Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle

Wolf in White Van
By John Darnielle (Also Narrator)
Unabridged: 5 Hr 22 Minutes
Publisher: Macmillan Audio
Audible ASIN: B00MEOZ5KU
Genre: Fiction


Welcome to Trace Italian, a game of strategy and survival! You may now make your first move. Isolated by a disfiguring injury since the age of 17, Sean Phillips crafts imaginary worlds for strangers to play in. From his small apartment in Southern California, he orchestrates fantastic adventures where possibilities, both dark and bright, open in the boundaries between the real and the imagined. As the creator of Trace Italian – a text-based, roleplaying game played through the mail – Sean guides players from around the world through his intricately imagined terrain, which they navigate and explore, turn by turn, seeking sanctuary in a ravaged, savage future America. Lance and Carrie are high school students from Florida, explorers of the Trace. But when they take their play into the real world, disaster strikes, and Sean is called to account for it. In the process, he is pulled back through time, tunneling toward the moment of his own self-inflicted departure from the world in which most people live.

Brilliantly constructed, Wolf in White Van unfolds in reverse until we arrive at both the beginning and the climax: the event that has shaped so much of Sean’s life. Beautifully written and unexpectedly moving, John Darnielle’s audacious and gripping debut novel is a marvel of storytelling brio and genuine literary delicacy.

(New) ThoughtsThis title has been on my book “radar” for some time. As someone who has explored the various aspects of gaming and loves to read, I was admittedly interested in the concept of a story that involves a text-based role-playing game. And it just so happens, it met the requirements for a challenge prompt. So I quickly worked it into the line-up this month.

The prompt: A book with an animal in the title.

The Rundown: Wolf in White Van follows the events surrounding Sean, after a disfiguring accident has left him isolated. In the wake of said events, he creates an imaginary world within a text- based role-playing game, Trace Italian.  Through the development of this game which is played via the mail, Sean guides players on an adventure through an imaginary landscape. However, when two young individuals are met with unfortunate outcomes after deciding to take the game into the real world, Sean finds himself on the stand and called into question.

The Characters: Really there is only one at the center of this story, Sean. He is viable but nothing extraordinary. I was a bit disappointed in the lack of emotion he conveys as someone who has been through and is now facing another large hurdle in life. I did not dislike him, but I failed to develop any true connection with him. There was no real growth or evolution occurring. The supporting characters were limited, but this was understandable. The story is about a young man who has been shut off from the world after a terrible accident. It made sense that there were not many individuals who really stood out in the story.

Execution & Story: In terms of originality, I am offering a few bonus points here. The attempt to incorporate Trace Italian into the narration delivers something a bit different for readers. And maybe for some, will even establish the connection I failed to. However, the sequence of events felt disjointed and often interrupted. The pacing was oddly slow and the overall effect dry and monotone. A lot has and was happening for there to be so little tension or excitement. The story did not feel like it ever progressed.

Writing & Narration: I always enjoy when an author chooses to narrate their own audiobooks. I find a strange satisfaction in knowing the voice accompanying the story is the creator. It was no different in this case. But again, the pacing is painfully slow and there is never any moment of anticipation or urgency. I did not really struggle with this as audio, but cannot help but wonder how it translates on to paper. I would imagine much like someone’s rambling and vacant thoughts.

Conclusion: I was honestly pleased to put this one behind me. We just did not click. I require stories that build up a certain amount of anticipation and have more direction. I want to be driven to a conclusion. I found Wolf in White Van is more of just an existing series with no powerful moments, but I am sure there is an audience willing to embrace it.

Untitled design Listened to with a cup of Darjeeling tea.


Purchase Links: Amazon.com Book Depository

Happy Reading,

Danielle ❤

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Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis


Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis
By: JD Vance (Author/Narrator)
Publisher: HarperAudio
ISBN13: 9780062477521
Unabridged 6 hr and 49 min
Genre: Autobiography/Memoir


From a former Marine and Yale Law School Graduate, a poignant account of growing up in a poor Appalachian town, that offers a broader, probing look at the struggles of America’s white working class. Part memoir, part historical and social analysis, J. D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy is a fascinating consideration of class, culture, and the American dream.

