Book Review – The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

Blogland,

I’m coming out the gate strong with this one. I loved this book! It was such a fun read/listen and I wish I could go back and feel all the anticipation and curiosity all over again!

Goodreads Rating: 5/5 Stars

Scorpio races

Minor spoilers ahead!

The Scorpio Races is a YA Fantasy, though I’d use the term lightly. Set on a fictional island in the UK during the early 1920s, the only thing out of the ordinary is the existence of the Capaill Uisce (pronounced: kappol ish-kuh, roughly) . These are mythical Celtic Water Horses, but Maggie Stiefvater has taken them beyond their legendary origins and brought them to life on the island of Thisby.

The Capaill Uisce are wild sea creatures capable of shifting from aquatic bodies to large and athletic horses on land. They are carnivorous, portrayed as blood-thirsty and obsessed with the sea when kept on shore. Each autumn the men of Thisby try to catch one to ride in the Scorpio races. And each autumn people die beneath hooves and between teeth.

Secretariat
This is Secretariat, but that’s pretty much how I picture Corr.

Sean Kendrick is the returning champion. At 19, he’s won four out of the last six races on his chestnut stallion Corr. The horse was his father’s, who was killed during the race by the stallion when Sean was 10. Corr escaped that day, only for Sean to catch him a few years later. They’ve since forged a strong bond, but Sean keeps on his toes around the stallion all the same. It’s in the nature of the Capaill Uisce to attack, especially as November approaches.

Kate Connolly, aka Puck, is the middle child and the only girl in her house. Her older brother Gabe works constantly, and her younger brother Finn can’t seem to stop fiddling with things long enough to be a proper person. So, Puck spends all her time maintaining their old house in the wilds of Thisby and taking care of her island horse, Dove. The Connolly kids’ parents were killed in a Capaill Uisce attack an unspecified amount of time in the past, but the wound is still very much open in their house.

Dove
I imagine Dove looked this sweet in her little paddock.

And Puck’s about to pour salt in the wound: she’s decided to ride in the Scorpio races.

Her decision shocks the entire island. Though there’s no rule against it, no woman has ever participated in the race, and the men of Thisby are determined to keep it that way.

The Scorpio Races is a thrilling ride, pun intended. It has all the ingredients for a satisfying YA read: First person narrative, simmering first love, and family conflicts. But, it goes above and beyond by adding heavy doses of feminism and ‘a boy and his horse’. As a huge fan of The Black Stallion books as a kid, the appearance of this trope pretty much guaranteed my enthusiasm for this book.

 

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True love never dies…

I should also mention that the narration for the audiobook was very well done. Steve West as Sean was gruff and very internalized, and listening to him read Puck’s dialogue in Sean’s chapters was initially hilarious. Fiona Hardingham read for Puck and she was delightful! All fiery obstinance and strong opinions. Her voice for Sean’s dialogue was equally humorous, and it really gave a sense of what the characters thought of each other. They both have strong British accents, which wasn’t a problem to me, though my personal internal monologue was suddenly British for a few days.

If you want a gripping, standalone book with interesting and well-developed characters  and setting, I can’t recommend The Scorpio Races enough.

I’m still working through Gunpowder Moon. I got a bit distracted with listening to Snow Patrol after they announced their new album, so my reading has slowed down in general. but, I’m getting back on track and should have another review for y’all sometime this weekend.

Until then, Blogland,

 

BZ

 

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Goals Summary – Wk 5

Hey Blogland,

It’s late, so I’m going to make this quick.

Last Week

  • Publish 2 book reviews
  • Start Sanctified chapter 32
  • Finish reading Shockaholic
  • Edit Lifelike and The Season
  • Edit chapter 1 of The Steel Armada

 

