Thursday, December 30, 2010

I Am Not a Serial Killer

John Wayne Cleaver is just starting high school in Clayton and he's not like his classmates. His mother runs a mortuary and his father has pretty much been nonexistent. John doesn't relate to anyone at all and doesn't connect with people emotionally. Plus his favorite hobby is researching and telling people about serial killers. He is obsessed with them because he thinks if he doesn't stick to his carefully placed rules, he would be one of them. It's not an unwarranted comparison since he shares many traits with them, including being recently diagnosed as a sociopath by his therapist. His only friend is Max, a talkative and annoying boy, who only serves as a cover for John's antisocial tendencies. Because of his inability to relate with his classmates, bullies frequently bother him and he has to will himself to grin and compliment them instead of gutting them like fish. John is intensely interested in a new development in his town: a serial killer who steals organs has been striking with increasing frequency in his very own town. John compiles a psychological profile on the killer, but some things just don't add up. Is this just a run of the mill serial killer or something more nefarious?

When I started reading this book, I automatically thought that I would be reading about a mini version of Dexter Morgan (from Jeff Lindsay's series and the TV show). To some extend the two are similar, but I was relieved to see that they have distinct differences. John was aware of his tendencies and tried to put rules in place to prevent him from becoming a killer. He would stop himself from staring at people or following people around. If he felt angry at someone, he would pay them a compliment instead of acting out the violent fantasies in his head. The killer inside of him is personified as a monster behind the wall of his rules. I think it's interesting that he sees himself and the killer as two separate beings when he's trying to repress it. Later in the novel, he decides he needs to kill the serial killer in Clayton, so he allows that wall to crumble and lets the monster out. Then, he and the creature blur together and he has to frequently stop himself from giving in to the homicidal urges with innocents in his town. The most interesting aspect of his narrative for me was his sociopathic view of people. He views them as objects and only connects emotionally through creating fear within the other person. It makes his relationships with other people like sick imitations of real ones. For instance, he feels drawn to a girl and I assume it's because he likes her and wants to be her boyfriend. Not so. He make her view him as the only person in the world and then kill her. The fact that John is only in high school makes his view of people all the more chilling. I think John is a bit darker than Dexter despite his age because he is still struggling between being a killer who kills innocents and a killer who kills other murderers.

I was a little disappointed that the villain in the novel turned out to be a supernatural creature. I don't really like my serial killers mixed with demons and the like when it's unexpected, which is the reason why I really hated the third Dexter novel. However, I accepted it and moved on. I did enjoy the rest of the novel and I am looking forward to the second book, Mr. Monster. Despite the violence, I consider the novel appropriate for young adults because it's a sort of homicidal coming of age story. I would also recommend this to fans of the Dexter TV and book series.

My rating: 4/5 fishmuffins

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Mikael Blomkvist is a journalist in disgrace. He accused a high profile businessman by the name of Hans-Erik Wennerstrom of a number crimes in his magazine, Millenium, and was unable to produce the proof the charges were based on. Blomkvist was fined a huge amount, sentenced to jail time, and had his reputation torn to shreds. In the midst of his ruin, he is contacted by industrialist Henrik Vanger to solve a 36 year old mystery of the murder of Vanger's great niece, Harriet. She disappeared without a trace and every year on his birthday, he receives a pressed flower like Harriet used to give him. He regards this as the killer taunting him every year. As a cover, Blomkvist will be working on a book compiling the Vanger family history for a year as he digs into the past to solve this mystery. Later in the investigation, he employs the help of Lisbeth Salander, a talented, tattooed computer hacker with antisocial tendencies. She was originally investigating him for Milton Security when Blomkvist discovered her and asked for her help. Together, these two misfits will uncover the truth in this very old crime, but this is only the beginning of the scandals they will reveal to the world.

Despite the pages totaling over 600 pages, I read the book in about 2 days. I was so drawn into the world I almost literally could not put it down. The beginning of the book starts pretty slowly, but it doesn't drag along. It's worth reading until it speeds up a bit. The pacing is really one of the novel's strong points. One of my typical complaints of mysteries is after the mystery is solved, the denouement is fairly short and ends quickly. This isn't true with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. The ending takes as much time as it needs to resolve, while still leaving enough loose ends for the next book.

