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!

Friday, June 22, 2018

Siren by Sophia Elaine Hanson

SynopsisTwo weeks have passed since the revolution fell. Two weeks since Ronja and Roark fled to the island nation of Tovaire before Maxwell could use her voice as a weapon. Their friends are imprisoned, their comrades radio silent. All the while the new Conductor prepares his unwitting army for a conquest that will ravage the world. 

With little left but her rage and her voice, Ronja craves vengeance on the puppeteer that enslaved her city and murdered her friend. Her only hope of returning to Revinia lies in the Kev Fairla, the rogue Tovairin army currently engaged in a battle with northern aggressors. The impossible task weighs heavy on her shoulders, and an unexpected blood connection begins to unravel everything she thought she knew. 

The final installment in the bestselling Vinyl Trilogy, Siren is a story of revenge, rebirth, love, and the limitless power of music.

Review: This review is probably going to be quite short because I don't have too much to say at this point. My opinion of the characters didn't really change by the end of the series. I still enjoyed them quite a lot, and I was impressed with how they ended up fitting in each others lives. I will say, the whole thing with music being Ronja's power was still cheesy. I think what impressed me the most with this series was how the multiple perspectives worked out. A lot of times, a book will have multiple perspectives and they don't serve much of a purpose. That wasn't the case with Sophia Elaine Hanson's series. She does a good job of making each character and each perspective important. It was nice to see how everything came together in the end.

While this series has some flaws, it was quite entertaining. Definitely worth checking out.

4 howls

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Radio by Sophia Elaine Hanson

Trigger Warnings: Assault

SynopsisAfter the traumatic events at the dreaded prison Red Bay, Ronja is hanging by a thread. Whispers trail her through the Belly, carrying rumors of her borderline supernatural voice. Plagued by nightmares and haunted by the memories of those she could not save, she clings to the promise that her gift will soon become the weapon of the Anthem.

When doubt and arrogance cloud the eyes of their once trusted commander, Ronja and her friends are forced to take matters into their own hands. Armed with little more than an idea, they strike out on their own to silence The Music and The Conductor once and for all. But time is running out, and a new threat is stirring within the walls of the city...

Review: Radio was an engaging second book and a fairly good follow-up to Vinyl. Ronja has escaped Red Bay, but she lost people in the process. I love that we get to know more characters and we get to experience a different setting. This definitely adds more depth to the world and we get to walk with the characters as they encounter an entirely new environment. That being said, I didn't really care for Darius, and I thought his part of the story was rather predictable.

Radio really drew some elements of fantasy into this world. I feel like some aspects worked well, and others didn't. Darius was one that I was not terribly fond of. I'm honestly still on the fence about whether or not I like the "powers" Ronja has. In some ways, I feel like it takes away from an actual disorder people have, and it felt a bit cheesy. In other ways, the beauty of music is used so well that I could ignore the problems I had with it. I also found the ending to be predictable, so that was a little disappointing. That being said, Sophia can clearly write a compelling story with tension that doesn't rely on a love triangle. That is impressive.

Good story, but the fantasy elements were hit-or-miss for me.

3 howls

Monday, June 18, 2018

Vinyl by Sophia Elaine Hanson

SynopsisAll citizens within the soaring black walls of Revinia have metal Singers grafted into their skulls at birth. The parasitic machines issue a form of auditory hypnosis called The Music, which keeps their minds malleable and emotions flat. All artistic expression—especially real music—is strictly prohibited.

On the edge of the city, nineteen year old Ronja struggles to support her cousins and disabled mother. A chance meeting leads to her kidnapping by an underground resistance striving to preserve the human spirit. Violently severed from her Singer by the brash young agent Roark, Ronja revels in her newfound freedom until the consequences of her disappearance begin to unfold.

Trigger warnings: Use of the word "mutt" to refer to disabled people; references to substance-abuse
Review: First off, props to Sophia for giving me characters I enjoyed to read about. I rarely find a book where I like every character presented, but Vinyl was definitely one of them. Ronja had moments where her actions confused me. She seemed to hold a lot of resentment towards her mother, but then she rushed out to save her. I guess she loved her mom deep, deep down? Her attitude throughout the rest of the book made me think otherwise. The other characters were compelling and I can't wait to spend more time with them in the next couple of books. I will say, the treatment of "disabled" people in this world left much to be desired. The only disabled people Vinyl were created by the ruling government as a form of punishment. They have physical disfigurements, and they are treated horribly. That's something to keep in mind for anyone reading this book.

The story was compelling. I thought the idea of music being a kind of hypnosis was interesting and I was excited to see how it played out. What I appreciated the most was how this book took common dystopian tropes and turned them on their head. It felt unique in a world of similar dystopians. When reading this book, I naturally assumed there would be a love triangle between Roark, Ronja, and Henry, but something happened at the end to make me question that. I'm still wary because I know how tricky authors can be. I'm hoping the future books can shed a better light on the disabled characters in this world. I expect that to be explained a bit more, and in a more positive way.

Vinyl is a page-turner. The world is small, but well crafted. I have high expectations for the rest of the series.

