If I Stay by Gayle Forman

Summary: On a day that started like any other…

Mia had everything: a loving family, a gorgeous, adoring boyfriend, and a bright future full of music and full of choices. Then, in an instant, almost all of that is taken from her. Caught between life and death, between a happy past and an unknowable future, Mia spends one critical day contemplating the one decision she has left—the most important decision she’ll ever make. (Courtesy of author website).

My Thoughts: I had been reading many great reviews for this book before I finally decided to pick it up a few weeks ago from the library. It took me a long time to get around to it–mostly because it seemed like your typical post-tragedy YA novel, and I was never particularly in the mood for depressing emotions and contemporary moaning-and-groaning. And I just didn’t want to read something sad during my first few weeks of summer.

Well I was wrong. If I Stay was so far from your typical contemporary YA novel. It’s hard to pinpoint what exactly it is that Forman does so right other than “everything”. From the first page I was connected with Mia’s crazy but sincerely loving family, and not because my family is similar to hers, or that I’ve had the same experiences as they’ve had (in fact, far from it), but because Forman’s writing just does that to you. It’s simple and clean and perfect.

The whole novel takes place, like the summary says, in “one critical day”, but it’s a bit more than that. There are clear memories of Mia’s life before the accident interspersed with her present-day situation, and these transitions are handled and timed perfectly by Forman.

I highly recommend If I Stay to anyone who wants an absorbing, emotional read.

Author Website: http://www.gayleforman.com/
Apparently now there’s a sequel! Where She Went

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Stolen by Lucy Christopher

Summary: It happened like this. I was stolen from an airport. Taken from everything I knew, everything I was used to. Taken to sand and heat, dirt and danger. And he expected me to love him. This is my story. A letter from nowhere.

Told in a letter to her captor by 16-year-old Gemma, Stolen explores the influence that a really wild and remote space can have on the inner development of a young woman.

Gemma, a British city-living teenager, is kidnapped while on holiday with her parents. Her kidnapper, Ty, takes her to the wild land of outback Australia. To Gemma’s city-eyes, the landscape is harsh and unforgiving and there are no other signs of human life for hundreds of kilometres in every direction. Here, there is no escape. Gemma must learn to deal with her predicament, or die trying to fight it.

Ty, a young man, has other ideas for her. His childhood experience of living in outback Australia has forever changed the way he sees things. But he too has been living in the city; Gemma’s city. Unlike Gemma, however, he has had enough. In outback Australia he sees an opportunity for a new kind of life; a life more connected to the earth. He has been watching and learning about Gemma for many years; when he kidnaps her, his plan finally begins to take shape.

But Ty is not a stereotypical kidnapper and, over time, Gemma comes to see Ty in a new light, a light in which he is something more sensitive. The mysteries of Ty, and the mystery of her new life, start to take hold. She begins to feel something for her kidnapper when he wakes screaming in the night. Over the time spent with her captor, Gemma’s appreciation of him develops …but is this real love, or Stockholm Syndrome?

My Thoughts: I loved Stolen. After reading the summary (young girl, kidnapping, stockholm syndrome) I was kind of apprehensive that it would be false, or stupid, or deceivingly and disgustingly-untrue-abuse romanticized and painted over in a Twilight-esque light. You know, where the creepy “love interest” is supposed to be so tragically romantic and possessive and “unique” and she can change his bad ways, really she can!

It was so far from that. Christopher made Gemma’s terror and fear real to me, and it was obvious almost from the get-go that Ty is not your typical dark and brooding bad boy who is supposed to be “saved” by our heroine. Ty has issues. Real issues and a real history that surround the solitary domain he has built in the arid desert of outback Australia, the place he has kidnapped Gemma to.

There are really only two characters in this novel, and therefore we are intensely focused on the psychology and developments between Ty and Gemma. Christopher makes you fall in love with the landscape even as you know, just as Gemma does, that is inescapable, dangerous, and terrifying. There is a sense of building fragile things, anticipation and feelings rising to a point–and then everything topples over so heartbreakingly. You are sitting there at the end, wondering what exactly happened, just as Gemma does–she is no less confused than the reader.

Stolen is one of my Best Books Read in 2011. Beautiful.

Author Website: http://www.lucychristopher.com/

His Majesty’s Service (Temeraire #1-3) by Naomi Novik

This is an omnibus edition of the first three novels in Novik’s Temeraire series. 