The Results

  • Publish two book reviews
  • Start Sanctified chapter 32
    • Done. Wrote 1,517 words of it. Posted another installment to the related short story collection.
  • Finish reading Shockaholic
    • Done. Not my favorite, but a decent enough listen for my short commute.
  • Edit Lifelike and The Season
    • Done. My friend Matt got me his feedback before he went on vacation this weekend. Per his suggestions I was able to fine tune The Season and start a rewrite of Lifelike. I’m going to give The Season a bit of space to see if distance highlights any weaknesses, but I’m confident that it’s very nearly ready to submit. Lifelike is still very much in progress. This story has dogged me for years, and it’s taken a long time for me to uncover its bones. I have them dug up now, but they need proper assembly. This might take some time, but I’m feeling good about it.
  • Edit chapter 1 of The Steel Armada
    • Done. I was really hesitant to do it, as I’ve been with this whole project. But, I sat down and really hashed out a lot of my world-building issues and helped streamline some plot points by introducing them sooner. I also added about 500 words, which brought the word count total for that chapter over the minimum goal! Overall, I’m counting it a great success.

Weekly Word Count: 2,079

I’m pretty much flying high right now. It always feels so damn good to see my goals switch from the red pen to the black one as I complete them. It’s really nice to see things marked ‘Done’. Here’s hoping this momentum continues.

What’s Next

  • Publish two additional blog posts
  • Finish Sanctified Chapter 32. Post chapter 31.
  • Finish reading Iron Gold
  • Edit two chapters of The Steel Armada

Dresden Turn CoatThis list feels pretty small, but there’s actually a lot of work here. The blog posts aren’t so bad. I’ve got the book review of Turn Coat to do, and a bonus Craft Discussion post drafted. This should be the easiest part of the week. I’m halfway through Sanctified chapter 32 already, so wrapping that up shouldn’t be too bad. It’s building up to the final action of the story, so it takes a steady hand, but it’s well underway.

Iron Gold

Iron Gold is really good so far, I’m just reading really slowly because I never seem to have free time just to sit. Audiobooks are saving my life, since I can listen to them while I drive or do chores around the house. Unfortunately, I do not have the Iron Gold audiobook, and quite frankly, I don’t want it. I’m really enjoying developing the voices of these new characters, as well as rediscovering Darrow’s. But, the book is due back on the 10th, and because there are holds on it, I can’t renew it. I have five days to read ~500 pages.

Yikes.

And of course, last is the biggest hurdle of them all. Editing chapter 1 of The Steel Armada was less painful than I’d imagined. I’m really hoping that proves to be the case throughout this process. To help myself along, I’m reading The Last Draft by Sandra Scofield, and doing my best to do the exercises and implement her strategies. It’s good so far, but I’m only 61 pages in. We’ll see how it goes as I dig deeper into her book, and mine.The Last Draft

So, basically, I have a crap-ton of books to read, a novel and two short stories to edit, and somehow not nearly enough time to do it all. Or, at least, that’s how I feel. But, these past week’s of summaries tell a different story. I’m doing well, setting achievable goals and meeting them. Mostly.

And damn if it doesn’t feel good.

Until later, Blogland.

BZ

Book Review – Ghostly Echoes by William Ritter

Hello again Blogland!

Yesterday ended up being very productive. I wrote the Interlude for From the Quorum from start to finish, wrapping it at 3,508 words. For the time I sat writing, that was extremely productive. This book is writing itself!

Beyond that, I also finished reading all the installments of Locke & Key, as well as Low, vol. 1. That’s all the graphic novels I had checked out, so I get to return a bunch of items to the library today and move on to reading Arcanum Unbounded, which I’ve put off for far too long.

But, before I get too wrapped up in that, let’s talk about Ghostly Echoes. Beware the spoilers!ghostly-echoes

This was the largest of the three Jackaby books so far. The other two were under 300 pages, but this one had 352. And that’s because there’s a lot happening.

The book opens with Jenny and Abigail experimenting with possession. Yep. You read that right. Now, most of us sane folk would say, “that’s a terrible idea.” And it is. But, Abigail adores Jenny and wants to help her anyway she can. Even if that means subjecting herself to the disorienting and painful process of letting her friend take over her body.

But, the catch is, that when Jenny is in Abigail’s body, Abigail has access to Jenny’s memories. That’s really useful since Jenny can’t actually remember the circumstances of her death.

That’s the case they’re working on, by the way. Jenny’s murder.

