Chachic's Book Nook


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Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

My very good friend Maggie of Young Adult Anonymous has been raving about the Saga graphic novel series so I’ve been really curious about it. Last Friday, Kinokuniya Books was having a sale and I decided to drop by and see if I could grab any interesting books. I ended up buying the Saga Volume 1 and Volume 2 since the cost wasn’t too bad after the 20% discount. I found it hilarious that the copies that I got had stickers that said “Unsuitable for the young.” I opened up Volume 1 on Sunday afternoon to try and read maybe one chapter and I ended up finishing it in one sitting. I picked up Volume 2 right after. I was in the middle of other novels but I chose to ignore them in favor of Saga.

Saga

I’m not really much of a graphic novel reader. I’ve only read a couple of them and I think the only other graphic novel / comic book series that I’ve reviewed on the blog is Trese by Budjette Tan and KaJo Baldisimo. It’s not that I have anything against graphic novels, it’s just that I’m not familiar with what’s out there and I find them a bit more expensive than paperbacks or hardcovers. But I’m usually game to try something that comes highly recommended (or if a friend lets me borrow his or her copy so I could check it out). I’m so glad I decided to give Saga a try because I really enjoyed reading it, it’s now right up there with Trese as my favorite graphic novel series. But again, that’s not saying much since like I mentioned, I haven’t read that many graphic novels. Saga is the story of Alana and Marko, two soldiers from the opposite sides of an ongoing war. These two are from different worlds and different species and yet they find a way to bridge their cultural differences and connect. Even their personalities are poles apart but I feel like they balance each other well – Alana is sassy and quick to anger while Marko is more reserved and is a pacifist. Alana and Marko’s relationship is new and definitely not perfect, they argue and bicker but I love that their conversations are peppered with humor. There were actually some scenes that made me laugh out loud while I was reading. Also, I think it’s awesome that Alana’s favorite book plays a significant role in the story.

Saga3

I think the art also complements the story very well. I feel like it reads like an animated film, with some very unusual creatures and settings thrown in (because of the space opera / sci-fi nature of the story). It never got confusing even though the points of view shifted quite a bit. That’s another thing that I liked about the story – there are people after Alana and Marko, those who oppose their union and think that it will have a huge impact in the war effort. But even these characters are portrayed as complex individuals with their own motivations behind their actions. Like with any kind of war, there are a lot of gray areas instead of clearly defined good versus evil. In a war that has been going on for so long to the point that the fighting has been outsourced, it gets even more complicated. Ultimately, I feel like Saga is about family, relationships and how war affects human interactions. Saga is something that I wouldn’t have picked up if I wasn’t curious about it because of Maggie and another friend IRL who read it about the same time I did. I definitely recommend it to anyone looking for a space opera adventure story with some romance in it. Can’t wait for Volume 3.

Saga4


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Big Boy by Ruthie Knox

I’m always up for good contemporary romance and I get excited whenever a friend highly recommends something that falls under that genre. So it’s no surprise that when Angie does a bibliocrack review, I sit up and listen. And I end up getting a copy of the book in question right after I finish reading what she has to say about it. I can’t help it, I’m a sucker for good romance. I was looking forward to reading Big Boy by Ruthie Knox, especially since I found both the cover and premise intriguing.

recommended by Angie

Stamp created by fellow YAcker Laura

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

Big BoyWhen Mandy joins an online dating service, she keeps her expectations low. All she wants is a distraction from the drudgery of single parenthood and full-time work. But the invitation she receives from a handsome man who won’t share his real name promises an adventure — and a chance to pretend she’s someone else for a few hours.

She doesn’t want romance to complicate her life, but Mandy’s monthly role-playing dates with her stranger on a train — each to a different time period—become the erotic escape she desperately needs. And a soul connection she never expected.

Yet when she tries to draw her lover out of the shadows, Mandy has a fight on her hands… to convince him there’s a place for their fantasy love in the light of day.

