Bird Box by Josh Malerman 


Finished: June 11, 2017

Malerman was featured on The Outer Dark podcast sometime last year, I believe. I liked what he had to say and the title and description of the book intrigued me, plus they gave it high praise on the podcast, so I added it to Goodreads. Fast forward to this summer, and Goodreads tells me it’s on sale for $2, so I just had to give it a try!

My review:

Josh Malerman’s Bird Box was one of the more terrifying horror novels I’ve read in a while. There are a number of scenes that are so suspenseful that you almost don’t want to find out what happens next. The scene in the bar was one of the more painful scenes for me. That was when I truly started admiring Malerman’s style and how intense his writing became. I binged half this book in a day because once it got rolling, it was hard to put down.

The only difficulty was the constant changes in perspective. It changes times a lot and sometimes it was difficult for me to pinpoint when a scene was happening and I had to reread sections. Overall this didn’t change how good the novel was, but it did make it slower to start. I definitely recommend it!
What I consider a 5-star book:

  1. Is it a fun read? Definitely! I actually found it hard to stop once I reached the halfway point.
  2. Would you recommend it to others? I’ve actually been dropping plot pieces to friends, describing the dystopian world and the claustrophobia of the blindness that Malerman is so good at. The premise alone sells this book, but the stellar writing is what makes me finish it.
  3. Would you re-read it? I typically don’t reread many books, but I would reread sections of this one. The writing was beautifully gruesome.
  4. Does it stick with you? Oh yes! Sometimes a bit too well. 😉

My overall rating? 5/5

Review: The Color of Magic

The Color of MagicThis was a fabulous book. I admit when I first started, it took a bit to wrap my brain around the eclectic style and imagery that Pratchett uses. Once I got into the storyline though, it became a fun rollercoaster. Seriously, what is there not to love about place & time distortions happening in the middle of your storyline? His writing reminds me greatly of Douglas Adams’ work, as in they both make me laugh out loud and look ridiculous wherever I’m reading.

Will definitely be continuing this series!

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke

Jonathan Strange & Mr. NorrellLet me start by saying that the world building involved in the creation of this book is phenomenal. You don’t quite get how detailed it is when you first pick it up. You don’t understand the magnitude. Then you reach your first footnote, and then it dawns on you. Not only has Clarke breathed life into these diversified characters, but behind them is an enormous tapestry that serves as the backdrop for their world.

Having just finished this giant 920-page behemoth, I think I’ll start with what made me love it and rave so fondly over it.

I. The Pros

Picturesque World

The world feels like it’s been painted on a canvas. From the battlefields of Waterloo to the sleepy, cozy visage of Venice. Clarke has quite a way with her descriptions, and at times it feels as though her world makes more sense than our own. In this world, magic isn’t something questioned or pondered about over a cup of coffee, there was actually a king with one foot in the real world and another foot in the magical world of fairy (don’t worry, I’ll get to the historical aspects of the fairy world in a little bit.) Magic is something that need only be awakened to give it power. It exists just beneath the surface, and all it takes is a scratch to bring it forth. Magic though has grown out of taste, so to speak, and the world has forgotten it. The history has been rewritten to better suit the tastes of those in the present, and therefore there does not seem to be any real need to explore magic further – especially not the magic of the aforementioned king.

Two Rage-Inducing Protagonists

A surprising aspect of this book is that the magician who you will likely identify with better isn’t introduced until well into the novel. I suppose when you have so much heft to your manuscript, you can afford to belay your star character until a little later on. Mr. Norrell isn’t a bad guy exactly, he is just very particular. That is to say, he’s stuffy, socially awkward, and despises change. So it’s surprising to see that he is the main instigator in the revitilization of English magic. At times he can be insipid, simple-minded, cruel, and a downright thief. However, you understand why he does it. You don’t approve of his actions, but you don’t think he should be shot for it either. He’s a rather unlikeable main character, and then once he surrounds himself with scoundrels like Drawlight and Lascelles, he becomes a bit of a puppet between the two.

Then comes Jonathan Strange, an entirely different type of magician. He is gregarious and sociable, but since he has more wealth than he knows what to do with, he ends up going into magic out of boredom. Once Strange becomes Norrell’s pupil, that’s when the real meat of the novel comes forth. It takes a good chunk of the book to get to this point of course, but the build-up is quite worth it. When Strange goes to assist the British military in the Napoleonic wars, and then is targeted by the fairy “gentleman with the thistle-down hair”, you find yourself pulling at your hair. He never does what you want him to do, when he ought to do it. He can be very short-sighted, and (as apparently many magicians do), buries his head in books for far too long.

This is quite an interesting set of characters for the reader to be rooting for, but you do indeed find yourself understanding both sides of their tale.

