Monday, May 30, 2016

Roses and Rot

Imogen and Marin are sisters who were once best friends. When Imogen left their abusive home years ago, they never kept in touch despite her reaching out. Now, they just recently began talking again and agreed to apply for Melete, a prestigious artist colony, in their specific area of expertise. Imogen is a writer while Marin is a dancer. Both are accepted and both are excited yet nervous to live together again. The past is ignored and they pick up where they left off. As their residency goes on, they are both chosen to possibly get an extension to stay and work on their craft, but it rapidly becomes clear that both of them can't get this coveted prize and the colony is not as benevolent and normal as they thought.

Imogen came from a violent home thanks to her abusive mother. Imogen was the sole target of the violence, but Marin shared the emotional abuse and manipulation their mother doled out on a daily basis. Imogen coped by leaving for boarding school after a horrific event that left her scarred for life. It's nice to see the view of people with abusive family members who aren't eager to visit them on holidays or happy to receive letters or gifts from them. As shown in the story, these gifts and other forms of communication are often laced with emotional bombs that aim to hurt and sabotage. I can see Imogen's point of view and I understand her motivations even as they're being misinterpreted by others.

Melete appears to be a beautiful, eclectic haven for artists with a large dose of whimsy. At first, everything is idyllic and inviting for new art. After a while, the pressure starts to get to people because they are supposed to be doing something brilliant while they are there. Imogen starts to see things that get more and more difficult to explain away. Melete is closely tied to another world that infuses it with magic that at first is wonderful, but then shows its dark side. The novel is entrenched in fairy tales and the writing shows the positive and negative aspects. Some forget with the popularity of Disney films that fairy tales punish harshly as often as they dole out rewards. Magic beings are the same. They can bestow luck and seem benevolent, but they are inhuman at their core. Howard does a wonderful job of portraying both the beautiful and sinister parts of her fantasy world.

The one thing I found lacking was Marin. She is more removed because the novel is primarily through Imogen's eyes. Her choices and actions just confused me. She always seemed to assume the worst when it came to Marin and even cut her deeply with lines right out of their abusive mother's mouth. Her insecurity causes her to be quite cruel to Imogen to an almost cartoonish degree. I wish her character would have been more nuanced because I just wanted her gone by the end and found her undeserving of all of Imogen's efforts to save her. Other than that, Roses and Rot was a darkly magical read. I will definitely be looking forward to more from Kat Howard.

My rating: 4/5 fishmuffins

Saturday, May 28, 2016


I've started writing on a different site called Frightday, which focuses on the more artistic and indie side of horror. I started with writing blurbs on trailers and now I'm reviewing some films and weekly reviews of the shows Penny Dreadful and Preacher. They like to have reviews with 666 characters or words, so I'm enjoying the challenge of condensing my thoughts and feelings to such a short format. Here's what I've reviewed so far:

review of Sacrifice

review of The Curse of Sleeping Beauty

Penny Dreadful episode 1: The Day Tennyson Died 

Penny Dreadful episode 2: Predators Far and Near

Penny Dreadful episode 3: Good and Evil Braided Be 

Penny Dreadful episode 4: Blades of Grass

The entire site is well written and interesting, so I encourage you to check out other reviews as well and especially their podcast that covers half conspiracies and half horror films. Of course I will keep writing on here. My goal for this summer is at least one post every couple of days in addition to my Frightday stuff. Wish me luck!

Julia Vanishes

Julia vanishes sometimes. She isn't invisible, but she hides just outside of people's perception and can remain there for hours. It's especially useful when doing her job, which is various types of small crime and cons. Her current job is to infiltrate the house of a wealthy woman named Mrs. Och, snoop around, and report anything of note for a large amount of money. Unfortunately this involves pretending to be a maid and actually doing the job and having the demeanor of one as well. Not glamorous. When Julia starts to uncover weird things like a man locked in the basement and a woman clearly in hiding, her employer reveals themselves to be more nefarious than she thought. Julia doubts her whole mode of being, usually doing anything for the job. How far is too far?

Julia Vanishes has a lot going for it. The world is interesting with fantasy mixed with some dystopia in addition to Victorian sensibilities. Witches are real and feared. Their spells are cast through writing. Their main weakness is water and are unaffected by fire, which is an interesting twist from our own history with witches. The current regime wants complete annihilation of witches because of their capacity for violence and the propaganda spread that they don't have souls. Execution by drowning takes place every month like clockwork. Julia has seen every single one in memory of her mother who was executed years ago.

Julia seems like a hard character, long living a life of small crime, but she discovers vulnerable spots as the book goes on. She's in love with a cad who doesn't take their relationship as seriously as she does. She finds her facade cracking the stakes are revealed for a current job that she can't bring herself to do without significant duress. When she makes mistakes, she goes above and beyond to correct them. Her entire world view changes by the end of the book. She sees that so many things are worth more than some money and to value the relationships she has. I grew to like her over time. I especially enjoyed that a character who worked for her employer revealed herself to be a possibility for Julia. This woman was hard and willing to do whatever it takes for the job including murdering innocents. Julia chooses to do the opposite when she sees where she was headed. Julia proved to be stubborn and strong with a good heart in the end.

Julia Vanishes is the first book in a trilogy that proves to be promising. I liked the fantastical mixed with the Victorian. I hope Egan goes into more detail how the society ended up like it is. I enjoyed many of the relationships in it, both romantic and platonic. I look forward to the next book.

