Thursday, December 22, 2011

[Review] The Scorpio Races by Maggie Steifvater *****

I've made some slight alterations to the blog, mostly my posting schedule, mainly that I'm not going to keep to it. I thought that by giving myself set days I could encourage myself to actually update, but the opposite has actually occurred. I get all flustered that I haven't updated, then I get frustrated, then I don't want to do it. Yet, when I don't have a schedule I tend to update more because the freedom doesn't put pressure on me!

I have also decided to loosen up a bit on the structure of the blog. Review entries will still have a "classroom" aspect to them, but I won't be writing them specifically for classroom purposes. On this blog you'll find reviews of YA books I think everyone should read, ramblings from a YA writer about the topic of writing YA, and anything else that may be relevant. 

This tiny look into my crazy writer brain brought to you by having free time and getting back on the writing horse. Now, without further procrastination, a review!!

The Story

The Scorpio Races are a deadly game of man playing with fire, with the fire being ancient, and deadly water horses that riders must master to cross the finish line. Sean Kendrick and Puck Connolly come from two separate parts of the island; one an experienced trainer, the other a girl with a will of iron.

When Puck's brother decides to leave the island, the only home she's ever known, she enters the races to make him stay. But the races are violent and bloody, and a girl has never raced in them. It's here she notices Sean, a young man chained to his job by a mixture of duty and the love of the water horses. Together, their twos stories intertwine into a mutual tale of trust, self discovery, and what it really means to be free.

What's So Great About It?

If you haven't picked up a book by Stiefevater, you are really missing out. I plowed through her Gathering of Faerie novels at least a year ago, then demolished her Wolfs of Mercy Falls trilogy shortly thereafter. Stiefvater is a writer whose voice and writing have really grown into a beautiful mixture of poetry and prose, culminating in the execution of The Scorpio Races. I can't write enough about how much I enjoy her prose and how essential this is to the story. I saw a few pictures of the areas that she has used as inspiration for the book a few days ago and she truly captured the essence of the locations.

Each of the characters, no matter how minor, are brought to life by the prose and the attention to their motivations. By the end of the book, I really felt as if I could run into Sean or Puck in real life and have known them as friends. I was instantly pulled into their stories and by the end of the book, I wept with them at their joys and sorrows. I have found it extraordinarily hard for YA novels to do that to me lately, and not only is this a skill I attribute to true writers, but also an essential aspect of reading. If can't be made to care about your characters or their stories, how am I supposed to have felt anything or taken anything away from what I have read?

Why This Book?

For all the reasons stated above! Well, alright, if we're being more specific I recommend The Scorpio Races for its characters, story and the magic of the water horses. The feral and dangerous nature of the water horses was a completely fascinating story plot. I absolutely love the complete lack of control that the people really have of these animals. Stiefvater does an amazing job of describing, and detailing, how these animals can (and will) rip you to pieces faster than it takes you to look at them. For an animal that is usually considered pretty tame, these horses become things of nightmares. The horses also become the focal point to which the characters act around, and its such and interesting dichotomy of human and animal that I couldn't help but fall in love.

I would also recommend this book for its depth of character and willingness to provide nit and grit into the YA genre, which I have been finding severely lacking lately. I want a true story that will pull me in, make me feel for its characters and take me on a journey of the human spirit and The Scorpio Races does this.

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater definitely gets a 5 out of 5 stars for me and I wouldn't hesitate for a second to recommend it for the classroom, either. I think students of both sexes could get into the tale and become thoroughly entranced by the story. I'm waiting for the movie for this, too. It would be an AMAZING movie!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Stand Alone Complex

First, I want to say I'm back! As of this month I've completed my Master of Art in Teaching degree and am certified in the state of Maryland to educate students from grades 7-12 in English. Everyone hide your children, I might make them learn something !!

To celebrate my return, I thought I'd post on a topic that has been on my mind lately: to series, or not to series. 

