Thursday, January 30, 2014

A Review: The Scorpio Races

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
Genre: YA fantasyish (yes, I know this isn't a word. But it's not exactly fantasy)

Some Race to Win. Others Race to Survive.
"It happens at the start of every November: the Scorpio Races. Riders attempt to keep hold of their water horses long enough to make it to the finish line. Some riders live. Others die. At age nineteen, Sean Kendrick is the returning champion. He is a young man of few words, and if he has any fears, he keeps them buried deep, where no one else can see them.

"Puck Connolly is different. She never meant to ride in the Scorpio Races. But fate hasn't given her much of a choice. So she enters the competition-the first girl ever to do so. She is in no way prepared for what is going to happen."

This novel is a new favorite of mine. And a surprised favorite as well, which are the best, in my opinion. I looked through Stiefvater's book, Shiver, at the store and wasn't too happy with what I found. Perhaps if I sat down and read the entire thing I would like it better, and that was just after the Twilight craze, so I was a little leery of werewolves.

However, The Scorpio Races met and blew my expectations away. I loved that the novel didn't focus just on male/female romance, but relationships between siblings as well; I loved the whole idea of wild horses jumping out of the sea; I loved how I could see Sean's stillness and jacket and Puck's ginger hair so clearly in my mind (and I'll be honest, I just loved Sean Kendrick. If only he were real...). I loved how Sean and Puck symbolized different elements of the land of Thisbe and the sea. I loved how they both hated and loved the horses and where they lived and how Stiefvater explored that tension.

As you can see, there is so many great things about this novel. And I'm a sucker for sea and horse stories. One thing I didn't like was that not all of the strings seemed tied up at the end, and not in the way a sequel would be. And a few times I grew weary of hearing all of Puck's thoughts; they seemed a bit too descriptive at times. But I highly enjoyed it and recommend listening to it on tape. The voices who play Puck and Sean make them seem much more real and are very soothing (especially Sean's).

I give this work a 4.5 out of 5 and recommend it for 15 year olds and up because of a few scenes of violence.

What I learned: What you need is not always what you think you need. Humans can be predators just as much as animals.

Check out Maggie's website here to learn more about this novel and her other works. The animation video for Scorpio Races is done by the author and exceptional.


Tuesday, January 28, 2014

A Review: The Long Walk

The Long Walk by Slavomir Rawicz
Genre: Biography 

"In 1941, the author and six fellow prisoners escaped a Soviet labor camp in Yakutsk-a camp where hunger, cold, untended wounds, untreated illness, and daily executions were everyday fare. Their route-thousands of miles by foot-out of Siberia, through China, the Gobi Desert, Tibet, and over the Himalayas to British India endures as a statement of man's desire to be free."

If you crave adventure stories that delineate the determination and endurance of the human spirit, this book is for you. Even if you don't, this story is incredible and will blow you away with the simple reiteration of a miraculous tale. I had to keep reminding myself that it truly happened over and over again; whoever said that sometimes reality is crazier than fiction possessed a great amount of wisdom.

This tale takes you from bleak, torturous winters in the Russian wilderness where you might see reindeer, to the warm people in Mongolia, the harshness of heat in the Gobi to civilization. The people in this true story encounter trials that no human should have to face, and it's amazing to see there endurance to keep putting one foot in front of the other day after weary day.

Even though this story took place during World War II in places I have never been (except Mongolia), I felt the penetrating cold, the desperate hunger, and the deep longing to be free. This story is a testament to the persistence of humanity, and will change your view on what humans can or cannot do.

I'm not going to rate this book because it is less of a work of art than a story of several men's search for a chance to live again, and it just seems wrong to rate their life's experiences, as if I have the power to do so. However, it is well worth your time and nicely written. Recommended for 15 yr olds and up because of a few torture scenes at the beginning of the novel.

What I learned from the novel: Humans can survive unimaginable horrors and walk thousands of miles with little rest and nutrition. The Russians were particularly paranoid and savage of espionage during World War II.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Pura Vida!

My sister and I just arrived back from two glorious weeks in Costa Rica. It was amazing, and very hard to come back to cold, bleak Amarillo. We spent time on both coasts (the Caribbean and Pacific) snorkeling, swimming in clear waters, and kayaking. We also got to zipline over the cloud-forest's canopy in Monteverde (exhilarating to say the least), gallop on horses, and watch sloths climb telephone poles. It was a lovely time. Here are some pictures of the highlights:

Puerto Viejo (Caribbean side)

Punta Uva

Drinking fresh coconut milk. Yum!
A waterfall we hiked to in La Fortuna

Volcan Arenal

Christy, my sister, swinging like Tarzan in the cloud-forest in Monteverde

The beach in Samara (Pacific side)

Tide pools and pools to snorkel at in Samara

It was a lovely trip, and I highly recommend Costa Rica to any travelers. Since I'm no longer in school, I will have more time to read different kinds of books and blogging, so make sure you stay tuned.  

