Off the Shelf: A Review of Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin

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“Once upon a different time, there was a girl who lived in a kingdom of death. Wolves howled up her arm. A whole pack of them – made of tattoo ink and pain, memory and loss. It was the only thing about her that ever stayed the same.
Her story begins on a train.”

I’d always considered myself not such a fan of alternate history. Something always made my stomach a bit nervous when people toyed with real people in a book just like they would a fictional character straight from their mind. That being said, Wolf by Wolf actually made me a fan of an alternate history story. There was just enough fantasy slipped in to ease my mind out of established history and into Graudin’s new world.

I received Wolf by Wolf as part of my very first subscription box with Uppercase. (I also am receiving my first Owlcrate this month as well, so keep checking the blog for a side by side comparison.) I’m so thrilled that it was picked for this month’s book because, otherwise, the thought of reading an alternate history might have lessened my chances of picking it up on my own… Then, I really would have missed out. It also came at just the right time – day four of being stuck in bed, sick, with nothing to do. I devoured this book in under six hours.

This story is set in 1956, in a world where the Axis Powers actually won WWII. Each year, to celebrate their victory, Hitler and Emperor Hirohito host the Axis Tour – a treacherous motorcycle race from Berlin (now Germania) to Tokyo – with the victor receiving a ball in their honor attended by both Hirohito and Hitler.

Yael is a survivor of the death camps, one who hides the numbers on her wrist with a fresh tattoo of five wolves, four for the memories of people she has lost and one as a reminder. As a small child, she was the subject of an experiment that granted her the ability to skinshift, transform her appearance into that of any other female. It is with this skill that she becomes the resistance’s best hope. Yael uses her ability to skinshift into the Axis Tour’s only female victor, Adele Wolfe, in order to win the race, dance with Hitler, and be the one who murders him on live television.

The story switches between Yael’s present day fight to succeed and her struggle-filled past that tells the story of each wolf permanently etched on her arm. Keeping up appearances gets complicated for Yael as she races alongside Adele’s twin brother and her former fling, Luka. No amount of research has prepared her to slip into these relationships without arousing some suspicion. She has to balance her lies with certain degrees of truth if she hopes to make it to the finish line first.

Things I enjoyed:

Yael – She’s strong, resilient, and a true heroine. The stories from her past are what truly shape this character and how she thinks, feels, and acts. It was very easy to get lost in her mind and race right alongside her.

It’s not a love story – Too often good stories with strong female leads get side tracked by a love interest. This one does not. It reminds me more of the first Hunger Games book in the sense that “yes, male character, you’re charming and all, but there’s quite a bit of death and destruction happening right now, and a relationship doesn’t really take priority over my mission”.

Graudin’s writing style: Simply beautiful wording and imagery. It makes me want to scrap all of my current projects and start over, in hopes that one day I will be able to write with that level of showing-not-telling skill.

Things I didn’t enjoy:

There wasn’t anything I outright didn’t like about this book. It was well paced and interesting. I even enjoyed the alternate history, something I was originally wary of. I suppose if I have to pick something, it’s that I didn’t look at the back cover closely enough to realize this would be a series. At least it’s one that I will gladly wait for though.

Overall rating:

4.5/5

This story is compelling, and it’s rare in my busy schedule anymore that I get to make my way through a book entirely in one sitting. While my review of the Uppercase box is forthcoming, I will say that I thoroughly enjoyed the Uppercase bonus feature post its, as they really drove me forward to reach the next one as I read. The moment I finished, I started recommending it to friends. It’s definitely worth a read, and it has been one of the most thrilling adventures I’ve read recently.

Add Wolf by Wolf to your shelf on Goodreads

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Off the Shelf: A Review of Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige

Fair Warning — Spoilers Ahead!

The back cover of Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige

The back cover of Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige

You see the back cover of this book? Did you read what it says? Do you believe that these will be the events that transpire within its pages? Well, DON’T. This book is a LIAR.

 

After finishing this book today, I tried to step away for awhile and examine the book as a whole, but I just couldn’t get past the disappointment that consumed me as I closed in on the final few chapters and realized that there wasn’t enough book left for anything to actually happen. Nothing. Zilch. NADA. This absolutely kills me because I had such high hopes for this book. My to-read list is a mile long, so when I want to immerse myself in a book, I’m extremely picky about which one I choose. The goodreads description of Dorothy Must Die interested me enough to add it to my to-read list, but when I happened to stumble across the Epic Reads site and saw how much hype and promotion they were giving this book, I figured it had to be something worthwhile. I ordered a copy for our Young Adult section, and I was also the first patron on the hold list. The day this book was catalogued, it was MINE, and I couldn’t wait to jump right in.

