Monday, April 30, 2018

The Smoke Thieves by Sally Green

Four teenagers don't know it, but their paths will cross. Tash is a smoke thief, running from demons as bait and helping to trap and kill them for their intoxicating smoke. Catherine is a princess set to marry a prince she's never met and holds affections for her guard, Ambrose. Ambrose is loyal to a fault, reciprocates Catherine's feelings, and becomes the target of her cruel family so her match won't be ruined. Lastly, March is one of the last of the Abask people, obliterated in a war between two kingdoms, Brigant and Calidor. He serves Prince Thelonius of Calidor until he quits to make him pay for refusing to help his people in their time of need. They all find themselves in danger and face hard decisions that decide the fate of Brigant and Calidor.

The Smoke Thieves is a lengthy fantasy novel with a large cast of characters. Once the story gets going, I was drawn in, but it took a while to get there. The four main characters are all interesting and have different perspectives. Tasha is by far my favorite and I felt like she was shown the least. She's younger than the rest and has a fiery personality and love for gorgeous footwear. Her relationship with Gravell cracks me up. He's kind of a gruff, reluctant father to her while she can be a bit annoying when she doesn't get her way. March has the biggest journey throughout the book and starts out from an understandably hateful place. His whole world has been destroyed and people ooh and ahh at him like a circus animal. He's the only character that brings in the negative side of Calidor as a nation that stood by while the Abask people suffered because of their rivalry. Unfortunately, these two characters were not as focused on as the other two characters.

Some aspects of the book took away from the experience for me. Catherine has to marry someone she doesn't love and Ambrose is hunted for loving her. The drama between Catherine and Ambrose take up most of the book. I liked them and their romance, but there's only so many times I can read that they looked meaningfully at each other or thought about each other. Plus Catherine's plight as a very privileged woman pales in comparison to Tash or March. The misogyny of Brigant society was laid on thick and I felt for her, but other characters were much more interesting. Ambrose read as flatly good and rather uninteresting. I would have personally loved to see more depth in the relationship between March and Edyon. This style of story telling that splits the book into 5 different perspectives takes a long time for anything to come together. I also found some plot developments stretching my sense of disbelief.

The Smoke Thieves is an enjoyable novel that could have been more so in a more straight forward format. It took me quite a while to read and I grew impatient with the story. I would probably read the next book to see what happens. The ending is a mix of happy and frustrating that's perfect to set up for the second installment. If you like high fantasy and don't mind a lengthy book and a long list of characters, I would recommend this.

My rating: 3.5/5 fishmuffins

Friday, April 27, 2018

LIFEL1K3 by Jay Kristoff

In a post-apocalyptic wasteland, Eve is only trying to survive with her sickly grandpa. She only has a few credits left and fights malfunctioning robots in a mech for money, but a rigged game has her losing and exposing a power to disrupt electronics with her mind. Her power is considered deviant by the Brotherhood and they will stop at nothing to hunt her down. On top of this, a lifelike or android named Ezekiel approaches her calls her by a different name. Then her whole world falls apart around her. Along with Ezekiel, her best friend Lemon Fresh, and her voice of reason bot Cricket, Eve needs to remember her past and save her loved ones.

LIFEL1K3 is like Max: Fury Road, Pinnochio, and Blade Runner all smooshed together. The world is almost unrecognizable. California is its own island because of an earthquake. Corporations are fighting against each other in War 4.0. The Brotherhood rules all with a fantical iron fist. Abnorms and deviates came from proximity to radiation which can result in some pretty spectacular powers. There are all different types of artificial intelligence from lifelikes (now illegal) to logika to bots to blitzhunds, descending in complexity. People can be enhanced cybernetically like Eve is. She was shot in the head as a child, so her eye is robotic along with some of her skull. Technology enhances peoples lives and also irreparably destroys them.

The characters are all lovely people that I rooted for the entire time. Eve has a fauxhawk and a tough attitude with skills to back it up, only necessary living in this time. Her friendship with Lemon Fresh is super supportive, equal, and awesome. Cricket has a bit of a Napoleon complex, but he is the voice of reason throughout the novel. Ezekiel is a literal coin operated boy and developed a relationship with Eve. He's fiercely loyal and fights through anything. This band of misfits (plus a blitzhund) travel around getting into scrapes and fighting their way out of it one way or another. Their dialogue is hilarious to read. Though the story is pretty fantastical and science fiction, the book is at its core about finding where you fit in and choosing your family.

