Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Road

The world as we know it has ended. Bustling metropolises are barren, decaying ghost towns. Ash covers everything, even blotting out the sun; plants, trees, and animals are all dead or dying. A nameless man and his son traverse the wasteland, looking for food, shelter, and trying to survive. Bands of cannibals also travel looking for hapless victims. This is only one of the many dangers facing the father and son, including other violent people, starvation, injury, infection, and freezing to death. Their bond stays strong throughout every obstacle they face, but where can they go? Will they survive?

The Road is a very bleak, post-apocalyptic story with no defined reason for the current climate. Nature is pretty much dead and every resource we have now is simply gone. The world is covered in ash so thick, it blocks out the sun. My imagination runs wild with what horrible global warming or greenhouse effect made this happen, but it is surely humanity's fault. The reason is irrelevant to the characters because they have to survive it. There's no hope of fixing it or avoiding it; they must simply endure. The father and son go through extreme ups and downs. They come very close to starving, freezing, or being attacked by cannibals, but they also find a huge cache of canned foods and play on the beach. The positives may not be as many as the negatives, but they hold on to those moments. These people aren't perfect and they do make mistakes, especially when extremely hungry or emotional. Overall, they make a lot of smart decisions and it's clear why they've survived so long. Even though the conversation is often stilted, it's clear that they love each other and the father would do absolutely anything for his son. They make an effort to do good in the world when they can and separate themselves from the opportunists, murderers, and cannibals.

Although I loved the story and the simple writing, I did have a few problems with the book. The conversations are so stilted and awkward. The boy's voice and the man's voice blend together and aren't distinct. The dialog often has no indication of who is talking or any sort of quotation mark, so making the two voices different would have made reading much easier. My other problem is the pacing of the last third of the book. Up until then, I couldn't put it down. Their adventures had me on the edge of my seat, but then the last third became unfocused and lost momentum. My interest waned and I just wanted to get through the rest.

The Road is an addicting and fast read. The simplistic but descriptive language is very effective and makes the reading tempo faster. I did enjoy the book, but I felt the film version was a bit better. The dialog is less stilted; the backstory of the family is explored more; and the problem with the pacing is fixed.

My rating: 3/5 fishmuffins

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Here and Now

Prenna James immigrated to New York at the age of twelve from the future. Present day New York is heaven to her: the air is breathable; nature is flourishing; humanity thrives. Her reality includes an epidemic transmitted by mosquito that has killed millions with no cure in sight. Prenna and those like her adhere to a strict set of rules to ensure that they don't influence their own past: never interfere with history; don't reveal yourself to a time native (someone from the present time); don't become intimate with a time native. These last couple of rules become particularly hard when she falls for Ethan Jarves, who saw her when she arrived in his time. Maybe the rules aren't really there for their protection, but to keep them complacent and allow their future to become as horrible as it is.

The Here and Now features a society within our own of people from a horrific future. I found this to be the most interesting part of the book. The society is very insular because of the strict list of rules. Every aspect of their lives are investigated and studied for signs of insubordination or defiance by the authorities. Although they are encouraged to blend in in their daily lives, it's hard when you aren't allowed to get close to any of the time natives. The characters in the book are very flat. The authorities are only evil with no redeeming qualities. I find this to be lazy writing because there's no way for them to be relatable in any way when they are just evil. The main characters are slightly less flat, but only barely. These characters were at least likeable, but there was no nuance or layer to them and their romance was the product of instalove.

The biggest problem I had was with the time travelling. Two futures exist in the novel. One character remembers the idyllic future while the rest of the time travelers remember the horrific future. How does this make any sense? There are newspapers that describe the horrific future, which the main couple uses to see if changed events follow them. How would the papers even exist  describing a different time line if they had changed the future? There is no attempt at explaining how they time travel. The logic employed here is dizzying and illogical. I had to consciously suspend disbelief in order to get through the book.

The Here and Now unfortunately did not live up to my expectations. I know Ann Brashares can be a good writer, but it seems as if she thought it was necessary to dumb down plots and characters for a teen audience. The product is a mess and far inferior than her previous work. I am not interested in continuing the series.

My rating: 2/5 fishmuffins

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Expiration Date

Tania Deeley has always thought she was one of the only human children at her school. The vast majority of the students are human'like androids called teknoids created by Oxted Corporation to appease a world largely unable to produce children. Tania begins to suspect her friend of being teknoids until she has an accident in London where her foot is ripped off, revealing not blood and bone, but metal. Her entire world is thrown into chaos as she is mercilessly teased for her teknoid status and tries to come to terms with it. She also knows she can only exist until she's eighteen and then she must return to Oxted for recycling. Determined to make the rest of her life count, she throws herself into creating poetry and music. Can she avoid the mandatory recycling?

Expiration Day shows a world on the verge of extinction. People just can't have children and no one knows why. All of their resources go towards figuring out and fixing this problem. Women who are fertile are the most protected class with the least freedom. They are impregnated over and over with no choice as to who does it and all their children are given away. To appease infertile parents, they adopt teknoids for eighteen years and then give them back. However, losing an android child has huge repercussions for the parents including suicide, divorce, and murder. Needless to say it's not a great fix, but does succeed in the family have an eighteen year normal existence pretending their child is human. The book is told in diary form from age 11 to age 18. It takes place in futuristic England and the government has become oppressive, banning the search of basic information and films featuring androids, like Blade Runner and Pinnochio. I wish more of this was explored.

I had a lot of problems with the novel. It's the most selfish thing to raise a child and tell them they're human only to basically throw them away to die at 18 so the adults can play at being a parent. The concept frankly disgusts me because these androids are people and are being treated as dolls to be thrown away. Even though the majority of children are teknoids, it was a huge taboo to mention it. When it came out about Tania, she was subject to bullying even though the bullies were also teknoids. I just found it completely illogical to be punished for acknowledging the truth. The narrative also had a few plot holes and kept didn't really change over the course of 7 years. The writing is uneven and is fully realized and nuanced in one place and one dimensional in others.

Expiration Day was an ok read. The concept was interesting, but had a lot of problems in practice. I liked the twist ending and enjoyed most of the book, but some parts infuriated me to no end.

My rating: 2/5 fishmuffins

Monday, April 14, 2014

Hannibal: Music

My love for the Hannibal TV show can't be contained in only one post. I love the use of music in the show and inspired by the show.

1) the official soundtrack

The official soundtrack supports and enhances the show well. In the first season, it's more ambient and blends in. It mixes conventional instruments with digital manipulation and sounds. In the second season, the soundtrack is much more obtrusive, using loud unpitched percussion. Although it can be a little overwhelming, I think it reflects the mood of the show well. I'm sad there's no official soundtrack on sale.

2) the classical music

You can't have a show with Hannibal Lecter and not feature classical music in just about every episode. This helpful Tumblr compiled all the music featured on each episode complete with links to listen. Classical music accompanies banal scenes and horrific scenes alike and gives a sense of class and sophistication or enhances the disturbing scenes by pairing it with something beautiful. My personal favorite piece featured is Debussy's La cathedrale engloutie.

3) Fan made music

Lots of Fannibals have made music, but my very favorite compose is Halia Meguid, who was also a featured singer on the the sixth season of Doctor Who. Her song Ravenstag was featured by NBC and they created a wonderful lyric video with clips from the show. I wish they would just use this for the theme song at the beginning of the show because it captures Hannibal, Will Graham, and their relationship so well.

The other of her songs I love is called Daughter. It is from the point of view of Abigail Hobbs from the first season whose father killed and ate young girls who looked like her. I love how Halia takes plot points and then describes them poetically and less directly. I'm obsessed with this song from the style to her voice. I just wish the recording were a bit better.

Sunday, April 13, 2014


Hannibal is one of my very favorite TV shows on right now, next to RuPaul's Drag Race and Game of Thrones. Unfortunately, it's the only one of the shows I enjoy watching that is in danger of being cancelled. It's one of the most simultaneously beautiful and horrific shows I've ever scene. The attention to detail, cinematography, acting, and plot are at a level I didn't think possible for a network TV show.

Hannibal Lecter is an iconic movie villain, originating (in a visual medium) in the film The Silence of the Lambs where his intense presence and penchant for human flesh and manipulation made him stand out despite his time on screen only being 16 minutes. The show Hannibal explores the time when no one was aware he was a cannibal killer and he worked closely with the FBI, feeding them people without their knowledge and manipulating the investigations to his satisfaction. Mads Mikkelsen plays Hannibal and makes the character his own. Where Anthony Hopkins is overtly creepy and aggressively makes people uncomfortable, Mikkelsen is very reserved, stoic, and calculating with an undercurrent of malice. The manipulative aspect is definitely present, just much more subtle to suit his current needs. He can change that peaceful exterior in a second and savagely attack his victims. The cultured side of him that enjoys classical music, cooking gourmet meals, and creating art is explored more since it's hard to do so in a jail cell. His modus operandi is to kill people who are rude or those to close to figuring out his true nature. His kills are very artistic and are often ironic. For example, a man guilty of paving over an endangered owls habitat is infused in a tree with his organs replaced by poisonous flowers with a nest on his head. A truly free Hannibal is something we've never seen before and it's been a wonderful way to further explore the character.

The other characters have been changed and portrayed differently than expected based on the books and movies. Will Graham is much more messed up than previously portrayed. He has the ability to empathize with serial killers and see from their mindset when he analyzes crime scenes. This involves visualizing himself committing the murders to understand the killers. Unfortunately, he's not a sociopath and his mental and emotional health suffers because of it, but he finds it worth it to save lives. Freddy Lounds is cast as a woman and it transforms the character. She is still the obtrusive, rude, and unapologetic tabloid reporter, but her drive to not let anything get in her way and her sly intelligence makes her slightly endearing. I love to hate her because of her horrible smugness and how she has to be loudest in the room. Frederick Chilton has the most shocking change in the show. In the first season and the movies, he is horrible: often wrong about things, but unable to see beyond his gigantic ego to see or admit it and primarily out to make himself look good. In the second season, he transforms into a snarky and sassy person. He figures out Hannibal's secret and makes the most hilarious one liners and observations. He's also been accused of Hannibal's crimes and he may be annoying, but he doesn't deserve to rot in jail or be executed for something he didn't even do. Even though his ego is still huge, they've made Chilton someone I don't want to die. Other characters are changed: Jack Crawford is played by Laurence Fishburne and Alan Bloom is now Alana Bloom. The show nonchalantly racebends and genderbends the cast to create a much more diverse array of people without stereotypically portraying them or marginalizing them.

I love watching the show, knowing how it's supposed to end up (if the writers choose to follow the books or films) and wondering how it's supposed to get there. I have no idea how Hannibal will be caught because he seems to weasel and manipulate everything perfectly. Every episode has twists and turns that are quite shocking. Some suspension of disbelief has to be employed, but the show is so well written, acted, and put together that it's quite easy to believe that you can't walk two feet without running into a serial killer or that Hannibal has infinite amounts of time to murder people, make elaborate tableaux with their bodies, cook, hold dinner parties, work with the FBI, write music for the harpsichord, and still have time to do his real job as a psychiatrist. This is really the only complaint I have about the show and it doesn't even bother me.

Hannibal is a wonderful show with dynamic characters, beautiful yet disturbing visuals, and twisty plot. I highly recommend this show and I would really love it if it escaped the Bryan Fuller 2 season curse. If it sounds even remotely interesting, please give it a watch on Hulu or Amazon, or

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Pick Your Thon Results

I didn't meet my challenge goals. :( I was one off from both, but I still made progress!

Here's what I read and reviewed:

1) Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
2) Dear Killer by Katherine Ewell
3) Cows by Matthew Stokoe
4) Save Yourself by Kelly Braffet
5) Nerve by Jeanne Ryan

1) Innocents by Cathy Coote
2) Expiration Date by William Campbell Powell
3) Looking for Alaska by John Green

I still have a massive list of books to read and review, but it was nice to get a few things done. There's another one in early August if you still want to get in on the fun!

Saturday, April 5, 2014


Vee is usually happy to hide behind the scenes. She literally works there during stage productions for her high school while her best friend and crush perform center stage. On the spur of the moment, she decides to try out for NERVE, a game dares broadcasted online, by humiliating herself at a local coffee shop. Because of an unforeseen reveal, she finds herself in the next round with a prize being dangled in front of her. After discovering her crush likes her best friend, Vee decides to be someone she's not and go through with the game. The Watchers, viewers who can watch either in person or on the internet, love her and she becomes and internet sensation. As the dares get riskier and the stakes higher, the game becomes dangerous, even life threatening. Can Vee beat NERVE with her family and friends intact?

Nerve isn't really what I expected, but it wasn't horrible. The concept is interesting. Teens perform a series of dares that increase in difficulty for money and prizes specifically tailored to what they want. Over time, it becomes clear that the NERVE company knows about every dirty secret they have to manipulate and motivate them. The book has a good commentary on consumerism and entertainment. How far would you go to get what you want? These people do some embarrassing things and hurt the people they love in order to get some prizes, money, and fame. They justified it to themselves in order to gloss over how bad things really were. People can get caught up in consumerism and forget about what really matters. Nerve explores how entertainment can mean people getting hurt and their privacy being violated. The contestants on the show have their deepest, darkest secrets laid bare for millions of people to watch. They only do those humiliating and hurtful things because there is a market and an audience to watch, This perspective might make somebody think twice before they watch a horrible and exploitative reality TV show.

I have a few problems with the book. When I saw the cover of Nerve and read the premise, I expected life threatening, dangerous situations for money and prizes like the film Would You Rather. It even says it's for fans of The Hunger Games, which it doesn't resemble in any way at all. It only turns deadly at the very end and not very impressively. The dares are a bit underwhelming. The lack of character development and the use of instalove is annoying. I didn't really connect to the characters at all. Vee's best friend also struck me as pretty horrible, humiliating her friend in front of millions for 15 seconds of fame. At the very end, my suspension of disbelief hit its wall and the story went into the realm of ridiculous.

Overall, Nerve is a plot driven novel that explores relevant issues on entertainment and consumerism. The writing did suck me in and I read the book almost in one sitting because I was curious about where it was going to go.

My rating: 3/5 fishmuffins

Friday, April 4, 2014

Save Yourself

Patrick and Mike Cusimano live in their father's shabby house with Mike's girlfriend Caro. Their father is in jail for killing a young boy while driving drunk. That night, he arrived home and they waited almost a day before the police were called. Needless to say, the community hates them so much they want the two sons to go to jail as well. Both men work dead end jobs and live day to day without really looking into future. Verna and Layla Elshere are outcast high school students raised by religious fundamentalists running their own church. Layla rebels by dressing goth and hanging out with vampire wannabes. Verna is constantly teased and after a while of trying to rise above it, she turns to Layla and her wannabe vampire cult. These four people are stuck on a collision course of devastating proportions unless they can find peace within their respective situations.

I loved Kelly Braffet's Josie and Jack, so I had to read her newest novel, Save Yourself. Her writing is compelling and makes mostly unlikeable characters interesting to read. Patrick isn't a horrible character. He's just satisfied to sit back and ignore the world. He doesn't think about tomorrow and just focuses on surviving each day as it comes. He falls in love with Caro after a one night stand and it's just about all he can think about until Layla kind of starts stalking him. Even though he knows its wrong, he tries to use Layla to alleviate some of his pain from his father's crime, his unrequited love, and his generally shitty life. Patrick has a good heart and has the strength to do what's right eventually. He's the one who notified the police when his father came home with bloody and baby teeth on his car. I truly loathe his brother Mike. He blames Patrick for their father's crime because they could have just covered it up. He cares nothing about the child who died and acts horribly to everyone while drunk. The most infuriating thing is that he learned nothing from his father's mistake and continually drives drunk. It just blows my mind.

Layla is annoying and kind of creepy. She follows Patrick around even though he pushes her away in an effort to connect with someone and to piss of her parents. She uses the vampire wannabe crowd to feel important and like she belongs somewhere. The group is also an armor against those who relentless teased her in the past. They now fear her. Unfortunately, the group turns toxic when Justinian, the leader, decides he's a dictator. Verna has all of my sympathy. She tries to be the perfect Christian girl and gets horribly teased at school. I just wanted to give her a big hug. I hated reading what the other kids would do to her. She also went with the vampire wannabes for protection and acceptance. That group turned out to be even worse than the straight forward hateful kids. Verna's story affected me the most because she reminds me of me as a kid. I wouldn't really say anything to people bullying me and would ignore it or try to laugh it off, but, as Verna discovered, that only made them think I was a pushover and continued.