A little background on me: I LOVE retellings. Give me a fractured fairytale, and I’ll be a happy girl. My first NaNoWriMo project? A really poorly put together novel set in a fantasy world that combined characters from fairytales and classic lit, including the Wicked Witch from Oz. Another fun fact? I’m actually not-too-distantly related to Judy Garland through the Gumm family (I did enjoy the not-so-subtle homage in Dorothy Must Die’s main character’s name being Amy Gumm).

 

Things I wasn’t a fan of: 

What do I NOT love? Well, when it comes to this book, frankly, a lot. I had such high hopes for this one, and those hopes crashed harder than Amy’s trailer-ride into Oz. The biggest disappointment was expecting to see Amy take on the Tin Woodman, the Scarecrow, and the Lion individually to take back their gifts from the wizard, and instead, I got an entirely different story. *SPOILER* – Amy isn’t told she has to take out the three henchmen before she takes on Dorothy until the END of the book. You read that right! The WHOLE book is spent mainly focusing on Amy’s arrival in Oz, her training with the Revolutionary Order of the Wicked to kill Dorothy, and her infiltrating the staff of Dorothy’s palace so that she can kill the ruby-shoed princess. Sure, she encounters the other characters, but nothing is said about having to take out Dorothy’s biggest supporters until AFTER Amy flubs up her assassination attempt at the very end. Seriously?! You tell me on EVERY site’s book summary what her mission is supposed to be, and then she doesn’t learn that mission till the end? Sure, maybe I didn’t realize this was going to be the first book in a series, but what are you going to do now? Devote one book to each character Amy has to kill off? In that case, Dorothy will NEVER die.

Other things I don’t enjoy include overly blatant foreshadowing and giving readers flashing neon arrows, as if we’re not smart enough to figure things out ourselves. Paige is guilty of telling, not showing. Such as when Amy is met by the mysterious Pete the gardener in an ever-moving maze. He lays the foreshadowing on pretty thick to where it reads almost like, “Dorothy and Glinda HATE this maze. They pretty much NEVER come here. They are SCARED of it. Now that it knows you, it will remember you and help you, Amy. Oh, you want to know why I’m telling you all of this? BECAUSE SOMEDAY YOU MIGHT NEED TO USE IT.” Do you really have to make it that obvious? Although, of course, much like the rest of the book, nothing happens and Amy doesn’t end up using this maze…so, unless it shows up somewhere in one of the sequels, this scene was pretty much useless.

Speaking of Glinda, where is she? She’s introduced once in Amy’s first few hours in Oz, as she sees her from a distance. After that though? She briefly makes an appearance towards the end. Sure, we get to see this twin sister of hers that happens to be Wicked, but I would figure she’d be a much larger character. Also, if she’s so close to Dorothy, then why isn’t she part of Amy’s mission? Glinda as a whole just seems underdeveloped and underutilized.

The last thing that tended to bug me was the way the author sexualized Dorothy to make her a villain. I 100% believe that female villains can be both attractive and evil, and frankly, those are the villains I enjoy. But Dorothy? It seems that most every bit of description had to be about her appearance – from her cleavage hanging out to the ruby red slippers turned f*ck-me stiletto boots. The only image I get when I picture this version of Dorothy are the show-some-skin, Leg Avenue Dorothy Halloween costumes. It simply makes me cringe because it comes off as overly cheesy. Make her every bit attractive as you want, but if that’s the only thing she’s got going for her, then the character is just going to fall flat. Yes, we do get to see some of her twisted cruelty (which I will give credit, is one of my favorite parts), but not nearly enough background or development to make me feel anything except disinterest in the character.

 

Things I enjoyed:

I’ll admit this is list had few and far between, but the book did have some redeeming qualities. I do like a fresh take on Oz. The world building was clear and intriguing, and it added to the overall mood. I did like the twisted portrayal of -most- of the familiar characters like Tin Woodman, the Lion, and especially the Scarecrow. When the depths of Dorothy’s cruelty involving her former head handmaid was unveiled at the ball, that was the highlight of the book for me. It was creepy enough to make my skin crawl, and that was when I finally felt an emotional connection to the characters. The casual nods to L. Frank Baum’s text and to the movie were a nice touch and not overly in-your-face.

 

My Predictions:

Unfortunately, I do predict this series will drag out Amy’s “mission” for several books, to spend time focusing on her taking out each of the supporting cast before going after Dorothy. Will I read them? Likely not. It’s sad, but I don’t even care to guess what will happen in the rest of the series because I was just so unattached to the characters.
My Rating:
2/5 Library Cards

I considered 2.5 to be generous, but I’ve taken my time putting this post together, thinking that eventually my opinion of the book would improve. Nope. Didn’t happen. I’m stepping away from it, clicking my heels together, and wishing I was reading a better book. Maybe next time.