4 howls

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Leah on the Offbeat by Becky Albertalli

SynopsisLeah Burke—girl-band drummer, master of deadpan, and Simon Spier’s best friend from the award-winning Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda—takes center stage in this novel of first love and senior-year angst.

When it comes to drumming, Leah Burke is usually on beat—but real life isn’t always so rhythmic. An anomaly in her friend group, she’s the only child of a young, single mom, and her life is decidedly less privileged. She loves to draw but is too self-conscious to show it. And even though her mom knows she’s bisexual, she hasn’t mustered the courage to tell her friends—not even her openly gay BFF, Simon.

So Leah really doesn’t know what to do when her rock-solid friend group starts to fracture in unexpected ways. With prom and college on the horizon, tensions are running high. It’s hard for Leah to strike the right note while the people she loves are fighting—especially when she realizes she might love one of them more than she ever intended.

Review: Leah on the Offbeat has had a bit of a time, lately. I think a lot of people were expecting this to be more like Simon Vs. because it's a sequel. In actuality, this story comes from a different place because, as a character, Leah is very different to Simon. I enjoyed Leah's character for the most part. I liked how straight-forward she was with her friends. I also related to her in those moments where she wouldn't buy food when going out with friends. Even though our situations are different, I think a lot of people understand that feeling. Especially, coming from a fat person, the struggle that comes when friends notice our lack of eating and start to question. It can be a tough time. It was nice getting to see familiar characters again, Simon, Abby, Bram, Nick, etc. I understand that characters can change, but it seemed like such a weird shift sometimes. Specifically, every interaction with Simon and Martin. I think it would have helped if we had more interactions with Simon and Martin so we could see Simon forgiving him. I guess that's a very personal thing because I was treated like crap in high school and I might never forgive those people. It's been 10 years since I graduated and I still feel that way. I just have a hard time understanding how Simon can forgive Martin in such a short amount of time.

In the way of the story, it was cute. I get why people enjoy it as much as they did. I won't say who Leah ends up with, but it definitely struck a couple nerves with me. First off, as many have seen, there was a very unpleasant conversation had between Leah and the love interest about being "a little" bisexual. I guess this mostly bothered me because Leah never came out either. You don't have to come out to have an opinion on your own identity. Just, her insistence on what makes someone bisexual bothered me. I also had a hard time with people dating around in close friend groups. I don't want to expand too much on this because spoilers, but I grew up with a close group of friends who all dated each other. It was always weird and it can suck. A lot. Plus, I felt like some aspects of this never got a proper resolution and that made me upset. There could have been deeper conversations about long-distance relationships that we just never got and that was disappointing.

Overall, Leah was cute, but not what I had hoped it would be. There were good openings for conversations, but the conversations never actually happened and that bummed me out.

3 howls

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton

Trigger Warnings: Attempted rape, deadnaming

SynopsisCamellia Beauregard is a Belle. In the opulent world of Orléans, Belles are revered, for they control Beauty, and Beauty is a commodity coveted above all else. In Orléans, the people are born gray, they are born damned, and only with the help of a Belle and her talents can they transform and be made beautiful.

But it’s not enough for Camellia to be just a Belle. She wants to be the favorite—the Belle chosen by the Queen of Orléans to live in the royal palace, to tend to the royal family and their court, to be recognized as the most talented Belle in the land. But once Camellia and her Belle sisters arrive at court, it becomes clear that being the favorite is not everything she always dreamed it would be. Behind the gilded palace walls live dark secrets, and Camellia soon learns that the very essence of her existence is a lie—that her powers are far greater, and could be more dangerous, than she ever imagined. And when the queen asks Camellia to risk her own life and help the ailing princess by using Belle powers in unintended ways, Camellia now faces an impossible decision. 

With the future of Orléans and its people at stake, Camellia must decide—save herself and her sisters and the way of the Belles—or resuscitate the princess, risk her own life, and change the ways of her world forever.

Review: The Belles was a wild ride. The synopsis and the cover might make it seem like a fluffy book about beauty, but that's far from the truth. To start, Camellia is a fantastic character. She's easy to relate to, but obviously very flawed. She has this issue with following the rules in ways that might not get her into immediate trouble, but it impacts her later. Camellia's ability to see a person's natural beauty was touching. Remy (sorry, I know I'm missing the accent mark) and Auguste were both fun to read. I enjoyed every interaction they had with Camellia. The relationship Camellia had with her sisters was great. There was a bit of jealousy in there, but they love each other so much and, when one of them is hurting, they all hurt. It's a connectivity you don't see in many other books.

The story itself was amazing. I enjoyed every second if it. From the time the Belles displayed their power to the queen, to the very last page, I didn't want to put this book down. The world was interesting to explore and I liked learning about the Belles and their powers. I usually have a general distrust of all characters when I read a book, but I wanted almost everyone in The Belles to be good and to make it out. There was so much court intrigue in The Belles. That's normally a hit or miss for me, but I never got bored reading about court life and seeing Camellia in her day-to-day activities. Dhonielle even put a bit of a mystery in this novel as well which I found very impressive. This book is the complete package when it comes to a starting fantasy.

Beautiful book with amazing characters. It will have you on the edge of your seat.