Vance’s grandparents were “dirt poor and in love.” They got married and moved north from Kentucky to Ohio in the hopes of escaping the dreadful poverty around them. Their grandchild (the author) graduated from Yale Law School, a conventional marker of their success in achieving upward mobility for their family. But Vance cautions that is only the short version. The slightly longer version is that his grandparents, aunt, uncle, and mother struggled to varying degrees with the demands of their new middle class life and they, and Vance himself, still carry around the demons of their chaotic family history.

Delving into his own personal story and drawing on a wide array of sociological studies, Vance takes us deep into working class life in the Appalachian region. This demographic of our country has been slowly disintegrating over forty years, and Vance provides a searching and clear-eyed attempt to understand when and how “hillbillies” lost faith in any hope of upward mobility, and in opportunities to come.

At times funny, disturbing, and deeply moving, this is a family history that is also a troubling meditation on the loss of the American dream for a large portion of this country.

(New) Thoughts

As someone who spent her childhood raised in the Appalachian region, I approached Hillbilly Elegy as a personal read. The majority of my life was spent living between Ohio and Kentucky before finally relocating across the states to Oregon. I knew that I would find some possibly comforting and perhaps discomforting familiarity within the pages of this memoir. However, what you are about to read is brief and a bit defensive I am admitting, because that is how this title made me feel for the majority of my time with it.

I want to be forthcoming before I delve too far into my experience with this book. I have reshelved this title several times for a variety of reasons. I have read countless reviews and debates comparing this memoir to the very reason Trump succeeded in the presidential election and have encountered multiple labels and “assumptions” spread throughout those comments in regards to individuals from the Appalachian region that paint a picture of an uneducated and decaying society that has little to offer. And while, I cannot deny there are faults within every community and that the economic hardships within this society have certainly created a series of challenges that feel stagnating at the best of times, reading these remarks are difficult to swallow when you know the reality of what lies beneath the surface.

I have also must admit that I found myself associating with and struggling with JD’s story. While my family did not exactly adhere to the same ideals and practices, I was a friend to many who did. I grew up in an area that was small and everyone knew everyone. This was life for many years. A declining economy and failing welfare system certainly attributed to fewer resources in terms of education, declining work ethic/morale and increased drug abuse in many areas. I think the same can be said for any  area or society as this is a common theme when individuals begin to struggle. But it is not the only theme. Amidst the turmoil and challenges there are those who arise with a fierce loyalty and desire to overcome. Much as JD has done. I did enjoy his narration and felt that it added a nice personal touch. All memoirs should be self narrated when possible. And I feel that some personal truth for the author was exposed, which is always admirable.

My problem lies within the fact that Hillbilly Elegy feels too blanketed. Listening to JD describe his history of family violence and the constant references to the lack of education and failure to thrive was not only depressing but somewhat unfair. I cannot deny the truths in this book as I have witnessed them first hand, but I have also been fortunate enough to personally witness the other side of the coin and found myself unable to fully appreciate the “tunnel vision” I experienced during my time listening the his tale. I will not attempt to discredit and disagree with the information provided and will respect the author’s raw approach to this. I encountered some of the mentioned directly throughout my own childhood. But I was saddened with the end result and that read a bit like misplaced blame and solicited unnecessary labels and assumptions within the reading community. I am very aware of the stigma associated with this region as I have experienced it and continue to do so at time when asked where I grew up. This felt like a missed opportunity to lift the veil and clear some of the negative air. It feels that too often literature chooses to focus on the stereotypes and downfalls of this culture while failing to acknowledge the strengths and positives. I choose to believe there have to be better explorations and representations of the Appalachian region in existence.

