Sunday, February 6, 2011

dark matter is a ghost story with a reality twist from michelle paver

Subtitled “A Ghost Story”, Michelle Paver’s Dark Matter is a clever book that takes an historical story and adds a supernatural twist.
Set in 1937, Dark Matter followers a group of young Englishmen who attempt to winter in the arctic circle for purposes of scientific research.
Based on the Oxford University Arctic Expedition of 1935, the book attempts to be as authentic as possible when it comes to describing everything from the type of “chaps” who went on these types of adventures to the technical details of their equipment, and even what they did to entertain themselves.
Paver includes reference material at the end of the book, highlighting that some of the concepts which you may have thought creative licence really occurred.
What she doesn’t know is true or not is the central theme of the haunting – although she does point out in the support material that many of the men who went on the real expedition mentioned an uneasiness about the area of the base camp.
What makes Dark Matter a truly gothic horror story is the creeping sensation of depression, being watched and the possibility of going mad in the long, long night of winter in the Arctic.
Jack is not the same as his companions on the trip; he’s poor despite his education, he’s got a bit of a death wish and hates his life. When the opportunity for this expedition arrives he’s oddly reluctant to take it and escape his horribly boring life.
But agreeing to go, Jack decides he’s going to do his utmost to squeeze every ounce of experience from the trip.
Is it his obsession to survive and succeed over his richer teammates or his innate depression that leads to the terrible things that Jack actually experiences in the ice?
It’s only Paver’s skill that allows the reader to make up their own mind about what really happened up there in the dark.
Dark Matters is an interesting read; while it might not make you scared of the dark, it will certainly make you think.
And should you ever find yourself lost in the snow somewhere and remember reading this book, it will make you shiver.

Dark Matter by Michelle Paver is published by Orion Books and is available from good book stores and online.

will avery cates finally come out on top in jeff somers' the terminal state? well, kind of ...

The undying, nasty, bemused assassin Avery Cates returns in Jeff Somers’ The Terminal State for the fourth time.
Will Avery finally manage to kill himself off – via alcoholism, his death wish, ex-friends now enemies or the general travesty which is his world? Or, is he actually already dead but hasn’t yet worked it out?
These are crucial questions for Avery Cates fans – of which there are many – who have been captivated by Somers’ dystopian and generally bleak view of the future.
Somers’ writes books that are like “an action movie in print” as the The Daily Telegraph described the previous book The Eternal Prison – a description I used previously in my review of that book: Avery Cates returns in Jeff Somers' dystopian world of The Eternal Prison
In The Terminal State the street killer has been scooped up by the army and pumped full of technological augments, but he’s also lost control of his own body via some sort of brain implant.
Still, that’s not going to stop him from trying to kill whoever manages to piss him off, even if that person is supposedly in charge of his body.
On top of that, he discovers that person who’s just bought his body is none other than his oldest enemy Canny Orel; but Avery is willing to play a long, at least until he can take out Canny as well as himself if he has to.
It’s unsure if Somers’ always planned for there to be four Avery Cates books, but in The Terminal State he manages to tie up a number of loose ends from the previous three – The Electric Church The Digital Plague and The Eternal Prison – but still leaves an opening for the next installment.
Thank goodness. Somers’ version of the future is one to be wary of, true, but it’s as entertaining as hell and Avery Cates is one of those characters that you just know could go on forever. Here’s hoping.

The Terminal State by Jeff Somers is published by Orbit Books and is available from good book stores and online.

a fine line between flattery and imitation; the heir of night by helen lowe resonates with a song of ice and fire ...

This book is the first in a series, of course, it wouldn’t be in the fantasy genre if it wasn’t, but The Heir of Night by Helen Lowe is actually fit for the praise best-selling author and fantasy Queen Robin Hobb gives it; “a richly told tale.”
Unfortunately however, there are strong similarities to the great classic series A Song of Ice and Fire by American author George R. R. Martin and which is being turned into an HBO TV series called Game of Thrones after the first book of the series.
We have a lordly family living far from the kingdom’s capital, hard up against a “barrier” that many have forgotten protects the population from the “Night” and the “cold” … quite a few similarities already.
Add in a devastating attack at night, the intervention of unknown outsiders, the possibility of magic and the miraculous escape of the only heir and one might think that Lowe was copying rather too obviously.
However, The Heir of Night redeems itself through the intricate – and different – history and culture of this fantasy world; there are other bits and pieces too that make this not an actual copy of the classic series.
But Lowe has walked a very fine line – particularly when it comes to mad fans I would expect.
The central character is Malian, a girl who is not yet a woman but already the heir to her very cold, very distant father’s lordship and responsibility.
An invasion from beyond the wall that the family protects against finds Malian with her back against the wall, quite literally, and forces her to realise her hidden magical potential – something to be feared not only for its power but because it will bar her from rulership.
Lowe’s pacing is good, the action scenes are believable and her characters fully-fleshed out in many ways – although there are a fair few stereotypes filling up the plot’s gaps.
It will be interesting to see if Lowe can move the story forward in such a way as to remove more of the similarities to A Song of Ice and Fire; I hope so.

