Where The Wolves Read

A blog where I review mostly books. I also review, if my appetite allows, movies, music, and video games. Enjoy the feast!

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Empress of a Thousand Skies

SynopsisCrown Princess Rhiannon Ta'an wants vengeance.

The only surviving heir to an ancient Kalusian dynasty, Rhee has spent her life training to destroy the people who killed her family. Now, on the eve of her coronation, the time has finally come for Rhee to claim her throne - and her revenge.

Alyosha is a Wraetan who has risen above his war refugee origins to find fame as the dashing star of a DroneVision show. Despite his popularity, Aly struggles with anti-Wraetan prejudices and the pressure of being perfect in the public eye.

Their paths collide with one brutal act of violence: Rhee is attacked, barely escaping with her life. Aly is blamed for her presumed murder.

The princess and her accused killer are forced to go into hiding - even as a war between planets is waged in Rhee's name. But soon, Rhee and Aly discover that the assassination attempt is just one part of a sinister plot. Bound together by an evil that only they can stop, the two fugitives must join forces to save the galaxy.

Review: Empress of a Thousand Skies was a fast paced book, yet it took a while for me to get into it. I wasn't impressed with Rhee as a character and that disappointed me. She was very much a typical lost princess character I've read in other YA books. I did like Aly though. His relationship with Vin was humorous, and I appreciated how they showed reality television in this world. That was fascinating and I wished more was done with that. Kara was also interesting. I already figured out her secret, but I liked her character regardless. My only complaint is that I wish we could have seen her interact with people and the world a little more.

Like I said, the story is very fast paced. The book starts with a bang and doesn't really ever stop. That being said, I didn't think the world was very developed which is important if you are writing a sci-fi book and there are other planets involved. Even the planets we got to experience didn't feel very fleshed out. This is one of the few books where I saw the plot twist coming, but it didn't actually take anything away from the book. It was interesting, and Rhoda did something different than what other YA authors do. That was a nice touch. I enjoyed this book, but I was left wanting more and expecting more. I think this would have been better if I hadn't read the synopsis, because it is extremely inaccurate and I was expecting a different story than what I got. Still, I'm excited for book 2 so I can see what happens to these characters.

3.5 howls

Monday, November 27, 2017

The Girl with the Red Balloon by Katherine Locke

Content Warnings: Use of the term "gypsy" which is corrected/challenged later

SynopsisWhen sixteen-year-old Ellie Baum accidentally time-travels via red balloon to 1988 East Berlin, she’s caught up in a conspiracy of history and magic. She meets members of an underground guild in East Berlin who use balloons and magic to help people escape over the Wall—but even to the balloon makers, Ellie’s time travel is a mystery. When it becomes clear that someone is using dark magic to change history, Ellie must risk everything—including her only way home—to stop the process. 

Review: I'll be honest, I wasn't going to pick this book up. I hadn't heard enough about it, so I didn't know if I would enjoy it. Boy, I was wrong. Sadly, I didn't care for Ellie very much. I thought her history and relationship with Germany was interesting but, as a person, I didn't care for her. The other characters though were fascinating. Kai and Mitzi were great companions. I appreciated how Kai took care of his sister even though he was infatuated with Ellie. My favorite scene with Mitzi was when she and Ellie talked about Germany's past and the negative way Germans are still seen. When you have such a dark past, it is extremely hard to come back from that. I thought it brought a beautiful and necessary conversation to light about misconceptions and assumptions. Sabina was neat, but something about her didn't sit right with me. She's supposed to be a teenager, but she acted developmentally behind. More like a small child than a teen. I could see that if she had a developmental issue, but that was never really discussed. Kai described Sabina as a prodigy, but I didn't get that vibe.

The story was a fun ride. I don't read a lot of historical fiction, but I definitely haven't read one that incorporated magic as well. The story shifts between 2 different time periods. One was 1941-1942, where we follow Ellie's grandfather as he endures Nazi Germany. The other is 1988. This is where we follow Ellie in her adventure. I wish the story took place in only one time period, but I understand why it was handled this way. The way the 2 settings were woven together was interesting, and heartbreaking. Plus, it was good to see how things change, but also how they stay the same between these time periods. There is still plenty of racism and judgement even 40+ years apart. There is a slur used a couple of times in this book, but it was addressed a couple of different ways. I'm not Romani, so I can't say if it was handled "well" but characters address the slur and the author even talks about it in her author's note. One little thing that threw me off was the instances where the text read "G-d" instead of "God." I wasn't sure of the characters were saying "God" or "G" "D." This is primarily how the word is shown in the book, but there were also times where it just had "God." So, that was weird to me. There might have been a reason and I just didn't realize it.

