Sunday, May 4, 2014

"The Scorpio Races" by Maggie Stiefvater

(image borrowed from

5/5 stars

I loved this book!  Oh my goodness!  I listened to it on an MP3 borrowed from my public library, and loved it so much, that I bought a paperback copy.  Just so I can shove it in my friends’ faces and say “here!  Read this!”

Maggie Stiefvater takes the legend of the water horse and makes it her own (there is an author’s note included in the book about her thought process).  She gave us two wonderful characters: Sean, who has grown up around the water horses and loves them, despite their carnivorous ways; and Puck, a girl who is trying to keep her family together after the death of her parents.

The story revolves around the Scorpio Races; a deadly race where riders attempt to control the water horses to the finish line.  People die during this race.  Sean has won the race 4 times on his horse Corr.  Puck, in an attempt to keep her older brother from leaving their home town, enters the races as the first female rider ever. 

There is so much courage and love and growth in these two characters.  Sean is quiet and tends to keep to himself, not really trusting many other people.  He lost his father to the Scorpio Races when he was a child, and seems most comfortable with the water horses.  He loves his horse, Corr, and is happiest when riding him.

Puck is feisty.  She’s grown up with two brothers and has no trouble keeping up with them.  Entering the Scorpio races will hopefully not only keep her older brother from leaving, but also raise the money needed to pay off the debt on their home that has accumulated since her parents died. 

The romance between the two is perfect.  It’s subtle.  It also takes a while to develop, which to me, seems so much more realistic then a lot of the romances found in today’s YA novels.  Sean and Puck are a team.  They support each other and come up with a plan to make sure they both survive the races.  This is the kind of relationship I like to see in books.

I was very surprised by how much I loved this book.  I had attempted to read “Shiver” several years ago, but quit half way through when I realized it was a little too similar to “Twilight”.  I never thought I would like a book by Stiefvater.  This is truly her current masterpiece!  It totally deserved the Printz Honor and I really hope that Stiefvater writes another amazing novel like this one.

"Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures" by Kate DiCamillo; Illustrated by K. G. Campbell

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4/5 stars

This 2014 Newbery winning book is actually a hybrid novel.  The majority is told in novel form, but several times, switches to a comic form, especially when something truly heroic and super is happening.

It’s the story of a girl named Flora, a self proclaimed cynic, and a squirrel named Ulysseus, who develops super hero type powers after an unfortunate run in with a vacuum cleaner.

I could see this story as being very popular among kids.  In fact, I have book talked it to some of my older kids and have gotten a few of them interested in the story.  It’s funny, fast paced, and entertaining. 

That being said, as an adult, I found it to be almost a little too much.  All the quirkiness of the story kind of hit me in the face and just kept coming and coming.  Almost like Kate DiCamillo was trying too hard to make this seem like an award winning book (which obviously worked).  I was glad when it all ended and I could actually sit back and reflect on what happened.

I did really like the characters.  You can tell that underneath her “cynic” persona, Flora is a normal ten-year-old girl going through her parents divorce and basically being ignored by her mother.  She just wants to know that her mother loves her and approves of her.  I will say, I hated Flora’s mother the entire way through.  I’ve recently had discussions with other librarians about how that woman should not even be allowed custody of Flora. Always good to have a villain that people deeply despise J.

I look forward to getting my students to read this.  I think they will really enjoy and a big congratulations to Ms. DiCamillo for another Newbery win!

"Everneath" by Brodi Ashton

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2/5 stars

Alrighty.  This book was definitely what you would expect from a typical, paranormal romance.  Basically, this girl Nikki makes a big mistake and ends up becoming a forfeit for this guy Cole, who is actually an Everliving.  Everlivings are immortals that can survive by stealing the energy/emotions from humans.  They are basically a cross between gods and vampires (that feed off energy instead of blood).  Forfeits are the humans that allow the Everlivings to feed off of them.

Anyway, Nikki has been stuck in “the feed” for six months and has basically disappeared up on the service.  So after Nikki has been fed off of, she gets 6 months back in the real world until the Everneath comes to claim her.  Her goal for those six months is to fix things with her family, give proper goodbyes, and hopefully reconnect with her boyfriend Jack.

Nikki isn’t a horrible character.  She is quite likeable, but there were many times when I wanted to smack my head in exasperation, especially in the scenes that happen before the feed.  The romance between her and Jack also had me rolling my eyes.  I eventually did warm up to Jack, although at the beginning I was a bit skeptical of him.  Cole was just an asshole through and through.  There were some moments where he seemed like an okay guy, and then he would do something that made me totally hate him all over again. 

I was also annoyed by the author’s attempts at writing “lyrically.”  It’s something I’ve been seeing from a lot of from YA authors.  Just a lot of added details that aren’t really needed and sometimes sound ridiculous.  It’s not horribly written.  In fact it’s pretty well done.  But some of the details... ugh!  My favorite from this book (and I’m paraphrasing here because I listed to an MP3 of this through my public library) was when the main character says that her “fingers began to sweat.”  Really?!  Who thinks about their fingertips sweating?  Hands, yes.  Fingertips?  No.  At least I’ve never thought about my fingertips sweating. 

I will say that the story can be very exciting at times and at the end, I was curious as to what would happen next.  Teenage girls who want that romantic feel and a kind of love triangle will definitely like this book.  I think if I was back in high school I would have loved this book.  Sadly, I’m a crotchety 28-year-old J.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

"The False Prince" by Jennifer A. Nielsen

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5/5 stars

Oh this was another fun one!  I've wanted to read this book for some time now, and I was finally able to!  Totally worth the wait!

The kingdom of Carthya is on the brink of civil war after the murder of its entire royal family.  But there is still one hope left.  Prince Jaron, who was lost at sea four years ago, could still be alive.  A nobleman named Conner has chosen four orphan boys (well, really three) with physical similarities to the lost prince, in the hopes that after two weeks, one can be presented to the court as Jaron.  Sage is one of the boys picked.  He definitely doesn’t trust Conner, but also realizes that for the good of the kingdom, he must be chosen as the false prince.

I loved the character of Sage.  He was such a smart alec, defiant boy, but you could tell that underneath, he was really very clever and would always pick the right path when it mattered.  He is kind to many, but also just and fair.  Many of the other characters tend to underestimate him, but he ends up surprising them all, including the reader!   

So, I’m one of those horrible people that looks at the end of a book to see the outcome, so I kind of knew how the story was going to end, but I loved seeing how the author took the audience from point A to point B.  It was brilliant!   I wish I could say more about this, but I don’t want to give everything away.  But Nielsen does an excellent job steering the reader in one direction, and then, at the last minute, pulling them into a different one.

This is a book that I have in my school library for my older kids to read.  I will definitely be book talking this one the next chance I get!  I loved it and am really looking forward to reading the rest of the series!

"Deep Blue" by Jennifer Donnelly

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3/5 stars

I was really looking forward to reading this book.  I loved Jennifer Donnelly’s A Northern Light and Revolution.  But there was just something about this book that wasn’t at the same level of Donnelly’s other works. 

The idea behind the story is actually really good and solid.  Serafina is a mermaid princess who is about to complete an important ceremony, when her kingdom is attacked.  She escapes with her friend to find the Iele, a group of river witches thought to be a myth.  Only with their help, and the help of five other mermaids, will Serafina be able to save her world.

Sounds great, right?  The problem with this book is the little things.  It’s very juvenile.  Some of the characters were a bit superficial at times, and the lingo they used often got annoying.  The character of Neela was particularly irritating and often whiny.  I also felt a bit confused by the ending.  I received an eARC from the publisher and I’m wondering if my ending may have gotten cut off.  I know that there are three more books planned for this series, but this just did not end in a good place.

There are plenty of good moments though and I have definitely been hooked by the story line.  Seraphina is a strong character and I could see young adults sympathizing with her insecurities and cheering for her as she discovers her role in this entire problem.  I do plan on following this series as the books are released.  I’m hoping that some of the little annoying bits will eventually go away and this will turn into a truly unique and epic story.