Big Boy was my first introduction to Ruthie Knox’s writing. I liked it so much that I immediately picked up her other novels right after finishing this one. I’ve read all of her books and I have to say that Big Boy is still the one I like best. I found myself surprised at the emotional depth present in such a short piece of work. I cared for Mandy right away. She felt like a realistic character with genuine problems. Although I haven’t had a similar experience to what she’s going through, I understood how difficult it is to adjust her life when motherhood is suddenly thrust upon her. She doesn’t even have time to grieve for her sister, she had to get her act together to take care of her baby nephew while balancing her workload. No wonder she feels the need to take a break and unwind, which she does on her monthly dates with a guy who won’t even reveal his real name.

“His weirdness was what appealed to me. I felt so unfocused so much of the time in those days – like I wasn’t myself anymore, but I wasn’t a new person either. I was a blob with feet.

This guy knew something I didn’t. He knew how to change identities nimbly, with a gleam in his eyes that said I’m having more fun that you are.

I loved how unusual their dates are. They meet in one of the trains in the train museum and they have to act as characters in a certain time period. Let’s say 1957 – both of them would show up dressed in historically accurate attire (and being history nerds, they take pains to do this) and come up with a back-story for their character for the duration of that date. The background they come up with doesn’t matter just as long as they stay in character. Doesn’t that sound so interesting? It definitely kept me reading. At the same time, it made me wonder how things will work out between them when they’re being less than truthful with each other. Well, you just have to read Big Boy to find out. I really liked the setting of their dates as well, such a creative venue for their role-playing. It made me realize that even though I used the MRT everyday, I don’t really know much about historical trains. If there was a train museum anywhere near where I am now, I’d go and check it out. I’m now a Ruthie Knox fan and will always be willing to read anything that she publishes, I’m keeping my fingers crossed I’d get to review them as well. Big Boy is definitely a title that any contemporary romance fan should check out.

Other reviews:
Angieville
Bitching, Books and Baking
The Allure of Books


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Icon of the Indecisive by Mina V. Esguerra

Icon of the Indecisive by Mina V. Esguerra is the third book in the Interim Goddess of Love trilogy. The first two books in the series are Interim Goddess of Love and Queen of the Clueless. Do you need to read the books in order? Yes, unless you want to get really confused. They’re all tied together, with Hannah as the main character, tasked with helping college students with their love problems. Mina compared the series to a TV show, with the first two books as different episodes and Icon of the Indecisive as the season finale. I received an advanced review copy of this for the audio commentary that Mina organized with several other bloggers. Here’s my account of that experience and feel free to download the file over at Mina’s website.

Here’s the summary from Mina’s website:

Icon of the IndecisiveCollege student Hannah Maquiling, also temporarily working as the Goddess of Love, has had enough of everyone asking for her help when it comes to relationships. It’s her turn to find romance! She deserves it, after serving as matchmaker and confidant to everyone else in Ford River College for the past year. She’s had a crush on handsome senior (and God of the Sun) Quin forever, but he’s destined to fall in love with an extraordinary mortal woman, so she’s figured her chances with him have pretty much dropped to zero.

It’s not like she doesn’t have any options for a classic college romance though. There’s Diego, God of the Sea and Quin’s best friend/enemy. And regular guy Robbie is stepping up, making sure she knows how he feels about her. How hard can it be for a goddess to find someone to love, and be loved in return?

It was nice to be back in Ford River College, a setting that I enjoyed reading about because it reminded me of my own college experience. I feel like I keep saying this but since I had fun in college (in spite of not loving my major), I take pleasure in reading anything that takes me back to those years. Even though Hannah and the other characters in the series weren’t ordinary college students, because they had abilities as gods and goddesses, I could still relate to them. To be honest, I was a little worried about Icon of the Indecisive. I felt like we were left hanging at the end of the second book and there were too many questions that needed to be answered in the final book. I shouldn’t have worried because the whole trilogy was wrapped up quite nicely in this installment. In the first two books, readers were able to see glimpses of Hannah’s own love story interspersed with the cases that she needed to solve as interim goddess. I was rooting for Hannah to get her own happy ending – I felt like she deserves to have her own beautiful romance after going through the trouble of comforting and supporting other people through their love-related difficulties. I had no idea where things would go when it came to Hannah’s leading man and I liked not being able to predict what would happen. While I didn’t think the ending was perfect because I thought it could have gone in a different direction, I still found it quite satisfying.

