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!

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

Friday, August 31, 2018

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

SynopsisEvelyn Hugo is finally ready to tell the truth about her glamorous and scandalous life. But when she chooses unknown magazine reporter Monique Grant for the job, no one in the journalism community is more astounded than Monique herself. Why her? Why now?

Monique is not exactly on top of the world. Her husband, David, has left her, and her career has stagnated. Regardless of why Evelyn has chosen her to write her biography, Monique is determined to use this opportunity to jumpstart her career.

Summoned to Evelyn’s Upper East Side apartment, Monique listens as Evelyn unfurls her story: from making her way to Los Angeles in the 1950s to her decision to leave show business in the late 80s, and, of course, the seven husbands along the way. As Evelyn’s life unfolds through the decades—revealing a ruthless ambition, an unexpected friendship, and a great forbidden love—Monique begins to feel a very a real connection to the actress. But as Evelyn’s story catches up with the present, it becomes clear that her life intersects with Monique’s own in tragic and irreversible ways.

Review: I'll be honest, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is not the kind of book I would normally pick up, but it was at my library and hype is a thing so I read it. There were a lot of complex feelings when I read this book. First off, let's talk characters. I really disliked Evelyn Hugo. It wasn't even that she was a fun character to dislike. I just genuinely thought she was an awful person. I'm never going to be one of those people who believes the awful things you go through gives you the right to be horrid to others. Monique was meant to be an interesting character, but I felt like she didn't have very much page time. Her life didn't feel as fleshed out which made her seem less important. Those were honestly the only two characters. Any other characters felt like they were only around to push Evelyn's story forward, but they weren't that interesting.

Where the characters fell flat, the story flourished. I can see why people got hooked on the drama of Evelyn's life. Each husband had their own part, and the way they bled into each other was well constructed. That being said, there were some aspects that never really got addressed. Namely, there was a time where Evelyn pretended to have a miscarriage. This was the moment that made me hate Evelyn deeply. I understand why it was done, but faking a miscarriage is horrific and no one called her out on it. This made me uncomfortable and I haven't had a miscarriage. I can't imagine how awful that must have been to anyone who has experienced that particular hardship. There was another moment where a fellow actress married one of Evelyn's ex-husbands, and she ended up getting abused the same way Evelyn was. That also showed how little Evelyn cared about others. I know I already said it, but gosh I hated Evelyn very much.

Now that I'm done talking about what I disliked, let's move onto what I enjoyed. There were so many great opportunities for discussion throughout this book. There's a scene between Monique and Evelyn that felt particularly poignant. Evelyn mentions that she was in love with a woman and Monique immediately labels Evelyn as a lesbian. Evelyn gets mad and chastises Monique for trying to erase her bisexual identity. That allowed Monique to reflect on her own erasure being a bi-racial woman. That was a moment that stood out. I also liked seeing Evelyn tackle the erasure of her Cuban identity because that was self-erasure and I don't know any other book to actually bring that up.

On the note of sexuality, I loved the way sex and sexuality were dissected through this novel. Especially since the main character was a beautiful, young actress. We can really see the expectations people had of her throughout her career. There were also great scenes where Evelyn got to experience the difference between why women are supposed to have sex versus why men are supposed to have sex. There were some moments that were hard to read for me because of Evelyn's attitude towards her own beauty and sex, but I still think this is a great way to start being more open about these topics and expectations.

Finally, there are the bits about the media. As the story goes along, we get clips from newspapers that supplement Evelyn's story. We get to see how Evelyn and her friends are able to manipulate the media. I do wish things hadn't gone quite as smoothly for them because I wanted to see how they handled things differently. On that note, if anyone is in the media field, they might be uncomfortable of how the media is depicted as pawns in this story. I thought it was interesting, but sad. That being said, it seemed like these newspapers were meant to resemble tabloids and not papers like The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal.

