Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Masque of the Red Death

Araby Worth lives in a world run rampant with disease and misery. The Weeping Sickness is airborne, causing the inhabitants that can afford it to wear masks to keep from contracting it. She happens to be the daughter of the inventor of these life saving masks and is therefore very rich and privileged. Despite this, her favorite activity is to go the Debauchery District and its clubs to drink and shoot up drugs to forget her miserable existence. At these dubious club, she meets two very different young men with secrets: Elliot, the owner of the club and a rich dandy with revolution on his mind, and Will, the mysterious and tattooed young man who works at the club and has an unexpected home life. Together, they will give her something to truly live for and put her on a path to actually help people.

I didn't have too many expectation going in to Masque of the Red Death. Mostly I expected it to be a retelling of Poe's story of the same name and it's a very, very loose adaptation. The only things in common are disease, parties, large buildings, and the name of the prince (Prospero). Everything else was unique to her book. I really liked the world. It was a great mix turn of the century society with a dash of the black plague, steampunk, alternative history, and modernity. I liked that pre-disease, this society was pretty much Victorian with the same fashion and sensibilities. After the disease, it's more important for people to show that they are healthy and have no sores than it is for people to be modest and proper. Women's fashions are much more risque as a result and expectations of young people are much different. I loved the atmosphere of this world where death is an unremarkable, every day occurrence and people try to live as much as possible because death is so close. This setting made the main characters and the motivations behind their actions make sense. Who wouldn't want to enjoy oblivion once in a while to escape that horrible reality? or change the world you live in for the better? or do whatever it takes to keep your family safe?

Although there were many things I liked about this novel, it seemed to fall in some typical pitfalls of YA books. First is the love triangle. It's just overdone at this point and annoying. Choose one already and having two guys fight over you does not make you in any way special. Second, Elliot (one third of this love triangle) literally threatens Araby's life. This is not sexy or desirable at all. I don't understand this normalizing and sexualizing abuse especially in novels that are intended for a young audience. It would be nice for these heroines to have a normal reaction and separate themselves from this type of person.

Overall, I liked Masque of the Red Death, but it fell a little short of my expectations. I would read the next book and hope the issues I had with the first installment improved somewhat. I would recommend it to fans of dark romances and gothic literature.

My rating: 4/5 fishmuffins

Friday, May 25, 2012

Shadow and Bone

Alina Starkov is unimportant, unremarkable, and never really excelled at anything. She grew up as an orphan in an orphanage with Mal  and together they enlisted for the military when they were old enough. They are cartographers together, Mal being the talented one, and they run into trouble when their regiment crosses the  barren and dangerous Shadow Fold that splits the nation Ravka with impenetrable darkness and winged carnivorous monsters. When she and Mal are about to be monster food, light bursts from her, scaring away the monsters, and she passes out. She later finds out she is the most rare type of Grisha, a Sun Summoner. She is immediately whisked away by the Darkling, the most powerful Grisha, to the palace where she endures training (both fighting and magic) away from everything she has known. She is told over and over that she is the savior of Ravka and will be able to destroy the Shadow Fold and unite the nation again, but the power in the wrong hands can be dangerous. Should she stay with the Darkling in the palace and take him for his word or should she leave and ensure her power won't be abused?

I didn't really know what to expect starting Shadow and Bone. When I started it, I was a little confused with all the Russian jargon and visualizing the world. I usually appreciate being thrown into the middle of a world and figuring it out as I went along, but this one was a little harder to get my head around. This all turned around when Alina discovered her power in the dark and sinister Shadow Fold. After a bit of a rocky start, I was completely immersed in this world and in awe of it just as much as Alina as she is thrown into an entirely different realm than she is used to. The palace offers physical comforts like she has never known, but the training (both combat and magical), the politics, and the two faced nature of the many of the people around her take a physical and mental toll on her. Her life had been so straight forward before and generally unremarkable that this new experience where people either want to kill her or worship her is a shock. It isn't all fun parties, good food, and people fawning over her. Life as the only Sun Summoner is hard when everyone expects you to save the country.

I really liked the characters in the story in particular. They all were realistic and fully realized. Alina's psychology fascinated me. She had no idea for years and years that she had this power because she suppressed it. All are tested as children for power and she successfully kept her power in check and did so for years afterwards, eventually without even knowing it was there anymore. This suppression had serious physical repercussions. She was perpetually tired, never really had an appetite, and was generally sickly. When she finally learned to harness her power and call it on her own, her health improved greatly. I really liked that her psychology had a huge effect on her physically and also the drastic difference in her after she accepted her power after denying it for so long.The Darkling, the most powerful Grisha, is frightening and attractive at the same time. His motives and emotions are never apparent and he keeps a lot of secrets. His real role in the plot isn't revealed until well into the novel. He is a fascinating character that I can't wait to see more of.

Shadow and Bone was a wonderful read that took me about a day because I needed to know what happened. I loved this Russian influenced world with its unique magic system and vibrant characters. I would  have like a glossary in the back of the novel because I forgot the meanings of some of the Ravkan words, but it might be included in the finished book. I would recommend this to anyone tired of formulaic boring YA. I can't wait for the next book!

My rating: 5/5 fishmuffins

**** Check out Leigh Bardugo's site where she has a glossary and pronunciation guide of Ravkan words, Ravkan inspired recipes, artful maps, and more! This book comes out June 5th. Check it out and pre-order here! ****

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Sacre Bleu: A Comedy d'Art

It's the year 1890 and the art world in France is still reeling from the apparent suicide of Vincent Van Gogh. He shot himself in the chest and went to a doctor for help shortly afterwards, which seems counterintuitive. He didn't actually kill himself. He was murdered by a small man who calls himself the Colorman and sells quality paints to artists. He is always flanked by a donkey and a woman he calls Bleu. That woman's name is also Juliette and she has her sights set on Lucien Lassard, a baker who aspires to be a painter. Lucien and his best friend, Henri Marie Raymond de Talouse-Lautrec-Monfa, are investigating Van Gogh's death and see similarities to other painter's live that have ended tragically. Can they put together the puzzle before any other artists die? How is Juliette connected to the Colorman and who is the Colorman really? Will she prevent Lucien from solving the mystery and condemn him to a tragic death?

I will read pretty much anything that Christopher Moore writes, but I was particularly excited about Sacre Bleu because it's about art history and mostly the French Impressionist artists. I have always liked that era in art, but I never really thought that much about how the people painting these masterpieces would be in their day to day lives. Sacre Bleu portrays them as normal men in an irreverent, funny manner. Whenever I've heard about these artists at museums or in art history classes, I think of their lives as epic and eventful and more interesting than a normal person's, but Christopher Moore's story probably falls closer to the truth. They were simply men, many with torrid love affairs, venereal diseases, and substance abuse problems. These artists revered by historians and art critics were just people and not always pleasant or sober or even sane.

Bleu/Juliette is my favorite character in Sacre Bleu. She's the only major female character and she holds her own with all these famous and powerful men around her. She acts as a muse for the artists she manipulates and a goddess figure in this comic novel. That inspiration causes the artists to create faster and more intensely and better than they ever thought possible, but it comes at a price. I loved the reveal of her connection to the Colorman and of how far their influence in art history actually goes. I can't really talk any more about her character without spewing spoilers, so I'll stop here. Just trust me that she's awesome.

Sacre Bleu is a fun novel that blends art history and irreverent humor. This narrative is full of bawdy jokes, drinking, whores, drugs, and sex and it's incredible fun. There are paintings printed throughout the novel that help the reader visualize each artists' style and see some of the paintings described. I would recommend this to fans of art history not afraid to laugh a little or fans of Christopher Moore's work in general.

My rating: 5/5 fishmuffins

Sunday, May 20, 2012


Everyone knows that Vee Bell has narcolepsy. She can pass out anywhere at any time. What they don't know is that she slips into other people's consciousness when she has an episode. She can't read their thoughts or anything, but she can see what they see and experience what they experience and it is not always pleasant. She has viewed some people's most private moments and it's all through touching things that they touched when feeling emotions. She sees teachers drinking, her sister cheating on a test, and the true colors of one of her friends at a school dance. Then she witnesses the worst thing she has ever witnessed: the murder of one of her sister's friends through the eyes of the murderer. Everyone assumes it was a suicide, but Vee knows better and has no way to prove it. Can she catch the murder and solve the mystery before he or she kills again?

Slide really drew me in with its unique premise and murder mystery plot. It could have easily been filled with typical teen cliches and conventions with little substance. On the surface, the characters are cliches: cheerleaders, popular kids, the outcast, etc. But Jill Hathaway infuses her characters with dimensions and realistic points of view. Vee may be an outcast that used to be a part of the popular crowd, but she has a special power and is surprisingly worldly for a teenager. She doesn't burden her grieving father with her problems and works hard to deal with them herself. Her little sister may be cheerleader who gets drunk with her friends, but she's actually very intelligent despite the fact that she caves under peer pressure. Vee's two love interests, newcomer Zane and her best friend Rollins, were both likeable and the romance of the sort of love triangle never overpowered the mystery.

One aspect I really liked about the novel was the examination of responsibility when it comes to witnessing something horrible happening. Vee feels a responsibility to solve this crime and clear the name of the girl who everyone assumes killed herself. More murders follow the first in a similar fashion and Vee works to solve the mystery even though she witnessed it in a way no one would ever believe her. On the other hand, one of her old cheerleader friends witnessed Vee's date dragging her unconscious body to a private space at a party to take advantage of her and that friend did nothing. A serious crime could have been committed and Vee was only saved by someone else. I find this situation frankly monstrous and callous. It's easy for anyone, not just teenagers, to rationalize away a responsibility like this to report or help someone they see in trouble.

I really enjoyed Slide with its new and interesting premise and teen sleuth plot. It really had a Buffy the Vampire Slayer-like vibe with the ex-cheerleader solving mysteries and shouldering the burden of a paranormal power. It's a fast read that really draws you in. I would recommend it to fans of non-romance centered paranormal books.

My rating: 4/5 fishmuffins

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Avengers

Asgardian Loki breaks in to SHIELD headquarters uses the Tesseract, a cube of pure energy that can destroy the world, and plans to conquer the world using it to open a portal to let an alien race called the Chitauri. No one on Earth has the power to fight these extraterrestrials, so Nick Fury in desperation, calls in Bruce Banner (the Hulk), Tony Stark (Ironman), Thor, and Steve Rogers (Captain America) to band together and stop Loki. However, they are a volatile, unruly group that simply don't get along and don't trust SHIELD's motives. Can they put aside their petty differences and distrust of SHIELD long enough to save the world?

I was very excited to see The Avengers because I enjoyed all of the films leading up to it and their characters, but especially because Joss Whedon was directing. I think this is one of the best comic book movies I've ever seen and I believe it is thanks to Whedon. He brought a lot of humor throughout the film, even during the most heartbreaking moments. I don't remember ever laughing so hard in any superhero movie. There were even moments when dialogue was unintelligible because the whole audience was roaring with laughter.

He also fleshed out the minor characters wonderfully. In the previous movies, I couldn't care less about Hawkeye and Black Widow. Hawkeye had a super small part in Thor and did practically nothing. Black Widow in Iron Man 2 was super flat and only really there for eye candy and cool fight scenes. In The Avengers, Hawkeye is instrumental to the story and he updates the bow from a practically obsolete relic (compared to guns and other firearms) to something useful and dangerous. His sense of loyalty and justice really made him a cool character, as well as his relationship with Black Widow. Black Widow is also very important to the plot. She gets to show off how she is actually a good spy by playing the victim and getting those who would think themselves above her to reveal their plans. She is much more than just a pretty face and we get to see how is she is underneath her strong exterior. I liked that these two characters aren't marginalized because they are weaker than the other super heroes. They prove to be important in their own right and are allowed to actually develop as dynamic characters.

One of the things I was afraid of was one superhero or another dominating the movie. This film masterfully balances each hero. Each make mistakes and look silly at one point and they also all have great, shining moments of heroism. They all bring something that the others don't have and make this disparate, hodge podge group into a real team. Captain America is a great tactician who sees each person's strength and how best to utilize that strength on the battlefield. Iron Man thinks outside the box and has incredible intelligence beyond that huge ego of his. Bruce Banner is also extremely smart, but also turns into a huge, strong rage monster when he transforms. Thor is practically immortal with a powerful hammer, the ability to fly, and power over thunder and lightning. These larger than life characters are lot to stuff into one movie, but they end up being a well balanced, powerful team.

The last act of the film is the giant splodey extraterrestrial battle for New York. The comparisons to the Transformers are cringeworthy, but not complete unfounded. There are a few key differences, one being that The Avengers is actually a good, coherent movie that doesn't entirely rely on special effects. Another is that while the Transformers movies have cool shots of buildings exploding and falling down and CGI fight scenes, but the human element is lost. In The Avengers, the people running and screaming from the attack are a focus in the middle of this battle. We even follow a particular waitress as she runs from location to location and is finally saved by Captain America. This makes the audience care about the civilians and actually worry when buildings collapse and debris is falling everywhere.

The Avengers is a spectacular superhero film that takes the characters we know and gives them portrays them in a much deeper way and keeps that human element in a huge, epic fight. I also really liked the banter between the characters, the humor throughout, and especially the deviously manipulative, sinister Loki. I have seen it 3 times so far and wouldn't mind seeing it again. If you want a truly enjoyable film with action, adventure, aliens, and superheroes, The Avengers is definitely for you.

My rating: 10/10 fishmuffins

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Internet Awesomeness

More awesomeness from the internets!!!!!

1) Actual Cannibal Shia LaBeouf

This song and video are so hilarious. I'm personally not a fan of Shia or his movies, but this song makes him a million times more awesome to me. It's a short narrative about Shia attacking and eating people. You are the protagonist as you try to escape him but have to do things like gnaw your leg off because it got stuck in a bear trap. I just about die laughing every time I hear the song, which you can download here.

2) Dr. Who Meets Metal

Listen to the Dr. Who theme played in a metal style by a guy who obviously loves playing music.

3) Reverse Parthenogenesis

This is a cute, morbid short film starring 2 Buffy alums, Amber Benson and Adam Busch, about the antichrist, evil, and relationships. I love seeing these two act again and the film is darkly funny and clever.

4) Juliet (Olde English Remix) by Emilie Autumn

I'm obviously on an Emilie Autumn kick right now. I love her dynamic voice and virtuosic violin playing. This song is about Juliet (of Romeo and) and this remix take out all of the electronic music in the original. It's stripped down and totally believable to the era and thoughts of Juliet. Her voice and the violin are both heard better and capture the feeling of the song better in this version. The mood is much more peaceful and contemplative. You can hear the original version here.

Do you guys have any awesome videos or other internet findings you would like to share?

Wednesday, May 9, 2012


Billy Ballard is bullied daily. He hates his life because of the bullies and because he has to take care of his grandfather who has Alzheimer's. His mother is constantly working and tired, so the responsibility often falls on him. Then, everything changes when Death tells Billy he must take up the white cloak and become Pestilence. He doesn't want to, but the Bow that unleashes disease follows him. He accidentally lashes out at his tormenters, spreading meningitis at his school. He is horrified that he would stoop to that level and basically become a bully as well. He begs Death for a way out. Pestilence is still alive, but comatose. He must awaken Pestilence to take up his job again or be doomed to do the job instead.

I really liked this novel. Billy is a normal teen who is tormented every single day. I'm sure everyone reading it has at least one memory of being bullied or are currently being bullied. It's frustrating to know that many kids are in the same position as him and many teachers stand by and let the bullying happen. His mother puts a lot of responsibility on him to take care of his grandfather who has Alzheimer's. He doesn't want to bring people to his house and he doesn't have much time to enjoy being a teen. The Alzheimer's makes his beloved grandfather into a stranger to him who can become belligerent or even violent. They can no longer share memories and his grandfather is essentially not the same person that Billy grew up with. The realistic portrayal of his life is the triumph of this book. I just wanted to give Billy a hug and tell him that his life won't be that way forever.

The other thing I really loved about this book was Pestilence. Billy goes into his consciousness to get him to wake up and do his job and views his memories and experiences. His history is inspired by a mix of myth and folklore and I totally nerded out while reading. Both the King Midas tale and the story of Robin Hood were retold and mixed together in a dynamic and interesting way. It was unexpected and it made the story much more memorable and enjoyable.

Loss is a wonderful mix of harsh reality and myths and legends. I had no idea it was part of a series, which may shed more light on some of the minor characters. I would definitely read the rest of the series and eagerly await for more books from Jackie Morse Kessler.

My rating: 4/5 fishmuffins

Thursday, May 3, 2012


Callie is desperate. Her younger brother is sick and they have no money and no place to stay. The only people who survived the Spore Wars are people under 20 and over 60. Everyone else was wiped out. Her only hope is Prime Destinations, a place where teens (or Starters) can rent out their bodies to old people (or Enders) wanting to feel young again for lots of money. The practice is illegal, but many teens do it anyway because they have to endure police raids, dodge renegades, and starvation. The first two jobs she does go on without a hitch. During the third, she wakes up in the middle of it because her neurochip malfunctioned. Her renter has expensive cars and goes to parties and lives a life Callie has never seen before. It isn't all money and parties when she discovers her renter is trying to murder someone with her body. Will she be able to stop her renter before it is too late? Is Prime Destinations more nefarious than it seems?

Starters is a unique dystopia that I simply couldn't put down. The concept of someone being able to take over bodies and puppet them around is so disturbing and creepy by itself. The very idea makes my skin crawl. But it doesn't stop there. Bringing in a malicious person who bypasses the safeguards to try to commit murder and implicate the innocent person is even worse. Then placing this situation in a world where teens are essentially abandoned and have no means of survival unless they have a living grandparent is insane. I would have thought it would be too convoluted and weird, but Lissa Price handles it with ease. Her writing and world building really drew me in. The world is vividly painted, especially the contrast between the lives of the penniless, fugitive Starters and the ridiculously rich, decadent Enders. The only thing I would have liked to see is a more detailed history of the Spore Wars, but this may be in the next book.

The characters were also vividly portrayed. Callie is a tough, strong girl who would do anything to help her brother. Even after she finds out her Ender is planning to murder someone, she tries to prevent it at every turn and figure out what is really going on. I enjoyed seeing this world through her eyes. Her intelligence and ability to think on her feet made the novel enjoyable to read and kept me guessing what would happen next.  The villain, the Old Man, is frightening and mysterious. He isn't seen in the novel much, but he effects many more things than you would think. I can't wait to see what he will do in the next book.

Starters is an amazing dystopia that brings mystery, science fiction, and so many twists and turns. I really liked that there was an element of romance, but it didn't overpower the book like it does in so many other young adult novels. I couldn't stop reading this book and I can't wait until the next book comes out.

My rating: 4.5/5 fishmuffins

Tuesday, May 1, 2012


Werewolves are a part of reality caused by a disease known as lupine syndrome. The second a person is infected, they lose all rights and privileges as people and are sent to camps to keep them away from humans. Many werewolves hide undetected among humans, but transformations are sometimes unavoidable due to emotion and bloodlust. A murderous white werewolf is on the loose in Hemlock. It killed Mackenzie's best friend Amy and a few other girls along the way. The Trackers, an extremist anti-werewolf organization, come to Hemlock in an effort to catch the werewolf, but they also cause a lot of trouble for the citizens. They view themselves as above the law and pretty much do whatever they want without consequences. Mac decides to investigate the murder for herself since the Trackers are absorbed with harassing people and the police do nothing. She gets more than she bargained for when she uncovers secret after secret about Amy's boyfriend Jason, her best friend Kyle, and Amy herself.

I didn't really know what to expect when I started reading Hemlock. I'm usually not a fan of werewolf books because good characters are inevitably changed into insufferable jerks. This actually wasn't the case in Hemlock. The world is different than the usual fare. The public is aware that werewolves exist and they immediately lose all rights as people when their existence is known. The driving force behind the werewolf camps seems to be primarily fear. Fear of the unknown and fear of being attacked. Fear and the need for protection or security over freedom also allows the Trackers to take over and do whatever they want. This group is so frightening to me especially since the Hemlock world is basically our world with werewolves. A fanatical group taking over, pushing their own secret agenda, and running wild unchecked is one of my worst nightmares. The Trackers' actions become more and more violent and reprehensible as the book goes on.

The characters are also more than I expected. The back of the book describes a typical YA love triangle, but it's a little different than usual. It's not just a girl mooning over 2 guys and waiting 3 books to choose and the romance aspect never takes over the entire plot. I really like Mac and sympathized with her. Unlike many YA heroines, she was strong, fiercely loyal, and full of heart. The two young men in her love triangle are both awesome and annoying in their own opposite ways. So many surprising revelations come out about these characters and it makes the book exciting with all the twists and turns.

Hemlock was a very surprisingly good read. I loved the characters and crazy plot twists. I can't wait to read the next book!

My rating: 4.5/5 fishmuffins