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


Here are the winners from the Night of the Living Trekkies Giveaway!

Winner of the book and a poster is: Tetewa!

Winner of the poster is: Abilene!

Thanks to all of you that participated. My last contest will be announced next week. There's still time to sign up for it, so head here if you're interested in an ARC copy of Handling the Undead.

Halloween Music: Soundtrack Edition

I've decided to highlight some great Halloween music in soundtracks, whether it be for film or the theatre.


1) The original Halloween film has one of the greatest film soundtracks ever. The themes are so simple and minimalist, but they really create almost all of the tension and suspense in the film. John Carpenter, the director, composed and played almost all the music on the score. This particular theme is very recognizable and engaging despite its repetitive nature.

2) Ravenous is a great film about cannibals during the Mexican-American War. It exhibits a twisted sense of humor that is also conveyed through the music, composed by Damon Albern and Michael Nyman. This certain track is placed at the end credits and combines two themes in the film: Boyd's Journey and Cannibal Fantasy. The twangy, uneven pulsing banjo gives the piece an uncomfortable feeling and remains throughout the first theme as more and more melodies and countermelodies are added on top of it. Cannibal Fantasy is actually a very beautiful theme, but when heard during the film is accompanied by the main character Boyd's impromptu visual fantasy of eating another person.


1) I love the musical Jekyll and Hyde, but I've never seen it. This song was my first introduction to it and I was amazed by the singer's uncanny ability to sound like two separate people. I ended up finding out that the singer is Anthony Warlow and I specifically bought the concept album he sang on because I was so moved by his singing. I heard others sing it, but it didn't capture the internal struggle and anguish to me like this talented singer. This song is the final battle between Jekyll and Hyde.

2) Sweeney Todd is a great musical, but I never got into any of the stage productions. They just seemed way to unnecessarily operatic for my taste (and I love opera!). Anyway, when the film came out, I was a little wary, but I think Johnny Depp did a great job giving the character a little bit of an edge. I actually liked that most of the characters weren't perfect because it seemed more organic to me. This scene is where Mrs. Lovett gives Sweeney Todd his knives after he had been wrongfully locked up in jail for years. He seeks revenge on the corrupt judge who put him there. The music is so lyrical; it's almost a love song from Todd to his knives. The cinematography is excellent, giving a variety of shots during the song instead of just shooting the singer from one angle like some films do. The use of the knives to reflect their faces just looks awesome.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Hellbound Heart

Morally bankrupt and nihilistic Frank Cotton has found this world and the pleasures it has to offer lacking, boring, and predictable. After hearing about Lemarchand’s Configuration, a puzzle box that if solved opened up a realm of unimaginable pleasure, he finds it and spends hours trying to solve. He succeeds, but instead of hoards of nude women, like he was expecting, the Cenobites emerge instead. They are horribly scarred and mutilated beings that perceive extreme pain as not different from extreme pleasure. They take him to their extradimensional plane to suffer for eternity. Meanwhile, Rory, Frank’s brother, and his wife Julia have moved into the house passed down from their grandparents. When Rory is injured during the moving in process, Frank uses his blood to communicate with our world. He demands more blood from Julia, who has been infatuated with him ever since their affair shortly before her marriage to Rory, to become whole again. She complies and feeds him several men. Kirsty, Rory’s friend, suspects Julia is having an affair and discovers Frank and Julia’s horrible plot. Will she be able to return Frank to the dimension he escaped from or would the Cenobites rather have her instead?

I recently saw the film Hellraiser, so I had to read the novella it was based on. There is very little difference in plot and characters between the two works. However, both have their own strengths and weaknesses. The strength of the film is the horrific visuals it provides. The Cenobites look so much more disfigured and fetishistic than I ever would have imagined. The audience is also shown some of the horrors in the other world and I was shocked by how twisted and horrifying the images were, considering it was made in the 80’s. I was riveted to the screen (with my mouth gaping open) and literally couldn’t look away. The book only describes the Cenobites, but not in a great amount of detail. The other world’s sights aren’t described at all, but the novel excels in ways the film did not.

The novel is incredibly well written. Even though the character development is a little lacking, I really didn’t notice too much because the writing is so fluid and rich with dark imagery. The relationship between Frank and Julia seemed to happen spontaneously, but their evil tendencies that were exhibited later made them a fitting couple. Their sick relationship is an interesting comparison to the false, empty one between Julia and Rory. However, Frank’s interest in her is only to be restored to human form and nothing more, showing Julia in the role of her husband: adoring and unaware of the others indifference. Both relationships are exposed to be hollow and devoid of anything remotely resembling love. Julia is portrayed as much more malicious than in the film. She has nothing but disdain for her husband and would like nothing more than to kill him. Frank and Julia represent the need for man to seek more and more empty, fruitless sensory experience and where this road will lead if gone to extremes. This view may be depressing, but makes for an entertaining and horrifying read.

My rating: 4/5 fishmuffins

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Halloween Read-a-thon Day 2

Well, I'm not as far as I thought I was going to be. I ended up finishing a book that wasn't even on my original list: The Hellbound Heart by Clive Barker.

I had just watched the last half of Hellraiser, the film adaptation, and I had to read it. It's a fairly short novella, so it didn't take me too long to read. I'll be posting my review either later today or tomorrow. Yay! The first day isn't a complete failure! :) My goal: finish The Fall by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan and hopefully start Pretty Dead.


Alexia Maccon is considered a pariah and a disgrace after her delicate condition was discovered and her hot headed husband, Conall Maccon, cast her out. She is rejected by her horrible family and is dismissed from the Shadow Council by Queen Victoria. To top it all off, the local vampire hive want her dead for some reason and announce their intentions with homicidal mechanical ladybugs. The only person who may shed some light on this issue, rogue vampire Lord Akeldama, has fled town. Alexia decides to flee to Italy in search of theTemplars who did research on preternaturals, which may shed some like on her predicament. In the meantime, Conall drowns his sorrows and stays consistently inebriated, leaving his poor Beta, Professor Lyall, in charge of the Woolsey werewolf pack. Can Lyall get Conall sober and thinking straight in time to reinstate Alexia under the pack's protection? Will the mysterious Templars prove to be worse than assassin vampires to Alexia?

Blameless is a worthy continuation of the Parasol Protectorate series. Gail Carriger has not let me down yet with her distinctive, witty narration and undeniably unique characters. I love that each book consistently has a thread of comedy going through it, keeping it a fairly light and enjoyable read. Alexia is a great protagonist with unexpected observations and a purely sensible outlook on life. Her ability to think rationally in the most dire and extreme of situations makes her both endearing and a very different female protagonist than is usually seen. The real triumph of the continuing series isn’t in Alexia (although she is important), but in the minor characters. They all have their own individual stories, attitudes, outlooks, beliefs, and personalities, whether they are likable or not. I like that each book focuses on a slightly different group of minor characters. I enjoyed learning more about Floote (and by proxy Alexia’s mysterious father) and seeing him react to people that upset his sensibilities.

Alexia’s escape to Italy provides a wider view of the world. Although England is very tolerant of supernaturals and accepts them into society, the opposite is true in Italy. I never really thought how other parts of the world would react to the existence of supernaturals and it makes sense that some places would embrace them and some would violently reject them. I also like the Victorian science that is demonstrated in the novel. If looked at from a modern perspective, it makes little sense, but in this world, the science works. This detail is one that keeps my interest and makes me eager to learn more.

Blameless didn’t disappoint me at all and it was a great follow up to the big cliffhanger in the previous novel. I can’t wait for the next novel. I am cursing myself for reading this book so soon, forcing me to wait so long for Heartless, which is to be released July 2011.

My rating: 5/5 fishmuffins

** I've also reviewed the two previous books, Soulless and Changeless. **

Friday, October 15, 2010

Spookiest Reads!

For the Halloween Read-a-thon, YA Addict is hosting a mini-challenge where readers are to write about the spookiest books they've read. Here are mine:

* The Girl Next Door by Jack Ketchum

Here's an excerpt of the synopsis from Wikipedia:

"The story takes place in 1950s suburban America, and is told in flashback fo
rm by the narrator, David.

After giving the reader a quick tour of his neighborhood and childhood friends, David introduces Ruth, a single mother and alcoholic, amongst other things. Ruth has, over time, gained the trust of the neighborhood children by allowing them to come freely into her home, play as rough as they wish, and even drink an occasional beer with her.

Fast forward to Meg and Susan, Ruth's nieces, who come to live with their aunt after the death of their parents. All seems well at first: the girls make friends with the other children and David begins to develop feelings for the sweet and innocent Meg.

However, Ruth's mental state has been deteriorating over time, and the burden of having two more children to care for seems to accelerate her descent into madness.

Ruth begins verbally, then physically, abusing the two girls, often while the other neighborhood children are watching. Then she allows the other children to abuse them, making them feel that because they have the permission of an adult, their actions are okay and will not be punished."

I am always looking for disturbing and extreme books and I found this on a list somewhere online. It had been sitting on my shelf for a while and I finally decided to read it. I was completely riveted and disgusted at the same time. It isn't a spooky read per se, but I was scared and shocked by the actions and rationalizations of the characters. All of the characters are human, but some of them do incredibly monstrous things or let monstrous things happen without any opposition. I think the most chilling aspect of the book, even about the depraved acts inflicted on a young girl, is the fact that the novel is based on true events that aren't too far from the events laid out in the book. This haunting story really stayed with me well after I read it. This is not a read for the faint of heart, so you are warned.

* Gerald's Game by Stephen King

Here's an excerpt of the synopsis from Wikipedia:

The story begins with Jessie Burlingame and her husband Gerald in the bedroom of their secluded cabin in western Maine, where they have gone for an off-beat romantic weekend. Gerald, a successful lawyer with an aggressive personality, has been able to reinvigorate the couple's sex life by handcuffing Jessie to the bed. Jessie has been into the game before, but suddenly balks. As Gerald starts to crawl on top of her, knowing her protests are real but ignoring them anyway, she kicks him in the stomach and in the groin, and he then falls from the bed to the floor, hits his head, has a heart attack, and dies. Jessie is alone in the cabin and unable to move or summon help.

In general, I think Stephen King is a very prolific, but overrated writer. I haven't really enjoyed many of his later works, but his early works, like Carrie and Misery, are excellent. My favorite is Gerald's Game. It's such a small setting for horror because Jessie is stuck, handcuffed in bed, unable to free herself. Everything is out of reach for her, even water. It's terrifying thinking of being that helpless. The one thing I think is especially scary is this man who comes in the room and watches her that she calls a Space Cowboy. It's unclear whether the man is real or imagined up until the end, but it's really disturbing. That character in particular stayed with me after I read the book and gave me chills.

Halloween Read-a-thon!

I am so excited about being a part of the Halloween Read-a-thon over at Young Adult Books Reviewed. This is going to give me the push I need in reading and finishing all the Halloween books that I have lined up for review. These are the books that I want to finish this weekend:

* The Fall by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan (ARC)

* The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

* Pretty Dead by Francesca Lia Block

* Nightshade by Andrea Cremer (ARC)

Hopefully some of them will be finished by Sunday!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

My Wishlist for Halloween!

I am constantly adding books to this list, but here are some titles that I want AND are Halloween related.

1) Z by Michael Thomas Ford

synopsis from Amazon:

"The First Rule of Torching: Cleanse with fire.

Josh is by far the best zombie Torcher around—at least, he is in his virtual-reality zombie-hunting game. Josh has quickly risen through the player ranks, relying on the skill, cunning, and agility of a real Torcher.

The Second Rule of Torching: Save all humans.

But luckily for Josh, zombies exist only in the virtual world. The real zombie war is now more than fifteen years in the past, and the battle to defeat the deadly epidemic that devastated his family—and millions of others—is the stuff of history lessons.

The Third Rule of Torching: You can't bring them back.

Charlie is the top-ranked player in the game. Since all the players are shrouded in anonymity, Josh never expects Charlie to be a girl—and he never expects the offer she makes him: to join the underground gaming league that takes the virtual-reality game off the screen and into the streets. Josh is thrilled. But the more involved he gets, the more he realizes that not everything is what it seems. Real blood is spilling, members of the team are disappearing, and the zombies in the game are acting strange. And then there's the matter of a mysterious drug called Z. . . ."

This book sounds really interesting. I always like the merging of a gaming world and the real world. The only problem I might have with this is if you set fire to a zombie, you now have a human torch coming after you that will probably die after it gives you a fiery death hug. I would like to see you the novel addresses this problem.

2) The Dark and Hollow Places by Carrie Ryan (to be released 3/22/11)

synopsis from Amazon:

"Annah knows she has a twin sister, but she forgot her long ago. Back when they went to play in the Forest of Hands and Teeth, she and Elias lost her, and after that there was no going back to the village. Life's been hard, but Elias has taken care of her, and living in the Dark City can help one to forget the horror of the Unconsecrated—if you try hard enough. But when Elias disappears, Annah's world crumbles. To her, life isn't worth much more than the walking dead who roam the wasted world she lives in. It's not until she meets Catcher that she cares to start living again. Yet Catcher has secrets. Dark, terrifying secrets that link him to a past she's longed to forget and to a future too deadly to consider. Annah must decide: Can she continue to live a world covered in the blood of the living? Or is death the answer to all her problems?"

I loved the first two books in the series and I can't wait for the third one! The second ended on a bit of a cliffhanger, so I'm super eager to get my hands on it. Yay zombies!

3) The Devouring #3: Fearscape by Simon Holt

synopsis from Amazon:

"The Vours: evil, demonic beings that inhabit human bodies on Sorry Night, the darkest hours of the Winter Solstice.

It's been a year since Reggie first discovered the Vours, and the Winter Solstice is approaching once again. It will be another night of unspeakable horror for those unlucky enough to be taken by the Vours, because this time, she won't be able to stop them. The Vours have imprisoned Reggie in a psychiatric hospital, where she is subjected to a daily routine of unfathomably sadistic experiments. Her life is a living Hell, but she won't give up. They attacked her brother. They killed her friend. And Reggie will never stop fighting back."

The first in this series is one of my all time favorite YA horror books because it brought real horror, unlike most YA books. The second one was ok, but I'm hoping the third will surpass it. I hope it brings more suspense and crazy nightmarish visions. Both of the reviews on Amazon are positively glowing, so I am optimistic that Fearscape won't disappoint.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Halloween Music!

Of course I have more Halloween music I would like to share with you all!

1) I have posted many previous song of Voltaire's that range from funny to disgusting, but this one is adorable. The song, Brains!, was written in a 60's swing style for an episode of The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy. Voltaire voices the song of an alien meteorite that wants to eat human brains. Eventually, the only one left with a brain is Mandy and he tries to eat her brain, but screams in pain and melts away. She claims her brain was too spicy for it and then demands more brains. It's a cute, catchy song about eating brains. What's not to like?

2) The soundtrack to the Nightmare Before Christmas is also a great mix of creepy and cute. It features Danny Elfman's signature minor, hauntingly beautiful sound at its best. (The only soundtrack that might be better would be Edward Scissorhands.) He even provides the singing voice for the main character, Jack Skellington. This film has been my favorite movie since I was seven years old. It was very influential in my life, both because of it's dark tone and great music. My favorite track is Jack's Lament, where Jack is saddened by the lack of variety in his life, celebrating Halloween over and over, year after year. His frustration fuels his need for something else and he tries to claim Christmas as his own, with interesing results. If you haven't seen this film, I highly recommend it.

3) Vermillion Lies is a new band that I've discovered through friends and one of my favorite performers, Amanda Palmer. The band consists twin sisters, Kim and Zoe Boekbinder. They are a unique band that incorporates aspects of cabaret and circus into their music and performances. I love this short and sweet song of their's entitled Grandfather about the curiousity of children.

4) Of course, I can't forget about classical music. I think pretty much everyone has heard this creepy piece at one time or another. It's interesting that the piece was never really meant to be creepy nor does it have any sort of creepy story like Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique. A toccata is a virtuosic piece for a piano or plucked instrument to emphasize how fast the player can play. A fugue is an imitative type of composition that Bach was very popular for. Now, with further ado, I give you J.S. Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

A Nightmare On Elm Street: New vs. Old

The original A Nightmare on Elm Street, starring Robert Englund as Freddy Krueger, is an influential, classic horror film from the the 80's. It was remade earlier this year with Jackie Earle Haley taking up the tattered fedora and dirty green and black sweater in place of Englund. Both films are about an undead man invading teenagers' dreams and killing them in their sleep. Which of these is the better film?
** Spoilers follow for those of you who haven't seen the films. **

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

I grew up being afraid of Freddy Krueger. It was a frightening concept to me that I wasn't even safe in my dreams. Robert Englund really brought the character to life with a twisted humor and a zest for innovative murder. He is so different from other slashers at the time, like Halloween's Michael Meyers and Friday the 13th's Jason Vorhees, because he actually spoke and even delivered delightfully cheesy jokes torturing and killing his victims. Freddy is a breath of fresh air after all those other mute, joyless killers. In the film, he is an undead creature that controls the dream world. In life, he was a child killer who was let off because someone along the way didn't sign the search warrant. The parents in the neighborhood take the law into their own hands and burn him alive in his basement, which is why his face is so horrifically scarred.

The budget for the film is $1.8 million. The very low amount of money forced the film makers to come up with innovative ways to make the effects come alive. In the scene where Freddy is straining through the wall above Nancy's bed, it was actually Robert Englund pushing through the wall with a film of plastic over it. There was an actual revolving room built for Tina's death scene where she's dragged from her bed onto the ceiling. There are countless instances of things like this and creates a better sense of realism, letting the viewers suspend their disbelief more.

Although the movie is a typical puritanical morality tale (because the only surviving person is the perfect virginal girl), it has a little something extra to set it apart from those other films. The twisted ending and they way the dream world and real world interact plays with the audiences perception of reality in a way that is still fascinating for viewers today. I still get chills and jump at parts when I watch it.

The soundtrack of the film is haunting and is one of the big reasons why this movie still gives me the creeps after so many years. Although synthesizers are mostly used, the motifs are really creepy, featuring a high melody, wordless vocals, and dissonant echoes. Here is one of my favorite tracks:

A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)

Jackie Earle Haley is Freddy in the film, but I can't shake the feeling that Rorschach from Watchmen is going around people's dreams and killing them. His rendition of Freddy is much creepier, but takes himself much too serious. There really isn't any levity in the character. The clothing is identical, but the face is made up to look like an actual burn victim. The new look is fine, but Freddy can look like whatever he wants since his incorporeal. One thing I really didn't like is that Freddy doesn't kill children at all. He is a child molester, but there is not any effort on the parents' part to go to the police. After Freddy flees, the parents go after him and kill him. I think being burned to death is a pretty harsh punishment. I would say go to that after the law fails as in the original film.

The other actors are interchangeable and mediocre. (The original had Johnny Depp in his debut role. I don't think you can get much better than that.) The main character, Nancy, is completely bland and empty of the fire of the original character. The way that the characters died lacked originality and just became pretty boring. Freddy has all the powers of the Dream World and he just kills people with his claw gloves instead of tapping to that power.

This film's budget is around $35 million dollars, but the effects look really bad in modern day standards. The worst looking scenes are the one with the girl killed on the ceiling and the one with Freddy coming from the wall behind Nancy's bed. Both looked like the technology was at least ten years old. The old film's use of actual actors and building a revolving room look a million times better than the remakes effects. This one one of the most disappointing aspects of the film.

The music creates a similar mood in both movies, but the original's succeeds in being much more suspenseful. The remake's sounds like generic horror movie music with very little that's memorable. The only scene made awesome by music was this one. I'm putting the song used separate because I couldn't really hear it in the clip as well as in the theater.

The irony and humor used with that song is so perfect, but the rest of them film didn't follow suit.

The winner: A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)!!!!!

Sisters Red

Scarlett and Rosie March were orphaned as children when a wolf attacked and killed their grandmother. Scarlett was nearly killed in the attack and escaped with only one eye and a great many scars. This wolf was no ordinary wolf, but a soulless creature that takes the form of a man and can turn into a wolf, called a Fenris. Eight years later, the sisters train hard and hone their skills to be able to kill as many of these creatures as possible, with the help of their woodsman neighbor Silas. As a result of their constant training and slaying Fenris, the girls haven’t had a chance to go to school, have friends, or even think about dating like normal girls their age. They live in the same small rural country town they grew up in and their world is pretty small. Scarlett is satisfied with this the hunt consuming her life, but Rosie longs for some semblance of normalcy. Rosie also starts to have feelings for Silas, which proves to be more of a problem when they all relocate to a small apartment in a big city in pursuit of a Potential, a male that can be turned into a Fenris with very specific conditions. Can Rosie have a relationship with Silas without alienating her sister? Will they find the Potential and protect him before the Fenris turn him?

I’ll admit it: I’m a sucker for a good retelling of a fairy tale. This is one of the most exceptional that I’ve read in general. Jackson Pearce takes the simple fairy tale, Red Riding Hood, and adds beautiful detail to it. The flat characters become realistic and multidimensional. The story is transported to the present. The setting starts as rural and then becomes urban. The city, not the forest as in so many fairy tales, serves as the setting for transformation and the main action in the story. The single wolf becomes a group of werewolves. The woodsman that acts as the savior in the story becomes an ally and a friend. These changes still reference and use the original story as a starting point, but ends up going against such fairy tale conventions as the cliché happily ever after and the helpless damsel in distress. They ultimately transform a fairly flat tale into a story that speaks to (and is relevant in) the modern world.

