The Scorpio Races

The Scorpio RacesThe Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
Published by: Scholastic
Number of pages: 404
My copy: hardbound, gift from Scholastic Philippines

It happens at the start of every November: the Scorpio Races. Riders attempt to keep hold of their water horses long enough to make it to the finish line. Some riders live. Others die.

At age nineteen, Sean Kendrick is the returning champion. He is a young man of few words, and if he has any fears, he keeps them buried deep, where no one else can see them.

Puck Connolly is different. She never meant to ride in the Scorpio Races. But fate hasn’t given her much of a chance. So she enters the competition — the first girl ever to do so. She is in no way prepared for what is going to happen.

* * *

I’ve had The Scorpio Races on my TBR for a long time now, and I even planned to read it last year but I never got around to it. After a series of non-YA books from the latter part of the year, diving into Maggie Stiefvater’s standalone book felt like a breath of fresh air.

The Scorpio Races is set in the small island of Thisby, in November, when and where Capaill uisce — commonly known as water horses — come out from the ocean and sort of terrorize the town. But the people of Thisby has learned to adapt, and they have the Scorpio Races, where men capture these horses, try to tame them and race them without getting killed or pulled into the water (and still get killed). In this little island is Sean Kendrick, the returning champion who works in the local water horse ranch, whose only real friend is his red capall uisce, Corr. And then there’s Puck Connolly, who never meant to ride the races but ends up doing so, to keep what’s left in her family. She’s the first girl to ever join the race, and it’s ruffled the feathers of the other men…but then again, who says she’s going to survive it?

I remember liking Stiefvater’s Shiver mostly because of the beautiful writing. It was a “mood” read. I was in the mood for something cold because it was December, and that book delivered it perfectly. I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to feel when I picked up The Scorpio Races, but like Shiver, it had a certain mood in it because of the writing: dark, mysterious, dangerous, and probably tinged with a little despair, too, because of Puck’s situation.

The book was a little slow in parts, and it feels like forever before the real show — aka the race — happened. But even so, I liked how the author built it all up. I got to know Puck and her family and her relationship with her younger brother Finn was one of my favorite parts of the book. It was a sad thing, too, because of how each of them were driven to do what they had to do, but you have to admire Puck’s courage to do what she did in the book. And then there’s Sean Kendrick, who seems to be the epitome of the strong, silent type in fictional guys that I’ve read so far. I liked him a lot, and his chapters were really a delight to read. Granted, the fascination with the horses — especially Corr — was a little creepy, but I try to think of it as how some people are very close to their dogs. It’s basically the same, right?

Oh and I must mention the swoon in this book. Oooh, I really liked how that played out. Again, it sort of took forever, but I liked how the two main characters danced around each other that sometimes I wasn’t really sure if there’s really something going on between them that isn’t about their horses. Their growing friendship and the romantic tension were so well-written that I was really happy there weren’t any third parties involved because it would be just too much if there’s still one. They have to race killer horses and figure out a love triangle? Please, no.

I liked The Scorpio Races, but I think I would have liked it better if I was more of a fan of horses. I can see why people would like it, but I’m just a horse person, like how I’m a dog person. Does that make sense? But still, I really enjoyed this book, and I will definitely read another Stiefvater book soon. :)

Number of dog-eared pages: 13

Favorite dog-eared quote(s):

This island runs on courage, not blood. (p. 198)

It’s easy to convince men to love you, Puck. All you have to do is be a mountain they have to climb or a poem they don’t understand. Something that makes them feel strong and clever. It’s why they love the ocean…When you’re too much like them, the mystery’s gone. No point seeking the grail if it looks like your teacup. (p. 252)

“I will not be your weakness, Sean Kendrick.”
“It’s late for that, Puck.” (p. 337)

Rating:

Other reviews:
Chachic’s Book Nook

Hyperbole and a Half

Hyperbole and a Half by Allie BroshHyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh
Publisher: Touchstone
Number of pages: 384
My copy: ebook from Netgalley

This is a book I wrote. Because I wrote it, I had to figure out what to put on the back cover to explain what it is.

I tried to write a long, third-person summary that would imply how great the book is and also sound vaguely authoritative—like maybe someone who isn’t me wrote it—but I soon discovered that I’m not sneaky enough to pull it off convincingly.

So I decided to just make a list of things that are in the book: Pictures. Words. Stories about things that happened to me. Stories about things that happened to other people because of me. Eight billion dollars. Stories about dogs. The secret to eternal happiness.

