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, September 26, 2018

The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier

Trigger warnings: Bullying, abuse, homophobic scene

SynopsisJerry Renault ponders the question on the poster in his locker: Do I dare disturb the universe? Refusing to sell chocolates in the annual Trinity school fund-raiser may not seem like a radical thing to do. But when Jerry challenges a secret school society called The Vigils, his defiant act turns into an all-out war. Now the only question is: Who will survive?

Review: Wew, The Chocolate War is quite a ride. This book is quite slow and it's more character driven than anything else. We follow a number of kids in a secret group called the Vigils. Jerry can be described as a protagonist or an antagonist, but he is certainly the focal point of the story. Archie is the leader of the Vigils. There's also a kid who goes by The Goober and he is a member of the Vigils who watches the events unfold. There are more characters we spend time with including teachers at Trinity and other students. None of the characters feel unnecessary. They all keep the story going and they all have interesting perspectives in the book.

The story in The Chocolate War feels simplistic. A teacher at Trinity messed up and is forcing students to go above and beyond for their annual chocolate sale. Enter Jerry who, as a member of the Vigils, was told to not accept the chocolates to sell for a certain length of time. Then, Jerry takes that assignment and decides to never take the chocolate at all. He is, at one time, defying the Vigils and Trinity school itself. What this book does well is show how sinister schools can be and how teachers can even be manipulated by charming students like Archie. I described Jerry as a protagonist and an antagonist because the way he refuses to sell the chocolates throughout the story makes him feel like an antagonist. There is a scene where bullies try to upset Jerry by calling him gay. This scene can be extremely hard for anyone who identifies with this term. It is a form of bullying meant to be used in a hurtful way. While I do enjoy this book, I wanted to acknowledge that scene in case anyone wants to avoid it.

Dark but interesting story about bullying and abuse of power.

4 howls

Friday, September 21, 2018

Mirage by Somaiya Daud

SynopsisIn a star system dominated by the brutal Vathek empire, eighteen-year-old Amani is a dreamer. She dreams of what life was like before the occupation; she dreams of writing poetry like the old-world poems she adores; she dreams of receiving a sign from Dihya that one day, she, too, will have adventure, and travel beyond her isolated moon.

But when adventure comes for Amani, it is not what she expects: she is kidnapped by the regime and taken in secret to the royal palace, where she discovers that she is nearly identical to the cruel half-Vathek Princess Maram. The princess is so hated by her conquered people that she requires a body double, someone to appear in public as Maram, ready to die in her place.

As Amani is forced into her new role, she can’t help but enjoy the palace’s beauty—and her time with the princess’ fiancĂ©, Idris. But the glitter of the royal court belies a world of violence and fear. If Amani ever wishes to see her family again, she must play the princess to perfection...because one wrong move could lead to her death.

Review: I highly enjoyed Mirage and it was certainly a great debut. Amani is a great character filled with an incredible amount of love for her family and her culture. She is strong as she has to endure being stripped from her home and dragged as a prisoner to a far off planet. She meets additional characters and learns more about the world she finds herself in. Maram, the princess, is harsh but broken. She was interesting to read about, but I know some people might have a hard time sympathizing with her. Her fiance, Idris, seems much more kind and Amani cannot help but get close to him. 

The story follows the same trope of the fake princess, but with a Moroccan flair. The setting is beautiful. Everything from Amani's majority night to the princess' palace is vivid. I will say, there is a heavy emphasis of colonialism in this book. Amani even comes to sympathize with some of her captors, so I would be careful if anyone does not like those kinds of plot points. I do think that could lead to great conversations about modern colonialism since those discussions tend to get pushed aside. I don't know anything about Moroccan culture, but some of the terms used like "majority night" made me think of Greek life at universities. I don't know if these are established things in Moroccan culture and if it was a coincidence, but seeing stuff like that helped me to understand what was happening in the story a bit more.

Beautiful story of a false princess. Curious to see if my suspicions about this story are correct. 

