Month: November 2011

28 Nov 2011

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

I have read 26 works of Sci-Fi/Fantasy in just over three months.

I have whined about it. I have longed for… um… reality. I have read Twilight.

But for all of my posturing, I am glad that I have had this experience. Because, you know what? SF/F books are books, too. Much like realism, many fantastic books suck, but many are quite interesting and well written.

One that falls into the latter category: The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater.

This month, the stars aligned for me to be able to participate in the November YA Bookclub over at Tracey Neithercott’s blog, Words on Paper. And by “the stars aligned,” I mean, my roommate bought a copy, swooned over it, and let me read it over my long Thanksgiving break! And while it wasn’t one of those books I am inclined to whip through, I was not disappointed.

The Scorpio Races are an annual event on the island of Thisby, riling up the townspeople and gathering tourists, racers, and gamblers from the mainland and all over the world. The reason: instead of racing horses, competitors race cappail uisce – a legendary breed of water horses that emerge from the sea during storms. They are the fastest creatures you can ride… but they also have a taste for human blood. The races are exhilarating and a way of celebrating Thisby’s long heritage, but every year, the cappail uisce claim victims.

Our two narrators, Puck and Sean, are young teens preparing for the Scorpio Races. Sean is a renowned cappail uisce trainer, rider, and handler, despite his young age. Every year, he rides his father’s red waterhorse, Corr, but this year if he wins the race, Sean can finally buy him outright from his boss, a wealthy stable-owner. Puck, on the other hand, has never ridden a cappail uisce, and after one killed her parents, she never wanted to. But when her older brother threatens to leave the island, Puck enters the competition with the hopes of winning and earning enough money to keep her parents’ home and keep her family together.

Of course, they befriend one another. Sean stands up for Puck when the conservative town attempts to throw her out of the competition for being the first female rider and takes her under his wing. But they can’t both win… and participating in such a dangerous race, they might both die trying.

This is exactly the kind of fantasy that I am starting to enjoy. It’s written not in the sci-fi or fantasy generic tradition, but in realism; the elements of fantasy are so elegantly entwined into the novel’s setting that they seem inevitable, necessary, and natural. I never felt like the cappail uisce were supernatural creatures: they were just really weird wild horses. Stiefvater tells this story like a horse story, too (a genre which I used to enjoy, in my younger years, despite minimal interest in actually riding horses), evoking a sense of their physicality, their animal-ness, and their potential for emotional connection. But I was particularly impressed with Stiefvater’s use of the setting, here. For me, it’s not just the “world building” aspect of setting that is important. You can put in all the details and quirky townsfolk and social codes and descriptions you want but that’s not going to woo me. It’s the sense of reverence the characters have for a place that gets me going, the complexity of the relationships between its inhabitants and their relationship with their land. The Scorpio Races aren’t just about racing mythical water horses – it’s about living in the place where these water horses deign to show up, year after year. It’s about how natural events shape your culture; the scene describing Thisby’s annual festival preparing for the races was downright creepy, almost primal, quite carnivalesque.  It’s the character a town takes on when dependent on such a profitable but unpredictable and dangerous event. Stiefvater really plays up the tension of both loving and hating your homeland. Sean’s life’s work and happiness depend on Thisby and the cappail uisce, but he begins to think hard about what he’s giving up being so reliant on one place. Puck is trying so desperately  to hold onto her life on the island, even though she knows it is Thisby that is responsible for destroying her family in the first place.

Oh, and one last insight from my darling roommate. “I loved it,” she says, “because nobody fell mysteriously in love within the first 2 chapters and then spent the rest of the novel angsting about it!”

True dat. But how completely SAD that this is even a valid comment? That is surely another post for another day, though.

This book is getting a lot of good press. Horn Book starred it. NY Times said it was one of the top 5 notable YA’s of the year. I’m sure every book blogger from here to next Sunday has already raved about it.

And this anti-fantasy girl… is maybe coming around. A little. Not too much. Let’s not get overly excited.

28 Nov 2011

you finally got me

We students of children’s literature are often called upon to consider what it means to be an adult reader of  books for children.

The classic leading question we are often asked is whether or not we would be comfortable reading a picturebook in a bar.

The answer we adults are supposed to give is, “Oh my, of course, that would be strange! How weird it is for adults to enjoy children’s literature! The rest of the world must think us creepy.”

Me? I think

A) Um. Who cares.

B) Wait… picturebooks are actually almost inherently awesome works of art that regularly render me speechless with my lack of understanding of fine art! Why would I be ashamed of appreciating ART among other ADULTS?

C) Why am I reading in the bar anyway? If I wanted to read, I would buy a bottle of wine and put on more comfortable clothing…

We also occasionally talk about what books we had to read for class that we were embarrassed to whip out on the T. Again, I am so predictably oblivious that I didn’t notice I read a book with a naked person on the cover until I’d finished 50% of it on the 65 bus and 50% of it at a bar.

