Book Shopping: A Cautionary Tale

I got a remarkable amount of reading done over the winter break given that there were three boys running around, sometimes with friends.  My typical holiday indulgence is murder mysteries, but this year, I devoured several young adult books.  I’d say it was in the interest of passing along great reads to my kids, but who am I kidding?  I am having a reading renaissance, and a good third of what I read is for children.  Becoming a parent has given me the unexpected gift of a whole new world of reading.  I have taken enormous delight in both going back to the classics and keeping up with newly published children’s books.  And yes, when I read one that I love, I pass it on to the kids. 

The Scorpio RacesOne book that had been on my radar is The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater.  The Horn Book gave it a starred review, it made their best books of 2011 list, several trusted bloggers ditto, and I knew that her Shiver trilogy had done very well.  Trusting the reviewers, I bought a copy at my local independent book store and put it at the top of my holiday reading pile.  Let me add my voice to the chorus of praise and say this one hit it out of the ball park.  Not only was it a perfect holiday reading indulgence, it was one of my favourite books of the year.  When I tell you that the book is about sea-dwelling, carnivorous horses that come up on land on one isolated island and terrorize its human population, I’m certain it will give you pause, but Stiefvater makes the world so utterly believable that you cannot help but be lulled into the wonderful rapture that is the total absorption into a fictional world.  It’s The Hunger Games meets My Friend Flicka: a page-turner of a dystopian horse book. 

Wildwood book coverAnother book I had been eager to read is Wildwood.  Now that I have read it, I have to look back and ask myself why I’d been so eager to buy it.  Well, it was the cover art, actually.  I mean, just look at it.  It’s gorgeous.  It literally caught my eye every time I went into a book store, which is something I do not infrequently, and Indigo was positively wallpapered with the book.  It was in enormous, tempting, beautiful stacks.  It was a Heather’s Pick.  So sadly undeserved.  The Scorpio Races succeeds because at no point do you feel that the author or her characters question the viability of their world, but disbelief is everywhere in Wildwood.  Even the characters keep saying that it can’t be real.  From beginning to end, the book gives the reader and the characters far too many opportunities to say, “This is too improbable.”  I can believe that a baby could be kidnapped by a murder of crows.  I am willing to buy that.  But when the babysitting sister returns home empty-handed and the parents don’t notice?  That’s pushing the reader’s willing suspension of disbelief entirely too far.  It went downhill from there.  And I read it through to the bitter end because I was just so cranky with myself for falling for a beautiful package and pushy marketing and I just kept thinking that it had to get better. 

The moral of the story?  You guessed it.  Don’t judge a book by its cover.  (Insert your own moral about the value of a Heather’s Pick.)

The payoff?  I told Griffin that I had really enjoyed The Scorpio Races and that it would probably make a good follow-up to his headlong tumble through the Hunger Games trilogy.  It’s so hard when you have a great-read hangover.  I came home the other day, and Griffin nearly knocked me over as he came running to tell me.

“Mom!  You were so right!  This book is awesome!”

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is worth wading through 100 mediocre books for.  The delight of a happy reader.