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 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

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor

SynopsisArt student and monster's apprentice Karou finally has the answers she has always sought. She knows who she is—and what she is. But with this knowledge comes another truth she would give anything to undo: She loved the enemy and he betrayed her, and a world suffered for it.

In this stunning sequel to the highly acclaimed Daughter of Smoke & Bone, Karou must decide how far she'll go to avenge her people. Filled with heartbreak and beauty, secrets and impossible choices, Days of Blood & Starlight finds Karou and Akiva on opposing sides as an age-old war stirs back to life.

While Karou and her allies build a monstrous army in a land of dust and starlight, Akiva wages a different sort of battle: a battle for redemption. For hope.

But can any hope be salvaged from the ashes of their broken dream?

Review: Days of Blood and Starlight is absolutely my favorite book in this series. First off, Akiva and Karou are split up between most of the book, so we get to dive deeper into them as individual characters instead of a couple. Karou finds her talent among the chimera and Akiva is honing his skills with the angels. Their separation also allows us to see more of their respective worlds. The worlds of the angels and the chimera are so intricate. Being able to see their similarities, as a reader, was incredible. The characters in this story don't even see how similar they are to their enemies. It's beautiful and heartbreaking all at once. Laini does a wonderful job of portraying this.

As far as stories go, this one was much darker than Daughter of Smoke and Bone. There is quite a lot more death and fighting on the page. Be careful if that's something that bothers you, but it's handled very well in the context of the world. Once again, Zuze and Mik show up in the story which helps to break up the darkness. Their interactions with the chimera was a nice change in tone. Even Karou points out how singularly unique her friend is. Unfortunately, I feel like there isn't much I can say without spoiling important parts of the first 2 books in this series, but these books are wonderful. Laini's writing style isn't for everyone, but I certainly enjoy it and her characters are to die for.

5 howls

Monday, December 18, 2017

Night of Cake and Puppets by Laini Taylor; Illustrated by Jim Di Bartolo

SynopsisPetite though she may be, Zuzana is not known for timidity. Her best friend, Karou, calls her "rabid fairy," her "voodoo eyes" are said to freeze blood, and even her older brother fears her wrath. But when it comes to the simple matter of talking to Mik, or "Violin Boy," her courage deserts her. Now, enough is enough. Zuzana is determined to make the first move, and she has a fistful of magic and a plan. It's a wonderfully elaborate treasure hunt of a plan that will take Mik all over Prague on a cold winter's night before leading him to the treasure: herself! Violin Boy is not going to know what hit him.

New York Times bestselling author Laini Taylor brings to life a night only hinted at in the Daughter of Smoke & Bone trilogy—the magical first date of fan-favorites Zuzana and Mik. Originally published as an ebook, this new print edition will include breathtaking black and white illustrations, plus bonus content in a gorgeous package perfect for new and current fans of the series.

Review: Night of Cake and Puppets was one of the most adorable books I've read this year. First off, my love for Zuze and Mik have no parallel. They are perfect together and always a joy to read about. Getting to see the birth of their relationship was great. Laini did an excellent job of showcasing Zuze's ability as a puppeteer and Mik's musical talent. The scavenger hunt aspect was so much fun. It showed off how playful Zuze and Mik are as individuals and how they are able to play off each other. This is a constant theme with them throughout the Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy, but it's great to see it showcased here. Now we have to talk about the art. I don't have pictures to show you but, trust me, it's amazing. Jim does an incredible job of showing the unique style of both characters. The book is split between "Him" and "Her" sections to indicate which POV we are currently reading from, but it's also nice that Jim included drawings of Mik and Zuze respectively for each chapter heading. Seeing Zuze with her puppet or seeing Mik with his violin put a fresh smile on my face every time. There's a section at the very end of the book where Jim illustrates part of Daughter of Smoke and Bone in a graphic novel form. Holy crap, I didn't think I needed a graphic novel adaptation until I saw that. The only thing I wish is that it was in color. Jim beautifully illustrates the chimera, but it would be nice to see how they would look in color. Regardless, I'd be happy with a black and white adaptation as well. It was incredible. It fit the tone of the story so well, and I genuinely hope a graphic adaptation is something they consider for this trilogy.

5 howls

Friday, December 15, 2017

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

Trigger warnings: The term "gypsies" is used; The word "savages" is used to describe a group of people

SynopsisAround the world, black hand prints are appearing on doorways, scorched there by winged strangers who have crept through a slit in the sky.

In a dark and dusty shop, a devil’s supply of human teeth grows dangerously low.

And in the tangled lanes of Prague, a young art student is about to be caught up in a brutal otherworldly war.

Meet Karou. She fills her sketchbooks with monsters that may or may not be real, she’s prone to disappearing on mysterious "errands", she speaks many languages - not all of them human - and her bright blue hair actually grows out of her head that color. Who is she? That is the question that haunts her, and she’s about to find out.

When beautiful, haunted Akiva fixes fiery eyes on her in an alley in Marrakesh, the result is blood and starlight, secrets unveiled, and a star-crossed love whose roots drink deep of a violent past. But will Karou live to regret learning the truth about herself?

Review: Laini Taylor has a glorious way with words. This was a re-read for me, and it was just as fun as the first time I read it. Karou is great. She owns up to her mistakes, and she makes a lot of them. She is easy to relate to despite living with chimera. Speaking of, the chimera were a large part of why I loved this story. Each character felt unique and necessary to the world. There's a part towards then end of the book where we get a glimpse of the chimera world and, even then, we see the different layers of chimera and how thy influence the world. Another absolute favorite character is Zuze. She is the sassy best friend none of us deserve. She's always willing to put Karou in her place. I'm re-reading this trilogy, so I know she becomes a more important character later on, but she is just wonderful to read in this first book.