These are lies. Perhaps I have underestimated my sneakiness!

* * *

I’ve loved Hyperbole and a Half ever since my colleague told me about the blog. I remember there were days when I’d read the blog and start laughing uncontrollably at my desk, reading and rereading my favorite entries and hoping for more, more always more because the world needs more stories from Allie. I loved the drawings, the seemingly impossible stories about her dogs, the stuff about cake, the Alot and stories of her childhood. They were funny and crazy and just a delight to read, and the blog became one of my go-to places whenever I need some cheering up.

So I was thrilled when I found out she had a book coming out, because like I said, I can’t get enough of her stuff. It took a little while, because of her adventures in depression, but I was glad when I saw the book up on Netgalley. It came at a pretty good time, too, because I needed something quick and funny to read, and this was just the one I needed.

Hyperbole and a Half contains some of the stories that you can find in Allie’s blog, with some new stories, too. I had fun reading the stories in this collection, although I have to admit that some of them didn’t make me laugh too much because I have read them too many times in the blog. I guess I can only laugh about them so much?

The other never-before-seen stories were funny, though, and I especially loved the one with the goose. Oh my Lord, I had a grand time reading that one, and I can’t stop laughing over the images of the goose trying to get in the room, and the scene in the car. The funniest part of it were the actual photos of the goose to prove that it really happened — you know what, even if it didn’t really happen, I don’t care. It was just so unbelievably funny that it is now a part of the favorite Hyperbole and a Half stories in my head.

I think most of my reading experience was hampered a bit by the device I used to read the book and the ebook formatting. I read the book in my phone because reading it in Hannah the Kindle Paperwhite won’t be fun because the illustrations aren’t colored. My phone has an itty-bitty screen though, and it made reading just a little bit bothersome compared to say, if I read it in an iPad or a bigger tablet. Plus the formatting was sometimes wonky, so I wasn’t sure if I was reading a new story  or if it’s a part of the previous story until I’m sort of halfway through.

But I think Hyperbole and a Half is best read in print format, because of the illustrations. I liked it a lot (alot, heehee :P), and it was still pretty funny despite the technological limitations I faced. If you’re a fan of her blog, go and get this, at least to have a print copy of the stories you loved. But if you’re sort of new to her, you can dip your toes in her stories by browsing through her blog.

Oh, and like everyone else who reviewed this book said, I have to say it too: I missed the Alot. :(alot

 

Number of dog-ears: 6

Favorite dog-eared quote(s):

Nobody can guarantee that it’s going to be okay, but – and I don’t know if this will be comforting to anyone else – the possibility exists that there’s a piece of corn on the floor that will make you just as confused about why you are laughing as you have ever been depressed.

Sometimes expectations arise as a result of oversight on my part. But when there’s a snag in my plans because I failed to account for something, it still feels like reality’s fault. Reality should know about my plans. It should know when I’m not expecting to deal with the unexpected, even if it isn’t very unexpected.

Rating:

No One Belongs Here More Than You

No One Belongs Here More Than You by Miranda JulyNo One Belongs Here More Than You by Miranda July
Publisher: Scribner
Number of pages: 224
My copy: paperback, borrowed from Bennard

Award-winning filmmaker and performing artist Miranda July brings her extraordinary talents to the page in a startling, sexy, and tender collection. In these stories, July gives the most seemingly insignificant moments a sly potency. A benign encounter, a misunderstanding, a shy revelation can reconfigure the world. Her characters engage awkwardly — they are sometimes too remote, sometimes too intimate. With great compassion and generosity, July reveals their idiosyncrasies and the odd logic and longing that govern their lives. “No One Belongs Here More Than You” is a stunning debut, the work of a writer with a spectacularly original and compelling voice.

* * *

I spotted this book on another blog, really, and didn’t really think of it until my friend posted about it on his blog. I was curious, only because of the first post I saw, and when I had a chance to borrow it from my friend, I jumped on the chance. I like short story collections, and ever since I read my first Carver, I felt like it was the kind of book I can manage back then. I wasn’t in the mood for a lot of books, so maybe something like this would shock me out of the slump. Or at least, the bright yellow cover would, somehow.

No One Belongs Here More Than You is a collection of stories from Miranda July, who…I really have no idea who she is. I don’t even know what the stories were about, so I really, really just took a chance on this book. This book contains stories of women, mostly, stories of ordinary things. People who do things, who are in search for things, who lost things. These are stories of the seemingly ordinary things that become extraordinary with the way the words were woven and how these simple things came about in each story.

I liked this well enough. I liked the ordinariness of it all — the quiet and the commonplace things in the stories, and how they all translate into something that made me think and wonder if the story was real, or perhaps just the imagination of the character. I guess a little mistake I made when I first started to read this was to compare it to Carver. They’re very different — Carver’s stories (from the one collection I read, anyway) left my heart in a bit of disquiet, like there are questions you want to ask but are kind of afraid of asking. July’s stories, while some of them have the same effect as Carver, are different in the way she tackled things and left me thinking about how her stories just end, and there are no questions that I don’t want to ask.

Here’s the thing: everyone seemed to be so sad in this story. Not the heartbreaking sadness, but just a tinge of it, like these characters need a little hug or something. Sometimes, I feel like I need a hug after I read some of the stories, because I wished I could say something to the characters to ease them of things.

Did the title of the collection mean something? I guess so. It is what it is, I think: No one belongs here more than you. I may be over thinking it, but maybe these stories are really just about belonging, and how we long for that. I don’t think all the characters in the stories found a place to belong, but as a reader, I hoped that they would still somehow find it, or that it would somehow found them, in their own fictional worlds.

Okay, I’m rambling. There were several stories that I wasn’t fond of, but the interesting thing was the first and the last few were the ones I really liked. I started this on a high, then the excitement lulled, and just as when I was already resisting the urge to skim, I got to the last stories and found that I really, really liked them. My favorite, of all, is Birthmark, a story about a woman who had her port-wine stain removed from her face and her husband who didn’t know anything about it, and how this birthmark affected them. It left me with very fond thoughts with the book after.

Miranda July’s No One Belongs Here More Than You is a good read, especially for people who are fond of short story collections. It’s not exactly my favorite, but I would read another July book again, given the chance. Plus that yellow cover and simple text is just something I would want to have printed and framed to remind myself that yes, no one belongs here more than you.

Total number of dog-eared pages: None, because the copy isn’t mine. But I did keep a lot of notes on my Goodreads review page for the book. :D

Favorite “dog-eared” quotes: (Would have been dog-eared if the copy was mine :D)

Do you have doubts about life? Are you unsure if it’s worth the trouble? Look at the sky: that is for you. Look at each person’s face as you pass on the street: those faces are for you. And the street itself, and the ground under the street and the ball of fire underneath the ground: all these things are for you. They are as much for you as they are for other people. Remember this when you wake up in the morning and think you have nothing. Stand up and face the east. Now praise the sky and praise the light within each person under the sky. It’s okay to be unsure. But praise, praise, praise. (p.11)

To fall for a million years like a flute falls, musically, played by the air it is passing through. And to land with no mind, but with a heart that was breaking. (p.112)

I was actually writhing in heartache, as if I were a single muscle whose purpose is to mourn. (p.128)

It was a delicate, new strangeness, and I held onto it like a candle, hoping it would lead me to an even newer, stranger strangeness. (p.151)

He was waiting for her on his knees. He was worried she would not let him love her with the [port-wine] stain. He had already decided long ago, twenty or thirty minutes ago, that the stain was fine. He had only seen it for a moment, but he was already used to it. It was good. It somehow allowed them to have more. (p.176)

Rating: 

Required Reading: August 2013

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon
Publisher: Picador
Number of pages:  636
My copy: paperback, bought from Avalon.ph

Joe Kavalier, a young Jewish artist who has also been trained in the art of Houdini-esque escape, has just smuggled himself out of Nazi-invaded Prague and landed in New York City. His Brooklyn cousin Sammy Clay is looking for a partner to create heroes, stories, and art for the latest novelty to hit America – the comic book. Drawing on their own fears and dreams, Kavalier and Clay create the Escapist, the Monitor, and Luna Moth, inspired by the beautiful Rosa Saks, who will become linked by powerful ties to both men.

* * *

I have a feeling I will be a part of the unpopular opinion for this book. We picked The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon for our book discussion last June, and I was  looking forward to it because it seemed like it had an interesting premise. But wait, let me be honest. The only thing I knew about this book before then was that it was a book about comic books. I don’t collect comic books but I read them every now and then, so I figure this should be something I would really enjoy, right?

Joe Kavalier is a young Jewish artist who was given a chance to go to the United States and escape his Nazi-invaded hometown. But because things were always unpredictable back then, Joe couldn’t get to the US in the conventional way. He sought help from a friend, who taught him the art of escaping ala-Houdini, and Joe makes it to his cousin, Sammy Clay’s place in Brooklyn safely. Sammy is a guy looking for a partner he can create stories with — heroes and stories, in the form of a comic book, which was a novelty thing in America in that time. Sammy teams up with Joe and creates a band of superheroes, where they put their dreams and fears, with Joe maybe having more at stake in the stories than his cousin has.

