Wednesday, March 31, 2010


After her stepfather died, Zara White is sent to live with her grandmother in Maine. She's resentful of her mother for sending her away and feels completely out of place. The town is small and the weather is freezing. She makes new friends at her school, like quirky, bubbly Issie and mysterious Nick. Things start to get weird when Zara notices a dark man following her at her home town and in Maine. Plus, boys from her school start to mysteriously go missing. Zara has no idea that a creature she never thought would be a threat is after her: a pixie. These dark creatures aren't warm and fuzzy like Tinkerbell. They are creatures who feed on humans and have little to no regard for human life. Can Zara and her friends stop these creatures before they capture her?

Carrie Jones' Need was a great read. I was so absorbed in the story, I only took a couple of days to read it even though I really needed to get a lot of reading for school done. The characters were multi-dimensional and it took no time at all for me to really feel for them. Zara was a strong female character with distinctive interests. She is involved with Amnesty International and spends her spare time writing letters to help people who are wrongly persecuted or imprisoned. To cope with her father's death, she lists phobias to herself. These phobias were the headings for each chapter. They served as points of interest and sometimes foreshadowing what is to happen. I loved learning about the more obscure phobias. Zara's circle of friends were all very detailed and likeable. The romance between her and Nick was organic and interesting. I felt that sometimes Nick laid on the machismo a little too much at times, but other than that, he was attractive and generally a good person.

The writing in the novel was beautiful. I totally hate cold weather and Carrie Jones made me see the beauty in it with her wonderful descriptions. I know a lot of people compare this text to Twilight, but I don't really see a lot of similarities in them. I just see them as two different books about very different things. I liked that the subject matter of Need was something that hadn't really been addressed before (unlike the bazillions of vampire novels out there. Even though I enjoy them too). The only aspect I didn't really like was by the end of the novel, I felt that Zara compromised her strong, core beliefs to achieve an end. I'm interested in seeing how this is addressed in the next book, Captivate.

Need was a compelling read that flowed very well. I would recommend this to paranormal romance lovers.

My rating: 4/5 fishmuffins

Thursday, March 25, 2010


Sea Cliff was a small, quiet town. Until now. A group of students went to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina to build houses for Habitat for Humanity. A terrible murder occurs there, leading the students to promise to stay silent about what happened. They return home, but start to have the most horrible nightmares. As the dreams get worse, some even start to sleepwalk. Then some students start killing. Both Emma and Jake are having trouble sleeping. They are terrified that they are going to die next or maybe kill someone in their sleep. What is causing them to sleepwalk? Will they figure it out before it's too late?

This book was pitched to me by my sister (who's a YA librarian) as a Nightmare on Elm Street wannabe, which is not really true. I found out after I had read it that she hadn't even finished the book. There are some similarities, but as a whole, the two works are very different. The book reads as a teen horror flick transformed into a book. I liked the concept and liked going along for the ride as more details are revealed about the mystery. The horror aspects of the novel were pretty good. I really liked that one of the kids that ended up killing someone had violent episodes that they had no recollection of afterwards. One of them in particular came out of the blue and surprised me.

The characters are typical stock characters in a horror movie: the strong survival girl, the bad boy, the preppy cheerleader girl, etc. Unfortunately the characters don't really develop or have depth beyond that. Also, the Voodoo elements were kind of lame and obvious since they came from New Orleans. At a certain point, the mystery became really predictable and I started figuring things out before the characters. I like being surprised and having my mind blown. This was not the case here.

Sleepless was an amusing read that didn't have much depth. If it were a horror film, it would be one of those PG-13 ones that I avoid because they tend to be lame. I would recommend this to people want a fast, generally entertaining read.

My rating: 3/5 fishmuffins

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


Jem Marsh could see the numbers as long as she could remember. Every time she looks into a person’s eyes, she sees a number. Her mother’s number was 10102001. I wasn’t until October 10, 2001 that she knew what the numbers meant: it is the day that person will die. Her mother died that day of a drug overdose. As a result of this ability, she avoids people as much as possible. It really puts a damper on a relationship if you know exactly when their time is up. Although she tries to drive people away, Spider, a very tall fellow misfit, just won’t stay away. Even though his date is just a few short months away, she can’t help but be his friend. One day, when they are hanging out at the London Eye, Jem notices that everyone’s number around them are on the same day. She freaks out and drags Spider from the scene. A few minutes later, there is an explosion. Suddenly Jem and Spider are being chased by police and under suspicion for the crime. How long can they stay on the run? Can they avoid the police forever?

The concept for this book is a very interesting one. Imagine what it would be like if you knew when everyone who have ever known will die. I really feel for Jem and I understand why she acts the way she does. I don’t think anyone could act in a completely normal way if that knowledge weighed on them every day. I admire Jem for being strong and dealing with her “gift” as well as she is. The narrative is from Jem’s point of view, complete with bad grammar and in the way she would talk. This aspect grounded the book in realism even though the focus was something fantastical. I like Jem very much and was emotionally infested in her and Spider. I thought Spider would be harder to like because of his strange demeanor and his dealings with dubious people. He just made some bad decisions and I was afraid he was going to take Jem down with him. By the time Jem had fallen in love with him, I was sold on him too.

About the first half of the book had me on the edge of my seat and rooting for this misfit couple. It was exciting to read and kept me interested. The problem for me comes well into the novel. At a certain point, it seems as if the plot just stops and becomes pointless. I accepted that they were scared teens and ran away from a situation that they essentially were just witnessed. The situation served a purpose in deepening Spider and Jem’s relationship and progressing it to a romantic stage. The latter part of the novel just fell flat for me. There seemed to be no real reason for the events to happen and it made me stop suspending my disbelief.

As a whole, I enjoyed the novel. The characters were compelling and the writing style sucked me into the story. The last quarter of the book wasn’t the best and was obviously left open for a sequel. I will give Rachel Ward another chance and I look forward to reading the next book in the series.

My rating: 3/5 fishmuffins

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Lives of Others

**I wrote this review for a class in Eastern European Studies, which is why it's very long. It does contain some spoilers. If you don't read this review because of that, please watch the film. It has easily become one of my favorites and I recommend it to everyone.**

The Lives of Others takes place in East Germany (or the German Democratic Republic) in the year 1984. The State Security, or Stasi, monitor and interrogate individuals under suspicion of undermining the communist totalitarian regime in some way. One of these suspected people is Georg Dreyman, a respected playwright, along with his girlfriend Christa-Marie Sieland, a famous actress. Their apartment is under twenty four hour surveillance by Stasi officers, using microphones and cameras. The leader of the surveillance is Hauptmann Gerd Weisler, a stoic man who is very good at his job. As he observes the couple’s lives, he sees the heartbreak of living in such a way and the effect of the rampant corruption in their government. His allegiances gradually shift from the government to the people. As a result, he starts to hide incriminating evidence from the rest of the Stasi to protect Georg in his pursuit to write an article about the concealment of the number of suicides in the GDR (which is the second highest in the world). Only time will tell what the consequences of Wiesler’s actions and how long he can get away with it.

This film has easily become one of my favorites. Everything about the film was well done and exceptional. The cinematography was interesting in that it was very direct. There were no art film type shots of extreme close ups or anything superfluous like that. Every scene was imperative to the story and didn’t stray away on tangents. This directness coupled with the slow, suspenseful story line created an utterly unique film.

Music played a large role in the film. The underscoring used added emotion in some parts and suspense in others. The orchestra started out as beautiful and melancholic at the beginning of the film. As the story progressed and events started to unfold, the thought processes of characters were hidden. There were points that were extremely suspenseful when the viewer had no idea what was going to happen: if Georg was going to get found out or even how long he could keep going without detection. All this was reflected in the pulsing low strings, echoing a heartbeat, and the higher strings repeating scalar figures above them. This theme was one of the simplest but most effective I have ever heard. It's kind of like John Carpenter's Halloween soundtrack in that respect.

Although there was only one instance of source music that was really significant, it caused a very important turning point in the narrative. When Georg is told that his friend Jerska committed suicide, he took out the piece he was given by Jerska, Sonata for a Good Man, and played to articulate his emotions. Wielser was listening in at this point and he was moved to tears. He really listened to the piece and the feeling behind it and it changed his whole outlook on life. The film, at its core, was about the power of art and its effect on people.

Gerd Weisler was an interesting and complex character who evolved through the course of the film. At first, he was an emotionless, humorless automaton for the government. He felt no sympathy for the people he interrogated and performed his job well. He had no real human contact, as shown through the scene where he hired a prostitute. He wanted her to stay with him for a while for companionship, but she needed to move on to the next customer. Her attitude reflected his own about his job: disconnected and emotionless. From the beginning of the film up until his musical revelation, Wielser’s stoic demeanor had never changed at all. Even when he was moved by the music, the only indication was the single tear he shed. Ulrich Mühe delivered an amazing and subtle performance. In the rest of the film, he remained unaffected outwardly. He changed completely on the inside. Through his experience with art, he, in turn, became an artist by creating the play Georg was supposed to be making and fabricating Georg and his friends’ actions. Wiesler connected emotionally with these people and felt he should risk his job and his life to do the right thing for them.

The overall message of the film is one condemning totalitarianism and asserting that freedom and the arts are essential to a society. Although the regime in the movie utilizes communism as their economic system, there really wasn’t any indication that it was the communist aspects of the society that led to its downfall. Free thought and “subversive” art were forbidden there. This was exemplified in the scene where Oberstleutnant Grubitz was talking about a paper that one of his students wrote about the five different kinds of artists. This was what would happen after an incarceration of ten months for the artist type most like Georg: “After 10 months, we release… Most type 4s we've processed in this way never write anything again. Or paint anything, or whatever artists do. And that without any use of force. Just like that. Kind of like a present.” The aim of the government was to make artists that create undesirable art to stop creating in the easiest way possible. This scene in the film almost made me cry because it goes against just about everything I believe in and stand for. It’s almost unbelievable that something like this happened in real life. Corruption is also rampant in the government, seen in Minister Hempf, his treatment of Christa-Marie, the inhumane treatment of people by the government, among other things. The situation seems like it came out of a science fiction story, like Brave New World, 1984 (which is, ironically, the year the film starts), or Equilibrium.
My favorite scene of the entire movie was the very last one. After the Berlin Wall has come down, Wielser was reduced to steaming open letters, inspecting them, and delivering them. Georg had previously found out how Wielser had helped him and written a book entitled Sonata for a Good Man. Wiesler looked the same as he did earlier in the film, but instead of Stasi grey, he wore a light blue. Also, he had a slight smile on his face. This indicated that he is happy with his life now, as bad as it was, because he helped someone and did what was right. He went into the bookstore and read the inscription in the book, which said, “To HGW XX/7, in gratitude.” When the salesperson asked if he wanted it giftwrapped, Wiesler said, “No, it’s for me.” I was moved to tears by this scene and it was just perfect.

The Lives of Others was an excellent movie. The pacing was slow, but proved to be incredibly suspenseful. All of the characters were realistic and flawed people that developed throughout the movie, the most remarkable of them all being Wiesler. This real life dystopian story touched. I would recommend this film to anyone who doesn’t mind thinking or reading subtitles when they watch movies.

My rating: 10/10 fishmuffins

Friday, March 12, 2010

American McGee's Alice

I would like to introduce you to a dark and twisted version of Wonderland, full of danger, darkness, and death. American McGee's Alice is one of the most enjoyable games I have ever played. It's a really awesome third person action game exclusively for the PC. The story is like Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland, but much more sinister. After the events of Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, Alice's parents die in a fire. She tries to kill herself out of survivor's guilt and becomes incarcerated in an insane asylum for 10 years. The White Rabbit calls Alice to return to the macabre form of Wonderland, twisted by her own insanity, to defeat the Queen of Hearts to become sane again. Here is the opening of the game.

The characters in this reimagining of Wonderland are delightfully creepy. The Cheshire Cat is emaciated and tattooed with a wicked grin. He can be summoned to give you cryptic messages to guide you through the game. Besides Alice, he is my favorite character. The actor that provides the cat's voice is perfect. He, the White Rabbit, and a few others are Alice's only allies in her twisted fantasy world. The Duchess is a crazed cannibal, driven mad by pepper. The Mad Hatter is obsessed with time, clockworks, and his own genius. He turns people into machines or experiments on them in his asylum with help from his minions, the Tweedles. The clockwork aspects give parts of the game a steampunk look. As revealed in the accompanying casebook, all the people in Wonderland resemble people in Alice's real life in the asylum. For a complete list of characters and their new personalities can be found here.

The game is pretty hard, even on easy mode. However, it's so fun to playThe game isn't just an action adventure game, but has many puzzles that need to be solved as you progress into Wonderland. I personally love puzzles and this made the game all the more enjoyable for me.

One of my favorite aspects of the game is the music. It's haunting and makes Wonderland so much more scary to go through. The composer responsible for this is Chris Vrenna, who founded the punk band Tweaker and played drums in Nine Inch Nails. "Most of the sounds he used were created using toy instruments and percussion, music boxes (in a short documentary about the making of the game that appeared on TechTV, the music box used appears to be an antique Fisher-Price music box pocket radio), clocks, doors, and sampled female voices were manipulated into nightmarish soundscapes, including instances of them laughing maniacly, screaming, crying, and singing in an eerie, child-like way." * The music is obviously going to be repetitive for each stage, but I never, ever got tired of it. Sometimes I would want to stay in one area just to hear the music, so I bought the game soundtrack. It's available on Amazon if anyone is interested. This video features the track called Dementia and the poster's funny comments about the soundtrack. Please enjoy.