4 howls

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

P.S. I Still Love You by Jenny Han

SynopsisLara Jean didn’t expect to really fall for Peter.
She and Peter were just pretending. Except suddenly they weren’t. Now Lara Jean is more confused than ever.
When another boy from her past returns to her life, Lara Jean’s feelings for him return too. Can a girl be in love with two boys at once?

Review: P.S. I Still Love You had every bit of charm To All the Boys I Loved Before had. Lara Jean has to make major adjustments in her life and she faces consequences to events that occurred in the first book. I enjoyed seeing how she navigated life as more and more people saw the video between her and Peter on the ski trip. It really highlights the double-standard that appears when people discuss sex for men and sex for women. This doesn't get discussed nearly enough. I also loved seeing Lara Jean interact with the people at the nursing home. Jenny took time to show how relationships can be for people from other generations. We see this through Alicia and Stormy, Lara Jean herself, and even her dad. I think it's great to showcase the similarities and differences between generations and how they view relationships. 

One other thing I enjoyed was how we get to see Lara Jean struggle with her suddenly real relationship with Peter. A lot of this book is her recognizing things are different between them now because everything is real. This impacts the way they handle friendships and conversations between them. It felt like these scenes were done with an extraordinary amount of care. Like Jenny wanted readers to feel these struggles and love with Lara Jean. I know some people don't like how John was incorporated into the story, but I like it because it helps highlight the different ways a person can love. These relationships started out as crushes, but, with Peter, Lara loves him as a close family friend. John could be a potential love interest, but he is still more of a past love for Lara. Lucas is someone Lara loves as a best friend. As someone who has to navigate between these different loves herself, this whole series has meant a great deal to me so far. P.S. I Still Love You has great discussions of friendship too. We see Lara and her sister Kitty struggle with growing up and losing friends. Even though they are sisters, Jenny manages to make each experience feel unique which was fun to read. 

Adorable story with some great character conversations

4 howls

Monday, September 17, 2018

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

Trigger warnings: Death, gun violence, blood

SynopsisA cannon. A strap.
A piece. A biscuit.
A burner. A heater.
A chopper. A gat.
A hammer
A tool
for RULE

Or, you can call it a gun. That’s what fifteen-year-old Will has shoved in the back waistband of his jeans. See, his brother Shawn was just murdered. And Will knows the rules. No crying. No snitching. Revenge. That’s where Will’s now heading, with that gun shoved in the back waistband of his jeans, the gun that was his brother’s gun. He gets on the elevator, seventh floor, stoked. He knows who he’s after. Or does he? 

As the elevator stops on the sixth floor, on comes Buck. Buck, Will finds out, is who gave Shawn the gun before Will took the gun. Buck tells Will to check that the gun is even loaded. And that’s when Will sees that one bullet is missing. And the only one who could have fired Shawn’s gun was Shawn. Huh. Will didn’t know that Shawn had ever actually used his gun. Bigger huh. BUCK IS DEAD. But Buck’s in the elevator?

Just as Will’s trying to think this through, the door to the next floor opens. A teenage girl gets on, waves away the smoke from Dead Buck’s cigarette. Will doesn’t know her, but she knew him. Knew. When they were eight. And stray bullets had cut through the playground, and Will had tried to cover her, but she was hit anyway, and so what she wants to know, on that fifth floor elevator stop, is, what if Will, Will with the gun shoved in the back waistband of his jeans, MISSES.

And so it goes, the whole long way down, as the elevator stops on each floor, and at each stop someone connected to his brother gets on to give Will a piece to a bigger story than the one he thinks he knows. A story that might never know an END…if WILL gets off that elevator.

Review: To put it simply, this book was incredible. If you're looking to get into books written in verse, I highly recommend this one. We follow Will as he watches his brother get shot and killed in their neighborhood. In Will's neighborhood, you are expected to take revenge if someone you love is killed. Those are the rules. The other rules are no crying and no snitching. As he is taking the elevator down to kill the person he thinks killed his brother, the elevator stops at each floor and other people get on. As the story progresses, you realize all the people getting on the elevator are victims of gun violence. From there, hard conversations are had about life and death. Each character fits in Will's life in some way and it's interesting seeing how these threads connect to one another. No character felt flat or unnecessary. Like I said, they are all victims of gun violence, but none of their stories felt repetitive. 

