Book Review: If I Stay, An Emotional Read

What would you do if you were a teenage girl and the only survivor of a car wreck that killed the rest of your family? What if you survived the wreck, but just barely, and you’re somehow conscious, in an out-of-body way, and you have to choose between letting go, not being able to discern anything about what happens after that, or staying and living, exploring the potential of your gift for music and your relationship with your boyfriend, who you’re madly in love with? This is the choice faced by seventeen-year-old Mia, the main character of If I Stay by Gayle Forman. The book is a poignant, beautifully-rendered narrative about what is really a universal question: what would you do if you had that choice? It’s an emotional read.

What Is If I Stay About?

From Goodreads:

Just listen, Adam says with a voice that sounds like shrapnel. I open my eyes wide now. I sit up as much as I can. And I listen. Stay, he says. Choices. Seventeen-year-old Mia is faced with some tough ones: Stay true to her first love—music—even if it means losing her boyfriend and leaving her family and friends behind? Then one February morning Mia goes for a drive with her family, and in an instant, everything changes. Suddenly, all the choices are gone, except one. And it’s the only one that matters.

Who Would Like If I Stay, And Why?

If I could give this book more than ten stars, I would. It’s intense, in a life-and-death way, not an action-packed way, because of the emotions she goes through while trying to make her decision. Those emotions are very authentic and non-trite. It’s masterfully structured. I read it in one sitting. And the style…oh, the style: so beautiful. Mia was such a well-drawn character that I felt like she could jump off the page and I would recognize her instantly. The supporting characters were unique. Such a delight to read.

Anyone who likes emotional reads like Beyond by Catina Haverlock and Angela Larkin, or Between Shades of Gray by Rutya Sepetys, will like this book. If you want a book that will sweep you away, this one definitely will.

What’s The Deal?

When I bought this from Amazon three years ago, I paid $5.30 for it. You can get a like-new copy from Thriftbooks now for $4.59, which is a 13% decrease. You can get an even cheaper “acceptable-condition” copy for $3.79, which is a 28% decrease.

Book Review: Love and Luck, A Supremely Enjoyable Read

What makes a book “supremely enjoyable” to read, as opposed to “spellbinding,” “rich,” or “charming?” For me, it has to be a mix of good writing, clever lines, fun characters, strong relationship building, and most importantly, heart. Jenna Evans Welch’s latest book Love and Luck is such a supremely enjoyable read because it has all of those things. To wit:

Good Writing

It takes a very steady writer’s hand to dole out details of a relationship, world, or situation fast enough to keep the interest of readers with short attention spans but not so fast that a story becomes predictable one-third of the way in. At the core of Love and Luck is the relationship between the main character, Addie, and her brother Ian, right after she goes through a really rough break-up with her boyfriend, and during a family trip to the Emerald Isle. They’re there for her aunt’s destination wedding, but Ian keeps bringing up the break-up, which gets him into all kinds of trouble with Addie. Then, she’s more-or-less forced into a whirlwind road trip with him and his Irish buddy Rowan. Addie finds a guidebook entitled “Ireland for the Heartbroken: An Unconventional Guide to the Emerald Isle” at their hotel, and uses that as her survival mechanism, but finds that she doesn’t need to rely on it so much as she needs to learn how to trust Ian, own her mistakes, and rely on her friends and family. Welch peels back the layers of Addie and Ian’s relationship bit-by-bit, through revelations of details about her relationship with Cubby, then wraps it back up again using the chaotic stitchwork of their shared roadtrip experience and previous history. It’s endearing and heart-warming, that’s what it is.

Clever Lines

Some examples:

(in a conversation with Ian and Addie’s older brother, Walt, and their mother):

Walt leaned forward, shaking himself free of me also. “Mom, please stop swearing. You’re awful at it.”

“You can’t be awful at swearing,” she said shakily.

“You have single-handedly disproven that theory,” Walt argued. “There’s a science to it; some words go together. You can’t just throw them all out at once.”

“I’m going to throw you all out at once,” Mom said.”

Or this:

(as Addie’s getting into Rowan’s tiny car and beginning this forced road trip):

I rushed over, eager to keep up the goodwill, but when I looked inside [the car], the glow that Ian’s smile had created instantly faded away. He had somehow managed to stack Rowan’s items into a teetering pile that almost touched the ceiling. The only actual space was behind Ian’s seat, and it was just the right size for three malnourished squirrels and a hedgehog. If they all sucked in.