5 howls

Monday, February 26, 2018

Wonder by RJ Palacio

Trigger Warnings: Bullying, suicidal jokes

SynopsisI won’t describe what I look like. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse. 

August Pullman was born with a facial difference that, up until now, has prevented him from going to a mainstream school. Starting 5th grade at Beecher Prep, he wants nothing more than to be treated as an ordinary kid—but his new classmates can’t get past Auggie’s extraordinary face. WONDER, now a #1 New York Times bestseller and included on the Texas Bluebonnet Award master list, begins from Auggie’s point of view, but soon switches to include his classmates, his sister, her boyfriend, and others. These perspectives converge in a portrait of one community’s struggle with empathy, compassion, and acceptance. 

Review: This is one of those books that I've had for awhile, but I've been putting it off. I knew it was going to be a tough one for me to get through. First off, I really enjoyed Auggie. I appreciated how self-aware he was. He knew that people were making fun of him or staring at him, and he was honest with himself. I thought this was great and I related to it a lot. I'm not pretty. I don't have facial defects like Auggie, but I'm not what society sees as attractive. That's fine. I've known that my entire life. Similar to Auggie, I've had people try to sugarcoat growing up. "You're not ugly" or "It's what's inside that counts" were very common phrases. Auggie puts up with this too. Maybe it's because of our similar pasts, but I found him surprisingly easy to relate to. He also made me think a lot of a kid I grew up with who had his legs smashed when he was young, so he always had to walk with leg braces. He ended up being one of the most kind, smart kids I ever had the pleasure of knowing.

The story was cute. I don't know why, but I was expecting it to be a sad book.I'm a bit torn on how I feel about the shifting of perspectives. It gives us a more rounded view of Auggie's life, and it showed us how loved this kid is. At the same time, none of the perspectives felt really unique except for Auggie's. Maybe it's because some of the sections were really short so we didn't get to spend a whole lot of time in some of the characters' heads. It was still interesting though. I'm glad the story wasn't sad. There was a fair amount of bullying, but none of it felt overwhelming. As someone who was bullied a lot growing up, my heart went out to Auggie. He was a strong character and it was a joy to read. There were some sad bits in the story, but overall the book was heartwarming.

Cute, touching book with some great messages.

4 howls

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

The Diabolic by S.J. Kincaid

SynopsisNemesis is a Diabolic. Created to protect a galactic Senator's daughter, Sidonia. There's no one Nemesis wouldn't kill to keep her safe. But when the power-mad Emperor summons Sidonia to the galactic court as a hostage, there is only one way for Nemesis to protect Sidonia.

She must become her.

Now one of the galaxy's most dangerous weapons is masquerading in a world of corruption and Nemesis has to hide her true abilities or risk everything. As the Empire begins to fracture and rebellion looms closer, Nemesis learns that there is something stronger than her deadly force: the one thing she's been told she doesn't have - humanity. And, amidst all the danger, action and intrigue, her humanity might be the only thing that can save her, Sidonia and the entire Empire...

Review: First off, this book is definitely more politic heavy and character driven than plot driven. So, if that isn't your speed, then this might be a book to skip. As a whole, the characters were interesting. I didn't really trust anyone while reading this book. One thing I enjoyed was how it opened up the discussion of humanity, and how Nemesis showed more emotion and care than some of the other characters. I found that interesting. In the world we live in now, humans can be pretty despicable. I like seeing how other people depict human nature in books. The story itself hinges on Nemesis going to the galactic court in place of Sidonia. I gotta say, this whole "character A acts like character B" trope is a peeve of mine. In large part because I never felt like we got to know Sidonia as a character on her own. It was always Nemesis' view of Sidonia which is naturally going to lean more favorably towards Sidonia.

As far as the story goes, it's a pretty light sci-fi book. I could see this being a good way of easing someone into the sci-fi genre. There isn't much in the way of world-building and, like I said, it focuses much more on the politics of the world and the relationships. There is heavy talk of religion versus science which I know some people are not a fan of. One really nice thing is that this book reads as a stand alone. There is another book after this one, but The Diabolic tells a complete story on its own. 

Quick intro to sci-fi with possibilities for interesting discussion about humanity and religion.

3.5 howls

Monday, February 19, 2018

The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert

SynopsisSeventeen-year-old Alice and her mother have spent most of Alice’s life on the road, always a step ahead of the uncanny bad luck biting at their heels. But when Alice’s grandmother, the reclusive author of a cult-classic book of pitch-dark fairy tales, dies alone on her estate, the Hazel Wood, Alice learns how bad her luck can really get: her mother is stolen away―by a figure who claims to come from the Hinterland, the cruel supernatural world where her grandmother's stories are set. Alice's only lead is the message her mother left behind: “Stay away from the Hazel Wood.”

Alice has long steered clear of her grandmother’s cultish fans. But now she has no choice but to ally with classmate Ellery Finch, a Hinterland superfan who may have his own reasons for wanting to help her. To retrieve her mother, Alice must venture first to the Hazel Wood, then into the world where her grandmother's tales began―and where she might find out how her own story went so wrong.

