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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, October 19, 2018

Love, Hate, and Other Filters by Samira Ahmed

Trigger warning: This book is steeped with Islamophobia. If you're looking for a strictly happy book about a Muslim-American teen, this book is not for you.

SynopsisAmerican-born seventeen-year-old Maya Aziz is torn between worlds. There’s the proper one her parents expect for their good Indian daughter: attending a college close to their suburban Chicago home, and being paired off with an older Muslim boy her mom deems “suitable.” And then there is the world of her dreams: going to film school and living in New York City—and maybe (just maybe) pursuing a boy she’s known from afar since grade school, a boy who’s finally falling into her orbit at school.

There’s also the real world, beyond Maya’s control. In the aftermath of a horrific crime perpetrated hundreds of miles away, her life is turned upside down. The community she’s known since birth becomes unrecognizable; neighbors and classmates alike are consumed with fear, bigotry, and hatred. Ultimately, Maya must find the strength within to determine where she truly belongs.

Review: I appreciated Maya's experience because I never knew a Muslim person growing up. I think there are a lot of great scenes with Maya coming to terms with what she wants for herself and what she's willing to give up. She was just a great character to read. Seeing her interact with Phil and Kareem was great. Maya felt so genuine regardless of who she was around. Her relationship with her parents also felt relatable. It was much more personal than the usual, "parents will miss their child going off to college." There were real stakes involved that don't often get touched on with these stories. 

I grew up in post-9/11 America, so I like seeing the experience of others who lived during that time. Just for the sake of perspective, I was 10 years old during the September 11 attack and I grew up in one of the southern states in America. That's what I grew up with. The segments in between chapters where we get to see the terrorist's experience was well done. It didn't feel forced. It felt very matter of fact. The only thing I wish this story had was a scene where Maya's classmates find out who the terrorist is, and they still display ignorance. Their hate is focused on the person who shares Maya's last name and, by association, Maya herself. I think there could have been a great conversation about what makes a terrorist and how terrorists don't necessarily look the same. 

Brilliant debut with a ton of promise. Can't wait to see what else Samira releases.

4.5 howls

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Grace and Fury by Tracy Banghart

Trigger warnings: Graphic depictions of violence and women fighting women

SynopsisIn a world where women have no rights, sisters Serina and Nomi Tessaro face two very different fates: one in the palace, the other in prison.

Serina has been groomed her whole life to become a Grace - someone to stand by the heir to the throne as a shining, subjugated example of the perfect woman. But when her headstrong and rebellious younger sister, Nomi, catches the heir's eye, it's Serina who takes the fall for the dangerous secret that Nomi has been hiding.

Now trapped in a life she never wanted, Nomi has only one way to save Serina: surrender to her role as a Grace until she can use her position to release her sister. This is easier said than done. A traitor walks the halls of the palace, and deception lurks in every corner. But Serina is running out of time, imprisoned on an island where she must fight to the death to survive and one wrong move could cost her everything.

Review: Grace and Fury is one of those books that I've heard very few things about. I've mostly seen comparisons to The Handmade's Tale which I feel is pretty accurate. We follow Nomi and Serina as their lives are turned upside down when Serina is sent to prison and Nomi is selected as a prospective wife for the prince. While I found Nomi and Serina to have interesting stories, neither of them stood out in my opinion. I wanted Nomi to have more growth throughout the story, but she really stayed the same impulsive, thoughtless person throughout the entire book. She is constantly depending on those around her to make the logical choices and to make certain decisions for her. I wanted to see her grow out of that. On the flip side, I enjoyed seeing Serina grow while she was in prison. She was able to use her skills from her training as a Grace and incorporate them into her prison life. I appreciated how adaptable she was, even in the most dire of circumstances. 

The story was fast-paced which made this for a very quick read. The downside is that I found a lot of the plot points predictable. This is part of why Nomi bothered me. I feel like she would have seen through certain things if she stopped to think about her situation and the things that were said. I don't want to say too much more because spoilers. Some of the side characters were just extremely easy to figure out. Still, where the story fails in originality, it makes up for in the female relationships. A large part of this story is about women fighting other women to the death, and how they became accustomed to that lifestyle. Even still, there are great scenes where the women look out for each other. Generally, I have a hard time with books that are about strong female friendships because that was never something I had, but I appreciated how this book built those friendships even though many of these women had to fight each other. This would be a great book to use as a discussion about getting hurt by other women and moving past that pain. 

Lackluster characters and predictable plot, but engaging story and solid female friendship potential.

3 howls

Monday, October 15, 2018

Vengeful by V.E. Schwab


SynopsisThe sequel to VICIOUS, V.E. Schwab's first adult novel.

Sydney once had Serena—beloved sister, betrayed enemy, powerful ally. But now she is alone, except for her thrice-dead dog, Dol, and then there's Victor, who thinks Sydney doesn't know about his most recent act of vengeance.

