RTW: Top Five (Okay, Six!) of 2011…

Road Trip Wednesday is a ‘Blog Carnival,’ where the ladies at YA Highway post a weekly writing- or reading-related question for participants to respond to on their own blogs. You can hop from destination to destination and get everybody’s unique take on the topic.

Today’s Topic: What were your top five favorite books of 2011?

Two posts in one day?! That’s right. I couldn’t NOT post about my favorite reads from 2011. That would be, like, a disservice to the reading/writing/book blogging community, right? Oh, and I have SIX favorites because I’m a big ol’ cheater and I just couldn’t leave any of these off my list. Here they are in no particular order, with a link to my original (rave) review after each summary:

Divergent by Veronica RothIn Beatrice Prior’s dystopian Chicago, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue—Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is—she can’t have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself. During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles to determine who her friends really are—and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes infuriating boy fits into the life she’s chosen. But Tris also has a secret, one she’s kept hidden from everyone because she’s been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers a growing conflict that threatens to unravel her seemingly perfect society, she also learns that her secret might help her save those she loves… or it might destroy her. My thoughts…

Divergent (Divergent, #1)

Where She Went by Gayle FormanIt’s been three years since the devastating accident . . . three years since Mia walked out of Adam’s life forever. Now living on opposite coasts, Mia is Juilliard’s rising star and Adam is LA tabloid fodder, thanks to his new rock star status and celebrity girlfriend. When Adam gets stuck in New York by himself, chance brings the couple together again, for one last night. As they explore the city that has become Mia’s home, Adam and Mia revisit the past and open their hearts to the future – and each other. My thoughts, and also here…

Where She Went (If I Stay, #2)

Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie PerkinsBudding designer Lola Nolan doesn’t believe in fashion . . . she believes in costume. The more expressive the outfit — more sparkly, more fun, more wild — the better. But even though Lola’s style is outrageous, she’s a devoted daughter and friend with some big plans for the future. And everything is pretty perfect (right down to her hot rocker boyfriend) until the dreaded Bell twins, Calliope and Cricket, return to the neighborhood. When Cricket — a gifted inventor — steps out from his twin sister’s shadow and back into Lola’s life, she must finally reconcile a lifetime of feelings for the boy next door. My thoughts…

Lola and the Boy Next Door

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini TaylorAround the world, black handprints are appearing on doorways, scorched there by winged strangers who have crept through a slit in the sky. In a dark and dusty shop, a devil’s supply of human teeth grown dangerously low. And in the tangled lanes of Prague, a young art student is about to be caught up in a brutal otherwordly war. Meet Karou. She fills her sketchbooks with monsters that may or may not be real; she’s prone to disappearing on mysterious “errands”; she speaks many languages–not all of them human; and her bright blue hair actually grows out of her head that color. Who is she? That is the question that haunts her, and she’s about to find out. When one of the strangers–beautiful, haunted Akiva–fixes his fire-colored eyes on her in an alley in Marrakesh, the result is blood and starlight, secrets unveiled, and a star-crossed love whose roots drink deep of a violent past. But will Karou live to regret learning the truth about herself? My thoughts…

Daughter of Smoke and Bone (Daughter of Smoke and Bone, #1)

The Scorpio Races by Maggie StiefvaterIt 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 chance. So she enters the competition — the first girl ever to do so. She is in no way prepared for what is going to happen. My thoughts…

The Scorpio Races

Chime by Franny BillingsleyBefore Briony’s stepmother died, she made sure Briony blamed herself for all the family’s hardships. Now Briony has worn her guilt for so long it’s become a second skin. She often escapes to the swamp, where she tells stories to the Old Ones, the spirits who haunt the marshes. But only witches can see the Old Ones, and in her village, witches are sentenced to death. Briony lives in fear her secret will be found out, even as she believes she deserves the worst kind of punishment. Then Eldric comes along with his golden lion eyes and mane of tawny hair. He’s as natural as the sun, and treats her as if she’s extraordinary. And everything starts to change. As many secrets as Briony has been holding, there are secrets even she doesn’t know. My thoughts…

Chime

*All summaries borrowed from Goodreads.

Tell me… What are your favorite books from 2011?

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Bookanistas: THE SCORPIO RACES

Today’s Bookanista Recommendation:

From Goodreads: 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 chance. So she enters the competition — the first girl ever to do so. She is in no way prepared for what is going to happen.

Honest Confession: I wasn’t really planning to read The Scorpio Races. I’m not much of an equine person (I’ve even never read Black Beauty!) and the whole bloodthirsty water horse thing sounded way too bizarre to get behind. But then my friend Erin Bowman (who has exceptional taste in books!) read Scorpio and gushed up and down about how gorgeous the writing is, how much she adored the characters, and how deeply their relationships moved her.

I knew I had to give The Scorpio Races a go…

The Scorpio Races is told in dual narration, from the point of view of main characters Sean and Puck, which worked beautifully. Sean is thoughtful and often described as patient and “still.” In contrast, Puck is feisty and has trouble holding her tongue (at one point, she snaps on Sean when he demands that she pick up his jacket from the beach and doesn’t say please!). I loved Sean and Puck for different reasons, but it was the loyalty and bravery they had in common that made it so easy to invest in them. Sean and Puck are both up against SO much, yet there are things neither will compromise: dignity, love for their horses, and, in Puck’s case, devotion to her family.

Scorpio is, at its heart, a story about love–but not in the way you might think. It’s light on romance (though Sean and Puck have intense chemistry), focusing more on the love Puck has for Thisby and her brothers, and the love Sean has for his horse, Corr. Oddly, it was Sean and Corr’s dynamic I was most enamored with. There is a deep, deep bond between the two of them, one I felt wholeheartedly, one that threatened to shred me during the final pages of the story.

Maggie Stiefvater is a master of prose. The island of Thisby came alive within the pages of Scorpio. The beach, the Malvern stables, the bakery, the Connolly kitchen, the wind-ravaged cliffs… I was there, living and breathing it all in. The atmosphere of the story was as much a character as Sean and Puck, Corr and Dove, and Maggie’s descriptions are utterly enviable. Her setting became real, as did her dynamic, well-rounded cast of characters. Her words are elegant and carefully chosen, yet they read as effortless.

The most common criticism I’ve seen cited in reviews of Scorpio is its slow pace. To that, I say: Who cares?! I’d so much rather read a book with a slow pace that allows for mood development, character growth, and emerging, realistic relationships than a page-turner that’s lacking in all of the above. I can’t help but think that Scorpio would have suffered had some of the more leisurely descriptions and detailed passages been cut. Surely we would have missed out on the beauty of Thisby, the quiet intensity of Sean Kendrick, the lively spirit of Puck Connolly, and the connection these characters shared with their horses.

If you haven’t picked up a copy of The Scorpio Races yet, I hope you will. It’s a beautiful book, one that’s earned its way onto my Favorites list.

Check out what the other Bookanistas are up to today:

Lisa and Laura Roecker gush about HOW TO SAVE A LIFE
Shannon Messenger raves about CINDER–with an ARC Giveaway!
Megan Miranda spreads the love for UNTRACEABLE
Corrine Jackson falls for UNDER THE NEVER SKY
Stasia Ward Kehoe celebrates MY VERY UNFAIRY TALE LIFE
Debra Driza sings the praises of EVERYBODY SEES THE ANTS

Have you read The Scorpio Races? What did you think?