Fun Characters

credit: Jenna Evans Welch. All rights reserved.

Addie is a high-schooler in the swamp of murky self-identity, yet her narrative isn’t angsty or depressing. In fact, it’s anything but. Through her interactions with Rowan, who becomes a co-commiserator in the Land of Heartbreak, she is revealed (to herself and others) as a kind, impulsive, dedicated, angry, helpful Person. Through her interactions with her brother Ian, which could have shown her to be nothing but selfish and mean-spirited, she is shown to crave harmony. In the end, her biggest problem is her ability to own her past mistakes, which is a very relatable character flaw. Somewhat whimsically, she follows the advise of the writer of “Ireland for the Heartbroken,” making paper airplanes out of losses and standing in the waters of Inch Beach until her legs are numb. It’s a joy to follow her journey.

Strong Relationship Building

All books, when it comes right down to it, are about relationships (all good books anyway), no matter the genre. To take a relationship–a sibling relationship no less–from a knock-down fist fight to a hug, realistically, is no small feat, but as I said before, it’s done in this book.

Heart

“What is heart?” you say. It’s that indefinable quality of (good writing + fun characters + strong relationship building) + emotion. The emotion has to be deep and woven throughout, not dramatically expressed in fits and spurts like a bas relief sculpture, just for show. It’s interesting to me that at the launch for this book, which I attended at Kings’ English in Salt Lake City, Utah, Jenna stated that this book came out of one of the toughest years of her life. It doesn’t feel like it; it’s too light-hearted for that. Or rather, maybe because of that, between the clever quips and mad dashes, the heart of this book reaches a very universal core:  who we are as human beings and whether we’re sufficient by ourselves or need others.

Who Would Like Love & Luck?

If you liked Love and Gelato, it’s loosely-related predecessor which I reviewed here, you’ll like this book. If you’re going to the beach and want a light read, you’ll like this book, although there’s not much romance per se. If you want a book for your teenage girl to read, one that has no sex and very little language, you’ll like this book.

My sister Heather, who is Jenna’s friend.

 

Book Review: Love and Gelato, a Sweet, Sweet Read

I realize that I’ve been straying from my focus on science fiction and fantasy books lately, and for that, I apologize. I’m engrossed in book 3 of the Raven Cycle series by Maggie Stiefvater, after having raved about book one here, and instead of continuing to rave about books 2 and 3 (which would bore you guys, I think), I’m re-reading some other books as well. Love and Gelato by Jenna Evans Welch is one such book. It’s a sweet YA romance. Interestingly, the main character shares her first name with that of Between Shades of Gray, which I just barely reviewed, but the two books are nothing alike.

What Love and Gelato is About

At the beginning of Love and Gelato, this Lina is just beginning to grieve the loss of her mother, who died from a fast-moving illness. She’s also  confused by her mom’s deathbed wish that Lina go to Italy to meet her father, whom she’s never met. Its quick pacing—skimming through such a big change in Lina’s life—seems to be reflective of Lina’s shock and denial about being in such a difficult, unexpected situation. It isn’t until later in the book that she begins to come to terms with her grief, and that reckoning and increase in maturity is an endearing thing to be a part of.

Indeed, if I could sum up the whole book in just one word, it would be “cute.” But then I would have to clarify that by saying that it is so because of its appeal to teenagers (especially girls), its pacing, and its wonderful voice. The dialogue sounded consistently authentic and humorous. There are rejoinders like this on almost every page:

“Odette grimaced. ‘I’m spending the summer pretending to be somewhere other than Italy.

Ren grinned. “How’s that working out for you? You know, with your Italian husband and children?”

I absolutely loved the humor in this book, as expressed in conversations like that and in Lina’s and her friend’s actions.

And, of course, the romance was fun. If you’re an adult looking to read about a serious, in-depth, marriage-inducing love, you won’t find it in this book, nor should you expect it, except for a smattering in her mother’s backstory. But it was still a joy to “watch” the blossoming of romantic feelings between Lina and a certain male character. The bumps and detours they experienced as their relationship developed made for a good plot.

