Thursday, June 28, 2012


Princess Merida of the Dunbroch clan hates tradition, despises it with every fiber of her being. She loves adventuring, riding her horse, and, above all, archery. Her mother always reprimands her for doing unladylike things, which cover just about everything she likes, and instructs her how to be proper and respectful. The lessons culminate when Merida is expected to marry the young man who wins the competition between the three clans in the kingdom. Refusing to conform to convention, Merida decides to compete for her own hand and wins. She and her mother fight, leaving both tearful, frustrated, and angry. Merida rides into the woods and is let to a witch's cottage by wisps. After buying all the witch's wooden wares, she gives Merida a spell to changer her mother which would in turn change her fate. The spell doesn't go as Merida wanted, so she and her mother go in search of the witch to change her mother back to the way she was.

I have been looking forward to Brave for a long time and it definitely didn't disappoint me. This is the first Pixar film to feature both a setting in the past and a female protagonist. Both the medieval Scottish setting and Merida serve the film well. The lush greens and wonderful Scottish landscapes are just perfect for this film. They really help in creating the mood of possibility, mystery, and magic. The visuals are breathtakingly beautiful and seem more realistic than many other recent computer animated films. Merida is a breath of fresh air after so many simpering, weak, boring female protagonists of recent years. Merida is as fiery and wild as her hair. She knows who she is and what she wants in life. Her intelligence and cleverness sometimes get her into trouble, but it's nice to see these qualities revered for once. Even though she rashly makes decisions without thinking them through and hurts some people in the process, I appreciated that this warrior princess erred on the side of impulse. Beneath it all, she truly loved and cared for her family, but didn't really know how to balance their needs with her own. Her endearing personality and the goodness at her core outweighed her carelessness and the ramifications of her impulsive actions on everyone around her.

I don't believe this is really a children's film. It's a film that really speaks to mothers and teenage daughters. The conflict between Merida and her mother Elinor that is in the center of this film has no clear side that is right. Merida wants what any teenage girl wants: freedom to be herself and pursue her dreams. An arranged marriage is the last thing she wants. Elinor, on the other hand, has more than herself and her daughter to think about. The fate of the kingdom is in her hands and she must think of the kingdom's safety and wellbeing as well as her family's. Both of these women have valid worries and concerns. If they had spoken to each other rationally, they may have resolved their problems before anyone got transformed, but they are both stubborn and felt they couldn't open up to each other. I think anyone can relate to not being able to communicate with their parents or their teenaged children. Although there is a witch that can be blamed on the surface for Merida and Elinor's predicament, the real villain of the piece is really Merida, her rash decisions, and her inability to take responsibility for them. The witch is an easy scapegoat for younger viewers who don't yet understand more complex themes, but she is only in the film for a very short time and isn't particularly malicious. Some of the humor in the film is fairly simple and childish I believe to entertain young children, but the bulk of the film is for a much older crowd.

One of the main shining stars of this film for me is the soundtrack. It is phenomenal and is rapidly becoming one of my favorites. I'm not too familiar with Patrick Doyle's body of work besides Thor, but after this I will seek out anything else he does. The soundtrack is incredibly varied and utilizes a variety of instruments from the Scottish culture, such as bagpipes, dulcimers, flutes, a fiddle, and a bodhran. Scottish reels and jigs create excitement and momentum, while a simple lullaby theme featuring quiet dulcimer and solemn fiddle create tenderness and sadness. My favorite is the lullaby theme from the song Noble Maiden Fair sung in Gaelic by Merida and Elinor. When that theme recurs throughout the film, it just pulls on my heart strings and makes me cry. I also loved that 3 featured songs came from the movie: Touch the Sky and Into the Open Air performed by Julie Fowlis, my new favorite Scottish singer, and Learn Me Right by Mumford and Sons. I love all these songs and have been listening to the whole soundtrack on loop since I saw it earlier this week. Another gorgeous song by Julie Fowlis was featured in the trailer for Brave, but wasn't on the soundtrack called Tha Mo Ghaol Air Aird A' Chuain. It's another gorgeous song with Julie Fowlis' pure tones and a simple strings accompaniment and one of two that are actually in Gaelic.

