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

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Number of pages: 846
My copy: paperback, Christmas gift from Aaron

At the dawn of the nineteenth century, two very different magicians emerge to change England’s history. In the year 1806, with the Napoleonic Wars raging on land and sea, most people believe magic to be long dead in England—until the reclusive Mr Norrell reveals his powers, and becomes a celebrity overnight.

Soon, another practicing magician comes forth: the young, handsome, and daring Jonathan Strange. He becomes Norrell’s student, and they join forces in the war against France. But Strange is increasingly drawn to the wildest, most perilous forms of magic, straining his partnership with Norrell, and putting at risk everything else he holds dear.

* * *

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke is one of those books that passed by my radar, and I briefly considered reading it because I knew some people liked it…until I saw its length. Then I walked away, thinking that this is probably one of those books that I will not read anytime soon, and I would be quite content not to read it within my lifetime since it’s too thick, and I’m not exactly a huge fantasy reader anyway.

But you know what’s the most effective way for me to read a book that I never thought I’d be reading ever? Peer pressure. Or, give it to me as a gift. That is exactly what my friend Aaron did last Christmas, and I always make it a point to read the books gifted to me. The good thing is, he also gave a copy of this book to other friends in the book club, so we formed a little reading group for this last April to get us through this chunkster together.

It’s not that I was really intimidated by it. After all, I finished the tome that is Les Misérables. Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell is like, 700 pages less than Victor Hugo’s book. This should be easy.

It’s the 19th century, and magic has been long dead in England. Or so people thought, until an English gentleman named Gilbert Norrell showed everyone that magic is not dead. He becomes the only magician in England for a moment, helping the English government win in the Napoleonic wars, and maybe raising a certain dead woman on the side, too. Then another magician comes – young Jonathan Strange, who becomes Mr. Norrell’s apprentice. But the two of them are as different as night and day: while Norrell relies on books and follows magic to the letter, Strange likes to play with it, try new things and maybe even find a way to summon the Raven King just to learn more about magic. Clashing personalities, fairies, prophecies, war and a ton of footnotes follow these two magicians,

I finished reading this book in 34 days, 4 days late than the supposed reading schedule. I figure I would have finished this earlier if my April wasn’t so busy, because Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell is quite engaging. The old English language wasn’t so hard to understand, and we get treated to interesting characters and situations from the start. I honestly had no idea what the book was about when I started reading it except that it was about these two people on the title, and for a moment I thought Strange was Mr. Norrell’s biographer. Heh. The book isn’t just about magic, though, or just the two gentlemen. If it was, then it would’ve been far shorter, yes? This is part historical (or alternate history, rather), so I found myself in a lot of war scenes in the book that were far more interesting than the ones I read in Les Misérables. Case in point: I slogged through the Waterloo part of Les Mis but breezed through the one here, because of Jonathan Strange. It is true: magic makes things more interesting. ;)

Another thing that I can’t not mention about this book is the footnotes, and the sheer amount of them. I don’t mind footnotes — in fact, I find them quite fun when I encounter them in books. Granted, they were distracting, especially when they span pages and pages in the book, just like how it was in this book. Theyr’e not really important, but as some of my buddies said, it provided a richer reading experience of Strange and Norrell’s story.

I enjoyed reading Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, I really did. Perhaps my only gripe in this book is how it really dragged at some point. It wasn’t exactly boring — not as boring as say, that chapter on Parisian slang in Les Mis, or the part about the sewer — but man did they drag. The second volume was interesting, but it took a really long time before some things really started happening. I suppose, like Les Mis, it adds more texture to the story, but it can get pretty tiresome after some time. Let’s get moving, please.

I have to hand it to the author, though, because when things started happening, they really started happening. Then I find that I can hardly put it down. While I wouldn’t exactly describe the last part unputdownable, the action made me want to just keep reading because I need to know how it ends. I liked how the ending wrapped up a lot of the loose ends in the first parts, but not without leaving a few more to leave the readers longing a little. Getting to the end was slightly bittersweet because I spent a lot of time in their world, and also just because of that ending.

So while there were some dragging parts, Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell was quite enjoyable, even for someone who was peer pressured to read it. ;) It’s a happy kind of peer pressure, though! And yeah, add me to the list of people who’s excited to see its BBC adaptation. I’m quite excited to see how they’d show the magic on the screen…and that man with thistle-down hair. :)

Rating:

Required Reading: April

Other reviews:
marginalia

 

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:

The Peach Keeper

The Peach Keeper by Sarah Addison AllenThe Peach Keeper by Sarah Addison Allen
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton

Number of pages: 320
My copy: UK paperback, birthday gift from Chachic

It’s the dubious distinction of thirty-year-old Willa Jackson to hail from a fine old Southern family of means that met with financial ruin generations ago. The Blue Ridge Madam—built by Willa’s great-great-grandfather and once the finest home in Walls of Water, North Carolina—has stood for years as a monument to misfortune and scandal. Willa has lately learned that an old classmate—socialite Paxton Osgood—has restored the house to its former glory, with plans to turn it into a top-flight inn. But when a skeleton is found buried beneath the property’s lone peach tree, long-kept secrets come to light, accompanied by a spate of strange occurrences throughout the town. Thrust together in an unlikely friendship, united by a full-blooded mystery, Willa and Paxton must confront the passions and betrayals that once bound their families—and uncover the truths that have transcended time to touch the hearts of the living.

* * *

Just recently, some girl friends from the book club and I started having our own girls’ night out. They’re usually just dinner and some drinks, and a night of girl talk, which isn’t really different when we’re with the other boys except that we get to talk about the boys sometimes because none of them are there when we’re on a night out. :P Anyway, it’s becoming one of those sort of impromptu things that I’m really starting to like, because a girl must always have time for her girl friends, right?