Well, as they investigate they learn that Jenny’s murder is tied into the string of murders from the last book, and it’s all one big case. Add in some political ties, and this book gets interesting fast!

Charlie arrives out of concern for Abigail’s safety as she tackles this enormous case with Jackaby, much to her delight. I was a little bummed because he’s not very critical to the story. I mean, he plays an important role, but he doesn’t get as much screen time as I’d like.

So, all kinds of crazy things happen in this book. Possession, Abigail throws a brick in a vampire’s face, forcefully pushing him from their home, they cross into the Anwynn, a place between life and death, and Abigail is the one chosen to cross the river Styx to try and find a particular spirit that could help them solve the case.

jackaby-with-quote
Except, she doesn’t find who she expects, but Jenny’s fiancé.

Yeah, this book is all over the place. But, when you’re reading it everything makes sense. It’s only in this summation that I see how wild some of these events are, but I ain’t even mad. This book was fast-paced fun!

Anyway, they learn that a group known as The Dire Council is behind all these deaths, and that they’re trying to create some sort of enormous scientific device, that has something to do with energies. And while Jackaby and Co., catch the main murderer, a henchman for the Council, they are no closer to actually thwarting their dastardly plan.

And that’s where the book leaves off. The next (and final) book is titled The Dire King, and I am ready for it now! I don’t want to wait until August!

Now, my favorite aspects of this book are Abigail’s newfound confidence. She loves these people she’s met and built a new life with, and she feels empowered by them to do anything for them. It’s a good look on her.

I also really loved the tender moments where Jackaby opens up about himself. There’s a lot of Jackaby’s history in this book, because The Dire Council needs him to complete their device. And so the history of how he acquired the Sight and how he coped with that gets fleshed out a bit. I loved it! He’s also more vulnerable in this book than in the others, because of his concern for Jenny. He’s hesitant to solve her case because he doesn’t want her business to be finished. He doesn’t want her to leave.

douglas-and-jenny
Two of Jackaby’s companions

It’s not like Jackaby has a lot of friends.

There was a moment in the book that, while not critical to the plot, was really powerful for me. Early in the novel Abigail and Jackaby come across a transgender woman being attacked. They stave off her attackers and get her home, Jackaby never faltering in calling her ‘her’ and treating her with respect. Abigail does her best, but she’s a little bewildered by the encounter.

When she asks Jackaby if Miss Lee was, in fact, a man, Jackaby’s response is perfect.

“‘Underneath she was herself- as are we all. Lydia Lee is as much a lady as you or Jenny or anyone. I imagine a midwife or attending doctor probably had another opinion on the matter, but it only goes to show what doctors really know’

‘Shouldn’t a doctor be able to tell at least that much?’

Jackaby’s expression clouded darkly. ‘I have great respect for the medical profession, Miss Rook,’ he said soberly, ‘but it is not for doctors to tell us who we are.'”

It struck me as immensely profound, coming from this man who most doctors would label insane. And a true representation of his character that he would stand up for Lydia Lee and defend her in a manner less defensive and more educational, even to Abigail.

I love this eccentric, fictional man. A shame I have to wait all summer to see what happens…

You probably won’t hear from me again this weekend, but I’ll see you all on Monday!

 

BZ

Editing: What I’ve Learned

Blogland,

Today marks the start of the second round of edits for my first novel, The Steel Armada. It was supposed to be yesterday, but I spent over four hours on the phone catching up with my grandma. Sorry, not sorry. I love that lady, and I relish our time spent gabbing.

So, today then. This is something I’ve been working toward for a long time, in fits and starts. I started editing the rough draft on March 8th, 2014. I know because I always write the date at the top of each chapter when I dive in. I was six months into school then, and a few days into my new job at the library. I was working 60 hour work weeks.

So, understandably, I didn’t complete the edits on the final chapter until December 8th, 2015. It took almost two years to finish editing the rough draft. I wasn’t very committed to getting the thing done. It was something I did when I felt overwhelmed by school and life, and needed a quick escape.

This time around, I’ll be much more diligent and disciplined. I have a timeline, and the time to stick to it.

So, what’s my plan of attack? I’m not one hundred percent sure just yet. What I need to consider is what I learned from editing the first draft.