In addition to being incredibly entertaining, full of heart, and full of emotion, Brave is a good step forward in fairy tale films. First, it's an original tale with the basic trappings that put the audience at ease. However, the conclusion is much different than most princess stories. ** SPOILERS** At the end of the film, Merida and Elinor come to a compromise and it's agreed by all the the young people will choose their own spouses. Unlike many other fairy tales, there is no real love interest for Merida and she doesn't get married at the end. She is not defined as a character by any romantic relationship. It also lets the audience see an alternative to marriage or having a family as a life choice in general. I found that refreshing in a genre that almost always ends with a marriage and a happily ever after. I loved Brave and consider it one of my favorite Pixar films. It was entertaining to both children and adults and pushed the boundaries of what a fairy tale princess film can be.

My rating: 9/10 fishmuffins

Monday, June 25, 2012

Mailbox Goodies 3

Stuff from my mailbox!

1) Something Strange and Deadly by Susan Dennard

I requested this from Amazon Vine. I had never heard of it before, but it sounds amazing! It seems to be an Victorian era steampunk book with ZOMBIES. What's not to like? Look for this one reviewed in September zombies.

2) Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

This was also requested from Amazon Vine. I was completely drawn in by the main character being a gifted musician. Hopefully it will play a big part in the novel and I can music nerd out. Plus dragons in human form sound cool.

3) Serpent's Kiss by Melissa de la Cruz

This was a gift from my sister for spending 3+ hours at the emergency vet with her and her cat. I read the first book last and year and really enjoyed it. I'm curious about what is next for the Beauchamp women, so I can hopefully get to it soon.

What did you get in your mailbox?

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Kill You Twice

Archie Sheridan has been living a Gretchen Lowell free life while she is locked in a mental institution. For years after she tortured him, almost killed him, and then saved him, Archie's life has revolved around her and been basically ruined as a result. Now, he no longer pops Vicodin like they were candy and has begun to move on and heal emotionally away from her manipulation. He throws himself into solving a new case involving a serial killer who tortures the victims and leaves them in very public places, leaving no traces behind. With a string of victims with no real leads, Archie can no longer ignore Gretchen when she says she knows something about the current killings. Although he's treading carefully, she can be very manipulative and dangerous even drugged up and restrained in a mental institution. Can she actually help in the case or does she just aim to destroy Archie again? Will Archie find the killer before he/she kills again?

Ever since Heartsick, the first book in the series, I have found Gretchen Lowell to be one of the most magnetic and interesting antagonists in literature and one of the only fictional female serial killers. Each book uncovered a little more about her, mostly in the context of her relationship with Archie. The fourth book in the series, The Night Season, had only the barest mention of her character. I understood that Gretchen isn't the whole series and maybe Chelsea Cain wanted to move away from her and make Archie stand alone. I couldn't help but be a tiny bit disappointed. It is so nice to have Gretchen back in  a way we have never seen her. Kill You Twice delves into part of her origin story. Not her childhood or her biological family, but her inception as a serial killer in her teenage years, the start of the Beauty Killer. In the present, she has lost her infamous beauty and remains incapacitated by medication, which is pure torture for her as it takes away the some of her essential tools of manipulation. Seemingly desperate and less possessed of her mental faculties, Gretchen can still has that magnetic personality that both draws in and repels the reader. Like Archie, I have a love/hate relationship with Gretchen. I love her deeply twisted mind and her glee for what she does, but I also want her to be punished for what she has done. It allows me to understand her hold over Archie and his even more complex feelings about her. The conclusion leaves the story open to peel away more layers of the the mystery that is Gretchen.

The other characters are engaging and interesting in their own ways. Archie is much different than his Gretchen-obsessed self. He has completely cut her out of his life at this point and has started to form and maintain much more healthy relationships with people. Even when he eventually interacts with her, he holds his own much better, not allowing himself to be manipulated by her despite his conflicted feelings. Susan Ward of the ever changing hair is an awesome character as well with a spunky attitude and killer fashion sense. She pieces together some essential aspects of the case despite Archie's reluctance to involve her in another dangerous case. The new serial killer is brutal and interesting, bringing a religious dimension to the murders.

I absolutely love this entire series. I think this book is actually a teensy bit better than Heartsick, my previous favorite and the first book. I love all the characters and enjoy seeing them develop throughout each installment. I can't wait for the next book in the series and what the future holds of Gretchen and Archie.

My rating: 5/5 fishmuffins

** This book comes out August 7. Check it out or preorder it here! **

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Redshirts: A Novel with Three Codas

Andrew Dahl is an ensign in the Universal Union in the 25th century. He has just been assigned as a crew member aboard the Intrepid, a famous flagship of the UU. Obviously thrilled and excited to join the xenobiology laboratory, he is eager to join the ranks and put his knowledge to good use. It starts out well enough with him meeting some other newcomers and becoming friends until things get weird. Away missions are very common on this vessel, but so are deadly encounters with extraterrestrials, the deaths of low ranking officers, and the bizarre survival of the ship's captain, Lieutenant Kerensky, and the chief science officer despite any sort of injury or disease. The older crew members know this and tend to avoid the missions or throw the new crew members into it to save themselves. Why are the mortality rates for this ship so high? Will Andrew even live to figure out why?

John Scalzi is one my favorite science fiction writers ever. His Old Man's War series is made of awesome and if you haven't read it, you need to right now. I was dying to know what he would do with the poor, hapless and nameless characters that died practically each episode in Star Trek. I expected fun and silliness (of which there is plenty), but I was pleasantly surprised that Redshirts had so much more depth to it. It's kind of like a mixture Star Trek and Cabin in the Woods. This book is very meta and self aware. It plays with and pokes fun of the conventions of science fiction while managing to be innovative and new at the same time. I don't want to post spoilers, but the plot twist is awesome and very unexpected. It opens up a philosophical discussion of existence and the purpose of life alongside the perpetuation, condemnation, and examination of sci-fi tropes.

The characters made the book amazing for me. Unlike their Star Trek counterparts, they are fully fleshed out characters with diverse backgrounds, extensive training, interesting personalities, and hilarious comedic timing. I liked seeing their world through their perspective. Usually shows are focused on higher ranked characters, but, through Dahl and his friends' eyes, we view the ship from a much different point of view. The codas at the ends are my favorite part because they detail what the ramifications of the resolution of the story are and they pack an emotional punch. One of them even brought me to tears, which was totally unexpected from what I thought was a light summer read.

Redshirts is a half parody half homage to Star Trek that works on a variety of levels. It's one of my favorite reads this year. I highly recommend this funny, emotional, and thought provoking book to any fan of sci-fi.

My rating: 5/5 fishmuffins

Friday, June 22, 2012

Summer Chills Reading Challenge

I am joining the Summer Chills Reading Challenge over at Fiction State of Mind! I want to read a lot and review a lot this summer and this is the challenge to keep the momentum going for the next month. Here are just a few of the things I am going to be reading. I will add to the list as I go along.

1) Dearly, Beloved by Lia Habel
2) Fated by Alyson Noel
3) Team Human by Justine Larbalestier and Sarah Rees Brennan
4) Glitch by Heather Anastasiu
5) Amped by Daniel H. Wilson
6) Something Strange and Deadly by Susan Dennard
7) Seraphina by Rachel Hartman


1) Kill You Twice by Chelsea Cain

Thursday, June 21, 2012


Azalea is the oldest of twelve girls to the royal family of a modest kingdom and she holds a lot of responsibility. After the birth of her eleventh sister, her mother tragically dies, leaving her and her hoard of sisters with their distant and cold father. Now that they are in mourning, they must shun many of the activities they enjoyed when their mother was alive, including wearing colorful dresses, attending parties, and dancing. Azalea, after being victim to her father's constant disappointment and disapproval, stumbles upon a secret room in the castle that leads to a mysterious and beautiful silver forest. In this forest dwells a mysterious man called the Keeper who seems nice at first, giving the girls a place to dance, slippers to dance in, and people to dance with. As times goes on, he gets more sinister and creepy, forcing the girls to return night after night with threats. How will Azalea save her sisters from the Keeper and keep her father ignorant of their troubles?

This is a retelling of a The 12 Dancing Princesses that far surpasses the original. I just read it this past year in a fairy tales class and I just found it weird. The princesses seem like creepy, frivolous sociopaths who don't really care that people regularly die trying to figure out where they dance at night. This retelling takes those sociopathic girls and actually makes them relatively normal, if a little rambunctious and energetic. I immediately liked Azalea and her sisters, who all have been alphabetically named after some sort of plant (Azalea, Bramble, Clover, Delphinium, etc.). I thought 12 sisters would be too much to keep track of, but most of the girls had such defined, bold, and different personalities that they were hard to forget. The eldest 3 sisters are the main characters of the work, but the others still have significant roles. Azalea, Bramble, and Clover could not be more different. Azalea is the most like her mother, taking care of her sisters and shouldering a lot of responsibility, while Bramble is the most energetic and fun loving. Clover is the most reserved and quiet, but will stand up for what she believes in when it matters. All of the sisters loved and cared for each other even when everyone else basically abandoned them after their mother's death. I liked all of them except for Delphinium, who was endlessly annoying and pessimistic.

