Four and Twenty Blackbirds by Cherie Priest

Cherie Priest’s book was a huge disappointment to me. And it’s a book that makes me wonder about the ringing endorsements you find on book covers- because this book had them in spades. Even Ramsey Campbell, a writer I admire, had glowing praise for it, calling the book “breathlessly readable, palpably atmospheric and compellingly suspenseful.” I just don’t get it.

Orphaned at birth, Eden Moore lives with her aunt Louise and Uncle Dave. She’s a strange little girl, but it’s hardly her fault: she sees dead people. Okay, maybe I’m being a little glib, but she does have a trio of dead women who appear to warn her of danger. And Eden is often in danger; her wacky nut-job of a cousin Malachi is often trying to kill her; she fearlessly (stupidly) wants to know the secrets of her past (why doesn’t someone just tell her already) and none of the chills added up to very much of anything for me.

I know a book isn’t working for me when I start to notice punctuation issues…and when dialogue just seems stupid- there’s a whole section in the book when Eden’s Aunt Eliza tries to convince her to go home with her and Eden keeps on saying ‘no’ just because it’s fun. Um- not so much fun for the reader. And I also found the book had a lot of exposition- Eliza conveniently has a ‘butler’ who has the answers to all the questions Eden has and is able to fill in all the missing blanks just like that.

So, not for me, I’m afraid. But reviews are generally good so I suspect I am in the minority.

The Ruins by Scott Smith

Smith’s book has been on my to-read list for a while. I have had a life-long love affair with horror novels…both the truly creepy (Peter Straub’s Ghost Story springs to mind) and the truly schlocky (just about anything by John Farris) but I don’t read them too much anymore. Still, The Ruins came with quite a pedigree. Smith wrote A Simple Plan a kick-ass book about how the discovery of a crashed plane and millions of dollars irrevocably changes the lives of three average guys. If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend it.

The Ruins
follows the fortunes of four friends on vacation in Mexico. They go to the site of Mayan ruins with Mathias and Pablo to search for Mathias’s missing brother. What follows is an entertaining enough story of pure fantasy- meaning that the horror they encounter isn’t the worst thing to happen to them. (And it’s not all that believable, even for a horror fan.) Smith’s true talent is in scraping at the dark things people do to each other and themselves when they find themselves in a bad place.- For my money though, A Simple Plan does a much better job of making us both wince and shudder.

Stephen King called The Ruins “the best horror novel of the new century.” I’m a King fan, but I’m going to have to disagree. If you want to go to the dark place, read A Simple Plan or better still, read King’s classic, It.

Come Closer by Sara Gran

I dunno. Margot Livesey said Come Closer ought to carry a warning to readers. It’s impossible to begin this intense, clever, beautifully written novel without turning every page.” And Stewart O’Nan said: “Sara Gran has created a sly, satisfying novel of one young woman possessed not only by a demon but also by her own secret desires.”

I quote these two reviews because I have read both Livesey and O’Nan and admire their writing. Believing their assessment of this book is sort of like reading fic recced by an author you like. You sort of hope they’ll point you in the direction of the good stuff.

And while Gran’s novel isn’t exactly what I’d call the good stuff- it wasn’t rotten, either.

Amanda is an architect who lives with her wonderful husband, Ed, in an unnamed American city. We don’t get any real insight into Amanda’s life before weird things start to happen: funny noises in her home, strange and troubling dreams, black outs, missing time she can’t account for.  These events transpire in little snippets. Things happen, we hear about them and then we’re on to the next thing. I never really felt connected to Amanda. I didn’t fear for her or care for her and if the novel has a failing for me, that’s probably it. As Amanada says herself: “What we think is impossible happens all the time.” And sometimes those impossible occurrences are horrific.

Just not in this book.

Which is apparently being made into a flick.