The Interim Goddess of Love trilogy is different from Mina’s usual contemporary romance with main characters in their mid-twenties. The series is young adult, set in college and has a mythology aspect to it. Granted, it’s light on the mythology and doesn’t have as much worldbuilding as other fantasy novels that I’m used to. Still, I think it’s a good idea for an author to branch out and try writing something different. In this case, I think it worked well because romance is still a big element of this series, something that it has in common with the author’s previous work. Like all of Mina’s other books, Icon of the Indecisive was a quick read for me. Thank goodness it didn’t take long for this one to get published so the story was still quite fresh in my mind and I didn’t have to reread the first two. You’re pretty lucky if you haven’t started on the series and you’re curious about it, because now you can read all of them in one go. Recommended for fans of romantic novellas, readers who want something light and fun, and anyone interested in giving Filipino fiction a try.

It’s funny how Interim Goddess of Love has several cover designs. I just wanted to mention that I really like that it got redesigned and now all three installments have matching covers:

Interim Goddess of Love_digital coverQueen of the CluelessIcon of the Indecisive

All three covers were designed by Tania Arpa using photographer/blogger Rhea Bue’s photos. Aren’t they lovely? I like that the covers feature a Filipino fashion blogger and how all the photos give off a college vibe that represent the series well.

Other reviews:
The Girl Who Read and Other Stories
One More Page


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Scarlet by A.C. Gaughen

A.C. Gaughen’s Scarlet is a Robin Hood retelling. I found out about it when trusted book bloggers started giving it positive reviews. I was delighted when this pretty little book showed up in a surprise package that I received a couple of weeks ago. Again, thank you to the lovely ladies – Angie and Holly – for sending me a copy of this. I couldn’t resist reading it right away, you guys know how fond I am of thieves in fiction.

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

Posing as one of Robin Hood’s thieves to avoid the wrath of the evil Thief Taker Lord Gisbourne, Scarlet has kept her identity secret from all of Nottinghamshire. Only the Hood and his band know the truth: the agile thief posing as a whip of a boy is actually a fearless young woman with a secret past. Helping the people of Nottingham outwit the corrupt Sheriff of Nottingham could cost Scarlet her life as Gisbourne closes in.

I can’t get over how gorgeous the cover design for Scarlet is – doesn’t that just draw you in? It’s the kind of cover that would attract my attention even if I knew nothing about the premise. I think Scarlet’s eyes look very expressive and I love that she’s disguised as a boy in the cover, because that’s how she usually is in the book. Few people know that Will Scarlet is actually a girl. Just in case you didn’t know, I also enjoy reading girls in disguise stories. Scarlet is one prickly character. Even though she’s been working with Rob, John and Much for the past couple of years, she still doesn’t fully trust them. She works with them but she still holds a part of herself back, never explaining her past and where she really came from. Which is funny because these boys want to take care of Scarlet. Can I just say that I found it refreshing that there are only four people in Robin’s band in this retelling? It makes it easier to keep track of them and be invested in who they are as characters. Rob is the leader, John the playful charmer and Much is the quiet one. Here’s a funny little quote about the band:

“Of a band with three actual boys, why is it that all the maids lust after the fake one?”

My heart went out to this little group – how they do the best that they could to provide for the people and shelter them from the Sheriff’s cruelty. As much as Scarlet pretends that she only stays with the band because it’s convenient for her, she does it because she cares for the people. Here’s another snippet that I really liked:

“I left little packages in front of the doors; the people looked for them in the morning, and I knew, in some bit of a way, it bucked them up.

I did as much as I could, but it weren’t like I could get everyone something every night. That seemed like the cruelest part. I tried not to think ’bout the people that woke up and rushed to the door and didn’t find nothing; it made my chest hurt.”

