the-devil-crept-in_ania-ahlborn

The Devil Crept In by Ania Ahlborn

Paperback, 384 pages
Expected publication: February 7th 2017 by Gallery Books

Ania Ahlborn’s The Devil Crept In is the new Are You Afraid of the Dark? for adults–a lot of you will know that reference *wink*. Centered around a small town in Oregon, this novel had just enough bite to be entertaining, yet, the jury is still out on whether or not anyone’s going to be kept up late at night thinking about this one.

Stevie Clark is a 10-year-old loner—rather, he has no friends other than his best friend and cousin, Jude. His slight speech impediment (echolalia) and missing fingers on one hand make him an outsider, the weird kid in the eyes of other kids. Add to that his abusive father-in-law who knows his way around a belt, and you can image how distraught Stevie would be when, one day his best friend, Jude, goes missing. When Jude suddenly turns back up, he’s…different: blank in the face, unresponsive to questions…his skin is peeling and itchy and…well, he’s attracting all the mangy, sickly neighborhood cats like some sort of sick beacon for wildlife…

All the makings of an excellent novel are here. Ahlborn even did a good job of stepping into a 10-year-old’s shoes and showing us Stevie’s world through his eyes. Stevie was as unreliable a narrator as you would expect from an elementary schooler, seeing shadows in the night and tripping and falling all over himself every time he sensed something—a moving shadow, a twitch in his periphery—out of the ordinary. His relationship to his peers and neighbors, his possibly overactive imagination—it all bundled together to work in this package. The Devil Crept In featured two converging story lines, which Ahlborn did an okay job at integrating—I say “okay” because I was prepared to throw the back of my hand to my forehead with a melodramatic sigh at the cliché-ness of the some of the plot angles. Rosie’s story line, for example, I felt I’d read somewhere already—lots of places, actually. It read like a horror-movie cliché that’d been overdone too many times. Yet, just as I was ready to heave an annoyed sigh, Ahlborn got it together and recovered pretty nicely, definitely helped along by a few awesome turns of phrase that warranted an appreciative pause. Eventually, the creepy crept in and the story lines did, indeed, tie together.

For those of you who are fans Stephen King’s child-centered scary fiction, this one may be a real treat for you! I couldn’t help but think of his “Mile 81,” because of Devil’s tone, descriptions and insight through a determined, though easily frightened, young boy’s eyes. This one read authentically from the POV of a 10-year-old, while using adult language to describe the happenings surrounding these characters. Honestly, I both appreciated that and felt jarred by it. Like, hmm, would an elementary schooler really describe a demon as having “cauliflower ears like a boxer…?” (Thinking face—probably not.)

All in all, Ania Ahlborn’s The Devil Crept In was a fun little read that could’ve been shortened down to 300 pages or so, to make it more streamlined and faster to the action. It had its pros and cons, as many novels do, but there were also more than a few loose ends here left flapping in the breeze, let me tell ya!

With that in mind, I would recommend this novel to anyone in need of a quick jolt of excitement. If you’re not interested in looking under the hood of a read to see how it all connects together—at what every little turned screw and nuance might mean for the overall performance—but you just want to get on with the creepy, pick this one up. It’ll definitely get you where you need to be. But, maybe, don’t read it alone…in the woods…

3-3.5 stars ***

I received an advance-read copy of this novel from the publisher, Simon & Schuster, via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

* To see more reviews, go follow the blog on Twitter @thenavireview and on Goodreads under Navidad Thelamour!

Slade House_David Mitchell

Slade House by David Mitchell

Hardcover, 260 pages
Published October 27th 2015 by Random House (first published October 20th 2015)

“To follow [the] trail of breadcrumbs you have to blindfold your own sanity…”

Wow, what a ride! David Mitchell’s Slade House came running round the bend, no pun intended (well, maybe just a little for those who have read it), at full steam ahead with all of the mechanical makings and suspenseful trappings of a haunting psychological thrill ride. It had a rhythmic flow that you could fall into, but beware. That trap has thorns. And fangs.

“…but as I watch, the running-boy shape gets fuzzier and becomes a growling darkness with darker eyes, eyes that know me, and fangs that’ll finish what they started and it’s pounding after me in sickening slow motion, big as a cantering horse and I’d scream if I could but I can’t my chest’s full of molten panic it’s choking me choking…if I fall it’ll have me, and I’ve only got moments left and I stumble up the steps and grip the doorknob turn please turn it’s stuck no no no…it’s ridged does it turn yes no yes no twist pull push pull turn twist I’m falling forwards…”

Slade House is the tale of a mystical house in London, that can only be found if you know just where—and when—to look: just a skip from the ratty Fox and Hounds pub, down the alley too dark and narrow for “a properly fat person…[to] get past someone coming the other way.” There you’ll find a little iron door, so small you’d have to stoop to go through it, embedded in the side of the wall. You’ll wonder how you missed it when you first walked by. Was it there before? Are you imagining it now? Inside you’ll find a paradise to your liking: a beautiful woman, the career opportunity of a lifetime, a raging kegger, whatever you fancy. But once inside, there’s no turning back because, as we all know, the house always wins.

The format worked well for this one, using a series of vignettes, all nine years apart, to weave together the haunting mystery of Slade House and the experiences of those who dared to enter those walls—all linked soul-to-soul if not hand-in-hand. Their experiences in Slade House overlap in the most disconcerting and sinister of ways. Each character is eventually and inevitably interlaced into the experiences of the other vignettes, and subtle sequences tie it all together with an eerie thread of déja vu like a finger down the spine of your back.

Mitchell’s Slade House was Hill House meets The Skeleton Key, if you’ve ever seen that movie. An enchanted experience woven by a true magician, because now you see it; now you don’t. It was absolutely cinematic, and once the novel had you in its clutches, it was quite the thrill ride, building suspense in a way that made you grasp the pages and say, “No, that is not happening—oh, my God, is that about to happen!” (Well, it did for me, anyways. ;)) The premise of this novel was divine and the execution of it near-perfect.

However—oh yes, I’ve got to hit it with the “however—” I couldn’t give this one 5 stars.

Of course, you’re asking, “Why’d you steal Slade’s star?” And the answer, simply put, is cop-out. I haven’t seen cop-out revelations like that since middle-school writing, at least, I’m sorry to say. The short explanatory monologues spoiled it for me a little, pulling me out of this world of ghostly mystique and foreboding just to dowse me in annoyance before inserting me back into the plot. I loathe when pro/antagonists practically leap out of character to deliver stilted, unrealistic dialogues amongst themselves, explaining things (to the reader) that they, themselves, would already know! Case in point, under what circumstance would it ever be okay to turn to your sister and say:

“For fifty-four years, our souls have wandered that big wide world out there, possessing whatever bodies we want, living whatever lives we wish, while our fellow birth-Victorians are all dead or dying out…”?

Umm, no. Never! Never ever! Creative Writing 101—hell, Reader 101! That totally killed the mood of mounting suspense for me, and I was definitely peeved to find that I could expect this at the end of every. single. vignette. Then there were the annoying explanations that the narrator gave for why protagonists did what they did, such as, “Vodafone must have begun upgrading their network after Avril’s texts arrived” (to explain why a call didn’t go through at an eerie time, ect.) I’m basically positive that that’s why the page count is so low on this one—cop-out wrap-ups that didn’t require the time or word count to really flesh out these seemingly minor makings of the novel that can never go forgotten about, that can never be faked or rushed.