I enjoyed the role dancing and magic played in the novel. The close knit siblings weren't as frivolous as their fairy tale counterparts seemed to be. There was no defined reason for the dancing that had grave consequences in the original tale. In Entwined, the girls used dancing as a coping mechanism for their grief and to still feel close to their mother in some way. It also serves as a way for Azalea to teach her sisters about discipline, poise, and proper demeanor. The magic aspects of the world aren't immediately apparent, but kind of sneak up on you as you read. It starts small with an ill tempered magic tea set and ends with magical silver, enchanted passages, and an creepy villain with dark magic. I liked how the magic in the castle was really a relic of the past, enchanted by a past king, and people just didn't know how much magic was there or how to unenchant it. I enjoyed the understated and believable magic as well as the role dancing played for the sisters.

Entwined breathes new life into the flat characters and bizarre story of the 12 Dancing Princesses. I loved the romance, magic, emotions, characters, and relationships portrayed. I would definitely read anything else Heather Dixon writes in the future.

My rating: 4/5 fishmuffins

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Black Heart

Cassel Sharpe is trying to turn over a new leaf. He comes from a family of curse workers involved in organized crime; he was previously used as an assassin unbeknownst to him; and he's in love with a girl who has decided to involve herself further in the illicit dealings of the mob. Determined to stay on the straight and narrow, he forces himself to work with the Feds, even though it has been hammered into his brain that they are the enemy. When they ask him to do the only thing he promised himself he would ever repeat, he doesn't know what is right or wrong anymore. Pulled between the mob (who hold his mother hostage) and the feds, Cassel walks a tightrope between them, trying to appease both while not truly joining either. Now he has to sift out the truth amongst all the lies and hope that he can live with the choice he makes.

Cassel is back! He is one of my favorite protagonists in YA fiction. Using his cunning and intelligence, he deftly navigates working for the feds, helping the mob, and protecting his family and himself. He doesn't always make the right decisions and definitely isn't perfect, but he works with everything he has and tries to make the best of it with some humor and sarcasm to top it off. I sincerely wish that all YA heroes and heroines were imbued with a little bit of Cassel. Many of them would be a lot more interesting and less frustrating to read. Anyway, he is caught up in a number of plot lines that cause him to have run-ins with everyone from the feds to the school faculty. He has grown so much in the course of the series and truly seeks to do good in the world. His romance with Lila is as heartbreaking as ever as they are both torn apart by opposing factions and circumstances on top of all the other emotional baggage from their past.

Black Heart is a formidable book with skilled writing from Holly Black. However, I felt something was missing. Red Glove was so awesome and this book just came up a little short for me. The story line at his school felt like it didn't quite mesh with the rest of the novel. There was ample action and intrigue and I was satisfied with the ending. However, the world surrounding Cassel has gotten so big and interesting that I was left wondering what went on outside of his story and the ramifications of his actions on the world. I really hope Holly Black revisits the world either to continue Cassel's story (which I would love!) or simply create new characters.

I love the Curse Worker series, but the ending left me with mixed feelings and a little lost. I still enjoyed this book and would definitely highly recommend the entire series to fans of urban fantasy.

My rating: 4.5/5 fishmuffins

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Mailbox Goodies 2

Stuff from my mailbox!

1) Books from Amazon Vine

Team Human by Justine Larbalestier and Sarah Rees Brennan - Super excited for this collaboration! Both authors are amazing and I can't wait to read it!

Glitch by Heather Anatasiu - New and interesting dystopian sci-fi book that kind of reminds me of The Giver.

2) Requested from Del Rey

Dearly, Beloved by Lia Habel - I LOVED the first book in this steampunk zombie series and I am looking forward to more zombie awesomeness and a deeper look into that world. Look for my review during September Zombies.

3) Purchased at Mrs. Nelson's Toy and Book Shop

Of Poseidon by Anna Banks - I bought this at a book signing for the Fierce Reads tour. It was between this and Monument 14 by Emmy Laybourne, but Of Poseidon won out because I have a soft spot for fish and mermaids.

What did you get in your mailbox? Any thoughts about the books I got?

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Internet Awesomeness: Amanda Palmer Edition

I've been a huge fan of Amanda Palmer's quite a few years now in different musical configurations: as a solo performer, half of The Dresden Dolls, part of 8in8, and half of Evelyn and Evelyn. Her music is undeniably unique with her percussive piano playing and emotional way of singing. She has been the center of many a controversy, but is also recognized for her achievements. Very recently, she set up a Kickstarter to fund her new album, Theatre is Evil, recorded with The Grand Theft Orchestra that has garnered over 20,000 backers and over a million pledged dollars. It is officially the most funded music project on Kickstarter and I'm happy to be a part of it.

