Friday, July 31, 2015

Survive the Night

Casey just got out of rehab, but she totally insists it wasn't a big deal. She doesn't have a problem. Really. To show her parents she's really changed her wild ways, she goes to a sleepover with some of her old squeaky clean friends. Unfortunately, her best friend and enabler Shana whisks her away for a night of adventure and debauchery. First, they, plus a couple of their other friends, go to a club where her ex Sam is playing with his band. All of them decide to go to this Survive the Night rave party in the sewers that has a secret, exclusive location. Then things start to go bad. Despite Casey's efforts to stay off drugs, Shana drugs her anyway and Casey stumbles about for a bit, hallucinating. She sees one of her friends disemboweled, but no one believes her because of the drugs. It turns out that there is something in the tunnels lurking, hungry, and everywhere.

Survive the Night is a straight forward teen horror novel. Our protagonist Casey doesn't want to admit she's addicted to drugs and wants to keep hanging out with the people who got her into the drugs in the first place. Never a good idea. I sympathized with her even though I thought she was a total moron at times. Her addiction stems from a sports injury that left her convalescing for an extended period of time. Shana and her risky antics make Casey feel alive again, so she doesn't recognize when things go from fun to scary as they both bargain with shady people, get into harder drugs, and do riskier things for an emotional or chemical high. Casey succumbs to peer pressure when she first tries to go the straight and narrow when she comes out of rehab, but Shana and her "friends" mock her until she goes with whatever they're doing. As the plot goes on, Casey goes through some changes. She first blames Shana for all her problems, but then accepts that she's the one who takes the drugs and goes with the risky behaviors. I liked Casey, but she's about the only tolerable character in the book.

The rest of the characters are either completely insufferable or glorified cardboard cutouts. Shana is the most horrible best friend ever. Not only does she get Casey into drugs and craziness, but she intentionally puts their lives in danger in a variety of ways: she likes to go to parties and ditch Casey with random creepy strangers; she drives dangerously for "fun"; she volunteers Casey for prostitution in order to get drugs; and finally, she makes Casey take drugs against her will by drugging her soda even though she clearly stated that she didn't want any drugs. All of this is just gross. Who would want a friend like that? I found her completely unlikeable and incredibly stupid and selfish. She had no redeeming qualities at all. The rest of the characters are unremarkable and interchangeable. I couldn't even keep them straight except for an object they carried or something like that.

Survive the Night reminds me a lot of the older horror teen novels like R.L. Stine's Fear Street series and books by Christopher Pike and Caroline B. Cooney. These authors got me into horror, but I don't really read them anymore because the characters and plots are not complex or interesting to me as an adult. This book is significantly more gory than these authors, but it just doesn't have the suspense or interesting cast of characters I enjoy reading. The villain of the piece doesn't come with any sort of explanation or backstory, which I would have liked. The throwback aspect is cool, but I've moved on. I hope it gets others into horror like books like this did for me.

My rating: 2.5/5 fishmuffins

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth

The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth is a delightfully creepy rogue like game that features religion, creepy cute creatures, and disturbing imagery. The original game came out a few years ago and I was obsessed with that, but it had its flaws. The game wasn't really complete and had some bugs. Flash didn't do it any favors either. The art style, while cute, is simplistic and leaves something to b e desired. This new version made by Edmund McMillen and Nicalis and is superior in almost every way possible.

The new and old version share a story and the basic components that make the game addictive and fun. The story features a cute little boy named Isaac whose mother is very religious. God speaks to her multiple times to save her son from the evils of the world that have corrupted him. God finally asks her to kill him because he can no longer be saved and she attacks him with a knife. He escapes into the basement where our adventure begins. Isaac attacks creatures (who all look vaguely like him) with his tears. The villains and monsters are all disturbing and/or biblical in nature. As Isaac (or one of his other identities), you battle through pairs of levels starting with the Basement then working through the Caves, Depths (where you fight off Mom's hands and feet), to the Womb where you fight Mom's Heart and then It Lives, a fetus. After that, you choose to essentially go to heaven (the Cathedral) where you fight yourself or Hell (Sheol) where you fight the Devil. In the old version, Sheol leads nowhere and the Cathedral leads to the Chest where you fight your dead self. In Rebirth, Sheol leads the Dark Room where you fight the Lamb and the Chest is the same.

