June Minireviews – Part 1

Okay, so far in June I’ve read 33 books and I’m almost finished with a few more, so I probably won’t get caught up on June reviews before the end of June – but maybe I can be all caught up by the end of July??  June has mostly been a LOT of rereads of childhood favorites, so I’m afraid most of the reviews are going to be “oh this one was so fun!” without a lot of depth!  I’ve made a concerted effort to spend more of my spare time reading instead of just mindlessly messing about on my computer or phone, and it’s definitely been reflected in how many books I’ve checked off.  Last year was the first year I began really tracking my stats (i.e. pages read) but June is going to be by far the highest page count I’ve had since January 2019.  All that to say – be ready for lots of reviews, mostly rather fluffy in nature!!

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater – 4.5*

//published 2011//

First up on the reread wagon – I had only read this book once, but that inspired me to buy my own copy because I really enjoyed it.  Stiefvater has a way of writing in a rather melancholy way that I normally wouldn’t like, but somehow DO like when I’m reading her writing.  This book has an amazing sense of place – you can feel the weather throughout.  The smells and tastes of this story are almost as important as the views, and overall the story just has such rich writing.  The entire concept is just so creative and engaging.  I couldn’t remember how it ended, either, so I was on the edge of my seat.  I still haven’t read Stiefvater’s most famous books (The Raven Boys series), but everything of hers that I have read I’ve loved, even ridiculous werewolf stories that are full of YA angst.  I definitely recommend this one, but not if you’re scared of horses, because if you already find horses intimidating, you’ll be terrified of them by the time you’re done with this one.

If you want more details about this story, here’s my original review from when I first read it back in 2016.

Caroline & Her Kettle Named Maud by Miriam Mason – 3.5*

//published 1951//

In a complete change of pace, Caroline is a historical fiction set in the wilds of Michigan and written for younger readers.  Mason wrote several of these types of stories, set in different historical places.  While a perfectly pleasant story, it’s obviously for readers who are just ready for chapter books, as there wasn’t a great deal of depth.  Still, Caroline is a very likable heroine.  She’s the only young girl in a large clan, and she really wishes she could have her own gun like all of her male relatives.  Instead, when her family leaves Virginia to head to Michigan, her grandparents gift her with her very own shiny copper kettle.  Many men named their guns at the time, and Caroline was so certain that she would be getting a gun that she had already picked out the name of Maud – so she gives the kettle the name instead.  I actually really like the way the story explores how Caroline isn’t super happy with all the girl chores she’s expected to do, but in the end realizes that she doesn’t have to be a boy or even act like a boy in order to accomplish things that are brave and exciting.

Magic Elizabeth by Norma Kassirer – 4*

//published 1966//

I can remember reading this book so many times when I was young (as you can probably tell from its condition – although I did NOT color in the letters!), and the reread didn’t really disappoint.  Through a series of events Sally has to stay with her gloomy and hitherto unknown elderly Aunt Sarah in a forbidding old house.  At first, Sally is rather terrified, but she soon learns that there used to be another Sally who lived in this house – current Sally reads the diary of past Sally, and yearns to find past Sally’s doll, Elizabeth, who was mysteriously lost one Christmas.  This is a fun little book, and plays with that “is it magic or not” line quite well.  Once again a fun book for younger readers – I can remember being completely enamored with the mystery of this one.

Bambi by Felix Salten – 4*

//published 1928//

This classic was originally published in Austria and is – no surprise – quite different from the Disney version.  Regular visitors here know that I like books that are animal-centric, especially ones that, although they give the animals a voice, still have those animals act naturally (think: Watership Down, The Jungle Book, etc.).  In Bambi, we see life in the forest through the view of a fawn as he learns and grows.  Because the deer are one of the larger animals in the forest, they don’t have much to fear from natural predators, but they are hunted by man, always referred to in the story as capital-H Him.  Bambi makes friends and learns many a life lesson throughout the story.  The deer struggle to survive during the winter, and live off the fat of the land in the summer.  It’s honestly a rather strange, stark tale, but life in the wild is also strange and stark, with tragedy and joy often intertwined.  I will say that I’ve never heard of people hunting here in the States the way they do in this book – with the men gathering with drums and sticks to herd everything in the forest on a path towards more men with guns – that chapter felt odd even as a child.

Overall, Bambi is an engaging and interesting story.  It’s a rather odd writing style, but honestly fits the type of story that Salten was writing.  If you like animal stories, I definitely recommend this classic.

Bambi’s Children by Felix Salten – 3*

//published 1939//

Although I read Bambi several times growing up, I had only read the sequel once since acquiring it, and my reread reminded me of why that was.  Where the scenes about nature felt natural in Bambi, they feel forced in Bambi’s Children.  There are several odd scenes where one of the deer can “hear” the trees talking when the deer is dozing – these scenes are honestly rather bizarre and don’t fit with the rest of the story at all.  The timeline for Bambi to Bambi’s Children is also rather strange – in the original story it’s implied that Bambi becomes a loner who never really visits Faline any more, because in order to survive, one must be willing to be alone.  But in the sequel, Bambi hangs out with his family regularly.  If these are Bambi’s first children, how can he also be super old and wise?  The whole thing felt rather stilted.  The story isn’t bad, but it weirdly would work better as a standalone than as a sequel, because the two books don’t jive together very well.

The Scorpio Races // by Maggie Stiefvater

the-scorpio-races

//published 2011//

So a while back I read Stiefvater’s werewolf books.  They were totally outside my usual reading parameters, but I am super glad that I gave them a whirl because despite the fact that they were angsty YA paranormal stories, I still weirdly enjoyed them (and not just because the cover art was A+ gorgeous!).  So I definitely knew I wanted to find some more of Stiefvater’s books, but she hasn’t actually written all that many.  The Raven Cycle books are still on my series TBR, but The Scorpio Races is a standalone, so I thought I would give it a try.

While we are never given a clear time period for the tale, it has a very 1920’s-feel, with a few cars and electricity, but not a lot else going on technology-wise.  Of course, that could be because our setting is a remote island somewhere that sounds very northern-British-Isles.  The opening line is brilliantly enthralling and smidge terrifying:

It is the first day of November and so, today, someone will die.

The story is told in alternating viewpoints between Sean, a young man who works as the head groom for the richest man on the island; and Puck, an orphan girl who is trying to hold her family together.  Both Sean and Puck were very likable, and their narration felt personable without devolving into constant introspection about feelings.

The island of Thisby is very much like another small islands: most of the people make a living by fishing, they are poor but close-knit, and there isn’t a whole lot in the way of entertainment or job opportunities.  But Thisby has one major thing that makes it different: the capall uisce.  These creatures look like horses, but live most of their life in the ocean.  They come ashore every autumn, which is when the people of Thisby try to catch them so that they can race in the Scorpio Races.  But the water horses are cruel and vicious.  They eat meat and kill livestock and humans.  While you may be able to control them for a time, they are never really tamed.  And so, when the races are run on the first of November – someone always dies.

Even though this book is leading up to and is centered around the races, it is really about so much more.  It’s about family and growing and hanging on and letting go. And it’s all woven through a story that was fast-paced and completely engaging.

While there were things about The Scorpio Races that I would have changed – mainly because I like my endings 100% happy and this one was a bit on the bittersweet side – it kept me racing through the pages and made me yearn for a sequel.  4/5 and recommended.

Also, Sophie also reviewed this book, so be sure to check out her thoughts!