LIFEL1K3 is a crazy in your face science fiction adventure with family and friendship in the center of it all. I did have a few problems with it. Some of the action sequences didn't make sense to me in the way they were described. For instance, there are people shooting pretty close and a storm with literal glass in it, but the main characters get out without a scratch. What??? However, I really loved the ending. It's a bit of a gut punch but totally makes sense and makes me want the next book NOW.

My rating: 4/5 fishmuffins

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Aftermath by Kelley Armstrong

Skye Gilchrist and Jesse Mandal were best friends in freshman year of high school and on their way to becoming a couple. Then, a tragedy interrupts their lives in the form of a school shooting. Skye's brother Luka was caught with a gun and shot before he killed anyone. Jesse's brother Jamil was shot and killed. In the three years afterward, Skye moved from place to place, trying to unsuccessfully escape the blame and torment until she returned to her home and the school where the shooting happened. Once she's there, Jesse treats her terribly and someone is playing pranks on her that become more dangerous as they go on. Will their friendship ever be the same and who is tormenting Skye?

Aftermath is an obviously titled book about the aftermath of a school shooting. Skye and Jesse's lives are both very effected by this event. Skye is much more introverted and scared to interact with people. She hasn't been able to call anywhere home for very long because of the harassment. People assume she knew something or did something terrible because her brother was one of the shooters. Skye only has happy memories of Luka, his wonderful art, and his caring nature. Jesse, on the other hand, became a track star to fill his brother's shoes and give his parents some joy in their lives. His academics suffered even though he was great at them before and he takes steroids to stay good at the sport. His school attendance is extremely spotty, but overlooked because he's a successful athlete. He has nothing but awful memories of Jamil, his abuse, and his cruel nature.

Skye and Jesse reconnect after some rough interactions and misunderstandings and work together to find out who the harasser is. Their relationship is sweet. They acknowledge the changes in each other and move on from there. I felt the harassment plotline took away from the greater story. Dealing with the aftermath of this horrific event is enough and adding a mystery plot seems a little cheap. I also felt some characters could have been dealt with better. Jamil seems like a jerk, but his brother would still mourn him. Jesse seems very callous towards his brother and doesn't seem to care a lot for him. I felt it would be more realistic if Jesse was torn and mourned him, but was still affected by those bad memories and Jamil's awful behavior. The principal is an idiot and would never work in a school. He would be sued so fast it's ridiculous because he keeps denying the harassment and escalating incidences and blaming Skye for them. If he were more calculating or nuanced, he could have been a  more effective character.

Aftermath could have been a hard hitting book about school shootings, but it gets too caught up in unnecessary mystery and one dimensional characters. The relationship featured is sweet and built organically over time. Other than that, the only really good, nuanced thing is Skye's feelings toward her brother and trying to reconcile him with what he did. If you're going to write a book about a school shooting, which is very topical as it keeps happenning over and over, it should be about the shooting itself and the real aftermath, not some manufactured whodunit.

My rating: 2.5/5 fishmuffins

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Brightly Burning by Alexa Donne

Stella Ainsley works partly as a teacher, partly as an engineer keeping the rustbucket ship called the Stalwart she lives in functional despite its lack of pretty much everything. She's an orphan whose aunt abandoned her and her only way to some of the other richer, more fuctional ships is as a governess. Unexpected, a private ship called the Rochester hires her and she experiences riches she's never seen: a hige variety of food, no limits on water usage, a closet full of decent clothing, and even actual physical books. Stella can't believe her luck, but a couple things worry her. First, the captain Hugo Fairfax exhibits erratic behavior, nice to her one second in private and then rude in public plus his penchant for drink. Second, she hears laughter in the hallways and mysterious things happen like random fires being set. Is it safe for her to be on the vessel or should she return to Stalwart?

Brightly Burning is an inventive retelling of Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre set in space. 210 years ago, a super volcano erupted on Earth, causing an ice age that could last for centuries more. All nations sent up ships, but poorer, less resource rich ships are being phased out or just can't run anymore. Infodumping is necessary to set up the world, but this was done within a lesson to Stella's students. It felt much more organic and skillful to do this. Because of how life is pretty hard in space, people die much younger. 35 is considered to be old, especially on the Stalwart without many medical supplies, food, and water. The difference between rich and poor is astonomical without any hope for the poor to better their situation. Stella's situation is pretty dire, but she does her best to keep the Stalwart afloat, help her young charges, and juggle a couple of crushes.

The Rochester couldn't be more different than the Stalwart from the decadent amount of resources available, to the amount of people, and the very different nature of those people. On the Stalwart, people are rather open and honest while the Rochester crew of 8 seems pretty secretive but polite. When they are alone and going through normal operations, many social protocols are relaxed like having the working crew eat with Hugo and Hugo speaking informally to everyone. I thought this social aspect was a little out of place in the futuristic setting. Hugo is much different than Rochester, which is good since he's hard to like in a modern sense. This incarnation still lords his wealth, power, and privilege over Stella when he wants to plus his overexcessive drinking makes him intolerable.

Brightly Burning is an enjoyable read that transports the Jane Eyre story to the future. I was enjoying it and totally onboard until the last quarter of the novel. An additional unexpected secret is hamhandedly revealed and resolved in an unrealistic, convenient way. The ending felt rushed and not as immersive or detailed as the rest of the story. I would read another Alexa Donne book since the book did suck me in for most of it, but the ending is a bit of a disappointment.

My rating: 3/5 fishmuffins

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Unclean Spirits by Chuck Wendig

Cason Cole was a successful MMA fighter, but grew soft and complacent as a bodyguard for E. Rose, a magnetic, hedonistic man. One fateful day, a bomb kills his boss, releasing him from E. Rose's influence and making him aware of his past for the first time in years. Cason is then drawn into a world of mythology, gods, and magic and those who oppose all of it. He has to decide how hard he will fight to get his family back.

Unclean Spirits is story that satisfies my mythology obsession, takes me on an insane adventure, and adds a healthy dash of horror. In this world, all mythological gods are real, ranging from the well known gods of Greece and Egypt to the more obscure ones of Sumeria to even local legends and fables. I was particularly happy to see Erishkagal. They have been kicked out of their realm and forced to live in the human one, most attempting to avoid general human attention. Because of their disparate natures, the gods aren't a monolithic whole, but all very opinionated and arrogant about their past accomplishments and state. E. Rose turns out to be Eros and of course Cason is blamed for his death with Aphrodite, Eros' mother, wanting vengeance. These supernatural creatures are just as they are portrayed in myth: petty, jealous, coompletely consumed with their own drama, practically immortal, and extremely powerful.

Poor Cason just wants his family back. He has been kept for them for years in what he finds out is a manufactured plot to do so. When he tries to return to his family, his wife and young son try to kill him with knives. He's lost in the real world since he's been lost in a fog, let alone in this newfound world of gods and monsters. Cason is the grounding force of the book because he's as bewildered as we are. His goal isn't to kill all the gods or anything crazy; he simply wants his family back. He meets the bomber that killed E. Rose and helps him kill other gods because he has no idea how else to fight back. Through this allyship, he sees how gods have survived all these years, either in a commune out in the country or inflitrated within the abandoned nooks and crannies of human societies.

Unclean Spirits is an amazing ride with twists and turns I didn't see coming. The ending did seem a bit abrupt pacing wise, but everything that needed to be resolved was. I would love to see this world as a series even though Cason's story is over because there are endless possibilities to stories in these gods experiences and the people they affect.

My rating: 4/5 fishmuffins

Sunday, April 15, 2018

The Bright Sessions Season 2

Dr. Bright continues to help her patients while she plans to save her brother. Her current patients include the empath Caleb, the time traveler Sam, the mind reader Chloe, and Damian, who can plant commands in people's minds. Her goal is to undermine The AM, a manipulative and dangerous company that experiments and spies on atypicals (or people with special abilites).

The Bright Sessions is a podcast that is usually confined to therapy sessions with her patients. The world opens up in this season with different modes of story telling, new characters interactions, and a plot outside of simple therapy. The audio recordings do include therapy sessions and expand to voice messages, recorded conversations in person and by phone, and verbal notes from several characters. I especially enjoyed learning more about each character, seeing them meet each other, and forming their own relationships. Sam and Chloe become good friends while both of them agree to help Dr. Bright in her quest. Caleb and his boyfriend Adam decide to stake out Dr. Bright's office to see other atypicals and meet all the other patients. Everyone becomes good friends except for Damian.

Damian was only mentioned in the previous season. From the impression on Chloe and Dr. Bright as well as his name, I expected an ice cold sociopathic murderer. He's not the most pleasant person and delights in forcing people to do his will, but his power could be abused much worse than he uses it. He gets things he wants like attention without crossing major lines. I grew to begrudgingly like him a little bit even through his smarmy nature and manipulation because his lonely interior is exposed underneath the annoying bravado. That all is obliterated with his actions at the very end of the season. Damian is the only main character with a grey morality that brings something else along with his awful personality.

The AM is delved into during this season as well. It's supposedly a non-profit organization that works with government agencies. However, they use therapists like Dr. Bright to keep tabs on atypicals, assess their usefulness, and basically kidnap them to perform experiments. Dr. Bright's brother Mark was one of these with the unique ability to replicate anyone else's ability. As a result of their cruel experiment, his consciousness was stranded in time while his body stays comatose in the present. Dr. Bright is forced to continue to give the AM information on her patients, but she tries to manipulate it to make them seem less unique than they are to avoid their attention. Her past relationship with Agent Green complicates things further and brings more drama than expected.

I devoured the second season of The Bright Sessions in a few days. It has some bizarre episodes, some infuriating episodes, and some heartbreaking episodes. I highly recommend this different view of people with special abilities and I can't wait to see what happens in the next season. The episodes are fairly short and lend well to binge listening.

My rating: 5/5 fishmuffins

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Obsidio by Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman

Kady, Ezra, Hanna, and Nik are back with new seemingly insurmountable problems including fitting thousands of people into one way over capacity ship, the Mao, with few resources. They plan to return to Kerenza, but who knows what's happening there after the Beitech invasion seven months ago. Their friends and family may not even be alive anymore. The reality isn't that bad, but the remaining civilians are either enslaved to mine fuel for Beitech or imprisoned and threatened to help the miners work faster. Kady's cousin Asha survived and joined the resistance because she sees that they will all die when the mining is done. Unfortunately, her ex-boyfriend Rhys is working for Beitech and threatens her work unless she can manipulate or convince him to help her save lives. All of them have mounting problems and a corrupt, genocidal corporation to face.

Obsidio has a lot of expectations because of how good the first two books were and fulfills them all. All three books are very different, but each has relatable characters, crazy plot twists, and awesome action sequences. Obsidio has the largest cast of them all and the plot follows each of them fairly evenly, making sure we know what's going on with old favorites and meeting and getting to know the new ones. Nik, Ezra, Kady, and Hanna are all trying to process what has happened to them and how to fix these new problems. All have loved ones die and get small moments to mourn them in the middle of all of this. These moments are so realistic when wanting to see or talk to them, feeling the loss, and recognizing the new normal. In such an action packed series, these moments bring in emotions and human experience on a smaller scale. With the new characters, Asha has made a lot of mistakes and tries as hard as she can to atone. She doesn't have any crazy abilities, but she tries her best to do what's right even with such harsh opposition. Rhys goes through a huge transformation when he finally see what Asha is truly fighting against. I grew to like these characters just as much as all the others.

The minor characters also play an important role in this book. People are fighting for control on the Mao for the greater good. When crisis after crisis happens and people die under the current rule, others see weakness in the young people who have gotten them as far as they have and opportunity to overthrow to make everything better. In reality, it only serves to divide what should be unified and causes even more deaths in the long run. Their hearts are in the right place, but their actions are terrible. On the enemy side, those like Rhys are seen, people that have no love for Beitech but joined the military, those with larger dreams, and those that are following orders to survive and justifying the atrocities they commit to cope. Hard deaths are felt on all sides and even when the good guys win, good people still die because the enemy isn't monolithicly evil. On the other hand, the chain of command in Beitech is filled with corruption. Complaints about sexual assaults or unlawful deaths are thrown out and never seen by anyone higher than the planetside commanding officer and only lead to the whistleblower being punished.

Obsidio is such a good book. I read it in two days, which is saying a lot with my current schedule. It has many hard hitting moments that made me cry, exciting moments that had me on the edge of my chair, and humorous scenes to give some relief from the emotion and tension. The book is so expertly crafted with transcriptions of video, maps, digital messages, and numerous other media. I have no real criticism of this book because even with so many plot lines and characters, everything is clear and well plotted to cover each setting and character. I love how even minor characters are made important in a book where it would be easy to fade minor characters into the background. Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff are working on a new series in the same universe that I can't wait to read. I will read anything this duo comes out with.

My rating: 5/5 fishmuffins

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

A Quiet Place (2018)

The year is 2020 and over the course of three months, most of the world's population was wiped out by dangerous creatures attracted by sound. A family lives in this world of silence where any sound could mean their deaths. They've safeguarded everything from marking the silent parts of the floor to pouring sand on all paths to mute sound. The youngest son in the family was killed because of a battery powered toy, leaving the family still grieving and each member blaming themselves a year later. When the mother's due date comes close, the father tries to prepare everything to keep the baby silent and safe, but some things can't be planned for.

A Quiet Place is a tense horror film that makes the audience strive to be as quiet as the characters in the film. The last film that achieved this was Don't Breathe and it's an effective atmosphere that makes me question if I'm breathing or moving too loudly. How these creatures have changed the world is insane. The slightlest sound has to be dampened to avoid attracting their attention. The creature design is also pretty amazing and the visual effects look impressive. The true success of the film is the family. Each of them suffers silently with the guilt and grief of their loss and shut themselves off from the rest. Their day to day interactions are loving and they get along fine, but tension comes up between them during moments of crisis. John Krasinki and Emily Blunt's real life marriage infuses their fictional counterparts, Lee and Evelyn, with love and a history that's hard to mimic.

My favorite character by far is their daughter Regan. First, the family only knows sign language because of her, which gives them lifesaving silent communication that they don't have to start learning on day 1 of this creature invasion. Second, she's the best character because of her tenacity and drive to protect her family. Lee and Evelyn shelter her and force her little brother Marcus into more dangerous roles that he is clearly too afraid to fill. It definitely gave shades of sexism and ableism, especially coupled with the roles the parents chose for themselves. Plus it's cruel to both children. Marcus is forced outside where he is absolutely terrified and forced to help his father and Regan is left at home, rejected when she has a talent and drive to protect her family. While Regan is an amazing character played by Millicent Simmonds, the situations with her and the family are problematic and never really get resolved.

I had numerous other problems with the film. The foremost is the repetitive nature of the film's beats. Krasinki is self admittedly not a horror fan and it seems that he doesn't understand the format of horror film and their cycle of tension and release. So much of the film is tense without any release that it gets dull after a while. There are only so many times a creature can be in a room with one of the characters while they try to avoid detection with the sense of danger maintained. Even though the family is constantly in danger, it doesn't feel dangerous when they come out unscathed in almost identical situations time after time. The coincidences in this film are so numerous that it's ridiculous from Evelyn stepping on a nail and going into labor to the way too convenient coincidence that accompanies the end. It's completely unbelievable and took me out of the film.

A Quiet Place is obviously a successful film that portrays a sympathetic family and incredibly tense situations. However, after a while, these scenes lose their tension and things occur much too conveniently. Also, Krasinki's dislike of the genre and unwillingness to label the film as horror leaves a bad taste in my mouth considering the film's success largely due to horror fans. Because of the ending of the film, I wouldn't be particularly interested in watching the inevitable sequel. Parts of the film are very good, but the rest falls apart for me.

My rating: 3/5 fishmuffins

Sunday, April 8, 2018

The Bright Sessions: Season 1

The Bright Sessions is a speculative fiction podcast that focuses on Dr. Bright, a therapist who put an ad in the paper offering therapy for the strange and unusual. Although a vague description, she helps numerous people with fantastic abilities to better control their power. The narrative is a combination of the sessions with each patient and her verbal notes afterwards.

This season, Dr. Bright meets with three patients: Sam Barnes, Caleb Michaels, and Chloe Turner. Their powers cause problems I haven't seen before even in other science fiction work. Sam has intense anxiety attacks that causes her to travel through time. She isn't able to interact with anyone there and no one can see her. The length of her trips are completely out of her control, ranging anywhere from a day to a month. It could also happen at any time, so she doesn't interact with people a lot, fearing that her secret would be exposed. Her story takes an unexpectedly dark and heartwrenching turn at the end of the season.

Caleb is a high school jock who is an empath, one who feels everyone else's feelings. You can imagine that being stuck in high school surrounding by teenagers with high, hormone infused emotions would affect him. The football team grounds him because they all feel the same thing at the same time, but other's emotions make it hard to differentiate if they are his or not. Some have different colors or feelings attached to them. His main problem is that a classmate named Adam feels sad in his class and that's all Caleb is able to feel. With Dr. Bright's prompting, they become friends. The most fascinating thing about their sessions is how other's emotions make him feel and how they can be different for seemingly no reason. At the end of the season, his story takes a happier, more satisfying turn.

