In Which Ella Reviews The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

Named a Notable Children’s Book of 2011 by the New York Times, Maggie Stiefvater’s The Scorpio Races is a Young Adult fantasy masterpiece. While her “Shiver” werewolf romances were number one New York Times bestsellers, The Scorpio Races trumps her past work unquestionably. Emerging from a genre cluttered with paranormal romances and post-apocolyptic or dystopian thrillers, The Scorpio Races diverges from tired clichés and tells a beautifully crafted story of courage and valor, based on the Irish and Scottish myths of a creature called the water horse or capaill uisce.

Set on the isolated island of Thisby, every year the islanders race these deadly animals along the beach of the Scorpio Sea, battling against mounts who are both hungry to eat their riders and return to depths of the sea. And every year, many are wounded or brutally killed in the process.

Steifvater writes her novel in two alternating first-person perspectives, centering the story around  Kate “Puck” Connolly and Sean Kendrick, two orphaned teenagers equally in love with horses and their island, and successfully establishes defined individual tones for each. Puck is attempting to be the first female rider and winner of the Scorpio Race in an effort to keep her eldest brother from leaving the island and to save her family’s house and land from being repossessed. Sean, taciturn and extraordinarily gifted with horses of both mythical and natural origins, is trying to win his fifth race so he can use the victory pot to finally purchase his beloved capaill uisce stallion from the horse merchant for whom he works. Both battle against the tremendous odds of their situations and the normal trials of the race, and the book ends with a conclusion that feels both satisfying and open-ended for a stand-alone novel.

Amongst the book’s strengths is that while the story does have some elements of a romance, the characters’ relationship lacks overblown and unbelievable drama and passion and instead evolves naturally out of deep mutual respect and understanding, something often forgotten and ignored in most modern YA. But perhaps Stiefvater’s greatest achievement is that the novel does not feel like a fantasy. Her excellent use of language, artful descriptions, and engaging dialogue make the characters and the story comes alive in such a way that it leaves you questioning how anyone could ever believe that the island of Thisby and capaill uisce races don’t exist, creating a novel so seemingly realistic that it can also easily be adored by readers who are not typically fantasy fans. In short, The Scorpio Races has the literary merit not frequently found in its genre, and Steifvater’s novel is so much more than the story of a killer horse race.

This fall has been full of young adult fiction gems, making it a both an easy and difficult task to choose holiday gifts for lovers of this genre. How can you narrow it down to just a few selections? But whatever books you settle on, I highly suggest that this novel make the cut. With strong cross-over appeal to adults and a story that demands to be reread countless times, The Scorpio Races is bound to delight anyone this holiday season.


For the month, you can find me updating my word count on NaNoWriMo here. (I need to do it more regularly so that it doesn’t become flat for a few days, only to receive an enormous spike, indicating that I somehow magically wrote about twelve thousand words in one day.)

And as always, you can also find me on tumblr at http://emleng93.tumblr.com/, if, you know, you’re into that kind of thing.

Lola and the Boy Next Door

Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins

17-year-old Lola seems to have it all: an awesome best friend, a hot rocker boyfriend, and the coolest clothes. That is, until the dreaded Bell twins move back in next door. Cricket Bell is suddenly part of her life again, and her current relationship with Max seems to be developing some deep cracks. And what about the Marie Antoinette dress she’s making for the winter dance?

Stephanie Perkins’ sophomore novel is just as delightful and swoon-worthy as her 2010 Anna and the French Kiss, and readers who couldn’t get enough of Anna and Étienne St. Clair, will be thrilled that they make a reappearance that feels authentic and unforced.

Set against the backdrop of San Fransico, Perkins makes the city feel as dynamic as the characters themselves. You too will feel like you’re walking around the Castro district and living in an old Victorian just like Lola. One of the novel’s greatest strengths is how Perkins portrays Lola’s family. Lola has two gay dads, and by avoiding preaching about LGBTQ rights and presenting Lola’s family as perfectly normal, Perkins ends up makes a bigger statement. Additionally, unlike so many young adult fiction romances, Perkins’ characters are wonderfully realistic with legitimate shortcomings and quirks, and the love story unfolds in an incredibly lifelike manner.

It will be impossible to finish this novel without also falling in love with the boys and dreaming of creating outfits as awesome and daring as Lola’s. Move over Sarah Dessen, Stephanie Perkins just might be the new queen of YA romance.

And as always, you can also find me on tumblr at http://emleng93.tumblr.com/, if, you know, you’re into that kind of thing.

In Which Ella Writes About Desperately Wanting to Be an Author

It’s way too easy to be young and want something terribly.

Heck, it’s also easy to be old and want something terribly.

And it’s also easy to be not quite young and not quite old and still want something terribly.

More than all of that, it’s even easier not to get it.

I want to be a writer and not just an I-write-things-that-a-few-people-like writer. I want to be the real deal, the type of writer that gets things published in magazines and gets book deals and travels the country doing signings and readings.

But the chances of that happening are slim to none. More likely than not, I’ll end up working in a publishing firm, talking about markets and commercial appeal. And truth be told, I wouldn’t mind that too much. I’d still be firmly implanted in the magical world of books, but I wouldn’t be what I’ve wanted so terribly for years and years and years.