Save Yourself has well rendered characters that are tolerable even if most aren't likeable. All of their stories ring true and they really are just trying to find their own way in the world. The ending is crazy! I never saw it coming and it's pretty explosive. The problem with the novel is that it really drags in some places and kind of meanders around. The wonky pace made it difficult to stay interested at times and I had to power through those parts. Overall, I liked Save Yourself and would definitely read other books by Kelly Braffet.

My rating: 3/5 fishmuffins

Thursday, April 3, 2014


Steven is 25 years old and miserable. He lives with his abusive mother who calls the Hagbeast. She is a disgusting, corpulent, abusive creature who paralyzed his dog (his only friend) and makes his every waking moment there as painful and horrible as possible. He just started working at a slaughterhouse and the job is his only escape from home. His dream is to have a wife, a child, and a normal home like he sees on TV. A woman moves in upstairs named Lucy who is obsessed with surgeries and finding poisons inside herself. Steven sees his future with Lucy and just needs to somehow get his mother out of the way, so he plans to kill her. What follows is disturbing, disgusting, and bizarre.

Cows is basically The Human Centipede of books, except that in addition to being completely disgusting and bizarre, it has an actual message. This book is one of the most disgusting and disturbing that I've ever read. Here is a list of things included: bestiality, vivisection, excrement eating, murder, necrophilia, rape, talking cows, infanticide, self surgery, abuse, and cannibalism, among others. I was so happy I didn't eat at all while reading because it made me lose any semblance of appetite I may have had. Despite all its grossness and bizarre situations, parts of the novel are quite funny. Cows is a pitch black satire with a hugely healthy dose of surrealism and the bizarre. Lucy and Steven are weirdly relatable even though they are not even remotely likable. Lucy knows something is wrong with her and can't find it no matter how hard she tries. Steven just wants conventional loved ones and place to call home. Stokoe makes me feel for them and relate to their situations through all of the craziness. Without this element, I don't think I could have finished the book. I read Cows in a couple days. It was kind of like a train wreck that I couldn't bring myself to look away.

I am relieved that this book exists more than just to gross people out. Steven is obsessed with the media's version of a nuclear family. He longs to have a loving mother, a doting wife, beautiful children, a big house, and a successful job. He tries to force people into the roles he dreams of or obliterates them when they don't fit. As he works to build this reality based on illusion, he forgets that Lucy is insane and doesn't really want to have children. After opting to ignore the brewing trouble and completely ignore Lucy and her needs, their relationship implodes in gore. That ideal life portrayed in the media is unattainable for many. Steven learns the hard way that people aren't characters for him to populate his fantasy. He also spent much of his life being dominated and abused by his mother. Instead of overcoming her abuse, he internalized it and became an oppressor on a much wider scale than his mother. He essentially became her and went well beyond her scope of abuse despite viscerally hating her. Because of these issues, and many more, Cows does more than sicken.

Cows is a bizarre novel that requires a strong constitution to read. Avoid it at all costs if you are in any way squeamish. Matthew Stokoe succeeds in creating a abhorrent and memorable story with something real beneath all the layers of various and sundry bodily fluids. The only problem I had with the book was the ending. It was kind of a let down and paled in the face of the rest of the book that was so extreme and in your face.

My rating: 3/5 fishmuffins

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Dear Killer

Kit is a teenage serial killer. People send her letters and money to kill random people in their lives for whatever petty reason they think of. She then judges if they are worth the risk and, if they are, carries out the murder flawlessly, leaving the letter at the scene. Of course she also goes to school like normal kids, but she makes an effort to skate through the middle, not attracting attention. Unfortunately, one of her letters targets a classmate of hers, making it hard to carry out without suspicion. In preparation, she befriends her future victim. Encouraged by her mother who trained her to become a serial killer, Kit also befriends the young man in charge of investigating her murders and genuinely likes him. Will Kit continue to murder indiscriminately or will her new friendships change her perspective?