Review: I'm a sucker for fairy tales, and I wanted to love this book. The characters were the biggest downfall for me. Alice was pretty unremarkable. Finch had the potential to be a favorite character. I appreciated how he was a bit of a nerd and really into the stories from the Hinterland. Still, something about his character rubbed me the wrong way. I'm not going to say too much because I don't want to spoil what happens later, but it's one of those things I saw coming. There wasn't much else in the way of side characters. The story focused on Alice and Finch, but neither of them felt terribly fleshed out. There also wasn't much said about Finch's background. We know that he's black, but that's about it and it's honestly hard to remember that fact throughout the book because he acts more like white people I've been around than black people. There was another scene that led to a potential f/f relationship in the past, but it was never really explored past a slight mention. It seemed like there were little teasers of diversity, but nothing fully discussed which was a bummer.

The story was engaging, and creepy. I thought that was rather well done. The mystery of the Tales from the Hinterlands kept me intrigued, and I found myself reading this entire book in a single sitting. We do get an idea of what some of these stories contained, but it was done in a weird way. Alice wants to read these stories to see if there's some kind of clue to help her find her mom, but there doesn't seem to be any way for her to access them. This leaves it up to Finch, super fan, to convey some of the stories to her. I wish Melissa would have played with this idea a little more, how Alice never reads the text of the stories herself. She always hears second-hand summaries of the stories from Finch. Maybe it's because I didn't trust Finch, but it could have made for some really interesting conflicts if Alice realized she might not be able to trust everything Finch says.

An interesting idea, but pretty flat characters.

3 howls

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Easy by Tammara Webber

SynopsisHe watched her, but never knew her. Until thanks to a chance encounter, he became her savior...

The attraction between them was undeniable. Yet the past he'd worked so hard to overcome, and the future she'd put so much faith in, threatened to tear them apart.

Only together could they fight the pain and guilt, face the truth - and find the unexpected power of love.

A groundbreaking novel in the New Adult genre, Easy faces one girl's struggle to regain the trust she's lost, find the inner strength to fight back against an attacker, and accept the peace she finds in the arms of a secretive boy.

Review: New Adult is a fun genre when you want something a little mindless to read. Easy was a fun read, but it was also impactful. The story starts with a bang as Jacqueline becomes the victim of an attempted rape. She is saved by Lucas who happens to be in one of her classes. I have to say, Lucas and Jacqueline were pretty generic. I did appreciate how Jacqueline kept correcting people when they would use her old nickname. That's something I have had to deal with too, and it's hard to keep your past behind you when people keep bringing up little parts of it. I thought the romance between the two was cute, but predictable. I really enjoyed Lucas though. His ability to pay attention to detail was a kindness I have experienced from a good friend of mine. That warmed my soul a little.

Where this book really stands out is the story. First off, for a NA book, there isn't a huge focus on sex. Jacqueline's almost rape and how she manages afterwards is a big factor but, even with side characters who are actively having sex, it isn't something we have to deal with on the page. Sometimes I think the NA genre is too focused on making their characters having sex and there isn't much more to the story. I was grateful this book did something a little different. I'm glad the book didn't just focus on Jacqueline's story, and other girls and their experiences became a big part too. As a whole, it does a good job of approaching rape culture on a college campus which I appreciated. I will say that my biggest gripe is definitely a personal one. I can't imagine what kind of school these kids go to. Maybe it's because I've been working at a university for 6 years now, but I can't imagine Lucas rolling up to a dorm on a motorcycle. We have too many people and not enough space for that kind of nonsense.

Fast, enjoyable read with a great story.

5 howls

Friday, February 9, 2018

This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab

SynopsisThere’s no such thing as safe in a city at war, a city overrun with monsters. In this dark urban fantasy from author Victoria Schwaba young woman and a young man must choose whether to become heroes or villains—and friends or enemies—with the future of their home at stake. The first of two books.

Kate Harker and August Flynn are the heirs to a divided city—a city where the violence has begun to breed actual monsters. All Kate wants is to be as ruthless as her father, who lets the monsters roam free and makes the humans pay for his protection. All August wants is to be human, as good-hearted as his own father, to play a bigger role in protecting the innocent—but he’s one of the monsters. One who can steal a soul with a simple strain of music. When the chance arises to keep an eye on Kate, who’s just been kicked out of her sixth boarding school and returned home, August jumps at it. But Kate discovers August’s secret, and after a failed assassination attempt the pair must flee for their lives.

Review: Oh man, I'm so excited I got to read this book finally. I enjoyed reading Kate and August's perspectives. They were both done quite well considering one was supposed to be a monstrous human and the other was a humane monster. Kate's growth was my favorite. She tries to be a rough and tough human who can go toe to toe with ruthless monsters. That being said, she stumbles and second guesses herself and her motivations. August was interesting too. He tried so hard to fit in with humans but, in the end, he realized that was impossible and he needed to be true to himself. There were some interesting side characters as well. I liked how different Leo and Ilsa were to August. The monsters didn't feel like carbon copies of one another. I wish we were able to spend a bit more time with Henry, Emily, Harker, and Sloan. We got to know them a fair amount, but something seemed a little lacking. I also wish there was a little more to Kate and August. It's hard to explain, but I feel like their characters could have had a little bit more to them.