Chloe is an art student in college who thinks she hears angels. It turns out to be the thoughts of those around her, which can be overwhelming in a crowded classroom. Her cheery demeanor sets her apart from the other patients in addition to her skepticism towards Dr. Bright. She isn't always so eager to follow advice or believe that the voices come from actual people instead of angels. I found her the most frustrating because she is so stuck in her way of thinking and rationalizes anything that she wants to do despite reality. Her story is the first where we see that Dr. Bright's motivations may not be as altruistic as she seems and we get a glimpse of Dr. Bright's most challenging and dangerous patient, Damian.

I finished the first season of The Bright Sessions in two days. The episodes are less than a half hour each and the format really draws the audience into the story. This is a fascinating podcast with characters that use different types of language, come from different backgrounds, and have different experiences with their powers. The stories can pack an emotional punch that can deliver warm fuzzies or tears. There are so many things about this world that wasn't covered in 9 episodes and I'm completely intrigued. I highly recommend this podcast and I can't wait to start the next season.

My rating: 5/5 fishmuffins

Friday, April 6, 2018

Thoroughbreds (2018)

Lily and Amanda couldn't be more different even though they both go to the same school. Lily comes from a rich family with every opportunity and hates her cruel, callous stepfather. She hides herself behind a perfect facade, never showing any negative emotions and always doing what a young woman of her status should. Underneath, she's an odd combination of deeply emotional and fiercely competitive. Amanda, on the other hand, is infamous around school due to her killing a horse. She has no emotions at all and only pretends to mimic them when it benefits her in some way. After some awkward moments where Lily gets caught lying, they settle into an interesting friendship of sorts.

Both of these young women are dealing with societal pressures that make them hide parts of themselves to be acceptable. For the first time, they have the freedom to be who they really are with someone for the first time without judgment. Lily can rage and show the real her underneath all the perfection and Amanda doesn't have to pretend to have emotions. At times, they fundamentally don't understand each other. Lily doesn't understand that Amanda takes no offense at harsh comments, never gets angry, or feels anything. Amanda doesn't understand Lily's emotions or her penchant to lie in order to spare feelings or to hide things about herself. They sporadically spend time together and get to know each other over pretending to study and watching old movies. Their interactions aren't the fuzziest and often involve challenging each other to push boundaries.

Lily's stepfather Mark is every bit as horrible as she thinks. He treats women as objects, pressuring Lily's mother into dressing and acting in the specific way he desires. When she challenges him in anything, he's quick to cut her emotionally to force her back into submission. He treats Lily the same way. When she was expelled from her prestigious school, Mark saw her as an object that lost all value to him. His plan is to disinherit her when she finishes high school and her mother won't lift so much as a finger to help her. Even though Amanda wouldn't judge her for all her problems, Lily still keeps her expulsion from her to appear much more perfect than she is. She puts value in the veneer even when the audience literally doesn't care and continues to keep parts of her life only to herself when Amanda lays it all out in contrast.

Amanda eventually asks Lily if she ever wanted to kill her cruel stepfather that leads to a small rift between them. When Lily is finally honest with herself, they make a plan together. Apart from each other, they would never do something like this. Lily would never admit it to herself or bring herself to do it even if she did and Amanda simply wouldn't have the motivation. This film shows a perfect storm of the two that turn into a destructive force. Anya Taylor-Joy and Olivia Cooke play their roles perfectly with icy calculation and a matter of fact nature. All of the violence is offscreen. We only every see right before and right after which lets our imaginations fill in the gruesome details. The ending had me at the edge of my seat and could be interpreted many ways. I believe that the two had a genuine friendship in their own way. I highly recommend this off kilter, dark film with a vivid visual style and a very different take on female friendship.

My rating: 4.5/5 fishmuffins

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Book Mini-Reviews: The Unfleshed: Tale of the Autopsic Bride by Lisa Vasquez and Ash Princess by Laura Sebastian

* The Unfleshed: Tale of the Autopsic Bride by Lisa Vasquez

Angus is a sadistic but successful doctor completely obsessed with a wealthy woman named Morrigan. The Black Death spreads rapidly across Europe and threatens his love and his city as a whole. The Unfleshed is a novel that feels scattered and confused. I didn't know until late the book what era it was in and so much basic information about the time is wrong. Plague doctors were not trained doctors and were not effectual. The reigning theory was miasmatism that saw bad air as the cause of ailments. This wasn't even mentioned until very late in the book, which is weird since much of the novel is from the point of view of the doctor.

The main characters is Angus and all the other characters are flat and undeveloped compared to him. His driving force is to possess Morrigan and do all sorts of depraved things to her. I expected it to be more focused on Morrigan, the title character, who is not in the majority of the novel. She becomes a kind of Bride of Frankenstein amalgamation of other women because of Angus and barely makes a blip in the novel. Instead, Angus' history is delved into and his present as he tries to find a cure for death. He isn't the type of villain that can carry a novel because he's terribly unsympathetic and there are no redeeming qualities to him at all. I thought this would be much more of a horror novel overall and I was pretty disappointed.

My rating: 1.5/5 fishmuffins

* Ash Princess by Laura Sebastian

Theodosia's whole life changed when she was only 6. Her kingdom was invaded and taken over by conquerors who destroyed her people, her family, and her culture. The new regime keeps her around to abuse her when her people rebel and to publicly remind anyone what happens when they are opposed.

The premise to Ash Princess is intriguing, but the reality fell flat for me. I didn't finish this book. I only read about 50 pages and realized I had no emotional investment in anything. The writing and language left me feeling detached. Her name is ridiculoous and her thought process is defining her every emotion and motivation, which makes for repetitive, dry reading. The magic system of her people is very typical and the word "spiritgems" just makes me cringe. All of the background information is dumped in the narrative without integrating it into the story and it takes a while.

The point that I put down the novel was when the evil king forces Theo to kill a rebel who turns out to be her own father. This passage held no emotional impact for me. It's too early and not enough is known about the main character for this to occur so soon. Also, the plot in general feels too close to Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi, which is already one of my favorite books of the year. Ash Princess simply pales in comparison in terms of prose and world building. They share many of the same themes and it's unfortunate that they are coming out so close together. Ash Princess wasn't for me.

My rating: 2/5 fishmuffins

Monday, April 2, 2018

mon mon mon MONSTERS (2017)

Lin Shu-wei is bullied by his entire high school class led by a particular cruel clique that's led by Duan Ren-hao. Their latest torture is blaming him for stealing all the money from the class fund. Even when he proves he didn't do it, his devoutly Buddhist teacher refuses to believe him and suggest community service with his bullies to become friends and blend in. What is supposed to be a meals on wheels type service becomes theft from and abuse of the elderly. When they stop to look at what they've stolen, Lin, Duan, and his cronies stumble upon two man-eating monsters. The younger of the two is hit by a car and taken by the teens to tie her up and do what they like with her.

mon mon mon MONSTERS takes a hard look at humanity compared to actual monsters. Let's look at the two groups. The humans seen are a high school class and their teacher. The class is essentially led by one clique of awful, bullying students and everyone else, including the teacher, follow their lead. One of the students isn't even allowed inside the room and when she tries to extend some sympathy towards Lin, he soundly and rudely rejects her. Even though he's the target of the group, he still refuses to go against their rules. This is why I didn't find him much more sympathetic than the bullies. Ren-hao and his cronies gleefully abuse anyone that happens to be near them, no matter what. They have been given complete freedom and seem to have no moral compasses at all. When they have an essentially defenseless creature bound and gagged, the torture and violence start right away.

The two monsters are somewhere between vampire and zombie. They eat people at night and hole up in elevator shafts during the day. Sunlight is deadly to them. The sisters look after each other and the older one is completely devastated when the younger one goes missing. The only humanity or acts of kindness seen in the entire film is done by these monster. They clearly love, care, show affection, and make sacrifices for each other. The older one gives the younger one her favorite pieces and tucks her in at night as anyone would do for a younger sibling. Their behavior is in stark contrast to the humans who delight in tormenting each other. Even their violent behavior towards humans is only out of necessity and survival. They don't kill for fun and only kill as much as they need to eat a night. I felt so much for these creatures. Seeing them get hurt and becomes separated from each other was the saddest thing about the film.

mon mon mon MONSTERS is overall a depressing film to watch with the bullies completely allowed to do whatever they like and will probably continue that way for the rest of their lives. The monsters in this film show so much more humanity. Despite the overall mood, there are some laugh out loud moments of humor that lighten the soul crushing mood. The ending is shocking and satisfying despite its deeply nihilistic nature. I highly recommend this film if you don't mind being blindingly angry for most of the runtime.

My rating: 4/5 fishmuffins