to show them the scene I was crying over. IT WAS REALLY SWEET, OKAY.

7. Getting a new book in a series, but forgetting what happened in the previous books
Thank goodness for The Recaptains, and Wikipedia. (I usually would do a reread, but if I tried that once Winds of Winter comes out, you guys would never hear from me again).

8. When I borrow an ebook from the library, and it expires before I have a chance to finish it
This always happens with new releases, since I have the hardest time reading multiple books at once… which means I have to go back on the incredibly long holds list.

9. Getting interrupted in the middle of a good scene
Especially if it’s to ask what I’m reading.

10. Deciding how to organize my bookshelf
Alphabetical? By colour? Do I give myself a favourites shelf? Such a hard decision! My bookshelf is the only part of my room that needs to look perfect. Now, if only it had infinite space…

What are your biggest book-related problems? Leave me a list or a link to your Top Ten Tuesday post in the comments below.

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Review | The DUFF by Kody Keplinger

Seventeen-year-old Bianca Piper is cynical and loyal, and she doesn’t think she’s the prettiest of her friends by a long shot. She’s also way too smart to fall for the charms of man-slut and slimy school hottie Wesley Rush. In fact, Bianca hates him. And when he nicknames her “the Duff,” she throws her Coke in his face.

But things aren’t so great at home right now, and Bianca is desperate for a distraction. She ends up kissing Wesley. Worse, she likes it. Eager for escape, Bianca throws herself into a closeted enemies-with-benefits relationship with him.

Until it all goes horribly awry. It turns out Wesley isn’t such a bad listener, and his life is pretty screwed up, too. Suddenly Bianca realizes with absolute horror that she’s falling for the guy she thought she hated more than anyone.

2.5 cupcakes

I hadn’t heard the term “DUFF” (or “designated ugly fat friend”) before the trailer for this movie premiered. That being said, I’m quite familiar with assessing one’s worth on the basis of comparisons, so I’m glad that Keplinger decided to tackle this issue. Everyone has moments of insecurity, and I appreciated how Bianca wasn’t treated any less for having them.

All of the characters in The DUFF are flawed, realistic portrayals of high school students though I can’t say I really fell for any of them. Bianca’s snarky attitude and cynicism initially won me over, but her selfish nature made her difficult to like at times. I understood why she initially threw herself at Wesley – after all, I’ve been known to indulge in retail therapy as a method of distraction – but I couldn’t get on board with her disregarding her best friends to avoid her problems.

Regardless of how sweet Wesley Ayers seemed later in the story, I just couldn’t get behind the romance. A large part of this is likely because he made a point of referring to Bianca as “duffy” every time they spoke; he did genuinely apologize about it later on, but that couldn’t cancel out my first impression of him.

Although I loved The DUFF‘s realistic portrayal of teenagers and their insecurities, I didn’t feel that the secondary issues were handled very well. Alcoholism and divorce were important portions of Bianca’s home life, but they didn’t receive much exploration and were resolved too neatly for my liking.

Overall, The DUFF was merely an average read for me. Hopefully the movie is more enjoyable.