So this book was an utter challenge to read. Perhaps the book came at a particularly slump-y month in reading, and it was 600+ pages thick…but really. Talk about really slogging through the book. It was the first time I actually went to a discussion without finishing the book. (I finished it the following day, though :D) I was curious enough with the story to keep on reading, but the writing made it a little difficult to just keep on reading. The writing reminded me a little of that one Biology class in college where if I lose just a few seconds of focus from what our professor is saying, I lose everything completely. There’s a word in one of the reviews of this books in Goodreads that’s pretty much the right word to describe it: bloated. There’s so much being said about so many things, but it doesn’t really add anything to the reading experience as far as I’m concerned. The only thing that really kept me from skimming parts of the book is the thought that maybe there’s something in this part that I will need to know in the later parts. I had the same mindset in Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, too, but I remember being a little more satisfied when things started to come together for JS&MN.

Then again, I probably shouldn’t compare a fantasy novel to a historical novel.

There were some parts that I really liked, though, and I felt somewhat invested in the characters (I really liked Luna Moth :D). My heart went out for Joe especially, after that thing happened to him that made him almost lose it. And there was that scene with the dogs, too! (Oh those dogs!) I liked how the story stressed a lot on just how it is to be in a “free” country while war is happening in other parts of the world. There were good points in the novel, and I really appreciate it, but I’m afraid some of it may have gotten lost in all the layers of text that I had to wade through.

That being said, even if I didn’t really like this book so much, I can still see why it’s an award-winning novel. Joe and Sam’s story is a story of love at its core, all wrapped in the complications of life, war and comic books. The comic book angle is one of the brilliant parts of it, IMO. Like I said, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay is still a pretty good book, really…but perhaps it’s just one of those books that’s not really for me.

Rating:

Required Reading: June

Other reviews:
marginalia
Book Rhapsody
In Lesbians with Books

Minis: YA Contemporaries

Time to catch up on some reviews! I’ve read some of these books months ago, but I never got around to reviewing them around that time. Here we go! :D

Amelia O'Donohue is So Not a Virgin
Amelia O’Donohue is So Not a Virgin by Helen Fitzgerald
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Number of pages: 217

 

At this boarding school, even the wildest rumors don’t measure up to what’s really going on…

Rachel Ross is asthmatic and “more bottled up than ketchup,” but that’s fine. Nothing will prevent her from graduating at the top of her exclusive new boarding school and getting into Oxford.

Rachel refuses to be distracted by the present until she uncovers a shocking secret on campus. She realizes that someone is in desperate need of help and that she actually has something to share-and more friends than she knew.

With an utterly original, hilarious, and honest voice, Amelia O’Donohue delivers a sexy new boarding school tale with true heart-and a surprise ending you won’t forget.

* * *

This book had me at “asthma”. Being an asthmatic myself, I like reading about characters who deal with the same thing. Amelia O’Donohue Is So Not a Virgin sounds like a fun book from the title alone. Rachel Ross (sidenote: Friends reference, anyone? :D) is uptight…but that’s okay, because her parents finally allowed her to go to the boarding school she wanted, so she can go to Oxford. She works hard to be the best in class, until she discovers a secret that could totally change the life of someone in school…if only she can figure out who it is.

Did I say fun? Oh yes, it was, and I found myself smiling at several parts of the book. I realized, though, that Rachel is really uptight, and sometimes it gets tiring to be in her place. Loosen up a little, girl! I found myself getting annoyed at her for not even trying to reach out…until the mystery is uncovered. When the secret was revealed, I had a teeny tiny suspicion about who owned that secret, but I wasn’t sure. I mean, there were no clues! Until I got to the end, and I had to flip through some of the previous parts to look for proof. Talk about mind games, Helen Fitzgerald. Well played.

Amelia O’Donohue is So Not a Virgin is a fun and smart book that talks about friends and family and a lot of mystery that can only happen in a boarding school. It’s a quick escape, and I enjoyed reading it. Oh, and this is not about Amelia O’Donohue. ;)

Rating:

The Treasure Map of Boys by E. LockhartThe Treasure Map of Boys by E. Lockhart
Ruby Oliver # 3
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Number of pages: 244
My copy: paperback, bought from Fully Booked

Ruby is back at Tate Prep, and it’s her thirty-seventh week in the state of Noboyfriend. Her panic attacks are bad, her love life is even worse, and what’s more:

·        Noel is writing her notes,
·        Jackson is giving her frogs,
·        Gideon is helping her cook,
·        and Finn is making her brownies.
·        Rumors are flying, and Ruby’s already sucky reputation is heading downhill.