I was eight when I won my first writing contest. It was for the D.C. bookstore Politics and Prose, and I got to stand on a step stool behind a huge wooden podium and read my piece to around sixty people. I had my hair in high pigtails, tied with ribbons with tiny roses, and wore a huge corduroy jumper with even bigger rose prints. Everyone was staring at me, and I loved it. I had done something good. I had a skill. I was valuable. And the moment I glanced up after reading my first sentence, I knew that this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I wanted to make up stories that would make other people love me and make me love being alive and having an imagination. Because goodness knows that the only other thing I was good at that age was bossing other people around and reading, and you couldn’t make other people like you or like yourself for doing that.

So I wrote story after story. Sometimes, I took requests from my classmates. There was the story of a girl whose mother got blinded by a tree branch. The boy who died from leukemia. A family of cats. A girl who played the violin far more beautifully than I could ever hope to.

There were other contests I won. Beginnings to novels. An attempt to write a memoir at the age of ten*. That time when I was thirteen and thought that I was going to write the greatest YA romance on the face of the earth**. The idea for the novel I’m trying to write now. Experiments with writing in the second person. Short stories. Way too many scribblings in notebooks. A terrible first draft of my current novel. The deleting of that first draft. This blog. Epic length letters and emails to friends.

So here I am at eighteen, churning out word after word of bad to mediocre writing, wanting something terribly that I probably won’t get. I know that I’m not very good. I know that my chances are so impossibly minimal. But I can’t help but want it with a hunger that eclipses my need for food or books. I’m obsessed with this idea of becoming a real member of the book world as an author. I think about it constantly. I talk to my characters in my head. It’s what I wake up to and what I go to sleep to. I read YA like the novels are textbooks. I always carry something to write with and on. I take notes on what makes writing successful. My entire life revolves around becoming an author.

But one of the biggest problems with this pipe dream–other than its unlikelihood–is that everyone seems to have it. Everyone wants to be an author, and I’m just another member of the crowd. I want to jump up and down and yell, “But I’m actually serious about this! I’m special! Believe in me! Love my work! Let me be the best! I am so much better than everyone else here!” But unfortunately, that’s not the way the world works. I am just a member of the yearning crowd, desperate for success that probably won’t come.

I wish I had some sort of conclusion for this post, some sort of moral or happy note to end on. But that just isn’t going to happen. I have to keep on truckin’, writing as much as I can, because maybe around the three, five millionth word, maybe something will click, and maybe when my fingertips touch the keyboard, something worthwhile will appear on the screen. It feels gloomy and depressing a lot of the time, but I keep at it, sometimes if only because I’m not very good at too much else.

*I don’t know what I was thinking with that one. I have about an hour of video tapped footage of me reading a section of it in which I made up a story about the horrible injustices done to me by my mother and Pippa. I read it in a very dramatic voice, and I know that at some point someone will rediscover it, and I will be horribly embarrassed.

**This particular story has since been destroyed, but involved a lot of treehouses, dramatic ultimatums, and a scene involving Medieval England. Amusingly, there was absolutely no kissing, and I believe the story ended with a triple marriage ceremony.

In other news, every time I hear a plane flying overhead more loudly than usual, I freak out and have to keep checking the news to make sure it hasn’t crashed into any buildings in the city. And then I come up with multiple escape routes from my room in case it misses and hits my house. Currently, climbing out onto the roof, lowering myself from the gutter, and dropping into the middle of a patch of flowers is my preferred alternative route.

And as always, you can also find me on tumblr at http://emleng93.tumblr.com/, if you’re into that kind of thing.

Ella’s Review: The Future of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler

I finished The Future of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler a few weeks ago, and I thought that I’d share my review with all of you this evening.

The Future of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler

Josh and Emma had always been close friends until an incident the previous November, but when Josh gives Emma an AOL CD-ROM for her new computer their lives collide once again as they embark on an amazing digital adventure. Not only does Emma have access to the limited internet content of the late nineties, but she also discovers her Facebook profile fifteen years in the future. During a whirlwind week, Emma and Josh are faced with the ethical dilemma of whether or not to change their future through deliberate actions now or to let their lives unfold naturally.

While the perspective alters from Josh to Emma every other chapter (written by Asher and Mackler, respectively) the book reads fluently with no disruption in style. Also, by writing for their own gender, Asher and Mackler create a more realistic tone for the characters than you find in most YA novels. For those of us old enough, this book will bring back nostalgia of the nineties, the days when using the internet meant listening to the funky noises of a dial-up connection and websites could take (gasp!) over thirty seconds to load, while younger readers will wonder how we all managed to survive without cellphones and Youtube. But perhaps the book’s greatest strength is the way in which you, the reader, will find yourself pondering Josh and Emma’s dilemma long after you finish the final pages. Would you change your future if you could?

If you’d like, you can leave your answer to Josh and Emma’s dilemma in the comments. I’d love to hear what you all think.

Also, I’m looking for some fun ideas for challenges I can do in the coming weeks. I’ve got about eleven days before Nation Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), and my daily writing schedule has been getting a little monotonous. Any post ideas or things you’d like to see me complete? You can also ’em in the comments along with your answer to the first question.

And as always, you can also find me on tumblr at http://emleng93.tumblr.com/, if you’re into that kind of thing.

In Which Ella Has to Take the SAT

Guess what’s happening tomorrow.

I’m taking the SAT.

Guess how happy this makes me.

Not at all.

On the upside, I’m going to a book signing tomorrow evening for Laini Taylor and her new book, Daughter of Smoke and Bone, which I reviewed here.

And now I’m off to do some more panicking.

And as always, you can also find me on tumblr at http://emleng93.tumblr.com/, if you’re into that kind of thing.