You got to love a thief with a conscience. She steals not for herself but for the people. It’s rare for a sneaky thief as good as Scarlet to be afraid of anything but her comrades quickly discover that there’s something about Gisbourne, the Thief Taker, that frightens Scarlet. I liked this air of mystery about her, it made the book a quicker read because I kept going, waiting for Scarlet’s past to be revealed. I also liked the slow burn romance although I’m not a fan of the love triangle. It’s not surprising that more than one guy is interested in our feisty heroine but I did feel like it was unnecessary for her to have more than one love interest. As expected, Scarlet was a really enjoyable read. Highly recommended for fans of Robin Hood retellings, thieves in fiction and girls in disguise. Will I be checking out A.C. Gaughen’s books in the future? Definitely.

Other reviews:
Angieville
Book Harbinger
Bunbury in the Stacks
Emily’s Reading Room
Steph Su Reads


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Trese by Budjette Tan and KaJo Baldisimo

Whenever I ask for Filipino fiction recommendations, the Trese graphic novels keep popping up. I thought I’d dive right in and check it out when I received the whole set for my birthday. There are four installments in the series right now: Murder on Balete Drive, Unreported Murders, Mass Murders and Last Seen After Midnight. I think I put off reading this one because I don’t read a lot of graphic novels or comics and I’m not a big fan of horror books either (because I’m a big scaredy-cat). But I keep saying I need to read more books written by Filipino authors so here we go. Here’s the summary of Murder On Balete Drive, the first book in the series, from Goodreads:

When the sun sets in the city of Manila, don’t you dare make a wrong turn and end up in that dimly-lit side of the metro, where aswang run the most-wanted kidnapping rings, where kapre are the kingpins of crime, and engkantos slip through the cracks and steal your most precious possessions. When crime takes a turn for the weird, the police call Alexandra Trese.

I want to kick myself for not getting into this series sooner but then again, maybe it’s better that I discovered it late because at least I was able to devour all four graphic novels one right after the other. I didn’t have to worry about the horror aspects of the Trese series – I read the books at night and wasn’t the least bit scared. I’d like to think of the series more as a blend of dark urban fantasy and mystery instead of horror. I had so much fun going through these books, the pages just flew by. It’s funny because even before I finished reading the series, I was already recommending it to my friends. I think that’s a sign that I’ve become a fan, yes? I love strong female protagonists and I’m delighted that there’s a kick*ss heroine in Filipino fiction that I can root for. You go, Alexandra Trese! She’s more commonly known as just Trese though. Here’s a snapshot that nicely describes Trese’s character:

Each graphic novel is composed of several short stories and by the time I finished the first installment, I had a lot of questions about Trese’s background. This is why the third book, Mass Murders, is my favorite – it focuses on Trese and how she became such an expert when it comes to Philippine mythology. Also, all of the short stories in Mass Murders are tied together so it’s like one story arc, broken out into several chapters. I felt like I was more invested in the story because of this and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that future installments will follow the same format. Aside from having recognizable local settings, one other thing that heightened my enjoyment of the series is my familiarity with the supernatural creatures that Trese regularly encounters. The stories are rooted in Filipino superstition and I’ve heard a lot about duwende, manananggal and aswang while growing up here in the Philippines. We’re not even halfway through the year but I’m pretty sure the Trese graphic novels will be included in my favorite discoveries in 2012.

If you’re curious about Filipino mythology or want to try a different kind of graphic novel, I highly recommend the Trese series. I asked Budjette if these books are internationally available and he replied that they could be ordered through the National Bookstore website. I believe they’re also working on releasing ebook versions and I’ll gladly spread the word about those when the time comes. I’m curious how the series will stand up to readers who aren’t familiar with Philippine mythology. More samples of the black and white artwork in the novels:

Other reviews:
One More Page
Ficsation
Taking a Break
Code Name Blue
Bookmarked


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Retro Friday: Whiskey Road by Karen Siplin

Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted by Angie over at Angieville and focuses on reviewing books from the past. This can be an old favorite, an under-the-radar book you think deserves more attention, something woefully out of print, etc.

