Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Review: Bird Box – Josh Malerman

Bird Box – Josh Malerman

Something terrifying that must not be seen. One glimpse and a person is driven to deadly violence. No one knows what it is or where it came from. 
Five years after it began, a handful of scattered survivors remain, including Malorie and her two young children. Living in an abandoned house near the river, she has dreamed of fleeing to a place where they might be safe. Now that the boy and girl are four, it is time to go. But the journey ahead will be terrifying: twenty miles downriver in a rowboat—blindfolded—with nothing to rely on but her wits and the children’s trained ears. One wrong choice and they will die. And something is following them. But is it man, animal, or monster? 
Engulfed in darkness, surrounded by sounds both familiar and frightening, Malorie embarks on a harrowing odyssey—a trip that takes her into an unseen world and back into the past, to the companions who once saved her. Under the guidance of the stalwart Tom, a motely group of strangers banded together against the unseen terror, creating order from the chaos. But when supplies ran low, they were forced to venture outside—and confront the ultimate question: in a world gone mad, who can really be trusted?

Review: I guess it’s unpopular opinion time. I didn’t hate this book, but I’m not as obsessed with it as everybody else seems to be.

Malorie learns she’s pregnant on the same day the world ends. No one knows why, but strange creatures have appeared outside, and they’re driving people into violent rages. One glimpse of a creature can make a person commit suicide or homicide. Malorie and a few other survivors move into a house and board up the windows, but they can’t stay there forever. They will eventually run out of supplies. Also, the creatures seem to be multiplying. Four years after the world ends, Malorie and her children climb into a boat—blindfolded—and hope that the river takes them somewhere safer.

“It's better to face madness with a plan than to sit still and let it take you in pieces.” – Bird Box

The concept for this book is so creepy! Imagine being blindfolded and surrounded by creatures that want to kill you. Um . . . no thanks. That would be completely terrifying. The characters come up with a few ingenious methods of detecting the creatures, but none of the methods are 100% effective. This is one of the most unique concepts for a horror story I’ve seen in a long time.

The pacing is excellent. In the present-day timeline, Malorie and her children are floating down a river blindfolded. They can hear the creatures in the forest around them, but if they take off their blindfolds, they’ll die. The flashback chapters show how the apocalypse happened and how Malorie got herself to safety. The chapters are very short, so it felt like I was flying through this book. I could sit and read big chunks of it without getting bored.

“We left because some people choose to wait for news and others make their own.” – Bird Box

Unfortunately, other than the concept and the pacing, there isn’t a lot I love about this novel. The writing and character development are kind of . . . atrocious. I know that’s a mean word, but I didn’t like them at all.

The writing feels amateurish at times. Malorie has these repetitive inner monologues that bugged me. They just don’t seem necessary. I know she’s scared. She doesn’t need to have a half-page argument with herself about being scared. She especially doesn’t need to have the same argument with herself a dozen times. 

The reader doesn’t learn much about the characters. We get one or two traits about each character, but none of the characters have any depth. Tom is the leader, Don is the paranoid one, Jules has a dog. None of them feel like real people to me. Malorie doesn’t have a personality. Her kids are called Boy and Girl, and we don’t learn anything about them. It’s hard to be scared for the characters if I don’t care about them.

I think there are too many coincidences in this book. Two random pregnant ladies show up at the safe house, and they both have their babies at the exact same moment. Malorie’s roommates find two dogs that both happen to be huskies. Malorie is forced to drive a car without her blindfold, but she doesn’t see any creatures, even though they are everywhere. The coincidences frustrated me because I didn’t see a reason for them.

Finally, we don’t learn anything about the creatures. I know that showing us the monsters would ruin the suspense, but I was hoping we’d learn something about them by the end. Where did they come from? What do they look like? How intelligent are they? We never find out.

Sorry if this review is harsh, but I was kind of disappointed in this book. The concept is amazing, but the execution could have been better.

“A grisly story, but one whose notoriety Malorie attributes to the seemingly senseless way the Internet has of making random occurrences famous.” – Bird Box

TL;DR: Creepy story that kept me turning pages. It could have been truly terrifying if I cared about the characters.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Could Reread Forever

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl. This week’s topic is top ten books I could reread forever. If I ever get sent into exile on a lonely island, here are the ten books that I’m bringing with me. I could have easily made this list all Margaret Atwood, J.K. Rowling, and Stephen King, but I tried to be reasonable and pick a variety of favorites to keep me entertained in exile. My choices are all childhood favorites or books that gave me something to think about.

