Book Reviews and More

Hi! This blog is for my classes at Texas Woman's University.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Summer Reading and Writing Challenge

Hello to all,

  To most, Memorial Day weekend means the 'unofficial' start to summer. I look forward to summer each year, mostly because it means no homework for the kids. Although, I will be taking graduate school classes this summer, so it means that I will still have homework to do!

  I don't know about y'all, but if I'm not careful, summer will be filled with all kinds of fun things - but not with regular writing. So I'm determined this summer to make sure I don't let my personal writing goals get sidetracked.

  I decided to start a summer writing challenge for myself, and thought it would be more fun to get others involved - and help increase my accountability! Plus, because I'm hoping that summer will mean a little more time to read or listen to audiobooks, I thought it might be good to add that challenge to the mix too.

  So for the writing challenge: If you write novels, you can pick a word/page count per day or per week. If you write picture books, mix it up however you want since obviously the word counts will vary. If you're revising a current project, then maybe set a page count or time limit each day or week.

  For the reading challenge: Pick a number of books you want to pick to read this summer or maybe you want to read all the books by a certain author, or all the books on a list (such as the Texas Bluebonnet list or the NY Times Bestseller list or even your kids' summer reading list).

  So here are the rules (although they are really mostly guidelines ;)

  1. Post a comment and let me know you want to participate in this challenge or you can email me at ebgrje (at) gmail (dot) com.

  2. Pick your challenge! It can be the writing challenge, the reading challenge, or both!

  3. For accountability - every week I'll ask for everybody to post or email me their results. I wish I could handle a daily email check-in, but I think with vacations and homework, once a week will work better for this challenge.

  4. Join at any time over the summer - as Flylady says "You are not behind! I don't want you to try and catch up; I just want you to jump in where we are."

  5. Have fun! This is really just a challenge so we don't let our creative juices dry out over the summer or maybe to help restart you if you've been off your writing/reading game for a while.

  My part - in addition to asking for accountability each week, I'll be posting about the writing/reading life to help keep us inspired and moving forward throughout the summer.

 So here are my goals: Writing: 500 words 5 days a week (total 2,500 words a week). Reading: Read all the books on the current Texas Bluebonnet list and the 2X2 Reading list (see my previous post for links to these lists).

  What are your writing and reading goals this summer? Hope you join me in the challenge!

  Take care, McCourt

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

May - Houston SCBWI Book Report

Hi everyone!

  I hope that everyone who was able to attend our Houston SCBWI conference enjoyed it as much as I did. Thanks to all of y'all that did so much hard work to put such a fabulous line-up together.

  Here are the books that I talked about at this month's meeting:

  Night Light by Nicholas Blechman (PB) Orchard Books ISBN 9780545462631

  Don't Play with Your Food! by Bob Shea (PB) Disney-Hyperion Books ISBN 9781423168072

  The Year of the Book by Andrea Cheng, Illustrated by Abigail Halpin (Elem/MG) HMH Books for Young Readers ISBN 9780544022638

  Athlete vs Mathlete by W.C. Mack (MG) Bloomsbury USA Children ISBN 9781599908588

  How to Write a Novel: 47 Rules for Writing a Stupendously Awesome Novel That You Will Love Forever by Nathan Bransford (Writers) ISBN 9780615925165

  Also, I mentioned some of the different reading lists that the Texas Library Association (TLA) puts out each year.

  Here are some of the links for those lists for the 2014-2015 school year:

  Texas 2 X 2 List (Age 2 - Grade 2)

  Texas Bluebonnet List (Grades 3-6)

  Texas Lone Star Reading List (Grades 7 & up)

  Happy Reading!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

The Reviews are In! Genre 6 Fiction, Fantasy, and Young Adult (YA)

Hi everyone!

  I really got to enjoy some wonderful books this module which covered fiction, fantasy, and YA. I finally figured out why all those Babymouse books fly off the library shelves - they're charming! I was also glad for the chance to tackle some more of the books on my TBR (to be read) pile. I hope you enjoy my reviews for The Graveyard Book and The Scorpio Races.

  Happy Reading!