The Girl with the Red Balloon is unlike any other historical fiction book I've ever read. It's beautifully written with a unique cast of characters. Definitely worth picking up.

4 howls

Friday, November 24, 2017

Want by Cindy Pon

SynopsisJason Zhou survives in a divided society where the elite use their wealth to buy longer lives. The rich wear special suits that protect them from the pollution and viruses that plague the city, while those without suffer illness and early deaths. Frustrated by his city’s corruption and still grieving the loss of his mother, who died as a result of it, Zhou is determined to change things, no matter the cost.

With the help of his friends, Zhou infiltrates the lives of the wealthy in hopes of destroying the international Jin Corporation from within. Jin Corp not only manufactures the special suits the rich rely on, but they may also be manufacturing the pollution that makes them necessary.

Yet the deeper Zhou delves into this new world of excess and wealth, the more muddled his plans become. And against his better judgment, Zhou finds himself falling for Daiyu, the daughter of Jin Corp’s CEO. Can Zhou save his city without compromising who he is or destroying his own heart?

Review: Want was a thrill ride from page 1. Zhou was an interesting perspective to see. He knows what it's' like to be poor and broken. That has been his entire life. He also isn't afraid to do what needs to be done in order to fix the world. I liked getting to know the other characters in his group as well. Iris and Lingyi had such a cute relationship. I wish it was more apparent, but it was still nice to see a couple of ladies in love. Arun and Vic were also neat to read about, but I wish we had a little bit more of a relationship within the group. I'm glad we had the chance to know Daiyu. I always appreciate stories where the offspring of rich, corrupt people are not horrible like the parents. She had her own group of friends that made for an interesting parallel with Zhou's own group.

Cindy Pon doesn't hold back when dealing out the heartbreak in this book. The world felt sadly realistic. It seems like the kind of setting we could all be living in if things don't change. Taipei was a fresh city to experience. Not just that, we spent a good amount of time with the "haves" and the "have-nots," yos and meis respectively. It took a little while for me to get used to this terminology, mostly because I know Spanish and yo in Spanish sounds the way it looks. In Want, the term yo is pronounced you. When I got past that struggle, the book flowed really well. I will say that I saw the twist coming, but I felt the relationship between Zhou and Daiyu grew in a realistic way. Want is a fantastic book that uses found family, action, and a bit of romance. Definitely worth the read.

4 howls

Sidenote: If this story sounds interesting to you, I would highly recommend checking out the video game Shardlight. It also has a setting where the air is toxic and there's something sinister at work. Here is a playlist I watched of someone playing through the game. It's also great, and I think it compliments the story of Want very well.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Video Game Review: Mario Odyssey

Guys. This game. This freaking game. Mario is one of those characters that I've grown up with, and I get excited with every new installment. But this game has surpassed everything I could have hoped. I've seen the trailer but, beyond that, I've been trying to stay as spoiler free as possible. The biggest aspect of this game is exploration. Leave no stone unturned. Literally. There are collectibles in some of the rocks. From the very first level, the amount of detail is extraordinary. Every level feels unique and beautiful. Even though there are a couple forest/wooded areas, and there are a couple of water worlds, none of it feels repetitive. With other Mario games, I would dread certain levels (ice and water worlds in particular). This wasn't a problem with Odyssey. I enjoyed every level immensely. The platforming felt surprisingly smooth. Part of platforming in this game involves Cappy, the creature possessing Mario's hat. You have to throw him and jump on him in order to complete certain tasks. My favorite level is Metro Kingdom, New Donk City. I liked seeing how they incorporated a major Earth city into the world of Mario. More than that, this is where I noticed how much detail they actually put in the game. New Donk City is a play on Donkey Kong. The Mayor is Pauline (the princess kidnapped in the original arcade game), and all the street signs are named after Donkey Kong characters. That warmed my soul so much.

As much as I loved this game, I did still have some complaints. First, as big as the worlds are, there seemed to be a lot of unneeded space. To me, this was mostly noticeable in the Sand Kingdom. For as many power moons as there are to collect, I wish they were more spread out to make more use of the space. Another issue I have is with the ways you have to get some of the power moons. In every world, there are 2 races you complete against Koopas. The first one isn't too bad. The second one can be a pain. Specifically, in the Wooded Kingdom. You have to clear a giant gap with a convoluted long jump, cap bounce, dive combo which I'm having a hard time doing. As far as I can tell, there is NO way to win this race without mastering this trick which feels like something meant for speedrunners. I think Nintendo forgot for a bit that they do still make these games primarily for children. I've seen some people complain about how you can't 100% complete this game before the final boss. I actually enjoyed this. Backtracking in video games can be annoying, but I think it works with Odyssey. Plus, you get to cross paths with a certain princess.

