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 Reviews Daughter of Smoke and Bone

I bring you my review of Daughter of Smoke and Bone, written for my local bookstore. It’s the first one I’ve ever written, and I had a lot of fun. I don’t think it’s all that bad for a first review.

Seventeen-year-old Prague art student, Karou, has some curious pictures in her sketchbooks. Her “gorgeously rendered and deeply strange” drawings of fantastical creatures tell the story of a devil’s workshop where Brimstone, a wishmonger, grants wishes and strings gems and teeth for mysterious purposes. Trained in martial arts, knife-fighting, and fluent in many languages, Karou’s adventures keep the reader riveted and on the edge of their seat as Karou discovers the ancient battle between the angels and chimera, learns of her past, and meets Akiva, an angel with whom she just might be in love. Every teenage girl will wish she had Karou’s spunk, strength, and independence and a friend as loyal and kind as “Rabid Fairy” Zuzana, and boys will enjoy the fast-paced action and suspense. From the book’s first lines, Laini Taylor reels the reader in with her excellent word choice, quick wit, and loveable characters. Karou’s world is so beautifully imagined that at times it seems real. This book could quite possibly be the next big young adult fantasy series. The book’s conclusion just leaves you begging for more.

I just got the ARC for Pure, a novel by Julianna Baggott, so we’ll see how the next one goes. It looks like it’ll be a good read. Of course, I’m also in the middle of The Help by Kathryn Stockett, Beauty Queens by Libba Bray, Poetry 180 editted by Billy Collins, and Humor Me edited by Ian Frazier. I’m in such an happy avalanche of books.

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