I read Whiskey Road by Karen Siplin along with good friends Janice and Holly. We all finished reading the book a couple of weeks ago but haven’t gotten around to writing reviews of it until now. I’m going to link to their Retro Friday reviews as soon as they’re up. I always enjoy doing readalongs because it’s fun to discuss details about the book with friends who are reading it at the same time. Although we haven’t been lucky with some of our other readalong choices before, we all enjoyed reading this one. Thanks again to Michelle for passing along her copy.

Here’s the summary from Karen Siplin’s website:

Whiskey Road by Karen Siplin book coverAfter one too many run-ins with irate A-List celebrities and their bodyguards on the streets of Los Angeles, paparazza Jimi Anne Hamilton has decided to throw in the towel. But when she planned to ride her luxury BMW motorcycle from California to New York, she didn’t count on having her cross-country adventure interrupted by motorcycle thief. After the brutal attack, which sees both her motorcycle and camera equipment stolen, she finds herself left with only her helmet, a few clothes, and a bag of money she swiped from her attacker. Disillusioned and hurt, Jimi chooses to recuperate in a nearby town where she meets Caleb Atwood, a local contractor fighting his own demons. Jimi and Caleb make a mismatched pair: black and white, highbrow and low. But in Caleb, Jimi believes she has found someone who is as much of an outsider as she feels.

This is the first time I’ve read a novel with a paparazza as a main character. I found it fascinating that Jimi loves her job, not because of the money, but because of the thrill that she gets out of the chase. She’s like a private investigator – hiding in Dumpsters or up in trees just to get the perfect shot. Paparazzi are not always portrayed as nice people, you know? So it’s good to get a different kind of perspective, it felt like Jimi justified her reasons for doing what she does throughout the course of the book. When she gets tired of it all, she plans a cross-country trip on her motorcycle on the way to visit her brother. She wanted to see how beautiful the countryside in America is but doesn’t expect to get robbed along the way. I was surprised by how big an issue racism is in this novel. Granted, most of it is set in rural America but I had no idea that it was still a problem. I even checked the publication date – 2008 – which is fairly recent. I have a feeling I’ll remember this book if I ever get the idea that it would be nice to go on a road trip to explore rural America (hint: probably not a good idea when you’re a minority).

While Caleb isn’t exactly warm and welcoming, he’s a lot friendlier than other people in his town and I liked that about him. Felt like he was seeing Jimi for who she really is, instead of just looking at the color of her skin. I liked how both of them warily circled each other in spite of their attraction. It took time for them to get to know each other before they acted on what they were feeling. Both Caleb and Jimi have problems and neither was looking for a relationship when they first met each other. These two have a quiet kind of love story, focusing on how they’re both getting over the difficulties in their lives and how they’re reluctantly falling for each other. One of the scenes that stood out to me was when Jimi discovered that Caleb loves motorcycles just as much as she does and they go for a motorcycle ride on Whiskey Road. Note to self: ride a motorcycle someday. Whiskey Road is an under-the-radar novel that I’ll recommend to readers who like slow burn, complicated romances. I think I got the original recommendation for this from Angie and I don’t think I would have found out about it if not for her review. Feel free to recommend other titles that you think have the same feel as this one.

Other reviews:
Book Harbinger
Janicu’s Book Blog
Angieville


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Something Like Normal by Trish Doller

Trish Doller’s debut novel, Something Like Normal, is one of my most anticipated releases this year. I read the excerpt and immediately wanted to read the book, I probably would have if it was already available at that time. I’ve also chatted with Trish on Twitter and I keep liking and reblogging her Tumblr posts. I was really excited when I finally got my hands on a copy of her book and I read it as soon as I could.

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

When Travis Stephenson returns home from Afghanistan, his parents are on the brink of divorce, his brother has stolen his girlfriend and his car, and nightmares of his best friend getting killed keep him completely spooked. But when he runs into Harper Gray, a girl who despises him for trashing her reputation with a middle school lie, life actually starts looking up. As Travis and Harper see more of each other, he starts falling for her and a way through the family meltdown, the post-traumatic stress, and the possibility of an interesting future begins to emerge.