Books I Could Reread Forever

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – J.K. Rowling

It's no longer safe for Harry at Hogwarts, so he and his best friends, Ron and Hermione, are on the run. Professor Dumbledore has given them clues about what they need to do to defeat the dark wizard, Lord Voldemort, once and for all, but it's up to them to figure out what these hints and suggestions really mean. 
Their cross-country odyssey has them searching desperately for the answers, while evading capture or death at every turn. At the same time, their friendship, fortitude, and sense of right and wrong are tested in ways they never could have imagined.

The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood

Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leave the home of the Commander and his wife once a day to walk to food markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read. She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining births, Offred and the other Handmaids are valued only if their ovaries are viable. Offred can remember the years before, when she lived and made love with her husband, Luke; when she played with and protected her daughter; when she had a job, money of her own, and access to knowledge. But all of that is gone now.

Oryx and Crake – Margaret Atwood

Snowman, known as Jimmy before mankind was overwhelmed by a plague, is struggling to survive in a world where he may be the last human, and mourning the loss of his best friend, Crake, and the beautiful and elusive Oryx whom they both loved. In search of answers, Snowman embarks on a journey–with the help of the green-eyed Children of Crake–through the lush wilderness that was so recently a great city, until powerful corporations took mankind on an uncontrolled genetic engineering ride.

Bridge to Terabithia – Katherine Paterson

Jess Aarons' greatest ambition is to be the fastest runner in his grade. He's been practicing all summer and can't wait to see his classmates' faces when he beats them all. But on the first day of school, a new girl boldly crosses over to the boys' side and outruns everyone. 
That's not a very promising beginning for a friendship, but Jess and Leslie Burke become inseparable. Together they create Terabithia, a magical kingdom in the woods where the two of them reign as king and queen, and their imaginations set the only limits.

The Green Mile – Stephen King

Set in the 1930s at Cold Mountain Penitentiary's death-row facility, The Green Mile is a riveting and tragic story of John Coffey, a giant, preternaturally gentle inmate condemned to death for the rape and murder of twin nine-year-old girls. It is a story narrated years later by Paul Edgecomb, the ward superintendent compelled to help every prisoner spend his last days peacefully and every man walk the green mile to execution with his humanity intact.

The Book Thief – Markus Zusak

Set during World War II in Germany, Markus Zusak’s groundbreaking novel is the story of Liesel Meminger, a foster girl living outside of Munich. Liesel scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can’t resist–books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement before he is marched to Dachau.

Hatchet – Gary Paulsen

Brian is on his way to Canada to visit his estranged father when the pilot of his small prop plane suffers a heart attack. Brian is forced to crash-land the plane in a lake—and finds himself stranded in the remote Canadian wilderness with only his clothing and the hatchet his mother gave him as a present before his departure.

All the Light We Cannot See – Anthony Doerr

Marie-Laure lives in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where her father works. When she is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris. Father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel. 
In a mining town in Germany, Werner Pfennig, an orphan, grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find that brings them news and stories from places they have never seen or imagined. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments and is enlisted to use his talent to track down the resistance. Deftly interweaving the lives of Marie-Laure and Werner, Doerr illuminates the ways, against all odds, people try to be good to one another.

Midwinterblood – Marcus Sedgwick

An archaeologist who unearths a mysterious artifact, an airman who finds himself far from home, a painter, a ghost, a vampire, and a Viking: the seven stories in this compelling novel all take place on the remote Scandinavian island of Blessed where a curiously powerful plant that resembles a dragon grows. What binds these stories together? What secrets lurk beneath the surface of this idyllic countryside? And what might be powerful enough to break the cycle of midwinterblood?

The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins

The nation of Panem, formed from a post-apocalyptic North America, is a country that consists of a wealthy Capitol region surrounded by 12 poorer districts. Early in its history, a rebellion led by a 13th district against the Capitol resulted in its destruction and the creation of an annual televised event known as the Hunger Games. In punishment, and as a reminder of the power and grace of the Capitol, each district must yield one boy and one girl between the ages of 12 and 18 through a lottery system to participate in the games. The 'tributes' are chosen during the annual Reaping and are forced to fight to the death, leaving only one survivor to claim victory. 
When 16-year-old Katniss's young sister, Prim, is selected as District 12's female representative, Katniss volunteers to take her place. She and her male counterpart Peeta, are pitted against bigger, stronger representatives, some of whom have trained for this their whole lives. She sees it as a death sentence. But Katniss has been close to death before. For her, survival is second nature.