The story was surprisingly fast. It wasn't really filled with action or intrigue, but I still managed to fly through this story. The world felt fairly fleshed out considering the entire book took place in a single city. I will say, I didn't quite buy the backstories behind the monsters. Sunai, the kind of monster August is, are apparently incredibly rare and only made during events of extreme tragedy. There are only 3 in the world, August, Ilsa, and Leo. I won't say what specifically caused August, Ilsa, and Leo to exist, because I found them interesting myself. I just have a hard time believing that there were only 3 major tragedies of that scale in this world. Maybe it's because I'm used to seeing awful things of this nature regularly. It would be interesting if more Sunai start popping up in the second book, but we'll see.

This was an great, quick read. An awesome start to what I'm sure will be a wonderful series.

4 howls

Monday, February 5, 2018

The Gauntlet by Karuna Riazi

SynopsisA trio of friends from New York City find themselves trapped inside a mechanical board game that they must dismantle in order to save themselves and generations of other children in this action-packed debut that’s a steampunk Jumanji with a Middle Eastern flair.

When twelve-year-old Farah and her two best friends get sucked into a mechanical board game called The Gauntlet of Blood and Sand—a puzzle game akin to a large Rubik’s cube—they know it’s up to them to defeat the game’s diabolical architect in order to save themselves and those who are trapped inside, including her baby brother Ahmed. But first they have to figure out how.

Under the tutelage of a lizard guide named Henrietta Peel and an aeronaut Vijay, the Farah and her friends battle camel spiders, red scorpions, grease monkeys, and sand cats as they prepare to face off with the maniacal Lord Amari, the man behind the machine. Can they defeat Amari at his own game…or will they, like the children who came before them, become cogs in the machine?

Review: I loved this book. I loved it so much. Farah was such a great character. She was strong and she definitely got annoyed by her brother sometimes, but she also deeply loved him. From the first chapter, you could tell that she would do anything for him. Alex and Essie were also fun to read, and they got a fair amount of page time. Karuna clearly tried her best to give every character their own growth and adventure. Ahmed was adorable, and true to the little brother characterization. Like I said, Farah would do anything for him and she definitely showed that. Every character was incredibly fun to read.

The story was great. If you've seen Jumanji, then you get the idea of what this book is about. That being said, Karuna took the Jumanji story and wove a Middle-eastern atmosphere into it. The details were incredible. It wasn't too much to drag the story, but I still got a sense of what the food might have tasted like and what the setting would have looked like. There were some technical aspects of the writing that bothered me a bit, but it didn't deter from my enjoyment of the story. The puzzles in the book were not difficult, but it worked well with the story because of how much Farah and her family played games together.

Very impressive for a debut. I had an incredible amount of fun reading The Gauntlet and I can't wait for the next adventure.

5 howls

Friday, February 2, 2018

The Iron Trial by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare

Trigger Warnings: Ableism

SynopsisMost kids would do anything to pass the Iron Trial.

Not Callum Hunt. He wants to fail.

All his life, Call has been warned by his father to stay away from magic. If he succeeds at the Iron Trial and is admitted into the Magisterium, he is sure it can only mean bad things for him.

So he tries his best to do his worst - and fails at failing.

Now the Magisterium awaits him. It's a place that's both sensational and sinister, with dark ties to his past and a twisty path to his future.

The Iron Trial is just the beginning, for the biggest test is still to come . . .

Review: The Iron Trial was a fun read. There have been a lot of comparisons between this series and Harry Potter (shocker) and I definitely saw the similarities. I actually liked Call a lot. I don't generally enjoy main characters, and it gets more difficult to relate to them in middle grade stories in particular, but Call was an enjoyable character. Aaron and Tamara also felt well fleshed out. Aaron is wicked smart, but he's also liked by pretty much everyone and he likes everyone too. He seems to genuinely get along with the other students. Tamara comes from a family that holds her to very high standards, but she has her moments where she knows what the right thing to do is and she'll do it. She also makes a comment about using the internet to goof off, which would not seem typical of her character.

The story was good. Again, it can be compared to Harry Potter because of the magic school. I will say, this series might be better for a child who might be struggling with Harry Potter. In the world of The Iron Trial, all of the kids live their lives outside of the magic world until it's time to take the trial. This allows for little connections to our everyday life that might help children relate to this story more. There's a scene where a kid is eating some Lay's potato chips. There's also the bit where Tamara likes playing on the internet. I do wish there was a bit more about Call and how he lives with a damaged leg. Sometimes, it felt like an afterthought which is slightly unfair to people who suffer from disabilities. There were some decent plot twists which I honestly didn't see coming.

This was a cute book, but a little slow. Definitely a decent introduction to what I'm sure will be a fun series.

3 howls

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Star-Crossed by Barbara Dee

Synopsis: Mattie, a star student and passionate reader, is delighted when her English teacher announces the eighth grade will be staging Romeo and Juliet. And she is even more excited when, after a series of events, she finds herself playing Romeo, opposite Gemma Braithwaite’s Juliet. Gemma, the new girl at school, is brilliant, pretty, outgoing—and, if all that wasn’t enough: British.