So, if you have a teenage daughter, get this book for her right now. Keep in mind that there is a little bit of alcohol use, and various references to Lina’s illegitimacy. It does skim over the fact that Lina never knew her father while growing up with her mother, and never really questioned her father’s absence, but that may have been because of her afore-mentioned grief. Even if you’re not a teenager yourself, but are looking for a light summer read, you should read this. Enjoy it in the vein that it was written, with “love” and “gelato” used together in the title, almost as if they’re interchangeable. Because, when you’re young, sometimes they are.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a review copy in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: The Raven Boys: Satisfying and Mystical

Between preparing for my last day at work this week and my first day as a homeschooling mom next week, I’ve been busy, but over the Christmas break, I had time to query my book Stranger in my Own Head a little more, and start three new books, even while I was helping my eldest recover from wisdom-teeth-removal surgery. The first book will be a sequel to Stranger. The second is about a young man diagnosed with dissociative personality disorder, possessing 23 different personalities, but convinced that 22 of them are aliens. And the third is about a change in the Earth’s atmosphere that makes everybody immortal, including Laula Quimby, a girl who’s been fifteen for the past five years, perpetually at the beginning stages of cancer, and technically well past adolescence, and her mother, a brilliant volcanologist who might be able to save the world from itself, but at the cost of losing her daughter. All three books are begging for attention; I want to write all of them right now! Tell me which one you’d be most interested in reading in the comments!

In the meantime, I’ve been reading Maggie Stiefvater’s Raven Boys series. I read book one last week, and am halfway through Dream Thieves, the second book, this week. I think I might have found another new favorite author. Raven Boys is magical in both its premise and its style. Let me see if I can articulate why:

What Raven Boys is About

Blue Sargent, a teenager girl, is not clairvoyant, but her mother and all the other women who live at 300 Fox Way with her are. And every year, on St. Mark’s Eve, Blue stands next to her clairvoyant mother as the soon-to-be dead walk past. Blue herself never sees them—not until this year, when a boy emerges from the dark and speaks directly to her.

His name is Gansey, and Blue soon discovers that he is a rich student at the local private school. Blue has a policy of staying away from Aglionby boys. Known as Raven Boys, they can only mean trouble. But she’s drawn to Gansey, in a way she can’t entirely explain. He has it all—family money, good looks, devoted friends—but he’s looking for much more than that. He is on a quest that has encompassed three other Raven Boys: Adam, the scholarship student who resents all the privilege around him; Ronan, the fierce soul who ranges from anger to despair; and Noah, the taciturn watcher of the four, who notices many things but says very little.

For as long as she can remember, Blue has been warned that she will cause her true love to die. She never thought this would be a problem. But now, as her life becomes caught up in the strange and sinister world of the Raven Boys, she’s not so sure anymore (from Goodreads).

Why I Liked Raven Boys, and You Might Too

The quest that Gansey is on involves the activating of a ley line to find an ancient sleeping king who will reportedly grant one magical wish to whoever finds him and wakes him. But the king, Glendower, is buried very deeply and the location of the ley line as well as the instructions for activating the line and waking him are almost completely lost to history. One would think, by that description, that this book is merely a fantasy book, but it is so much more than that. Blue, Gansey, Adam, Ronan, and Noah are each full-bodied characters, real, flawed, likable, and deep. What Raven Boys is, more than anything, is an exploration of the dynamics between each of them, with all of the accompanying prejudices, uncertainties, hopes, misperceptions, and dreams. In that sense, it’s more of a contemporary coming-of-age story, just with a little bit of fantasy thrown in.

But more than that, it’s a story told with an enchanting and descriptive style. Take this paragraph, for example:

A second later, the Camaro revved high, and the tires squealed out Gansey’s true feelings. Then the house was quiet. It was a sucked-out silence, like the raven boys had taken all the sound in the neighborhood with them.

Or this sentence:

Something inside him felt like the night, hungry and wanting and black.

They both show something that Stiefvater is really good at: showing reactions, and anthropomorphizing things to make them seem more dynamic and organic, more a part of the world that Gansey and Blue and the rest of them are trying to figure out. Gansey’s search for Glendower is a search not just for a wish but for an identity too, one that is separate from how he knows others perceive him and maybe even perceives himself, one that is closest to who he feels he really is. And, whether they know it or not, the rest of the group—Blue, Ronan, Noah, and Adam—are searching for their own true identities too, just from differently angles. And one really wants all of them to succeed.

Don’t expect continuous, high-paced action, although there is some of that. Do expect a moderate amount of swearing. Do expect that if you start reading book one, you’ll want to read all four books in the series, but since they’re all published, you won’t have to wait for another book to come out to find out what happens. You can binge read!