*EDIT* – Found this image floating around Facebook today, and I’ve deemed it “What Actually Should Have Happened in Dorothy Must Die“.

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OFF THE SHELF: A Review of The Archived by Victoria Schwab

The Archived by Victoria Schwab

The Archived by Victoria Schwab

What originally led me to The Archived? Well, to be honest, laziness. In my downtime at work, I peruse goodreads for descriptions that strike my fancy enough to make me check our system for the book’s availability. I stumbled across the page for Victoria Schwab’s Vicious. I was intrigued by the description and the high rating, and a quick search of our directory showed me that our library had a copy available… four floors below me. I’m not terribly lazy, but I do admit that I made a mental note to go seek the book out the next time I ventured downstairs, and then returned to my goodreads browsing. The reviewers of Vicious seemed to continuously recommend Schwab’s other books, which just so happened to be…what’s that? Young Adult? Well, well, well… that just so happens to be my home turf.

A couple clicks later, and I’m staring at the screen, wide-eyed in awe of the description of The Archived.

“Imagine a place where the dead rest on shelves like books.”

You have my attention.

Mackenzie Bishop has been selected to replace her grandfather as a “Keeper”, someone who tracks down the restless dead known as Histories before they can escape the Archive into the Outer (our) world. Not only must Mac cope with the grief of just losing her younger brother, but her responsibilities as Keeper begin to push her to her limit. She must balance her lies, her family life, and still keep her wits about her as she discovers someone has been altering the memories of the Histories. This threat could lead to the downfall of the Archive itself, forever cutting Mac off from her brother and her grandfather, Da.

I immediately located The Archived among our YA shelves, and happily carried it home, thinking I’d have a book to last me the weekend. Nope! My first day off, I spent utterly consumed by this book. Could NOT put it down. Maybe it’s just the librarian in me, but the thought of library shelves filled with shell bodies of the dead whose memories can be read like books… well, the premise just automatically appeals to my taste. Factor in mysterious murders and intriguing, secretive characters, and you have me hooked.

Things I enjoyed:
I was fascinated by the ins and outs of how the Archive worked, especially with how Mackenzie would track down the Histories in the Narrows (the space between the Archive and the Outer). There was a romantic angle (or should I say angles?), but it didn’t overwhelm the story, for which I was grateful. Heavy topics like death and unhealthy relationships, were touched on gracefully and with language that felt comfortable coming from a sixteen year old. Victoria Schwab hits it out of the park with her creative style, delicate weaving of story lines, and a pacing that builds anticipation in the last half of the book as Mackenzie starts to piece together mysteries from the past and present. Schwab doesn’t reveal absolutely everything about every single character, she reveals only enough to keep you wondering. Who should Mackenzie trust? What motivation does this character have and is it genuine?

Things I wasn’t a fan of:

At first, it wasn’t very clear that Da was Mackenzie’s grandfather. Had I not read it in some of the other goodreads reviews, I probably wouldn’t have caught on so quickly.

The semi-romantic interest in Owen felt a little strange and rushed. She may have been curious by him not slipping and felt pity for his story with his sister, but a lot of their romantic scenes where she’d take comfort in him just felt AWKWARD. You’re a Keeper, you know what Histories are and what is supposed to happen with them, and to go beyond overlooking all that, break who knows how many rules, and form some sort of bond with that History…well, it didn’t feel true to character.

Her best friend. Heck, I can’t even remember her name now, and that’s why it bothers me. Mackenzie’s best friend from before she moves makes appearances in the book only through phone calls and then an actual visit in the last few pages tying together a happy ending. Does she remind us that Mackenzie is still trying to be an average teenager with average teenage friends? Sure. Does she do anything to further the plot? Nope. This character mostly just feels to me like filler.

MY PREDICTIONS:
The sequel to this book, The Unbound, has been waiting anxiously on my Kindle for me to finish this post. I’ve definitely been having trouble resisting the urge to delve into it, but I forced myself to get my predictions in writing before beginning. So…SPOILER ALERT… here are some things I predict for The Unbound.

Wesley and his guyliner will definitely be back and making his way out of the friend-zone. Of course, Mackenzie will still be working through her feelings for Owen the Psychotic History.

I feel like Da will have a much larger presence in this book. It’s already been stated that the Librarians are the Histories of those who have worked for the Archive, so it just makes sense. What else is he going to do? Stay dead? I don’t think so. I fully expect Da to be a Librarian.

We already know that in this one Mackenzie will be starting her new school. Which I guess can only mean high school drama will be finding its way into her already stressful life. This should also give us new characters and new developments, and will somehow work into whether the Archive will remain vigilant or fall.

MY RATING:
4.5/5 Library Cards

So, there you have it! Pick up The Archived by Victoria Schwab at your local library, bookstore, or online, and let me know if you enjoyed it as much as I did!