As the cast prepares for opening night, Mattie finds herself growing increasingly attracted to Gemma and confused, since, just days before, she had found herself crushing on a boy named Elijah. Is it possible to have a crush on both boys AND girls? If that wasn’t enough to deal with, things backstage at the production are starting to rival any Shakespearean drama! In this sweet and funny look at the complicated nature of middle school romance, Mattie learns how to be the lead player in her own life.
Review: Star-Crossed was freaking adorable. Mattie was easy to relate to, even though I'm much older than her. I still remember those middle school struggles, and Barbara Dee brought them to light in a beautiful way. Reading about her interactions with her siblings and her friends was a delight every time. I will say that I wish we had seen Mattie around her parents more. They always seemed absent which was unfortunate. I also don't think the reactions to her keeping secrets from her best friends was realistic. There just didn't seem to be any consequences to that decision. Her friends were great though. I loved getting to know them, just like I enjoyed getting to know Mattie.

The story was predictable, but fun. The thing I enjoyed the most was how small the focus was on the actual gender of Mattie's crush. The book itself read like a cute story about a girl crushing on a boy. I think kids the same age as Mattie need books like that, where crushes don't really change whether you're crushing on a boy or a girl. There were obviously some moments where Mattie felt ashamed or unsure because she was crushing on another girl, but it felt very natural. I also liked that Mattie admitted she could still have crushes on guys. There are not a lot of books with bisexual main characters, but Star-Crossed should definitely be included.

Overall, a fun read with great characters.

4 howls

Monday, January 29, 2018

Red Rising by Pierce Brown

Trigger Warnings: Blood, violence

SynopsisDarrow is a Red, a member of the lowest caste in the color-coded society of the future. Like his fellow Reds, he works all day, believing that he and his people are making the surface of Mars livable for future generations.

Yet he spends his life willingly, knowing that his blood and sweat will one day result in a better world for his children.

But Darrow and his kind have been betrayed. Soon he discovers that humanity already reached the surface generations ago. Vast cities and sprawling parks spread across the planet. Darrow—and Reds like him—are nothing more than slaves to a decadent ruling class.

Inspired by a longing for justice, and driven by the memory of lost love, Darrow sacrifices everything to infiltrate the legendary Institute, a proving ground for the dominant Gold caste, where the next generation of humanity's overlords struggle for power. He will be forced to compete for his life and the very future of civilization against the best and most brutal of Society's ruling class. There, he will stop at nothing to bring down his enemies... even if it means he has to become one of them to do so.

Review: Man, Red Rising is a thing. First off, I really enjoyed the characters in this book. Darrow had his moments where I didn't care if he lived or not, but I appreciated his ability to see that he isn't meant to be a martyr. You don't see that hesitation very often in books like this, so I thought it was quite good. The other characters you get to know through the course of this book, Mustang, Pax, Cassius, felt so genuine and unique. They didn't read like your average caricatures of overdone tropes. In my opinion, the characters really carried the story and I want to know where things go from the end of Red Rising.

Now for the less positive things. I really didn't like the way this world was made. I know a lot of people find it compelling and that's a big part of why they enjoy this book. I'm just not one of those people. I've read books that tired to merge dystopian and fantasy together, and they've been fine. This one seemed like too much as it tired to pull together aspects of those genres as well as science fiction. Plus, none of it felt very well developed, so I found a fair bit of it hard to picture. Adjusting to the world was the only major downside I had with this story, and it's such a shame. The overall plot was interesting, and there were good twists put in at just the right times. I've seen people say this is a book you should go into without knowing much of anything. In some ways, I agree. In other ways, I don't. If you like weird books, that put a bunch of different ideas together, then you might enjoy this without much information. If you are looking for a story with a cohesive world and a fairly easy introduction into science fiction, then this probably isn't for you.

3 howls

Friday, January 26, 2018

Video Game Review: Xenoblade Chronicles 2

Disclosure: I haven't quite beaten Xenoblade Chronicles 2. I have gotten to the final boss, and I have 200 hours clocked in this game, but I haven't beaten it yet. I'm still running around and doing sidequests, but I feel like 200 hours gives me a solid amount of time to review this game.

Review: So, Xenoblade is a series. My history of the series is pretty hit or miss. It took me a while to get into Xenoblade Chronicles but, when I did, it was incredible. I got Xenoblade Chronicles X and I was never really able to get into it properly. I do want to try again. One day. When Xenoblade Chronicles 2 came out, I was nervous but excited. It looked more similar to the original game, than X. The trailers made the story seem complex, and not in a good way. There are Drivers, Blades, Titans, good guys, bad guys, and the combat system is different too. It felt like a lot. Thankfully, I was wrong.