A question to consider/comment on: If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go and why? Next on my list is Europe, God willing!

Saturday, January 4, 2014

A Review: Insurgent and Allegiant

Insurgent by Veronica Roth
Genre: YA Dystopian
Sequel to Divergent

Summary from the inside jacket: "One choice can transform you- or it can destroy you. But every choice has consequences, and as unrest surges in the factions all around her, Tris Prior must continue trying to save those she loves-and herself-while grappling with haunting questions of grief and forgiveness, identity and loyalty, politics and love.

"Tris's initiation day should have been marked by celebration and victory with her chosen faction; instead, the day ended with unspeakable horrors. War now looms as conflict between the factions and their ideologies grows. And in times of war, sides must be chosen, secrets will emerge, and choices will become even more irrevocable-and even more powerful. Transformed by her own decisions but also by haunting grief and guilt, radical new discoveries, and shifting relationships, Tris must fully embrace her Divergence, even if she does not know what she may lose by doing so."

 Whew! This novel is a whirlwind of excitement and action. Several times I wanted Roth to slow down so that I could process what had just happened, especially as I was still digesting the politics of the city and was trying to remember who certain people are. It will definitely keep you on the edge of your seat.

Tris, the main character, was not as self-reflective in this novel as Divergent, probably because her world is falling apart. But her struggles with grief and guilt were fascinating and heart-wrenching, and I felt as if I was experiencing her emotions along with her; Roth does an excellent job of portraying the depth of her character's emotions.

This novel is also realistic; there is a war raging in the city, and the author is not afraid to kill off characters, which I believe pulls the reader closer to the story-world and protagonist. Roth also makes the main love relationship true-to-life by showing that they had arguments and conflict. I didn't like this at first because it just made me annoyed with these two characters, but that's how real relationships are, no matter how deeply two people care for each other. The conflicts/arguments made this relationship that much more real and stronger. Sometimes I did think that Tris didn't seem too perturbed when her relationship with Tobias was rocky, and there needed to be more emotion and thoughts on her part about it.

Overall, I give this novel a 4 out of 5 for the above reasons and recommend it to 16 yr olds and up mainly because of violence. I liked Divergent more, but it is still an excellent novel.

What I learned: People have the potential for both good and evil inside them and are not usually one or the other. There is a difference between self-sacrifice and self-annihilation.

Allegiant by Veronica Roth
Genre: YA Dystopian 
Last novel in the Divergent trilogy

"The faction-based society that Tris Prior once believed in is shattered-fractured by violence and power struggles and scarred by loss and betrayal. So when offered a chance to explore the world past the limits she's known, Tris is ready. Perhaps beyond the fence, she and Tobias will find a simple new life together, free from complicated lies, tangled loyalties, and painful memories.

"But Tris's new reality is even more alarming than the one she left behind. Old discoveries are quickly rendered meaningless. Explosive new truths change the hearts of those she loves. And once again, Tris must battle to comprehend the complexities of human nature-and of herself-while facing impossible choices about courage, allegiance, sacrifice, and love."

I won't say much about this novel because I'm afraid I will give something away if I do. I enjoyed seeing Tris continue to change and learn more about herself and love in this novel. I was a bit disappointed by the big unveiling of the mystery of what lies beyond the fence. I'm not sure why; it could be that it seemed slightly anti-climatic or cliche. I also kept waiting for the characters to use the airplanes in a cool way since they were mentioned several times, or even in a more symbolic way. Ah, well, authors aren't perfect. The decisions were more complex and had greater consequences in this book, which I enjoyed seeing and predicting.

Warning: this is a sad, possibly/probably tear-jerking novel. Knowing this might help as you read the end. It was hard reading it, but I'm glad Roth ended it the way she did. (You might be asking how?! but you must read it to find out! No spoilers here). I give Allegiant a 4 out of 5 and recommend it, like the others, for 16 yr olds and up.

What I learned: Life is hard, but people can help mend each other back together. (Isn't that a lovely idea?) Love is not easy either, but definitely worth fighting for.

Sometimes I hate finishing a series because I get attached to the characters, but not so much with these novels. I loved all these characters, but I'm ready to leave their emotionally-draining lives and let them recover, as I do as well.