I'm always a sucker for books about serial killers. Dear Killer seemed like it would actually be about a sociopathic killer. So often the killer claiming to be a sociopath cares deeply for their friends and/or family, making them not a sociopath. They tend to be hard to relate to and this makes them human even if it contradicts who they are supposed to be. Anyway, Kit is all about moral nihilism: nothing is right and nothing is wrong. She carries out the murders in the letters without judgment. It's just not enough for her and she starts to question the dogma that her mother instilled her with. I found Kit interesting for about the first half of the novel. I liked her growing up and figuring out the world for herself instead of internalizing someone else's beliefs. Despite the numerous problems I had with the novel, the writing kept me reading and made it easy to finish in about a day.

I have so many problems with the novel. Too many things push my suspension of disbelief beyond its limits. Kit started killing as young as 9 and never left a shred of evidence at any of her crime scenes. Seeing the huge mistakes she makes over the course of the novel makes that unbelievable to me and there is no way she is truly a perfect killer. She brilliantly kills not one, but two students from her school and was very near when their bodies were discovered. That's just way too coincidental and of course she would be under suspicion. Kits acting is awful and she thinks she's convincing everyone that she's super normal, but it comes off horribly. It also doesn't help when Kit very publicly attacked and threatened a boy not one week before she killed him. Also, the fact that she gets hundreds of letters and so many people know where to contact her, but the police don't. Are they just really incompetent? Also, the book takes place in England, but I don't get the feeling of being anywhere but the US. The language didn't reflect it and neither did the descriptions of the setting. Only the mentions of Scotland Yard reminded me where it was set.

Overall, I was disappointed with Dear Killer. I had to do way to many mental gymnastics to find the story remotely plausible. I grew tired of Kit and her weird reasoning for things and numerous mistakes throughout the novel. I would read another book by Katherine Ewell, but not another Perfect Killer novel if there is one.

My rating: 2/5 fishmuffins

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Gone Girl

Nick and Amy Dunne are supposed to be celebrating their five year anniversary. Amy always creates an elaborate scavenger hunt using places significant to them that ends with Nick's gift. This year, however, Amy has been abducted. Nick came home to signs of a struggle and an empty house. An investigation is launched and Nick quickly is labeled as the prime suspect, with no solid alibi for the time of the abduction and damning pieces of evidence coming out over the course of the investigation. The longer Amy is gone, the worse it looks for Nick as details of their less than idyllic marriage come to light. He rapidly goes from grieving husband to scumbag murderer in the eyes of the public. Nick has to either concretely prove his innocence or find Amy alive and well, both of which seem impossible, in order to salvage his reputation, his freedom, and his life.

Gone Girl is just a crazy, wild ride. It starts off innocuous enough. Amy is attacked and kidnapped in her home and Nick is trying to find out what happened to her. It alternates between Nick's narrative in the present day and Amy's diary, which dates back to when they first met. Then things get revealed throughout the story: the problems with their marriage, the fighting, Amy's unhappiness, and the cheating. All of these things coupled with Nick's inappropriate behavior, his blatant and numerous lies, and his general smugness leads the public and the police to believe he is responsible for Amy's disappearance. I thought I had everything totally figured out: Nick was a creepy psycho killer who murdered Amy, but didn't remember because of some mental disorder. I was completely sure and confident how it would end. Oh how wrong I was. At about the half way point, everything changes. It was like a slap in the face. Half of the information given in the first half is completely false and I had no idea where is it was going from there. The ending is also crazy twisty and infuriating. Even though it was unsatisfying, I liked it because I in no way predicted it at all. I see why so many people hate it, but surprise and a great story are pluses in my book.

Gillian Flynn has an insane mind. The story goes to places I never would have guessed and I tend to predict a lot of the books endings that I read. She also makes to pretty unlikable people sympathetic. Nick is a douchebag. He lies to the police multiple times, cheats on his wife, and is generally a smarmy, smug guy. He's kind of horrible, but he doesn't deserve to have his entire life ruined if he didn't commit the crime. Amy is a perfectionist and a type A personality. She's controlling, manipulative, and passive aggressive. However, parts of her story make her sympathetic. I can't really say much more without major spoilers. Anyway, her writing kept me reading through the night, desperate to know what happens.

Gone Girl is an interesting take on marriage and is the most unique and unpredictable novel I've read in a while. I personally can't wait for the film version coming out some time this year. I would highly recommend that you read it even though you will probably hate the ending with the fire of a thousand suns.

My rating: 5/5 fishmuffins