Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

IAveyard_RedQueenf I had never read the Hunger Games trilogy or the Lunar Chronicles or the Mortal Instruments, or watched the Divergent movies or The 100 television series, I would most certainly have been blown out of the water by this dystopian YA novel.

However, this tale—about a teenaged girl living in a downtrodden society ruled by an elite race of [super-]beings with special skills and a fondness for killing for/as sport, who accidentally discovers that she is also special and is then thrown into an adventure that includes self-discovery, empowerment, battle training, a few unnecessary deaths, a violent stand off (or three), a love triangle, and an unexpected (yet totally expected) twist at the end—hits a lot of the same notes that all of the above series hit, which makes Red Queen just another iteration of a novel that I have read many many times.

That said, it is a very good iteration. I appreciate the world, the premise, the characters, and the pacing, AND there were approximately three “twists” that I honest-to-goodness did not see coming.

So, if you’re over this trend of YA dystopian novels in the vein of the Hunger Games and the Lunar Chronicles, you could probably skip this one. But if you can’t get enough of strong female characters in the vein of Tris and Clarke (and even Clary) who face ridiculous challenges and surmount incredible odds to fight for justice and freedom and to protect their family and their fellow downtrodden comrades, then, by all means, jump on the bandwagon and discover the spitfire that is Mare Barrow.

No. 16 on my challenge. The talented Victoria Aveyard was but 25 when this, her debut, was published in 2015. She has since published six subsequent novels in this series / universe and has two more on the way.

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Saga by Brian K. Vaughn & Fiona Staples

Saga.StapletonI had no idea what I was going to read for our graphic novel category, but before I even had time to fret about it, the lovely Rosie came to my rescue—she sent me the first volume of Saga through the mail. Snail mail no less!

And I’m going to tell you right now, I’m glad she did.

It’s a strange story about love and family in a universe that’s totally bonkers, but from the first frame it effortlessly transports you to a world that you’re inexplicably fascinated by. Cyborgs with human bodies and computer screens for heads are royalty, alligators are butlers, horns and wings are typical human appendages, bounty hunters have eight legs and no arms or a lie-detecting cat, and ghosts are a secret weapon in an age-old war (and great babysitters). Its universe-so-crazy-you-can’t-help-but-accept-whatever-comes-next aesthetic has garnered more than a few comparisons to Star Wars, and I totally see where they’re coming from.

It’s creative and crazy and violent and sentimental. It’s jam packed with fully realized characters that are neither good nor bad, but who are fighting in accordance to their orders, their moral code, or their desire to be free of a senseless war. Oh, and it’s absolutely beautiful and unexpectedly funny. I can’t wait to get into Volume Two and beyond.

No. 25 on my challenge. Thank you, Rosie!

 

The Mortal Instruments+ by Cassandra Clare

So . . . it’s the end of March, officially spring already, and I’m just now diving into this year’s book challenge (and no—I still haven’t finished 2016). But boy, did I jump in with a vengeance.

Now, you may remember that when we came up with this year’s challenge, Rosie and I decided that we were going to be more mindful of who and what we were reading. We endeavoured to read books by people of colour, books by young women, books to make us smarter, and books that had such an impact that they’d been banned from high schools. And because I wanted to read the second and third books in Ransom Riggs’ Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children series, we also included “two books belonging to a series.”

Well, let me tell you right now that I went a little off book and a lot overboard. Not only did I not read either of the books I had planned to read, but I also chose a series that has way more than just two books and requires about 5% of my brain power. That’s right folks. I chose Cassandra Clare’s The Mortal Instruments series (because the deliciously terrible Netflix show based on the series is on hiatus and I needed my fix). And, because the YA series is just as deliciously terrible (and oh so much more so), I got to work and devoured all six books (coming in at 3237 pages). And then I read the Bane Chronicles (ten “novellas”). AND THEN I cringe-read a 165,000-word fan fiction that basically just fills in the story lines of the entire series from another character’s point of view (as if I’m going to tell you which one).

In ten days.

I also slept well, ate decent meals (well, ok. I may have had cereal or popcorn a few times), went to work, went for brunch and tacos, saw Beauty and the Beast in theatres twice, and read two manuscripts. That right there is my BA in English coming in to play.

Now, since I read everything so quickly, and I read them all online, and I read the auxiliary texts interspersed with the novels, and I mixed canon with fan fiction, I can’t really tell you where one book ends and the next one starts. So for these reviews, I’m going back to my roots: short, sweet, and totally superfluous.

City of Bones

A combination of The Hunger Games (murderous teens with little-to-no parental supervision), Twilight (vampires, werewolves), and Divergent (a crew of highly trained badasses who take in and are mostly enamoured by a pretty, young, special girl with inherent and as yet untapped and undeveloped skills)—all of which I enjoyed in one medium or another. Typical start to a YA series . . . except, of course, that whole incest bit.

City of Ashes

Malec and Vampire Simon. That is all.

Oh, and the Seelie Court and the truck boat and of course Clary has the ability to create runes. Obviously.

City of Glass

Hey! You let Simon out of prison.

I don’t like Sebastian, but at least he’s not her . . . Wait. More incest? WAIT. OTHER INCEST?

MALEC!

Of course Clary saves the day. And Jace. And all of Idris. Because of course.

City of Fallen Angels

Hey, not incest! Yay! I also enjoy the effect of Simon’s religion on the weapons used against him, and that there was a consequence for Clary raising the dead (not even the Genie can bring people back from the dead). And in general, throughout the whole series I was pleasantly surprised to recognize themes of Milton’s Paradise Lost in Clare’s world of angels and demons. It reminded me that this fantasy series—as absurd as it is—is rooted in centuries-old literature that is highly respected and practically required reading for any university-level English student. I can tell you from experience that Paradise Lost is called an epic poem for a reason—Clare certainly did not shirk her homework.

Side note: dead babies. Not cool.

City of Lost Souls

Obviously, Clary is going to save the day, so my biggest take away from this entire book is that I want a magical teleporting apartment with a closet full of clothes that fit me perfectly and a training room full of weapons to hunt demons with.

Also, what the hell is with this woman and incest?

City of Heavenly Fire

In all, this was an entertaining and addictive series right to the end. I appreciate Clare’s version of a hell dimension that was essentially a mirror image to Earth that was ravaged by evil and could not be saved by too little too late. Sebastian’s reversion to Jonathan was unexpected, as was Simon’s sacrifice, and I was glad that, after two wars and several battles in six months, the whole thing wasn’t wrapped up in a convenient little bow where everyone lives happily ever after. Except, oh wait . . . it was and they do. Damnit, Clare.

The Bane Chronicles

The whole reason I started reading the Mortal Instruments series is because I religiously watch the sub-par television show, much like a bored housewife watches Days or a crazy person watches the Real Housewives. And in that terrible television show, Magnus is my favourite character by far. But it turns out he’s not that prominent of character in the books—not as compared to Clary and the Lightwoods—and I was unsatisfied with the small parts he has to play in the first and second books. So I read this. A tad long to be classified as short stories, they’re snippets of Magnus life before and during the series. Because Magnus is a bit ridiculous, so too are these novellas, but they stretch out over a few centuries and it’s fun to see how the character I’m familiar with interacted with the trends, beliefs, and taboos of the times.

In the end, I think it’s pretty clear that I enjoyed this series for what it is. There are certainly some YA fantasy series out there that are better written, that don’t hang their primary romantic relationship on incest (or the threat of it), and that don’t include demon babies (or demons of any kind), but there’s a reason this author keeps churning out novels set in the Shadowhunter universe, and why the readership keeps growing. I mean, not even a poorly received movie could deter this fandom. So I say take it for what it is and enjoy!

No. 19 and 20 (+) on my challenge. Now how am I going to fit Hollow City and Library of Souls on here?

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

scorpioraces-stiefvater

On November 1, I had eight books to read and just over eight weeks to finish them if I’m to complete this year’s reading challenge by December 31. I have all eight of those books chosen—lined up nicely on a bookshelf separate from the one that holds my ever growing to-be-read pillar—in an effort not to be distracted by so many options when it comes time to crack open a new read. The Scorpio Races was not one of those books.

But then Kennedy pointed out that if I were to read it, November 1 would be a good day to start, given its ominous yet intriguing first line:

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

Of course, I agreed with her. Combine that with my unparalleled skill for procrastination and my inability to stop reading a Maggie Stiefvater book once I start (this woman is hella talented), and dag nab it if I haven’t read yet another book that contributes absolutely nothing to my reading challenge.

I’ll say this: It’s a damn good thing I enjoyed it so much.

The Love that Split the World by Emily Henry

TheLovetheSplittheWorld.HenryI bought this book solely for the cover and I’m glad I did—Emily Henry really is a gifted writer.

An imaginative time-bending teen romance, The Love the Split the World is jam packed with quick wit and sarcasm—which, of course, I love—and it kept me captivated enough to keep reading in the park well into twilight, until my straining eyes begged for sufficient lighting. Also, I get the feeling that, via the relationship of the protagonist and her best friend, Henry is letting us in on about a hundred inside jokes that she’s been collecting with her own friends.

That said, there is definitely a bunch of cultural appropriation going on here. And I think she probably pissed off a lot of people representing the Indian Child Welfare Act the way she did. Nevertheless, I see what she’s trying to do, and I appreciate the effort.

No. 26 on my challenge. The last entry, yes, but certainly not my last read.

Changeless by Gail Carriger

Changeless.CarrigerIt took me a lot longer to finish this second book in the Parasol Protectorate series than it did the first, and I’m not entirely sure why it didn’t hold my attention as well (vacation, friend visits, work, summer?), but I enjoyed it nonetheless. The same cast of oddballs and eccentrics returned with a few extra weirdos thrown in for good measure, and I’m still enjoying the world Carriger has developed wherein fantastical creatures are not only known, but accepted into Victorian society. Despite the fact that the penultimate scene wasn’t as twisty as intended (I saw it coming from miles—and months—away), and the big mystery reveal wasn’t nearly as revealing (or shocking) as it was in Soulless, the last three pages of Changeless has me itching to read number three.

No. two for no. 6 on my challenge.