Thursday, March 29, 2012

Lola and the Boy Next Door

Lola Nolan has an outrageous and daring style, wearing different colorful costumes every single day. She's cheerful, effervescent, and devoted to her family. Her two dads aren't thrilled that her boyfriend Max is older and kind of a bad boy. Plus he's in a band. Her parents put a lot of restrictions on her like making her call in every hour when they are out, as if that would keep her out of trouble. Lola is pretty happy with her life the way  it is despite her overbearing dads. Her immediate goal is to make a super ornate Marie Antoinette gown to go to the winter formal with Max. Then a big complication enters her life: the Bell twins move in next door. They used to live there years before and both twins made her life hell. Calliope hates Lola and is mean to her at every turn. Her twin Cricket was her first love and he broke her heart when he led her on and moved away suddenly. Now those complicated feelings are back and Lola doesn't know what to do.

I normally don't read a lot of contemporary teen fiction and especially not ones solely centered around romance. Romance is usually good in the periphery for me and I usually hate it when it overtakes a story. I was introduced to Stephanie Perkins through Misty's review of Anna and the French Kiss at The Book Rat. She had the same misgivings as I had and she loved it. Of course I had to give it a try. I absolutely loved it and I had to read Lola and the Boy Next Door. Stephanie Perkins has this magical ability to capture the feeling of first teen love. With any other author and characters I would be rolling my eyes and being annoyed at , but she taps into those teenage feelings in me. I can't pinpoint exactly what it is, but I was on the emotional rollercoaster right with Cricket and Lola. I also thought this novel was a little more complex and deeper than Anna and the French Kiss, but Anna and St. Clair are added bonus characters in this novel as well.

Lola and Cricket are both amazing characters. The first thing I thought when I heard Lola's name was Lolita from the Nabokov novel and it was totally mentioned in the first few pages. That just made me book nerd out a bit because I never would have expected that in a teen book. Anyway, back to Lola, I liked that the novel was about more than just romance. It was about Lola finding out who she really is. Do her clothing and makeup change who she is? Is she hiding behind them? Cricket is also a wonderful character with his own set of problems, mostly involving his family. I found him endearing and far superior to Max. He is his own person outside of his relationship with Lola, which I think is important. Creepy co-dependent relationships run rampant in YA fiction and it's nice to see a healthy relationship for once.

I loved Lola and the Boy Next Door. I surprisingly and thoroughly enjoyed a contemporary romantic comedy teen novel. It plucked at my heartstrings and made me giggle like a fool. I can't wait to read her next book, Isla and the Happily Ever After. I recommend this to all YA readers, even if you think it's not your type of book.

My rating: 5/5 fishmuffins

Monday, March 26, 2012

Various Positions

Georgia is a teenage ballet dancer who is largely unhappy with her life outside of ballet. She doesn't have any true friends and her dysfunctional family grates on her nerves. After being accepted to the Royal Ballet Academy, her world is thrown into turmoil. Roderick, the unforgiving and harsh ballet instructor, expects absolute perfection and isn't afraid to point out the harsh realities to his students. He singles out Georgia as a star and someone to emulate for the other students. As a result, Georgia starts to interpret attraction from his actions and she fantasizes constantly about what their relationship would be like in her head. Is Georgia's fantasy real or is she completely delusional? How will the repercussions of her actions effect her future?

The description for Various Positions read kind of like a Black Swan for teens, but it was actually a lot different. I had a lot of problems with the book, but there were some things I liked. The writing was engaging and kept me reading despite the problems I had with the novel. Georgia was an interesting character with very little connection to others in her life. I really felt for her in the first half of the novel because of her abusive, horrible friends and her constantly fighting parents. The way she thought about her sexuality and the way she explored it is something I haven't seen before in teen fiction. Typically, girls in YA novels don't seem to be interested in their own sexuality outside of a relationship, which I don't find very realistic. As in Black Swan, Georgia viewed sexuality as horrible and thought ballet was ideal without it until she met her ballet teacher. She believed he wanted her to be completely virginal while dancing and outside of dance he wanted the opposite extreme. This aspect never really developed into anything meaningful, which was disappointing.

The rest of the book was a disappointment. Ballet wasn't featured in the book very much despite the marketing and back cover description. In the latter half of the novel, Georgia was simply an unapologetically horrible person. She put a girl with body image issues on a very strict diet, contributing to and worsening the girl's anorexia. Afterwards, Georgia's only concern was for people finding out her own part in it instead of having concern for the girl who became practically skeletal with her help. Her imagined relationship with her teacher was horribly damaging to everyone involved in the end. She tried to seduce him and left suggestive pictures in his desk. Roderick was a harsh and blunt teacher, but not a sexual predator and never gave her any indication that he was sexually interested in her. Her actions and the photos that were found of her made everyone assume that the teacher had raped her or traded better ballet roles for sexual favors. Even if the situation was cleared in the end, irreparable damage was done to his reputation and career that wasn't deserved. Georgia only really cared that she was rejected by the man she was interested in and nothing more. She also was never really punished for her horrible actions and didn't seem to learn much from the experiences at all. By the end of the book, I was really angry.

Various Positions was a strange read with some interesting concepts and good narrative, but was overall disappointing and maddening.

My rating: 1/5 fishmuffins

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Hunger Games (film review)

** This review contains spoilers for the book and the movie. **

Katniss Everdeen lives in poverty stricken District 12 with her sister Primrose and her mother. The Reaping is approaching fast and Primrose is frightened she will be chosen even though it will be the first time her name is in the drawing. When Prim's name is called, Katniss volunteers as tribute to take part in the Hunger Games, where 2 young people (boy and girl, aged 12 to 18) from each of the 12 districts fight to the death for prestige and goods for their district. Only one victor survives. Katniss is plunged into a completely different world where being memorable and likeable will mean her survival. She will do what it takes to survive, but will it be enough?

I read The Hunger Games a couple of years ago and it was never my favorite in the series. I felt it was a Battle Royale ripoff and the later books explored the dystopic world better and went beyond the obvious comparisons between the two works. This film made me forget all that. I was completely blown away and I really want to watch it about 20 more times. I haven't felt like this about a movie in a really long time. The ensemble cast was amazing, giving believable portrayal of characters I feel I know very well after reading 3 books about them. Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen acted wonderfully. She always had an air of sadness yet responsibility. She made the tough heroine believable and relatable because her emotions were close beneath the surface despite her hard exterior. Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinket provided much needed humor that alleviated the emotion and drama of the story. The other most notable actors were Woody Harrelson as Haymitch (more comic relief and makes Katniss realize the gravity of the reality TV aspect) and Isabel Fuhrman as Clove (sociopath and career tribute that left me with a chill every time she was onscreen).

This film did 3 things extremely well that made it one of the best book to film transitions I've ever seen: capturing the emotions, humanizing the otherwise unlikeable characters, and working out timing. Two scenes in particular were very emotional for me.  The scene where Katniss volunteers as tribute for her sister was absolutely heartwrenching even though I had seen at least some of the scene hundreds of times in the past month from the commercials. The other scene that made me bawl like a baby was when Rue died. It was so sudden it took me a few moments for her death to process. I had cried at the scene in the book, but it's different seeing it on the screen. It was captured perfectly and there wasn't a dry eye in my theater. The other tributes were well humanized despite being portrayed as villains, especially the career tributes. Marvel at the end made a speech about how even he won he would be doomed because the Games are all he was good for. It showed that the other tributes aren't the real villains; President Snow and all those that perpetuate these sadistic Games are. I was surprised at how well the film flowed from scene to scene. About half of the film was dedicated to portraying the world, the assessing of the tributes, and the reality television aspect of the Games. The Games took up the latter half. I was never bored and I never thought any of the scenes ran too long. Although every single scene of the book wasn't included in the film, the essential scenes were preserved and given a satisfying amount of time.

The most important triumph of this film was that I was never distracted by analyzing each and every difference from the novel. I was completely immersed in the cruel and depressing world of The Hunger Games and wondered at the characters' capacity for hope in the face of a bleak totalitarian regime. The only drawback at all was the shaky cam got a little extreme at points. Usually I'm against it on principle, but it let the film keep a gritty edge without pushing the boundaries into rated R territory by showing graphic scenes of children killing each other. I did not consider this book the best in the series and this movie was simply amazing. I can't wait to see what great films will be made of Catching Fire and Mockingjay.

My rating: 10/10 fishmuffins

** side note**

I usually don't enjoy Taylor Swift's music as a whole, but Safe and Sound from the Hunger Games soundtrack is a beautiful and heartbreaking song.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer

In 18th century France, Jean-Baptiste Grenouille has not had a good life. His mother tried to kill him as an infant. He was passed around as a baby because of his odd lack of scent and his greediness. He ends up at an indifferent woman's house with many other children. She sells him to a tanner as an unskilled laborer and this is where his life truly begins. Grenouille is indifferent at best towards humanity. His only true enjoyment and love is in his overwhelmingly sensitive sense of smell, which is more of a burden at the time since everything stank badly. He goes around Paris collecting these scents, even killing a young girl for her exquisite scent. Eventually gaining employ at a perfumer's shop after demonstrating his wonderful ability, Grenouille learns how to make his own scents and capture scents from different things. As he travels around the world, leaving a trail of death in his wake, Grenouille's need for olfactory fulfillment prompts him to delve deeper and deeper into his depravity. How far will he go to bottle the most exquisite of scents?

Perfume had been on my list of books to read for a long time. I decided to finally read it because Dan Wells listed it as one of his favorite books at a book signing I recently attended. He reminded me why I was interested in it in the first place: serial killer, period piece, sociopathic antihero. The story was so weird and interesting. I can't think of any other book in which smells are described in such detail or play such an important role. Suskind had a wonderful way with words that really drew me into his world. There were a couple moments in the beginning where more elaborate words were used in an awkward way, but I think that would be more of a translator error. Other than that, the language was excellent and painted a vivid picture of 18th century France in all its horrible, disgusting glory. The heavenly and vile smells were both described masterfully well and Grenouille went around collecting and labeling them as if they were physical objects.

Grenouille was an interesting character. On the exterior, he was pretty nondescript, bordering on ugly. He didn't start out as very handsome and became increasingly malformed as each misfortune presented itself and left its mark on him. Inside, he viewed himself as the highest being. He valued no other person at all and didn't experience love or affection for anyone or anything except scents. His sense of smell was his greatest gift and he mastered everything he could about extracting scents from things and trapping them in oils and perfumes. The detail of these processes were detailed and showed a lot of research about 18th century perfume techniques. Although Grenouille isn't a likeable or relatable character, I still was on his side throughout the novel. Almost everyone who interacted with him either used him for their own gain or were simply pretty horrible people. It was almost comical that these people always met with misfortune and death after Grenouille left them. We also see these people through Grenouille's eyes for the most part, so we simply see how they can be used and discarded for his greater goal: successfully trapping scents. Suskind's writing made it easy to to be on Grenouille's side despite his sociopathic ways.

Perfume was a wonderful and unique novel that mixes fantasy and 18th century France. The shocking ending proved to be horrific and beautiful at the same time. I would love to read other books by Suskind, particularly The Pigeon, a followup novel to Perfume. I highly recommend it to fans of historical fiction who aren't afraid of a twisted story.

My rating: 5/5 fishmuffins

Tuesday, March 20, 2012


The Detonations have reduced the world to ruins. Many people died and those that have survived are horrible scarred, fused to objects the happened to be around during the explosions, and/or mutated in some way. It's nine years after the blast. Pressia is almost sixteen and one of her hands is still fused to the doll's head she was holding when she was seven years old. She and her grandfather have been living in a defunct barbershop. She won't be able to barter with others and take care of her grandfather after she's 16 because the OSR, a brutal and violent military regime, recruits all residents at that age. There are also other survivors, ones that are Pure: without scars, deformations, or fusings. They live beneath a dome, protected from the Detonations. Their behavior is greatly restricted and boys groomed for their military are routinely programmed with obedience, strength, and speed. Not all of it works on Partridge, the son the foremost scientist. He suspects his mother survived the Detonations and is set on leaving the Dome and finding her. As Pressia tries to escape the OSR and Partridge tries to find his mother, they cross paths and both of their worlds are forever changed as they work together.

I loved Pure to little tiny bits. Despite its considerable length, I read it in a few days because the story grabbed me and wouldn't let go. The writing especially just sucked me into the unique world filled with scarred people fused to things or each other and inside the dome people who are physically perfect, even enhancing their bodies. The different types of fusing interested me because some were beautiful or unique despite the pain they had to endure and some were horrific and sapped the humanity out of the people. Bradwell had living birds fused to his back, which is such an interesting and oddly beautiful image despite its improbability. El Capitan and Helmud, on the other hand, were fused together with Helmud permanently affixed to El Capitan's back, only able to repeat his brother. It honestly wasn't that difficult to suspend my disbelief because these fusings made the characters come alive, be incredibly memorable, and outwardly express their inner flaws. This aspect gave the dystopia a dark undertone of horror that I really loved.

The characters were each memorable not only because of their mutations and outward flaws, but also because of their dynamic personalities. Pressia, despite living in a world of desolation and horror, still created beauty and relished in what beauty she could find even if it sometimes put her in danger. She was fiercely loyal to her friends and family and didn't compromise herself even in the face of powerful opposition. Partridge sacrificed his own comfort and privilege to find out what happened to his mother. Bradwell was a little annoying, but eventually proved himself to be a great character. With Pressia, Bradwell, and Partridge, I thought the book was setting up to be a romance driven, love triangle mess that is often popular, but it didn't venture into that annoying territory.

I loved Pure and I can't wait for the next in the series. The world was dynamic and interesting with wonderful and memorable characters. The plot twists really slapped me in the face at times and made the book exciting to read. If you don't like long books or lots of description, I would avoid this one. For everyone else, namely fans of dystopias and horror, I highly recommend this read.

My rating: 5/5 fishmuffins

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Wonder Show

Portia Remini is essentially an orphan. Her father ran off to follow a circus and her mother abandoned her long ago. Her distant, disapproving aunt eventually foists her off into a home for "wayward girls" run by a man known as Mister. He treats the girls as slave labor while looking like he's saving them. After a tragic accident and randomly finding the schedule card for it, Portia escapes on a stolen red bicycle to Mosco's Travelling Wonder Show, where she may find her father or be found by Mister, or find something else entirely.

I was immediately drawn in my the cover and the fact that it's about a circus. Wonder Show was a quick, fun read that touched on some deep and universal subjects. The characters were all amazing. It would be easy to demonize the sideshow "freaks" and make them into the monsters the crowd believes them to be. Although they don't mix well with the other circus performers, they were just regular people who want the same things as everyone else. They are neither perfectly good nor perfectly evil, but flawed. These characters were very often sad or angry, which I felt was realistic. Many of them couldn't do anything else because of their physical disabilities, so they were pretty much forced into a circus sideshow to make their living. I liked that the perspective would pass between characters every so often to provide to a glimpse into their mind.

Portia was a wonderful character who loved to tell stories and fairy tales, mixing and matching existing ones to make new ones or making her own entirely. Her imagination and creativity were amazing, but those around her didn't understand it and wanted her to rid herself of them and become a shell of herself. She saw the world through her own lens of fantasy and I enjoyed seeing her world through that lens. She also stood up for herself and had a firecracker of  personality.

Wonder Show was hard to classify into one genre. It was a quest story mixed with gothic mystery, coming of age, Depression-era, and self discovery. Its only real flaw was that the ending felt a little rushed and I wanted it to be longer to more fully capture these characters and their relationships. I would definitely look for more releases by Hannah Barnaby.

My rating: 4.5/5 fishmuffins

** Wonder Show will be released 3/30. Check it out here. **

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Book Chat: Buzz Words and Deal Breakers

This is my response to Misty's Book Chat of the month discussion at The Book Rat. Please join in the coversation or link up your own blog post here.

Buzz Words

Anything dark or whimsical/fantastical or quirky catches my eye. I'm a sucker for legend/fairy tale retellings or anything to do with mythology. I love zombies and vampires (really all undead are awesome) even though both are flooding the market at the moment. Dystopias always draw me in, but I'm careful to evaluate if I would like it because there are so many. I'm drawn in by anything horror. The darker, creepier, scarier, gorier the better. If someone says "that was the scariest book ever," I have to read it to see if it lives up to the hype. I love reading about serial killers and the darker part of humanity. Taboo subjects spark my interest immediately because I'm curious about the thought processes and inner workings of people involved in those things. I love books about the circus or circus performers. I love books with music as the focus as well because it gives a wonderful opportunity to nerd out. Strong female protagonists are a plus for me. Alternative histories when done well are fascinating, of course including steampunk. Settings in Europe or Asia really draw me in.

Deal Breakers

Two dimensional characters are a huge deal breaker for me. I'm hating love triangles a lot right now, mostly because almost every teen book has to have one because of Twilight and the Hunger Games. It's lazy writing to tell you just how special the protagonist is and it's frankly annoying now that it's gotten so widespread. Romance in general seems to dominate the teen genre and it would be nice if it stayed in the background sometimes in favor of real story telling. Romance where characters are instantly in love like Romeo and Juliet are also pretty tiresome. Deus ex machina isn't an aspect I want in my stories outside of those with actual gods. Abusive, overly aggressive male characters are a huge turnoff for me. Men who victimize women or who are just assholes in general don't deserve to be male leads and glorified to say that abuse is sexy. Female characters who are weak and simpering are also annoying. Stilted and awkward writing can also make me put down a book really fast.

So how about you guys? What are your deal breakers and buzz words?

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Internet Awesomeness: Stress Edition

I haven't had an Internet Awesomeness here in a while. I've been pretty stressed lately because of school work and tutoring hours, so these are a few songs that make me smile and alleviate my stress. :)

1) Smile Song by Pinkie Pie

My brony boyfriend got me watching My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic and I'm totally hooked. This song was featured on an episode a couple of weeks ago and it's still stuck in my head. It's so ridiculously cheery and fun that I can't help but smile when I hear it. It's super catchy, just fun, and by far the best song that has been on the show. I dare you to listen to this without smiling. :D

2) Hot Couture by Manila Luzon

Manila Luzon is one of my favorite drag queens from last season's RuPaul's Drag Race. I loved her and wished she won because of her fashion, killer sense of humor, and delightful attitude. This song encompasses all that and more with a catchy, upbeat tune and a very cute side story.

3) I Wanna Live in a World Full of Heroes by Kirby Krackle

Kirby Krackle is the best nerd band ever and this is their first music video with them in it!!! And this song is super awesome and would be even more awesome if it were a reality. Any comic nerd would love this song.

Any upbeat, happy tunes stuck in your head? Please share!! :)

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Women in Horror Month Wrap Up

I know it's not February anymore, but I got swamped with school work and wanted to finish the Buffy review I started. I was planning on posting more reviews and Women in Horror related stuff, but life got in the way. There's always next year! I will leave you with some horror movies you need to watch that have awesome female characters:

1) Dead Hooker in a Trunk

Meet Badass and Geek, twin sisters whose interests couldn't be further apart. While they are their very different friends are going on an errand together, they find a dead hooker in their trunk. They must put aside their differences to get rid of the body and avoid the many people after them because of it, such as the police, a serial killer, and a cowboy pimp. This movie is full of blood, gore, guns, chainsaws, and kickass women.

2) Inside

It's nearing Christmas and Sarah is miserable. Her husband died four months ago and her baby is due within a few days. Opting to be alone, she pushed away all of her friends and family in order to wallow in misery. This proves to be a huge mistake as a mysterious woman breaks into her house in a effort to steal her baby from inside her. The battle of wills and strength that follows is insanely bloody and intense. Although it stretches reason at times, the premise and acting of the two women is captivating.

3) Lady Vengeance

Geum-ja admitted to murdering a young boy when she was just a teen, a crime she didn't commit. Her prison sentence was lengthy, but due to her spiritual transformation and seemingly sweet behavior, she was released early. Geum-ja intends to make the real murderer pay and calls in every favor she can from her saintly days in jail to exact her revenge. It's an awesome film with a very unexpected ending and a wonderful Baroque soundtrack.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Women in Horror: Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Buffy the Vampire Slayer is one of my all time favorite TV shows. I started watching it when I was 11 and watched almost the entire show in its first run. (I missed the last season when I started college.) Now, I'm rewatching the entire thing and, as an adult, I can truly appreciate how good this show is and how it shaped my fragile little mind at a young age. It's about a girl who is called to fight the vampires and demons and stop the world from ending time and time again, but it's also about so much more.

In any other movie or TV show, Buffy would be a hapless victim of a supernatural creature that would die within the first 5 minutes and Xander Harris would be the badass vampire slayer, rescuing damsels in distress. This basic horror convention is refuted time and time again. Xander never has any sort of magical powers or supernatural abilities because to do so would undermine the entire concept of the show. He does contribute to the group, but he largely stays the same as his best friend Willow becomes a powerful witch and Buffy grows in power as the Slayer. I never recognized that it was odd for Buffy to be the heroine of the show until I watched the series as an adult and saw a big, strong jock ask diminutive Buffy to walk him home. I love that Joss Whedon's idea for the show was to take a girl most would believe to be insignificant and make her extraordinary.

Other than her supernatural powers, Buffy is a normal girl who still goes through most of what other teens do. Her emotions and femininity don't disappear just because she's strong and powerful. She tries to find love and her place in the world beyond slaying. Her experiences are slightly different because of the supernatural nature of the show. It may be ham handed at times, but the parallels to Buffy's experiences in her supernatural world parallel real life experiences of young adult girls. She loses her virginity to Angel and he turns into a sadistic monster, reflecting the real life experience (and her later college experience) of a guy treating a girl like dirt after sex. These metaphors are sprinkled throughout the show and really resonated with me as a kid as well as now. Buffy has other life experiences that aren't veiled in any sort of metaphor, such as her mother dying.

The Body is one of the best episodes on the show and even ever on TV. This is one of the many instances when Buffy with all her Slayer powers can only sit by and do nothing. Each of the characters deal with Joyce's death in their own way and represent the different stages of the grieving process. This episode never fails to bring tears to my eyes, especially Anya's speech, which relates her childlike inability to grasp death and how to act in such a situation. The entire look and flow of the episode is completely different to reflect what goes on in Buffy's mind as she grieves: her fantasies of saving her mother, her perceived meaning behind the doctor's words, her view of the EMT as he explains to her what happened to her mom. One of the most jarring things about this episode is that there is absolutely no music. It makes the episode feel stark and the viewer is unable to escape the grief and pain. I can't watch this episode without crying. Each of the characters' performances are exceptional, especially Anya and Willow. This is only one of a long list of awesome episodes (Hush, Once More with Feeling, Fool for Love, Passion, etc.)

Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a great horror show that deals with heavy life subjects, but also has quirky, sarcastic humor laced into every episode. Although the first season is kind of painful to watch, it becomes a good and enjoyable show rather quickly. Each season is unique and the characters change in surprising ways over the seven seasons (and the eighth season in comic book form). This show is timeless thanks to the writing and the wonderful cast. It will always have a special place in my heart and hold one of the top spots in best TV shows ever.

My rating: 10/10 fishmuffins