  1.  Editing is so much more than grammar and punctuation. I mean, these things are important, and I spent a lot of my editing time cleaning up lines by honing in on weak sentences and strengthening them. But, all the cleaning up and tightening doesn’t do much to help gaps in the plot, or under-developed worlds and characters.

    20170207_112314.jpg
    Page 1, Rough Draft and Second Draft
  2.  Rewriting is inevitable. It doesn’t matter how much I love a scene, if it doesn’t work, it does not work. In that case, things get cut and possibly replaced. There were some scenes that I had to try from a different character’s perspective. Sometimes that worked; more often than not it gave me clarity to re-approach the scene from the original point of view in a way that was more effective.
  3.  New content comes along. When there are gaps in the story, or characters who need fleshing out, new material is the answer. The rough draft is not the end of writing. It’s writing your novel within the structure you’ve already created, which I found fun and challenging. It’s like your novel is offering you writing prompts!
  4.  Have a support group! No matter how much time I spend away from this book, I can’t seem to get quite enough distance to diagnose the draft one hundred percent. And I think that’s normal. This is something I made. 181 printed pages of my imagination. It is a part of me, no matter how long I try and ignore it. These characters are part of me, this world is part of me, and these happenings are mine. Having outside opinions helps me peer through all that unavoidable bias, and give me an ego boost when I’m swimming in writerly loathing.
  5.  There’s always more work to be done. This is the hardest one, for me. It’s hard to want to keep editing, to keep plowing on, when I keep finding things that aren’t perfect. When I called the rough draft complete, and officially started referring to it as “Draft #2”, it was bittersweet. I was proud of the work I’d accomplished, and the changes between drafts were pretty dramatic, but I knew that there were mountains yet left to climb. And deep down, I don’t know if I’ll ever cease discovering new peaks. I don’t know when to call it “done”. I’m hoping I’ll just magically know when the time comes.
20170207_112457
Final page, Rough Draft and Second Draft

There’s always more work to be done… That is the truth. So, what are my goals for Draft #2?

  • World building. This world has all the potential to be something great. But, The Steel Armada was my first attempt at Fantasy, and it shows. Since writing this book, I’ve written another Fantasy manuscript, am half way through another, and wrote four Fantasy short stories for publication. Not to mention the mountains of reading I’ve done. My ability to build worlds is growing every day, and it’s time to flex that muscle in Val’s world.
  • Character development. These characters aren’t bad. A couple of them are even well-drawn and fleshed out. But there are quite a few that fall flat for me. There’s more to them, and I need to give them the time they deserve. It will only help.
  • Tone. I know what this story is about. I know where the plot leads and that there’s a pretty political overtone. But that’s not consistent through the novel. That needs fixed.
  • Completion. I want to get this novel to a place where I am content to let it rest. I want to feel good about this book. Confident. Proud that I can call it my first book. Willing to query an agent with it. That’s the real goal of this round of edits.

That’s where I am, heading back into editing. These are the things I’ve learned, and the things I want to accomplish. I’m nervous, and excited. Getting The Steel Armada into a “final draft” means I’ll be free to start editing Cards, and I am dying to do that. But, I’ve been stalwart this entire time. I refuse to start editing the next manuscript until this one’s done. I won’t break now.

No. Now the real work begins. Again.

 

BZ

Book Review – Jackaby by William Ritter

Welcome, Blogland, to late 19th Century America. Here, women are expected to dress and behave like a lady, and if they’ve got any class, they definitely don’t work, but stay at home and dote on their husbands.

Less a reflection on America specifically, and more the general tone of the era. At least in Ritter’s fictional New England town of New Fiddleham. Which is a great name for a town. Very fun to say, especially if you do so with a posh British accent. jackaby

Anyway, this is the town the narrator/protagonist Abigail Rook finds herself in at the opening of the book. She’s more or less run away from home, in rural England, since she stole her University tuition money to see the world. Young Abigail, in her late teens, potentially early twenties, has had a busy year or two avoiding her parents’ ire. Time spent in Eastern Europe on an archeological dig, where she quickly learned that digging up dinosaurs was far less interesting than her father had made it seem.