Genre 6 - Fiction, Fantasy, and Young Adult (YA)

Review for Babymouse: Queen of the World by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm
*This review is coursework for LS 5603 at TWU

Holm, Jennifer L. and Matthew. Babymouse: Queen of the World! New York: Random House, 2005. ISBN 9780375932298.

            Babymouse: Queen of the World, by brother and sister pair Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm, is the first in a popular series of graphic novels. In this story, Babymouse desperately wants to be invited to the party of the most popular girl in school, Felicia Furrypaws. Babymouse, who has an active imagination, tries to come up with ways to convince Felicia to invite her to the sleepover. But it isn’t until Babymouse agrees to give Felicia her book report that she finally is invited. Babymouse skips out on her plans with her longtime best friend, Wilson the weasel, in order to go to the party. Once there, Babymouse struggles to fit in and figures out what true friendship is all about.

            Babymouse is an engaging character whose daily drama will ring true with its elementary and middle school audience. Her struggles with friends, school, activities, and just staying focused definitely has a lot of appeal. The character is written with a lot of spunk, spirit, and heart. The scenarios that Babymouse faces in school, such as not being invited to a big party, may not be the most original story ideas, but they are built on themes relatable to kids of all ages. Babymouse’s depiction as an avid reader results in her vivid imagination, which transports Babymouse within the story on all types of adventures throughout the book. These ‘side trips’ of Babymouse’s imagination are her entertaining excursions from the monotony of school, another theme sure to be relatable to many readers.

The story is told in graphic novel style, with a comic book feel. The color palette uses solely pink, black, and white, which gives the novel a distinctive style. When Babymouse is lost in her imagination, the artist uses mostly a pink palette, which helps differentiate those scenarios from the regular day-to-day ones. There is a narrator who interacts with Babymouse in the story, often making comments on her zany adventures. Babymouse talks to the narrator, so it feels as if she is addressing the reader directly, which helps draw them further into the story.

In its starred review, Horn Book says, “Nobody puts Babymouse in the corner." The Children’s Bulletin calls Babymouse, “almost an absurdly likeable heroine.” Babymouse: Queen of the World won the 2006 Gryphon Award and New York Book Show Award. It also was the first graphic novel to be named an ALA Notable Children’s Book.

Luckily for fans of Babymouse, the 18th graphic novel in the series, Happy Birthday Babymouse, was just released in April. The other books in the series are all charming as well, including Babymouse #4 Rock Star, Babymouse #5 Heartbreaker, and Babymouse #7 Skater Girl. Jennifer L. Holm and her brother Matthew also have another graphic novel series, Squish, starring an amoeba, which is geared toward Babymouse fans. Other graphic novel series to recommend include the Lunch Lady series by Jarrett J. Krosoczka, the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney, the Dork Diaries series by Rachel Renée Russell, Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke, Big Nate by Nathan Peirce, and Robot Dreams by Sara Varon. Older readers who want to try Jennifer L. Holm’s novels may check out her three Newbery honor books, Our Only May Amelia, Penny from Heaven and Turtle in Paradise. Of course, for a fun activity, have students design their own graphic novel. What would a day at their school look like? Babymouse is definitely a springboard for imagination and inspiration.

Quote from Jennifer L. Holm: “I wear slippers to work.”


"Babymouse #1: Queen of the World!” by Jennifer L. Holm and Matt Holm." (accessed April 30, 2014).

Holm, Jennifer L. and Matthew. Babymouse: Queen of the World! New York: Random House, 2005.

Jennifer, Holm. "Jennifer L. Holm, Author: Babymouse." Jennifer L. Holm, Author. (accessed April 30, 2014).


Review for The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
*This review is coursework for LS 5603 at TWU

Gaiman, Neil. The Graveyard Book. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2008. ISBN 9780060530945.

            The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman is the story of a young boy, who escapes to a nearby graveyard when his family is killed. Mrs. Owens, one of the graveyard’s ghost residents, pleads to the other ghosts to allow the boy to stay and have Freedom of the Graveyard. The residents of the graveyard reluctantly agree, and the Owens adopt the boy, who they name Nobody Owens. ‘Bod’, as he is called, grows up the only living among the dead. He has a guardian, a supernatural creature named Silas, and many others from the graveyard who help teach him about the ways of both the living and the dead. Bod’s curiosity and youthful questions often get him in trouble, and his misadventures with live humans (and even some dead ghouls) never seem to turn out very well. Even though Bod lives hidden away in the graveyard, he is never safe. Silas discovers that the man ‘Jack’ who killed Bod’s family is still searching for him. Finally, Jack catches up with him, and Bod must use all the knowledge he’s gained from the dead in the graveyard to preserve his chance for life amongst the living.