Which books would you take into exile with you?

Monday, February 26, 2018

Review: Lungs Full Of Noise – Tessa Mellas

Lungs Full Of Noise – Tessa Mellas

Figure skaters screw skate blades into the bones of their feet to master elusive jumps. A divorcee steals the severed arm of her ex to reclaim the fragments of a dissolved marriage. Following the advice of a fashion magazine, teenaged girls binge on grapes to dye their skin purple and attract prom dates. And a college freshman wages war on her roommate from Jupiter, who has inadvertently seduced all the boys in their dorm with her exotic hermaphroditic anatomy.

Review: I’m pretty sure this book has one of the greatest covers ever. It’s so perfectly weird. Whoever designed it is brilliant and needs to design more books.

Lungs Full of Noise won the Iowa Short Fiction Award in 2013. I loved one of the other collections that won the Iowa Award, so I decided to give this one a try. Judging by the synopsis, the stories sounded like my kind of bizarre. Now that I’ve read the book, I can confirm that it definitely is bizarre.

Many of these stories focus on characters who are trying to do what society expects from them. Competitive figure skaters make painful alterations to their bodies so they can win competitions. Little girls go to quiet camp and learn to be mute because children should be seen and not heard. Freshman girls dye their skin peacock colors in the hope that senior boys will invite them to prom. This collection makes readers question why people do the things they do. The stories take society’s norms and twist them into grotesque extremes. Even though the plots are fantastical, the characters are relatable. A lot of us have had moments where we think, What the heck am I doing? This is stupid. This book is made up of those moments.

Like most collections, I didn’t love every story. I have to admit that I skimmed a few of them because they are too abstract for my tastes. I lose patience with stories that are all pretty words and no action. Once a piece of writing gets rambley, I’m done.

Still, most of the stories are well-written and have surprising bursts of humor. These are my favorites:

In “Mariposa Girls,” figure skaters discover that some skating maneuvers are easier if they screw the skate blades directly into their feet. Soon, all the best skaters have blades on their feet. To stand out from the crowd, some of the skaters become more extreme. They shave all the hair off their bodies. Then they start skating naked. Then they start painting their bodies. When everybody is extreme, you have to be really extreme to get attention. 
“Bibi from Jupiter” is about an alien who comes to Earth to study at an American university. The boys in the dorm building quickly fall in lust with her exoticness. The narrator of this story is an angry, judgmental bitch, which would usually be a turn off for me, but the story is so quirky that I was able to overlook it. 
The girls in “Quiet Camp” talk too much. They wear muzzles so that they learn to keep their opinions to themselves, to not ask questions, to not complain when they’re uncomfortable. Good girls are quiet girls. 
My favorite story is “Dye Job.” It reminds me of high school and the ridiculousness of teenagers. A group of freshman girls are desperate to attend prom, but they’re not allowed to go unless a junior or senior boy asks them. To get the boys’ attention, the girls try a fad diet that turns their skin purple. The boys definitely notice the purple skin, but as the girls squabble with each other over prom dates, they fail to notice that the boys have a competition of their own going on.

TL;DR: This isn’t the best collection I’ve ever read, and I skimmed some of the stories, but it did give me a lot to think about.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

The Sunday Post #137

The Sunday Post is hosted by The Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a chance to recap the past week, talk about next week, and share news. It’s Monday, What Are You Reading? is hosted by Book Date. I get to tell you what I’ve read recently.

On The Blog Last Week

On The Blog This Week

  • On Monday I review Lungs Full of Noise by Tessa Mellas.
  • On Tuesday I list some books I’d bring with me to a deserted island.
  • On Wednesday I review Bird Box by Josh Malerman.
  • On Thursday I’m giving away a book of your choice! Come back on Thursday to enter.
  • On Friday I wrap up February.
  • On Saturday there’s a book haul.

In My Reading Life

Last week, I finished Missing May by Cynthia Rylant. Then I DNFed What is Not Yours is Not Yours: Stories by Helen Oyeyemi. That book has too many characters and too much rambling for me. I wasn’t enjoying it. Right now, I’m reading Scythe by Neal Shusterman and The Complete Stories of Truman Capote by Truman Capote.

In The Rest Of My Life

Five things that made me laugh last week. (Olympic curiosities edition):

1. Norwegian ski jumper Robert Johansson wins the gold medal in mustaches.

2. Streaking isn’t just for summer sports.

3. A small suggestion to make curling more interesting.

4. Another small suggestion to make curling more bearable to watch.

5. Why is this not a sport?

Take care of yourselves and be kind to each other! See you around the blogosphere!

Saturday, February 24, 2018

The “I Need Diverse Books” Book Haul

Stacking the Shelves is hosted by Tynga’s Reviews. I get to show off all the books I’ve gotten recently.

Here are some “diverse” books I’ve gotten in the past few weeks.

The “I Need Diverse Books” Book Haul

How It Went Down – Kekla Magoon

When sixteen-year-old Tariq Johnson dies from two gunshot wounds, his community is thrown into an uproar. Tariq was black. The shooter, Jack Franklin, is white. 
In the aftermath of Tariq's death, everyone has something to say, but no two accounts of the events line up. Day by day, new twists further obscure the truth. 
Tariq's friends, family, and community struggle to make sense of the tragedy, and to cope with the hole left behind when a life is cut short. In their own words, they grapple for a way to say with certainty: This is how it went down.

As Brave As You – Jason Reynolds

When two brothers decide to prove how brave they are, everything backfires—literally. 
Genie’s summer is full of surprises. The first is that he and his big brother, Ernie, are leaving Brooklyn for the very first time to spend the summer with their grandparents all the way in Virginia—in the COUNTRY! The second surprise comes when Genie figures out that their grandfather is blind. Thunderstruck and—being a curious kid—Genie peppers Grandpop with questions about how he covers it so well (besides wearing way cool Ray-Bans). 
How does he match his clothes? Know where to walk? Cook with a gas stove? Pour a glass of sweet tea without spilling it? Genie thinks Grandpop must be the bravest guy he’s ever known, but he starts to notice that his grandfather never leaves the house—as in NEVER. And when he finds the secret room that Grandpop is always disappearing into—a room so full of songbirds and plants that it’s almost as if it’s been pulled inside-out—he begins to wonder if his grandfather is really so brave after all. 
Then Ernie lets him down in the bravery department. It’s his fourteenth birthday, and, Grandpop says to become a man, you have to learn how to shoot a gun. Genie thinks that is AWESOME until he realizes Ernie has no interest in learning how to shoot. None. Nada. Dumbfounded by Ernie’s reluctance, Genie is left to wonder—is bravery and becoming a man only about proving something, or is it just as important to own up to what you won’t do?

Mongrels – Stephen Graham Jones

He was born an outsider, like the rest of his family. Poor yet resilient, he lives in the shadows with his Aunt Libby and Uncle Darren, folk who stubbornly make their way in a society that does not understand or want them. They are mongrels, mixedblood, neither this nor that. The boy at the center of Mongrels must decide if he belongs on the road with his aunt and uncle, or if he fits with the people on the other side of the tracks. 
For ten years, he and his family have lived a life of late-night exits and close calls—always on the move across the South to stay one step ahead of the law. But the time is drawing near when Darren and Libby will know if their nephew is like them or not. And the close calls they’ve been running from for so long are catching up fast, now. Everything is about to change.

The Mothers – Brit Bennett

It is the last season of high school life for Nadia Turner, a rebellious, grief-stricken, seventeen-year-old beauty. Mourning her own mother's recent suicide, she takes up with the local pastor's son. Luke Sheppard is twenty-one, a former football star whose injury has reduced him to waiting tables at a diner. They are young; it's not serious. But the pregnancy that results from this teen romance—and the subsequent cover-up—will have an impact that goes far beyond their youth. As Nadia hides her secret from everyone, including Aubrey, her God-fearing best friend, the years move quickly. Soon, Nadia, Luke, and Aubrey are full-fledged adults and still living in debt to the choices they made that one seaside summer, caught in a love triangle they must carefully maneuver, and dogged by the constant, nagging question: What if they had chosen differently? The possibilities of the road not taken are a relentless haunt.

Pull Me Under – Kelly Luce

Kelly Luce's Pull Me Under tells the story of Rio Silvestri, who, when she was twelve years old, fatally stabbed a school bully. Rio, born Chizuru Akitani, is the Japanese American daughter of the revered violinist Hiro Akitani—a Living National Treasure in Japan and a man Rio hasn't spoken to since she left her home country for the United States (and a new identity) after her violent crime. Her father's death, along with a mysterious package that arrives on her doorstep in Boulder, Colorado, spurs her to return to Japan for the first time in twenty years. There she is forced to confront her past in ways she never imagined, pushing herself, her relationships with her husband and daughter, and her own sense of who she is to the brink.

Have you read any of these? What did you think?