Not only that, she’s also:

·        running a bake sale,
·        learning the secrets of heavy metal therapy,
·        encountering some seriously smelly feet,
·        defending the rights of pygmy goats,
·        and bodyguarding Noel from unwanted advances.

Ruby struggles to secure some sort of mental health, to understand what constitutes a real friendship, and—if such a thing exists—to find true love.

* * *

I liked the first two Ruby Oliver books I read, and I wasn’t planning to buy The Treasure Map of Boys, until one day I was left waiting somewhere without a book. So I finally got this so I would know what happened to Ruby and her state of Noboyfriend. In this book, Ruby seems like she’s back to square one, but this time there’s Noel. And Hutch. And Jackson again. And there’s lots of baking, and Nora and friendship that may or may not be ruined because of boys.

Oh poor Ruby. It was nice going back into the Tate Prep world, but I really, really want Ruby to have her happy ending. But I’m not even sure if her happy ending should involve a boy, because I think she should find a way to be happy by herself first before going out of the state of Noboyfriend. Not that I personally know, of course, but I wanted to give Ruby a hug every time she gets a nervous breakdown in this book! She becomes a bit more mature here, but even so there were wise and stupid decisions made. In a way, I think there’s a little Ruby Oliver in all of us.

As always, I liked how real Ruby’s voice was here, and funnily enough, her thoughts are not just thoughts of teenage girls but also sometimes, thoughts of someone who’s way past that age. Ehem. :p I loved the other characters, too, especially Ruby’s friends. I didn’t like how she treated some of them…but high school, oh high school. The pettiness makes me cringe, but I can’t say I didn’t go through the same incidents  Oh, Ruby, you are not alone! I’m looking forward to reading the last book in the series, and I really, really hope that she gets the ending she really and truly deserves.

Rating:

Amplified by Tara KellyAmplified by Tara Kelly
Amplified # 1
Publisher: Henry, Holt and Co
Number of pages: 293
My copy: hardbound, gift from Celina

When privileged 17-year-old Jasmine gets kicked out of her house, she takes what is left of her savings and flees to Santa Cruz to pursue her dream of becoming a musician. Jasmine finds the ideal room in an oceanfront house, but she needs to convince the three guys living there that she’s the perfect roommate and lead guitarist for their band, C-Side. Too bad she has major stage fright and the cute bassist doesn’t think a spoiled girl from over the hill can hack it. . .

* * *

I like music, but I can hardly play any instrument or even really sing (except in karaoke sessions), but for some reason, I love books about music. Or books with characters who are in a band. I don’t know why — perhaps it’s because I secretly dreamed of being in a band? Or is it because one of my dream jobs is to become a band’s manager? But I love reading books with them, so I’ve been wanting Amplified by Tara Kelly for a while now. Thanks to Celina for giving me a copy!

Amplified is about 17-year old Jasmine Kiss, who was kicked out of her home after saying she wanted to defer college so she can become a musician. She goes to Santa Cruz to find a place to stay and stumbles upon C-Side, an industrial rock band looking for a new guitarist ASAP and offering a room to rent, as well. Jasmine tries out, even if the band wants a male guitarist, and she has no idea what she will do with her stage fright when they told her they need the new guitarist for an upcoming show.

Just like the other books with a band that I have read, Amplified is full of rocking fun. I liked Jasmine, even if she was a little too uptight. She stuck to what she believed in, and she was so out of her comfort zone in her new place that I almost wished she’d give up and go back home because some of the things they tell her were painful. I also liked the other band members, especially Veta and Felix, who were both darlings. The romance was also well-developed, and there was good enough tension and slow enough development that made it believable — and Sean very crushable. ;) I liked their band dynamic, although I wished I could’ve seen a bit more of what makes the other characters tick — like more conversations between them, instead of just Bryn being almost as uptight as Jasmine or you know, having too many band practices.

But overall, Amplified is a novel full of rocking band fun and music. I still wish I could hear some of the songs they sing, though, just for the fuller experience of reading something like this. The author is writing a companion novel for Amplified entitled Encore. Sign me up, please — I want more of C-Side!

Rating: