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TV Series Review: Sense8

Netflix has done it again, delivering a sterling scifi series that challenges the tropes and traditions of the genre as well as traditional storytelling, understanding of gender and sexuality, and so much more.

*I’ve tried to keep plot spoilers to a minimum but I do reference aspects of characters that could be considered spoilery – you’ve been warned*

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I’ll admit I wasn’t convinced by the first episode. While I liked the premise of this series, the first episode felt chaotic and left me feeling untethered in the maelstrom. There were so many characters, so many cultures and identities packed into 60 minutes, I felt overwhelmed and didn’t know who to care about. Consequently, I didn’t really care about any of them and ended the episode feeling weirdly detached from a series that is all about the depth of human connection. Suffice it to say, after chatting to friend online and IRL, I gave the next episode a chance to draw me in and draw me in it did. I proceeded to binge watch half the series in one sitting.

Here’s what makes Sense8 so special and different and worth watching whether you’re a fan of scifi or not…

1) The premise actually done well. There have been a bunch of series – like Heroes and most recently the short-lived Messengers – that endeavoured to connect a disparate group of people by ethereal means. While the other shows have been tragically Western and woefully homogenous (mostly Americans connecting with other Americans where the biggest difference between them is their socio-economic background and possibly race), Sense8 goes all out to entangle 8 people from completely different worlds. In the one ‘cluster’ we have a kickass businesswoman from Seoul involved in an embezzlement scandal, a taxi driver from Nairobi whose mom is dying of AIDS, an Icelandic DJ living in London who gets caught up in the world of drugs, a gay Mexican telenovela star in the closet, a lesbian transwoman and hacktavist living in San Fransisco, a Chicago cop with daddy issues, an Indian woman struggling to come to terms with a loveless engagement, and a German thief with ties to organised crime. These 8 people represent an array of gender identities, sexualities, socio-economic backgrounds, ethnicities, religions, moral codes, and ideologies. The writers seem knowledgeable and sympathetic to the cultures/identities they’re representing on screen although some of these representations still tend toward stereotype. This generally good approach elevates the show beyond quirky scifi fare, making it an exploration of the human condition through various lenses.

2) United by having been born on the same day as sensates, all these people in the cluster start to feel each other’s emotions, and experience each other’s thoughts as well as physical sensations. This allows for some truly unique experiences such as the taxi-driver in Nairobi who has never been out of the country or on an airplane to suddenly experience flying and what life is like around the world through the eyes of others. This is also where the show breaks new ground when it comes to exploring gender identity and sexuality. WARNING – SPOILER AHEAD! SKIP TO POINT 3 TO AVOID— In episode 6 there is a phenomenal ‘orgy’ scene where a couple of the characters are having sex – namely the two gay characters (with their respective partners) – and unwittingly pull the others in their cluster into their experience. This results in the gay Mexican man experiencing lesbian sex, the straight Chicago cop experiencing gay sex etc. The scene is pure art, expertly choreographed to communicate not only the amount of physical passion occurring between characters, but also the transcendental experience these characters are a part of as they switch between various viewpoints. I take my hats off to the producers here because no one – gay or straight – appears to have a negative reaction to this experience, but accepts it for what it is: a borrowed, shared event that expands their mind without compromising who they are. *I just want to hug Netflix for allowing this scene to happen*

3) The scifi-ness takes a back seat to the exploration of humanity. While the show goes to great lengths to show how different each character is and how the events of their lives have uniquely crafted their identity, the show also shows in a most poetic way that no matter where you are on Earth, no matter what your race, religion, or gender, we are all human and can relate to one another on an almost primal level. When one of the cluster is hurting, the others feel it, and the show indulges the audience with fairly long scenes between pairs of character where they simply talk about their emotions, their lives, their thoughts. This is where Sense8 breaks from traditional scifi storytelling to deliver raw and honest dialogue in place of adrenaline-pumping action scenes. In fact, despite what’s going on in the background which definitely does get the adrenaline pumping plot-wise, the show is content to slow down and spend time allowing the characters to discover each other and in turn, discover more about themselves. It really is quite beautiful to see people from such different worlds connect so viscerally with each other. And, of course, there is no judgement, no prejudice, because these characters are literally walking in each other’s shoes, feeling what the other feels, knowing what the other knows. Gah! I get goosebumps just thinking about it!

sense8

4) This show doesn’t shy away from tough topics and is, at times, rather difficult to watch. Once again, being on Netflix has given this show a lot of freedom with its content which has resulted in pretty explicit sex scenes (although nothing gratuitous in my opinion) and some unflinching violence – although the show’s focus is definitely more on drama than action. Still, the themes of this show make for some potent emotional content that left me wanting to punch certain characters, rail against the universe, hug a pillow and weep, and jump up and down in elation – sometimes all in the span of a single episode.

5) The trans character in Sense8 is played by a transwoman in real life and the portrayal of Nomi is excellent (it definitely shows that a trans person – Lana Wachowski – was behind this project)!

Note: the characters all speak their own language, but because knowledge is shared between the cluster, they all speak each other’s language which results in the Nairobi man speaking Korean, the German man speaking Punjabi etc. just in case you were wondering how this mass communication was able to take place.

Also, ever since Riley was introduced as Icelandic, I was waiting for the inclusion of a track from Sigur Ros or perhaps Of Monsters and Men – they sure made me wait, but the show finally delivered my music! ;)

Okay, so those are all the things that make the show brilliant and worthy of any and all awards and all your attention. But, I’m nothing if not nitpicky when it comes to scifi and there are a couple of things that do bother me.

1) The cultural/racial stereotypes. While I do think this show goes a lot further than most – any, possibly in this genre – to explore racial, ethnic, and religious diversity, it does tend to full into the traps of stereotypes, such as the dutiful Indian girl marrying a man her parents approve of or the Asian woman who is proficient at martial arts. While I think the show uses these stereotypes to allow their Western target audience to better identify with the characters (although I think its somewhat tragic that Western audiences can only relate to people who are different from them via stereotype!!), I do hope that the writers explore new ground and break away from these stereotypes in seasons to come.

2) Some of the scifi elements are a little odd. For example, these characters can visit each other where they appear physically to one another and can physically interact. This seems to contradict the initial idea that they would be experiencing the world through the other sensate, meaning they could only feel what that person felt sensory wise, and they’ve even shown this a few times – such as a visiting character drinking tea only to have the next scene cut to show the non-visiting character as the one who was drinking the tea. But later, this becomes confused – or blatantly ignored – as characters start to physically interact with one another and the world. In one scene one of the visiting characters drives a car while the existing character sits in the passenger seat. Since in other scenes, the visiting characters remain invisible to everyone but the cluster member and characters are shown to be seen ‘talking to themselves’ by external observers, does this mean that someone watching the car scene would’ve seen a driver-less car hurtling down the road? There’s also the matter of ‘contact during unconsciousness’ that seems a matter of convenience. Minor points of contention, but in a show that does everything else so well these inconsistencies irk me.

Right, so that’s enough about this brilliant show. What are you still doing here? You should be on Netflix watching Sense8! This show scores 5 spectacular ink splats from me.

5 inksplats

 
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Posted by on June 30, 2015 in Reviews

 

Book Review: The Girl at Midnight

While this title has been languishing on my TBR pile for a while, it was still a bit of an impulse grab at the library because I saw it sitting looking pretty on the shelf and just had to take it home with me.

TGaM

Beneath the streets of New York City live the Avicen, an ancient race of people with feathers for hair and magic running through their veins. Age-old enchantments keep them hidden from humans. All but one. Echo is a runaway pickpocket who survives by selling stolen treasures on the black market, and the Avicen are the only family she’s ever known.

Echo is clever and daring, and at times she can be brash, but above all else she’s fiercely loyal. So when a centuries-old war crests on the borders of her home, she decides it’s time to act.

Legend has it that there is a way to end the conflict once and for all: find the Firebird, a mythical entity believed to possess power the likes of which the world has never seen. It will be no easy task, but if life as a thief has taught Echo anything, it’s how to hunt down what she wants . . . and how to take it.

But some jobs aren’t as straightforward as they seem. And this one might just set the world on fire.

This book has been compared a lot to the beloved Daughter of Smoke and Bone series. I read the first book in that series and can see where readers may find similarities. In both books we have a pretty sassy heroine who flits about the world through magical doorways. There are mythical creatures in both series – demons and angels in Laini Taylor’s books, anthropomorphic dragons (Drakharin) and birds (Avicen) in Grey’s. To be honest, that’s where the similarities ended for me. I don’t understand why some reviewers see The Girl at Midnight as a ‘rip-off’ of Taylor’s series. It’s really not, and, to be honest, I strongly preferred The Girl at Midnight – Although Taylor wins hands down when it comes to exquisite writing, world-building, and description.

The Girl at Midnight is a little be Neverwhere-ish in that there is a hidden world operating in tandem with the human world, a world divided into the scale-adorned Drakharin and feathered Avicen. These two are, of course, at odds with each other and a human girl – our protagonist Echo – gets caught up in the middle of all the action as she goes in search of the mythical Firebird. At the mention of the Firebird, I was hoping for a stronger tie-in with Slavic folk-lore and was disappointed when the Firebird in this story seemed completely disconnected from the traditional mythology. Not that it isn’t cool in its own right in terms of the story world, but it’s a lot more Phoenix than fiery peacock from Russian fairytale.

It’s a little tricky to talk much more about this story without spoiling the plot. Suffice it to say, there was a twist, but I saw it coming from about halfway through the book. That said, it was still fun to see how the characters coped with the revelation even if it didn’t elicit quite the OMG reaction in the reader as I think the author intended.

The true strength of this novel lies in its characters, and not just the protagonist. Actually, Echo is possibly the least interesting of the lot. This book has multiple POVs, switching between various characters sometimes erratically. At first, I found this irritating because I was struggling to connect with Echo. In the end, I’m glad the author chose to give the reader personal time in the other characters’ heads because they were a fascinating bunch. I strongly preferred the chapters from the dragons’ perspective. Caius and Dorian all but stole the show, Dorian in particular who seemed to suffer the most internal conflict which made him the most interesting character even if he was relegated to the periphery. His interactions with the Avicen were some of the best scenes – particularly the snappy dialogue between Dorian and peacock-ish Avicen named Jasper. I could easily have spent the entire book in their POVs, following their story rather than Echo’s. This is both a positive and negative, I guess, because the story was meant to be Echo’s but there was so much going on with the side characters that I sometimes resented returning to Echo when I found other characters more compelling. I was particularly pleased to see the LGBT characters getting so much page time and even POV chapters of their own. Hooray for a diverse YA fantasy read!

In conclusion, I really enjoyed this book and appreciated the fact that the romance element took a backseat to the plot. I also really enjoyed the exploration of supporting characters even if the switching POV chapters sometimes felt disruptive. I think there could’ve been more nuanced world-building, but this is only book 1 so perhaps more details are coming in book 2. While I don’t find myself too emotionally invested in the protagonist, I am absolutely enthralled by the supporting characters and hope that book 2 continues to follow all the story threads presented in book 1. Ultimately, this was a fun urban fantasy read and scores 3.5/5 ink splats from me.

3.5 inksplats

 
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Posted by on June 23, 2015 in Reviews

 

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TV series review: Daredevil

Now I absolutely realize I’m a bit slow on the uptake, but I binge watched this series in two days and am already suffering serious withdrawals having to wait almost a year for the next season, so without further ado here are my thoughts on Daredevil!

Note: I’ve tried to keep this as spoiler free as possible!

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A usual fan of all things Marvel and DC, I have to admit I was feeling a little burned out on superheroes. I tried Gotham, and had really high hopes for the show but gave up after only maybe 5 episodes. I was addicted to the first couple of seasons of Arrow but this latest season left me underwhelmed. I gave up after 6 episodes. I similarly had very high expectations for The Flash and was, again, disappointed. Perhaps I was simply burned out on the CW with the last two shows. I watch a bunch of series on that channel and, to be honest, they all start to look and feel the same. It doesn’t help that they recycle actors, so familiar faces keep popping up. Stephen Amell will always be the sulky werewolf from Vampire Diaries for me, not Oliver Queen. The CW shows are all very pretty with very pretty cast members and all that saturated color and prettiness gets boring after a while. The CW is also a ‘family’ channel and storylines, even dialogue, are somewhat constrained by that PG requirement. Suffice it to say, when I saw teasers for Daredevil, I rolled my eyes and watched Game of Thrones and Penny Dreadful instead. Until now…

Last weekend I was husband-less and feeling lonely without anything new to watch. Since I’d heard people chatting about Daredevil, I decided to look it up and holy crap – that’s Charlie Cox! Charlie was the adorable, if somewhat bumbling, love interest in Stardust and I adored him. I couldn’t imagine that teddy bear playing the badass Matt Murdock. I was intrigued. Then I continued reading the cast list and well, yeah, I just had to watch. Vincent D’Onofrio plays the villain people!

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With much trepidation, I started watching and I couldn’t freaking stop! First off, no voice over! No ‘my name is…’ – just good story! Also, Instead of pretty, well-coiffed cast members in ridiculous designer clothes running around in high heels and pumped up cleavages, I got gritty and bloody. Even the cinematography turns monochromatic in some places, adding to the overall bleakness of the show. Sure, it has its moments of shiny, upper echelon sparkles, but most of it is spent in a decrepit Hell’s Kitchen among the less affluent. How refreshing that the hero isn’t a billionaire. He isn’t exactly poor either, but he’s no Bruce Wayne or Oliver Queen (before certain events dented Ollie’s bank account). Matt Murdock comes from the same background as the people he’s fighting for. His superhero motivation comes from seeing how rough people in his quarter of New York have it and wanting to make their lives better – not some selfish idea of avenging dead parents. I love that! It’s so much more real and so much easier to empathise with the guy.

Matt Murdock is blind – although, granted, some comic-book license has been taken with this disability to make it more help than hindrance, it does lend him a certain vulnerability. It definitely makes him more human, showing he’s susceptible to injury, to pain, and death. Murdock’s, and likewise Daredevil’s, fragility is reiterated throughout the series as he repeatedly takes a beating (he dishes out plenty too), but this is a guy who gets tired, who takes days to recover from injury and who bleeds buckets for what he believes in. The show doesn’t shy away from showing his weaknesses – and what hubris will get you – and that’s refreshing too.

Matt Murdock is Catholic and the opening scene sets up the internal conflict for this character brilliantly. It’s the first (only?) time I’ve seen a religious superhero on TV. It adds another dimension to his character, again making him more real by showing that his moral quandary goes beyond the letters of the law and that he’s trying to act within a powerful if ethereal moral code. It makes him not wanting to kill people a lot more understandable, even when it means he has to take twice the beating before putting down the bad guys. The fight scenes are very realistic too – this is a guy who gets tired and shows he’s hurting.

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Matt Murdock is a lawyer. He’s smart, he worked hard for what he has (no wealthy daddy handed him the keys to a company on a silver platter), and has to work every day to keep food on the table. As such, he is so much more relatable than these billionaire playboy superheroes with a chip on their shoulder. Okay, enough about the awesomeness that is Matt, who is played perfectly by Charlie Cox by the way!

The villain, played by Vincent D’Onofrio, is one of the best I’ve encountered. He is so heart-achingly human. Disturbed, misguided, morally dubious sure, but he’s human. He’s damaged, he’s vulnerable, he needs a hug! And that makes the struggle between Matt and Fisk all the more real and despairing because they’ve both struggled, they’ve both come from tough backgrounds and had to fight to get where they are. They both believe they’re doing the right thing and doing it for the right reasons even though their approaches couldn’t be more different. It’s a very odd thing to feel empathy for the villain in this way. It makes for some seriously nail-biting episodes because there are times I find myself almost rooting for the other side (sorry Matt!). Vincent D’Onofrio is, of course, spectacular in his role as Fisk and commandeers every scene he’s in, demanding your undivided attention.

The show isn’t perfect though. The stereotyping of Asians is rather atrocious and I hope the show does something about that in season 2. The role of women in the show could also be better. At the moment they’re relegated to playing damsels in distress or the love interests (sometimes both). The exception here is Karen (played by Deborah Ann Woll who was my fav vamp in True Blood). Her character is stronger and darker than she first seems and they’ve only just begun to expose the various layers of her character. I hope they make more of her in the next season and give her room to shine alongside the boys. Rosario Dawson plays Matt’s love interest, Claire, and could also be doing a lot more if the script allowed her to. As of yet, there are no LGBT+ characters and only minor black characters :( (Ben Urich is perhaps the exception here but is the only PoC with a substantial storyline that isn’t a racial stereotype) I guess I’ll reserve judgement until season 2 and hope the writers move in the right direction, embracing the diversity of their setting. I do like that fact that Matt and Karen both speak Spanish in a part of NY where there is a large Latin community. And we don’t only get two words of the ‘foreign’ language (looking at you Arrow!), we get entire scenes with characters speaking Spanish – and Chinese – which pleases me because it means the producers at least acknowledge the fact that their audience can read subtitles and doesn’t need to be pandered to.

Thank goodness Daredevil is on Netflix. I don’t think the show could do what it’s doing were it on a channel like the CW. This show is dark and gritty, full of conflict, bloody and badass, and my new favourite addiction! I am definitely going to have to rewatch this series before the next season comes out. Actually, I might have to start rewatching today… 5/5 ink splats for a fabulous show!

5 inksplats

 
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Posted by on June 16, 2015 in Reviews

 

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A Land Fit For Heroes: Games Based on Richard Morgan’s Fantasy Trilogy

Heya Folks, Dave here with some news that is bound to make plenty of people very happy!

Liber Primus Games and Gollancz Announce A Land Fit For Heroes Fantasy Adventure Game-book App

Choose Your Own Adventure game-book series based on bestselling book trilogy by Richard Morgan coming to iOS, Android, Kindle Fire and Steam Formats later this year

Indie Developer Liber Primus Games, developer of the Narborion Saga, in collaboration with Gollancz, an imprint of the Orion Publishing Group, announced today that a new handheld fantasy adventure app, based on the bestselling Richard Morgan trilogy of books A Land Fit For Heroes is coming to the App Store for iPhone, iPad, iTouch as well as Amazon Kindle Fire and Android on Google Play. A PC version of the game-book will be available on Windows PC for Steam.

The game-book, A Land Fit For Heroes, will be produced in collaboration with Richard Morgan and the story will run parallel to that of the first volume in his book trilogy, The Steel Remains. Morgan’s dark and violent fantasy trilogy series of books, published by Gollancz, also features titles, The Cold Commands and The Dark Defiles, which will set a much darker tone than that of typical game-books traditionally aimed at a younger audience.

Morgan’s previous stints in video games include writing duties on Crysis 2 for Crytek and the 2012 Sci-fi update of Syndicate for Electronic Arts.

Richard Morgan said: “I’m extremely excited about this collaboration on A Land Fit For Heroes as a game-book. It’s a fresh format of storytelling for the trilogy and one I’m really looking forward to developing with Liber Primus Games over the coming months”.

Traditional paperback game-books or CYOA (Choose Your Own Adventure) books, as they were also called, were popular during the late 1980’s and early 1990’s and have seen a digital revival of late. A Land Fit For Heroes aims to engage a more mature audience based on the dark adult themes and characters in the books.

To discover more about A Land Fit For Heroes game-book project and Richard Morgan’s books, fans can register at the game’s holding page found here: http://landfitforheroes.com/

The Steel Remains

The Cold Commands

The Dark Defiles

About A Land Fit For Heroes

Based on Richard Morgan’s trilogy of dark fantasy novels, A Land Fit For Heroes is the new interactive game-book experience telling the story of three unlikely heroes with three interlocking storylines. Kirellin of House Caith is a skilled war veteran, Calnar is a young Majak warrior and Ilaria is an accomplished thief. Each of their paths will cross in this adventure where they are tested to the extreme – but wherein the reader decides upon their fates.

Children go missing in the marshes. Ancient spirits awaken. Powerful machine-demons manipulate the fate of mankind. But all of this is just a game for even darker forces. In the first of its kind, bestselling author Richard Morgan brings his trilogy of novels to life as a three-player game-book set in the world of A Land Fit For Heroes.

About Liber Primus Games

Established in 2014 Liber Primus Games is a small Indie developer based in Budapest, Hungary. The studio’s ultimate goal is to bring immersive story driven games to the digital marketplace. Their previous game-book titles include The Narborion Saga I & II. www.narborion.com

About Gollancz

Gollancz is the oldest specialist SF & Fantasy publisher in the UK. Founded in 1927 and with a continuous SF publishing programme dating back to 1961, the imprint of the Orion Publishing Group is home to a galaxy of award-winning and bestselling authors. Through its long-running SF and Fantasy Masterworks programme, and major digital initiative the SF Gateway, Gollancz have one of the largest ranges of SF and Fantasy of any publisher in the world.

www.gollancz.co.uk

About Richard Morgan

Richard Morgan was, until his writing career took off, a tutor at Strathclyde University in the English Language Teaching division. He has travelled widely and lived in Spain and Istanbul. He is a writer of novels, comics, and video games and has won the Arthur C. Clarke, The Philip K. Dick and The John W. Campbell Awards. The movie rights to the first Takeshi Kovacs novel was optioned by Joel Silver and Warner Bros on publication, and a film version is currently in development with Mythology Entertainment. Richard Morgan is a fluent Spanish speaker. He is married and lives in Glasgow.

Publicity Contact: Aidan Minter

Plan of Attack on behalf of Saga Scribe Games: aidan@planofattack.biz

 
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Posted by on June 10, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Book Review: Jackaby

The cover of this one first caught my eye and made me think the story would be dark. This book turned out to be a quick and enjoyable read, but not one I loved.

jackaby

Newly arrived in New Fiddleham, New England, 1892, and in need of a job, Abigail Rook meets R. F. Jackaby, an investigator of the unexplained with a keen eye for the extraordinary–including the ability to see supernatural beings. Abigail has a gift for noticing ordinary but important details, which makes her perfect for the position of Jackaby’s assistant. On her first day, Abigail finds herself in the midst of a thrilling case: A serial killer is on the loose. The police are convinced it’s an ordinary villain, but Jackaby is certain it’s a nonhuman creature, whose existence the police–with the exception of a handsome young detective named Charlie Cane–deny.

Doctor Who meets Sherlock in William Ritter’s debut novel, which features a detective of the paranormal as seen through the eyes of his adventurous and intelligent assistant in a tale brimming with cheeky humor and a dose of the macabre

Not being a huge fan of Doctor Who (I enjoyed Torchwood far more) I can’t speak to the Doctor Who comparison, but the Sherlock comparison is spot on. And by spot on, I mean, once again we have the socially inept genius who sees what no one else can see. In this instance, Detective Jackaby sees paranormal oddities, from pixies and trolls to auras and magical residue. The entire story is essentially a Victorian episode of Sherlock with werebeasties, and, as in Elementary, Watson is now played by a woman… a girl? This book is marketted for young readers after all. The Sherlock-Watson vibe isn’t subtle. Abigail Rook keeps a journal of their escapades and even writes up a story about it all in the end – much like both Sherlock’s and Elementary’s Watsons do. The parallel isn’t cute though, it’s almost tedious because it’s all been done before. To be honest, I’m not sure the paranormal element in this book really offers enough freshness to the story.