Mario Odyssey is absolutely one of my favorite Mario platformers. It's long. It's packed with content. It's a load of fun.

5 howls

Friday, November 17, 2017

Dear Martin by Nic Stone

Content Warnings: Violence, guns, racism, racial slurs, microagressions

Synopsis: Raw, captivating, and undeniably real, Nic Stone joins industry giants Jason Reynolds and Walter Dean Myers as she boldly tackles American race relations in this stunning debut.

Justyce McAllister is top of his class and set for the Ivy League—but none of that matters to the police officer who just put him in handcuffs. And despite leaving his rough neighborhood behind, he can't escape the scorn of his former peers or the ridicule of his new classmates.

Justyce looks to the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for answers. But do they hold up anymore? He starts a journal to Dr. King to find out.

Then comes the day Justyce goes driving with his best friend, Manny, windows rolled down, music turned up—way up, sparking the fury of a white off-duty cop beside them. Words fly. Shots are fired. Justyce and Manny are caught in the crosshairs. In the media fallout, it's Justyce who is under attack.

Review: Dear Martin is one of those books that had a lot of hype surrounding it when the book came out. Thankfully, this book delivered on the hype. It's short, but it packs quite a punch. At the start of the story, Justyce has an encounter with the police and ends up in custody. This inspires him to write letters to Martin Luther King Jr as a way of coming to terms with the world around him. I loved Jus as a character and I found him to be one of the most realistic characters I've read this year. He wants to be like MLK, but he isn't ignorant to the fact that the world is against him. He often questions his ability to follow Dr. King's footsteps and he ends up making some not great choices. I also really enjoyed Manny. I liked having Justyce and Manny's different viewpoints on how white people act. Manny laughs along as his white friends make inappropriate jokes, but Jus is there to question that behavior. It would be great to discuss this with teenagers and why jokes like that are not okay.

As for the story, it got dark quite fast. I'm not just saying that because the book is short. You get a taste of two different environments within this book. Justyce's old neighborhood, and the school he goes to. Both places feel distinct and real. Justyce's narration and his letter entries to MLK were balanced masterfully. I won't go into detail, but I appreciated the connection between the officers involved in Justyce's incident at the start of the book, and the incident involving Justyce and Manny later. Another thing I appreciated was how Justyce's relationships were handled. There were two girls who caught Manny's eye in Dear Martin, Melo and SJ. Melo was a part of his past, something Justyce feared he would never escape. SJ represented a hopeful future where Jus could be more than what was expected of him. They both helped Justyce learn more about himself and where he wants to go in life. The only criticism I have, is I wish there was more of a correlation between Justyce's life and MLK's teachings. Everyone knows Dr. King was a speaker of peace and equality, but it would have been nice to see some of his texts in Dear Martin. I think it would have made for a really nice bridge between Martin's teachings and Justyce's life.

Dear Martin touches on a variety of topics, grief, racism, love, and living just to name a few. It's a spectacular book that is definitely worth reading.

5 howls

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Carrie by Stephen King

Content Warnings: Abuse, domestic abuse, bullying, girl on girl hate

SynopsisCarrie knew she should not use the terrifying power she possessed... But one night at her senior prom, Carrie was scorned and humiliated just one time too many, and in a fit of uncontrollable fury she turned her clandestine game into a weapon of horror and destruction...

Review: Carrie was such a unique book. I feel like there isn't a way to discuss characters because of the way the book is structured. The book was written as if it was a collection of research on telekinesis and Carrie's life. So, instead of the book being broken up by chapters, there would be a title of a fake book or article. Then there would be a section which kind of summarizes what information that article had in it. Finally, there would be a bit which actually felt like a story from Carrie's perspective as we see her living her life described in this article. It's bizarre, but fascinating. Carrie was a tragic character, but I appreciated that she was fat and not pretty. I watched the original movie when I was younger, and I didn't realize Carrie was described differently in the book. I wish they kept that element. The opening scene as Carrie has her first period hurt my soul. I remember what that moment was like for me, and reliving it from Carrie's perspective was hard. If you're a person who is sensitive to women hate, this will be a hard book to read. The entire book follows Carrie's abuse by this group of girls, and the tragedy that comes from it. I have a hard time describing this book accurately because of how it is written, but it's definitely worth reading.

