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, 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