The Call of the Wild by Jack London

CalloftheWildI can certainly understand why this book is on the Banned Books that Shaped America list—it is quite violent, but at least it’s not completely gratuitous. Though London writes detailed scenes of human and animal brutality, Buck’s is a story of strength, dignity, loyalty, and, above all, survival. Honestly, given the tragedies that were committed and occurring in the early 1900s, I’m surprised it’s not worse.

No. 8 on my challenge.

Fun fact: this is the first audiobook that I have listened to and it took me a very long time to finish it because the narrator’s voice was so soothing that he kept lulling me to sleep.

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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.

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?

Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol

deadsouls_gogolYou’re smart people, so by now you’ve probably figured out that I’m not the biggest fan of European classics. Dickens certainly did not meet my expectations, great or otherwise, I did not have a whale of a time reading Melville (heh!) and I’m sorry, but for all the fuss about Dorian Gray, his death was my favourite part of the whole novel.

And yet. And yet . . . I had hopes for Dead Souls. Not really high hopes, of course, but hopes nonetheless. I should have known better.

Now, it’s not that Dead Souls is a terrible read. Pavel Ivanovich Chichikov is a unique character with an outlandish mission that entertainingly sets him against a host of overblown caricatures representing all that was wrong with Russia back in the day (greed, stupidity, general suspicion). So it’s bound to have some good points. But my problem with this classic is the same problem I have with the others . . . it’s just so darn sluggish. Literally (for real, literally) a third of the book is superfluous exposition and hyperbole. And then after all the words he didn’t need to write, Gogol had the audacity to end mid sentence! What’s that about?!

Anyways… no. 1 on my challenge. Have I finally learned my lesson? Probably not. I’ll keep you posted.

Summer at Tiffany by Marjorie Hart

summerattiffany-hartAfter a disappointing erotic romance and a 520-page French classic, this light-hearted memoir of a charmed summer in 1945 New York was exactly what I needed.

The first women to ever be employed as pages at Tiffany’s, Marjorie and Marty spent four short months living the dream (on a strict budget of $20 a week, of course). Clubbing with moguls, gadding about with dashing midshipmen, modelling jewellery for eligible bachelors, nonchalantly stargazing from their station as famous faces breezed through the front doors (Judy GarlandMarlene Dietrich!), and standing in Times Square on VJ Day at the exact moment two million Americans learned that the war was finally over—no wonder the tagline reads: “Do you remember the best summer of your life?”

No. 3 on my challenge. Unlike most of the memoirs I tend to read, Summer at Tiffany is neither riveting nor profound. But it’s charming, it gives a bit of insight as to how young women lived and worked (and scrapped and saved) through the war years, and it’s a delightful way to spend a few hours.

Blue Water, White Death

bluewaterwhitedeath

An article in my August issue of National Geographic opens as such:

“When the documentary Blue Water, White Death hit US theaters in 1971, its footage of great white sharks crashing into diving cages became instantly iconic. But the footage that stands out 45 years later is a long scene showing oceanic whitetip sharks swarming a whale carcass a hundred miles off the coast of South Africa.

“It is an amazing  scene for two reasons: first, because the divers leave the safety of their cages to film the sharks, believed to be the first time anyone had ever tried the technique among feeding sharks [reaction: HOLD UP. WHAT NOW!?]. And second, because it’s a scene that might never be replicated—a marine version of the last photograph of endless bison herds roaming the North American plains [WELL NOW I GOTTA WATCH THIS].”

So obviously I dug it up. Thank you, internets. Not only is this documentary a gold mine in ’70s fashion, hairstyles, and lingo, but it’s also pretty cool to watch four absolutely insane people with underwater cameras swim freely with literally hundreds of feeding sharks. And that’s not the only time they left the cage. Oh, no. First they listened to a diver tell his story about getting attacked by a great white, checked out the guy’s scars, hung dead fish from their boat to attract a 16-footer, and then, when the shark was gnawing on dinner right beside their cage, they decided to OPEN THE DOORS to get closer. Because they’re crazy, obviously.

Now, I don’t recommend this documentary if you watch Shark Week every year, because it’s pretty low-budget (I have to assume they spent all of their money on charting a boat that chased around sharks for five months, cans of blood, and oxygen tanks), and the film quality is that special ’70s-era bad. But for me Blue Water, White DeathThe Most Frightening and Fascinating Sea Adventure Ever was totally worth it.

Friction by Sandra Brown

Friction.BrownI initially picked this up thinking I’d slip it in under No.22 on my challenge, but since it’s probably the least explicit Sandra Brown book I’ve read (there are only like, three steamy scenes in 416 pages), I’m going to hold off until I find a book worthy of the Erotica genre. In other news, Friction is the perfect book for soaking in a jacuzzi, lounging in a sunny backyard, and cozying up with a glass of wine on a rainy day (all of which were things I did while reading this). The thriller bit was thrilling, the romance bit was romantic, and the characters were satisfyingly maddening in their stubbornness, so I’d say it’s a pretty decent yarn.

Also, did you know that she’s written, like, eighty books? And that she has her own app? This lady knows what she’s doing.