Book Reviews: As You Wish, Man Called Ove, & Long Earth…Whew!

I actually read 2 1/2 books this week: an ARC of As You Wish by Chelsea Sedoti, Terry Pratchett’s The Long Earth, and Fredrik Backman’s A Man Called Ove. The first you can’t get until January of 2018, but even then, I don’t know if you should. The second, I very much regret that I can’t recommend, and the third, I think that there might be something wrong with you if you haven’t bought and read it yet. Here’s why:

Book Review: As You Wish…Not Quite

This book, about a small town in the middle of the Mojave Desert where everyone gets one wish on their 18th birthday—a wish that always comes true—and a main character who’s seen how wishes have broken the people around him, and thinks that it just might be possible that one can’t actually wish for happiness, had a cool premise but too much swearing for me. I’ve developed a general rule that I’ll tolerate about 20 swear words in a book; it’s got to have a really strong hook (i.e., good style, lots of action, unique character(s)) to compensate for the profanity, and even then…. I didn’t finish it because nothing had hooked me by the 20-swear-word limit.

So I’ll give that feedback to the publisher through NetGalley, and tell you that you might enjoy reading it if you don’t mind profanity. I personally think that I, like you, am spoiled for choices when it comes to books these days, and if profanity’s not my thing, then there are plenty of books out there without it that I’d rather spend my time and money on.

Book Review: The Long Earth: so Very, Very Long

Before J.K. Rowling came along, Terry Pratchett was the U.K.’s best-selling author. After she emerged, he was bumped down to second place, but not for lack of talent and effort. He wrote, by my count, 145 books, with 85 million copies of them read around the world in 37 languages.  He’s been awarded 10 honorary doctorate degrees and countless awards. His talent and skill cannot be refuted, even by those outside his chosen genre of fantasy and science fiction. I first became acquainted with him by reading his The Wee, Free Men, part of the Tiffany Aching series. “Charming” and “witty” are terms that don’t even begin to describe this book. One of my bucket list items is to read all of his books.

That being said, reading (or rather, listening to) The Long Earth was a chore. It strives to answer the question of what would happen to the human species if a discovery was made that there are infinite parallel Earths out there, none of which are inhabited by other humans, nor can be traveled to with any kind of metal, and on which various other species have evolved. I found none of the wit or pacing or “hard sci fi” that I’ve come to adore in other Pratchett books. Like one Amazon reviewer said: “In truth there is very little Pratchett in this book. There are many MANY exciting and fascinating concepts that would have made this pure awesomeness. There is endless potential here for further stories based on the universe, but this one does nothing except showcase the place.” I totally agree.

But I won’t stop reading Pratchett’s other books.

Book Review: A Man Called Ove: So Good

In case you’re one of those few who haven’t heard about this book, here’s what it’s about in a nutshell: a curmudgeonly old man is prevented from killing himself multiple times by neighbors who are needy and people to refuse to obey the sign that restricts parking in the residential area of his small neighborhood. It’s like the movie Up, only with more people that are adults, and more character. Take this paragraph for example:

For more than fifteen minutes he stood waiting for her at the station in his tight-fitting suit and his new-polished shoes. He was skeptical about people who came late. “If you can’t depend on someone being on time, you shouldn’t trust ’em with anything more important either,” he used to mutter when people came dribbling along with their time cards three or four minutes late, as if this didn’t matter. As if the railway line would just lie there waiting for them in the morning and not have something to do.

Every sentence in this book is imbued with characterization and style; every word is a brushstroke in the painting of Ove as not only a curmudgeon, but an (spoiler alert!) orphan, a loving husband to a wife who was paralyzed and rendered infertile by a drunk driver, a principled man, a hard worker, a dedicated Saab driver, and one of those loyal-to-the-death-but-you-wouldn’t-know-it-to-talk-to-him kind of people.

And, unlike most adult-genre books, especially ones about old people, something interesting or amusing or soulful on almost every page. The pacing and plot weaving are impeccable. It’s truly a treasure to read.

That’s why I’m doing a giveaway of one copy of A Man Called Ove! Click here to enter for a chance to win. If you’re already following me, comment on this post to be entered.

Note: I got a free advanced reader copy of As You Wish from NetGalley, but I purchased The Long Earth and A Man Called Ove. All opinions contained herein are, of course, my own, and should be taken as such.