The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth looks and feels different, but the spirit of the game is the same. The art style is similar to the pixellated, retro style of the original Legend of Zelda games Isaac is based on. Even the backgrounds are much more detailed and dynamic. More playable characters are available including Lazarus, Azazel, Eden, and the Lost. Eden is the most awesome because you start with random stats, random health, and two random items. The Lost is the most horrible and rage inducing because it takes one hit to kill him. Plus if you want 100%, you have to beat everything on hard mode including boss rush with him. Rebirth has tons more bosses, monsters, endings, items, and even two new heart types (evil and eternal). The items sometimes synergize in interesting ways (not always good) and vary game play. There is now a hard mode that increases the frequency of challenge creatures and bosses and decreases the number of items dropped. The monsters actually move a little slower in Rebirth compared to the first game, making dodging a little easier, but the addition of the Lost more than makes up for it. New challenges are added to the mix. Some of them are crazy hard like Suicide King where you're own explosive tears try to kill you. Other challenges are just really fun to do like Darkness Falls where you start with the power of evil!

Rebirth isn't without flaws. Dr. Fetus has been made horrible and there's a weird glitchiness with explosions and projectiles near the lower wall of a room. Angel rooms kind of suck and give no incentive to pass up the way more awesome Devil deals. The map in the upper corner can cover things on the screen, which is a bit annoying. Other than those small things, I don't have any problems with The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth. I've played well over 500 hours. I beat the game once with my boyfriend and now I'm completing another save file all by myself. I plan to complete the third save file if Afterbirth doesn't come out soon. Afterbirth is the game expansion for rebirth that will have even more items, bosses, monsters, room variants, and characters. No release date has been posted yet, but Edmund McMillen posts small updates every Monday about the new expansion here.

My rating: 5/5 fishmuffins

Monday, July 27, 2015

Random Movie Mini-Reviews Part 2

1) The Lazarus Effect

Scientists are experimenting to find how to prolong a person's life when they are gravely ill in order to give life saving treatment. They end up using it to bring back one of their team who stupidly electrocuted herself and a way too powerful evil presence. Going in, I was expecting an actual science fiction movie, but it's really the most generic and shitty possession movie. I usually hate possession movies, but this one proves to be so bland and uninspired that I can't even muster the anything more than disappointment and sadness that I wasted my time. Every scare, every death, and every scene is predictable. The black guy dies first. Jump scare after jump scare that can be seen a mile away. The science is laughably bad. The character who dies literally goes to hell and then the science doesn't even matter. Religion is assumed to be real and all the pseudoscience goes out the window. Unfortunately, the acting is actually pretty good. Olivia Wilde is sweet and earnest as pre-death Zoe and pretty creepy as post-death/possessed Zoe. Donald Glover and Evan Peters are both funny and endearing in their roles. The source material just isn't enjoyable or good. Mark Duplass is painful as Zoe's fiance, but he's the anomaly. I felt sorry for these decent actors trapped by the formulaic writing. Just awful. Don't waste your time.

My rating: 4/10 fishmuffins

2) Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Another disappointing, completely unoriginal movie. These brilliant writers take the premise of Deep Blue Sea (sharks are being experimented on to treat Alzheimer's, get too smart, and then kill humans) and replace shark with ape. Deep Blue Sea is so bad it's good, but Rise of the Planet of the Apes is just bad. All the characters are flat as pancakes and the situations are laughably unrealistic. Scientists just steal super secret serums from labs. The serum becomes airborne later in the movie simply for convenience. The concept that unarmed apes against armed humans even have a ghost of a chance of winning is laughable. I just couldn't believe the leaps in logic and just horrible writing. John Lithgow is the only decent part of the film and I feel so sorry for him. Even the visual effects are a bit off, giving an unnatural tinge to the whole film. The movie relies heavily on them. I would recommend the Charlton Heston film over this sad disappointment of a film. Also, it's only watchable with Rifftrax.

My rating: 4/10 fishmuffins

3) Inside Out

Riley has a wonderful life playing hockey and having fun when her family has to move to San Francisco. Sadness and angst ensue with the emotions in her head being thrown into chaos when two of them get lost within her mind. Pixar makes decent movies, so it's no surprise that Inside Out is enjoyable. The overall concept of a microcosm inside a little girl's mind is cute and well done. Joy is insufferable in the beginning because she is the dominant emotion and is used to bossing everyone else around. When Sadness is set to take over after the move, it's Joy's selfish actions and inability to let Riley feel sadness that get her and Sadness lost. The voice acting is wonderful, particularly by Mindy Kaling as Disgust, Lewis Black as Anger, and Phylis Smith as Sadness. However, the film is pretty sad as a whole. Riley is becoming a more complex person and part of that is breaking down her past self to build a future one. Unfortunately, it includes completely forgetting her delightful childhood friend Bing Bong, who is then never mentioned in the film again. I wish she was reminded of him to keep in alive in her heart, but he was completely ignored after making a brave sacrifice to save Joy and Sadness. Other than that, the movie is pretty good if mostly sad. The best part was seeing the emotions in different characters and creatures. I would put this in the middle of the Pixar pack.