The relationships between Drivers and Blades can be difficult to understand until you're actually in the game. You play as Rex who is a simple salvager. He gets hired to do a job where he has to explore a boat and retrieve something. That something turns out to be a girl named Pyra. She is a blade. The main weapon type in this world. Rex awakens her and becomes her Driver. This is where his story really begins. This part of the story feels weirdly like slavery, so be aware in case that is a sensitive topic. Blades are to do the wishes of their Drivers no matter what. This comes into play later in the story as their are good Drivers and bad Drivers. Pyra is Rex's main Blade, but he does have opportunities to obtain more Blades. Drivers can have up to 3 Blades at a time. A lot of them are basic skins of the different types, fighter, tank, healer, etc. But, if you're lucky, you can get a special Blade. A lot of these are random. There are items that are supposed to help you get a special Blade, but it doesn't always work. You'll know when you get a special Blade because a full cutscene will start with voice acting. I haven't gotten all of the special Blades yet, but I'm hoping I get there. In my opinion, this is where the game really shines. They could have just given these Blades special moves and not paid much attention to them. No, most of these Blades come with their own backstories and sidequests you can unlock. They have so much personality that I wasn't expecting. That's why I've got 200 hours in this game. I'm still unlocking stuff and completing sidequests because I want to know all of these Blades and their stories. I'm not going to talk about the other party members you get because I think it's fun to see how they come into your party. I thought it was pretty obvious who would be your party members, and I don't remember the trailers enough to say if there were any clear spoilers in there.

The story of the game itself is fascinating. Civilizations are made on creatures called Titans. This allows for a more dynamic world and exploration. I loved coming out of a cave and seeing the head of a Titan move around. You don't get to interact with most of these creatures, but they're beautiful and majestic. At the very start of the game, you see a random Titan die. It actually made me sad that this beautiful creature was no longer a part of this world. I wasn't expecting to be touched so early on. The story hinges on taking Pyra to the mystical city of Elysium. Of course, there are some people who aim to stop her. I did think some parts of the plot were predictable. I would get introduced to someone and think, "Gee, I bet he's a bad guy" or "I would put money on that person being a party member." That's fine though. There were some things that I felt were done very well towards the end. Again, I haven't quite beaten the game, so I haven't watched the final cutscenes. That's probably coming in the next week or so. You get to explore the environments on different Titans and that was always delightful. There were some areas I liked more than others, but every Titan was fun to explore. I never minded going back to past Titans to finish sidequests. Also, the music is incredible. It's dynamic and atmospheric.

I loved this game. Go play it.

5 howls

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Faeries of Dreamdark: Blackbring by Laini Taylor

Trigger Warnings: Constant use of the term "gypsy"

Synopsis: When the ancient evil of the Blackbringer rises to unmake the world, only one determined faerie stands in its way. However, Magpie Windwitch, granddaughter of the West Wind, is not like other faeries. While her kind live in seclusion deep in the forests of Dreamdark, she's devoted her life to tracking down and recapturing devils escaped from their ancient bottles, just as her hero, the legendary Bellatrix, did 25,000 years ago. With her faithful gang of crows, she travels the world fighting where others would choose to flee. But when a devil escapes from a bottle sealed by the ancient Djinn King himself, the creator of the world, she may be in over her head. How can a single faerie, even with the help of her friends, hope to defeat the impenetrable darkness of the Blackbringer?
At a time when fantasy readers have an embarrassment of riches in choosing new worlds to fall in love with, this first novel by a fresh, original voice is sure to stand out.

Review: I had a really hard time trying to figure out how to review this book. I've enjoyed so many of Laini's other books (DOSAB trilogy and Strange the Dreamer) that I was sure to love this book. I enjoyed most of the characters. I liked being in Magpie and Talon's head. I enjoyed the dynamic between Magpie, Calypso, and the other crows. Blackbringer was a cool villain and seeing the way he affected the faeries was definitely interesting. There is a bit of a romance, but it felt real which is hard to find in this age of insta-love. The characters are definitely where this book shines. This was Laini's debut and it was pretty apparent. Again, this could have been an issue with me having read her other books first, but the fae world didn't feel well fleshed out in this book. I liked how there was minimal human interaction. In so many YA fae books, the story revolves around human(s) interaction with the fae and how these worlds collide. This wasn't like that. It was primarily about the faeries, and how their world is changed by this other supernatural creature. If you're put off by YA books about faeries because of how many humans are in the story, this might be a better book to look at. It definitely reads more like a straight fantasy than an urban fantasy. I wish we learned more about the Djinn in this book, because I think they could have added a more interesting dynamic to the story. They are definitely a part of the overall story. I just wish there was some more. I think this series overall probably could have been better if the series was a bit longer. That would allow for a little more character interaction and fleshing out the world.

As an aside, the term "gypsy" is used a lot in this story. I understand why, and it personally did not bother me as I read the book. It was just something I noticed. This book came out way before that particular slur was widely discussed, so keep that in mind if this bothers you and you were thinking of checking out this series.

I'll check out the second book because I already have it and I really enjoyed the characters. I just wish I liked the world more. I'll probably re-read this in the future and see if my opinion changes at all.

3 howls

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire

Content Warnings: Blood, Murder, Similarities to Stockholm Syndrome

SynopsisTwin sisters Jack and Jill were seventeen when they found their way home and were packed off to Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children.

This is the story of what happened first…

Jacqueline was her mother’s perfect daughter—polite and quiet, always dressed as a princess. If her mother was sometimes a little strict, it’s because crafting the perfect daughter takes discipline.

Jillian was her father’s perfect daughter—adventurous, thrill-seeking, and a bit of a tom-boy. He really would have preferred a son, but you work with what you've got.

They were five when they learned that grown-ups can’t be trusted.

