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review SPOILER ALERT! 2018-09-09 22:44
Suspended in Dusk II by Simon Dewar
Suspended in Dusk II - Simon Dewar

Suspended in Dusk II by Simon Dewar
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Seventeen stories that tell of life and death and those happenings inbetween, where change is all but inevitable. Be prepared for horrors of all kinds, some more subtle than others.

(WARNING: This review contains MAJOR spoilers.)

I received this book in exchange for an honest review. I thank Grey Matter Press for giving me the opportunity.

First of all, I appreciated the large amount of diversity in this book; from the foreword it became clear that individuals of all shapes of life were given the chance to contribute, and I feel that’s largely absent in anthologies these days. It’s a shame, because nobody, no matter what ethnicity or sexuality or whatever else, should be excluded from such opportunities to expand their craft.

I’ll admit however, this anthology started off as rather weak for me, with stories I didn’t much care for situated right at the beginning. Angeline by Karen Runge was about, what I assumed to be, sexual abuse at a young age and the resulting aftermath in later years, whilst The Sundowners by Damien Angelica Walters focused on the complications of old age, and they were certainly interesting to a degree, but they both fell a bit short. Crying Demon by Alan Baxter made me smile, as I’m a personal fan of horror games, yet whilst it held a great deal of potential, it didn’t make it to the top of the list. Still Life with Natalie by Sarah Read was far too verbose, even for my tastes, and Love is a Cavity I Can’t Stop Touching by Stephen Graham Jones didn’t really include all that much. Yes, cannibalism is one of my most favoured themes, but the story struck me as hollow. The Immortal Dead by J. C. Michael also didn't do much for me - I mean, it wasmwell-written but just a little bland.

Now, let’s get into the stories that made an excellent impression and completely changed my overall thoughts regarding the book.

There’s No Light Between Floors by Paul Tremblay
A man emerges into something catastrophic, where gods freely roam. I feel like this is the one to either love or hate, as it’s left intentionally vague as to what’s actually happening, and it’s that obscurity that might put off a lot of readers. I tried to look at it from a different angle and take events less literal than how they were described by the character. My conclusion and subsequent theory was that his worldly perspective was entirely skewed, perhaps from trauma. I do enjoy tales that hold a deeper meaning, where I need to put my thinking cap on.

That Damned Cat by Nerine Dorman
A cult try to summon A Duke of the Ninth Infernal Circle, yet events take a rather odd turn. This surprised me - I never thought I’d be so entertained and find humour amongst this collection, but Simon Dewar clearly had his head screwed on right, as this in particular was incredibly engaging.

Riptide by Dan Rabarts
Desperate for revenge, a man sets out to hunt down the monster that took his family. I regarded this one as possibly the strongest addition. It introduced me to the taniwha, which compelled me to further read into Māori mythology. It was memorable in the sense that it was a perfect mini-novel, with a start, middle and end that captivated me the whole time.

It occurs to me that this review is already too long, so I'll refrain from writing a ten-page essay. Suffice it to say, the rest of these stories had me hooked, and there was a tremendous amount of variety in tone, atmosphere, and writing. In some, like Dealing in Shadows by Annie Neugebauer, I felt emotion, and in others, such as An Elegy for Childhood Monsters by Gwendolyn Kiste, I experienced a sense of fascination. Seriously, every one offered me something new.

In conclusion: I believe there's something here for everyone to enjoy. Naturally, there were the weaker links, but it was a simple matter of them not being my sort of thing. Those that did appeal to me, really made Suspended in Dusk II worth it.

© Red Lace 2018


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Source: redlace.reviews/2018/09/09/suspended-in-dusk-ii-by-simon-dewar
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review SPOILER ALERT! 2018-09-07 19:33
The Between by Tananarive Due
The Between: Novel, A - Tananarive Due

The Between by Tananarive Due
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When threatening letters soon find their way to his wife, Hilton James becomes seriously afraid for the safety of his family. Being the first African-American judge in Dade County, Florida, it can be any number of individuals that Dede has prosecuted. With tensions running high, and the threats getting worse, Hilton's own picture-perfect life, as well as his own reality, begin to fray at the edges.

(WARNING: This review contains minor spoilers.)

This one wasn’t even remotely on my radar before it was brought to my attention by Mike Thorn, author of Darkest Hours. I decided to pick a random suggested novel, as generally my favourites are books other people have told me to read. That’s the great thing about the community; you never know what you’ll end up with. I found Due’s eerily crafted story to be rather complex, and in all honestly, it was that complexity that intrigued me even further. This wasn’t a typical ghost story, but a breach in one person’s reality. It was emotional, and I oftentimes experienced discomfort in how much Due toyed with the mental states of her characters; their lives truly took a traumatising turn and that downward spiral was dammed scary. I was shocked to find how much I wanted things to work out for the James family, and as events escalated that pesky sense of dread never did subside. You see, when an author can humanise their characters enough for me to regard them like actual living, breathing people, then that’s where my ultimate attachment lies. Much like a family unit they tried desperately to overcome the unexpected, and we all know what that’s like, even if our daily problems aren’t supernatural in origin.

I do have to admit that I found it to have a rocky beginning. Hilton didn’t really leave me with a good first impression, what with secretly lusting after one of his former patients and then complaining about his very busy and stressed out wife. Despite these unappealing actions however, I eventually warmed to him and felt sympathy toward his plight. He had his obvious flaws and whilst some of his mistakes actually disgusted me, I couldn’t help but acknowledge his struggle. The further I progressed into the chapters, the more his life went to ruin - it was akin to watching a trainwreck. Do you ever feel the need to put down a book because it just got too heavy for you? Well, there were moments throughout where I needed a respite. This being my very first encounter with Due's writing, I was thrilled at how captivating her use of prose was. I think, overall, I prefer a less straight-forward structure, and more of an artfully constructed one. Here, it highly benefited the tone of the book.

The plot did well in making me question the legitimacy of Hilton’s bizarre experiences. At times it was left open enough to theorise on if he was actually mentally ill and suffering from some form of schizophrenia, or if he truly was being hunted by reflections of himself. The added aspect of African spirituality also interested me a great deal; I'm always in search of fiction that will prompt me to do research on beliefs I wouldn't otherwise be aware of. As I've already mentioned, the complexity came in the form of certain elements being intentionally vague and left open to interpretation. The dreams, the occurrences that seemed to erase themselves, they all hinted that something very thought provoking was at play.

In conclusion: A heart-wrenching story of one family and the otherworldly forces trying to tear them apart. I found the story-telling to be engaging, endearing, and successful in making my mind whirl. It was however draining at times, to the point I needed time to recover. I definitely want more of Due's works on my shelf though, and here's hoping they're just as emotionally charged.

Notable Scene:

Even with the humidity in the little house and the steam from pots boiling over on top of the stove, their lids bouncing like angry demons, Nana's flesh felt as cold as just-drawn well water. As cold as December. He'd never touched a person who felt that way, and even as a child he knew only dead people turned cold like that.

© Red Lace 2018


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Source: redlace.reviews/2018/09/07/the-between-by-tananarive-due
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review SPOILER ALERT! 2018-08-30 21:44
The Siren and The Specter by Jonathan Janz
The Siren and The Spectre (Fiction Without Frontiers) - Jonathan Janz

The Siren and The Specter by Jonathan Janz
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

David Caine's latest project lands him in Virginia, in what's aptly named the Alexander House. The task is simple and familiar; to disprove the presence of spirits whilst documenting his findings for publication. As the mystery begins to unravel, David discovers that the house and nearby Rappahannock River share a meaningful part of his own history, as well as possessing a horrific one of its own.

(WARNING: This review contains minor spoilers.)

 

I received this book in exchange for an honest review. I thank Flame Tree Press for giving me the opportunity.

I’ll just come out and say it; I didn’t love this book. With all the glowing praise that’s been saturating social media, I expected to be blown away, or at least highly impressed, but I just wasn’t in the long run. Of course, as with anything and everything I read I’m going to try and express my thoughts as best I can, and understandably, there will be spoilers. First of all, the beginning struck me as intriguing - there were all these elements that seemed unrelated yet no less interesting in their own individual ways, but the strength of the start waned as something in particular became apparent the further I progressed. It was the bizarre interactions between characters that just seemed off and left me scratching my head. I just didn’t understand the confrontational approach of nearly every single new person in David’s life; for no reason that I could discern they treated him poorly and judged him considerably. The dialogue seemed almost forced and contrived, as if the sole intention was to leave him a sputtering mess, and rather than finding humour in the derision, I instead felt a monumental amount of confusion. I often wondered if it was merely the fact that he was a successful man, or even just because he was a skeptic, but whatever the case, I believe Janz didn’t at all clarify or explain why David was supposed to be so unlikeable in the first place.

As any other human being, he had his flaws, but I certainly didn’t think he deserved to be condemned for them. More often than not, he did the right thing in the situation, yet was chastised for it. By now I think I’ve made it crystal clear that this bothered me, as did the general consensus surrounding Anna’s death, however thankfully that more or less changed. I prefer verbal exchanges that flow naturally, but here they felt unrealistic and needlessly dramatic. I however did take pleasure in some of the banter, primarily with Mike Shelby Jr. and Ralph.

 

Also, I just have to add that there’s nothing wrong with someone who doesn’t want to be in a serious, committed relationship. I honestly felt that this whole novel put too much emphasis on disgracing the main character, and perhaps even the male gender, which in itself is very odd. Perhaps my verdict is a little harsh and absurd, but my opinions are my own.

The supernatural aspects were entertaining, but I can’t say they instilled fear or dread within me. Whilst the history surrounding the peninsula proved compelling, by the end I regarded everything as a bit too much. Considering how rife the paranormal activity was, I was surprised David had never before experienced anything like it in his entire career; he activity hunted for such encounters, and they weren't subtle here, but full-on in your face with outright corporal madness. There were multiple entities at once, and they were the opposite of shy and insubstantial, so it was hard to swallow the premise overall.

I know I have a lot of complaints, and I'm clearly in the minority when it comes to this beloved book. Janz is a good writer, otherwise he wouldn't be as successful as he is right now. He was able to include some suspenseful scenes laced with the depravity of a town's gruesome past, which I welcomed, but ultimately, it comes down to The Siren and the Specter just not being my sort of story.

In conclusion: I changed my rating to better reflect my thoughts, but even though it was largely a miss, I still wish to seek out more from Janz. What became problematic for me was the aggressive tone that dominated the dialogue, as well as the overload of supernatural phenomenon.

Notable Quote:

Though the notion of a house having a personality was antithetical to his beliefs, he did like to think of a house as possessing character. A home's character, he'd decided long ago, was best discernible in natural light, not a harsh electrical glow.

© Red Lace 2018

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Source: redlace.reviews/2018/08/30/the-siren-and-the-specter-by-jonathan-janz
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review SPOILER ALERT! 2018-08-26 22:20
The Mouth of the Dark by Tim Waggoner
The Mouth of the Dark - Tim Waggoner

The Mouth of the Dark by Tim Waggoner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Desperate to find his missing daughter, Jayce Lewis delves into the Cannery; a place of secrets and unnatural dangers; a shadowy part of Oakmont he didn't even know existed. Accompanied by a mysterious guide, he soon finds himself in over his head and surrounded by violence of the most perverted manner. Not only is a psychotic hunter on his trail, but the legendary Harvest Man seems not far behind.

(WARNING: This review contains minor spoilers.)

I received this book in exchange for an honest review. I thank Flame Tree Press for giving me the opportunity.

I’ve been sitting here thinking of just where to begin this review. You see, Waggoner introduced me to a very unique world, one in which I felt thrilled to be a part of, if only for a limited time. My love for the weird and bizarre once more resurfaced, and it seldom does due to how rarely I find myself experiencing surrealism in the genre. When it does come about, however, I enjoy it immensely, especially when the imaginative aspects are through the roof. There was a great deal that spurred me to keep going here, and I won’t lie, sometimes it was less to do with the story and more to do with what outlandish scene might come next. I wouldn’t necessarily consider that a bad thing; a book like this depends largely on building up its strangeness and taking it to new heights. The concept of Shadow was a memorable factor; a monstrous realm that bled into normal reality, whereupon freakish creatures resided. It was as if Shadow itself was a distortion of the real world; a deformity, or a glitch, much like the very abnormalities it caused those exposed to it.

Sex played a major role here, and whilst it was wildly entertaining, it also proved to be a little disquieting at times. Being a tale about, ultimately, the relationship of father and daughter, Jayce often found himself reflecting upon Emory’s erotic style of life. It wasn’t altogether out of the blue, considering the very intimate revelations during his search, but it didn’t exactly make his thoughts any less discomforting. In all, it was quite the situation; imagine a parent discovering all of your sexual escapades, including the very unconventional toy you use. Awkward, right? As for Jayce as a protagonist, he was a determined person, yet it was clear he was a stranger even to himself. I enjoyed the travels back into his history, as whilst he was getting to know himself, I was getting to know him as well.

As for Nicola, of whom played the role of companion to Jayce, I liked her, however her fate left me a little disappointed. I guess I expected more of a fleshed out conclusion to their coupling; it seemed to be over pretty quickly. The single character that stood out for me though was the long-lived Ivory. She was certainly depicted in a bad light, but she wasn’t a typical villain. I firmly believe her actions were doing a service to the unsuspecting populace, even if her methods were terribly ruthless. A definite highlight was Crimson Splendour, and what lay underneath it; a nightmarish playground that enthralled the deviant in me.

I really didn’t see the ending coming - it just seemed to come from nowhere and escalate from one to a thousand. I wouldn’t even consider it a happy ending either, but I guess it would depend wholly on your definition of happiness. It surprised me, without doubt, and it established itself as rather distinct. I mean, I can't honestly say I've never read a finale of that calibre before.

In conclusion: Perhaps suited more to the label of dark fantasy, this one focused on the creepily surreal side of fiction. I very much relished the weird and wonderful, and only experienced a few minor let-downs. I would love if Waggoner decided to make a series out of it, as he's crafted a world I would enthusiastically return to.

Notable Scene:

It appeared at first as if the man was going to do nothing more than walk, but then his mouth - which looked wrong, even from this distance - yawned open, and a dark cloud emerged, expanding as it moved toward the club's fleeing patrons. The darkness engulfed a dozen of those at the rear of the crowd, and then the screaming began.

© Red Lace 2018


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Source: redlace.reviews/2018/08/26/the-mouth-of-the-dark-by-tim-waggoner
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review SPOILER ALERT! 2018-08-24 18:34
A Gathering of Crows by Brian Keene
A Gathering of Crows - Brian Keene

A Gathering of Crows by Brian Keene
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The town of Brinkley Springs is about to become a hunting ground. Five otherworldly beasts descend upon the populace, their hunger for death and destruction insatiable. Levi Stoltzfus finds himself amongst those in danger, yet he proves anything but helpless. Along with some unexpected allies, magus Levi must discover the identity of the ravaging monsters, and figure out a way to stop them.

(WARNING: This review contains minor spoilers.)

To show support for the author Brian Keene, of whom suffered an accident and has subsequent insurance issues, Horror Aficionados selected this title for the monthly group listen in July. I simply had to join in as it was a good cause, and I’m all for helping a writer in need. As for the audiobook in general, well, I was at first put off by the narrator, Chet Williamson. Don’t get me wrong, Chet wasn’t bad at all, but his voice took a while to get used to. If I were to describe it, the words “powerful” and “booming” come to mind, so it was a very intense experience indeed. I also found it difficult to distinguish between characters at times, especially when it came to the male personalities. After some hours, however, I was able to get into the rhythm of Chet’s mighty voice-over and focus primarily on the story. Despite being the third installment in the series, this one sufficiently stood as an independent volume - as far as I’m aware, the adventures of Levi Stoltzfus can be enjoyed in any order. Of course, there are running themes throughout, but Keene always seemed willing to share lengthy, yet relevant information and pieces of history.

The story begun as rather slow, with the repetition of certain details. If there’s one specific thing that irks me in any form of media, it’s the retelling of something that I already know. Brinkley Springs was a dying town, I understood that the very first time it was stated, and I really didn’t need to be reminded with the introduction of every new character. It may be a minor thing to some, but for me it’s a personal grievance. It became apparent that most of the beginning was comprised of useless, and not very interesting, elements of people's lives. They did little to connect me to the residents, as soon enough they would fall victim to the monsters. What I wanted was to get familiar with the man himself, but Levi's appearance took time to come about, and when it did, it usually wasn't for long.

The further the plot progressed, the more I came to enjoy it. Levi's presence eventually became the main focal point; his investigation of the horrific occurrences afflicting the town improved my overall feeling of the book. There was a tremendous amount of death, and it, in all its graphic glory, had very little in terms of limits. Children, animals, the elderly, all were fair game and sought out like animals. Whilst the aftermath was largely centred upon - the state of the bodies after the initial murder, there were a few scenes that depicted the actual killing. It was brutal, and I do favour brutality.

I can't say I became attached to anyone but Levi, and even then I believe that to be able to fully appreciate him I'd have to delve further into the series; from what I could gather, his history was certainly intriguing. As for the others, well, there was a romance I didn't care about, and the surviving group in general didn't strike me as anything special. The villains, whilst amusing with their shape-shifting shenanigans, were awfully single minded and thus had little depth. I suppose that was the point; they were minions, set upon one specific goal.

My interest soared to new heights when the mythology of The Thirteen came into play. I don’t know much of Keene’s Lovecraftian lore, but by goodness I devoured it. To be honest, it was the best thing about the entire novel; the snippets of information relating to these nefarious entities. Due to my fascination, it was therefore a real treat when Levi transported himself to another realm right at the end. I actually couldn't get enough of it.

In conclusion: It was a very weak beginning, but it improved, and by the end I was well and truly drawn into Keene's Labyrinth Mythos. There's no doubt that I'll be seeking out more of his work.

Notable Quote:

Brinkley Springs may have been dying, but it doesn't deserve to be murdered.

© Red Lace 2018

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Source: redlace.reviews/2018/08/24/a-gathering-of-crows-by-brian-keene
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