Untitled designEnjoyed with a cup of Earl Grey and a splash of milk.


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Ink and Bone (The Great Library #1)

Ink and Bone (The Great Library #1)
By Rachel Caine
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
ISBN13: 9780451473134
Pages: 374
Genre: YA Fantasy


In an exhilarating new series, “New York Times” bestselling author Rachel Caine rewrites history, creating a dangerous world where the Great Library of Alexandria has survived the test of time. 

Ruthless and supremely powerful, the Great Library is now a presence in every major city, governing the flow of knowledge to the masses. Alchemy allows the Library to deliver the content of the greatest works of history instantly but the personal ownership of books is expressly forbidden. 

Jess Brightwell believes in the value of the Library, but the majority of his knowledge comes from illegal books obtained by his family. Jess has been sent to be his family’s spy, but his loyalties are tested in the final months of his training to enter the Library’s service. 

When his friend inadvertently commits heresy by creating a device that could change the world, Jess discovers that those who control the Great Library believe knowledge is more valuable than any human life and soon both heretics and books will burn.

(New) Thoughts

I am utterly, completely hooked! This was my first encounter with Rachel Caine’s work and she has sunk her writing claws deep into my reading heart. I was up past the midnight hour finishing this book because I simply could not reach a point where I was ready to put it down.

The Great Library regulates the public’s access to knowledge through the use of alchemy and blanks (imagine e readers under the Library’s control).  To own an original work is strictly prohibited and comes with great risks. Jess Brightwell is a runner (deliverer of black market titles). Hi family supplies books to those who are willing to brave the potential threats if caught. When he is sent to the Great Library to train as part of his father’s efforts to place eyes and ears on the “inside”, he discovers his obedience and loyalty to his family will be put to the ultimate test. Jess thrives on knowledge and all that the Library aims to preserve. But when he uncovers just how far they will go and what they will sacrifice to protect this knowledge and their foothold, he will face the ultimate challenge.

Caine delivers a unique cast that is enduring and offers constant variety. There is a welcomed amount of diversity the works beautifully in engaging and connecting the reader. Jess Brightwell is intelligent and well-rounded but not without his own trials. His love for the written word and continuous struggle with family loyalty versus his morals and the Library provide a nice balance of tension and admiration that establishes him as credible, allowing a more personal link with the reader. The supporting characters are not without their own merit as they each contribute equally to the story.

While many of us are no stranger to dystopian worlds where books and reading are the center of conflict, Ink and Bone takes this familiar story and ups the ante to extreme heights. With an ever evolving plot that continues to thicken by the page, elements of a dynamic magic system and alchemy supply new facets that feed into what quickly becomes a truly original and compelling plot. Incorporating cultural factors and aspects of steampunk beautifully intermingled with libraries, black market books and even a war-zone in a constantly changing setting guarantee excitement.

I am including a note on the unabridged audio edition as I ended receiving this on audible as well, so I am reviewing both. Published by Recorded Books and narrated by Julian Elfer, it is approximately 10 hrs and 26 minutes in length. Elfer’s narration is outstanding and proved to add a deserved air and life to the story that only serves to enhance it. Accurately paced delivery and clear and concise dialog performance make this an ideal audiobook for fans.

Caine’s writing is clever and crisp. She sets a fluid and fast paced tone that fuels the adventure and creates an effortless experience. Events segue beautifully and her eye for detail leaves nothing for want other than the sequel! Ink and Bone is a fully immersive experience that promotes thought. It tackles and challenges the effects on society when governing systems attempt to manipulate or control knowledge. A must read for fans of dystopian fantasies who enjoy divergent stories!

*I would like to thank Blogging for Books and Crown Publishing Company for this book and opportunity. The above review is my own, unbiased and honest opinion.


Learn more about the author at rachelcaine.com.

Purchase Links:

Amazon US  Amazon UK  Book Depository

Happy Reading!

Danielle ❤

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