By: Josh Malerman
Wow. I don’t even know where to start with this novel. I chose it because it was on Book Riot’s Best Books of 2014 So Far list, and I typically enjoy the books recommended by Book Riot. Saying that I “enjoyed” this book is almost like saying I “enjoy” coffee in the morning. I absolutely devoured this book. I was wary, because I again found myself with a post-apocalyptic style book and I feel as though I’ve read my fair share of those in the last year or so. But even from the first line, “Malorie stand in the kitchen, thinking,” I knew I was going to finish this book in the span of a day.
Malorie’s world is mostly dark. She and her two young children live in a cheerless house that protects them from the outside world. There is something on the other side of the door that must not be seen. It’s almost a reverse Weeping Angel, instead of “blink and you’re dead,” it’s “open your eyes and you and everyone you love will be in bloody horrifying heaps around the room.” No one knows exactly what it is that causes this mental break, only that the possibility of seeing it has driven some people to the extreme of plucking out their own eyes to protect themselves.
She has trained her children to rely mostly on their ears so they do not have to use their betraying eyes in the outside world. One day, she attempts to escape the house and find a sanctuary where she can provide a better, if not normal life for her and her littles.
What I loved most about this book was that it made the reader rely on their sense of hearing as well. There are such rich descriptions of sounds that I was forced to imagine myself, blindfolded and terrified with nothing to guide me but my aural sense. And unlike other horror books, there are unanswered questions in Bird Box. I was left satisfied but my mind was racing, filling in the details that were (intentionally?) absent. One of the reasons I don’t usually read horror and suspense novels is because I am so often disappointed at the “culprit.” The twist, the villain, the evil presence is something that was either guessed in the fourth chapter, or a twist so ridiculous it leaves me wanting to hurl the book across the room. Horror has a tendency to die with the revelation. As things come in to place, I become more and more distant. I haven’t read a book this fulfilling in a long time, and Josh Malerman has proven himself, in the breadth of 260 pages, to be a master in this genre.
Best line: “Perhaps the mentally ill will inherit this new world, unable to be broken any more than they already are.”
By Radhika Sanghani
So, after my latest book choices, I realized that I’ve been reading a lot of heavy, intense stuff lately. So, I went to the library with the intention of finding something light hearted and hilarious to mellow out my bedside table. I picked this one based solely on the review blurbs on the back, one of which read: “Laugh out loud funny!” I took it home, and, similarly to an actual virgin, I nervously anticipated the evening when I could finally lie down and get started.
The book did actually make me “laugh out loud” in some parts; especially those very real moments in which the main character laments the world’s obession with perfectly groomed pubic hair. However, most of the book seemed like narrator navel gazing, and it quickly lost its appeal. There were some great self realization “growth” moments for the protagonist, during which I mentally hurrahed her success, but it just wasn’t enough to keep me piqued. The story is precisely what it sounds like. The tale of a horrified 21 year old virgin, living in Camden, who is desperately trying to rid herself of her “horrifying” status. She has several misadventures involving her friends, wax, wine and chocolate. Overall, not really impressed.
By Scott Westerfield
Typically, dystopian fiction doesn’t take me very long to read. Maybe because I’m bored with the genre, and therefore I don’t spend too much time thinking about the story. This book was a little different, but I can’t say what caused the break in protocol for me. The story takes place in a future world where everyone, at the age of 16, receives an operation to make them gorgeous. The theory is there is no longer any inequality when it comes to body image, which makes for a happier, more productive population. Definitely an interesting concept. The citizens are separated based on what stage of life they are in, such as Ugly, Pretty or Crumbly. I have to say, the choice of the word crumbly to mean elder was at once hilarious and irritating. It brought to mind doddering, slipper wearing corpses, which didn’t mesh with the description of those people in the book. There are plenty of suspenseful, action packed scenes, but just as many with the typical teenage angst that so often accompanies this kind of book.
Also, I understand that there really aren’t new thoughts anymore. Everything pulls from something else, and it is a very rare occasion that I read a book, see a movie, or even hear a song that doesn’t make me pause and recall something else that is similar. This story was like reading a transcript of the Twilight Zone’s episode, Number Twelve Looks Just Like You; complete with the sinister twist at the end. I wouldn’t say that I loved this book, but it did pique my interest enough to continue with the rest of the series; though not immediately following this one.
You Should Have Known
By: Jean Hanff Korelitz
This seemed like such a fascinating story to me: marriage counselor discovers that (SHOCKER!) her own marriage is not the perfect fantasy she had conjured up in her head. I love books that have an unlikable main character. And the protagonist in You Should Have Known, was nothing if not unlikable. Grace, an about to be published marriage therapist finds herself drowning in the misdeeds of her husband. But I couldn’t help thinking, “well, that’s what you get,” throughout most of the story. Of course, no one DESERVES to be wedded to a terrible person, but, if I’m really being honest, I enjoyed watching her suffer. In the agonizingly drawn out part one of the book, she comes to life as a snobby, middle upper class New Yorker, who is obviously better than most other people. She laments her “gaudy” jewelry collection, even though I’m pretty sure you could have bought my house for the cost of her “ugly” pieces. I know we are supposed to suspend reality when we read; but I really wanted her to get her due.
Maybe that was the point of the book? That anyone can be brought down by the actions of others? I don’t know because I was so lost in the flashbacks and “cut scenes.” It was dangerously similar to watching an episode of Family Guy. There are so many half baked relationships that no one character seems to be fully fleshed out. More than anything I wanted to hear more about the husband and his family, but they were only briefly addressed and then dismissed towards the very end of the book. The writing is not bad, and, in many places, the scenery becomes very real. You are exactly where Grace is, and you are experiencing her torment. But I liked it. Guess that makes me more like Grace’s husband than I’d like to admit?
The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry
By: Gabrielle Zevin
So, I’m not exactly sure how I feel about this book. There was a quaint setting, although I didn’t feel connected to it; and several quirky and lovable characters, even if they occasionally felt far-fetched. One of the characters, when she is six, speaks with the eloquence of a professor. Having a recently turned seven year old, this kind of bugged me. I tend to not like stories where the children act too smart. I wonder if that’s some kind of subconscious irritation at kids who seem “better” than my own. The book mainly takes place in a bookstore where light-hearted things happen in very dramatic ways and there is so much tragedy, it sometimes gets lost. However, the characters are extremely likable, even lovable at times. The main character writes about titles that have changed or influences him, as a “last lecture” to his daughter. Reading this sharp observations made me want to read all of these recommendations. Overall, I enjoyed the story, but I had a difficult time picturing it in my head.
Almost every character in the book suffers a great loss or some similar pain. I struggled some while trying to keep up with the different threads of sadness. There was one character in particular who deserves her own book. She’s a writer in disguise and her story is fascinating to me. I would definitely like to read more about the woman with the expensive wardrobe. Death was definitely a strong theme throughout the book; and it made it more relatable to me. Death was treated as a sudden, unexpected thing. I have experienced the pain of having someone ripped from your life, and the agony that goes with trying to repair your heart afterwards.
Ever since I was a little thing, just learning to read, the world of libraries and books absolutely fascinated me. Not only was it thrilling to find people who were like me within the pages of a good book, it also gave me a view of the world that I was too shy to seek out for myself. Many people think I was an outspoken and lively kid. In reality, I was so terrified of people rejecting me and deserting me, I made myself weird on purpose. Of course, weird attracts weird and I had some great, weird, friends.
Now, as an adult, I read almost constantly. I find it helps when I can escape somewhere other than my own head. I’ve decided to write mini reviews on this site as I finish books. Sometimes they will pertain to mental health, and sometimes they won’t. So, to get started:
Iscariot – A Novel of Judas
By Tosca Lee
I have been a fan of Tosca Lee’s since her debut novel, Demon, was released. Her writing pulls you, sometimes unwillingly, into the heads of her characters. In this book, she takes one of the most hated men in history; a man who is almost synonymous with betrayal and cowardice, and proves how his story could have just as easily been ours. He didn’t burst out of his mother with an evil infantile gleam in his eye. He was a baby, then a boy, then a man. He was lost and sometimes narcissistic, he hurt and was hurt by others. In other words, he was really no different than anyone else. This story gave flesh to a figure who was barely skeletal in my world. Even though this was a well researched fictionalization, it still reminded me that the story we seem to “know” may not be the real story at all.