I remember that I actually finished reading Sarah Addison Allen’s The Peach Keeper on the afternoon before our first girls’ night out last month. I find it quite fitting because The Peach Keeper is a story of two women who were friends from years ago and were fiercely loyal to each other, and their granddaughters who are not friends, but are drawn together because of a certain house history. There’s romance, mystery and magic realism that makes SAA’s fourth book just like her old ones, but also a little different, in a good way.

I’ve read mixed reviews about this book, so I wasn’t really sure if I was going to like it as much as I liked Garden Spells or The Sugar Queen. There’s still that comfort-read feel in this Sarah Addison Allen book, and the magic realism, as I mentioned, but the mystery is an entirely new thing. I felt that there was more going on in this book, so it took me a while to read it but then I fell in love with the characters and their stories soon after.

My favorite part of this book would have to be Paxton and Willa’s “unlikely” friendship. I liked how each of them was described, with their own problems and faults, and how they ended up being on each other’s side. I liked how this developed, how they weren’t friends before even if they knew each other from way back and then they all became important in each other’s lives later on. There’s something about a well-written friendship that really gets to me, and I am reminded of the friendships that I have made now.

I find that I actually liked The Peach Keeper as much as I liked The Sugar Queen, which was my second favorite SAA book. I think I read it at the right time, just as I met (and had quite an adventure) with some of my favorite girls. It left me wanting to share this book to all my girl friends, and more than excited to build and keep my friendship with them. :) The author said it quite well:

Because we’re connected, as women. It’s like a spiderweb. If one part of that web vibrates, if there’s trouble, we all know it. But most of the time, we’re just too scared or selfish or insecure to help. But if we don’t help each other, who will?

I feel a little sad that I have no more SAA books to read after this, but count me as one of her fans now. I will definitely read anything else she comes up with. :)

Rating:

Required Reading: March

Other reviews:
Chachic’s Book Nook
Angieville
Jinky is Reading

 

The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt

The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt by Caroline PrestonThe Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt by Caroline Preston
Publisher: Ecco
Number of pages: 228
My copy: hardbound, birthday gift from KD

From the author of the “New York Times” Notable Book, “Jackie by Josie,” comes a spirited, visually lush, and stunning novel, inspired by the art of scrapbooking and told through a kaleidoscopic array of vintage postcards, letters, magazine ads, ticket stubs, catalog pages, fabric swatches, candy wrappers, fashion spreads, menus, and more, starring an unforgettable heroine and set in the burgeoning bohemian culture of the 1920s.

* * *

I’m one of those people who tries to scrapbook. I say try because as much as I try, I can’t really make my scrapbook pages look…well, as pretty and cute as the ones that other people do. That, or maybe I just don’t have that artsy vibe (and the patience) and access to art supplies at MisterArt.com to do them. But anyway, that never really stopped me from having fun with my planners, though:

Planner pages - 2006 to 2012

[Click to embiggen]
Top row: 2006 planner – thesis defense+birthday week, Kalinga Luzon
Bottom row, left: 2010, 25th birthday week
Bottom row, right: 2012, February, word of the year

So it’s not as pretty, but it serves pretty well as my own memory bank. That’s pretty much why I was delighted to receive The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt by Caroline Preston from one of my co-moderators in our book club on my 26th birthday (Thanks, Kuya Doni!). I had no idea what the book was about, but looking at the first few pages, I knew I was going to like this if only for the visual treat that it has. If I can’t make pretty scrapbook pages, then I would live vicariously through others’, even if it is from a fictional character.

The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt tells of a story of Frances Pratt, who received a scrapbook and her father’s old Corona typewriter as a high school graduation present. In here she documents her summer after high school where she decides to forgo a college scholarship to help her mom out, but she is smitten by an older man. Her mom finds a way to get her to college to keep her out of the influence of her unsuitable suitor, and Frankie finds her world opening up to more possibilities than she can imagine. We follow Frankie’s adventures in college and in her meeting Vassar alumna Edna St. Vincent Millay, who inspires Frankie to go to New York to pursue her dreams. But when heartbreak finds her there, she sets sail to Paris to make it on her own. All Frankie wants is to find herself and the love of her life, but will she ever find it when she gets called home to be with her sick mother?

If I were to describe this book in a just one word, it’s gorgeous. I loved every page of the book with all the typewritten (and some handwritten) words and the photos and the 1920′s memorabilia. Some of them makes me wish they were real and I can pluck them off the page and keep them for myself! Look at some of these photos from the inside of the book (warning, slight photo dump):

Can you imagine how much effort the author went through for each and every page of this book? I’m no expert in vintage, but this book just screams it from the cover all the way to the last page, and it made me a bit more interested in the 1920′s (even if I have a feeling I don’t think I can carry a flapper dress, LOL).

The story feels just a little bit ordinary. I don’t mean that in a bad way — but if you’ve read the book’s dust jacket, you pretty much know the story save for what happens in the end. It didn’t have that much revelation, and it read like a coming-of-age story, but again, I didn’t find ittoo shocking. But then…life doesn’t have to be shocking to be extraordinary, yes?

The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt is a relaxing book to read for all its gorgeousness, and maybe that really is the charm of the book. It may not end up as a favorite, but I will keep it on my shelf whenever I need to look at some pretty stuff, and maybe even get inspiration for the other pages of my planner when I get the mood to scrapbook again. :)

Rating:

Other reviews:
Love YA Lit
Teen Voices
NPR