I love reading older YA or new adult novels and I believe Something Like Normal falls under these categories. Sure, Travis is just 19 but I think being a Marine makes him a more mature character. He’s seen and experienced the atrocities of war and is suffering from the loss of his best friend, Charlie. Now I’ve never been a teenage boy so I don’t exactly know how they think. But I do have guy friends and I feel like Travis has a realistic voice for a guy. He’s far from being perfect and he makes stupid mistakes throughout the course of the novel but I believe he’s a decent guy who genuinely wants to get his act together. It’s just that he’s messed up from everything that he’s been through – failing his father’s unreasonable expectations, signing up to be in the military to escape and heading off straight to serve in an unfamiliar country. Also, I know next to nothing about Marines but I found Travis’ experiences intriguing.

Trish Doller’s debut is something that I wholeheartedly recommend to everyone, even those who don’t usually read contemporary YA because I feel like it has crossover appeal for many readers. It’s refreshing in the sense that it doesn’t focus on a high school setting, isn’t just about the romance and is the first novel that I’ve read with a teen main character in the military. Something Like Normal is very easy to fall into. It’s the kind of novel that you read within one day because you can’t get enough of Travis and his complicated relationships – his issues with his dad and his brother, how he tries to be a better son to his overly supportive mother, how he interacts with his Marine buddies and how he gets to know the girl he’s always had a crush on. While I don’t think the romance is the main focus of the novel, there was plenty of swoon that kept me more than satisfied. I like that Travis and Harper have a history that dates back to middle school. Harper is just the person Travis needs in his life – she’s smart, fun to be with and knows exactly how to handle him. Here’s a spoiler-free snippet from early on:

“Do you need help?” a female voice from behind asks.

I’m about to throw an offended no over my shoulder when Harper comes up alongside me, all green eyes and tousled hair. I could probably look at her forever and not get tired of that face. “If I say yes will you think less of me?”

She shrugs, but I can see a smile at the corner of her mouth. “I already do think less of you.”

Doesn’t that make you curious? Like I said, I love Trish’s Tumblr so I thought it would be fitting to include some of the images that she’s posted in this review. These images actually remind of Travis and Harper. :)

Something Like Normal will be released June 19, 2012 and I know this review is ridiculously early but I couldn’t help but spread the word about this novel. I have a feeling a lot of readers will fall in love with Travis’ story. Can’t wait to see what Trish writes next.

Other reviews:
A Good Addiction


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If I Stay by Gayle Forman

I really don’t know why I put off reading If I Stay by Gayle Forman for so long. Maybe I felt like there were already too many YA novels about grief and death? But I’m a sucker for books like those when they’re beautifully written so I knew I’d read this eventually. Because of a certain Twitter conversation, I knew I was going to read If I Stay sooner rather than later.

Here’s the summary from Gayle Forman’s website:

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.

If I had known how much I’d enjoy reading If I Stay, I wouldn’t have waited so long to read it. I think Mia’s interactions with the various people in her life – parents, younger brother, grandparents, boyfriend and best friend – were done really well. It was surprising how fully fleshed out the secondary characters were, given that there were so many of them. It felt like I really got to know them as Mia looked back on her significant memories of them. If I Stay is one of those novels that are all about relationships and can make readers feel all kinds of feelings. It’s a book filled with heartache – it always is when we’re dealing with life and death situations – but I never felt overwhelmed. I admit I found certain sections of the book a bit slow but I didn’t mind because I understood that Mia had a difficult decision to make – the kind of decision that involves a lot of introspection. I find it amazing that I haven’t seen spoilers about Mia’s choice even though I’ve read so many reviews for this book. I guess the book has such a beautiful ending that people understood it would be a shame to ruin the experience for other readers.