Here are some of the tracks from her new album that she has already leaked:

Do It with a Rockstar - It's a little more rock than she usually plays and clearly has some Bowie influences (which I love!). I like that when you look a little harder at the lyrics, it's about loneliness.

Trout Heart Replica - This is an older song that she has played live a lot over the past couples years. It's given new life with strings to fill out the sound and make the lyrics that much more poignant. The differences in texture and the relationship between the strings and piano throughout the song amazes me and makes the song even better than I remember it. (You can listen to the studio version here as it is not up on youtube yet.)

Want It Back - This is the one I will inevitably listen to over and over and over and sing it all day. It's super catchy and I already love it.  (You can listen to the studio version here as it is not up on youtube yet.)

The album will be out this September, so keep an eye out for it! It will be made of awesome!!!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Snow White and the Huntsman

This fairy tale film follows the basic plot points of the Grimm's Brothers' classic tale while preserving and even deepening the dark tone and fleshing out the flat, stock characters. These efforts vary in level of success, so I will start with the aspects I felt were successful.  The original tale is already pretty dark by itself with the evil queen wanting to cannibalize Snow White, but the film pushes the boundaries even more than I expected. The Evil Queen is the most evil and sadistic than I have ever seen in a fairy tale film. She gleefully sucks the youth and beauty out of random townspeople to fuel her magic and keep herself looking flawless. Her ability to kill with a touch and create construct soldiers make of glass and rock give a sense of real danger to the tale. It doesn't come as a surprise that a large group of women gather their daughters to live in a town far away and scar their faces to avoid the queen's attention and need to destroy beauty. For a PG-13 fairy tale film, I was very impressed that the dark tone of the Grimm tale was preserved and even made darker than their version of the tale.

Everything visual about the film was amazing. The setting and the special effects were phenomenal, especially the glass/metal constructs the queen makes. The CGI or makeup (I'm not sure which) that was used to age Charlize Theron's face was incredibly realistic. She went from young to old throughout the film in varying degrees in relation to how much magic she used and how many people she drained of youth and health. My favorite visual aspect was the costumes. Ravenna had about as many costume changes as Lady Gaga as she had different dress for almost every scene. The inclusion of bones was genius on her clothing as well as her metal claws and spiky crowns. There is no denying that this is a really pretty film.

I loved the Evil Queen, Ravenna. Instead of a mindlessly evil, two dimensional character, we got a deliciously evil queen with a tragic past and awesome magical powers. She vehemently hates men because in her experience they use and discard women when they are no longer useful or beautiful. This mentality creates her obsession to stay young and beautiful to keep her powers. Ravenna is by far the most interesting and magnetic character in the film. I can't help but feel some sympathy for her even as she eats raven organs and sucks the youth and health from people while sadistically looking into their eyes as she does it. I wish the whole film would have been about her her life from penniless orphan leading up to becoming the evil sorceress queen that conquers kingdom after kingdom. Charlize Theron did an excellent job capturing Ravenna's wide range of emotion and making her the most memorable character in this retelling.

The two things that really brought the film down for me were Kristen Stewart and the masses of unnecessary background characters. Kirsten Stewart's version of acting is grabbing her hair, sighing, hyperventilating, and leaving her mouth vacantly open for about 90% of the film. She has about 3 facial expressions and acts just as she does in Twilight and, from what I have seen, as she does in real life. Her character is only slightly better than Bella because the writing behind the film is better.The only nice thing I can say is that her natural hazel eye color looks much better than the brown contacts she had to wear in the Twilight films. In addition to a main character I cared literally nothing for, there were way too many minor characters. The Huntsman was fine and necessary, but Christ Hemsworth is a good actor and he was given very little to do. Snow's childhood friend Will was not needed at all. The love triangle had barely any actual romance and the two male characters could have been made into one. The dwarves were pretty useless as well, although generally enjoyable. They just seemed to eat up screen time while Snow meandered about until the final battle. The film needed a lot of streamlining both in the plot and in the characters.

Overall, I would say Snow White and the Huntsman is an enjoyable summer movie. It's definitely not perfect and could have used a lot of improvement, but it's a small step in the right direction for fairy tale films. If nothing else, go see if for Charlize Theron, the dark tone, and the beautiful visuals.

My rating: 7/10 fishmuffins