Scarlett and Rosie are fierce warriors and very close sisters with an intense relationship. They are about as different as night and day: Scarlett is perfectly happy just hunting and killing Fenris for the rest of her life and Rosie wants something more. The novel is told from both of their points of view, switching between them each chapter. It’s a great way to get a better idea of both of their thought processes and where both of them are coming from. My favorite thing about them is how they destroy what the original fairy tale essentially says about women. The girls dress up in red hoods, heavy makeup, and sexy clothing to lure in the Fenris for the kill. They use their sexuality as a weapon and don’t depend on the woodsman to come and save them. They are self sufficient and fierce. The original tale can be interpreted in many ways. In my opinion, it can be interpreted as rape being the fault of the victim or as a negative view of a young woman’s burgeoning sexuality. Scarlett and Rosie prove to be the complete opposite of these two views. It’s wonderful to see this frankly misogynistic tale made into one of empowerment.

Sisters Red is an excellent story with adventure, werewolves, grisly deaths, and even a little bit of romance. I would recommend it to pretty much anyone that has seen or heard of any rendition of Red Riding Hood.

My rating: 5/5 fishmuffins

Friday, October 8, 2010

Helluva Halloween II Contest: Choose Your Paranormal Character/Story

Mrs. DeRaps at DeRaps Reads is having an awesome contest where bloggers can come up with their own paranormal character and story. Here are the instructions:

Pretend that you are a character in a paranormal YA book. What is your paranormal identity? Are you a vampire? A werewolf? A zombie? Something else? Give a name to your character and a bit of your story.

Here is my story:

I'm a zombie. I don't know my name because stuff like that just isn't really important to zombies. We have more important things to think about, like finding tasty morsels and shuffling around aimlessly. Anyway, I was a normal college girl with normal college girl worries until my university became overrun with zombies. It's really not surprising because of the sheer volume people in such a close proximity. Cursing myself for actually showing up for school that day, I tried to flee, but I'm really clumsy. It didn't work out so well: I tripped and fell flat on my face. The zombie that was shuffling after me took a big bite out of my leg. After screaming in agony, I kicked it in the face and managed to escape. I knew I was a goner. No one ever survives or gets better from a zombie bite. I pondered on what to do: should I kill myself so I wouldn't hurt other people? Or should I embrace my zombification and just go with it? I opted for the second choice, partly because there was really nothing around to kill myself with. Who carries weapons onto a college campus? No one. And letting myself get eaten by zombies seemed like a really painful, messy way to go. So I just sat in the girl's bathroom waiting to become a zombie. Now, I roam around Long Beach with my zombie brethren, looking for tasty people to eat or at least infect. I'm not really sure of the reason for us zombies or if anyone has any clue on how to stop us, but I'll just live in the moment and enjoy being a zombie while it lasts.

* image is a screenshot from AMC's new TV show, The Walking Dead

Guest Post and Contest Announcements

Hello! I just have a couple of announcements:

1) My review of Blood Oath by Christopher Farnsworth is being featured at Misty's blog, The Book Rat! Plus she's doing the Helluva Halloween event again this year, with plenty of fun activities and prizes! There's the Horror Haiku Challenge, the Caption This! Challenge, the Helluva Halloween Craft Off, and a place for all of you to link your own Helluva Halloween posts. Go check it out!

2) Now, to announce the winners for my first ever giveaway!

Winner #1: Tara W
Winner #2: Mervi
Winner #3: yllektra

Congratulations to them and a big thank you to all of you that participated!

3) Because I was so lame and announced the winners for my giveaway about a week late, I'm going to push back the deadlines for my other two giveaways.

Handling the Undead Giveaway will now end on 10/22.


Thursday, October 7, 2010

More Lovecraft!

When I did my previous post about Lovecraft in other medias, I forgot two things!

1) I'm sure most of you have seen the Old Spice commercials with Isaiah Mustafa where he's on a horse and making you wish your man smelled like him. Cthulhu saw it too and figured he could sell his own scented products. Here is his commercial:

2) I love Magic the Gathering. In one of the recent sets, Rise of the Eldrazi, a triad of very large evil creatures were introduced that were once worshipped as gods. They were imprisoned for thousands of years, but were awakened by some planeswalkers. Their only motivation is to eat, so they devour the mana and life energy of worlds, kind of like Galactus. These are some of the most difficult creatures to destroy or get rid of in the entire game. The makers of the game were inspired partly by such Great Old Ones as Cthulhu. I see the inspiration especially in the tentacles. Here are the three Eldrazi:

Emrakul, The Aeons Torn

Ulamog, The Infinite Gyre

Kozilek, Butcher of Truth

I totally see the resemblance. :)