The graphics for this game aren't all that great. It was made in 2000 and the story and gameplay totally make up for the graphic's shortcomings. The game seems to be pretty rare to find, since it's out of print, and is being sold at pretty high prices. If you can find it, please play it. It's awesome. AND American McGee's Alice 2 is supposed to be coming out at some undetermined date. I can't wait!!

I will leave you with the trailer:

* from the American McGee's Alice Wikipedia Article.
* Inspired by Velvet's Alice in Whatsitland week at vvb32 reads.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland

I have read many a scathing review of Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland in the few days the film has been in theaters. I am shocked. I saw it at a midnight showing in LA with my best friend and my sister. We all thoroughly enjoyed the film. While I understand some people's grievances with the film, I still thought it was a delightful adventure that I could watch again and again. I just want to warn you that this review is going to be pretty long to address the many things people complained about that I disagreed with.

Alice is now 19 years old and faces many pressures put upon her by society and her family. When an undesirable, but rich man/boy proposes to her, she follows a white rabbit down the hole once again into Wonderland. Its inhabitants are in constant fear of the Bloody Red Queen Iracebeth and need Alice to be their champion to overthrow her in favor of her sister, the White Queen Mirana. Alice rejects the idea altogether and continues to journey through Wonderland. The Red Queen hears of her arrival and sends orders to capture her. Will Alice find the courage to defeat save Wonderland before it's too late?

I seriously love this movie. I haven't had so much fun in a movie theater in a while (except The Crazies, but I will save it for a different post.) I emphasize that this film is not a remake of Alice in Wonderland, but a sequel of the Disney cartoon and a reimagining at the same time. I think people are so emotionally invested in the book and different versions that they have seen before that when someone comes out with something different, they don't like it. I liked seeing an older Alice as a strong female character. The Joseph Campbell hero journey format tied together disparate and random incidents in the Wonderland novels so that they were linear and easy to follow. This is needed in a Disney movie that kids need to understand and like in order to make money. It would probably be just another complaint of the naysayers if it didn't have a linear story.

The look of the film is absolutely beautiful. Tim Burton pulls away from his typical black and white palate to the vibrant and beautiful colors that saturate Wonderland. It's a stark contrast to the muted grey and blue hues of Victorian England, present in the start and finish of the film. Within Wonderland, there are also contrasting color palates: the brilliant white of the White Queen's domain and the gothic red and black of the Red Queen's domain.

I know that lots of people have issue with the Queen of Hearts and the Red Queen represented in one person. I have no problem with this whatsoever. I really don't know why so many people complain about this, except that they're hardcore book purists. The original Disney cartoon did exactly the same thing. This film is a continuation of the cartoon, so it really wouldn't have made sense to change it at this point. She was a wonderfully portrayed by Helena Bonham Carter. Unlike the Disney film (where the King secretly pardons people behind the Queen's back), the fear inspired by her is real. Her moat is full of the severed heads of her victims (which Alice uses as stepping stones at one point to get to the castle). Beheadings are obviously not a rare occurance. The Red Queen is foul tempered, arrogant, and pretty hilarious. One of her many flaws is that she is easily manipulated by flattery, but may turn on the flatterer in a second.

Anne Hathaway had a small, but effective role as the White Queen. I have never really seen the character in any Alice in Wonderland movie, but I loved her. She had a facade of sweetness and light with an undertone of madness. Even though she is the lesser of the two evils and Wonderland flourished under her rule, it's obvious that she's related to the Red Queen. I liked that the two sisters still argued over petty things like head size in the midst of their battle for control of Wonderland. That's what sisters do. I should know. Their conflict culminates when they bring their armies together and have their champions battle it out. I loved that the White Queen's army was compiled of chess pieces while the Red Queen's army was compiled of playing cards. The card soldiers looked really cool and did not in any way resemble Frank Beddor's Looking Glass Wars soldiers. These soldiers do not look like these or this one.

Johnny Depp is just awesome as the Mad Hatter. I was afraid that Johnny Depp would outshine Alice and take over the movie because of his prominence in the trailers. I guess it was just a marketing choice to sell the movie with a big name. Although the Hatter does look a little weird (and what character played by him doesn't?), he was one of my favorite characters. He is actually crazy. He literally had dissociative identity disorder (also known as multiple personality disorder). In all the other versions of Alice, the Mad Hatter has merely been goofy. Johnny Depp's take on the character is alternately characterized by wide-eyed innocence and scary, cynical anger. In his scarier alternate personality, there is definitely the possibility that he might really hurt someone if left unchecked. Johnny Depp acted very well and gave the Mad Hatter dimensions deeper than a goofy fool.