I really liked how close Mia was with her non-traditional parents because it’s always nice to see supportive parents in YA. Mia’s parents were the opposite of strict and they reminded me a bit of my own parents. I was also a fan of the slow burn romance between Mia and Adam. How they love different kinds of music but it still brought them together – Mia plays the cello and loves classical music while Adam plays the guitar and is a member of a rock band. Their relationship isn’t perfect because they both have their issues and they had to work until they found their rhythm. I think what they have is intense and sweet at the same time. I’m not as into music as these two but that didn’t keep me from liking their love story. I know I said I liked how things ended in If I Stay and I was okay with leaving things like that but I have a feeling I’ll be reading Where She Went soon. I can’t resist, knowing that it’s written from Adam’s point of view. If I Stay is a delightful read in so many ways and is the kind of contemporary YA that I can recommend without hesitation. I’m so glad I gave in and read it. Will now be on the lookout for Gayle Forman’s other novels. Going back to the reason why I read this book, do I think Adam and Tom (from The Piper’s Son) will be mates if they ever met? Maybe. But I get the feeling Adam would get along better with Jake (from Saving June). Or they could all just form a band and have jam sessions together.

Other reviews:
Book Harbinger
Angieville
See Michelle Read
Wear the Old Coat
The Readventurer


17 Comments

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

I enjoyed reading Maggie Stiefvater’s books in the past but it wasn’t until I saw glowing reviews from blogging buddies and Goodreads friends that I became really curious about The Scorpio Races. It sounds different from anything else that she’s written and Maggie herself said that this is her favorite out of all of her books. How’s that for encouragement? I couldn’t pass up reading this one and I like that it’s a standalone novel.

Here’s the summary from Maggie Stiefvater’s website:

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.

Sigh, what a lovely, lovely book this turned out to be. It’s the best Maggie Stiefvater novel that I’ve read and if you haven’t read any of her books, I recommend that you start with this one. The novel is narrated from alternating points of view – Puck or Kate Connolly’s and Sean Kendrick’s. Both are entered to compete in the deadly Scorpio Races, the annual event featuring water horses or capaill uisce. These terrifying water horses come out of the ocean only in the island of Thisby and unlike their land counterparts, they live on flesh and blood and love to hunt moving targets. A few islanders can tame them enough to ride them to the races, Sean is the most gifted when it comes to handling the water horses. Puck is the most unusual contestant in the race because she’s the first girl to enter and she’s riding her regular island pony, Dove, instead of a water horse. It was easy enough to like Puck – she’s a prickly character but brave when she needs to be and she’d do anything for her two brothers. She joins the race to discourage her older brother, Gabe, from leaving the island. While I’ve always lived in the city and can’t relate to the small town life in Thisby, I can understand how Puck feels about her homeland. To live in a place that’s not easy to love, a crazy place with wild typhoons or storms, a place that friends and family would rather leave so they can find better opportunities somewhere else. Yeah, that sounds pretty familiar. And The Scorpio Races is just as much about Thisby as it is about the water horses. Sean shares the same fondness for their homeland. When asked why he doesn’t leave, he answers with, “The sky and the sand and the sea and Corr.” Remove the Corr bit (although I wouldn’t say no to a magical water horse of my own) and that is exactly why I love the beaches in the Philippines.

I loved how the romance developed in this book, the pacing was perfect. It’s the best kind of slow burn, filled with intense, meaningful glances and one-liners that go straight to the heart. I ate it all up and savored all the scenes between Puck and Sean. These two are so very different from each other – one is feisty while the other is a quiet sort of person – but they also have so much in common. They’re tied by their love for Thisby and how they both care for their respective horses – the loyal Dove, for Puck and the blood-red, unpredictable water horse, Corr, for Sean. Both of them are orphans and because they’ve had to fend for themselves, they seem older than their teenage years. But I don’t mean to imply that the focus of the story is the romance because it really isn’t. Like I said, The Scorpio Races is about the island of Thisby, its people (viewed through the eyes of Puck and Sean) and the horses that they love. I know next to nothing about horses, I think I’ve only ridden a horse once in my entire life, but that didn’t keep me from being fully immersed in this novel. The Scorpio Races may not be for everyone (I’ve seen mixed reviews) but it makes me happy that it worked out for me. Beautifully written, it sucked me in and didn’t let go until I reached the end. One of my favorite books read this year, I recommend it to fans of horse stories and subtle romances.

