Monday, August 24, 2015

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

I have lived a good long time...longer than I will admit to here, and I have been reading voraciously since before kindergarten.   I have read a lot of books.  Many of them have been good, and a precious few have been great.  The Scorpio Races is as good a book as I have read in many years.   It was so good, in fact, that once I finished it, I mourned for a few minutes and then promptly started re-reading it.

The story is intriguing...the Scorpio Races are races set on a small island (fictional, but it feels a lot like an Irish offshore island) between Cappaill Uisce, the water horses of Celtic folklore.  These are no Disney water horses...they eat meat, drink blood and kill.  Each other, and humans.   But the island, Thisby, and the horses are connected in ways modern man has trouble understanding.  They have ancient blood ties past remembering.   Two of the contenders in this years race are Sean Kendricks, and Puck Connelly.

Sean has been working with the Cappaill Uisce since he was a boy.  Described by the islanders as having "one foot on land, and one in the sea" he has won the races for the past four years on a stallion named Corr.  He  loves Corr deeply, and the horses in his charge love him and his magic.

Puck is an orphaned girl who is riding in the races for the first time, as the first woman to compete.  She is also riding her mundane island horse, Dove, rather than one of the Cappaill Uisce...another first.  She is hindered in her efforts by almost everyone on the island.  Everyone but Sean, who is drawn to her for reasons he cannot explain.

The two face many obstacles.  Chief among them is Mutt Malvern, the cruel son of the richest man on the island (and Sean's employer).   Another hurdle they must face is that each has desperate reasons for needing to win the race, but to do that, they must beat the person they are growing to love.  The love story is awkward and terribly sweet.

I can't really put my finger on what I find so compelling about this book.  The story is unique, and the slight tinge of magic over everything on Thisby adds a delightful air of mystery.  Its written by a YA author, which may be the reason the love story is so muted and delicious.  We don't have sex to rely on making the story interesting.  The writing must carry the story.  

And the writing is superb.  The suspense simply never lets up.  One is completely drawn in by the two immensely likable main characters, and many of the lesser characters deserve their own book:  Finn and George Holly are two I would love to read more about.  The rituals and traditions surrounding the races are unsettling, yet have the feel of ancient rhythms and rites.  Stiefvater has an unswervingly deft hand in her timing and the pace of the story feels just right.  The conclusion is a surprise, albeit one that satisfactorily resolves the dilemma of the two protagonists.

I was rather haunted by the story.  I found myself thinking a lot about the story and the characters during the first read, and even the second.  Sean,  in particular caught my imagination.  He is mysterious and magical and immensely attractive.   Again, Ms Stiefvater reveals just enough of his background to help explain him, but we never fully understand him.

I will definitely read more by the author.  I don't usually read YA novels, but this one is so exceptional that I too will make an exception.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Mr. Write by Lisa Clark O'Neill

Adorable!  Mr. Write is a must for fans of Susan Elizabeth Phillips, and Jennifer Crusie.  Light, bright and sizzlin' hot.  The witty repartee, the great cast of characters, and a quirky romance reminds me of each, at her best.   

Sarah Barnwell has recently returned to her hometown of Sweetwater, South Carolina.  She and her childhood friend, Allie Hawbaker, are partners in  The Dust Jacket, a funky new bookstore.  Sarah knows she has to lay some ghosts and come to terms with Sweetwater and her past as the daughter of the town drunk.  Spunky and resilient, she is ready for the challenge.  What she hadn't anticipated is the spectre of an old enemy, an old crime, and the totally new issue of her annoying neighbor: Tucker Pettigrew.

Tucker, scion of the local version of Mr. Potter from It's  A Wonderful Life, has recently returned to Sweetwater as well.  He is battling grief,  the local women, and a growing attraction to the redhead next door.  As a writer, he and the bookstore owner should see eye to eye.  But these two have mysteries to solve, misunderstandings to overcome, and danger to face before they can find their version of harmony.

They are assisted in these endeavors by a likable cast of characters:  Mason, the hunky British actor who is Tucker's best friend;  Alllie: Sarah's best friend and the wounded daughter of a prominent Sweetwater family; assorted family members and friends; and a cat that deserves a book of his own.(Side note:  one of the charms of the book are the myriad ways Ms. O'Neill uses to describe the cat's could make a drinking game out of them,)

The fun in the book comes from the snappy dialogue ...particularly between the romantic leads (although Mason, and Allie's brothers have some pretty good lines).  The Southern Gothic charm of the town is a splendid setting for a series. (and that is the good news...a series this is).  I hate saying good bye to characters I've grown fond of, and I do a little happy dance when I find a new series to dive into (The next book is Admit One).

Ms. Neill's writing is fast, funny, and smart.  A typical passage:

" Of course, equally plausible, they could care less about him, and had merely been drawn to the spectacle that was Mason Armitage.
Tucker sighed.
Mason had insisted that no one in this little backwater would possible recognize a British thespian were one to bite the local citizenry on its collective ass, so Tucker had allowed him to tag along.  But now here he was, stupidly giving Mason the opportunity to take his shirt off in a semi-public forum.
Mason - poor, beleaguered creature of beauty that he was - was used to people running into walls when they got their first look at him.  He probably hadn't even noticed that there were now three individuals next door, staring. 
Well, two of them were still staring.  One of them was walking this way."

There is an inherent sweetness to the book that I find refreshing.  The characters may be wounded, but they are not jaded.  All in all, this is the perfect book for the days when you need a little sunshine, a little fun, and a lot of romance.