Overall, the entire cast worked very well together. They all contributed to making Wonderland more than a mishmash of shallow characters. Mia Wasikowska blended in seamlessly with the more famous and experienced actors.

Danny Elfman's score fit perfectly with the movie. There are some moments of reminiscence of other scores, such as Edward Scissorhands and The Nightmare Before Christmas. However, the score succeeds in being a unique work. The music is diverse, ranging from driving, fast rhythms to beautiful, haunting melodies. You can listen to clips of the score here. I didn't really like the Avril Lavigne song that played during the end credits. It was obviously there to try to get people to buy the Almost Alice CD that has other pop Alice-inspired songs on it, but I have literally no interest in it.

I had been waiting for Alice in Wonderland for almost a year and I wasn't disappointed. I am also happy that it made about $116 million in its first weekend, outselling Avatar. I highly recommend this movie to children and adults alike.

My rating: 9/10 fishmuffins

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Dawn of the Dreadfuls Review + Quirk Giveaway!

The first indication that the dreadfuls had returned was when Mr. Ford rudely tried to walk out of his own funeral. This is where teenaged Elizabeth Bennet sees her first unmentionable. (The zed word is not said in polite society.) Mr. Bennet was involved in the previous zombie war, but gave up the deadly arts when the menace appeared to have been vanquished. Now that the dreadfuls have returned, he seizes the chance to redeem his honor and train his daughters in the deadly arts. Elizabeth may not be the most talented or accomplished pupil, but she is definitely the most energetic and voracious. Between the initial zombie war and the recent outbreak, there had been a long time of people being buried in the normal way: with their heads attached. Now, all of these long buried dead have clawed their way out of graves all over Hertfordshire. Can the horde be stopped by the Bennet family and a hundred new, barely trained soldiers or will all hope be lost?

Hockensmith took great characters and put them in an entirely different situation while still preserving their essential being. The origins of the Bennet sisters fit very well with the image of them in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Jane's kindheartedness and compassion endures through her harsh training. Elizabeth is disillusioned and alienated by two different men, leading to her hard outer shell. The new characters introduced were wonderful. They are very flawed characters with dimensions, but most of them still managed to be likeable. The two that evoked the most feeling in me were Dr. Keckilpenny and Lord Lumpley. The doctor was quirky, cute, and absent minded. His extreme focus on finding scientific solution to the zombie problem was interesting. Lord Lumpley, on the other hand, was disgusting, lascivious, and made me feel dirty just reading about him. I liked that the point of view was in the third person and focused on different characters throughout the novel. It gave a peek into the inner workings of characters that wouldn't normally be showcased.

I was very interested in the way society was portrayed in the novel. When the Bennet girls first start to train, they are seen as social pariahs. This has to do with the tradition role of women in society and racism. Of course when the sisters were saving people that ostracized, the girls were popular and welcome. The attitude of the government when it didn't let people know the full extent of the zombie outbreak to keep people calm is reminiscent of many modern zombie novels. I've never seen this before in a book set in a different time period. These two aspects gave the story a bit of realism that made it easier to suspend disbelief and made me more engrossed with the story.

Dawn of the Dreadfuls was awesome. I loved this book. It was a great, fast read that moved fluidly. I think Steve Hockensmith had a slight advantage over Seth Grahame-Smith in that he didn't have to fit his writing into an existing text and try to blend the two together. This all new story was a much faster read than its predecessor, but just as enjoyable. (You can read my review of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies here.) The big zombie fight at the end really had me on the edge of my seat. I look forward to whatever Steven Hockensmith will do in the future.

My rating: 5/5 fishmuffins

************Quirk Giveaway!!!*********************
All-Out-Worldwide-Zombie-Blog-Explosion 2010!

Quirk Classics is having a cool contest! You have the chance to win one of 50 prize packs! They include:

* An advance copy of Dawn of the Dreadfuls
* Audio books of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters
* A password redeemable online for sample audio chapters of Dawn of the Dreadfuls
* An awesome Dawn of the Dreadfuls poster
* A Pride and Prejudice and Zombies journal
* A box set of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies Postcards

Just go here, log in, and mention my blog, Fishmuffins of Doom. You will automatically be entered to win. Good luck!