Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Angels of Islington by Sarah Channing Wright

Merry (almost) Hexmas, followers! I hope you are all enjoying this holiday season. Personally I've been running around like a chicken with my head cut off trying to get everyone presents and working on getting my flight sorted to visit home in early January, but luckily I've had a bit of a distraction. The lovely Sarah Channing Wright sent me a copy of her book The Angels of Islington to review which I'd like to discuss for you now.


Lets get the stage set, shall we? Our story follows a group of vampires (among them Onyx, Demon, Spider, and Storm) who have integrated themselves into the 1990's Goth scene in London. They hang out at clubs, visit pubs, drink from unsuspecting spooky types, and have their own interpersonal dramas. But! All is not well in Camden town, and the sinister vampire Count who threatens their very way of life.

The setting is probably what is going to be the big draw to a lot of us. Being born in 1994 I wasn't exactly sentient enough to appreciate the 90's Goth scene and Wright explores is really well. Each chapter is filled to the brim with details about music, social interactions, and fashion which really makes the environment come alive. You'll recognize a few songs that are mentioned, no doubt, and probably appreciate the outsider's perspective on the weirdness that is Goth dancing. Fashion is one of Wright's favorite bits, I think, because every character (even tiny, unimportant ones) is introduced with a lengthy outfit descrption. That being said, I hope you like the word "matted" because Wright certainly does! I'm pretty sure it's the most used adjective in the whole book, with everyone having some variety of matted black hair.

Unfortunately, the fashion descriptions are about as in-depth into character development as Wright goes. I'm made fully aware of which characters have (matted) black hair or which ones wear the same frock coats that they wore in the 18th century (as a museum and conservation enthusiast, what?) but their characters are pretty interchangeable. I think this might be because Wright introduces so many different characters in such a short space of time, but their personalities are pretty anemic and even when they are assigned a (single) personality trait they usually don't act in any way that would support it. She's still introducing and trying to characterize them in the Epilogue, by which time I had given up on my list of who I have to care about and what they were doing. Nor do the characters really experience growth over the span of the book, they just restore a certain status quo and off we go. I think cutting down the main cast of characters might have solved this issue.



I also take issue with the Count who causes all of this trouble. All of the vampires act terrified of him (although not terrified enough to not go to the club and dance when they're supposed to be finding a way to destroy him), but he himself isn't really that scary. He prances around, speaks in rhymes, and doesn't do very much besides murder a couple of people. He certainly isn't as scary as Magenta, whose hypnotic powers I found very suspect. And, without meaning to spoil, he is defeated in a very anti-climactic Deus ex Machina way that left me very unsatisfied. That being said, he has some really good moments in the book. When the Count is storming around in a fury he reacts to a group of barking dogs by shouting "Listen to them! Mangy dogs. What a bloody racket they make!" in wonderful reference to the famous children of the night passage from Dracula.

I feel like I've made a lot of complaints but I can't say I came out of the book disliking it. It was camp fun. There's something about being asked to take characters with names like Onyx, Wraith, Demon, and Spider seriously, especially when they are placed alongside characters with sensible names like Jim, that feels very silly and fun. So if you don't go into it expecting any high literature, you'll probably have fun with it. It's certainly enjoyable if you want to read about the 90's Goth scene (and maybe laugh because some of it seems quite familiar, as I did) and can forgive a slightly flimsy plot.



If you would like to pick up your own copy of The Angels of Islington by Sarah Channing Wright and experience the camp joy of reading it, you can purchase it on Amazon here.

So, what books have you all been reading recently?

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Reader Question: Neutral Goth Eyes

Hello Mary Rose, I hope you don't mind my asking but do you know of any goth makeup looks I could do with neutral brown eyeshadow palettes? My mother works for a makeup company and she is able to get a lot of make up for me, but I have sooooo many brown and taupe shades that I don't have a use for. I don't want to throw them out. Ideas?
Alex

Hi Alex! Neutral colors aren't the most exciting for your Goth look, but they can be useful in and of themselves. Lighter colors like cream and ivory can be used to high light under your brows or along your tear duct in a more natural way than just using stark white, and many people use eyeshadow to fill in their brows. Matte browns can be used with a fluffy brush to contour your face, and lighter colors with or without shimmer make good high-lighters.

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Another option is to use neutral colors alongside other colors in one look. For example, a light brown eyeshadow over the lid that then blends into a deep purple will make the purple pop. A cream eyeshadow on the lid with red eyeshadow lined along the lash line and blending out into black in the crease would also create a spooky look. So, don't feel pressured that just because you have a quad of colors you need to use only those. Mixing it up and playing with combinations will help you create wonderful looks. And, hey, neutrals match everything, right?

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As for full-fledged Goth looks with all brown-ish colors, you definitely have some options. As I've said before on this blog, the more Goth aspects you remove from a look the more the other aspects of your look have to hold up the Goth aesthetic. So, amp up other aspects of your look to balance the un-Goth colors out.

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In this look, the eyes are done in neutral colors but the exaggerated shapes of the eyebrows and corners of the eyes keep the look Gothic. Of course, it helps if you have other Goth-associated elements like piercings, exagerated V-bangs, and an awesome black outfit.

Or you could also add tons of black and make a dramatic smoky eye look.

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While most Goths that I've seen don't necessarily obey this rule, some people hold that you should emphasize either your eyes or your lips in a look (so you wouldn't do a dramatic smokey eye and a bright red lip.) While I'm not one for "beauty rules" in particular, I do think using a neutral eye look would be a great excuse to wear  a red, purple, or black lip. Personally I think purples and browns look good together.

If you want to use the neutral colors as a basis, adding winged eyeliner or interesting lipstick will work to add Goth elements to the look.

So, readers, how do you use neutral colors in your makeup?


ETA December 2015: The amazing Drac Makens over on youtube now has an entire series of Gothic makeup looks centered around neutral eye makeup. Check them out here!

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Nightmare Before Christmas Holiday Trees

Christmas trees are a kind of bizarre tradition, don't you think? Nothing says festive like a piece of dead foliage sprinkling pine needles all over your carpet! Especially if you're going to decorate it nicely with lights and shiny baubles. So, combine this slightly bizarre tradition with my favorite Tim Burton film, the Nightmare Before Christmas, and you get one wicked tree. Here's some inspiration from people who had the same idea:

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If you want more Goth Christmas inspiration, look no further than my Pinterest board! Lots of decor ideas for your spooky, festive home.

If you celebrate Christmas, how do you decorate your trees?

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

St Cuthbert's Churchyard, Edinburgh

At the end of November I went to Edinburgh and, while I was there, popped into a small churchyard to take some photos. Now that I've finally gotten around to editing and uploading them, I thought I'd share them here.






If you would like to see the rest, including some great color shots, click here to visit my Study Abroad blog.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

24 (Non-Clothing) Gifts for Goths!

As the holidays approach it's time for the loved-ones of Goths to panic about what to get them (or that's what my family tells me!) If you don't want to take the gift-card cop-out but aren't sure what size or type of clothes they're into, here are twenty-four gift ideas sure to make Goths of all ages smile:


  1. A CD from a favorite Goth band, or one of the classics like The Cure, Depeche Mode, Bauhaus, Siouxsie and the Banshees. 
  2. Scented soap or bath salts from Etsy
  3. Themed fridge magnets. I'm partial to the poetry ones, which come in themed packs like Vampire or Edgar Allan Poe
  4. Black nail polish
  5. An old fashioned horror film, or one of the many sets out there.
  6. Sponsor a bat in their name!
  7. Dark stationary, perhaps from Evil Supply Co.?
  8. A popular book on Goth, like that by Jillian Venters or Voltaire, or like the one I reviewed on Wednesday!
  9. A dark mug. Bonus points if filled with treats
  10. Dark buttons/pins from Etsy or similar
  11. A new cellphone case, especially good if they have a popular phone such as an iPhone
  12. A Goth keychain
  13. Calligraphy pen
  14. If you can source them, a small (cleaned) animal skull. Be sure to wrap carefully!
  15. Black candles
  16. A package of loose tea 
  17. A jewelry box or stand
  18. A stuffed animal bat
  19. Flavored Lipbalm in an unusual scent like Absinthe or Rose
  20. Halloween craft supplies (will require sourcing in advance)
  21. A Journal
  22. Sample perfumes from BPAL or similar
  23. A spooky vinyl decal
  24. A print from an artist that they like
If 24 ideas aren't enough, check out my Gift Ideas for Goths Pinterest board with great ideas and pictures! I've also been posting a lot on my Goth Christmas board, so be sure to look at that.

What would you like to see under your Christmas tree this year?

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Art of Gothic: Music + Fashion + Alt Culture

Thank you again, Mr. Postman, for filling my mail box with all sorts of fun goodies. Recently I was sent a copy of the new book The Art of Gothic: Music + Fashion + Alt Culture by Natasha Scharf to review which I just finished reading this morning.  Along with a cup of the Pumpkin Spice Chai by Twinnings that also came that day, of course.

Now, there are a lot of books about the Goth subculture floating around by Voltaire or Jillian Venters but this is the first one I've seen that actually focuses on the artistic side of the movement rather than a history of the subculture as a whole. As someone who is interested in Art History, I'm really fascinated by it, so I was excited to give this a read.

The book itself is lovely. The large, glossy pages are laid out really well and, if you ask me, it looks pretty nice on a shelf. Inside the book talks about different ways that dark art flourishes in the subculture. It starts with art derived from our favorite Goth music groups, including music posters and album covers, and then goes on to discuss the fine art, gothic comics, movie posters, interior design, wearable art and some bits on fashion. Some of the sections hi-light specific artists like Roman Dirge, Marilyn Manson, and Steven R. Gilmore, while others are more theme-based.

My favorite chapter is about The New Escapism and talks about the aesthetics that videogames and other "nerd culture" influenced Goth, and vice versa. Fans of Vampire: The Masquerade and Bioshock take note, this was a fun section. I hate to sound cocky, but it's rare that a book on this particular branch in the subculture reaches me something new because I'm pretty "geek goth" and have been surrounded by nerd culture since my first family Dungeons & Dragons game in my childhood. But hey! What do you know? I did learn something new, and it was pretty fun.

I will say, though, that this book is not about the Goth subculture. It's not a history. It is not the same discussion of how Bauhaus and Siouxsie Sioux evolved into what happened today that we've all read six hundred times. It's about how the aesthetic of Gothic evolves over time and has influenced a lot of different aspects of alternative art and expression, so the book plays fast and loose with the concept of "Gothic." It focuses on dark themes and things that take inspiration from Gothic but aren't directly Gothic themselves are included. So in the book we end up with a Game of Thrones movie poster, a My Chemical Romance album cover, Steampunk art, John William Waterhouse paintings, and a Rob Zombie jack-in-the-box, among other things. I'm certainly not bothered by this, but I'm sure some people would be.

The righting of the book is pretty good with an easy to follow casual tone that doesn't sacrifice snark to be informative. The foreword by Andi Sex Gang is really interesting, and talks about how gothic is about "being artistically challenging and culturally subversive" while enjoying darker aestheitcs. The foreword ends with the call to action: "Although gothic has been redefined and reinterpreted over the years, it will never truly disappear because there will always be a need for an alternative to commercial culture and brain-numbing mainstream music. Goth as a subculture is here to stay, so let's make it even more interesting, challenging, potent, and creative." I'll drink to that.

So, that's the end of my review! It's a fun book and I'm grateful someone is exploring the parts of the subculture I hold nearest and dearest to my heart. It's certainly something new in the world of writing about Goth, unless I'm missing some holy grail older book. If you would like to order your own copy, you can do so on Backbeat Books (I think it'd also make a great Christmas present for the spookster in your life, too.)

What other books would you like to be written about the Goth subculture?