The Princess and the Pony: A Picture Book Review

The Princess and the Pony by Kate BeatonPrincess Pinecone is ready to become a fierce warrior like her parents and everyone else in their kingdom. After years of receiving cozy sweaters, Princess Pinecone is super clear about what she wants this birthday: A big, strong horse fit for a warrior princess.

When Pinecone’s birthday arrives, she doesn’t quite get the horse she expected. Instead she is greeted by a fat, tiny pony that seems to be cross-eyed. But it turns out even surprisingly cute and cuddly ponies can have their place in battle. And so can little warrior princesses in The Princess and the Pony (2015) by Kate Beaton.

There is a lot to recommend this picture book starting, right at the beginning, with Princess Pinecone’s bi-racial parents and diverse kingdom of warriors. Although Pinecone’s pony farts more than is necessary, this is still a fun story and sure to be a crowd pleaser. The Princess and the Pony is a wacky story with the feel of a fractured fairy tale and the humor to match.

Beaton’s background in comics gives her illustrations a cartoon-like quality. Each illustration is in full color with sharp outlines. The size and motion in each illustration also makes this a great choice to read to a larger group.

The Princess and the Pony is an entertaining and enjoyable picture book with whimsy and a kick-butt heroine. Recommended.

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The Scorpio Races: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Scorpio Races by Maggie StiefvaterNo one knows what draws the water horses to the beaches of Thisby year after year. It is never safe–not when a capall could appear at any time bigger than a regular horse, faster too, and much more dangerous. It is never safe but it is never so dangerous as the first of November–race day.

Each year the race draws tourists from the mainland coming to try their luck in the races or observe from the relative safety of the cliffs surrounding the beach. The racers keep their own counsel on their reasons–some seek glory while others hope to prove their worth guiding a capall down the race path and well away from the tempting waves of the sea. The race purse itself is, of course, another motivation.

Sean Kendrick cares little for any of that. All he wants is Corr–the one water horse he can’t have. Corr remains elusively out of reach race after race. Until this year at least.

Puck Connolly has already lost a great deal to the water horses of Thisby. Yet the races might be her only way to hold onto her older brother before the mainland spirits him away forever. Is the winning purse from one race worth challenging some of Thisby’s most basic traditions as the first girl to ride on race day? Is it worth riding beside the horses that have already taken so much?

Only one rider can win on race day–if they can stay alive long enough to finish the course–and the stakes for both Sean and Puck couldn’t be higher but as this unlikely pair trains side-by-side they might find a greater prize than anything from the race purse in The Scorpio Races (2011) by Maggie Stiefvater.

If Stiefvater proved her appeal and gained wide popularity (not to mention New York Times Bestselling Author status) with her Shiver trilogy about the (were)wolves of Mercy Falls, she proves her range and talent with The Scorpio Races. Evocative and charming this novel is as much an experience as it is a book.

In the tradition of Diana Wynne Jones and many other talented fantasy authors, Stiefvater has not just written a story in The Scorpio Races. She has created a world. The island of Thisby and the beautiful, deadly capall uisce (pronounced CAPple ISHka) come vividly to life with each page as the culture (and inhabitants) of Thisby become as much a part of the story as the plot itself.

Told in chapters alternating between Sean and Puck’s narrative voice, this book has not one but two winning narrators readers will want to cheer for. Filled with beautiful landscapes, memorable characters and a fierce hope and affection for a great many things The Scorpio Races is a beautiful, satisfying, fantasy that will stay with readers long after the race is finished one way or another.

Possible Pairings: Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake, Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley, Entwined by Heather Dixon, Caraval by Stephanie Garber, Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, Salt & Storm by Kendall Kulper, Dreamhunter by Elizabeth Knox, Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier, The Keeper of the Mist by Rachel Neumeier, The Summer of Chasing Mermaids by Sarah Ockler, For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund, The Shadow Society by Marie Rutkoski, Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood, Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor, Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld, I Rode a Horse of Milk White Jade by Diane Lee Wilson

*This book was acquired for review from the publisher at BEA 2011

Where I Belong: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Where I Belong by Gwendolyn HeasleyCorrinne Corcoran had the perfect life. In fact, she was probably living the life you want; shopping at Barneys in New York City, her own horse at the country club, invites to the hottest parties, and an entree to the best private boarding school on the east coast.

That was before the recession.

With her father suddenly laid off Corrine finds her perfect life falling apart. No more horse, no boarding school, not even anymore New York City.

Instead Corrinne finds herself shipped off to Broken Spoke, Texas along with her annoying little brother to live with the grandparents they barely know.

In Texas Corrinne has to make sense of life in a big public school and is even forced to take a job shoveling manure. She is determined to get back to the life she’s supposed to be living. In the city that’s supposed to be her home.

But as Corrinne spends more time in Texas, she starts to wonder if her perfect pre-recession life really is the only option or if Broken Spoke might have more to offer than she thought in Where I Belong (2011) by Gwendolyn Heasley.

Where I Belong is Heasley’s debut novel.

This book is enchanting. Even at her snarkiest, brattiest and most spoiled Corrinne is an endearing narrator readers can’t help but sympathize with as her world comes crashing down.

Heasley brings a high level of authenticity to all of the characters and beautiful detail to both her New York and Texas backdrops. Corrinne’s one track mind and narrow focus on getting back to New York and her “real” life are tempered by an unpredictable plot that throws Corrinne (and maybe even the readers) for a few loops including a surprising conclusion that suggests Corrinne, and all of her friends, will be back in a future installment (at least this review hopes so!).

