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

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Jenny Pox

Jenny Morton discovered early in life that she could never touch anyone. If she did, they would immediately develop horrible sores and eventually die if she held on for too long. Needless to say, Jenny is a lonely girl. At school, she's largely seen as a low class, shy freak because of the gloves she wears everyday and her dad being a drunk. She has pretty much faded into the background in her classmates' minds, except for Ashleigh, an ambitious and cruel cheerleader, who makes fun of her pretty consistently. Jenny is resigned to her lonely life, when something unexpected happens. Her dog is brutally run over by a dumb football player and Seth, Ashleigh's jock boyfriend, stops to help. With his healing powers, he saves her dog, even restoring the leg that was lost before Jenny got him. She is excited that there is someone else out there like her and she may even be able to touch him without harming him. However, he is still with the evil Ashleigh, who seems to be more than just an annoying, ambitious, popular cheerleader. How will she react when her equally popular boyfriend is taken away from her? Has Jenny finally found happiness?

Jenny Pox is one of the most unique fantasy books I've read all year. There aren't any typical supernatural creatures, like werewolves or vampires, but fairly normal teenagers with powers that I haven't really seen before (namely Jenny's and Ashleigh's). It's a breath of fresh air compared to the assembly line of novels that just seem to jump on the bandwagon of whatever's popular right now. Even though their powers are a big part of the story, it's the main characters that really make the novel interesting and hard to put down. Jenny is a relatable, good character. I really felt for her in her loneliness and her resignation to a life she really didn't want. She could have used her powers to kill the people she didn't like and even get away with it, but she decided that living quietly at the sacrifice of her happiness was a better decision. Her powers and the quirky romantic story kind of remind me of a reverse Ned from Pushing Daisies. The friendship and romance between her and Seth is so sweet. They both can be themselves around each other and don't have to hide who they are. As their relationship evolves, so does Jenny. She blossoms in to a strong, assertive girl who is in control of her own power.

Ashleigh, on the other hand, is one of the best villains I've ever encountered. On the outside, she's the perfect, pretty, popular girl who can do no wrong. On the inside, she's a sociopath who will take advantage of anyone if it benefited her. She has no real relationships, only people she can push around or step on to get her way. I loved to hate her. She sets up these crazy plans that end up working and making everyone else look horrible in comparison to her. Her ability is pretty insane and she uses it pretty much whenever she can, unlike Jenny. The despicable things she does get worse as the novel goes along and it was shocking to me how far she would go to get what she wanted.

Jenny Pox is now one of my favorite books. I literally could not put it down until I was finished. JL Bryan mixes supernatural elements with a realistic portrayal of what it's like to be a teenager. I think everyone could find something they like in this novel: horror, romance, fantasy, and even politics. I highly recommend it. I hope that it will eventually be reprinted in a smaller, more manageable format (the paperback I bought is enormous) and made more widely available.

My rating: 5/5 fishmuffins

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Ender's Game

Ender Wiggin lives in a future vision of Earth with population bug-like aliens that are trying to wipe out the human race and population restrictions. Two children is the usual limit, but Ender's parents were allowed one more by the government because his sister and brother showed military promise, but had flaws that proved them to be ineligible for service. Ender was teased and bullied at school because of his status as a third child. He severely injured the main bully and was recruited into military training. Ender is only 6 years old. At Battle School, he is isolated and forced to push himself to his limits. He makes some friends and earns a lot of respect, but because he accelerates through the program, some of the other recruits resent him. It eventually gets to a point where those resentful students reach a breaking point and pose a danger to Ender. Can Ender rely on the teachers of the school to protect him or is this just another test? If he survives, can he go on to save the world from these aliens and at what cost to Ender?

Ender's Game is a classic science fiction novel that introduced an interesting, nuanced dystopia with unique characters. Most of the main characters in the novel are children. This makes the dystopia all the more compelling and chilling that children's lives are experimented with and sometimes discarded for a greater good. Ender is in a horrible situation from the start. He is purposefully targeted, isolated, and made to defend himself at six years old. As the novel progressed and Ender grew up, I would imagine him as an eighteen year old because of his mature thought processes and the way he progressed in the Battle School, even though he wasn't even a teenager yet. Each chapter starts with military officials discussing and sometimes arguing about his situation. They assess his progress and seem to have affection and compassion for him, but they continue to push him to be the greatest that they can make him, even at the expense of his sense of humor or his ability to make friends and be happy. Ender is a great character and I really felt for him throughout the book, especially in the shocking last chapter. Ender's siblings are almost as compelling as he is, but in different ways. Peter is older and a sociopathic meglomaniac, while his sister is sweet, but still very intelligent and manipulative. All three of these exceptional children effect the world in profound ways, whether it be good or bad.