They were twelve when they walked down the impossible staircase and discovered that the pretense of love can never be enough to prepare you a life filled with magic in a land filled with mad scientists and death and choices.

Review:  The Wayward Children series is an excellent example of a series of short books that can pack a wild punch. I really enjoyed Every Heart a Doorway when I read it last year, so I was stoked to read Down Among the Sticks and Bones. Especially when I found out this book starred the twins, Jack and Jill. I loved seeing how Jack and Jill were raised and I saw a number of similarities with my own upbringing. That gave me chills. Seanan does some interesting things with gender roles and identity in this book. Jack was the more feminine daughter who wore dresses and follows her mother's prodding, and Jill was the opposite. Jill played in the dirt, hung out with boys, and played sports with her father's encouragement. This upbringing also starts to pull the girls apart. Jack wants to be more carefree and try new things. Jill wants to be a princess and be revered. I will say, people who have gender dysphoria might struggle with this book. The first part of this book focuses on how the parents have shaped the lives of Jack and Jill. While this is true to an extent, it felt like the book was saying that the parents desire was the only thing that mattered and the feelings of the children do not matter. It's hard to explain, but that's the best I've got. It hit a few nerves with me, but that could have just been a personal thing. Overall, getting a closer look at Jack and Jill was great and it helped me get a better understanding of the two girls.

In the way of story, Down Among the Sticks and Bones is quite dark. The portal world the twins go to is called the Moors, and it's filled with monsters. The twins go into this world together, but events break them apart and they have to grow within their own stories. This is an example of how great of a storyteller Seanan is. She was able to craft 2 different stories in a single book less than 200 pages. Seeing Jack and Jill both explore new parts of themselves was incredible. There was even a bit of romance which was a nice break in the dark atmosphere of the Moors.  

This was an excellent addition to the Wayward Children series. I would highly recommend these books.

5 howls

Monday, January 8, 2018

Before I Let Go by Marieke Nijkamp

Disclaimer: As someone with mental illness, I loved this book. That being said, my mental disorders don't match up to Kyra's completely and not all people with mania are the same. Be careful when picking this book up if it's something you suffer with.

Trigger warnings: Suicide, mania, ableism, cultism

SynopsisBest friends Corey and Kyra were inseparable in their snow-covered town of Lost Creek, Alaska. When Corey moves away, she makes Kyra promise to stay strong during the long, dark winter, and wait for her return.

Just days before Corey is to return home to visit, Kyra dies. Corey is devastated―and confused. The entire Lost community speaks in hushed tones about the town's lost daughter, saying her death was meant to be. And they push Corey away like she's a stranger.

Corey knows something is wrong. With every hour, her suspicion grows. Lost is keeping secrets―chilling secrets. But piecing together the truth about what happened to her best friend may prove as difficult as lighting the sky in an Alaskan winter...

Review: I loved this book so much. I apologize if this becomes a weird, gushy review. I just had so many feelings when I read this book. And I read it twice. Corey finds herself back in Lost Creek after hearing news of her best friend, Kyra's death. First of all, Kyra's last name is Henderson, and my last name is Henderson. So, that was eerie. I really appreciated Corey and Kyra's relationship. We get snippets of what they were like together. There was even a scene where Corey and Kyra share an awkward kiss and Corey tells Kyra she isn't attracted to anyone. The word "asexual" isn't used, but it's implied. I greatly appreciated this, and the weirdness that followed right after the kiss felt genuine. Reading a character with mania was a new experience. I don't have that particular disorder, so I don't know how accurate it is, but I did see some similarities between Kyra's mania and my depression. There's even a scene where Corey makes a light joke about something sounding depressing and Kyra got hurt by this remark. Things like that are not normally pointed out in books, so I appreciated Kyra's honesty in that moment. Individually, the characters were not perfect, but the way they built off of each other was impressive.

As for the story, I think a lot of people have been going into this book expecting a mystery of some kind. I didn't do that, and I think that helped me enjoy this book a bit more. Some chapters were written like normal prose, and other chapters were written like play scripts. This was a neat writing choice, though it might not be for everyone. I also flew through this book, again, twice. It was incredibly quick to read, but it also left a mark on me. I grew up in a small town, but not quite as small as Lost Creek. Some parts of the story seemed a bit farfetched, but other parts were spot on. There's a weird part where the town, even Kyra's parents, act like they're in some kind of a cult. While this might seem completely out there, small towns are very tight-knit and people in them do tend to have similar mindsets. Actually treating the town like it was a cult might have been going a bit too far, but there are elements to a cult that I have similarly seen in small towns. The thing that kept blowing me away with this book, and marking it as a favorite, was how mental health was handled. Again, speaking as someone who has come from a small town, when you have a mental health disorder, no one wants to be around you. You are treated like you are wrong or have a disease. It hurts. The town encourages you to ignore your pain and not seek help. This is a constant theme in Before I Let Go. The town continues to treat Kyra like her mental health isn't important, or they can benefit from it. It hurt a lot seeing Kyra go through this, but I also understand it all too well.

Before I Let Go can be a scary book for people with mental illness to read, but it can also be extremely impactful. Go in with an open mind if this is something you are willing to read.

5 howls