Today was somewhat notable. Today was the first day I felt inappropriate, under the microscope, like I shouldn’t be reading a YA book in public.

It’s for class! I promise!

26 Nov 2011

thanksgiving weekend 2011



  • Working 5 hours today, 4 hours tomorrow
  • Putting up a book display about American food culture
  • Reading The Changeover
  • Working on my time travel paper


  • Buy normal-eating food for the week. Preferably nothing carb/sugar/potato-based.
  • Read Twilight
  • Watch The Family Stone while putting up my silly blue Christmas tree
23 Nov 2011

miss michigan

This Thanksgiving, I am staying in the land of soda, while my family gathers without me in the land of pop.

I miss you, Michigan!

I will see you at Christmas!

amazing art credit to Meg Walsh
and the Wish You Were Here Michigan postcard project


22 Nov 2011

writing, recharged

I am thinking a lot about writing, lately. Maybe because it’s November. Maybe because I’m always thinking a lot about writing.

It’s been a long time since I’ve worked on a long, fiction project, but I am still writing.

I write every day, actually. Emails. Entries. Papers. Paper journalling.

This stuff counts, I think. And the work I do – helping others with their papers, answering questions at the library? Essentially, these tasks are advanced communication exercises.

Writing a novel: also an advanced communication exercise.

There are some things I miss about working on a book:

  • The pleasure of self-directed, self-motivated work
  • The ritual of regular writing – the assembling of gear, the blocking off of time, the routine
  • Staying in tune with the writing and publishing community online
  • Watching the word-count in the corner of the screen go up and up and up
  • The way it changes my relationship with reading
  • Feeling like I’d finally found a challenge
  • The sense of having a project that is 100% your own, where nobody else can “enter”

It’s more intense than my daily writing, more personal than academic.  But it’s also quite a bit riskier. Even if you tell yourself that nobody has to read this draft – or any draft –  fear & doubt & insecurity & demons inevitably enters your psyche.

People say a lot of things about writing, about writers. That you shouldn’t try to be one, because it’s painful, it’s difficult, and you probably won’t succeed. You need a thick skin. That you aren’t a writer unless you are writing. That if you were a real writer, you wouldn’t be able to keep yourself away from your work.

I hope this isn’t true. I hope that I can do the kind of writing that doesn’t pain me, but engages me. I hope I can still be a writer even if my fears and demons keep me away from the craft for awhile, that the words will be waiting for me when I get back. I hope that I don’t need to undergo an entire personality change to succeed.

I remembered how to get up early again (see: French Press). Originally, these early hours were for exercise, but it got too dark, too cold. Lately, it’s been for reading and re-centering and kitty-cuddling and the DVR.

When this semester’s madness is over and I suddenly have no classes and few job hours, what will fill this morning space?

I am thinking a lot about writing, lately.

18 Nov 2011

next up…

Reporter: “So, Jessica. You’ve turned in your abstract and annotated bib for your final paper, and your website is in for peer review. You don’t have anything due until after Thanksgiving.

Tell me:

what will you do next?”


“Play Yarn Kirby.

And maybe… read a book?”


11 Nov 2011

Reading Wishlist – November 2011

You guys, I am six books away from reading freedom.



I may have celebrated this realization by going a little crazy with my library holds. Apparently there’s this wide, wild world of 2011 Young Adult Book Releases (or YA-ish) that I have been kept from… and apparently, I want to read them all? News to me.

Please do not question how I will read 16 entire books in a month.

1. Level Up by Gene Luen Yang and Thien Pham

2. Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma

3. Habibi by Craig Thompson

4. Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

5. The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt by Caroline Preston

6. How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr

7. The Returning by Christine Hinwood

8. Strings Attached by Judy Blundell

9. The Sweet Life of Stella Madison by Laura M. Zeises

10. The Big Crunch by Pete Hautman

11. Tighter by Adele Griffin

12. Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick

13. To Timbuktu by Casey Scieszka and Steven Weinberg

14. Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley

15. Pearl by Jo Knowles

16. The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater


08 Nov 2011


I have been caught up trying to do a mass amount of reading for class this week.

Sabriel, why are you such a long book?

I didn’t know anything about necromancy until reading this book, and I am not sure that I am glad to now have such extensive knowledge on the topic.

Listen to this song. It’s creepy!

Also, I have a newfound suspicion of gates. Like the one at the new Whole Foods that has little fruits and veggies made of wrought iron.

And I am feeling inexplicable urges to ring bells at things. And sing this song.

The semester is more than half over. Registration time is a busy time at Job #1. Midterms and final papers are a busy time at Jobs #2 and #3. I have to make a 20 page website and an abstract&annotated bib for my final paper in the next 3 weeks.

Hopefully it won’t kill me.