Where I Belong is a funny and heartfelt story that shows sometimes going from riches to rags can be a good thing.

Possible Pairings: Nothing by Annie Barrows, Can’t Look Away by Donna Cooner, King of the Screwups by K. L. Going, Another Kind of Cowboy by Susan Juby, Confessions of a Not It Girl by Melissa Kantor, The Edge of Falling by Rebecca Serle, Gossip Girl by Cecily Von Ziegesar

Exclusive Bonus Content: I have to say before I read and loved  the book I found the cover to be completely enchanting (that is totally how I pictured Corrinne!). Props to Alison Klapthor for the excellent cover design and Mark Tucker for the cover photograph.

The Bride’s Farewell: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Bride's Farewell by Meg RosoffStrong-willed and more knowledgeable than most everyone when it comes to horses, Pell Ridley cannot reconcile herself to the stifling life of a married woman–not after seeing the endless monotony of poverty, child birth, and death played out in her own parents’ household. Desperate for something more, Pell does the only thing she can. She leaves.

Meg Rosoff‘s The Bride’s Farewell (2009) starts on August twelfth, eighteen hundred and fifty something, the day Pell is to be married. She gets out of bed, kisses her sisters goodbye and goes outside to tell her horse, Jack, that they are leaving in the hopes of finding work at Salisbury Fair with one of the numerous horse merchants.

The sudden decision of a young boy named Bean to accompany her does not change Pell’s resolve though it will dramatically change her journey and force her to reconsider everything she thought she was running from.

I really hated Rosoff’s earlier novel How I Live Now and still don’t entirely understand how it won the Printz Award in 2005 when, to me, it barely felt like a YA novel. I picked up The Bride’s Farewell because the plot and the time period intrigued me. While I was surprised to find this novel not being marketed as a Young Adult title (it seems more YA than How I Live Now frankly), I am happy to say I was not disappointed.

Short chapters tell the story of Pell’s present departure as well as the story of Pell’s past that led to her momentous decision. Rosoff’s writing is sparse and somewhat utilitarian, a fitting style for a book set at a time when England was still reeling from the upheavals of the Industrial Revolution.

Equally fitting to the period, perhaps, is the fact that parts of this novel are bleak and miserable to the point of being excessive. Except that, for real people of the time, such events often comprised everyday life. Without saying too much, the ending made such parts bearable.

Pell spends much of the book wandering the English countryside at a time when communication and transportation between towns were minimal. Rosoff conveys this haunting sense of vastness and space with surprising vividness.

The Bride’s Farewell is intricately structured with characters and events intertwining in unexpected ways. As a result the book is filled with surprising twists that, by its conclusion, make perfect sense as parts of the whole.

Possible Pairings: Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, Hard Times by Charles Dickens, Ten Cents a Dance by Christine Fletcher, Stealing Henry by Carolyn MacCullough, Belle Epoque by Elizabeth Ross, I Rode A Horse of Milk White Jade by Diane Lee Wilson
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Sound good? Find it on Amazon: The Bride’s Farewell

I Rode a Horse of Milk White Jade: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

I Rode a Horse of Milk White Jade coverI Rode a Horse of Milk White Jade (1999) by Diane Lee Wilson was selected as a Best Book for Young Adults in 1999 by the American Library Association. I didn’t know any of that when I read the book back in 2000. My copy has since disappeared, but at the time, this was a rare book that I owned. Thinking about it now, my mom must have procured my copy during her tenure as a researcher at Harper Collins.

But enough about me, this is about the book after all.

A quick and dirty way to define this book, oddly enough, is in terms of a cartoon movie. The plot here is similar to the legend of Mulan, which I know from the Disney version released in 1998 (I can’t believe it’s been a decade, good grief). Although her motivations are different, our heroine does follow a group of soldiers while disguised as a boy. The difference? Mulan went to war to fight the Huns. The main character of I Rode a Horse of Milk White Jade is a Hun.

At the best of times, living on the Mongol Steppes involves harsh conditions. For Oyuna that is even more true. As a young child, almost beyond the range of her memory, a beautiful horse came near Oyuna. Fascinated, the child knew that her future–her entire life–would be tied to horses. She knew this to be true even as a horse stepped on her foot, effectively crippling her for life. Add into the bargain the fact that every member of Oyuna’s family are now anxious to keep her away from horses for fear of another unlucky incident that will further burden the family with bad luck.

Every family member except her grandmother that is, who (as the back cover convenienty points out) tells Oyuna “The horse claimed you as its own and invited you upon its back to travel with the wind.” Oyuna believes in her grandmother’s words even more when she crosses paths with a swift, white horse.

Positive that their fates are cobbled together, Oyuna dresses as a boy and follows her horse when it is commandeered by the Khan’s army. Oyuna’s path leads her not only to her horse, but also directly to the court of Kublai Khan, and–even more valuable–the knowledge that she has the power to change her own luck once and for all.

If my mom hadn’t given me a copy of this book, I never would have picked it up. But I’m glad the book came into my possession. Oyuna is an arresting character, with a strong narrative voice that makes this work of historical fiction feel very contemporary and relevant. Not an actual princess, Oyuna can’t strictly be called an “anti-princess” heroine. All the same, I Rode a Horse of Milk White Jade presents a strong girl making her own way (in a great story).

Possible Pairings: Graceling by Kristin Cashore, The Bride’s Farewell by Meg Rosoff, Belle Epoque by Elizabeth Ross, The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater, Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld