Monday, November 25, 2013

Title: Blythewood
Author: Carol Goodman
Narrator:  Leslie Bellair
Series: Blythewood, book #1
Length:  12 hrs 8 mins
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Publication Date: October 8, 2013
Source: purchased
Purchase: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Audible

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Welcome to Blythewood.

At seventeen, Avaline Hall has already buried her mother, survived a horrific factory fire, and escaped from an insane asylum. Now she’s on her way to Blythewood Academy, the elite boarding school in New York’s mist-shrouded Hudson Valley that her mother attended—and was expelled from. Though she’s afraid her high society classmates won’t accept a factory girl in their midst, Ava is desperate to unravel her family’s murky past, discover the identity of the father she’s never known, and perhaps finally understand her mother’s abrupt suicide. She’s also on the hunt for the identity of the mysterious boy who rescued her from the fire. And she suspects the answers she seeks lie at Blythewood.

But nothing could have prepared her for the dark secret of what Blythewood is, and what its students are being trained to do. Haunted by dreams of a winged boy and pursued by visions of a sinister man who breathes smoke, Ava isn’t sure if she’s losing her mind or getting closer to the truth. And the more rigorously Ava digs into the past, the more dangerous her present becomes.

Vivid and atmospheric, full of mystery and magic, this romantic page-turner by bestselling author Carol Goodman tells the story of a world on the brink of change and the girl who is the catalyst for it all.

I haven't had the best of luck with boarding school novels lately.  So many of them are flat and contain the same old, same old:  magic, mystery, and secrets, and they're all very blasé about it.  So, it was with some trepidation that I began this audiobook, despite knowing that several of my friends had already loved the story.

I don't know if it's the combination of a truly worthy protagonist and a brilliant audiobook narrator, but I can safely say that I am back on the boarding school bandwagon.  I loved Leslie Bellair's narration in Tarnish, so I was fairly certain she'd do Blythewood justice.  Bellair beautifully portrayed Ava as a girl who's not quite sure of her sanity and also not certain of her place in the world.  I'd say she far-exceeded my expectations when it comes to the narration.

My first instinct is to compare this story to Harry Potter because there are quite a few similarities, but that would be doing this book a great injustice because as far as writing and story go, the two books couldn't be more different.  Historical fiction and fantasy combine in this story to create a magical world shrouded in mystery. Blythewood is magical realism at its best, as far as I'm concerned, and setting the story in the early 20th century made it that much more enjoyable for me, especially when other events from history coincide and intertwine with the story.  This book is far from light, and including real-life tragic events from history gave the book a more realistic feel, making it all the more engaging.

These events also play an important role in Ava's life...Ava who's already suffered a tragic loss of her own. It's all a bit much and has Ava questioning her sanity, but she's a survivor.  She's not perfect and she doesn't have the ability to magic herself out of a jam; she's just a girl who's trying to make the best out of a bad situation.  And along the way, she makes some friends, both among her peers at school and among her teachers and their acquaintances, but she also makes a truly menacing enemy, one who may know Ava's story better than she does.

Another aspect of this story that I found particularly intriguing was the balance between light and dark, between good and evil.  I think when it comes to magic in a story, it's always important to highlight the differences but also to stress that there are gray areas, even if the opinion is not popular.  The Darklings, the fae, and the other inhabitants of the Blythe Wood are just such a gray area, and I can't wait to delve further into that magic in future installments.

I also need more of the romance from the next book.  The relationship that develops in Blythewood is forbidden in nature and very slow-burning, so much so that I wondered if anything would even become of it in this book.  Especially when the author seemed to be pushing another love interest into the mix.  Though nothing develops with that young man, there are indications that his presence is important and that even if Ava doesn't have feelings for him, he clearly does for her.  I'd buy into that romantic aspect more if I had been shown his feelings rather than having been told about them by another character.  Either way, it's going to be interesting to see how this all develops, especially after certain revelations at the end of this book.  Ava is going to have to overcome some prejudices and come to terms with who she really is before anything can really happen, though.

Honestly, I don't think any review I write can effectively convey the awesomeness of this story.  It's slow-going at first but well worth the build-up.  It's such a unique take on faerie lore intermixed with that of angels and demons and everything in between.  I was disappointed to learn that it wasn't a stand-alone as I'd originally thought, but I'm also elated to know that there's more of this story to be told.  I haven't had my fill of this magical world yet, and I am ever so intrigued by those Darklings and whatever else lurks in the shadows of the Blythe Wood.

About the author:

Carol Goodman is the author of The Lake of Dead Languages, The Fairwick Chronicles, Watchtower Trilogy (with husband Lee Slonimsky), and the forthcoming young adult Blythewood series. Her work has appeared in such journals as The Greensboro Review, Literal Latt, The Midwest Quarterly, and Other Voices. After graduation from Vassar College, where she majored in Latin, she taught Latin for several years in Austin, Texas. She then received an M.F.A. in fiction from the New School University. Goodman currently teaches writing at SUNY New Paltz and lives with her family in the Hudson Valley.

Find Carol:

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