My rating: 7/10 fishmuffins

Monday, July 20, 2015

The Sin Eater's Daughter

* spoilers*

Twylla isn't like other seventeen year old girls; she's the embodiment of the daughter of her people's gods. She ingests poison at regular intervals mixed with her blood to prove her divinity and keep her powers that allow her to kill people with a touch. Her origins are much humbler than her present life. Her mother was a Sin Eater, one who eats a feast representative of the deceased's sins in order to purge them and allow the dead into the afterlife. Her whole childhood was taking care of her sister and learning to be the next Sin Eater. Now, Twylla lives a rich, but lonely life with the king and queen of Lormere. The queen is cruel, irrational, and volatile. She kills at a whim and manipulates those around her into silence. Because of her abilities, almost everyone fears Twylla and stays away from her. She's set to marry the prince who she barely knows and eventually rule her country as its queen. Then she meets Lief, her new personal guard. He treats her like a normal person and they quickly becomes close. Who will she choose? Will she abandon her destiny to have the life she really wants or will she attempt to save Loremere?

The first thing that drew me to this book was the gorgeous cover. The second was the cool premise. Twylla (I kind of hate this name) is the embodiment of the offspring of her gods, which is kind of complicated. The gods are the embodiment of day (Daeg) and night (Naegt), where the female night steals from the day out of jealousy. She commits the first sin and must be punished. Although it reflects many real life religions, the misogynistic myth bothered me, especially when the two main mother figures (and 2/3's of the main female characters) are one dimensionally awful and cruel. Anuway, Twylla has dedicated her life to the gods and, by extension, to the royal family who claim to be chosen by the gods. Underneath her piety and dedication, she's just a teenage girl. She wants normal things like friends, a real family, and a life she actually wants to lead. All of her life, her mother figures have told her what to do. Her biological mother chose her as the first born to take up the mantle as a Sin Eater. When presented with the opportunity, Twylla chose to abandon her family and become Daunen Embodied, but once there, the queen's whims command what she does: who to poison, who to marry, where to go, etc. It's only natural that Twylla falls for one of the first people to treat her like anyone else and see through all the craziness.

Much of the book was quite atheistic which is pretty rare to see in teen fiction. Lief points out how his country values science and logic over religious fairy tales. They are more technologically advanced and have made more advances in medicine than Loremere has dreamed of. Loremere's royal family uses religion to placate the masses and solidify her place as ruler. Things were going terribly when the queen's brother/husband died and she saw Twylla as a away to legitimize her place by citing the gods' will in Daunen Embodied. There's this whole weird thing with Loremere where the bloodline must be pure and siblings have married for years and years. It's convenient that the royal family has no physical defects after generations of inbreeding. This part seemed a little clunky and I felt it was only included to ride on the popularity of Game of Thrones with their incestuous Lannister family. Anyway, I appreciated that religion is used for a sinister end here and shows that the religious leaders aren't exempt from committing horrible acts. This is especially relevant today.

Overall, The Sin Eater's Daughter is an interesting book that takes on unique subject matter and explores different themes than usual in YA. I dislike the misogynistic elements of the book and I also hate that this interesting story boils down to a love triangle. It's such an overused trope at this point and it takes away from the novel. I would definitely read other books by Melinda Salisbury because the things I liked left an impression.

My rating: 3/5 fishmuffins

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Random Movie Mini-Reviews!

I've been watching a lot of movies lately, especially recent releases. Here goes!

1) San Andreas

The Rock abandons his post as a firefighter and goes on a quest to save his family. First of all, this is supremely horrible, What kind of firefighter just leaves his post when people obviously need him? Plus he committed a whole bunch of crimes on his "noble" quest to save his family. Typical disaster movie stuff happens that would never happen in real life: LA is destroyed, buildings collapse, and a giant tidal wave comes in. It cracks me up that when I went to Wondercon last year, the director bragged about having a seismologist on staff. Apparently they ignored every single thing they said because it wouldn't look cool in a movie. Someone almost dies. Tearjerky stuff happens. Impossible and improbable maneuvers actually work. Even the seismologists assistants are improbably attractive. It's a solid disaster movie that's about as badly written as all other disaster movies. It's entertaining if you don't think too much about it. The only thing that really bothered me was how they went out of their way to make the childless stepdad look like the hugest douche in the world.