            Neil Gaiman has said the idea for The Graveyard Book came from watching his young son pedal his bike comfortably around a graveyard, and thought he “could write something a lot like The Jungle Book, and set it in a graveyard.”  That seems an apt description for this tale. It has classic elements, but seems original in almost every way. The chapters can be separated as short stories, which is the style Rudyard Kipling set up The Jungle Book. The residents of the graveyard are lifelike in their personalities and peculiarities, and Bod himself is an especially endearing character. It is hard not to root for someone orphaned at such a young age, in such a brutal manner. Which brings up a word of warning, although on a whole the book is not violent; the opening scene where Jack murders Bod’s family with a knife while they sleep is definitely one that could upset some readers. Another topic that may cause concern is the issue of suicide as a means of death for some of those in Potter’s Field, which may not be a subject that some readers are familiar or comfortable with, and could prompt discussion. However, even with the macabre setting of the graveyard, Bod finds a true and honorable family there and the story is filled with the themes of loyalty and love.

            The author himself, Neil Gaiman, narrates the audiobook version of The Graveyard Book, produced by Harper Audio. Gaiman does an excellent job in drawing the listener into the world of the graveyard, setting just the right tone for the novel.

            The Graveyard Book won the Newbery Medal and the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 2009. It 2010, it was awarded the Carnegie medal. It was also a #1 New York Times Bestseller, spending 61 weeks in the top ten. The audio version was awarded the Audio Publishers Association Audie Award and Audiobook of the Year in 2009. The Washington Post says, “Like a bite of dark Halloween chocolate, this novel proves rich, bittersweet, and very satisfying.” The New York Times Book Review states, “The Graveyard Book, by turns exciting and witty, sinister and tender, shows Gaiman at the top of his form.”

            Those who enjoy The Graveyard Book may also want to check out Gaiman’s novels Fortunately, the Milk and Coraline. Coraline was also turned into an animated movie of the same name, which was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature Film of the Year. Readers may also want to turn to the partial inspiration of the novel, The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling, or at least enjoy the Disney movie version of The Jungle Book, which has retained its charm and popularity since its 1967 release. For readers who enjoy the spooky elements of the novel, try Doll Bones by Holly Black, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs, Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz, The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier or The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls by Claire Legrand.

Quote from Neil Gaiman: “Sometimes fiction is a way of coping with the poison of the world in a way that lets us survive it.”


Motoko, Rich. “The Graveyard Book Wins Newbery Medal”. The New York Times. 2009.

Gaiman, Neil. The Graveyard Book. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2008.

Review for The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
*This review is coursework for LS 5603 at TWU

Stiefvater, Maggie. The Scorpio Races. New York: Scholastic Press, 2011. ISBN 9780545224918.

            The Scorpio Races is a tale of high adventure set on the mystical island of Thisby. Each year on the island, a race is held, truly placing man vs. beast. The waters around the island of Thisby are home of the legendary capaill uisce. The capaill uisce are flesh eating water horses; and during the Scorpio Races, men trap and train them to race. It has always been men, and it has always been water horses, until this year. This year, Kate Connolly (nicknamed Puck) has decided to enter the race, riding her regular mare, Dove. She enters the races to try and save her family’s home from bankruptcy, and to try and keep her older brother, Gabe, from leaving the island. Things heat up on the island when it becomes apparent that many residents aren’t too happy about Puck entering the race. Sean Kendrick, multi-time winner of the races, takes up her cause and they form a friendship, which hints at romance. Sean trains with Puck to help her survive the race, but he has his eyes on the prize this year for a different reason. For years, he has ridden the capaill uisce named Corr for Malvern stables. Now, Mr. Malvern has finally agreed to let Sean buy Corr, but only if he wins the race. The island of Thisby is flooded with visitors who come to watch the deadly races. When race day finally arrives, it’s no longer each man for himself, as Puck, Dove, Sean, and Corr battle their competitors for victory - but there can only be one winner.