Victor himself is under the radar these days—being buried and re-animated can strike concern even if one has superhuman powers. But despite his own worries, his anger remains. And Eli Ever still has yet to pay for the evil he has done.

Review: Vengeful follows after the events in Vicious. We are reunited with Victor, Sydney, and Mitch as they encounter new and old EOs. As far as characters go, I still enjoyed the original cast but it was nice to get to know new characters as well. Marcella is a solid female character and she isn't afraid to go after what she wants. I can see a lot of females admiring her character. My favorite character was absolutely June. She is much more logical, in my opinion, and she hasn't sacrificed the things that make her care about people.

The story itself was interesting, but it wasn't as strong as in Vicious. I appreciated the complexities of the story, and seeing all the characters coming together. That being said, the jumping timeline was not easy to follow. There were aspects I enjoyed like seeing Eli grow up, but it was still a lot to keep track of. I probably wouldn't have minded as much, but we get to see Victor struggle a lot with his health. It would have been nice to see his health decline in a more natural way.

Great time revisiting old characters and getting to know new characters, but the constantly shifting timelines was disorienting.

4 howls

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Vicious by V.E. Schwab

SynopsisVictor and Eli started out as college roommates—brilliant, arrogant, lonely boys who recognized the same sharpness and ambition in each other. In their senior year, a shared research interest in adrenaline, near-death experiences, and seemingly supernatural events reveals an intriguing possibility: that under the right conditions, someone could develop extraordinary abilities. But when their thesis moves from the academic to the experimental, things go horribly wrong. 

Ten years later, Victor breaks out of prison, determined to catch up to his old friend (now foe), aided by a young girl whose reserved nature obscures a stunning ability. Meanwhile, Eli is on a mission to eradicate every other super-powered person that he can find—aside from his sidekick, an enigmatic woman with an unbreakable will. Armed with terrible power on both sides, driven by the memory of betrayal and loss, the archnemeses have set a course for revenge—but who will be left alive at the end?

Review: Vicious is a good time. The story mainly follows Victor Vale as he is out to get revenge against his old friend, Eli. We follow other characters along the way and we get to see parts of the story through their eyes. Victor is a great character. Not because he's good, but because he doesn't hide the fact that he's a bad guy. He is open about his goal being revenge. He doesn't pretend to be a nice guy. That being said, he has an interesting soft spot for Sydney which I rather enjoyed. She has an interesting introduction with the whole getting shot thing, and she quickly recovers and gains her own footing. On the flip side, we get to see Eli as he grows to hate EOs and his experiences with them which is fascinating. We also see him meet Serena and how their dynamic changes.

The story was compelling, but it shifts time periods so this might not be your style if you like a book that tells a straight story. It was interesting seeing how eager Eli was to understand EOs, but then see him hate them. There are aspects to Eli's research that fractures his and Victor's relationship. I won't say what, but I wonder if we'll get to learn more about them in college in the second book. I thought this was a nice change of pace from the normal superpower stories we are normally exposed to. Victor isn't using his powers to help people. He just wants to get revenge on Eli. Eli started to study EOs for school, but he has seen the dark side of their powers and wants them gone.

Great story with dark and flawed characters.

5 howls

Monday, October 1, 2018

Sex is a Funny Word by Cory Silverberg and Fiona Smyth

SynopsisA comic book for kids that includes children and families of all makeups, orientations, and gender identies, Sex Is a Funny Wordis an essential resource about bodies, gender, and sexuality for children ages 8 to 10 as well as their parents and caregivers. Much more than the "facts of life" or “the birds and the bees," Sex Is a Funny Word opens up conversations between young people and their caregivers in a way that allows adults to convey their values and beliefs while providing information about boundaries, safety, and joy.

Review: I picked this book up on a whim when I was looking up banned books and my library had access to this one. I enjoyed Sex is a Funny Word quite a bit. It's nonfiction and informational, so there isn't any character information. What I enjoyed the most about this book is how open it was in mentioning that not everyone wants to have sex and there are people who do not fall into the normal male/female binary. It was cute and the kids in this book asked questions that real children might ask. Another great thing it does is bring up molestation. The book calls it "secret touching" but it makes it very clear that you should tell someone if this is happening to you. The way it brings it up is soft for children to understand if this is something happening in their lives.  I think the thing to be most wary about is that it shows pictures of male and female genitals. Not in a disgusting way, but in a way that helps children to understand their bodies. The art is bright and helps the reader to get a good idea of how different bodies are. I wish they talked about sex with disabled people because that's not really talked about anywhere and there are a lot of assumptions made about it. Other than that, I thought this book was delightful. 

Instead of listing out all the potential talking points, I'll just say this is the perfect book to keep around if you're around kids because it would be a great introduction to a lot of topics not widely discussed.

4 howls

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