The strongest part of this book is the clearly written, detailed characters. The two that most stand out are Mikael "Kalle" Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander. Mikael is such an intense journalist and he works focused on the one story until it's completely done. His major goal is to expose seemingly upstanding people as the criminals they really are. He is admirable and fiercely loyal to his friends and family. Lisbeth Salander is the most remarkable character in the book. She is extremely complex with an obviously troubled past with a brilliant mind. Her diminutive size and capacity for violence are an unexpected mix. Her high intelligence and her declaration of incompetence doesn't add up at all and it makes me wonder why the official view of her is so different from reality. The way she strikes back at those that try to victimize her is unlike anything I've ever read before. Up until these two characters meet, each chapter either focuses on Mikael or Lisbeth. I honestly found myself looking forward to Lisbeth's chapters more because she was more unpredictable and engaging.

I really enjoyed this book. The Swedish locale and language interested me and made me eager to see more of the landscape. The ending was unexpected and I never saw it coming. There are graphic scenes of violence, torture, murder, and rape, so if this isn't something you like in your literature, I would stay away from it. I highly recommend this novel and can't wait to read the next book.

My rating: 5/5 fishmuffins

Monday, December 27, 2010

Black Swan

Nina Sayers is an intense ballet dancer intent on attaining perfection. She practices hours a day and doesn't have much of a life outside of her dancing. She lives at home with her overbearing, controlling mother, who is a former ballet dancer, and doesn't have many friends. Her dream is to dance the role of the Swan Queen in the ballet Swan Lake. However, the director of her company thinks she doesn't have what it takes to be both the delicate, fragile White Swan and the seductive, evil Black Swan. She is the embodiment of the White Swan and is technically a very good dancer, but she lacks the passion and ability to let go of her carefully constructed control. The director sees a glimpse of the Black Swan within her, so he casts her in the role. However, he alternates between berating her for her shortcomings and abusing her sexually. In addition, Lily, a new dancer, seems to be perfect for the Black Swan part and seems to be constantly trying to beat Nina in any way possible. Despite their rivalry, Nina is drawn to Lily in an inexplicable way. All of this combined with Nina's quest to get in touch with her dark side are wearing on Nina. She starts to hallucinate and has difficulty discerning fantasy from reality. Can she achieve the level of performance she wants for the lead role while still retaining her sanity or will this role destroy her?

I was afraid I wasn't going to get to see this film in the theater because it wasn't playing in any mainstream theaters and it was slowly leaving the indie ones around LA. It was deservedly nominated for 4 Golden Globes and is now showing at just about every theater. I went to see it with my family on Christmas day because nothing says holiday quite like a psychosexual thriller. My entire family and I were blown away by it. I think the film's success is owed to the characters, the direction, and the music.

The characters in the film are utterly believable and drive the film forward. Natalie Portman bears the bulk of the film on her shoulders, since she's the main character, and does a beautiful job of portraying a ballet dancer in her descent into madness. Nina at the beginning of the film is a little girl living in a grown woman's body. Her mother treats her like a child and she lives in a room fit for a young girl, filled with stuffed animals and pink butterfly wallpaper. She seems to be stunted emotionally with no other friends or family. Her only love and her only life is dancing. This is called into question when the director insists that she is too virginal and innocent to play the lead in Swan Lake. Her fragility and neuroses are uncomfortable to watch. As she tries desperately to impress the director and tries to attain perfection, she starts to mentally break down, but breaks through the childish facade she had been living in. She has to give in to emotion instead of the well practiced control she has. I know from experience that a performer that is technically good, but has no passion or emotion in the performance, is pretty dull to watch or listen to. The destruction of her whole self is needed for her to attain perfection as a dancer in her mind. As she descends into madness, the film gets more and more violent and unpredictable. When she finally dances the coveted role of the Swan Queen in front of an audience, it's absolutely beautiful to watch. The events that go on behind the scenes, real or imagined, give her the perfect state of mind in which to dance either the White or Black Swan roles. Her Black Swan was the opposite of everything that Nina was throughout the rest of the film: predatory, seductive, and almost snakelike. She was almost unrecognizable. At the end of the film, it's almost impossible to tell which events actually happened and which are the product of Nina's fractured mind.