Here’s an excerpt from one of the scenes from Sean’s point of view:

“As the sun shines low and red across the water, I wade into the ocean. The water is still high and brown and murky with the memory of the storm, so if there’s something below it, I won’t know it. But that’s part of this, the not knowing. The surrender to the possibilities beneath the surface. It wasn’t the ocean that killed my father, in the end. The water is so cold that my feet go numb almost at once. I stretch my arms out to either side of me and close my eyes. I listen to the sound of water hitting water. The raucous cries of the terns and the guillemots in the rocks of the shore, the piercing, hoarse questions of the gulls above me. I smell seaweed and fish and the dusky scent of the nesting birds onshore. Salt coats my lips, crusts my eyelashes. I feel the cold press against my body. The sand shifts and sucks out from under my feet in the tide. I’m perfectly still. The sun is red behind my eyelids. The ocean will not shift me and the cold will not take me.”

Other reviews:
Angieville
Book Harbinger
The Allure of Books
The Book Smugglers


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Until There Was You by Kristan Higgins

I was able to read Until There Was You by Kristan Higgins through NetGalley. I read and reviewed Just One of the Guys a couple of months ago and that made me more curious about the author’s other books. Also, bloggers are comparing Kristan Higgins to my two favorite contemporary romance authors, Jennifer Crusie and Julie James. I’ve been reading more fantasy novels lately and I decided to pick this one up to cleanse the reading palate.

Here’s the summary from Kristan Higgins’ website:

Posey Osterhagen can’t complain. She owns a successful architectural salvaging company, she’s surrounded by her loveable, if off-center, family and she has a boyfriend — sort of. Still, something’s missing. Something tall, brooding and criminally good-looking… something like Liam Murphy.

When Posey was sixteen, the bad boy of Bellsford, New Hampshire, broke her heart. But now he’s back, sending Posey’s traitorous schoolgirl heart into overdrive once again. She should be giving him a wide berth, but it seems fate has other ideas…

Well, that was a lot of fun. Posey (real name: Cordelia) is the kind of girl I’d like to be friends with, everything about her is quirky. She owns an architectural salvaging company, which others refer to as a junk shop. She’s surrounded by an interesting set of secondary characters – her overprotective German parents, her brother and his outgoing husband and so many others. She lives in a church that has been converted into a house and even has its own belfry. She has an unusual fashion sense, her girliest attire consists of a dress that doesn’t really compliment her boyish figure, paired with engineer boots. She eats like a construction worker and doesn’t gain weight. Wouldn’t you want to hang out with someone like that? Posey doesn’t have a perfect life though. The first scene of the novel involves her reunion with her high school crush, bad-boy-turned-devoted-father Liam Murphy. He’s back in town with his teenage daughter and has no idea that he broke Posey’s heart when they were younger. I enjoyed the slow build up of the romance between these two. Sure, Posey has never gotten over Liam but it takes a while for him to realize that he’s attracted to her. So they get to know each other better, develop a friendship and move on to something more. I liked the banter between the two main characters and there’s a lot of humor included in the book, which is something that I always appreciate.

I liked this one more than Just One of the Guys, probably because the point of view shifts from Posey to Liam so we get both sides of the story. Like I said, there are a lot of secondary characters in this one and Posey and Liam’s interactions with them lets readers see more of their personalities. I’m starting to notice that Kristan Higgins isn’t afraid to put her heroines in embarrassing situations and that’s what makes it so easy to relate to them. It’s entertaining to read about how they overcome their insecurities and how they go through hilarious situations as they work on relationships with the men in their lives. And they all love dogs! Check out the covers for her books, they all feature a couple with a dog beside them. I’m definitely going to pick up her other books the next time I want to read something light and fun or when I need to squeeze in a contemporary read in between my fantasy books. Until There Was You will be released on October 25.

Other reviews:
Book Harbinger
The Allure of Books
My Guilty Obsession
Cocktails and Books

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