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