The Heir of Night by Helen Lowe is published by Orbit Books and is available at all good book stores and online. The next book in the series is The Gathering of The Lost.

quirky new idea in classic fantasy novel

Every so often a fantasy novel comes along that offers lovers of the genre something new and exciting; an idea or series of ideas that don’t seem to have been thought of before.
Anna Kendall’s Crossing Over is one of these books. The central premise – a boy is able to crossover into the afterlife through the application of pain – is different enough to stand out.
Roger lives a truly wretched life, forced to use this “gift”, which he sees as being more of a curse, by supposed relatives who inflict pain on him nightly in order to get money from those missing their dead.
Finally after seemingly endless passages of despair and depression – almost enough to make one give up reading, but not quite – Roger finds himself first free of the horrible relatives and then “saved” by mysterious woman.
Eventually, of course, Roger gets himself into trouble by telling the wrong people about his skill and before he realises it he’s the pivotal point for politics in his land.
Kendall has a great turn of phrase, her pacing is a little slow at first but gets better as Roger makes his way through his world. And her descriptive passages are very good.
Roger is the sort of character that most people can related to, he’s not perfect – despite, or because of his terrible upbringing – he’s quite weak and easily manipulated.
But throughout the story you feel that he’s at least trying to do the right thing, even if he gets caught up in his own power at times.
Crossing Over is a tightly written piece of dark fantasy – it would make a great present for anyone interested in the genre but looking for something a little different.

Crossing Over by Anna Kendall is published by Orion Books and is available from good book stores and online.

Young Adult Fiction with more depth than most

Like most urban fantasy for young readers, By Midnight from Mia James has the requisite young girl who’s clueless about her creepy new school, the mysterious good-looking boy, parents who are somehow out of the picture and things that go bump in the night.
So far, so boring.
Luckily By Midnight is saved by some actual reality in the form of a murder or two, a mother who can’t cope and a bemused but genuine cop.
James’ writing is also a step above the usual pap that these sorts of books are usually dowsed in. The prose is tight, the action relatively realistic and the characters fairly believable.
The central character April is a pretty normal teen who has been shifted to London by a family move and dumped at a posh school supposedly the only place available.
Her mother and father are busy working, and despite being relatively smart April feels like an outsider compared to her much more glamorous and brilliant school mates.
After a couple of mysterious happenings and a death, April realises that not only is something weird going on at her school, there’s something weird about her family as well.
There will, of course, be a sequel. There probably already is.
This is a good alternative to the other rubbish that’s out there; if only because it’s set in England and not America for a change.

By Midnight by Mia James is published by Orion Books and is available from good book stores and online.

The fundamentals of fashion

Imagine my delight when I received a copy of Christian Dior’s classic tome, The Little Dictionary of Fashion. This wee book – it’s only 126, small pages long – would finally be able to shed some light on the thoughts of one of fashion’s greatest individuals.
Like Coco Chanel, Christian Dior has shaped the way women, and men, dress today whether we are aware of it or not. First published in 1954 and republished in 2008, the rise of the “lady-like” style has seen a renewed interest in this period and the designers who influenced it.

Dior is perhaps best-known for creating the “New Look” after World War II, when despite the need to continue rationing “luxuries” like fabric, he produced a distinctive skirt that was so huge and used so much material that it seemed to fly in the face of societal norms of the time.

He reportedly used 20 yards – that’s over 18 metres – of luxe fabric in the bell-shaped skirts of his Spring Summer 1947 collection; Dior’s first public ready-to-wear show.

Although the lines were called “Corolle” and “Huit”, it was Harper's Bazaar's editor-in-chief Carmel Snow’s exclamation “It's such a New Look!” that actually named Dior’s seminal creation.

To read the complete review, go to my blog on, The fundamentals of fashion

* This review was first published on  

Friday, November 5, 2010

another delicious dark dexter story from jeff lindsay

Dexter is Delicious is the fifth book in the Dexter series from Jeff Lindsay, and yes, these are the books the award-winning TV show Dexter is based on.
The serial killer as hero premise seems old hat now, but when the first book, Darkly Dreaming Dexter, was released, the concept was constantly being debated by everyone from high-brow critics to bible-bashing mid-westerners. How dare Lindsay make the hero a psychopathic serial killer? Shocking!
With an award-winning TV show and a heart-throb actor in the central role, the Dexter franchise has become practically mainstream.
Luckily the books are still as well-written as they always were; the structure of the internal monologue continues to work, and the reader still wonders just how Lindsay knows so much about how a serial killer thinks.
In the TV series, Dexter is a father, and in Dexter is Delicious his daughter Lily Anne is also the one thing that’s keeping him on the straight and narrow and out of the electric chair.
At least until he realises that someone from his past, someone who knows rather too much about what really makes Dexter tick, reappears in his life.
If Dexter is threatened, then Lily Anne is threatened; and that is not something you want an accomplished murderer like Dexter thinking about.
To complicate matters, Dexter’s job as a blood spatter analyst gets him involved in the disappearance of an 18-year-old girl who may have been abducted by vampires – who could also be cannibals.
Lindsay’s books are so much more detailed than the TV show, although the voice-over used in the show mirrors somewhat the internal monologue of the character in the novels.
Still, you can read the books and watch the show without too many discrepancies cropping up, which isn’t always true.
For lovers of crime thrillers and murder mysteries or lovers of novels about psychopaths, you can’t go past the Dexter novels; they are a unique twist on a great genre.

Dexter is Delicious by Jeff Lindsay is published by Orion Books and is available at all good book stores and online.