Jackaby is at least a quick read and that cheeky humour in the blurb definitely does come through. That’s the book’s saving grace. Were it not for that snide sense of humour, this book would not have been nearly as enjoyable.

I’m struggling to think of what else to write about this. I don’t think this book is going to linger in my thoughts for very long. With the recent slew of Sherlock retellings, it’s just not that unique or memorable and the paranormal detective story has been done to death. What is perhaps unique is the touch of feminism thanks to Abigail’s stubbornness and assertiveness. Given the era in which this is set, Abigail certainly fits the strong female character trope, but is still second fiddle to the male, genius detective. Now, this book would’ve been truly refreshing had it made the Sherlockian-detective the woman. Actually, why hasn’t this already been done? Or are women simply incapable of being sociopathic geniuses?

Anyway… if you’re looking for a quick and entertaining read for a rainy afternoon and enjoy paranormal stories, you would probably enjoy this book. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with it, it just didn’t blow me away and I probably won’t remember this story at all in a couple of months. Jackaby gets 3.5/5 ink splats from me.

3.5 inksplats

 
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Posted by on June 9, 2015 in Reviews

 

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New Release: Through a Mirror, Darkly by Kevin Lucia (Crystal Lake Publishing)

Hey everyone, Dave here!

Released today, Through a Mirror, Darkly is Kevin Lucia‘s second short story collection, following Things Slip Through.

Mirror final cover

 

 

Arcane Delights. Clifton Heights’ premier rare and used bookstore. In it, new owner Kevin Ellison has inherited far more than a family legacy, for inside are tales that will amaze, astound, thrill…and terrify.

An ancient evil thirsty for lost souls. A very different kind of taxi service with destinations not on any known map. Three coins that grant the bearer’s fondest wishes, and a father whose crippling grief gives birth to something dark and hungry.

Every town harbors secrets; Kevin Ellison is about to discover those that lurk in the shadows of Clifton Heights.

Through a Mirror, Darkly is a Supernatural Thriller collection masked as a novel. With elements of mystery, suspense, and otherworldly horror,Through a Mirror, Darkly successfully delves into the worlds of Lovecraft, Grant, and the mysterious Carcosa.

Through a Mirror, Darkly serves as Kevin Lucia’s early-warning system to the horror field – Brace yourselves, folks.” – Gary A. Braunbeck, Bram Stoker Award-winner of To Each Their Darkness, Destinations Unknown, and the forthcoming A Cracked and Broken Path

“Kevin Lucia writes my favorite kind of horror, the kind not enough folks are writing anymore.” – Kealan Patrick Burke, Bram Stoker Award-winning author of The Turtle Boy and Kin.

Order your copies on Amazon and then head over to Crystal Lake Publishing’s website to see what else is waiting for you. :) You can also add the book to your shelf on Goodreads, follow the Board on Pinterest, and don’t forget to check out more awesome work from the cover artist, Ben Baldwin.

Until next time,

Be EPIC!

 

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Book Review: The Phantom Cabinet

Once again, I find myself writing a horror review when horror really isn’t my preferred genre. I didn’t quite realize how horrific this book was though, going into it, otherwise I might’ve reconsidered. Incidentally, I’m really glad I did read this one!