From there, she went to Germany, and thanks to a giant miscommunication, her passage back to the UK became a voyage across the Atlantic. When she docks in New Fiddleham she knows no one and has just enough coin to rent a room for the evening. All her best dresses need laundering, which she can’t afford, and a girl has got to eat.

Basically, the girl needs to find a job, stat.

The next day, a day she intended to spend applying to local shops, turned into a whirlwind supernatural adventure and even landed her a job!

Enter R.F. Jackaby, New Fiddleham’s only paranormal private detective. He’s viewed less than favorably by the town’s “normals” and just being in his presence earns Abigail many disapproving looks. But, I love him! He’s part Sherlock Holmes, part Newt Scamander (I admit I pictured Eddie Redmayne the entire novel), and just a tiny hint of Buffy Summers. And one hundred percent a goober.

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Perhaps I should have pictured Matt Smith instead…

He’s distracted, brilliant, and completely lacking in social skills. His unbeknownst awkwardness made him immediately likeable, and irritating at times. But, this is exactly what Abigail has been searching for. Not necessarily the paranormal; she thinks Jackaby is more than a little unstable in that regard, but adventure! Intrigue! Puzzles that require solving!

Over an intense few days, Jackaby and his new Investigative Assistant solve a string of murders and both almost die a few times. It’s incredibly fun, and though a bit predictable, it is a YA novel.

That’s not meant to be a ding on YA, just an admission that books written for a younger audience are often a little less complex than those for an adult audience.

That being said, I was glad that the events I predicted came true. It was exactly what I wanted for the story and its characters. Well, almost. I still feel bad for Charlie Cane, but we’ll see how he fairs in the next couple books.

And that’s exciting too! More books! By the end of the book, I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to Abigail, Jackaby, and their strange little world within New Fiddleham. And now I don’t have to! The next two books are already added to my pile, waiting patiently in queue behind the next four books.

If I can be that patient. We’ll see if things stay in their current projected order.

Beyond the actual plot of this book, I think it has a bit to recommend it. An interesting and growing female lead. I wouldn’t necessarily call her “strong”, but she’s working on it. An extremely intriguing and funny Jackaby, and a complex world within our accepted normal. The world building is quick, but well done because it’s anchored in what we already know and understand.

And ultimately, I just had a really great time reading this book. And that’s something I want more of in my reading list. FUN! Jackaby delivered, and I hope the sequels will as well.

I’m hoping to finish The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps tomorrow. We have DnD tonight and tomorrow night, so I’m not sure if another book review will happen this week, and the writing has been a bit thin as well. So, not off to a great start for this week, but I’m not giving up!

Until then Blogland,

 

BZ

Goals Summary wk 3

Hi all!

I worked later than expected today, and just finished dinner with the hubby. It was a good day, but a silent one as far as writing goes.

So, how did last week stack up?

  • Write chapter 12 of From the Quorum
    • Didn’t quite make it. But, I wrote 1,510 words, and it’s off to a good start.
  • Finish reading Jackaby
    • Checkity-check. Book review is running behind, but it’ll be out no later than Thursday.
  • Publish two blog posts
    • Also, check. Monday’s Goals Post, and the Dark Run book review
  • Total word count for the week was 1,510. This does not include blog posts or world building, of which there was both this week. So, not a bad week, just not stellar. I’ll take mediocre over abominable every damn time.

So, what’s the aim for this week?

  • Finish chapter 12 of From the Quorum
  • Finish reading Sorcerer of the Wildeeps
  • Publish two blog posts

Also, I just got my February work schedule, and it looks like I’ll be doing a lot more writing next month. My hours were chipped down a bit, which is not ideal, but you guys know me; I’ll make the best of it.

So, next week I’ll do a monthly goals segment, wrapping up January and setting goals for February. It’s a new thing I want to do, a monthly recap. What do you guys think?

Also, if you’re keeping track of this sort of thing, the reading page has been updated. I’m at least still trucking along in this department. Although, I’m starting to feel a little over-encumbered. There are more books waiting for me on the hold shelf than I currently have checked out! SO MANY BOOKS!

Until Thursday Blogland!

 

BZ

Book Review- Library of Souls by Ransom Riggs

Blogland!

If you haven’t read the first two books, you’re going to want to go do that now. When you’re done with that, you should read my book reviews for them here. All caught up? Good!
libraryofsouls

This book was awesome! I finished it last night cozied up on the couch with Simon. I teared up a little, but not where I expected to, which was kind of nice.

What I thought was really successful about this book is how much I identified with Jacob. I remember when we first read Miss Peregrine’s that someone in Book Club didn’t really believe in Jacob as a character. They didn’t think a sixteen year old would think and talk like that.

But, that’s exactly how I thought and talked at that age. Smart mouthed and left to my own devices, much like Jacob was, I understood him immediately. I worried that, over the course of three books, Jacob would lose his voice. That he might drown in a sea of peculiar children.

But Ransom Riggs did a really wonderful job of keeping each child individual. I often read lines of dialogue, and knew who was speaking before reading the dialogue tag. With as many characters as are in these books, that’s pretty impressive.

The second book was really about developing all these children into the individuals you come to see them as. By the end of it, you’re in love with them all. And then in the third book, they’re all captured and in terrifying mortal danger off screen. The clock is ticking for Jacob and Emma as they try to rescue their friends from the Wights.

peregrines-quote
Lots of great quotes in this series.

At first, I was irritated that almost everyone else was out of the picture. But, as I read on, I found that the book worked really well with just Jacob, Emma, and some rotating side characters. The first book was about Jacob. The second book about the Peculiars. And this book was about Jacob and Emma, their relationship.

And it was perfect.

Also, this book had a lot more action in it. People get hurt. Some people die pretty gruesome deaths. There aren’t as many miraculous saves as in the second book, and there are some pretty dark themes explored. Drug use and addiction, kidnapping, torture, etc. I was impressed.

My one complaint, I think, is how much this book covered. The whole concept of Abaton and the Library of Souls is introduced in this book, and then resolved within those same pages. That’s a huge plot element to arrive in the third act, in my opinion. Granted, I’m not sure how else it could have been approached, but I wish there’d been more time to explore the Library and what it meant to Peculiardom.

Same for Bentham’s Panloopticon. I won’t go in to too many details, but it’s an impressive device that allows travel between loops. If you’ve read any of the books, you know this is a big deal. But, it doesn’t really get as much attention as I would have liked.

I think it’s a pretty good thing when a reader’s biggest complaint is that they wished there was more. In this case, Jacob’s story is told. We get a conclusion, one I was quite pleased with, and I feel satisfied in that regard. But, if Ransom Riggs wants to write more books about the Peculiars, I am all for it!

I would really love to read a book about Millard. He was my favorite of the Peculiar children, and spending more time with him would be lovely. But, really, I’d be happy with any of them. Enoch, Hugh, even Horace! I loved them all, and any adventure they want to go on, I’d be more than happy to follow along.

peregrines-quote-2
This one really struck  me in the moment. Thanks Miss Peregrine…

So, I’d say this book was a success. It was better than the second one, and I think better than the first. Although, the first book already has a bit of a nostalgic feel for me. Amazing since it hasn’t even been a full year since I read it, but everything that happens in it seems so distant from where Library of Souls ends that I can’t help but feel a little nostalgic about it.

If you’re looking for a quick read series that has a little bit of everything, I’d recommend the Miss Peregrine’s series. Very entertaining, with funny moments, sad ones, and a lot of jaw dropping and awe inspiring ones too. And let’s not forget all the awesome photographs!

On a more personal note, Library of Souls was my 50th book this year. Two more to go to reach my goal, so that’s going well. I’ve already moved on to Beacon 23 by Hugh Howey, and I’m enjoying it so far. Hopefully you’ll see a book review for that soon.

Halloween parties are this weekend, so I anticipate my reading will be thin, but if I’m lucky (read: disciplined) I’ll get A Borrowed Man by Gene Wolfe done by early next week, and I’ll be on track to read 70 books by the end of the year!

Anyway, I hope you all are having a great week so far! I’ll talk at you soon!

 

BZ