4 howls

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Shiny Broken Pieces by Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton

Content Warnings: Eating disorders, bulimia, bullying

Synopsis: June, Bette, and Gigi have given their all to dance at Manhattan’s most elite ballet school. Now they are competing one final time for a spot at the prestigious American Ballet Company. With the stakes higher than ever, these girls have everything to lose… and no one is playing nice.

June is starting to finally see herself as a prima ballerina. However, getting what she wants might cost her everything—including the only boy she’s ever loved. Legacy dancer Bette is determined to clear her name after she was suspended and accused of hurting her rival, Gigi. Even if she returns, though, will she ever regain the spotlight she craves? And Gigi is not going to let Bette—or the other dancers who bullied her—go unpunished. But as revenge consumes her, Gigi may be the one who pays the price.

After years of grueling auditions, torn ribbons, and broken hearts, it all comes down to this last dance. Who will make the cut? And who will lose her dream forever?
Review: I'm going to go ahead and say that this review will have spoilers from the first book. Shiny Broken Pieces picks up not long after Tiny Pretty Things. I would highly recommend reading these two books back to back if at all possible. We follow the same characters as the first book, June, Bette, and Gigi, as they come to terms with what happened at the end of the first book. One thing I really enjoyed was Gigi trying the "bad girl" attitude. No, it didn't last the entire book, but it was good to see that she was capable of being as mean as the other girls. I felt like it gave her much needed depth. I also loved getting to know Cassie. One of the things I wondered while reading the first book was whether or not Cassie was using Henri to pull the strings and hurting people at the academy. While I wasn't necessarily right, I'm glad Cassie was in this book and we were able to see how dark she became.

As for the story itself, I felt like the stakes were much higher in Shiny Broken Pieces which I appreciated. Even though it was still a story of the girls trying to win a coveted spot, I didn't feel like I was reading the same story over again. All of the character interactions felt fresh. There is an underlying mystery of who pushed Gigi in front of the car at the end of the first book. I feel like that was paced really well thoughout the book. It didn't last the entire book, but it lasted long enough to stay intriguing. I shouldn't have been surprised by who pushed Gigi, but I genuinely was. I was also surprised by how Gigi handled her relationships by the end of the book. Another thing I thought was handled well was who ended up getting the spot at the American Ballet Company. I won't say too much, but I think it did a good job of nailing home the reality of being a mean girl won't actually get you anywhere. The last thing I want to talk about is June's bulimia. I was a little disappointed that her ED didn't seem to have consequences in the first book, but that completely changes with Shiny Broken Pieces. Someone even says to June that she's not healthy enough for ballet. That being addressed made me love this series even more. This is definitely one of the best contemporary series I've read and I would highly recommend it.

5 howls

Monday, November 6, 2017

Tiny Pretty Things by Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton

Content Warnings: Eating disorders, Bulimia, Anorexia, Cheating, References to adult-child relationships, Sex, Sexual themes, Teen drinking, Drug use

SummaryGigi, Bette, and June, three top students at an exclusive Manhattan ballet school, have seen their fair share of drama. Free-spirited new girl Gigi just wants to dance—but the very act might kill her. Privileged New Yorker Bette's desire to escape the shadow of her ballet star sister brings out a dangerous edge in her. And perfectionist June needs to land a lead role this year or her controlling mother will put an end to her dancing dreams forever. When every dancer is both friend and foe, the girls will sacrifice, manipulate, and backstab to be the best of the best.

Review: I was unprepared for how much I was going to enjoy Tiny Pretty Things. I'm not a part of the dancing world but, thankfully, not much of the dancing terminology was lost on me. The characters were all fascinating. Lately, I've seen a lot of people drag books where there's girl hate and they wish there was more female friendships. Honestly, this book was refreshingly familiar. You don't have to go to a dance school to be surrounded by girls who want to watch you fail. This hit me in a very special place. Bette is much like a lot of girls I grew up with. She's used to getting her way and begins to unravel when her plans fail. June struggles with being just barely not good enough. She's always in someone's shadow. Because of this, she heavily relies on purging her body in an effort to make her dancing better. Gigi is the new girl who is naturally gifted. My biggest complaint with her is she seemed too nice. She has medical issues which is her big, dark secret, but she was usually nice and perky. That isn't a bad thing, it just seemed weird. Though, that could have been a large part of why her character stood out to everyone. Instead of being raised in this intense dancing school, she came from a smaller dancing community filled with girls who were loving and supportive. Finally, we gotta talk about Cassie. I have my own suspicions, but I really enjoyed Cassie's part in this book. The book opens with her narrative, and then she is gone for the rest of the story. Yet, other characters talk about her enough that it feels like she is still very much part of the school and the story. I applaud Sona and Dhonielle for making that work.