I'll be honest, Long Way Down has an open-ending. I like that because it allows readers to speculate on what Will does. Again, Will is just trying to follow the rules. The rules he's known his entire life. Let's break these rules down a little. One is no snitching. I don't know what the author's definition of snitching is but, in my mind, as these additional characters tell their stories to Will, they are snitching on themselves. They confide in him the good and the bad they had to endure in life. Another rule is no crying. This is an emotional book. Some of the characters tell Will about mistakes they made and it brings them to tears. Maybe out of shame. Maybe out of relief. Still, they cry openly to Will. The last rule is to take revenge. We see this in a few different ways through this story. I'm not going to go into detail because that's part of understanding these characters. My take on the ending, I like to think that seeing people Will admired break the rules of crying and snitching gave him silent permission to break the rules too. So he didn't have to feel like he got revenge. Especially in the situation of his neighborhood where not everything is what it seems. There is also a great book to discuss how gun violence doesn't end if people keep sticking to these ideals of revenge. At some point, a person has to be willing to admit that there's more than one person at fault and nothing is an easy fix.

Fantastic book with beautiful characters and messages.

5 howls

Potential talking points: 
-The concept of revenge
-Gun violence

Friday, September 14, 2018

An Unkindness of Magicians by Kat Howard

SynopsisThere is a dark secret that is hiding at the heart of New York City and diminishing the city’s magicians’ power in this fantasy thriller by acclaimed author Kat Howard.

In New York City, magic controls everything. But the power of magic is fading. No one knows what is happening, except for Sydney—a new, rare magician with incredible power that has been unmatched in decades, and she may be the only person who is able to stop the darkness that is weakening the magic. But Sydney doesn’t want to help the system, she wants to destroy it.

Sydney comes from the House of Shadows, which controls the magic with the help of sacrifices from magicians.

Review: Dang, I really wanted to like this story more than I actually did. I'm just going to go ahead and say, as soon as I heard the premise, my first thought was, "Wow that sounds a lot like the Fate series." As it turns out, it is quite a lot like the Fate series. So much so that I was distracted through most of the book. I know that part of the enjoyment of this book is seeing how Sydney really falls into place with this world, but I didn't find the reveal to be all that interesting. I liked Sydney as a character, but I didn't really care for her connection to the other characters. None of the other characters seemed very fleshed out which is a shame. I think if the book was longer, then we could have had more experiences with the other characters. 

The story was interesting but, again, too familiar for my liking. I did love how the magic was handled. I liked how there were actual consequences to using magic in this world. And it was written beautifully. I would love to read pages of characters just doing magic. No story necessary. Just write scenes with them doing magic. I also liked the progression of tone in the story. At first, the competitions are just looking to see who can perform magic better and no one really gets hurt, but that changes quickly as life-threatening challenges are made. 

Good concept, but could have stood to be longer and differentiated more from an already established series.

3 howls

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

SynopsisDimple Shah has it all figured out. With graduation behind her, she’s more than ready for a break from her family, from Mamma’s inexplicable obsession with her finding the “Ideal Indian Husband.” Ugh. Dimple knows they must respect her principles on some level, though. If they truly believed she needed a husband right now, they wouldn’t have paid for her to attend a summer program for aspiring web developers…right?

Rishi Patel is a hopeless romantic. So when his parents tell him that his future wife will be attending the same summer program as him—wherein he’ll have to woo her—he’s totally on board. Because as silly as it sounds to most people in his life, Rishi wants to be arranged, believes in the power of tradition, stability, and being a part of something much bigger than himself.

The Shahs and Patels didn’t mean to start turning the wheels on this “suggested arrangement” so early in their children’s lives, but when they noticed them both gravitate toward the same summer program, they figured, Why not?

Dimple and Rishi may think they have each other figured out. But when opposites clash, love works hard to prove itself in the most unexpected ways.

Review:  I'll be honest, it took quite a long time for me to actually decide to read When Dimple Met Rishi. I heard about how abusive Dimple was to Rishi and that turned me off to it. I still wanted to read it, but it wasn't a very strong desire like it once was. Now, having finally read this book, I wish I read it sooner. I had a lot of fun reading When Dimple Met Rishi and experiencing their romance. Dimple was a very goal-oriented main character and I enjoyed that about her. There were little things that got on my nerves, like her clear aversion to make up and things, but those were all minor. Rishi was a sweet love interest, and I liked the way he balanced out other characters. Some of the other characters in this program were rich, white kids. Rishi's mere existence shows that not every rich person is white and some of them can be kind as well. I felt his character did a great job of showcasing these attributes and it didn't feel forced. There are a few side characters that I thought were interesting, Celia and Ashish specifically, but I feel like we will get to spend more time with them later. I know the next book focuses on Ashish, but I hope it explores some things with Celia as well. Only time will tell.

One of the major criticisms I heard from reviews was how little the story focused on programming considering Dimple and Rishi went to a summer program all about programming and making apps. I agree with this, but the book is called When Dimple Met Rishi, not When Dimple Went to Coding Camp. There are definitely ways to bring programming into a cute romance, but this book focused more on the characters and the relationships more than anything else. This might bother some people, but I quite enjoyed it. When Dimple Met Rishi did a great job of giving us an insight to the culture of Indian-Americans, but we also got to see very different ideals within this community. You'll see people say, "Women are not a monolith, African-Americans are not a monolith, Muslims are not a monolith, etc" This shows a real example of how that's true. Dimple is much more independent than her family wants, and Rishi is very much focused on his culture. I also appreciated how Dimple's mom wanted Dimple to wear make up for cultural reasons, and not just to make Dimple look pretty. I thought that was an interesting aspect I had never considered before. There were little cultural moments sprinkled throughout When Dimple Met Rishi which I really appreciated.

Cute romance that it seeped with beautiful, Indian culture.

4 howls

Monday, September 3, 2018

To All the Boys I've Loved Before by Jenny Han

SynopsisWhat if all the crushes you ever had found out how you felt about them… all at once? 

Sixteen-year-old Lara Jean Song keeps her love letters in a hatbox her mother gave her. They aren’t love letters that anyone else wrote for her; these are ones she’s written. One for every boy she’s ever loved—five in all. When she writes, she pours out her heart and soul and says all the things she would never say in real life, because her letters are for her eyes only. Until the day her secret letters are mailed, and suddenly, Lara Jean’s love life goes from imaginary to out of control.

Review: I'm going to talk about the book and the film in this review. I'm just going to come out and say that I heard a lot of people talk about how annoying and immature Lara Jean sounded when they read this book. I disagree. I found her to be wistful, but also grounded. She has an idea of love that is a bit naive, but she also wasn't exposed to many relationships in her life. Her mom died when she was young and the only major relationship she was even around was her sister and Josh. That's not even a great example of a relationship because of how Josh was a fixture within her own family. 

As much as I hate the "friends to lovers" trope, I felt this was done rather well in To All the Boys I've Loved Before. Jenny took the time to really show how Josh was a real part of the Song girls' lives. He felt necessary and loving him was an understandable part of the story. This also did a great job with the fake dating trope. It seemed like there were distinct moments when Peter stopped pretending to date Lara Jean and legitimately wanted it to become a reality. 

As far as the film goes, I thought it was a solid adaptation. I wish they kept my favorite scene which is when Peter goes to get the donuts Lara Jean likes for the ski trip. They kind of do that when he gets the Korean yogurt, but part of me wishes they kept the donut aspect. Maybe it's because I like donuts more than yogurt. That was the only thing they changed that I wish they hadn't. I felt like the movie sped up the relationship between Peter and Lara Jean, so it didn't feel as genuine when they started to actually have feelings for each other. Like I said, a solid adaptation that I will definitely rewatch again and again.

4 howls