            The Scorpio Races is a beautiful lyrically written novel, with lush, detailed descriptions of both the coastline and the local towns. The novel is written in alternating viewpoints - back and forth between Puck and Sean. Stiefvater slowly builds up the race (sometimes agonizingly so), which gives her time to truly delve into the personalities of the people and even animals that inhabit Thisby. Themes of family and finding one’s place are wound throughout the novel. With a vast cast of characters, the story’s plot really focuses on Puck’s ambition to try and save her brothers and her home, and Sean’s ambition of finally owning the only family he has left - Corr. Stiefvater uses the ‘ticking clock’ plot device well in this story. The pace may be slow, but the reader is always constantly aware that the life-changing race is only steps ahead, and it helps keep the reader turning the pages (or sitting in the car listening to the audio version even after you’ve arrived at your destination!).

            The audio version of the book, produced by Scholastic Inc., is narrated by Steve West and Fiona Hardingham. The narration is very well done, with both voice actors having strong, engaging voices that sweep you into the story. In fact, the characters are so distinct, that the format of staying in one character's voice each chapter can be a little disconcerting. For example, when you are listening to Puck, and she has a conversation with Sean, then the voice of Sean sounds different than when you are listening to Sean’s narration. The same goes for when Sean narrates Puck’s voice. However, much of the novel is based on the character’s inner thoughts, so the voice discrepancies are more of a nuisance than a real distraction. One interesting note about the audio version is the music that accompanies the book was actually composed and performed by the author herself, Maggie Stiefvater. Obviously, she is a multi-talented woman.

            The Scorpio Races won the Michael L. Printz Award Honor in 2012 and appeared on numerous ‘Best of’ lists including The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Chicago Public Library, the Children’s Book Committee, Amazon, ALA and YALSA. The audio version also won the Odyssey Honor Award for 2012 Best Audio Production and the YALSA Amazing Audiobooks for Young Adults 2012. The Scorpio Races received five starred book awards, including one from Kirkus that says it is “Masterful. Like nothing else out there now.” Horn Book states, “Stiefvater’s novel, inspired by Marx, Irish, and Scottish legends of beautiful but deadly fairy horses that emerge from the sea each autumn, begins rivetingly and gets better and better… all the way, in fact, to best.”

            Fans of The Scorpio Races may want to read Stiefvater’s other works, including The Raven Cycle series (The Raven Boys, The Dream Thieves, and Blue Lily, Lily Blue - coming in October 2014) and the Shiver series (Shiver, Linger, and Forever).  Readers who enjoy the dangerous competitiveness of The Scorpio Races could also try The Hunger Games series (The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay) by Suzanne Collins or the Divergent series (Divergent, Insurgent, and Allegiant) by Veronica Roth. If the readers are horse fans, try Catch Rider by Jennifer H. Lyne, The Girl Who Remembered Horses by Linda Benson, Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry,  or even classics like The Black Stallion by Walter Farley, Black Beauty by Anna Sewell or National Velvet by Enid Bagnold. Many consider the movies for The Black Stallion, Black Beauty, and National Velvet classics, and readers who enjoyed Puck may especially enjoy Elizabeth Taylor’s performance in National Velvet. Teen readers might enjoy checking out author Maggie Stiefvater’s website (, which includes book trailers, cover art, tour information, and links to her blog.

Quote from Maggie Stiefvater: “It’s true that the characters are what I care about. I mean, I care about the other things, but as a reader, the characters are what I remember. Mostly, I just long to make my readers sick at heart that they will never meet my characters in real life. That’s my goal. Does that sound sinister? I mean it in the nicest possible way.” 


Bartel, Julie. "One Thing Leads to Another: An Interview with Maggie Stiefvater." The Hub RSS. (accessed April 20, 2014).

Stiefvater, Maggie. "Maggie Stiefvater." Maggie Stiefvater Whats New Comments. (accessed April 20, 2014).

Stiefvater, Maggie. The Scorpio Races. New York: Scholastic Press, 2011.

Stiefvater, Maggie. "The Scorpio Races | Maggie Stiefvater." Maggie Stiefvater The Scorpio Races Comments. (accessed April 20, 2014).