The other characters just add to the film. Vincent Cassel as the director is a kind of hybrid mentor and villain. He pushes her to become a better and greater dancer while using his position of power to abuse her. He simultaneously pushes her forward and breaks her down. I really loved to hate his character. Mila Kunis played Lily, the physical manifestation of the Black Swan. She is the opposite of Lily in almost every way. She is uncontrolled and relies on emotion rather than control in her dancing. The rivalry and friendship between her and Nina is compelling to watch. Barbara Hershey as Nina's mother is extremely creepy and takes the stage mother to a new level. The cast as an ensemble worked brilliantly together.

Darren Aronofsky is a great director. I loved both Requiem for a Dream and The Fountain before Black Swan. In this film, he creates a small world inhabited by dancers that seems separate from the rest of the world. The atmosphere is tense and it seems as if someone could lose a part the minute they do or say the wrong thing. There are many things that aren't talked about in the open, but gossiped about quietly amongst the dancers. I loved the use of the handheld cameras and closeups. It gave the film an intimate, claustrophobic feeling as well as enhanced the off-kilter route of Nina's mind. The only part of the film that felt open and spacious was on the stage.

I have enjoyed many of Clint Mansell's film scores, including The Fountain, Requiem for a Dream, and Moon, but I think I enjoy Black Swan the most. It features, of course, Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake ballet music and Clint Mansell's unique ambient music with it. His music is largely repetitive and different from usual film scores, opting to use a more modern as opposed to classical approach. I thought the placement of the source music was perfect, as were his additions. The score is really what helped build up the tension in the film for me. I have been listening to the score pretty much nonstop since I saw the film. Here is one of my favorite tracks, Perfection, which is the music that Nina dances to as the Black Swan.

I really enjoyed this film. I like its feminist undertones, mainly that it deals with issues that plague primarily women, such as eating disorders, infantilization, objectification, self mutilation, etc. I think, to some extent, the film is about any woman's drive to be the ideal woman that is, for most women, unattainable without surgery. It's a unique, dark, and disturbing film. I would highly recommend this to everyone.

My rating: 10/10 fishmuffins

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas!!

I just wanted to wish all of you guys a very Merry Christmas!!!

I first saw this picture on and I thought it was super cute and disturbing. :) It's a brilliant piece by Rob Sheridan. If you're interested in the artist's work, you can visit his site here.

Friday, December 24, 2010


Richard Meyhew has a good, respectable life with a good job and a fiancée. It's a typical, boring existence that he doesn't really feel any satisfaction in. His whole world is thrown into turmoil when he kindly helps a bleeding homeless girl despite the protestations of his callous and cold fiancée who would rather continue on to their important meeting than help a fellow human being. He brings the girl to his apartment and she introduces herself as Door. He then encounters two very frightening men, Mr. Vandemar and Mr. Croup, who are searching for the girl, claiming to be her concerned family. Richard continues to protect the girl and she soon leaves his life as abruptly as she entered it. The next day, he tries to go through his daily routine as usual and finds that everyone ignores him. It's as if he doesn't exist at all. His desk at work is empty and his apartment was being sold as he was in it. His only course of action is to find Door and try to get his life back. He has no idea that his journey will take him to London Below, a hidden, dark part of London that people who live above never see. It's populated by the forgotten people of Above, royalty, merchants, angels, assassins, and creatures we had all hoped were just the stuff of nightmares. Richard has to come to terms with this other world and find the hero within himself to survive.

I don't really know why it took me so long to start reading this book. It's been sitting on my shelf for over a year. I guess I figured I could always get to it later. I've read and love most of Neil Gaiman's other works and this one was no different. This is the typical story of a normal, boring guy of the modern age being thrown into a supernatural world he knows nothing about and his struggle to become a hero or die. It's a situation seen very commonly in urban fantasy, but he makes the genre his own. I became completely caught up in this world within our own. I loved that the setting was familiar, such as Harrods, with fantastical goings on. In this case, Harrods served as the place for The Floating Market, a moving bazaar for the inhabitants of London Below to sell their wares unseen by normal people. The book really sparked my interest in London's more mundane places. The writing is incredibly descriptive and elegantly written. The language flows seamlessly and just sucks you in. Sometimes I would completely lose track of time while reading. The world feels complete, but the book just couldn't encompass the whole thing. We just see what the individual characters see and some other glimpses from conversations, but it's still shrouded in mystery at the end of the novel. To me, this is a strength of the novel that it can be expanded upon and the novel is just a small slice of the larger picture.

I truly loved or loved to hate all of the characters without exception. All of them had their own complete stories. I never knew if the secondary characters where on Door and Richard's side or not until the very end. My favorite character was Richard because he started out as a boring businessman with no sense of adventure and grew into so much more because of his exposure to this other dark and savage world. He thought his life was pretty wonderful at the beginning, but he later realizes that his fiancée is a cold person who wishes he were someone else and his job just makes him into a mindless corporate automaton. I really enjoyed following his hero journey throughout the novel.

Neverwhere is a richly imagined urban fantasy that takes the familiar and makes it distorted and dark. I highly recommend it to just about anyone.

My rating: 5/5 fishmuffins

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Never Let Me Go

***** This review has major spoilers because I don't feel I can review it properly without talking about the basic plot. If you want to stay in the dark, don't read it. You've been warned. *****

Summary from Goodreads:

"As a child, Kathy—now thirty-one years old—lived at Hailsham, a private school in the scenic English countryside where the children were sheltered from the outside world, brought up to believe that they were special and that their well-being was crucial not only for themselves but for the society they would eventually enter. Kathy had long ago put this idyllic past behind her, but when two of her Hailsham friends come back into her life, she stops resisting the pull of memory.

And so, as her friendship with Ruth is rekindled, and as the feelings that long ago fueled her adolescent crush on Tommy begin to deepen into love, Kathy recalls their years at Hailsham. She describes happy scenes of boys and girls growing up together, unperturbed--even comforted--by their isolation. But she describes other scenes as well: of discord and misunderstanding that hint at a dark secret behind Hailsham's nurturing facade. With the dawning clarity of hindsight, the three friends are compelled to face the truth about their childhood—and about their lives now.

I normally don't write reviews with spoilers in them and I also don't normally copy and paste summaries from other sources. I'm writing spoilers in my review because a major plot point is made to be a huge mystery that isn't revealed until about half way through the book. I suspected it very early in the novel and there's no tension or lead up to it. It's just uttered nonchalantly by one of the characters randomly. I'm not trying to spoil it for anyone, but it's a fundamental portion of the story and I can't really write a review without talking about it.

Anyway, this is a book about clones. Kathy and her friends are clones made to harvest their organs later in life for unspecified people. My problem with the novel is that this is a really interesting topic, but is written about in one of the most boring ways possible. The actual writing is very good. Ishiguro is a great writer with prose that flows really well. However, the greatest writing in the world doesn't help a dull story. The story details the drama within the lives of three childhood friends. I would have liked to read about how they feel about being forced to give up their organs for others or the process they have to go through or who the organs are going to or why the government even allows these clones to have any lives at all. The logistics of the situation are infinitely more interesting than the vapid, annoying lives of the three main characters. There just isn't enough revealed about the process. Also, these characters didn't change at all from childhood to adulthood. I would have liked some sort of epiphany or evolution from them. They don't fight or protest at all and just seem to be resigned to the process when they figure it out. If they felt that freedom was important enough to seek out someone from their past and beg for help, I think it's important enough to run away or fight or do something. So, ultimately, nothing really happened throughout the entire novel.

Another problem I had with the novel was the teachers at the school. They were fighting to show that the clones were just as human as they and deserved to have lives just like anyone else. However, this isn't enough to have them escape the fate of having their organs involuntarily ripped from them. There seems to be a cognitive dissonance here. It can't be both ways. They're either subhuman organ machines or people. The fact that they allowed people that they knew full well were human to be treated this way means that they are just immoral.