Summary: Together in one volume, here are the first three novels in Naomi Novik’s New York Times bestselling Temeraire series, combining the gripping history of the Napoleonic era, the thrill of Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern books, and the excitement of Patrick O’Brian’s seafaring adventures. In His Majesty’s Service also includes an exclusive original Temeraire short story.

Capt. Will Laurence is serving with honor in the British Navy when his ship captures a French frigate harboring most a unusual cargo–an incalculably valuable dragon egg. When the egg hatches, Laurence unexpectedly becomes the master of the young dragon Temeraire and finds himself on an extraordinary journey that will shatter his orderly, respectable life and alter the course of his nation’s history.

Thrust into England’s Aerial Corps, Laurence and Temeraire undergo rigorous training while staving off French forces intent on breaching British soil. But the pair has more than France to contend with when China learns that an imperial dragon intended for Napoleon–Temeraire himself– has fallen into British hands. The emperor summons the new pilot and his dragon to the Far East, a long voyage fraught with peril and intrigue. From England’s shores to China’s palaces, from the Silk Road’s outer limits to the embattled borders of Prussia and Poland, Laurence and Temeraire must defend their partnership and their country from powerful adversaries around the globe. But can they succeed against the massed forces of Bonaparte’s implacable army?

My Thoughts: I have been a big fan of this series ever since the first book came out a few years ago. Novik writes in a very unique and perfectly suitable-to-the-time-period kind of style. Dragons in the Napoleonic wars! Amazing idea. Really unique. Very fun and original story. Novik has become one of my favorite authors.

The first book was my favorite. In the rest of the series Temeraire and Laurence travel all over the world–each book sort of has a “focus”. They go to China in the second novel, and then to Turkey in the third. They also visit (for various plot-related reasons) the African continent as well as Australia.

Author Website (and excerpt from the first book in the series): http://www.temeraire.org/in-his-majestys-service/#reviews

The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

Summary: Estha and Rahel are twins born eighteen minutes apart in India. When they are seven years old, their cousin Sophie Mol visits from England; a cataclysmic event happens which tears the family apart. Estha and Rahel are reunited again years later as adults, and must deal with the fact that when they were young, their lives were destroyed by the “Love Laws”, which lay down the rules of “who must be loved, and how, and how much”.

My Thoughts: No summary could do this book justice. Winner of the 1997 Man Booker prize, Roy’s novel completely blew me away. I was bored by the synopsis on the back cover, but thought I would give it a try anyway (not that I had much choice; I was in Guatemala with a very limited number of English books).

Roy creates a lush, enveloping, buzzing, and foreshadowed world in The God of Small Things. She tells the story out of chronological order, and continuously references the event known as The Loss of Sophie Mol, a mysterious happening that everyone tiptoes around. There are flashbacks and tangents all over the place. Webs of stories and snippets of life spread out everywhere. Even now, after finishing it, I’m not sure how she pulled it off. It was a delicate net that settled down over me. And it worked. Perfectly. Tragically.

I wouldn’t describe many books as A Work of Art, but The God of Small Things definitely was.

The God of Small Things is about love, and forbidden love, and class, and betrayal. There is also history and politics, smoothly woven into the background of India, where the story takes place.

Highly recommended. Strange and different from anything else I’ve ever read. Another best book read in 2011.

All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy

Summary: All the Pretty Horses – the first volume of the Borders Trilogy – tells of young John Grady Cole, the last of a long line of Texas ranchers. Across the border Mexico beckons – beautiful and desolate, rugged and cruelly civilized. With two companions, he sets off on an idyllic, sometimes comic adventure, to a place where dreams are paid for in blood.

My Thoughts: After I read The Road, I thought that McCarthy just wasn’t for me, even with all the praise and awards and recommendations.

I picked up All the Pretty Horses at a Powell’s in Chicago before I left for a trip to Guatemala. Not sure why I did (the $4 price tag helped) but I’m very glad I did so. It was beautiful and perfectly fit the state of mind I was in at the time. I’m not sure what I expected from it, but I was definitely surprised and blown away by how aching it made me feel.

McCarthy’s style is incredibly sparse and simple–a friend of mine read a few lines from Horses out loud in a deadpan voice and it was pretty comical, I won’t deny. I couldn’t really explain the atmosphere McCarthy creates. All the short lines and simple words kind of weave together to make something so sad and so beautiful.

I will be reading the rest of this trilogy soon. I can recommend this one, but I honestly had little to no interest in The Road.