*For the sake of full disclosure, please note I received a review copy from the author of this title. This has in no way affected, influenced or otherwise coloured my perception of said book though*

phantom cabinet

WHEN HEAVEN AND HELL DON’T EXIST…WHAT DOES? Space Shuttle Conundrum collides with empty atmosphere, passing from known reality into the realm beyond life. At the same time, a dead newborn is resurrected amidst a hospital-wide poltergeist infestation. What connects these ghastly occurrences, and how can the fate of humanity rest on a single boy’s shoulders? As the haunted Douglas Stanton spends his adolescence an outcast—his only friend the ghost of a long lost astronaut—a porcelain-masked entity lurks in the shadows, planning Douglas’ demise. Because Douglas is the key… the key to the door… the door between what we know and what we fear. And when the key is turned…realities will come crashing together. Step into The Phantom Cabinet…

What made me want to read this novel was that cover! It instantly reminded me of Faceless from Spirited Away, while the shiny moth-man eyes called to mind the bunny from Donnie Darko, and lastly, that text is just so retro, the cover seemed to promise a bizarre and intriguing read. The Phantom Cabinet was certainly both bizarre and intriguing.

Imagine if the film Event Horizon (which gave me nightmares for weeks!) met The Ocean at the End of the Lane in a dark alley one night and their tryst produced a literary love child. The offspring of that union would be this book, a bizarro novel that serves up gruesome horror with a liberal splatter of pitch black humour. The opening scene, reminiscent of Event Horizon, had me simultaneously chuckling and cringing. In fact, the humour in this book only hightlights the horror, making the truly bleak moments all the more soul shattering. That, or I have a seriously warped sense of humour.

Okay, but what is this book about?

Our protagonist is Douglas Stanton who, like Cole Sear, can see dead people in all their gory detail. Douglas is haunted but unlike Cole ‘I see dead people’ Sear, he is also a conduit, allowing restless spirits to pass through from the afterlife, termed in this novel The Phantom Cabinet – which may or may not be a sly reference to The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari wherein the big bad manipulated an innocent to commit atrocities. Something similar happens to Douglas as the third person narrative tells his story – via disembodied ghost voice – starting from his miserable birth and following Douglas into adulthood. In this way, the novel is a twisted coming of age story, dealing with middle school issues such as playground bullying and learning to talk to the opposite sex, to teen problems like underage drinking and doing more than just talking to the opposite sex. Of course, while all this relatively normal stuff is happening, a lot of increasingly abnormal stuff is happening too, leading the reader inexorably closer to the novel’s fated ending. I won’t spoil anything for potential readers, but I will say that there was really only one way this story could end. While somewhat predictable, it was a satisfying conclusion to this strange, sometimes poignant, often hilarious, always horrifying tale.

As far as the horror goes, things get pretty gruesome and Thompson certainly doesn’t shy away from detail. (Consider yourself warned!) The writing is quite magnificent with some turns of phrase that made me take a moment to simply appreciate the syntax. I’m not talking overly purple prose here, but rather a frank yet creative way of setting the scene and describing characters.

This book was heading for a fine five ink splats given its unique and enthralling plot, and fabulous writing, but there was one thing about the writing that bugged me. Now I know how boys can talk to one another and that teasing and ragging can be taken to exquisite new heights when it comes to name-calling and playground denigration. While I’m all for authenticity in voice and authenticity in character, the number of times femininity was used derogatorily – like a boy telling another boy not to be such a girl or such a bitch – became annoying after a while. I don’t think this was the author’s attempt to sneak in some kind of misogynistic agenda, but I did notice these references and they irked me. Even more likely to offend, however, were the multiple uses of the word ‘faggot.’ Now again, I’m all for authenticity, so if this word had been used by a specific character because that character was an asshole – or genuinely wanted to call people a bundle of twigs – I’d understand, but this word was used a little too liberally for my sensibilities. Perhaps it’s just a part of the book’s greater irreverence, but I know it might offend some readers.

I didn’t expect to enjoy The Phantom Cabinet as much as I did. This book was a pleasant surprise and I recommend it to anyone who enjoys bizarro fiction or to readers of horror who are looking for something a little different. It gets 4 ink splats from me.

4 inksplats

 
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Posted by on June 2, 2015 in Reviews

 

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