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Book Review: Harrowing Roses, by Barbara Cooper

I accepted a review copy of Barbara Cooper‘s Harrowing Roses from Lola’s Blog Tours. The book was also featured over on Sadie’s Spotlight. You can hop over there for author information and contact details.

Harrowing Roses

Can our heroine save the missing girl’s life … and her own?

Dana feels the atmosphere of the marsh seeping into her skin with each day she spends in the cold unwelcoming mansion of her father’s estranged family.

When her young cousin, Debra Lee, mysteriously vanishes, Dana turns to Henry – an attractive neighbor in the isolated cabin nearby, to help her search for her.

Is her cousin dead? What are these strange visions and dreams that her new friend is having … could they be connected to the missing girl?

Despite the hint of something unnatural and strange, Dana is inexplicably drawn to the surrounding woods and to Henry himself.

Does he know more about Debra Lee’s disappearance than he’s revealing… and is it the right time for Dana to start being afraid?

my review
I’m going to state up front that this book starts out very rough. The narrative is rambly— very stream-of-consciousness that repeats and contradicts itself regularly.  I found it hard to follow and there are some obvious grammar mistakes that yanked me even farther out of the narrative. But the book does eventually manage to reign it in (to an extent) and becomes readable.

What’s more, many (not all, but many) of the grammar mistakes are double negatives so common as to practically be regional colloquialisms (or actual colloquialisms, things people commonly say but aren’t correct). Page two, for example, has this one: “…she would leave, and he wouldn’t see her no more…” Had these speech patterns been used consistently enough to feel purposeful, I would have believed the author did it to provide color and depth to the character’s internal thoughts. And this would have added subsequent depth and character to the book itself. But they aren’t and, when combined with the other more pedestrian editing errors—to vs too, then vs than, odd punctuation, super inconsistent tenses, etc—it’s clear this wasn’t authorial choice. It’s lack of external editing.

I took several sentences to make that point. But please don’t take it to mean the book is an editorial disaster. It really isn’t. The book is quite readable. I mention it mostly because I feel it was so close to being something meatier than it turned out to be. But there’s just an informality to it that I don’t think was intended and this often results in lack of clarity, which kept me from really being able to sink into this story.

If this is where I stopped the review I can’t imagine I’d rate the book very well. But for all of the quirks in the writing (that I think a competent editor could clean up and make a stronger story) there is something in the book that appeals…or there is if you stick with it long enough. It has a gothic…dare I say, harrowing quality to it. It reminded me a lot of The Ocean at the End of the Lane and/or We Have Always Lived In the Castle, not in plot but in atmosphere and tone. By the end I had largely forgotten the rough start.

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Barbara Cooper has informed me (over on Goodreads) that I am wrong and the book is considered to be without grammatical errors…

barbara cooper comment

Eli's Town

Book Review of Eli’s Town, by Amy Cross

Eli's townI got Eli’s Town, by Amy Cross, from Amazon as a freebie. It was still free at the time of posting.

Description from Goodreads:
“Someone really should go check on Eli…”

Every year, someone from the Denton family travels to the town of Tulepa, to check on weird old uncle Eli. This time around it’s Holly’s turn to make the journey, but when she arrives she discovers that not only is Eli missing, but the locals appear to be hiding something.

Meanwhile, a strange curse seems to have struck the town. Every day, at exactly noon, one resident drops dead. Is the string of sudden fatalities just a coincidence? If it’s something more sinister, why does no-one seem to be trying to uncover the truth? And what do these deaths have to do with the disappearance of Eli Denton, a strange old man who has barely even left his house in more than a decade?

Eli’s Town is a horror novel about an eccentric but seemingly harmless man who discovers a new way to live, and about his niece’s desperate attempt to uncover the truth before she too succumbs to the town’s mysteries.

I found this to be a perfectly passable horror-suspense novel, along the lines of M. Night Shyamalan’s film work. It had a similar atmospheric feel. It kept me guessing until fairly far into the book and had a truly creepy antagonist.

I did think the ending felt a little deus ex machina. The boyfriend, Dean, felt especially like a caricature of a pickup artist boyfriend, which I found hard to believe considering how long they were meant to have been together. And I had a little trouble believing no one ran from town before they weren’t able, considering how obviously odd it was. Even raised in isolation, I think people like Tatty would have high-tailed it out of there.

But all in all, it was an enjoyable read. I’d be perfectly willing to pick up another Cross book.

Book Review of Betty Woodcock’s The Pram

Author, Betty Woodcock, sent me a copy of her novel, The Pram. Honestly, I don’t find the cover too appealing, but it disguises a bit of a gem.

Description from Amazon:
When Carrie buys a secondhand pram for her eagerly awaited grandchild, she becomes trapped in a horrifying nightmare world, terrorised by her own aborted baby . . . already worried that only she can see the phantom baby in the pram, Carrie is appalled when her granddaughter is placed beside it and the two merge. Unsure if she has imagined this, she tells no one. And so her nightmare begins . . . She is shocked when the phantom converses with her in her mind . . . especially when it claims to be her own aborted child. Horrified, torn between a mix of love and revulsion for her grandchild and terror of the intimidating invading spirit, Carrie doesn’t know what to do. Then she begins to see ghosts, and is convinced she is losing her mind. The mind-to-mind conversations become menacing and Carrie panics and sometimes answers the baby aloud, causing misunderstandings with her daughter. She dreads that her grandchild will never outgrow this weirdness which is becoming terrifyingly entrenched. So when her long-ago lover’s unexpected return to her life coincides with vindictive blasts of pain in her head, she can’t resist asking for his advice. He is intrigued by Carrie’s heavily censored story, and too late, she realises she has made a mistake . . . he also has a genetic link to the malevolent She must keep them apart because neither of them know that he is the father.

The Pram recounts the frightening experience of Carrie M. as she is terrorised by the ghost of her worst mistake. Told largely in the first person, The Pram drops the reader into the mind of the main character. While not a huge fan of first-person narratives, it is pretty effective in this particular case. It provides you with a very clear understanding of her thoughts, thought processes, worries, and very real fears as she tries to come to terms with the existence of what she considers to be an alien being within her grandchild. This inside knowledge did leave me feeling a little bit like Carrie made a snap decision about Baby, though. While this may, in fact, have been the right decision, in the end, she never once considered that the baby might be benign. She accepts that the other ghosts are and even takes Baby’s word for it, but she never pays Baby the same courtesy. This, coupled with the abrupt manner in which Carrie treats her daughter in order to disguise her dislike for the baby, left me disliking her. I get that she was terrified, and who can be expected to be at their best when in the grips of terror? I should give her a little leeway on the issue, but I still didn’t like her. In fact, I didn’t like most of the characters. I found Carrie’s daughter to be annoying and Gervaise false. I kept waiting for him to turn out to be the baddie somehow. But a person can like a book without liking the characters. Unlikeable characters are just as valuable as goodie-goodies. I think they seem more life-like.

The writing is clear and easy to follow. There are a few typos, but not enough to spoil the read. I considered it to be a really satisfying read, with one exception. Unless this is meant to be an allegory on the power of God (how he can easily accomplish what humans are unable to even when they try their hardest), the whole thing felt like it wrapped up a little too quickly and easily. All-in-all, it’s worth the read. I read it on an international flight, and it easily passed the time for me.