So, think of Slade House as a thrill ride with bumpy turns. If those had been smoothed at the edges and fleshed out with the same brilliant strokes of writing as the kaleidoscope of fun-house horrors—the effortless illustration of Slade House and all of its haunting hallways and staircases, rose gardens and phantom occurrences—this definitely would have earned back its stolen star. Still, I’d definitely recommend this read for anyone who dares to stoop through that doorway and enter Slade House. The taste of the pros is definitely worth eating the cons—you know, like a good bag of popcorn or potato chips. But reader beware: this book has bite. 4 stars. ****

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children_Ransom Riggs

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

Hardcover, First Edition, 352 pages
Published June 7th 2011 by Quirk

With the upcoming release date of the movie, Miss Peregrine’s is once again in the spotlight. In all actuality, has it ever left? Spurring remakes, spin-offs and copy-cats galore, this novel is not the first of its kind but is certainly one of the more excellently executed that I’ve come across so far. I first read this novel a few years back, but decided to jump in for another dose before delving into the next edition to the series, and boy, am I glad I did! This was not only an explosive novel from a debut fiction author, but a sensational work in its own right as well! Yes, Quirk, the publisher did a wonderful job of packaging and selling it, but this one could also stand on its own once unwrapped, and that’s refreshing. It was creative and bold, particularly for YA, which I basically never pick up.

This is the tale of Jacob, a boy who, after years of hearing tales at his grandfather’s knee of peculiar children, feels that he has grown out of believing such nonsense. Until, that is a family tragedy brings him to the coast of Wales where he stumbles upon the ruins of Miss Peregrine’s “home.” As he explores those dark corridors and seemingly long-abandoned rooms, he comes face to face with these children and is forever changed. Tinged with adventure, oddities, danger in the woods and a touch of supernatural, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is an anomaly on the shelves well-deserving of the title.

We’ve all heard the old adage, “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” but this cover is exactly what originally drew me in! After a cursory glance at the cover and venturing to take a peek inside, I was immediately rewarded with a slew of black and whites that quite literally chilled my soul and peaked my interests to the point of near obsession. Immediately, the book was bought, and that’s a pretty tall order for me; I don’t attract easily to the nicely packaged big read of the moment anymore. (In fact, oft times, that fact is a repellant.) What Ransom Riggs did here was not a first, but was most certainly innovative and, ultimately, visionary. This work took creativity of mind and spirit that all cannot boast; it took an idea and turned it into a journey with a cast of delightful characters that tickled and tricked both the reader and themselves in that enthralling way that children do. The orphans themselves were the star of this work, as I’m sure they were meant to be, and their numerous powers and personal oddities made them simultaneously creepy and intriguing, empathetic and entertaining because they still displayed all of the quirks that children do, the naughtiness and teasing, the reprimand and need to seek comfort and family in each other.

The novel started out in a way that made me curious, because it started with a story at Grandpa’s knee. Classic, but where would this take me? Yet, honestly, it was the brilliant and chilling display of photojournalism that made this one such a pleasure. A grand sommelier couldn’t have paired the photos better, I tell you, because there were moments when the combination was just unnerving enough to make me pause…for more than a few seconds. And Riggs’ use of vivid imagination was perfectly paired with those wild imaginings of a child or pre-teen’s, making the world that he crafted wholly believable and enchanting. Mind you, this isn’t the YA novel for Grandma’s generation. The backdrop of social strife in the real world that hovered outside of Peregrine’s island added another layer that made this read both suitable for adults and literarily elevated for young readers. Here you’ll find the appropriate level of adult swagger, as the kids today have, when they say things like:

“Were you just smoking and chewing tobacco at the same time?”

            “What are you, my mom?”

            “Do I look like I blow truckers for foodstamps?”

That made it all the more realistic, because our little sisters, brothers, nieces and nephews would certainly say that to one another today, making this one altogether enjoyable for all ages (well, above 11 or so, depending on the maturity level). The only qualm that I had with this one was the ending. In the interest of avoiding spoilers, I’ll leave that one there. Let’s just say I’m glad this one has a continuation and even more glad it’ll have its shot at the ole’ silver screen. Four stars. ****