The story is unlike anything I've ever read before. I've read other paranormal books and fantasy books since reading these the first time, but Daughter of Smoke and Bone still stands out. The story is set in Prague and the descriptions are vibrant. It's definitely the kind of writing that makes you feel like you're in the story with these characters. Seeing Karou navigate between having a normal, human life and the life with chimera makes for some funny and heart-wrenching scenes. She tries to do things without hurting others, but hurt is inevitable. I will say, having not noticed this the first time, there was some terminology that might negatively affect some readers. The term "gypsies" is used one time. As this is set in Prague, and I don't know how people there speak, it might be a commonly used phrase. It is still good to know that it's there in case anyone who identifies with the Romani community gets hurt. The word "savages" is also used. It's used to describe a certain group of people which has its own negative connotations in our world. Just something to keep in mind in case the use of any of these words is harmful.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone is the start to one of my favorite fantasy adventures.

4 howls

Monday, December 11, 2017

Ash by Malinda Lo

Trigger Warnings: Neglect, physical abuse, mental abuse, emotional abuse

SynopsisIn the wake of her father's death, Ash is left at the mercy of her cruel stepmother. Consumed with grief, her only joy comes by the light of the dying hearth fire, rereading the fairy tales her mother once told her. In her dreams, someday the fairies will steal her away, as they are said to do. When she meets the dark and dangerous fairy Sidhean, she believes that her wish may be granted.

The day that Ash meets Kaisa, the King's Huntress, her heart begins to change. Instead of chasing fairies, Ash learns to hunt with Kaisa. Though their friendship is as delicate as a new bloom, it reawakens Ash's capacity for love-and her desire to live. But Sidhean has already claimed Ash for his own, and she must make a choice between fairy tale dreams and true love.

Entrancing, empowering, and romantic, Ash is about the connection between life and love, and solitude and death, where transformation can come from even the deepest grief.

Review: Ash was a re-read for me. I read it long ago and I fondly thought of it as one of my favorite fairy tale retellings, but I've read a number of retellings since then and I wanted to see if it still held up. Good news, it definitely does. From the start, Ash is compassionate and watching her deal with her mother's death is hard. One of the strengths of this particular story is seeing Ash come to terms with her sexuality. She's definitely attracted to Sidhean, but she also harbors an attraction for Kaisa. It's always great to see people figure out their own sexuality, but I especially enjoy it in fantasy based stories. Beyond that, Ash is a retelling of Cinderella. If you like that story, then you will probably enjoy this one.

What makes this book stand out above the rest is that it feels like its own fairy tale. Yes, it is a retelling of Cinderella, but it is lyrical and has its own voice which makes it feel fresh. Malinda does a beautiful job of weaving fae lore with the original Cinderella story. Characters also share their favorite fairy tales within the scope of this world. I always appreciate moments like that because it makes the world feel more rich and developed. This is one of the few books where the ending felt wrapped up, but also a bit open-ended and it worked really well for this particular story.

Even if you aren't a fan of retellings, Ash is worth checking out. It isn't long, but has a beautiful, rich world with fun characters and a well done romance.

5 howls

Don't Cosplay With My Heart by Cecil Castellucci

SynopsisWhen Edan Kupferman dresses up like her favorite character, Gargantua, she feels tall and powerful. That's important right now, because her family is a mess, her best friend is gone for the summer, her crush is confusing, and Edan's feeling small and not sure which end is up. 
When Edan's cosplaying, she can be angry, loud, and not the good girl everyone thinks she is. And when she's at conventions, she feels like she's found her own Team Tomorrow. But when her personal life starts to spiral out of control, Edan has to figure out whether she needs a sidekick, or if she has the strength to be the hero of her own story. 
Review: Don't Cosplay With My Heart was a cute book that had a number of good moments in it. As a character, Edan went from having a place of privilege to having barely any. Her father has been accused of stealing and her family no longer has the standing they used to. We get a small idea of who the other characters in the story are, but the main ones we really get to know are Edan, Yuri, and Kirk. Yuri becomes Edan's boyfriend and he's a dick. There isn't a polite way to say it. Kirk is the typical nice guy who does what he can to help Edan throughout the story. Sadly, none of them were particularly interesting to read about. One character I enjoyed quite a lot was Edan's grandmother. We do not spend a lot of time with her but, when we do, she's always ready to put Edan in her place.

This isn't so much a content warning, but if you're a female and you are into fandom culture, then you might find parts of this book bothersome. There's a good bit of the book dedicated to men around Edan who do not seem to think she is a nerd because she's a girl. Edan's boyfriend and his friends are the main people who have this attitude throughout the story, and it does grate on the nerves a bit. Thankfully, the book also shows off other women in fandom. There are a few other girls Edan spends time with who are a part of this culture. There is even some discussion about being a successful woman in comics as Edan gets a chance to meet one of her heroes. I thought this book did a good job of touching on lust versus love and how blind they can make a person. I do wish this book was a little longer and that it touched more on financial issues Edan's club was having. The end felt too sudden.

Don't Cosplay With My Heart had a lot of potential, but fell flat with its characters and predicable plot. It's still cute and I would recommend reading it if you want to see how women are very often treated in fandom culture.

3 howls