Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Blue Sky Days by Marie Landry

I received a copy of this book in exchange for a review with the Authors Requesting Reviews program on Basically Books.

This book came recommended to me by Tana, the fabulous queen of the ARR program. Although this is not a genre that I often dabble in, I found I was actually feeling fairly excited about the prospect of the story and stepping out of my comfort zone.

Title: Blue Sky Days
Author: Marie Landry
Publisher: Self-published
Length: 207 pages
PoV: 1st person
Tense: Past tense

Story: 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.

Thoughts and impressions: I have to be honest as I start this review: I think that this is one of the most difficult reviews that I have ever written. Even in my own head I am very torn about this book. On the one hand, I did like the story and the message that it conveys, but on the other hand it was lacking something for me. But what, exactly, was it lacking? Well, I’m finding that I can’t quite put my finger on that. I’m going to try to figure it out for myself as I write this.

So what’s the book about? The synopsis covers that extensively. Emma, having always lived in her mother’s shadow as she strives for her approval, finally sets out to discover life and what she wants from it. So she goes to live with her aunt Daisy in the small town of Riverview and there she embarks on a voyage of self-discovery. She soon meets Nicholas and her voyage of self-discovery becomes the adventure of falling in love for the first time. But her summer happiness is doomed when Nicholas is diagnosed with cancer and Emma has to find new pillars of strength inside herself in order to be the rock that Nicholas needs to help him weather this storm.

I much preferred the second half of the story, but why? I think that the answer lies in the fact that in the first half of Blue Sky Days there is no threat in any form. There’s nothing hanging over their heads as the reader knows that the cancer problem is coming, but the characters don’t. It’s not even really the story of Emma and Nicholas falling in love as that happens right off the bat. It’s more a chronicle of what they did together that summer. There are two what I’m going to term “speeds”. Most of the time things were set on “play” and the reader would experience events as Emma lived them. Other times it was like things were on “fast forward” as Emma gave the lowdown on what they’d been doing until we’re caught up with her present again.

Because there was no threat to what was going on, to their happiness, I felt a bit like a voyeur standing at a window and looking in on these people, which in turn left me ill at ease. More than this, though, the physical interactions between the characters left me uncomfortable. Now, I consider myself to be a fairly touchy-feely person and I’m all about hugs and kisses (much to my boyfriend’s ever-lasting frustration!), but these characters took touchy-feely to a whole new level. They were constantly kissing each other on the cheek or forehead or hugging even when it was the first time they’d met. This may be a culture issue, I don’t know. Again, I just felt bordering on voyeuristic by the intimacy of it all.

I didn’t really feel the growing relationships between the characters at this point either. Daisy and Emma already had a close relationship before the events of the book even started; Maggie and Vince, Nicholas’s friends, didn’t really get much on-page time and the reader just had to take Emma’s word for it when she mentioned that they’d become friends during one of the fast forward passages; and I felt that the scenes between Emma and Nicholas were more a way of chronicling the events of the summer than really showing the evolution of their feelings as the feelings just seemed to be there as of the get go.

It was interesting to watch Emma come to find her own two feet with the help of these other characters but I found that my discomfort during this half of the story was often hard to overlook and the fact that for 50% of the book there was nothing to threaten their happiness meant that I felt that they had nothing to lose. Consequently, it was hard to stay interested at times.

The second half of the book really picked up. I know that some readers were reduced to tears when reading this half of the book as Nicholas has to fight leukaemia. Personally, I didn’t cry but I suspect that this stems from my difficulties connecting with the characters in the first half of the book.

Funnily enough this part of the story reflects events that took place in my boyfriend’s family just before I was drawn into the fold. We’re talking almost the exact same trials and tribulations as Emma and Nicholas and the same mentality on coming out the other side. It’s very true that such an experience leaves you with a very different outlook on life. There were a good number of quotes in this part of the book that really impacted me. The most important of these was something that Daisy says to Emma when Emma’s feeling close to breaking point as things go from bad to worse.
"You're going to give him all you have, just like you've been doing, and when you don't think you've got anything left to give you're going to dig deeper and somehow find more strength..." I loved this quote. It meant so much to me. I wish I knew how to add quotes to GoodReads so I could add that one to my favourites, alas I don’t.

This was a very poignant insight into the horror that people – friends and family of cancer sufferers – go through every day. I’ve been there, done that, got the t-shirt, though my experience was diagnosed as terminal so there was never a point when raised hopes were dashed as they are in the book. I think the most striking scene for me was when Emma climbed into her car and just broke down, she felt so powerless and that translated really well.

In fact, the author’s ability to portray these feelings (as several of the characters end up feeling like ships without anchors) was really admirable. She’s got great talent for bringing such emotions to life for the reader. Had I connected with the characters better, I’m sure that I too would have been reduced to a blubbering mess.

Emma’s dad also makes his appearance in the second half after having been more or less absent for the first half of things. He’s supposedly breaking free from the chains that shackle him to his selfish, unfeeling wife but most of this goes on off-page so the reader doesn’t really get to observe his evolution. I would have liked to have seen more or it. As it was it felt like it was a little too much in the way of tying things up with that bow of perfection. It didn’t help that I found the mother’s character very hard to believe. I just feel that had she really been jealous that her only child chose to spend her time with her aunt instead of her mother, the mother would have gone to lengths to get her back rather than just keep pushing her farther and farther away at each point.

So I find that I’m torn about this book. I think really this is in part my own fault as the reader for not connecting very well with the book.  When I look at it from a distance, I’m aware that this book is worth at least 4 stars, but it just didn’t work that well for me. I enjoyed it for the most part but I wasn’t invested in it.

The message, however, is perfect. May we all strive to make every day a blue sky day.

Style: I don’t know what it was exactly about the “fast forward” passages that didn’t work for me, but they just didn’t work all that well for me. That said, Georgette Heyer is one of my favourite authors and I don’t like her “fast forward” passages either, so maybe it’s just this particular style of recounting events. Other than that, the style was very enjoyable and flowed well. For an indie book there were remarkably few issues with the editing, so much respect is deserved there!

Final verdict: Though I realise that the book deserves a high rating, it wasn’t a 4 or 5 star read for me. It wasn’t a bad read either. I’m used to reading books where there’s a very definite threat throughout the book and I think the lack of one here definitely affected my enjoyment of this one. 3 stars

Extra notes: Some bad language. Sex behind closed doors.


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