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review SPOILER ALERT! 2018-08-12 22:17
Cats Like Cream by Renee Miller
Cats Like Cream - Renee Miller

Cats Like Cream by Renee Miller
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Being a successful employee at a real estate agency, Elwin strives to help people find their dream homes - but as it turns out, they get more than what they bargained for. With strategically installed cameras, he's able to watch the new residents settle in and, oftentimes, witness them at their most private of moments. But he can't touch, no matter how much he wishes to, as touching only leads to bad, and bloody, things.

(WARNING: This review contains minor spoilers.)

I decided to read something shorter than my usual, as my mood craved a story more direct and to the point; you know, with less time to invest in but without sacrificing that valuable punch. I’m therefore glad I picked up this one, as despite my personal distaste of the cover, the tale within was incredibly unsettling. I always find it considerably more disturbing when the monster isn’t supernatural in origin, but very much human. The mere thought of just how much a person’s mind can figuratively short circuit, to the point where they consistently justify their depraved behaviour, well, it’s downright scary, but also deeply fascinating on some level.

This is the second time I’ve had the (dis)pleasure of reading about trichophagia, which is essentially the compulsive disorder of eating hair. Certainly not for the squeamish, as even with having a strong stomach it nearly had me gagging. Miller was able to portray Elwin in such a way that depicted him a victim to some inner demon that craved gratification. The blame for his misdoings was thus placed upon this evil entity, with little to no responsibility falling upon Elwin himself. With intimate knowledge of his troubled thoughts, some more relatable than others, I couldn't help but appreciate the work put into his psyche. However, even though I consider myself an empathetic individual, I found him to be a vile beast of a human being with little to no redeeming qualities.

Being approximately fifty pages long, the pace didn't loiter. It was difficult for me to tear myself away for this very reason, as the situation just kept getting increasingly more thrilling. When that ending finally arrived, it was hard to accept that it was over.

In conclusion: I very much enjoyed this venture into the life of a serial killer. A quick but satisfying read, and one I won't soon forget.

Notable Scene:

The beast clawed at the underside of his lungs. Elwin told it to be patient. It roared in reply.

© Red Lace 2018

 

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Source: redlace.reviews/2018/08/12/cats-like-cream-by-renee-miller
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review SPOILER ALERT! 2018-08-05 21:22
Solitary by Alexander Gordon Smith
Escape from Furnace 2: Solitary - Alexander Gordon Smith

Solitary by Alexander Gordon Smith
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Delving further into the bowels of Furnace Penitentiary, Alex Sawyer desperately tries to hold onto his fleeting sanity. After a failed attempt to escape the underground horrors, being thrown into solitary confinement is a fate worse than death. A hole in the rocky earth becomes his coffin, yet it won't save him from what roams the corridors, in search of warm flesh to eat.

(WARNING: This review contains minor spoilers.)

With this second installment I desperately tried to overcome my primary issue with the series - the suspension of disbelief that it relies so heavily upon. Unfortunately I just can’t get behind the all important plot point of how this prison even exists; world building has been pretty unremarkable in that regard. I mean, how could parents just be okay with never seeing their teenage children ever again, no matter what crimes they’ve apparently committed? I digress. I promised myself this wouldn’t be a rant-review, because in actuality, I enjoy the struggles of Alex quite a bit. Smith adds such raw emotion to the dire situation, and good, descriptive writing I can appreciate. Rather than Alex and his friends emerging into the light of freedom, they’re thrown into solitary confinement in this addition. Who knew general population would be greatly missed? I have to give credit where it’s due; the unpleasantness of solitary at times made my skin crawl. Despite the main protagonists being in their teenage years, little detail was left to the imagination - even their toilet habits were voiced. This is the sort of book I would have loved as a younger reader; pushing the boundaries of the young adult genre with its bleak themes. Perhaps I would have even dismissed the implausibilities in favour of enjoyment, but my mind doesn’t work that way these days.

I can’t say that Alex, as a character, developed a great deal. His way of thinking was much the same as the last - feeling helpless and doomed, followed by a sense of hope and determination. One thing in particular became very much apparent, and that’s the fact his actions wholly depend upon his companions. Without them, and I believe he’d be a very lifeless person. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I am a fan of independence. I often wondered what, if anything, he would have achieved if truly without anyone. He hinted once or twice about suicide, but again I think his relationships give him his every bit of strength. Perhaps he’ll find himself all by his lonesome at some point, as his allies are dwindling in number. A new character was introduced however, and I liked Simon and what he represented.

As for the plot, it was thoroughly entertaining, even if it was a recycled escape and fail trope. By now I know that Smith favours the action-packed scenes that keep readers on their toes, and together with the turbulence of Alex’s mind, it was enough to keep me invested. I enjoyed the change of scenery, and especially the horrors of the infirmary. Questions arose about the mystery behind it all; the black substance that transforms the subjects, the overall goal of creating monsters. There’s an endless supply of prisoners, after all, so what’s the point? To build an army?

In conclusion: Even though I preferred Lockdown a bit more, this one showed no signs of the series slowing down. It’s grim and frightening at times, and I appreciate the expressive way in which the story's told. If only more information was given to properly quench my concerns.

Notable Quote:

I wondered how many voices there were living in my head, and how they could all have such different opinions.

© Red Lace 2018

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Source: redlace.reviews/2018/08/05/649
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review SPOILER ALERT! 2018-07-29 20:54
Dark Matter by Michelle Paver
Dark Matter - Michelle Paver

Dark Matter by Michelle Paver
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Top Read 2018

Five men and eight huskies make their way to the Arctic, specifically to Gruhuken; an uninhabited bay that the expedition will spend the next twelve months. As the last days of summer fade, darkness descends until the sun becomes a distant memory. Jack, eager to work, finds himself alone when his companions are forced to leave, one by one. Soon enough, the nightmarish ambience takes its toll, especially when a horrific figure makes itself known.

(WARNING: This review contains minor spoilers.)

There’s a funny story related to this book, and it all started with me initially purchasing it in my local secondhand bookstore. To tell the truth, I didn’t much pay attention to it, other than noting it was a ghost story, as said on its cover. I put it away with my mountains of other titles, and then some time passed. I got the urge to try Audible again, so I logged into my old account and found a random horror to try. Much to my surprise, it was truly amazing, and it surpassed my every expectation. After I finished it, I desperately wanted to get a physical copy, but I actually already had a hardback stashed away; indeed, the book I previously acquired in the store. Realising I had already had it, without even realising it, brought a sense of happiness I rarely feel; where everything feels just right. Paver’s hauntingly beautiful story will therefore always remain special to me.

I can only try and properly express my thoughts, but I’m unsure if they’ll do the masterpiece any justice. You see, in no way did I predict the emotion that rose to the surface as I progressed through the chapters. I didn’t foresee the ending that brought me to tears, nor the fondness that stuck with me thereafter. It’s tales like these that make reading an incredible experience - something that gives the days a sense of wonder. Okay, I could probably keep on gushing, or I could actually go into the all important details.

The structure in which Paver relied heavily upon is my preferred way of storytelling - deeply atmospheric, where the surroundings are used to add ample weight to the situation. I really could see every detail in my mind’s eye, and my imagination appreciated the brutality included. Let’s face it, the Arctic is just not a place for humanity, as literally everything about it can cause a big dose of death. Paver delved further into the uninhabitable environment by exploring the detrimental effects on mental health. Isolation played a major role, smothering the main character in all its depressive glory. Friendship and love were also prominent themes, and all together a remarkable concoction was created.

I honestly didn’t like Jack at first. His dog-hating ways were the total opposite of endearing, yet as time passed, I found myself warming to him. He developed a great deal, becoming someone I very much wanted to persevere. Due to bearing witness to his innermost thoughts, he was shaped into a very genuine person - he had his fears, desires, and most of all, an abundance of confusion that had him question his identity. I enjoyed his self discovery, as did I enjoy his struggle for survival.

The paranormal aspect was subtle, but it only made it all the more oppressive; its presence was constantly imminent, and I felt a considerable amount of dread. More than anything else, I was more worried for the dogs than any of their human counterparts. I knew from the first moment of their introduction that they would be used to pull the heartstrings. I mean, it’s not like Paver would have shied away from including animal cruelty, as there’s other instances where it’s present. Isaak in particular completely gained my love, for obvious reasons.

Since I listened to Audible’s version, I have to give credit to Jeremy Northam. His performance was brilliant; adding in just the right amount of despair.

In conclusion: What else can I say, other than I one hundred percent loved it?

Notable Quote:

Four months without the sun. Doesn't seem real.

© Red Lace 2018


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Source: redlace.reviews/2018/07/29/dark-matter-by-michelle-paver
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review SPOILER ALERT! 2018-07-13 20:34
Wild Blood by Nancy A. Collins
Wild Blood - Nancy A. Collins

Wild Blood by Nancy A. Collins
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

When tragedy befalls Skinner Cade, he sets out to discover his origins - just who was his biological parents? Unable to keep his temper in check, his search soon takes a detour as he lands himself in prison, where an incident results in an all-out bloodbath. A monster resides within Skinner, one he's unsure how to handle, and when he's introduced to the world of the vargr, he's not even sure he wants to learn of his ancestry.

(WARNING: This review contains MAJOR spoilers.)

This was an impulsive buy at the local secondhand bookstore, as first and foremost, the cover caught my eye. It seemed almost comedic, so I was under the impression it would include some sort of black humour. I was wrong, however, and was confronted with over the top depictions of rape and incest that were heavily integrated into the plot itself. Don’t get me wrong, I love werewolves; the more brutal the better, but this was the first time where such disturbingly sexualised topics dominated the pages. It became apparent that important story elements were sacrificed in order to rush the plot along, and focus primarily on graphic content. I should also mention that I don’t have any issues with graphic content concerning sex, however if I feel such matters damage the overall story, then that’s where my problems lie. Despite being a short book, a lot actually happens; there’s before, during and after prison, as well as the rut melee with a lot in between. There certainly were interesting characters and predicaments that Skinner got himself into, but they were so underdeveloped that I just couldn’t get a proper sense of them.

Let’s start with the prison and Skinner’s relationship with Cheater. There appeared to be a connection between them, or something I couldn’t quite grasp. Cheater’s dream and use of the term “Prince” was certainly interesting, but it was so ridiculously vague. I also felt that the friendship in itself was bewildering, as Skinner, of whom was supposed to be a “good guy”, was perfectly fine with his companion stealing and murdering. If this had of been fleshed out, with time given to properly establish them both, then it just might have made sense. This goes for the later half of the book as well, where things rapidly progressed until Skinner was suddenly of great importance.

I actually liked Skinner to an extent, and I enjoyed that his life took a radical turn into the world of claws and teeth, but I couldn’t attach myself nor particularly care what came of him when his development left a lot to be desired. As a person, Skinner often fluctuated between being decent and being rather questionable, with what actually drove his actions leaving nothing but confusion. I think the intention was for him to be the unexpected hero; the good man thrown into the fray and always coming out on top - which I, ultimately, didn't care for. Don't even get me started on the last minute romance attempt, because it was positively absurd.

The shock factor loses its value if overexposed, at least in my case. Sure, the first rape scene (of a dog, I might add), was very much unpleasant, but each taboo subject thereafter only numbed me further. By the end, I wasn't even remotely surprised by what transpired. It was, without a doubt, very curious that Collins decided to go down the route she did - painting the species of "vargr" in a very ugly light, moreso than the usual bloodthirsty monsters of the genre. As it was, I had a hope that the entire race would perish.

In conclusion - I've changed my initial rating to accurately reflect my thoughts, from three stars to only two. It was overly rushed to appropriately develop the plot and characters, instead relying upon disturbing content to carry it through. A shame, as the concept itself was intriguing.

Notable Quote:

"The vargr are all belly and eyes. They desire all that they see. And that which they can not have - they destroy. Completely and utterly."

© Red Lace 2018

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Source: redlace.reviews/2018/07/13/wild-blood-by-nancy-a-collins
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review SPOILER ALERT! 2018-07-07 03:43
The Butterfly Garden by Dot Hutchison
The Butterfly Garden - Dot Hutchison

The Butterfly Garden by Dot Hutchison
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

He's accurately named the "Gardener", as in his possession is a most enchanting garden, with its own collection of delicate butterflies. He cares for them; feeds them, grooms them, even mourns them when they perish, but he's also the reason they expire, for he is their captor. Taken from their lives and branded as property, the young women must endure their time as a beloved butterfly.

(WARNING: This review contains minor spoilers.)

Well, at least I more or less knew what I was getting into, as it was abundantly clear from the synopsis that this book would be chock-full of disturbing content. I mean, there was obviously going to be sexual abuse, right? However I can’t say that preparing myself for the inevitable made it any easier when it came around - the discomfort I experienced during some scenes was fierce, but I think it was worth it overall. I really enjoyed the format of the plot; the interview process and the accounts of certain events that took place within the garden. It was much of a beautiful nightmare; I say beautiful because the garden itself was a green thumb’s paradise. The writing clearly did well in expressing how exquisite the surrounding flora was - I would absolutely adore living somewhere like that, only of my own free will, of course. The darkness that lurked behind its exterior brought up the topic of ugly secrets hiding behind attractive fronts, which I believe can apply to a lot in today's world.

I found Maya to be extremely difficult to comprehend at times, and even like in some instances. Sure, I understood her hardships in life and the resulting effects on her mental state, but emotionally detached characters are generally harder for me to relate to. Her behaviour didn’t make much sense, even with the inclusion of the lacklustre twist at the end. I mean, you’d have to be a machine to just accept the fate of suddenly being a prisoner, and Maya was the definition of the perfect captive. This leads me to my biggest gripe that I couldn’t ignore about this book - the complete lack of self-preservation. The women were young and fit, and they never considered working together to overpower their much older captor? They even had access to a multitude of items that could have been used as weapons, such as sculpting tools and the likes. It does bother me when I need to question the plausibility of a story, as it’s the authors job to sufficiently build up a believable, consistent narrative. My suspension of disbelief can only go so far.

It's because of the absurdity of the characters that I didn't particularly favour any of them. Sure, one or two were likeable enough, just like the clear-cut villains were dislikeable, but none made their way into my heart. It was too bad, to say the least, that there was this constant barrier of doubt and incredibility that I couldn't bypass.

I need to mention the ending, or specifically, the attempt at a last minute revelation. I’m an enormous fan of plot twists, of those moments that force me to rethink, or surprise me to a large degree, but not every book needs one. In fact, I believe that, in this case, it was shoehorned in as a poor effort to try and explain Maya’s bizarre behaviour. In no way, shape, or form did it thrill or even interest me, and I considered it having little value. I won't outright state the details, but it was the wrong direction for the story.

This review reads significantly more negative than what my final rating displays. I think I should be clear that I was gripped, and it was difficult to tear me away from Hutchison’s grim tale despite the issues I had. I'm fond of dark fiction that touches upon horror aspects, and this really did tick a lot of boxes in that regard; there were many taboo themes, and the writing made it simple enough to become quickly absorbed. Perhaps it would have even been a top read, had some aspects been a little more logical.

In conclusion: It was remarkably entertaining, offering a twisted account of one man's obsession with beauty. Not for the faint of heart, as depictions of abuse were plentiful throughout. I had my problems with believability, and whilst I couldn't exactly dismiss those issues, I found it only right that I rated accordingly. Am I going to read further into the series? I can honestly say that it doesn't appeal, as I've glanced over numerous reviews that state it's more police / investigation work, and I'm not into that sort of thing.

Notable Quote:

Like beauty, desperation and fear were as common as breathing.

© Red Lace 2018


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Source: redlace.reviews/2018/07/07/the-butterfly-garden-by-dot-hutchison
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