The alien species that fight against the humans are another interesting aspect of the novel. Nothing much is known about them until the last half of the novel. These aliens were eventually seen as sympathetic. Heinlein used a similar race of aliens, but used their insect-like look and way of life as a way to distance them from the reader and make it practically impossible for us to relate to them. In Ender's Game, the conflict between human and alien came to be mostly because of an inability to communicate rather than an irrational hatred. It was nice to see a look at the other's way of life instead of just assuming they are evil.

I absolutely love this novel. The language is fairly simplistic, so people of all ages, whether they typically enjoy science fiction or not, can enjoy it. It has something for everyone: fight scenes, political intrigue, aliens, plus it still packs an emotional punch. I consider this required reading for anyone who remotely considers themselves a fan of science fiction.

My rating: 5/5 fishmuffins

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Sci-fi Musing of the Week: Technology

I've been slacking a bit here lately due to school being all crazy, but I just finished Ender's Game and I got to thinking about something that I wanted to discuss with you guys. Do you think that technology, such as cell phones, computers, etc., keeps us more connected to each other or distances us from each other? I love technology and I love having a smart phone where I can check my e-mail and go on the internet whenever I want, but I think it's a valid question.

Here are two awesome songs that talk about our addiction to technology. Both have pretty much the same message, but The Guild song is cuter.

I Love My Computer by Bad Religion (I could only find it as an AMV. Boo.)

Do You Want to Date My Avatar by the Guild

I see so many people walking around oblivious to the people or events going on around them while they furiously text or play with their phones. I also hate it when people can't go a couple of hours while watching a film or seeing a play without obsessively checking their phones or texting. Maybe the technology in and of itself is beneficial, but many people abuse it.

What do you guys think? Do you think in the future we will be roly poly Wall-E people that only talk to each other through technology even though we're right next to each other or do you have a different vision of the future?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

When Rose Wakes

Rose DuBois has been in a coma for 2 years. She unexpectedly wakes up and remembers nothing about her life before except for her two aunts. After going through physical therapy and some counselling, she returns to her aunts' home. Her aunts have some weird quirks: they make her drink this really bitter tea and hang little charms all around her room. Plus they vehemently want her to stay away from any boys, almost abnormally so, and they refuse to give her any real detail of her life before the coma. Rose starts completely from scratch and goes to a new high school where she is known as Coma Girl. She manages to make a few friends and one big enemy by the name of Courtney. Although she has a pretty normal teenage life, her dreams are dark and take place in medieval France where she is a princess whose father must give her to his enemy's son in order to save their people's lives. To make matters worse, a scorned, black hearted fairy has cursed her and would love nothing more than to see her die. She has these dreams every night and begins to see things like crows and a creepy, dark woman following her. Is she just brain damaged or paranoid? Or is she actually in danger?

I love fairy tale retellings. Most authors take the hollow, flat characters in fairy tales and make them into multidimensional, relatable characters in the modern world. Christopher Golden does this very well, especially with a princess story. In Sleeping Beauty, the prince comes along and solves all of the princess's problems (while she lies passively) with a kiss, a marriage, and they live happily ever after. When Rose Wakes is drastically different from the original tale, mostly because of Rose. She is a strong person that starts her life from practically nothing. Her ways of dealing with problems like the horrible cheerleader Courtney are effective without lowering herself to Courtney's level. Although she can take care of herself, she is still a confused teenager who's not sure about what to do when she likes a guy or if she should listen to her aunts or who are her true friends. The "prince" in this tale is a main character, but he doesn't act as the savior that rescues the helpless princess from peril. They have an actual relationship. Other aspects of the story are also changed. The overall tone is much darker than the original while still preserving the essence of the story. The danger is much more present and makes the fantastical aspects of the novel more gritty and disturbing than those of the real world. I also really liked the twist on the spindle aspect of the curse, but I won't spoil anything here.

When Rose Wakes is an adventure filled retelling of Sleeping Beauty. I love the changes and improvements made to the story and I hope there is another book written about Rose. I would recommend it to lovers of fantasy and fairy tales.

My rating: 4/5 fishmuffins

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Odd and the Frost Giants

Odd is a twelve year old boy with a rough life. His father died in a Viking raid; his mother married a man that he hates; he shatter his leg when cutting down a tree; and the people who live in his village constantly ridicule and abuse him. So, in the spring, which actually is a supernaturally extended winter, Odd sets out with some food to his father's cabin to live by himself. He encounters a fox who guides him to a bear, who was seeking honey, trapped with its arm in a tree. Odd frees the bear and discovers that these animals (plus an eagle) can talk. They are actually gods that were duped into these forms by the Frost Giants that have taken over Asgard. The bear is Thor, the one-eyed eagle is Odin, and the fox is Loki. Can Odd get Asgard and if he gets there, can he do anything to help the gods reclaim their home?

Odd and the Frost Giants is a very short, but interesting read. I think of it like Neil Gaiman-light for younger readers. Odd is the lowest of the low in his village. He is constantly ridiculed and is viewed as practically useless because of his handicap, but he takes everything in stride with a smile. This clever and good natured hero is also seen in fairy tales where he solves his problems in unorthodox ways despite being low in the dominance hierarchy. I like that real life problems mix with fantastical ones, like the loss of his parent and the abuse from his stepfather. Anyone can relate to Odd because, whether they are old or young, the reader may have experienced similar misfortunes. The story basically follows Joseph Campbell's hero journey, which I love. This formula is used in many myths throughout history, including The Odyssey and Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth. This form, coupled with the Norse mythological figures, makes the literature nerd in me very happy.

I love Neil Gaiman's style of writing. He writes in seemingly simplistic sentences, but it's full of wit and humor that is instilled in all of his writing. The illustrations by Brett Helquist accompanied the story very well with his own unique style that I grew to love in Lemony Snicket's Series of Unfortunate Events. I really liked the story, but I felt it was more like a short story than a novel. I would love to read more of Odd's adventures. Although Odd and the Frost Giants isn't my favorite book, I would still urge both children and adults to read it.

My rating: 4/5 fishmuffins

Here is the book trailer:

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


Astrid Llewelyn is a reluctant unicorn hunter. There aren't very many due to the fact that only descendants of Alexander the Great that are virgins are eligible for the task. Recruitment has been slow since many potential hunters make themselves ineligible for the job to avoid the danger that is being advertised in the news, mostly by Astrid's attention seeking mother. Astrid lives in a nunnery in Italy with her fellow hunters. She would rather be in a lab, trying to find a way to replicate the Remedy, a powerful cure for poisons and sickness. An opportunity arrises for her to continue her education when Gordian Pharmaceuticals, now led by Isabeau Jaeger, offers her a position guarding a herd of einhorns as well as tutoring, new clothes, a room in a mansion, and a way out of putting her life in danger every day. She accepts the job, but it's not as easy as it seems. Her ex-boyfriend, Brandt, is around her all the time, distracting her from Giovanni, her boyfriend going to school in New York. She also finds that her work with the einhorns isn't so easy when experiments are done on them as she grows to know and like them. Should she walk away and not be involved with the torture of these animals? Is it any different from killing them like she's been doing?

I was afraid that Ascendant would be a lackluster sequel to Rampant because the first book was so dynamic and compelling that maybe it was too hard to follow up with something better. I was pleasantly surprised and proven to be wrong. Ascendant turned out to be almost as good as the first. It has much more moral complexity than the first book. On one hand, unicorns are violent, wild animals that attack and kill humans. Unicorn hunters are people's only protection. On the other hand, unicorns are an endangered species and, as with all animals, they are aggressive because they feel threatened. There is also the added issue of animal testing and at what point is it considered unnecessary torture.

The first book pretty much stayed in Italy and the cloister where Astrid lives. This book widens that view to other countries and gives a nice look at how killer unicorns are effecting the rest of the world. Instead of being mocked or ignored, the hunters are finally being taken seriously after people witness the devastation that can happen when the creatures go unchecked. I also like the change of scenery to France with Gordian Pharmaceuticals.

Astrid is an excellent, strong female protagonist. Even though she makes mistakes that sometimes end up hurting her friends, she is still a sympathetic and relatable character. Although she is physically strong, she is also intelligent and has ambitions beyond slaying unicorns. One of my favorite things about her is that even though she's a peaceful person, she feels that it's her obligation to stay a hunter and fight to save human lives. It's easy to choose the selfish route, but Astrid stays a hunter despite her doubts. After reading books like Hush, Hush, Fallen, and Nightshade, it's refreshing to read a book about a girl who isn't defined by her relationship with a man and doesn't let men overpower her.

The pacing of the first half is a bit slow, with a lot of Astrid's angsty internal struggle to figure out who to trust and what is right and wrong. It was still enjoyable to read, but it went on a little bit too long for me. About three quarters through the book, a bombshell is dropped that really shocked me. After that I devoured the rest of the book quickly and I'm eager to read more. I've heard that a third book isn't planned at the moment, but I really really hope that another one gets written soon because I need to know what happens next. I highly recommend this series to anyone.

My rating: 4.5/5 fishmuffins

Monday, November 8, 2010

Neil Gaiman's Awesome Concert Review

Neil Gaiman wrote the most beautiful and well written concert review about The Dresden Dolls' Halloween concert. I've loved this band for about 5 years and I've been to 4 of their concerts. Amanda Palmer, the pianist and singer, and Brian Viglione, the drummer, have an electricity together that is magical. Their albums are wonderful and I love to listen to them, but their live shows are each a unique, theatrical experience where their connection is felt by everyone in attendance. When I saw them, it was as is if people weren't individuals anymore, but part of a whole, connected by this group's wonderful music. It's amazing to see them onstage. I never thought this quality could be captured in words, but Neil Gaiman has managed to do it in a concert review he wrote for Spin magazine. It moved me to tears and I wanted as many people as possible to read it, even if they didn't know the group. (If you don't know who they are, I would suggest looking them up on Youtube.) You can read the article here.

* photos taken by me

Thursday, November 4, 2010


In less than a day, 99% of the population died because of an unknown virus. The few survivors are shocked and gather together for safety in a community. Then some of the many corpses start to walk around. Most of the survivors start to panic and turn on each other, so Michael, Carl, and Emma decide to go off by themselves and find a safer place to stay. They find a secluded farm house in a rural area and opt to settle there for the time being. Then the walking corpses seem to be more aware and gather around people or things that make noise. The survivors don't know what to make of this new development, so they try to avoid the dead and make a new life for themselves. Then, they start to attack the survivors. Michael, Carl, and Emma realize the danger they are in. The walking dead keep coming in huge numbers and are attracted to the light from the house and every sound they make. Can they figure out a way to survive in this world full of corpses dead set on destroying them?

Autumn is a good, solid zombie book. The writing style and plot really drew me in from the very first pages. Others have complained that the pacing is too slow, but I disagree. The focus of the book isn't on the zombies, but the emotions and conflict between the human characters. It takes time to illustrate detailed characters, their different lives, and their connections with each other. This situation seemed much more plausible and realistic to me. The survivors are upset because practically everyone they know is dead and of course their minds aren't instantly going to go to zombie apocalypse. They are confused and don't really know what to do or why everything is happening. Emotions are running high, causing them to make unwise decisions and lash out at each other out of fear or anger. This is how people act in extreme situations. Michael, Carl, and Emma all have their own unique things to deal with and aren't perfect characters. They doubt themselves and agonize over what would be best to do. No one is confident in their course of action in this post-apocalyptic world. The survivors' actions made sense to me and illustrated what real people would do in a horrible situation.

This isn't your typical zombie book. There aren't gobs of blood and gore drenching every page, but there is definitely potential for more in the next book. I really enjoyed the quiet, slow burn of the book. It is reminiscent of John Ajvide Lindqvist's Handling the Undead. I would recommend this to zombie fans that don't mind a more casual pace and a more cerebral approach to the zombie genre. I can't wait until the next book comes out.

My rating: 4/5 fishmuffins

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Halloween + Last Contest Announcement

Happy Halloween to everyone! I hope you all read scary books, dress in costume, and stuff yourselves with candy. :) This is the second pumpkin I've ever carved in my life and I think it turned out pretty well. The face is Sam's from the movie Trick 'r Treat. Isn't he cute?

And here's my last winner announcement for my September Zombies contests. The winner of an ARC of Handling the Undead is:


I e-mailed her last week and I forgot to announce it here. Silly me! Thanks to all that participated!


Calla Tor isn't a typical teenager. Instead of worrying about boys and where she's going to go to college, she worries about how fierce of a warrior she is to protect the Keepers, who are powerful spellcasters, she is sworn to protect. She's the Alpha of the Nightshade pack of Guardians, warriors that have the ability to turn into wolves. They protect and serve the Keepers and in return get all the things they need to live. Calla is satisfied with her life, even though it's all planned out. On Halloween, she is destined to marry Renier, Alpha of the rival Bane pack in order to merge both packs, whether she actually likes him or not. Everything was going on track until she saved a human boy from a bear attack. That same human boy, Shay, starts to go to her school recently after the incident. She feels a connection with him and starts to have doubts about her completely planned out future. Will Calla choose to follow the destiny that has been decided for her and marry Renier or will she blaze a new trail and choose Shane?

Nightshade is an interesting twist on werewolves. Their transformation is possible through magic and the pack answers to a higher authority than the Alpha. Unfortunately, I really dislike werewolf packs and their politics. The added tier of authority only compounds what I already hate about the situation. No one in the pack really has any power. The Keepers decide everything, including which pack members can be romantically involved and who they want to sexually assault. The Guardians are just glorified slaves and the Keepers are known to abuse their powers over them. Within the pack, even Calla, the most powerful female figure, has pretty much no power, which is typical. Renier overrules her in every way. He could have been a really great character, but he is reduced to using physical violence and passive aggressive tactics to make Calla feel inferior. I just really did not like him at all by the end of the book. I do realize that this situation isn't portrayed in a positive light and is used to create a sort of miniature fantasy based dystopia, but I don't like these sort of werewolf politics.

There are quite a few things that I enjoyed about the novel. Calla is a compelling protagonist and a strong female character. I was less than impressed when she practically fell apart every time one of the boys was around, but I guess it's understandable with her being a teenager and in an oppressive society. Other than that, she proved herself to be a strong warrior and I liked seeing her world through her eyes. The narrative flowed really well for the most part and I finished the book in just a couple of days. The ending was really good because it made Calla question the actions she had taken and made me really interested to see what was going to happen next. I will definitely read the next in the series.

My rating: 4/5 fishmuffins

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Fall

A horrific virus has been unleashed in New York, creating savage vampires that hunt indiscriminately. Civilization has pretty much crumbled, leaving anarchy in the vampires' wake. There is only a small group of people that oppose these powerful creatures, including former CDC employee Ephraim Goodweather and his son, elderly Abraham Setrakian, Nora Martinez, and exterminator Vasiliy Fet. They are the only thing in between the strigoi and total human annihilation. The story continues just after the group failed to destroy the Master, the powerful vampire behind the epidemic. Setrakian hopes to obtain a book from the 17th century that could give him the key to destroying all the vampires, but every time this book has surfaced, disaster has followed, and it costs millions of dollars. To make things worse, Eldritch Palmer, a very rich and sickly man, is giving the Master his full support and Ephraim's ex-wife turned vampire is stalking the small group of heroes to turn her loved ones. Through all these obstacles, can Ephraim and his hodgepodge group save the human race?

Usually, the second book of a trilogy drags and falls flat, simply succeeding in setting up the characters for the grand finale. The Fall is not the typical second book. It is just as compelling as the first book, but very bleak. The vampires Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan created aren't your standard tall, dark, handsome, or sparkling types that have become popular in recent years. They are disgusting and their only interest in humans is for food and transmitting the virus so it will spread as far as possible. This view of vampires is refreshing since there are so few truly dangerous vampire stories out there. I like that the physiological changes from human to vampire are described in detail. It lends a sense of realism to a usually fantastical creature.

There are a few new things in this novel that I found particularly interesting and made the novel compelling. The first is the concept that human love is corrupted and changed in the conversion from human to vampire, leading the new vampire to infect their loved ones with the virus. It makes the epidemic all that more devastating that even love isn't safe from these brutal vampires. This theme recurs throughout the novel and proves to be toxic to the protagonists. Vampire children are introduced when children blinded by the eclipse are kidnapped and turned to be troops that don't rely on eyesight to fight the enemy. These creatures are incredibly disturbing and difficult for the humans to deal with since they still appear to be children. Another new addition is the small group of original ancient vampires that oppose the Master because they view vampirism as a great gift to be given with discretion to only the most deserving. They gather and fund a small army of gang members and other random people to join the fight against the Master. It makes sense that vampires wouldn't want to overtake humans because their food source would be extremely depleted and a situation like in the film Daybreakers may ensue. In that group of fighters is an interesting character named Angel, who is a retired wrestler. He goes from an old, washed up has-been to a fierce fighter again. He experiences a kind of rebirth. His interesting past and drive to fight despite his age made him my favorite new character.

The Strain Trilogy brings vampires from the romance genre they've settled in back to their true horror roots. The Fall is a worthy follow-up to The Strain. This series is addictive and I seriously can't wait for the final installment, Eternal Night, to come out.

My rating: 4.5/5 fishmuffins

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


Helen Lyle is a graduate student doing a thesis on urban legends. To make her thesis stand out, she looks into the Candyman legend by going to its source: a gang infested housing project called Cabrini Green. To summon him, you look in a mirror and say his name five times. He appears behind you and kills you with the hook that replaced one of his hands. Helen is fascinated with this mythical figure and how the inhabitants of Cabrini Green attribute the evils of their everyday lives to him. When she's attacked by a man who assumed the Candyman persona to incite fear, he is captured and arrested, shattering a little boy's belief in the mythical figure. The real Candyman appears to Helen and proves he's real by framing her for an attack and a kidnapping, quickly unravelling her entire comfortable life. He wants her to be his victim to create more fear and belief of him to make him more powerful. She questions her sanity and struggles with how to stop him. How can she defeat an incorporeal being that no one else can see?

I first saw this film when I was about 7 years old. It haunted my dreams all throughout my childhood, but also sparked my interest in all things horror. I saw it again just last week and I realized how much I didn't understand as a child. The movie is actual quite complex and cerebral, unlike a typical slasher film. Nothing really scary or particularly horrific happens until about half way through the movie. I really like this aspect because the beginning could be a Silence of the Lambs-like thriller, but the last half is soaked in gore and makes the viewer evaluate what is real and what isn't. For the first half of the movie, Candyman is pretty much dismissed as a legend. His appearance coincides with Helen's rapid downward, life-destroying spiral. The viewer questions Helen's sanity and oscillates between believing that Candyman is real and that Helen is actually doing these horrible things because of her mad, fractured mind. This part of the film is interesting because she loses absolutely everything. All of her friends, including her husband, either die or turn against her. In one scene, the very detective that praised her for pressing charges against her attacker badgers her and treats her like a common criminal. The role reversal gives a surreality to Helen's situation. Virginia Madsen is amazing as Helen and gives her so much real emotion and dimension. She is a flawed character, but remains sympathetic and relatable. It seems so easy for her entire life to slip away that it might happen to anybody.

The film is also politically and socially aware. Candyman is a kind of Bloody Mary-type character mixed with Freddy Krueger, but his history is tragic. In life, he was the wealthy son of a slave living just after the Civil War. He died after being tortured by a group of racist rednecks because he fell in love and impregnated a white woman. His back story lends sympathy to his character, as well as showing the deep roots of racism in history. To me, Candyman embodies the toxicity in a society where rumors, stereotypes, and racism are prevalent. Tony Todd does an excellent job in his role, being both menacing and distant. His voice sends chills down my spine. His performance is reminiscent of the Cenobites from Hellraiser, which is hardly surprising since both films were based on Clive Barker's stories. At one point in the film, Helen discovers that the apartment building she lives in was originally built as a housing project identical to Cabrini Green. Her building is slightly different in that plaster is used to cover the cement walls. This shows that the difference between the rich and the poor is only superficial and not a result of character, but circumstance.

The music for the film is composed by Philip Glass and it suits the mood of the film perfectly. The main theme sounds like a tune from a music box. It's a haunting tune that recurs throughout the story and serves as a perfect counterpoint to what's going on onscreen.

This film has stayed with me for a long time and I think it's worth seeing for any horror fan. It may be a little dated, but it still has profound things to say and still terrifies. I like that it's not just a slasher film, but one that makes us scrutinize our own society.

My rating: 9/10 fishmuffins

Monday, October 25, 2010

Halloween Music: The Final Edition for this Year

This is the last Halloween music post for this year, so I'm going to make it count!

1) Rasputina - My Little Shirtwaist Fire *

Rasputina is a unique band that prominently features cellos, quirky music, and historical allegories and fashion (particularly the Victorian era). This song was based on the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, which was one of the largest industrial disasters in the history of New York City. A fire started on the eighth floor of the factory and the people on the ninth floor couldn't be notified because of the lack of an alarm. There were limited ways of getting off the floor because one of the doors exiting the building was locked and the other was blocked by flames. The fire escape was flimsy and soon collapsed because of the weight. Most of the women working there were trapped. 62 people died from jumping off the building to escape the flames. Overall 146 people died. The accident led to many reforms including worker's compensation, comprehensive safety, and unionization of workers. This song encompasses the horror and feeling of the event very well. It's one of my favorite songs by the band.

2) Oingo Boingo - Insanity

The band is fronted by the amazing composer Danny Elfman and they were famous for their controversial songs and high energy Halloween concerts. I couldn't find any real information about this video, but it's practically a short film. It's generally disturbing with stop motion animation and deformed dolls. I absolutely love the song.

3) Sweeney Todd - A Little Priest

I couldn't resist featuring another song from Sweeney Todd. How can I pass up a song about cannibalism? This cheerful song is accompanied by dancing and people watching for the type of person to make into a pie. Awesome!

4) Repo! the Genetic Opera - Legal Assassin

You probably haven't heard of this movie, but it's a rock opera that is about an evil corporation that sells organs to people and savagely repossesses the organs from the person when they can't pay. It's pretty cheesy, but in a good way. It stars a variety of people, including Anthony Steward Head and Sarah Brightman. In the first song, Nathan sings about the loss of his wife and his alter ego as the person who kills the debtor and repossesses organs. I love Anthony's voice and ability to play such a schizophrenic character.

Hope you guys enjoyed more music! :)

* The historical information about the fire came from Wikipedia.

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

It’s the summer of 1950 and Flavia de Luce lives in the English village, Bishop’s Lacey. She is a precocious child with a passion for chemistry (particularly in poisons), two insufferable older sisters, Daphne and Ophelia, and a philatelic, distant father. A strange redheaded man confronts her father, but she doesn’t get enough information before she is shooed away. When she finds that redheaded stranger utter his dying breath in the cucumber patch, Flavia doesn’t recoil in disgust or fear, but reacts with curiosity. She resolves to solve the crime with the help of her trusty bicycle Gladys, her unflappable nature, and her relentless drive for knowledge. The local law enforcement has only disdain for her and they obviously suspect her father for the murder. She has to dig in the past to her father’s school days where there was the theft of a very expensive, rare stamp and the suicide of one of his professors. Can she solve the crime and bring the killer to justice before her father pays the consequences?

Flavia is an interesting heroine for a mystery novel because she is eleven years old and has an incredibly rational view of the world. She is very analytical and suited towards her interest in chemistry and poisons. Hardly anything fazes her in the story because she doesn’t let her emotions get in the way of solving the mystery. She also shows courageousness in even the direst of situations. I love seeing the world through Falvia’s eyes. Her thought processes and intelligence made the work engaging. She looks for clues in places that aren’t obvious and stays a couple of steps in front of official detectives. Even though she’s intent on detecting, the rivalry with her sisters is never forgotten. She never misses a chance to torment them and vice versa, which is realistic to anyone who has siblings. Her narrative is original and colored by her quick wit and infused with humor. I never thought a Canadian male could write so clearly and believably in the voice of a young British girl.

The mystery has many twists and turns, fooling Flavia and the reader alike. The investigation isn’t perfect, but she’s only eleven years old. I was never annoyed with her youth and I never figured anything out before she did. There is no gore in the novel, but it really doesn’t need it to be a successful mystery. This book has a flavor of its own and I look forward to reading the next book in the series, The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag.

My rating: 4/5 fishmuffins

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Guest Post: Curtains by Scott Nicholson

I am super lucky to be part of Scott Nicholson's epic Kindle Giveaway Blog Tour. He's my very first guest to post on my blog and I'm super excited.


By Scott Nicholson

When I started releasing my story collections as e-books, Neil Jackson of Ghostwriter Publications did a wonderful cover for my collection Ashes that had a red velvet curtain on one side.

We already had a “monster eye” cover for The First, and I thought it would look cool to use the curtain for the monster eye as well. That led to the “curtains” motif we used in Flowers as well, to create a linked set. I had stories left over for at least two collections, so when it came time to come up with a name for my mystery collection, it was obvious: Curtains.

In slang, one of the meanings is to “drop the curtain,” as in the closing of a show or to conceal an object. I like to picture a gangster pointing his Tommy gun and saying to the victim, “It’s curtains fer ya.”

A good bit of my early stories were in the mystery genre, back when my goal was to be published in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. I have eight or 10 rejection slips from there but I never hit the right tone for the magazine, which was a lot different from the old Alfred Hitchcock Presents anthologies I used to read—those were darker and had as much horror as crime, and the mystery field has always struggled between its two extremes of serial-killer noir and tea-room cozies.

That’s fine with me. I have always liked extremes. In the world of Scott Nicholson, I can write a light-hearted mystery veiling a romance (“Kill Your Darlings”) and I can literally kill some darlings, as in “The Weight of Silence,” where family is only worth what the insurance policy claims it is.

The collection features one of my best stories, “Dog Person,” which arose from a real-life story about one of my friends making the decision to put his beloved dog to sleep rather than spend thousands of dollars on surgery and treatments. My friend then spun a story idea out of it, and we challenged each other to add an extra twist to make the decision less voluntary.

In the late 1990’s, there was a mystery e-zine called Blue Murder Magazine that managed to put out about five issues as PDF downloads. It was a little ahead of its time, because nobody wanted to read PDFs on their computer screens back then, and nobody wanted to advertise in magazines they thought nobody wanted to read. I managed to place stories in three of the issues, and I still have one of the last surviving T-shirts. I’ve also been fortunate to publish in some of the other top crime magazines like Cemetery Dance and Crimewave. Cemetery Dance is, of course, the top horror destination as well, while Crimewave constantly features some of the best writers in the United Kingdom.

The collection also contains a couple of bonus contributions from J.A. Konrath, the e-book Pied Piper and author of the Jack Daniels series, and Simon Wood, who is one of the best hard-edged crime writers working today.

I’ve since spun my interests into the crime novels The Skull Ring and the forthcoming Disintegration, and my forthcoming collaboration with J.R. Rain will overlap into mystery as well. I’ve read a wide range of mystery novels, from M.C. Beaton and Carl Hiassen to Patricia Highsmith, Dennis Lehane, and Donald Westlake. Those I enjoy the most tend to be those that border on psychological horror, like Silence of the Lambs, or more literary novels that play on mystery convention such as Richard Brautigan’s Dreaming of Babylon and Jonathan Lethem’s Motherless Brooklyn.

Maybe I shouldn’t even investigate the origins of my influences. I think the only answer I’d be able to come up with is, “It’s a mystery to me.”


Scott Nicholson is author of 12 novels, including the thrillers Speed Dating with the Dead, Drummer Boy, Forever Never Ends, The Skull Ring, As I Die Lying, Burial to Follow ,and They Hunger. His revised novels for the U.K. Kindle are Creative Spirit, Troubled, and Solom. He’s also written four comic series, six screenplays, and more than 60 short stories. His story collections include Ashes, The First, Murdermouth: Zombie Bits, and Flowers.

To be eligible for the Kindle DX, simply post a comment below with contact info. Feel free to debate and discuss the topic, but you will only be entered once per blog. Visit all the blogs on the tour and increase your odds. I’m also giving away a Kindle 3 through the tour newsletter and a Pandora’s Box of free e-books to a follower of “hauntedcomputer” on Twitter. Thanks for playing. Complete details at

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Hush, Hush

Nora Grey is a quiet high school sophomore with an ambition to go to college. She lives with her widowed mother in a house outside of town and has a generally peaceful existence until Patch comes into her life. Patch is her new assigned biology partner who has no regard for school and he's frankly driving her crazy. After he enters her life, a lot of weird things have been happening to her: creepy figures have been following her and she's been having horrible things happen to her only to have no evidence of the event to show to anyone. Then a man attacks her best friend, Vee,and she immediately suspects mysterious Patch, but there's also another boy, Elliot, who has just moved into town under suspicious conditions. Is Nora just trying to protect Patch or is Elliot really dangerous?

Hush, Hush is a mixed bag for me. I really enjoyed some parts of it, but some other aspects really annoyed me. The writing is really engaging and flows really well. I found myself wanting to lose sleep just to finish a chapter or two. Nora and Patch are interesting, layered characters. The attraction between the two characters is palpable and makes sense to me. Many people argue that their relationship is abusive, disturbing, stalker-y, etc., but I disagree. Yes, he does do some mean things and debates between evil and good, but the ending of the story proved him to still be likeable. Nora is kind of annoying because she lets people push her around a lot, but other than that I did enjoy seeing the story through her eyes.

There are a few things that annoyed me. Vee, Nora's best friend, seriously needs to be removed from these books. At the beginning, she represented the foil to Nora: someone who is outgoing, loud, and funny. Then as the story goes on, she shows her true colors. She constantly puts herself and Nora into danger without a second thought. When Nora is assaulted by Elliot, Vee's response is that he was drunk and that makes it ok because he didn't mean it. Are you kidding me? This is the worst best friend in the entire world. Nora repeatedly states that she doesn't want to see this guy and Vee constantly tries to get her to. I think this relationship is much more disturbing than Patch and Nora's. '

The pacing is also a little weird. The mystery about what Patch is (which is spoiled on the front cover) takes way too long to resolve. The same goes for the attacker mystery. The ending could have been a little more gradual to feel more natural. At the beginnig of the novel, Nora is reported to be a cello player and interested in baroque music, but that's the last mention through the entire book. She doesn't practice or listen to music or even touch a cello. I love music in my books and I am disappointed by the lack of follow through.

I enjoyed this book and I will be reading the second in the series. Those of you who like Twilight and Fallen will surely love this book. There are a lot of similarities between these novels. The rest of you might want to steer clear of this one.

My rating: 4/5 fishmuffins