After finishing an ARC of Cinder by Marissa Meyer (a book all of you should get your hands on when it comes out January 3rd) I found myself highly upset that I would have to wait the better part of the year in order to find out what happens next. Like many books in the YA category, Cinder was picked up as a four-part series. Had this been five years ago, you would have seen me jumping out of my skin to get a sequel, yet now I just find myself upset, and not in a good way.

How Twilight and Harry Potter Jaded Book Series

Let me preface this discussion by stating that each of the books I'm going to be discussing I have both read and enjoyed very much. If you must know anything about myself as a reviewer, books fall into two categories for me: Books I Enjoyed and Books I Didn't Really Enjoy. Very few times have I read a book that warranted the reaction of "that was a horrible book" and its actually a pet peeve of mine when people say that a book was "horrible" mostly because it didn't suit their tastes. Books are like food, some people love certain flavors that others can't stand.

With that said, I feel like both the Twilight series and Harry Potter have given the publishing industry, and readers even, the wrong impression of what a series should be. I find myself, much too often, picking up a book and wondering why the plot is moving so slowly, or why things just aren't happening fast enough to give me reason to become emotionally attached to characters. The answer: the book is actually a series. I have heard it said, by many people in the business, that many publishers want new books that can become a series. Why? The money. A book series, int the long run, will make a publisher far more money then a stand alone novel. Both aforementioned series became cultural phenomenons, ones that publishers are still trying to replicate every time they sign a new deal. How many times have you heard a book quoted as possibly becoming the next "blah blah" or the next "blah blah."

Why Is This a Problem?

Because there are far too many books that are series that shouldn't be and it effects the quality of the reading experience. I'll give you some symptoms that the book you've read shouldn't have been a series. Have you ever read a book and when it ended, been upset that something integral to the plot wasn't explained? Do you feel as if character emotions that were expressed continually throughout the story weren't resolved? Was there no real conclusion, and many plot points were left open ended? If you can answer "yes" to any of these questions, your book suffers from Series Syndrome. The best way I can describe this problem is that when I look a series of books, I find myself seeing parts of a whole and not complete stories captured from a larger world.

What Makes a Successful Book Series?

The first book series I ever read was the Dragonriders of Pern world series by Anne McCaffrey, specifically the Harper Hall Trilogy. Each of the books in this series was its own, compact story within a larger tale of the musicians of the world of Pern. Never did I finish a book and feel unfulfilled and I was excited to hear about the next story in series. The Alanna series by Tamora Peirce always felt similar in that each book in that series was a story of Alanna's adventure being the first female knight. Each book was it's own and became a piece of the large whole without leaving me to wonder why a vital aspect of the story wasn't explained.

Another symptom of Series Syndrome is when a conflict that could have been resolved in a single book is made into the conflict for the series. I am going to cite the Volturri in Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series as an example of a conflict that, honestly, could have been dealt with in one book. Stephenie Meyer herself stated that Twilight was only meant to be one novel, but because of the book's popularity, was expanded to four. Did she have enough material to expand these books to four? I really don't think so.

What truly bothers me is that far too often books that could have been far more powerful as single, stand alone novels are watered down in order to make them last over a longer period of time and, therefore, make more money. The machine of making money has overwritten the need for good story telling. I can think of nothing more disappointing than investing myself in a book and its story just to find out they may as well have printed To Be Continued...on the last page when I wish it had been continued now.

I've compiled a short list of book series that I feel truly exemplify what a real book series should be. If you have any you would like to suggest, please comment so I can add! 

Quality YA Series 
City of Bones, City of Glass, City of Ashes, City of Fallen Angels (The Mortal Instruments Series) by Cassandra Clare
Clockwork Angel, Clockwork Prince, Clockwork Princess (The Infernal Devices Series) by Cassandra Clare
All series by Tamora Pierce
White Cat, Red Glove, etc (Curseworkers Series) by Holly Black
All series by Rachel Caine
The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, Mockingjay (The Hunger Games Trilogy) by Suzanne Collins
Wicked Lovely, Ink Exchange, Fragile Eternity, Radiant Shadows, Darkest Mercy by Melissa Marr

Check LEIO out on Wednesday for a new review!