I'm leaving this unrated because, like I said, I had complicated feelings. Overall, the characters were underwhelming, but the story was engaging and there are a ton of great talking points.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Piecing Me Together by Renée Watson

SynopsisJade believes she must get out of her neighborhood if she’s ever going to succeed. Her mother says she has to take every opportunity. She has. She accepted a scholarship to a mostly-white private school and even Saturday morning test prep opportunities. But some opportunities feel more demeaning than helpful. Like an invitation to join Women to Women, a mentorship program for “at-risk” girls. Except really, it’s for black girls. From “bad” neighborhoods.

But Jade doesn’t need support. And just because her mentor is black doesn’t mean she understands Jade. And maybe there are some things Jade could show these successful women about the real world and finding ways to make a real difference.

Friendships, race, privilege, identity—this compelling and thoughtful story explores the issues young women face.
Review: Piecing Me Together was one of those books I heard a lot of good things about, but I was still surprised at how much I loved it. Jade was an incredible character and I enjoyed seeing her work towards her goals. She never let anything get in her way and I think that's admirable. She was also incredibly aware of how people treated her. I know that's a common thing for African-American people to by hyper aware of how things are said and done differently around them. I'm not black, so I don't know if there is a certain age they start to notice, but I liked seeing Jade's perspective as she navigates these moments.

This book is a great example of how the summary is only a small part of what the entire story is about. While Jade does get into a mentorship program and she has to work out her feelings about the program, Piecing Me Together is really about the other relationships in Jade's life as well. We get to experience how she interacts with her mother, her friends, her teachers, and other characters. We see how these people and relationships are what helps Jade become who she is.

Beautiful story with a lot to take away from it.

5 howls

Friday, August 24, 2018

The Darkest Legacy by Alexandra Bracken

SynopsisFive years after the destruction of the so-called rehabilitation camps that imprisoned her and countless other Psi kids, seventeen-year-old Suzume "Zu" Kimura has assumed the role of spokesperson for the interim government, fighting for the rights of Psi kids against a growing tide of misinformation and prejudice. But when she is accused of committing a horrifying act, she is forced to go on the run once more in order to stay alive.

Determined to clear her name, Zu finds herself in an uncomfortable alliance with Roman and Priyanka, two mysterious Psi who could either help her prove her innocence or betray her before she gets the chance. But as they travel in search of safety and answers, and Zu grows closer to the people she knows she shouldn't trust, they uncover even darker things roiling beneath the veneer of the country's recovery. With her future-and the future of all Psi-on the line, Zu must use her powerful voice to fight back against forces that seek to drive the Psi into the shadows and save the friends who were once her protectors.

From #1 New York Times best-selling author Alexandra Bracken comes a harrowing story of resilience, resistance, and reckoning that will thrill loyal fans and new readers alike.

Review: I wasn't really sure how to feel about The Darkest Legacy since Zu is my favorite character and I liked how the overall series ended. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed reading this book. First, let's talk about the not great things. Zu's character felt off at the beginning mostly because she was supposed to be a spokesperson and that didn't seem genuine. As someone who has had issues with speaking and feeling like my voice is important, I have a hard time believing she would be willing to take that role even 5 years after the events from the first series. She also knew Roman and Priya were lying to her, but she still trusted them in some regards? Again, that just seemed weird to me, as a reader. On the note of the new characters, I quite liked Roman and Priyanka because they represented the downsides to this new world Zu is living in. They challenge Zu and what she stands for so I enjoyed their inclusion in the story. 

I loved the overall story. It brings up interesting discussion about government and recovery from trauma. There were so many moments when Zu thought she knew what was happening in her world, but she really didn't. She had to learn the hard way that some politics are just a front for more unseemly behaviors. I also loved how we got to see Zu navigate through things without Liam or Ruby. We get a snippet of this in her short story with Gabe, but that doesn't compare to having her own book. Also, on the note of Gabe, I like how that story gets referenced in The Darkest Legacy. Bringing those stories into the actual series makes them feel more connected and I'm glad Alex did that instead of making them filler.

Zu had to grow on me as a character, but the story was as good as ever.

4 howls