My rating: 6/10 fishmuffins

2) Annabelle

Idyllic couple buys creepy doll then get attacked by creepy, suicidal cult member who dies. Then her creepy spirit possessed said creepy doll and terrorizes them. I really hated The Conjuring, but I thought maybe Annabelle would be better. It is slightly better, but considering how low of an opinion I have of the first film, that's not saying very much. Annabelle is mostly boring. It relies way too much on jump scares to fuel the suspense and it's not very effective. The only really cool part is completely ruined because the filmmakers weren't ballsy enough to actually have the woman's baby be harmed. Like The Conjuring, there is really no reason for this film to be rated R. Not a lot of violence, a little bit of blood, no adult language. At this point, I guess it's just a ploy for people to think this movie is scary when it really isn't. The creepiest thing is the appearance of the doll. I will not be subjecting myself to any more Conjuring films.

My rating: 3/5 fishmuffins

3) Jurassic World

It's just like Jurassic Park, but with an engineered dinosaur wreaking havoc. Jurassic World is an enjoyable action movie with lots of dinosaurs, exciting chases, and Chris Pratt. The visual effects are pretty good, but the original film used more practical effects that still looked a little better than the majority of the new dinosaurs. The film is funny, suspenseful, and just plain summer fun. The only annoying part is the treatment of Claire, the busy, childless park director. She runs around the whole film in high heels and is the poster girl for the uptight business woman trope. Considering how the female characters have been treated in the past, this is disappointing. Her assistant also experiences the most horrific death in the film for pretty much no reason. Other than that, I got to watch hunky Chris Pratt whisper to raptors and fight a cool, brand new dinosaur. The ending is a little too deus ex machina, but still enjoyable. Another fun film that doesn't require too much brain power.

My rating: 8/10 fishmuffins

Thursday, July 16, 2015


Fei lives in an isolated mountain-top village where everyone is deaf. Somewhere in their history, they simply lost that particular ability. Fei works in the most prestigious position: artist. These artists don't simply draw or paint what they want; they record the goings on of the day and display it for the village to read and see. Now, some of the villagers are also losing their sight, including Fei's sister Zhang. Along with her crush Li Wei, she decides to descend the mountain and confront the person who gives them every decreasing rations to survive. The journey will reveal secrets long kept and shatter their world.

I've enjoyed Richelle Mead's writing in the past, especially the Vampire Academy series, so I was excited to start Soundless. The world is interesting. It takes place in Ancient China and Fei's whole village is deaf. I liked the way their silent communication was written. There is no spoken dialog because even though Fei can hear, she can't understand spoken words. The best part of the novel for me was when Fei regained her hearing and began learning how to describe and get used to sounds.  I also liked the inclusion of the pixius, Chinese mythological creatures who are hybrid creatures and protectors. I also enjoyed the underlying message of the story.

Overall, I was let down by the book. Fei wasn't horrible, but didn't wow me. She proved to be a little too perfect and less relatable. She has a typical romance with a typically attractive guy to save her isolated, oblivious world. The plot was too by the numbers for YA fiction. It just felt too similar to other stories like I'd read it before. The village seemed a little too simplistic since they seemed to only three classes: artist, miner, and servant. A village needs more than those types to function. The ending was way too deus ex machina for me, even though it was very obvious from early on. Soundless is a fast read, but didn't leave any lasting impression on me.

My rating: 3/5 fishmuffins

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

GIVEAWAY: The Secrets of Love and Death

I went to the release party for E. Van Lowe's The Secrets of Love and Death and I picked up a hard copy of the book to give away! Just leave a comment with your email for a chance to win this marvelous book. One entry per person. The giveaway ends in one week on 7/21/2015.

Monday, July 13, 2015

The Secrets of Love and Death

Theo "Turtle" Dawson is going through a hard time. His brother A.D. died and his mother isn't taking it well. She copes by ignoring Turtle and keeping A.D.'s room obsessively clean. Turtle copes by eating sweets and meekly trying to avoid bullies at his school. Two events turn his whole world upside down. A girl named Rita Calderon saves him from a bully and his two giant brothers. Then his brother A.D. comes back from the dead. Rita gets him to wake up and live his life. He falls in love, lets go of the candy, and becomes more self assured. His brother, on the other hand, unsettles him. At first, it's wonderful to have his brother back. It's like nothing changed at all. Then he presses Turtle into stealing a drink from the market. Then the demands get more and more dangerous from there and Turtle loves his brother, but sees how wrong it is. Will he give in to his brother's demands despite the danger? Will his new found love suffer because of A.D.?

The Secrets of Love and Death is a complex book with a lot going on. Its greatest strength is in the characters. They all simply ring true. Each has their own different motivations and viewpoints, whether they are open-minded or bigoted, virtuous or morally bankrupt. All of them also have their own emotional baggage that they either work through or use as motivation to make others feel their pain. Turtle tries to be good, but finds himself being blinded by his grief and love for his brother to properly assess the situation until its too late. His home life makes me want to give him a hug because his mom is also so blinded by grief that she can't see her living son and his needs through it. Rita has to take care of her sometimes coherent grandmother who hoards cats to an unhealthy degree. She chose to hide it, but didn't take it out on others. Ansley Meade the bully has a not stellar home life, but he chooses to lose himself in alcohol and inflict his pain on others. A.D. was killed before his time and also uses his pain to hurt others. I loved that none of these kids have perfect lives and the main differences are how they deal with their pain. I saw myself and a lot of my friends reflected in these characters. The novel has a lot of fantastical elements, but the realism is what gives it life.

The novel starts out with normal, everyday events. Turtle and Rita are in love for the first time and all the messiness, anxiety, and happiness that comes from that. Turtle becomes more confident and self assured, but still experiences doubt and his previous, more cowardly feelings coming back when times get tough. Rita opens up about her real home life and fears being rejected. All are very real and relatable situations. As the book go on, more horror and supernatural elements occur. It starts with a short scene with a Teddy Bear and then it's forgotten for a little while. Near the end of that book that creepy teddy bear comes back with a vengeance, so it made up for the first half of the book not having enough horror for me. With a teen book, I didn't expect the story to go so dark with the main villain, but it's more realistic and I appreciated that. A.D. returning from the dead opens up a whole supernatural can of worms. Another spirit also attempts to communicate and a clairvoyant gets mixed up in the story.

Overall, The Secrets of Love and Death is an exciting supernatural book with universal human emotions at its core. Everyone processes grief and pain in different ways and not always in healthy ones. I'm a little sad this is a standalone because Rita and Turtle were so fun to read, but I'll settle for waiting for more books from E. Van Lowe.

My rating: 4.5/5 fishmuffins

Monday, July 6, 2015

Remember Mia

* spoilers *

Estelle Paradise wakes up in the hospital after a horrific car accident and some sort of attack with no memory of how she got there. She quickly discovers that her 7 month old daughter Mia has been missing for days. People across the country speculate that she murdered her child and label her convenient amnesia as a lie. The police doubt her story and put her on the top of the suspect list. Even her own husband accuses her of being at fault and essentially abandons her. She checks into a psychiatric care facility with a stellar memory recover therapist in order to find out what happened. What happened to her baby and what happened to her?

Remember Mia brings to life a parent's worst nightmare: a defenseless baby is missing and no one knows what happened. The narrative follows Estelle as she uncovers what happened. The story moves quickly and keeps momentum throughout. I had to know what happened. Estelle is a typical mother. Her baby developed colic a few months in and never recovered. Mia cries and screams all day long no matter what Estelle does. It has worn on her and she's become depressed with her efforts doing nothing and having no support. Estelle was so excited to have a baby, but the reality is much harder than she imagined. After calling every specialist and having them all tell her the same thing about Mia, her husband draws the line and puts her on antidepressants. She starts losing track of time, forgetting things, and making horrible decisions. In this situation, it's so easy to look in from the outside and call her a bad mom, but she probably has post-partum depression and has no support system at all since her parents died and she doesn't seem to have any friends. I liked Estelle and mostly felt sorry for her. Her mental state makes it hard to tell what is real and what is in her mind.

Although it's a very readable book, I had quite a few problems with the book. The work to recover Estelle's memory seems very easy and conveniently fast. The characters beyond Estelle are pretty one dimensional. Her husband is a self involved jerk who takes no responsibility for anything. I couldn't believe how horrible he was and it really called into question why she even married him in the first place. Even their very first meeting shows  his true colors. The villains of the piece literally detailed their entire plan for Estelle like Bond villains. They are flatly evil and call her a bad mother while turning around and admittedly selling children to abusive households or criminals. The book jacket touts itself as similar to Gone Girl, but it's a pretty basic, straight forward story. The twists are few and far between. After the villains are revealed, the plot just becomes uninteresting. I thought the ending was much too convenient and the actual outcome would have been quite tragic.

Overall, I like Remember Mia, but it's a beach read with not a lot of rereadability. It was an interesting adventure, but not terribly complex.

My rating: 3/5 fishmuffins