Land of the Fairies

The way that the fairy world is handled was perhaps my favorite aspect of the book. Frequently in folklore fairies are seen as tricksters, deceivers, and shape-shifters. It’s amusing to see how an entire land of the fairy world could be so similar to the real world, but not quite the same at all. Seemingly innocent locations are turned into horrific scenes of slavery and servitude, and arrogant or overly curious bystanders could find themselves forever trapped in a spell. The fairy world isn’t just a place down the road, or in another country, it appears as another reality, and frequently overlaps with the real world in ways that you wouldn’t imagine.

At one point when Strange views this disconnection of worlds, he watches a man walk down a typical street, deftly dodging various tree branches in the fairy realm which he can’t see, but intuitively knows that they are there. It’s a subtle magic, and the craziness of the fairies reminded me very much of the Endless seen in the Sandman series, though not nearly as cohesive. The main fairy that we follow is arrogant, petulant, and his powers are too great for him to manage them properly.

II. The Cons

Worth the Time to Read

I am a very slow reader. I take my time with books, especially ones as complex as this, so it was quite a time commitment for me to choose to read this book. My friends had been urging me to give it a try, promising that I would love it. At over 900 pages (in my eBook copy at least), that was a difficult decision. I could easily see this being divided up into three parts like the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but the plot is so complex that I imagine some readers would find it hard to pick up where the story left off.

Unsatisfying Ending

The ending, though it closes all the loose ends so to speak, didn’t leave me very satisfied. I wanted to find out more, and I wanted to know the ultimate fate of our two main characters. The fact that this wasn’t clear made me a bit sad, but to be honest, when writing a book this long I could imagine she was reluctant to add even more onto it with a more detailed ending. I would have stayed along for the ride, though I could see some jumping the bandwagon when it went beyond 1k pages.

Footnotes Galore

The footnotes take some getting used to. They span several pages, and can be quite engrossing. The end result is that you’ll find yourself reading through pages of footnotes at the end of a chapter, and forget what was going on in the main storyline. It’s truly a testament to the breath and depth of Clarke’s world, but especially on some eReader devices, I could see this causing problems. My personal copy didn’t link back easily to the original footnote, and frequent bookmarks can cause confusion. It takes the flow out of the writing somewhat, but usually the footnote stories are quite enjoyable, so I honestly can’t count this against the book too much.

III. Final Rating

I can say without hesitation that this book was easy for me to give five stars on. Sure the length is intimidating, but that really shouldn’t dissuade you from trying it out. It’s worth the time, and you’ll appreciate it once you’ve finished it. Especially if you’re a fan of fantasy, surreal worlds, and the Victorian era.

  1. Is it a fun read? Absolutely! Toward the end of the book, I was having trouble putting it down, and flew through a few hundred pages without even realizing it. The build up can be slow, but the pay off is very worth it at the end.
  2. Would you recommend it to others? Oh yes, definitely. It’s probably going to be up there with epic fantasy tales that I love (I’m a die-hard LotR fan), and it will certainly influence my views of magicians from now on. This almost felt like a case study of two magicians, so I feel like I’ve been given a behind-the-scenes look at the daily troubles magicians have to deal with. Harry Potter has a lot of politics in his future, that’s for sure!
  3. Would you re-read it? Simply due to the length, I don’t think so. However I’m a big highlighter and note-taker. I’ve peppered my copy with plenty of markings to keep me entertained the next time I’m picking it up to flip through a few pages.
  4. Does it stick with you?Can’t you tell? 🙂 The original friend who recommended this book told me that she was disappointed when she got to the end. She had gotten so used to being immersed in this Victorian pseudo-realistic magical world that it was sad to have to leave it. I found I had the same trouble myself. It sticks with you so much, that you’re frustrated that you can’t find more written on this very eclectic mixing of genres and styles.Though, I guess I could hop over and read on The Ladies of Grace Adieu, but I think I’ve left my partially read Dark Tower Book 4 gathering dust for too long, and I need time to digest this book a bit more. For such a long read, it’s going to be with me for quite some time.

Embedded by Dan Abnett

Military Science Fiction was the first genre I categorized this book when I read over the summary and signed up for the giveaway. I wasn’t quite sure what I was expecting since I’ve never really read much on the genre. But I’m always willing to try new books, even if I’m a bit uncertain at first. And in retrospect, I’m incredibly glad I gave this book a shot!

I. The Pros

Lex Falk Plucked from Film Noir

The genre isn’t wide enough for this flexible storyline. When it starts out you’re following Lex Falk, an award-winning journalist known for finding a story regardless of the trouble. A rugged, take-no-crap attitude and a penchant for young women, Falk feels as though he was picked up from a film noir and dropped onto another planet. He’s grumpy at bars, has problems trusting anyone, and ends up referring to an upstart new reporter (who he inevitably has sex with) as “green hiker girl”. In short, he’s incredibly entertaining, sympathetic, and mostly likable. You see where he’s coming from, understand how perceptive he is at spotting the truth beneath the bullshit, and understand why he ultimately makes the choice he does to get “embedded”. I’ve always been a fan of film noir, so seeing these traits dropped into a science fiction piece was an amazing spark of genius that transfers over quite well.

(35 mm) Film Noir by drp

Look it's where Lex Falk lives! (But in Space)

Sweet Action

From about mid-way through and on, there are back-to-back action scenes that paint the most invigorating and involving world. The characters grow on you, and you can practically smell the battlefield and bodies at every turn. All the while Falk is keeping his little secret and trying to put on his show as successfully as he can. You watch as the troop he goes in with is taken out around him, and Bloom and Falk’s lives suddenly depend on one another. I don’t want to give too much away here, but I found it incredibly difficult to put the book down in the middle of these scenes. Just too much fun!

The Merging of Minds

***WARNING – SPOILERS TO THE PLOT***SKIP***

I have a fascination with cognition and how the mind perceives the world, so it was an unexpected treat to see the process by which Falk gets embedded in Bloom. Abnett does an incredible job in explaining the strange sense of being in another person’s body and looking out through their eyes as a paralyzed onlooker. It reminded me of Roland’s reaction in Stephen King’s The Drawing of the Three, but Falk is certainly not even remotely trained for this experience. He has panic attacks which bleed over into Bloom, causing much mirror yelling (which was indeed quite amusing!) and threats to himself. Bloom also has no idea how to handle it, but he’s not allowed to back out now. Perhaps the most fascinating scene as far as cognition was when Bloom was shot in the head. Falk is suddenly remembering someone else’s memories, and yes it’s just as creepy as it sounds. Bloom reverts to the back of his mind and Falk is suddenly left there with a hole in his head and a pile of corpses. That scene is pretty intense not to mention horrific. Abnett carries it along quite expertly.

II. The Cons

Drop Off

The main downfall was the ending in my opinion. Everything wrapped up, but a little too quickly for my tastes. I wanted to find out more about how his group reacted to Falk revealing that he was actually the mind controlling Bloom’s body after Bloom was incapacitated. In a way, I felt like not including this information made the characters in essence written off. Did he ever tell them? Did they believe them? And what about human resources — did they allow the rest of them to survive? And whatever happened to Bigmouse? These things were never really settled, and the empty felt a bit hollow because of it.

And what was the giant item they found embedded in the bedrock of the planet? I assumed it was some type of alien machinery but I would’ve greatly preferred more explanation here. As much details as Falk had on so many other areas, I felt that this final discovery deserved more attention and description.

Silly Plot Points

Kind of a pet peeve of mine here, but I wasn’t quite sure what to think of the impromptu patching Cleesh did at the end to Falk’s translator. Suddenly speaking the language of the enemy and not even realizing it seems like a horrible way to make friends with the allies. In a way it kind of spoke to how unprepared Cleesh and her group had been, but it also made the other military units seem incredibly dumb. I know this is one of the first times they are confronted with true combat and against well trained units, but I was disappointed with how relatively easy they believed him. They simply assumed he talked to himself. A lot. After a while they were the ones offering the excuse for him, and Falk didn’t even have to mention it after a while.

Typos and Grammar Issues

Now this is a topic I’m not sure if I can comment on here, since my copy was printed before the final one. However some of the edits and typos and words lacking proper spacing just got on my nerves after a while. Sometimes entire chunks of dialog weren’t separated properly and I really found it distracting to the storyline. Especially when it happened at the end of a chapter on a cliffhanger. I won’t be including this in the final rating I give, but I thought it was worth mentioning. If these problems *are* on the final edition, I’ll definitely be lowering my score. They were mostly simple fixes after all.

III. Final Rating

Sorry for all the spoilers, but it’s quite difficult to discuss this book at length without mentioning them. It’s very difficult making a decision on this piece, and even while writing this review I was straddling the fence between a 4 or 5. But then I have to remind myself of what indeed makes a level 5 book:

  1. Is it a fun read? Yes, very much so! I looked forward to picking up this book and each new plot twist was heart-pounding and attention-grabbing. A regular joy ride.
  2. Would you recommend it to others? Absolutely! I’ve already piqued the interest of a few friends who will be reading this after me. They all read way faster than I do, so no worries there! The detailed machinery alone in this book (which goes right over my head) will have them loving it, I’m sure.
  3. Would you re-read it? Probably not the whole book, I rarely do that. But I’d likely pick up bits and pieces to review later on.
  4. Does it stick with you? Very much. Every time I finished putting a section down, my mind was stuck with Fak and crew trekking through the jungle or fighting to survive.

All in all, I think this book makes up for its flaws and then some. Although the ending isn’t that great, you still have a blast getting there. And some scenes I think will always be stuck with me, like Lex Falk sitting in a bar with large glass windows overlooking outer space. At least, that’s how I imagined it. The genre for this piece kept growing as I read. I think in the end I was referring to it as a: Military Noir Horror Science Fiction. A lone journalist fighting to find the truth in an unappreciative and sickly world. Do yourself a favor and give this book a try!