Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

past reviews
Dark Matter
By Blake Crouch
Narrated by  Jon Lindstrom
Audiobook ISBN13: 9781101924471
Length: 10+ hours
Genre: Science Fiction/Thriller

Jason Dessen is walking home through the chilly Chicago streets one night, looking forward to a quiet evening in front of the fireplace with his wife, Daniela, and their son, Charlie—when his reality shatters.

It starts with a man in a mask kidnapping him at gunpoint, for reasons Jason can’t begin to fathom—what would anyone want with an ordinary physics professor?—and grows even more terrifying from there, as Jason’s abductor injects him with some unknown drug and watches while he loses consciousness.

When Jason awakes, he’s in a lab, strapped to a gurney—and a man he’s never seen before is cheerily telling him “welcome back!”

Jason soon learns that in this world he’s woken up to, his house is not his house. His wife is not his wife. His son was never born.

And someone is hunting him.

Is the life Jason remembers just some crazed dream? And can he survive long enough to discover the answers he needs?


Dark Matter boasts some impressive stats that include a Goodreads average of 4.12 with nearly 60,000 ratings. It  certainly holds the popular vote in recent science fiction thrillers. It has been on my TBR screaming at me for some time. I couldn’t seem to make that time though, so I turned to audio. And admittedly, I was pretty excited to begin what seemed to offer promises of sci-fi suspense.

Unfortunately, I found a lot of disappointment during my time with Dark Matter. A lot. I am going to keep this review on the light side for that very reason. I am not one to spend any significant time cutting into an authors hard work. I get that reading is a personal experience. I understand that just because I did not enjoy a book does not mean it is a bad book. Clearly this book has an audience. But I am not a part of that audience.

I fault part of my less than stellar experience partially on the fact that I was expecting something much more complex and dense than what I actually received. The plot, while not without interest, felt too familiar. I am no stranger to tales of multi-dimensional, alternate universe scenarios. And that is what we have here. Sure it’s was served with a dash of tech jargon a.k.a. fancy words, but I was unable to find anything grand beneath the surface. It was simply an okay story being delivered at a fast past with a the added element of love and family (which are not exactly original either).  The premise, while not to be labeled terrible, did not offer anything extremely new. For me Crouch’s sci-fi adventure read more as a steady blend of the many common components one can expect find frequently in tales of multiverse travels.

“We all live day to day completely oblivious to the fact that we’re a part of a much larger and stranger reality than we can possibly imagine.”

Sadly, the characters were the biggest disappointment here for me. I did not connect with our protagonist Jason in any beneficial way. If I am being honest, I came to find myself annoyed with him and his decision-making which was ultimately detrimental to my final impression of the story. The dialog was often dry and offered little in terms of stimulation or character development. There was no growth happening. World building was another area of lost potential. Each dimension and scenario felt bleak and almost bland. Maybe I have seen or read one too many multi-dimensional stories and the bar is set too high? But I really don’t feel that is the case.

With that all said, Dark Matter is not without a few notable qualities. The writing style felt fluid and the narration cohesive, which can be a challenge in science fiction. There was certainly significant possibilities buried within this story. The author has attempted to address elements of love and humanity within. He questions the what ifs.

“If you strip away all the trappings of personality and lifestyle, what are the core components that make me me?”

The execution and end product just fall short. I think this would be one that I might recommend for those who do not normally venture into sci-fi. It’s lack of complexity and easy readability, might make it ideal for anyone who is looking to ease into the genre. I have a feeling this one would translate better to film for myself. I was unable to find that magical connection that Dark Matter has seemed to so easily achieve with many others.

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Penpal by Dathan Auerbach

By Dathan Auerbach
Publisher: 1000Vultures
Pages: 254
Genre: Horror/Fiction


Penpal began as a series of short and interconnected stories posted on an online horror forum. Before long, it was adapted into illustrations, audio recordings, and short films; and that was before it was revised and expanded into a novel!

How much do you remember about your childhood?

In Penpal, a man investigates the seemingly unrelated bizarre, tragic, and horrific occurrences of his childhood in an attempt to finally understand them. Beginning with only fragments of his earliest years, you’ll follow the narrator as he discovers that these strange and horrible events are actually part of a single terrifying story that has shaped the entirety of his life and the lives of those around him. If you’ve ever stayed in the woods just a little too long after dark, if you’ve ever had the feeling that someone or something was trying to hurt you, if you remember the first friend you ever made and how strong that bond was, then Penpal is a story that you won’t soon forget, despite how you might try.


Penpal was a happy accident. I stumbled upon this title after completing another eBook and noticing the odd cover among recommendations. While I did not find it quite as disturbing as some reviews may claim, it wasn’t the exactly the horror aspect of this small read that appealed to me in the long run. Although I admit to indulging in its darker qualities

This is a story that unfolds slowly as our nameless narrator endeavors to make sense of his murky childhood through recollection  and the interrogation of his mother. As pieces of the puzzle fall into place what is revealed is a  disconcerting past that has not only affected his own life but upset that of those closest to him.

“We all have voids in our narratives – lost time that we attempt to reclaim with best guesses.”

Penpal is a story that slowly burrows its way into the back of your mind in a memorable and unsettling sort of way but not without flaws. I find myself moving further and further away from summarizing plots and providing recaps. That is what our synopsis is for, and well once again, revelation is a crucial part of the experience here as often is the case. I am going to fall back on good ole’ pros and cons for this review. Here is a quick look at what does and does not work in within the story for myself.


  • A distinctive plot that effortlessly delivers more than a few disquieting and sinister moments.
  • A nonlinear narrative that is successful in contributing to the fact that our narrator is recalling and piecing together the story that is his childhood. I found a lot of appreciation in this, because it is easy to misconstrue and forget so much as we grow and I like that this is addressed in a very creative manner.
  • The writing is fluid and light, remaining effective but creating an easy read.
  • I am not going to lie: I love that this began as a series of creepypasta stories posted on Reddit and was then funded by Kickstarter to become a debut novel.


  • The dialog and behavior were unconvincing at times because they didn’t seem to coincide well with the narrator’s age at that moment.
  • I found the mother to lack credibility. Her actions and motives were super questionable at best. Some seriously poor decision-making occurs.
  • The ending felt inconclusive. While it is easy to understand what happened, there were still several grey areas left to speculate on. However, maybe this is exactly what the author intended.

Ultimately, I am comfortable recommending Penpal for anyone seeking a fast and fun read with a nice hint creepiness. If you are able to move past the smaller issues within the novel, it actually manages to serve a few hours of solid entertainment. As a debut novel with interesting origins, I feel it is worth the time invested.

Just for fun, here is a YouTube upload of the entire original online Penpal series per CreepsMcPasta. This is not the full novel.

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Brief Review of Let The Right One In Book/Movie

Let the Right One In
(Låt den rätte komma in)
By John Ajvide Lindqvist
Publisher: Quercus
ISBN13: 9781847241696
Pages: 513
Genre: Horror/Paranormal


It is autumn 1981 when the inconceivable comes to Blackeberg, a suburb in Sweden. The body of a teenage boy is found, emptied of blood, the murder rumored to be part of a ritual killing. Twelve-year-old Oskar is personally hoping that revenge has come at long last—revenge for the bullying he endures at school, day after day.

But the murder is not the most important thing on his mind. A new girl has moved in next door—a girl who has never seen a Rubik’s Cube before, but who can solve it at once. There is something wrong with her, though, something odd. And she only comes out at night….


*This title contains scenes of violence and sexual content that may be unsettling.

I love that moment when you can put a title down after completion and just stare at it in pure astonishment. I found myself doing just this with Let the Right One In for a multitude of reasons which I will now try to condense into something coherent.

I am going to be very forthright in the fact that there was absolutely nothing about this novel that I found myself lacking appreciation for. I mean nothing. So if you are seeking a critique or true dissection of the work, probably fair to look elsewhere. Here you are going to find only an attempt to summarize the mountainous pile of elements that worked so well for me within the pages.

“To flee is life. To linger, death.”

This was a very slow burn sort of read, but in the completely acceptable and most valuable sort of way. Every thing from the pace or narration to the world building worked in perfect correlation to achieve an unsettling atmosphere that fueled this dark book. It is rather difficult to fairly acknowledge all that the author has accomplished here. The fluid stream of tension and dread create a highly mood driven and otherworldly experience that I find myself struggling to convey. I soon discovered this was a very difficult title to put down. It was many things, but if I had to narrow my description down to a few words, inviting and unrelenting would be accurate.

The characterization that occurs within Let the Right One In is among some of the finest I have encountered.  Eli, Oskar and Håkan (among others) expose us to a variety of heavy emotions and spare no expense. Some are discovered to be very relatable while others are more horrific and difficult to read at the best of times. The narration triumphantly navigates through a rather large ensemble of unique individuals. Perhaps of greatest note is the fact that I never found myself longing to return to a specific character or portion of the story. Each encounter was of great contribution and interest. I was always content exactly where I was. While Oskar would be our protagonist, each claimed their own earned spotlight so it almost seems unfair to even use the word.


The plot itself is disturbing yet completely engaging, pulling you into a complex and beautiful web of revelation and personal experience.  Since I truly believe that these revelations are key to the book’s success, I am actually going to refrain from a recap.

I have to applaud the author’s brazen decision to approach this story-line in an explicit and graphic manner as it was highly rewarding in the long run. Again, this will not be a fitting read for everyone. Which I mention “graphic” I am not using the word lightly. The author has chosen to sacrifice no detail.

This isn’t a simply story of a vampire but also of adolescence and life. We are exposed to humanity not only from the side of innocence and youth, but through the eyes of that which we fear. And being forced to acknowledge the existence of both is not always an easy pill to swallow. It challenges us and takes us to an uncomfortable depth that threatens a small amount of understanding or acceptance. That is what Let the Right One In does. It forces us to see each character for all they truly are and represent. It delivers us from the blissful ignorance and questioning of youth deep into the unnerving side of a polar opposite.

The fruit of Lindqvist’s labor results in an unapologetic experience that actually defines fear on a very human and uneasy level. This is a haunting and alluring read that dares to take the reader further into the dark reaches of paranormal from an entirely unique perspective. It feels wrong to say that I love this title the way I do, yet I simply do. Tackling a combination of raw reality and the unthinkable what if, this was a heavy read that I highly recommend to all who are comfortable with unsettling content.

Thoughts On the Film

For this brisk comparison I watched the 2008 film adapted by John Ajvide Lindqvist and directed by Tomas Alfredson. The cast included Kåre Hedebrant, Lina Leandersson and Per Ragnar. I stuck with subtitles as always. I am not a fan of dubbed films (plus partially deaf so 😉 ).

For those of you who may have missed my original post of the trailer:

Overall, the film ranked very high with me. Visually stunning, it managed to deliver a cinematic experience that easily captured the same foreboding atmosphere and mood established within the book. The cast effortlessly portrays what I felt to be a not only fair but interesting depiction of each character.

While it seems that a lot of the graphic scenes and more explicit content were omitted when transferring the story to film, it was a decision that was probably necessary. There are somethings that are just not as digestible when handed to you in image. There is a strong difference between reading and viewing certain topics and somethings are just not acceptable on film.

There were however, a few minor disappointments with the film adaptation. Here are my biggest complaints:

  • The experience was too condensed. I felt another 30 to 60 minutes of footage would have been more effective.
  • Details that contributed to the complexity of each character were lost due to the lack of dialog.  I felt that the addition of extra dialog could have replaced details that were lost due not receiving the narration that is provided in the book. Although I am torn on this matter because the lack of dialog contributes to the atmosphere.
  • There was simply not enough focus on the relationship established between Oskar and Eli. This is my biggest complaint and falls back to being too condensed. Time to elaborate on this would have been of great benefit.
  • Håkan’s role was completely downplayed . Admittedly, I believe this is due mainly in large to the fact that some of his identity was sacrificed to keep the film from becoming overly graphic.

I think too often we find that it is just impossible to fit an entire book into one film. There are always omissions and alterations to accommodate the big screen. The question is, was the end result effective? For me yes and a small no. A beautiful movie, but one of the rare occasions where I felt I might have enjoyed it more had I chosen to watch it first and then allow the book to fill the missing pieces. I do not normally recommend watching before reading, but in the case of Let the Right One In I feel it certainly could not hurt.

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