The story itself was engaging from the start. Again, this is not my community, but I felt like I could visualize the school and the dancing. At the very start, it is clear what expectations the characters have for themselves. Bette has her family's legacy and, more specifically, her sister's shadow covering her. June struggles with being bi-racial and not feeling quite right for either group. She's also constantly having pressure put on her by her mother's unreasonable expectations. Gigi loves to dance and doesn't want her medical problems to get in the way. She also knows how incredibly dangerous this lifestyle is for her, but she's willing to risk it much to her family's dismay. Things heat up when Gigi lands the lead role of their seasonal showcase. From there, bullying and harassment are endless. What was interesting was how none of the other characters seemed innocent. Even smaller characters like Liz, Eleanor, Henri, and Will all have something at stake throughout the story. The mystery of "who is harassing Gigi" always feels fresh. The moment you think you know who it is, something else happens to make you question your suspicions. I found myself questioning everyone. It was interesting seeing all the characters scramble to prove their innocence. There are some romantic subplots going through the story as well. I do wish the discussion of sexuality was brought up a bit more. Hopefully, things will be discussed further in the second book. Overall, Tiny Pretty Things was dark, but great. Definitely would recommend checking them out.

5 howls

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Blood, Sweat, and Pixels by Jason Schreier

SummaryDeveloping video games—hero's journey or fool's errand? The creative and technical logistics that go into building today's hottest games can be more harrowing and complex than the games themselves, often seeming like an endless maze or a bottomless abyss. In Blood, Sweat, and Pixels, Jason Schreier takes readers on a fascinating odyssey behind the scenes of video game development, where the creator may be a team of 600 overworked underdogs or a solitary geek genius. Exploring the artistic challenges, technical impossibilities, marketplace demands, and Donkey Kong-sized monkey wrenches thrown into the works by corporate, Blood, Sweat, and Pixels reveals how bringing any game to completion is more than Sisyphean—it's nothing short of miraculous.
Taking some of the most popular, bestselling recent games, Schreier immerses readers in the hellfire of the development process, whether it's RPG studio Bioware's challenge to beat an impossible schedule and overcome countless technical nightmares to build Dragon Age: Inquisition; indie developer Eric Barone's single-handed efforts to grow country-life RPG Stardew Valley from one man's vision into a multi-million-dollar franchise; or Bungie spinning out from their corporate overlords at Microsoft to create Destiny, a brand new universe that they hoped would become as iconic as Star Wars and Lord of the Rings—even as it nearly ripped their studio apart.
Documenting the round-the-clock crunches, buggy-eyed burnout, and last-minute saves, Blood, Sweat, and Pixels is a journey through development hell—and ultimately a tribute to the dedicated diehards and unsung heroes who scale mountains of obstacles in their quests to create the best games imaginable.
Review: Blood, Sweat, and Pixels was fascinating. Obviously, if you aren't into video games or game development, this is not for you. I've been playing video games since I was very small. I religiously played games in the Zelda, Pokemon, Mario series just to name a few. While I don't know all the technological ins and outs of making a video game, I still found this book extremely enjoyable. It was mostly because Jason doesn't only talk about how games are made. He also talks a lot about the politics that go into running a company and how companies can often get pretty screwed over (I'm looking at you, Star Wars 1313). Some of the stories were adorable. I loved reading about the making of Stardew Valley. Others were heartbreaking. Making Destiny was really sad. I will say that I would have definitely enjoyed this book more if I had played any of the games Jason discussed. I watch people play video games on Twitch, so I was familiar enough with all of them, except for Star Wars 1313. If you haven't played these games, but you want to read this book, I would HIGHLY recommend at least watching some snippets of game play on Twitch or You Tube so you understand how the worlds/characters/controls are established. It would give you a really good idea of how difficult it is to make these incredible games. The biggest downside I had was some of the explanations. Maybe it's just the way my friends and I grew up, but I really didn't need Jason to explain a sprite to me. I also thought it was weird how Jason kept calling PAX by its full name, Penny Arcade Expo, but never referred to E3 by its full name, Electronics Entertainment Expo. He also talked about PAX in general, but didn't specify if demos/trailers were displayed at PAX East, or PAX Prime (West). Don't worry, I know those little things are just me being a bit picky. *pushes glasses up bridge of nose* I would consider this required reading for anyone who loves video games in any way.
4 howls