There are books you read and think to yourself, "That was pretty good." Then there are books you read that you wish you could crawl inside and live.
Such was Maggie Stiefvater's bestseller, THE SCORPIO RACES, for me. The premise: Every November, wild horses emerge from the sea onto the shores of a tiny island. Many of them are captured for the annual Scorpio Races, whose winning purse is enough to move off the island. The main character, Puck, needs the money to save her family's house, and is the first girl to ever enter the races.
Oh, and the horses--kelpies, actually--like to eat people.
My mother is rolling her eyes right now that she knew there'd be some violent aspect to it if I liked it. But really, it's so much more than that. The man-eating perspective adds to the stakes and the suspense, but Maggie has a thousand other hooks in you before you've finished the first chapter.
First: phenomenal voice. You follow two characters through the book, Puck Connolly (who I'd consider the main main character) and Sean Kendrick, the returning champion and mysterious stable hand for the island's biggest stable. Maggie really lets you get to know these two, holding back no thought as the characters deal with the problems handed to them. Good things, bad things, things in between - you know it all.
Second: I-want-to-visit setting. Maggie brings the fictional island of Thisby alive in every way possible, from the hard-working locals to the colorful, out-of-place tourists, to the damp, cold ocean air and the whispering sea. You can smell the hay and dust in the stables. You can feel the salt on your skin by the shore.
Third: girl knows her horses. As someone who rode for years, I would be incredibly surprised to learn if Maggie has never been on a horse. The way the horses are handled, and the scenes where Puck or Sean are riding, are so expertly done that I know she's writing from experience*. The bond between animal and human is also very authentic, with nothing over or underdone.
Fourth: emotion, emotion, emotion. I felt for these characters as I rarely have in other books. I cried at the end over a horse. Only one other author, in all of history, has been able to make me cry tears down my face (twice, in two different books) and that is Mr. Patrick Ness.
I could gush for hours, so I'll just tell you now to go out and get the book. Even if you're not a horse lover, this is a fantastic read.
*If anyone can find an article to support or disprove this, can you comment? I'm very curious!