Please note: This Dark Matter is now on indefinite hiatus. Many thanks for stopping by!
(Twisted Fairy Publishing, ISBN-13 978-0989013123, April 15, 2013)
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Freak. Witch. Crazy. Schizo. Ember Brycin has been called them all. She’s always known she’s different. No one has ever called her normal, even under the best circumstances. Bizarre and inexplicable things continually happen to her, and having two different colored eyes, strange hair, and an unusual tattoo only contributes to the gossip about her. When the latest school explosion lands her in a facility for trouble teens, she meets Eli Dragen, who’s hot as hell and darkly mysterious. Their connection is full of passion, danger, and secrets. Secrets that will not only change her life, but what and who she is—leading her down a path she never imagined possible. Between Light and Dark, Ember finds a world where truth and knowledge are power and no one can be trusted. But her survival depends on finding out the truth about herself. In her pursuit, she is forced between love and destiny and good and evil, even when the differences between them aren’t always clear. At worst, she will incite a war that could destroy both worlds. At best, she will not only lose her heart but her life and everyone she loves. Once the truth is out, however, there will be no going back. And she’ll definitely wish she could.
Review: Everyone feels a little different somehow, but no one probably ever felt as different as Ember Brycin. <!–more–>
This was definitely an adventure into the clashing sides of human nature as Ember discovers just why she is so different from anyone else she’s ever known. You’d think the more you know about yourself, the happier you’ll be, or at least the more you’ll understand how to direct your energies in the way you want. Unfortunately for the sassy Miss Ember, this isn’t always the case. She spends much of the book trying to figure out who and what she’s all about, and eventually discovers she’s going to wish she could return to innocence. As she launches into a life she never suspected she’d have, or even existed, you might as well plan on putting your own life on hold for a while.
Ember’s energetic personality and spunky view on life meshes nicely with her 18-year-old persona as she tries valiantly to make it through her senior year of high school without any major calamities. Unfortunately, a jealous cheerleader has become just a little too good at pushing Ember’s buttons. While she can put up with people teasing her, Ember has a real temper when people pick on those she loves. Something strange always happens when Ember’s temper gains control. While Ember is struggling to figure out who she is and unsuccessfully trying not to get kicked out of school, she is discovering a place where she tends to fit in a little more than usual. Unfortunately, she still isn’t able to quite fit in. It’s nice to read such a realistic portrayal of a character who makes more mistakes than triumphs along her journey, especially when the journey takes such an unexpected tangent.
My repressed anger was reaching its crescendo. Tormenting me was one thing, but my friends were off limits. Rage I normally tried to keep on a tight leash started to break free. The darkness living deep inside me that I kept concealed from the world stirred. Trying to find its way out of a cage, it was like a monster I couldn’t control. “Look, I couldn’t care less if you like me or not, but don’t you dare talk about my friends like that,” I threatened.
“Or you’ll what? Hit me with your voodoo magic?” There was amusement but also a touch of fear in her smile. She was scared of me – most of the school was.
A wave of uncontrollable emotion gripped me. I heard a cracking from above; a single spark fell from the ceiling. All I could focus on was my deep-seated fury. “Shut up.” My voice broke through my gritted teeth. “You know nothing about me.”
“I know you’re deluding yourself into thinking people actually like you.” Kallie sneered. “And your friends are as weird and insignificant as you are.”
Blistering anger uncoiled and catapulted from every cell in my body. “Listen, you pathetically trite anorexic bitch …”
The lights above my head started to explode, drowning out the rest of my words. Kallie screamed as sparks and glass rained on us.
As much as I enjoyed the voice of the character and the break from the norms, I would have liked a bit more actual action. Taken as a whole, there wasn’t a great deal of conflict within the novel until very near the end. Until that point, everything that happens to Ember is as much a mystery to the reader as it is to Ember, which can be frustrating, especially when there are several other characters on the scene who seem to know exactly what’s going on. One of these other characters is the super hot love interest, a bad boy with no apologies. As hot as he is, it’s hard to see someone as fierce and independent as Ember falling for his charms given his animosity, direct lies, deceptions and treatment of her. The moment he starts to become likable, he becomes something else entirely.
In spite of its shortcomings, I thoroughly enjoyed the book. The exploration of dark and light and that space in which they collide was an interesting concept to pursue and I’m eager to read the other books in the series. I’m hoping the character takes a more active role in her development in the next book, now that she has at least some of the answers she needed, and hoping she gains a bit more sophisticated taste in men who can treat her with some respect.
I love watching trailers for movies. They’re a thing unto themselves. They can be just a tease of greatness that relies on simple honesty or piece of deceitful art somehow created out of the clusterfuck that is the movie. There is a trend over the last 15 years to pack a trailer with the best jokes and explosions, creating more of a mini movie than an actual teaser. More often than not, there’s almost no need to see the movie after watching its trailer.
Thankfully, there are exceptions, and two trailers came out this week that are a class unto themselves for making a trailer work. They somehow avoid the prevailing assumption that the trailers were cut together by an ADHD high schooler who lost the notes about tone and pacing. What do these trailers get right? Everything. I mean that literally.
First, there’s The Witch, which tells the story of 17th century religious settlers of the New England frontier. Watch the trailer. Seriously, watch it. Okay? Good. (I’m taking your word on this.) What works in this? Tone, first and foremost. The music is otherworldly, using lots of discordant melody and percussion to set us on edge. The washed out browns and dark greens, everything about this paints a story about old world terror. Immediately we’re drawn into a world that’s frightening – no technology and an apparent, angry god. And goats are evil incarnate.
Second, there’s Goodnight Mommy. Watched it? Excellent. (You’re playing very well with others right now.) This trailer, in comparison, is light, featuring whites and metals of modern construction and the lush greens of the Austrian countryside. It feels like we’re watching a super-cut of the first 10 minutes, which sells the simplicity of the story. Ambient sound is preeminent here, relying only on sound for cues that define the escalating tension. Again, we’re sucked into a world we’re immediately frightened of – what if mom came home and wasn’t mom? And ate bugs?
The trailers aren’t just good individually; they’re good together because of what they have in common: story reveal, evocative music, and rapid fire imagery. First, the stories are simple enough that their telling encompasses all of 10 seconds. Second, the music is haunting with cues to understanding we should be anxious but nothing more. The music, and this is important, replaces the jump scare. And third, once the tone and story are addressed, both trailers throw us into a tailspin of chaotic imagery that hint at the rest of the movie but never give the goods away. We’re left slightly breathless with a true tease of what’s to come.
While we’ll have to wait until 2016 for 2015 Sundance darling The Witch, Goodnight Mommy opens on September 11. I personally can’t wait for intelligent, exciting horror. How about you?
Musical accompaniment: Junip
I stepped into the charming store, scanning the displays of décor and craft supplies for the items I’d come to photograph.
The proprietor spied me from her seat behind the cash register.
“Looking for something special?” she asked.
Everything in her store is special. The store is aptly named Whimzy!, and it’s full of unusual finds, some sparkly and frilly and some, well . . . some are a little odd.
“Yes,” I answered. “Do you have any creepy doll heads in birdcages?”
“Hmmm,” she replied, in the same tone she might have used had I asked for chalk paint or ribbon. “I don’t think I have any in birdcages right now . . . I guess I sold them all. I do have some doll heads back here if you’d like to see them.”
As I followed her back to the display case that contained the heads, I explained that I was blogging for This Dark Matter, and I wanted to feature her store because of its distinctive mix of light and dark wares. Among the upcycled vintage items and the Victorian trappings, you’ll find what feels a bit like year-round Halloween: skeletons, crows, and the doll heads I’d seen on a prior visit, bizarre and forlorn in their hanging cages.
“Here we go,” she said, indicating this trio of heads and their accompanying limbs. “You know, we think of these things as creepy, but remember: the reason they’re still around is that they were once someone’s treasure.”
She—Diane White, the owner of Whimzy! — reminded me that back in the day, most girls only had one doll. Ever. The body would be made of cloth, and the heads, hands, and feet would be made of porcelain. A doll was a girl’s prized possession, played with until the body wore out, and then the heads, hands and feet were stored lovingly away. Dolls stored intact might lose their torsos to moths, mildew, or fire, but the head and limbs would survive. That’s why antique stores today have so many dismembered doll parts: what seems macabre is really just evidence of love and time.
Diane embraces the darker side of decorating with a laugh. “I love the doll heads in the birdcages. I think it’s funny. But a lot of people don’t get it, especially around here. Maybe this shop belongs somewhere else.” We talked about beach towns, or Los Angeles: places where the shoppers might be a little edgier than here in conservative Orange County. But Orange County is where she’ll stay.
Despite slowing sales in her retail store, Diane is enjoying a successful run with another venture: her craft show, Glitterfest, which she produces twice a year in Anaheim.
Glitterfest is not your grandma’s craft show. While you’ll find stylish home décor and beautiful handmade jewelry there, you’ll also find some downright spooky stuff. The fall show naturally showcases Halloween fare, but even the spring show delights in the dark side. Vendors display disturbing Victorian dolls and beautiful, headless ghost-brides right next to the bunnies and chicks. It’s a fantastical, edgy mix that sets Glitterfest apart from other local shows. You can see some of the spectacularly creepy Glitterfest art here.
I talked to Diane about her strategy for flexing to her shifting market while making time for the parts of her business that she enjoys most. She’s planning to reduce retail hours, offer more classes, and focus on the flea markets and craft shows that have been so successful. And despite the customers who don’t “get it,” she’ll keep her uncanny mix of merchandise. “I’ve been bringing in more clowns,” she says with a grin. “Clowns really freak people out.”
Photo credit: Diane White, Whimzy!
Description: Seventeen-year-old Tark knows what it is to be powerless. But Okiku changed that. A restless spirit who ended life as a victim and started death as an avenger, she’s groomed Tark to destroy the wicked. But when darkness pulls them deep into Aokigahara, known as Japan’s suicide forest, Okiku’s justice becomes blurred, and Tark is the one who will pay the price…
Review: Japanese culture is rich in ghost lore, complete with an interesting taxonomy to classify them. It sounds tame and organized, but the ghosts themselves are anything but–I have been far more freaked out by Japanese ghosts in film and books than by the typical American fare. Why? I don’t know . . . I guess Japanese ghosts seem way more pissed off about being dead.
This is most certainly true in The Suffering, the sequel to Rin Chupeco’s fabulous The Girl From the Well. You might remember that in the original novel, Okiku–a seriously vengeful ghost–is a dead Dexter-esque type who finds herself intrigued by Tarquin, a Japanese-American kid in danger from a whole boatload of other vengeful spirits . . . intrigued enough to save him. The Suffering picks up in Tarquin’s point of view. It’s been at least a few months since the end of The Girl From the Well, and Okiku is still hanging out with Tarquin, the two of them now a dynamic duo of justice: Tarquin and Okiku stalk murderers, and Okiku dispatches them to hell. There are a variety of side plots; however, the main thing is that Kagura, Tarq’s mentor, is missing in Japan after leading a troop of American paranormal investigator types (I imagine them as those plumbers from the SyFy ghost hunting show) on a ghost hunt.
Tarq and Okiku to the rescue! Yeah, sounds kind of fun, except that it’s creepy as hell.
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