If the novel had been more focused on the science fiction elements, I think it could have been a wonderful book. It feels like the real issues of the situation aren't addressed at all. I would definitely read other novels by Ishiguro in the future, but I wouldn't recommend this one to others.

My rating: 2/5 fishmuffins

Friday, December 3, 2010


Fabio Delucci is Fate. He is entrusted with the task to stand by and watch as most of the population ruins their lives. Destiny has the much better job of guiding those in a more positive direction, but Fate has the child molesters, drunks, and general ne'er-do-wells. Not exactly a laugh fest. His life, after about 250,000 years, has become routine and dull. He hates his job; his no-contact affair with Destiny is empty and unsatisfying; and he doesn't really have much else going for him. Until he runs into his neighbor Sara Griffen by chance. He stalks her for a bit and comes to the realization that he's in love. They finally meet, hit it off famously, and fall head over heels for each other. He has to hide it from Jerry (AKA Jehovah) and all the other personifications, like Gluttony, Vanity, Hope, but especially Destiny because interfering and falling in love with humans is forbidden. This new found love inspires him to help the sad, pathetic people on the path of Fate to achieve happiness and sometimes put them on the path of Destiny. Everything starts to fall apart when the fated people he helped start dying. Was it really because of his interference or is someone trying to sabotage him? How long can he keep is relationship secret in the face of these deaths?

I didn't really know what to expect before I read Fated, but I thought it would be something like Piers Anthony's Incarnations of Immortality series. Although there are some similarities, Fated is much more light hearted and ironic. Fate is an engaging and relatable narrator, despite being an ancient anthropomorphic concept. His voice is really what got me into the book because of its conversational and humorous quality. I think everyone can relate to someone with an unsatisfying job trying to make a few people's lives a little bit better. I laughed pretty much through the whole thing. I truly couldn't put it down in finished it in only a couple of days. Although the immortal falling in love with a mortal has been done throughout history just about to death, Browne has managed to breathe new life into this concept. The romance between Sara and Fabio is so adorable and quirky, they just complement each other very well. When things start to go badly for him, I sympathized with him and I was even moved to tears by the end. Even though most of the book is light and funny, there is still a core of true heart and prompts the reader to scrutinize their own lives to see which path we are on: Destiny or Fate.

Fabio is backed by a cast of memorable personifications, including, Gluttony, Vanity, Dennis, Hope, Secrecy, Honesty, and Lady Luck. They all have their little personality quirks and aren't the perfect celestial beings that we may have imagined. I liked learning about the ins and outs of their daily lives, such as their man suits that contain their true selves and the quotas they have to fill. Most of their lives aren't much better than any given human's, except for the perks, like the spa in Eden, a universal credit card, and the ability to transport anywhere instantaneously.

The thing about Fated is, it's a great novel. The ending is pretty unexpected and comes out of nowhere, but it's very satisfying. I would love to read another book starring Fabio and I look forward to what S.G. Browne will do next. I would recommend this to fans of Breathers, Browne's debut novel, and people who enjoy Christopher Moore's novels.

My rating: 5/5 fishmuffins

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Book Chick City's Horror and Urban Fantasy Challenge 2011

I've had a lot of fun with Book Chick City's Speculative Fiction Challenge and I can't wait for next year! She's hosting a Horror and Urban Fantasy Challenge. I love horror and urban fantasy, so this is the perfect challenge for me. I have to read a minimum of 24 books, but I don't think that'll be any problem for me. :) If you'd like to join in, make your own post and sign up here.

1) Slice of Cherry by Dia Reeves
2) Bloodshot by Cherie Priest
3) The Night Season by Chelsea Cain
4) I Am Not a Serial Killer by Dan Wells
5) Crescendo by Becca Fitzpatrick
6) Dreadfully Ever After by Steve Hockensmith
7) Clarity by Kim Harrington
8) The Eternal Ones by Kirsten Miller
9) The Vespertine by Saundra Mitchell
10) The Witches of East End by Melissa de la Cruz
11) Red Glove by Holly Black
12) The Demon's Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan