Stephen by Amy Cross

StephenStephen by Amy Cross

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Forty years after her traumatic ordeal at Grangehurst, Beryl Seaton is finally ready to relive her past and recollect the events that have haunted her every day since. As a much younger woman, Beryl is accepted to be governess in the household of Doctor Elliot Brooks, her job to help his wife take care of their only son, Stephen. But there’s something terribly wrong with Stephen, and it becomes inevitable that things could only get worse.

(WARNING: This review contains spoilers.)

If I ever thought that books could go too far, then I’d more than likely say that about this particular one. It’s one of those stories that heavily relies upon the shock factor; it wants you to ask the question of what-the-hell-did-I-just-read? And I did, in fact, chew over that question myself, especially after the much dreaded, yet highly anticipated chapter twenty-eight. When it comes to this novel, that chapter is rather infamous – all you have to do is glance over reviews to see the affirmed revulsion. If that wasn’t enough, then Beryl’s own words should certainly give you an idea:

“Let me state this, then: I, Beryl Seaton, write the next chapter only because it is a true account of what happened. I take no pleasure in the telling of this tale, nor do I in any way recommend that anybody should read the following chapter. I shall set down the events entirely within a chapter of their own, so that any right-thinking reader can simply skip that chapter and go to the next…”

The entirety of twenty-seven is one big forewarning, but it’s obvious that its intention isn’t to deter us from the next chapter; its intention is to make us want to read it all the more. The whole plot has been leading up to that moment, so what could possibly be so bad, you wonder? Well, I’m not going to include the specifics, and not because it’s a spoiler, but because I simply can’t bring myself to type the words. It’s truly disgusting, and if you’re that curious, just read it for yourself!

As for the character of Beryl, I didn’t find her at all dislikeable, but the writing suffered a great deal due to her personal narrative. I get that it’s a retelling of her life – or the most horrific part of her life – and that at the time of documentation she’s in her seventies. She’s an old woman, and I’m fully aware that the memories of elderly folk just aren’t the same, but the sheer amount of repetition in this book bothered me. Beryl states again and again how her younger self is naive and gullible. Those exact same words are recycled; as if they somehow gave us new insight every time they were written. Perhaps it really was to highlight her old age, or maybe it was merely to make the overall book longer. Either way, it didn’t do any favours, as after all, Beryl’s lack of real-world experience was integral; nothing would’ve happened otherwise.

Despite the faults that irked me, I enjoyed the plot for what it was; definitely eerie, and truthful in the ugliness of the situation. Let’s face it, there’s nothing pleasant about a dead child, and there’s doubtlessly something morbid about treating it as if it were alive and breathing. As unsettling as it is, there’s been cases of it happening in real life. Such a loss can indeed affect the mind, so Severine’s madness was not so far-fetched.

However, I do think that it would’ve been better had some aspects been removed. Beryl’s masochistic tendencies were out of place, and the scene with the apparition added absolutely nothing aside from filler. Anything paranormal played such a minor part, I wondered why it was there to begin with. It’s like Cross tried to cram in too many things, and ultimately they didn’t quite work together. Sometimes being much more simplistic has a greater impact, and I think this one would’ve benefited from it.

The ending also didn’t make much sense to me. Why did she seem so goddamn obsessed with Severine? I understand the need for closure, but her attitude, like she was in love with the other woman, just seemed so out of character.

In conclusion – I found it to be pretty average. I liked the premise of the plot – it was creepy – but there were issues that got in the way. I’ll not be adverse to reading more of this authors work in the future, though!

Notable Quote:

“It is astonishing how one can perform mental gymnastics and persuade oneself that left is right, up is down and so forth.”

© Red Lace 2018

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The Taste of Night by Vicki Pettersson

The Taste of Night (Signs of the Zodiac, #2)The Taste of Night by Vicki Pettersson

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Joanna Archer, representing the Light-side Sagittarius sign in the Zodiac troupe of Las Vegas, continues to juggle her new-found life in her sister’s body. Not only does she have to keep up appearances of being the sole progeny to the richest man in the city, she also has to protect society from the Shadow organisation hellbent on terrorising the innocent. Finding herself in a rather peculiar predicament, Joanna reluctantly makes a deal with a Shadow initiate; one that she might come to regret.

(WARNING: This review contains spoilers.)

I’ve always been fond of the good ol’ fight between good and evil, so the aspect of superheroes was definitely refreshing to return to. Whilst finding The Scent of Shadows to be rather average as a whole, I believed this instalment (Signs of the Zodiac series is six instalments long) to be a large decline – primarily because of the heroine herself, Joanna Archer. I personally love the first-person perspectives that dominate the genre; it gives an in-depth and intimate picture of the character, however it can be especially unforgiving if that character happens to be someone you dislike.

And boy, did I dislike her.

I’m a firm believer that characters should be flawed, because people are flawed, however there’s only so much I can take when I can find very little redeeming qualities. Joanna repeatedly made the exact same error and refused to learn from it, instead putting herself and her troupe at risk over and over. I’m legitimately shocked how anyone could find her actions reasonable, and how anyone could consider her a good protagonist. Being vengeful is one thing, but being stupidly selfish is another thing entirely.

Let me give a rundown of her transgressions; the ones that bothered me the most. 1: She kept going off alone after the bad guy, with the knowledge that her enemy was stronger. Thus, he would obviously get the better of her and she would need rescuing by her team. This happened three times, if I remember correctly. 2: The gateway to the Light side’s secret hideout, she compromised it twice (the second time she was well aware of her actions), and so put the safety of her group, not to mention children, at risk. 3: Due to jealously, she couldn’t allow her ex-boyfriend to move on, so she forced herself back into his life, when he was just beginning to be happy again. And she spent a night with him, then disappeared again.

The third one bothered me the most, I think. This is a woman whose identity needs to be kept a secret, yet as soon as she caught a whiff of a new woman in Ben’s life, she didn’t waste any time to metaphorically urinate all over him. The fact is, she can’t have any sort of relationship with him, she can’t even allow him to see her physical appearance unless she uses a prepubescent’s shield-mould-thing. Am I the only one that found it creepy, that she had sex with Ben whilst using that little girls essence or whatever it was?

I’m going to end the rant about our dear Joanna there, if I can bring myself to it.

I can’t say I favoured any of the other characters either, except maybe Regan. She really did play her role expertly, and I daresay she’ll be one hell of a villain for the team to battle in the future. I’m looking forward to seeing what she has in store for the Light side. Sometimes you just have to root for evil, because in this case, the Light doesn’t exactly offer anything substantial. I mean, what do we have? Hunter? Well, he took a page from Joanna’s book; his selfishness actually resulting in someones death. I’m not a fan of love triangles anyway; I’d much rather he or Ben be removed from the equation altogether. Warren and Tekla’s frustration throughout was understandable – they were definitely the adults of the situation.

The plot itself could’ve been better. I honestly expected the plague to have more of an impact, but it didn’t even occur until a hundred plus pages. The focal point seemed to be Joaquin, and because of such the tone of the book was needlessly dark. Joaquin was portrayed badly; his entire thought process being about rape, despite him apparently being an avid collector of the comics. It was basically telling us he had depth, yet every time he was on-page he was constantly sexually abusing and / or harassing women. At one point he even yelled: “I will rape you, Joanna!”, which in itself summed up his character perfectly.

In conclusion: I like the premise of this series, I do, but I got pretty sick and tired of Joanna’s mess. I dearly hope she’ll develop into something better.

The Touch of Twilight is the third book in this series, and was first published in 2008.

Notable Scene:

“Uh… good doggie?” I said, taking in the sight of an animal with the muscle of a bear and the angular ferocity of a wolf. He let a warning rumble loose in his throat, and the deep reverberation jarred through my immobile bones like a jackhammer through concrete.

© Red Lace 2018

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Lockdown by Alexander Gordon Smith

Lockdown (Escape from Furnace, #1)Lockdown by Alexander Gordon Smith

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Alex Sawyer finds himself in Furnace Penitentiary; a pit in the ground, its sole purpose to cage away the youngest of offenders. The thing is, Alex may be a thief, and he may have broken the law, but he certainly doesn’t belong in Hell. Facing a lifetime underground, of never seeing the sun again, Alex is determined to escape. Good thing he’s made friends, for he’ll need all the help he can get.

(WARNING: This review contains spoilers.)

This wasn’t a bad book (the Escape from Furnace series is five instalments long); I actually quite enjoyed it on some level, however certain questions got in the way and became an obstacle I unfortunately couldn’t bypass. Without sufficient world-building, I just couldn’t fully appreciate the premise of the plot; it seemed too far-fetched to me, lacking in any form of realism. But this is a book, right? It doesn’t need to be realistic, it’s fiction, after all. Well, if a story’s told correctly, if sense is made through the writing, then the author makes you believe, no matter if it’s about elves and goblins or whatever else. Words are a tool to be used, to transport us to new worlds that in themselves need to work. This didn’t work.

Sure, there was a bit of background on the world, and it touched upon why society believed it imperative to lock away children, but it was minimal and certainly not enough. Logic and reason just kept worming its way into my mind, asking why. Why create the most horrific prison for teenagers? Adults commit appalling crimes just as much, if not worse in comparison, yet this prison – this hell – isn’t for them? Let’s get the important facts out of the way, shall we?

– Each and every prisoner is there serving a life sentence. LIFE. I recall there being kids younger than fourteen.
– Inmates have zero rights. No visitation, no health checks, nothing regarding the law.
– They’re killed and / or transformed into monsters regularly. Basically guinea pigs for the warden and his experiments.
– Oh, and they’re all male. No females in sight. I can’t say I agree with the exclusion, but I get this is supposed to be a book catered to young boys.

They’re thrown away, forgotten about, and whilst I understand the “Summer of Slaughter” may have been a horrendous thing, the plausibility was severely lacking.

Moving on, before I just keep on repeating myself! Another thing that occurred to me throughout the chapters – this series is labelled as “young adult”, however I found there to be sensitive material that younger readers could very well find disturbing; including the murder and abuse of minors. This isn’t something that bothered me per say, but even I felt a chill or two down my spine at the horror elements Smith included with vivid description.

Despite my complaints and belief that it’s extremely flawed, I didn’t hate it. I kept wanting to read more, to see what would become of each and every character introduced. I found it interesting to read about Alex’s range of emotions; from desperation, to fear, to that spark of hope. The place had an effect on the boy; weighing upon his shoulders until he felt he’d been trapped there a lot longer than the mere days in which was reality. Alex may have made mistakes throughout, but I found him likeable. He had spirit, and despite his mistakes in life, he had a good heart. He wasn’t my favourite, though, as Donovan took that position. Older, more mature, he strived to take care of the group. I believed it was completely reasonable for him to question Alex’s ideas, and for his mindset to be cynical. I actually felt something when he was taken – some sense of sadness.

Whilst some things got repetitive in regards to the writing (the same thing would be described in different ways, over and over, such as the voices of the “blacksuits”), it worked for me. A lot was able to be conveyed; the sheer ugliness of Furnace itself. The dogs, the “wheezers”, and in general the frightening side of the plot, were all written superbly. I felt entertained until the very end, and the cliffhanger promptly made me buy the next one. I guess that was the intention!

In conclusion: I found it to be entertaining, however it failed in convincing me how Furnace could be allowed in any country. I’ll be continuing on with the series, with the hopes of having a history lesson.

Solitary is the next instalment of this series, and was first published in 2009.

Notable Scene:

The monster was standing outside my cell, staring at me with eyes so deeply embedded in its shrivelled face that they looked like black marbles. The contraption that covered its mouth and nose was coloured with rust and verdigris, and this close I could see that the ancient metal was stitched permanently into the skin.

© Red Lace 2018

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