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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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review SPOILER ALERT! 2018-06-23 20:50
NOS4R2 by Joe Hill
NOS4R2 by Joe Hill (6-Nov-2014) Paperback - Joe Hill

NOS4R2 by Joe Hill
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Victoria McQueen discovers her mind can do something very special - it can summon a bridge that can transport her anywhere she wants to go. One day, in a fit of dangerous thinking, she finds herself within the vicinity of a very unstable child abductor; Charlie Manx. Escaping Manx was a turning point in her life, and now, years later, she has a son of her own, and Manx seeks revenge on the one that got away.

(WARNING: This review contains minor spoilers.)

Imaginative would be one word I’d use to describe this; crazy would be another. Not only does it implement so many different things, it does it exceptionally well. If I were to list off the elements that Hill includes, I’m sure you would (if you haven’t already read it) raise an eyebrow or two - I certainly did at first. I had no idea just what I was getting myself into, until it was too late and I was swept up into the mind blowing and twisted biography of Victoria McQueen. It started when she was just eight years old; a child that had a mind filled with fantasy, seeking some semblance of freedom upon her Raleigh Tuff Burner. I do favour tales than span a character’s life, from a young to adult age, as it truly highlights development and progression. The journey of Victoria was a rollercoaster of tragedy, and at times I deeply felt for her. This isn’t to say I particularly liked her throughout the entire book, because there were moments she was depicted as a very selfish individual, but over time, I came to love and accept her. Due to her trauma, life shaped her into a broken soul, and none of it was fair.

As for the numerous other characters, there were an interesting mix of personalities. Lou was a hero in his own right, and seriously a lovely person, whilst Bing was quite the opposite. He was the primary source of sexual violence, even if it was mostly glossed over rather quickly. Child molestation in fact didn't play a part at all in this book, thank goodness, so when I mention sexual violence, it relates purely to the abuse of adults. I just wanted to get that out of the way.

Moving on to Manx himself, he wasn’t my most favourite antagonist. I prefer the charming, deceptive sort of bad guy, instead of the Joker-esque insanity, however he was most assuredly entertaining. The version of his inscape, “Christmasland”, had an undeniable, nightmarish vibe to it, and every time more and more of it was revealed, I became increasingly more fascinated. He truly had lost his mind, and I often wondered about his origins and how he came to be. I'm going to come outright and state that he wasn't a vampire, but the play on the title was pretty much summed up in the book itself. Needless to say, I'm sure there's a significant amount of history pertaining to Manx, that Hill could delve into, if he ever wanted to.

Despite Christmas being a prominent theme, it in no way diminished the bleakness that radiated off every page. I found there to be a particular beauty in the dark atmosphere coupled with Charlie Manx’s eternally joyful outlook. I even appreciated the occasional sprinkle of humour, as Manx and his partner in crime truly weren’t the most coordinated of villains. The plot itself was padded out with unnecessary information, yet it’s something I’ve come to associate with works similar to King - and of course the son would be inspired by the father. Sometimes I don’t really mind the veering off; it’s dependant upon the overall story, and if I feel the distractions are worth the outcome. With NOS4R2, it was definitely worth it.

I expected nothing less from the bittersweet ending. I got an idea of what would transpire, and I can't say my prediction was wrong.

In conclusion: A masterpiece of weird. Vic "The Brat" McQueen was a star, in all her tattooed glory. I can't say just how much I loved it, and since it was my first experience with Hill's storytelling, I can't wait for more.

Notable Quote:

She had said she could bring her bridge into this world but that in some way it also existed only in her mind. It sounded like delusion until you remembered that people made the imaginary real all the time: taking the music they heard in their head and recording it, seeing a house in their imagination and building it. Fantasy was always only a reality waiting to be switched on.

© Red Lace 2018


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Source: redlace.reviews/2018/06/23/nos4r2-by-joe-hill
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review SPOILER ALERT! 2018-06-16 22:04
The Moor by Sam Haysom
The Moor - Sam Haysom

The Moor by Sam Haysom
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Taking part in a school trip, five teenagers and their teacher set out on a long walk across Rutmoor, thinking it to be a fun experience with friends. What they don’t expect is odd noises in the dead of night, and dead animals placed outside their tents. When tensions and tempers arise, the group soon begins to fall apart, until a dramatic turn leads them to fear for their very lives.

(WARNING: This review contains minor spoilers.)

I never thought as I started reading this one, that I’d get so much enjoyment out of it. It took me by surprise; one of those moments that make this hobby so worth it. It all began with clippings from newspapers, written in a way that suggested they were merely pieces of a puzzle. Indeed, that set my mind ablaze with theories that wouldn’t subside throughout the entire book. I loved how it gave me a new perspective over the characters, how they interacted with each other, and in general how they were presented. Haysom was clever enough to give enough of a tease that pulled me in, made me want to know more, and I very much appreciated it. As I believe it, this is a debut novel, yet I wouldn’t have guessed. Many of the pitfalls new authors fall into - such as a lack of sufficient editing and typical horror tropes that are almost painfully overused at this point - were largely absent, giving an almost fresh take.

The atmosphere of Rutmoor, of how utterly miserable and arduous the travel became, it created vivid imagery in my head, and induced a very strong aversion to hiking. I can now say it's not something I want to do ever, in my lifetime. Honestly, the dynamic of the hiking group was a highlight; it had that pinch of realism to it. Each individual offered something unique with their personality, and like any real life circle, they all differed and even clashed together. Sometimes it was ugly, other times sweet, but most of all, their friendships were authentic. My favourite had to be Tom; undoubtedly the most sensible of the lot, followed by Matt and James. Even despite the young age of each, I was still able to relate. Yes, there was some immaturity - pretty much what you'd expect from teens, but it wasn't to the extreme.

The format of the plot struck me as quite different, in that rather than waiting until the end to reveal the big twist, it was just after fifty percent that it came into play. I can’t say it was unexpected - in fact, I had my suspicions much earlier, but I adored it regardless. You see, I much prefer when the direction of the story changes so drastically from my initial assumptions. If it’s done well, like it so wonderfully was in this case, then I feel like I’m kept on my toes, like I don’t have time to even look away. The question of survival played a significant part, as due to the parallel running chapters of present day (2015 to be precise), those that endured the horrors of the moor were made known, thus it was not the matter of who’s going to survive, but how do they survive.

The only thing that I found quite awkward, was the continual switch of past / present tense in the style of writing, however I understand it was used as a tool - to obviously convey the period of time, and perhaps even to alleviate confusion. Nevertheless, it was a bit of a challenge to get used to it.

In conclusion: I considered it a great story, and to be completely truthful, it soared above my expectations. With a slow beginning of character and atmosphere building, the story exploded into a creepfest that kept my attention. My applause goes to Haysom, and his impressive debut novel.

Notable Scene:

The rabbit's body was a mangled pulp of flesh, bone and hair. Its eyeless, earless face stared up at him from the grass. Patches of drying blood lay on the grass around it.
From somewhere behind Gary, a tree branch snapped.


© Red Lace 2018


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Source: redlace.reviews/2018/06/16/the-moor-by-sam-haysom
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review SPOILER ALERT! 2018-06-15 19:16
Wrath of the Ancients by Catherine Cavendish
Wrath of the Ancients - Catherine Cavendish

Wrath of the Ancients by Catherine Cavendish
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The year is 1913 and Adeline Ogilvy makes her way to Vienna, after accepting a career opportunity to transcribe the memoirs of the late Emeryk Quintillus. Rather than being able to settle down and do her work however, strange occurrences draw Adeline's attention, and soon she finds herself caught in a wicked scheme that involves the wrath of a God.

(WARNING: This review contains MAJOR spoilers.)

I purchased this one after I noticed the monthly Horror Aficionados group read, and even though it's not the latest installment of this series, what’s better than starting at the beginning? I’ve always found Egyptian history interesting; it seems to be depicted as glamorous, mystical, but also somewhat scary, what with all that mummifying shenanigans. It’s a perfect setup for horror, obviously, yet before I delved into Cavendish’s cleverly researched work, I hadn’t seen much of the theme. Perhaps it’s not as sought after as the more typical haunted houses and zombies, yet either way, I was ready for some Cleopatra goodness. What followed was a relatively light read that rhythmically drew me in and pushed me away.

The first part of the story revolved solely around Adeline, whereupon she temporarily relocated to Vienna for work. This is where I found myself impressed with the writing, and how quickly I was pulled into the mystery surrounding the Quintillus household. As Adeline explored the darkest recesses of the manor, I was thrilled to join her in each new, chilling discovery. I thus believed that this had set the scene for the entire book, but was heavily disappointed when that wasn’t actually the case. The much enjoyed “one character against the world” was turned upside down when another was introduced, that being Professor Jakob Mayer. I have no issue in admitting that I thought he possessed an ulterior motive throughout, as he didn’t seem quite right - he’s the one that offered all the answers, that had Adeline follow him around as he took charge with an unusually calm demeanour. Upon progressing through the story, I came to the conclusion that there was nothing nefarious about him, and that somehow felt wrong to me, as if he was merely shoehorned in to move along the plot at a much quicker pace. There’s no question that I would have remained invested had Adeline been left to figure it all out on her own, without being guided so obnoxiously.

When part one (by far the longest section) ended and I was thrust into the lives of strangers, I lost interest to a certain degree. It was jarring, to say the least, that I had to leave behind the woman I became so fond of, but I understand the intention of the plot was to span decades. It’s always a risk, to implement such long jumps of time and have a flawless transition, and in this case it just didn’t work for me. I felt disconnected, and, suffice it to say, I was glad when Adeline eventually reappeared.

The supernatural aspect, that was more to do with the effects of a curse than anything else, proved to be entertaining, but certainly nothing even remotely scary. Let me explain when a horror becomes less and less impactful for me personally - it's the matter of showing too much, to the point where I'm desensitised. I experienced no sense of dread and not a modicum of tension after that green light surfaced for the tenth time; sometimes less is more, and I firmly believe a lot of books would benefit had the author kept this in mind. There's also the issue that danger wasn't sufficiently conveyed - sure, there were a few deaths, but at no time did I worry for the well-being of the main character.

In conclusion: I really thought I was going to love this one, but the story went in a direction that failed to maintain my interest. To put in bluntly, I would have preferred the focus remaining upon Adeline, of whom I liked very much. Straying away from her, and bringing in a character that overshadowed her, just didn't appeal. That said, it wasn't all bad, hence the average rating I decided upon. Will I pick up the next one though? I'm really not sure.

Notable Scene:

Adeline forced herself to admit something she had suppressed for over fifty years. Those terrifying weeks in Vienna had left an indelible impression on her. For weeks, months, even years afterward, she would wake screaming in the night. She would see Emeryk Quintillus's mummified skin and eyeless face.

© Red Lace 2018

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Source: redlace.reviews/2018/06/15/wrath-of-the-ancients-by-catherine-cavendish
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