My rating: 4/5 fishmuffins

Saturday, May 14, 2016

And I Darken

The year is 1435. In Transylvania, Lada and Radu are the children of fierce Vlad Draculesti. Both are in awe and fear of him as children, struggling to find their place in court as their predispositions make them undesirable for their respective roles. They discover their father is not so fearsome and more concerned about the illusion of power than his own children when they are sent to the Ottoman courts to keep Vlad under control. Lada barely contains her rage and figures out how to live there without accepting it as her home. Radu, on the other hand, finds his home and his faith with the Ottomans. They befriend Mehmed, the third in line to the throne and enjoy even greater freedom than before. Everything changes when his brothers mysteriously die and leave Mehmed the throne as a child still. What follows is a story filled with love, betrayal, power, and intrigue.

If someone had told me about a book about 15th century Eastern European and Western Asian war and politics, I would probably not even hear the whole synopsis because I would have fallen asleep in the middle of it. I was never a huge history buff unless there's something specific that intrigues me. Kiersten White has taken a wholly uninteresting subject and made it exciting and addictive to read. I picked it up because I thought it would be about Vlad the Impaler, which it is, but his gender has been changed so instead of Vlad, she is Lada. I wasn't familiar with his historical story, so I'm even more excited about the rest of the story knowing more about how everything turns out. I'm especially interested in see how true Kiersten White will be to history.

Lada and Radu couldn't be more different. Lada is a spitfire, striving to be the strongest and smartest. She's prickly, rude, unladylike, and uninterested in what others think of her. At the time, women were to be obedient and waiting to be sold to whatever husband would be politically convenient at the time. Lada wants the power of men of the time, able to command armies and conquer her home back. Her character development is complex as she goes from an angry, disobedient child to a powerful woman willing to challenge convention to get what she wants. Over time, she learns that brute strength won't always get the desired results and adjusts accordingly. The whole novel is Lada finding herself, finding out what she would be willing to do for power, and what she would be willing to do for love. I especially enjoyed seeing her usually callous actions and then getting insight to the not always callous reasons and thoughts behind them. Love catches her off guard and it's one of the only things that makes her unsure of herself. It makes her act in uncharacteristic ways like accepting less than she wants or deserves, but it's also the most pleasurable and happy part of her life. She has to decide which one she values more: her love or her drive to free and return to her homeland, Wallachia.

Radu is the opposite of Lada in almost every way. While she seems to hate everyone, Radu wears his heart on his sleeve. As a child, he was bullied for not being as a boy should be at his age. He was too soft and emotional, but most people outside of his bullies liked him. As an adult, he uses his social grace to his advantage and shows a different type of political power. The description of the book compares it to Games of Thrones, which usually makes me roll my eyes, but this one shows all the inner workings of politics and how the person with the crown doesn't always hold the majority of the power. Radu's view of Lada is much different than the readers' because he doesn't see her inner workings (nor she want to share them). He finds his faith in Islam and also finds his love in a socially inappropriate person that pits his love against everything he has, including his devout faith. I appreciated the way different faiths were handled in the novel with Lada having nothing but scorn for Radu's religion and Radu endures in peace. Kiersten White even capitalizes "god" only in people's speech and thoughts that believe in that particular religion and not only the Christian god as other others tend to. It was a small touch, but an impressive and unbiased one.

And I Darken is an amazing novel that made a time period that was wholly uninteresting to me action packed and addicting to read. I didn't want to put it down, but things like sleeping and work got in the way. I am so excited for the next book, I'm regretting reading it before it even came out. If you give it a chance, you won't be disappointed if you like political intrigue, power struggles, and drama.

My rating: 5/5 fishmuffins

Monday, May 2, 2016

Beware That Girl

Kate O'Brien is always the scholarship kid with no money, figuring out how to survive socially in each school in addition to how to feed, clothe, and house herself. Waverly School is no different from all the other ones except that it's not a boarding school, so Kate has to work slavishly in Chinatown and bus to the school. Olivia is a rich girl with a mysterious past trying to make up for the year she spent in a mental institution. The two girls become fast friends and all seems well until charismatic Mark Redkin arrives on the scene. The whole school is crazy about him and he seems to do a lot of good for the school, but Kate knows something is wrong with him. Can she keep her best friend away from him before it's too late?

The first half of the book is pretty good. Kate has had a hard life with an abusive father, a dead mother, and providing for herself. She lies and manipulates to make herself the most appealing to administrators, teachers, and classmates for survival and to achieve her ultimate goal: Yale. Every interaction is thought out and designed to craft a desirable image. The teachers think she's a hard worker. Her classmates think she's mysterious and fashionable. The administrators find her marketable. It's interesting to see a more mercenary side to teenage girls. She isn't evil or sociopathic; she's just willing to manipulate, lie, and snoop around to get what she wants which is ultimately Yale but also a roof over head and food to eat. Olivia, on the other hand, seems a bit fragile and is obviously recovering from something big. Her character is a bit of a mystery and her personality is dulled by the medicine she takes.

The the second half happens and pretty much destroys most of what I liked about the book. Mark Redkin is completely charismatic and flirts with pretty much everyone female. Of course Olivia (and most of the school) is totally infatuated with him and no one except Kate suspects he may be less than benevolent. He has behavior similar to her abusive, sociopathic father, but Kate is simply trying to get through to Yale. Olivia shows her true colors, becoming erratic and cruel when Kate even suggests to be careful around him, even threatening to throw her out. The finale of the book goes into cartoonish territory that I simply didn't believe. At least the plot shows how crackpot ideas don't really work in real life. The end reveal is pretty offensive in its treatment of people with mental illness. It's left open for a sort of sequel, but I'm not really interested in reading it.

This book clearly should have been called "Beware that Creepy Dude who Preys on Young Girls," but then it wouldn't be marketed for fans of Gone Girl or other "Girl" titled successful thrillers. The story is interesting and not my usual fare, but the ending is completely unbelievable and brought me out of the story.

My rating: 2/5 fishmuffins