Sunday, 5 February 2017

Review: 'Bird Box' by Josh Malerman

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Most people dismissed the reports on the news. But they became too frequent; they became too real. And soon it was happening to people we knew. 

Then the Internet died. The televisions and radios went silent. The phones stopped ringing. 

And we couldn't look outside anymore.


I saw a lot about Bird Box around its release, bought it in a Kindle sale at some point and then forgot that I even owned it. Then one morning, I woke up early and couldn't read my current physical book because it was dark and I'm kind enough that I didn't want to bash on a lamp while Boyfriend was sleeping.  So I picked up my Kindle, flicked through the many books on there and went for this, drawn back in by the cover tagline "If you've seen them, it's already too late".

I wanted a thriller but I was very ill-prepared for just how dark this book was going to be.  Well, I suppose less how dark it was going to be than how gruesome.  The premise is fairly simple: the world is under threat from some being that, when seen by humans, makes those humans kill those around them before ultimately killing themselves.  The narrative is split between two main threads: one in the present where Malorie is alone in a house struggling to survive with two children, unable to go outside but desperate to brave it in the hope that she'll be able to find some kind of life for her little family and one in the past that starts with news reports of the phenomenon and Malorie finding out that she's pregnant and shows the world gradually unravelling from there.

I think what makes this book different from other dystopian fiction is that readers never find out exactly what is causing the implosion of the human race.  There are theories about what it is (including a fascinating one that there is in fact nothing at all causing the deaths other than mass hysteria and delusion) but, given that everybody who has seen it has died, nothing concrete.  It's one of those stories that relies on readers' imaginations to fill the gaps about what terrifying vision might be stalking the streets.  And my goodness does it work.  There are moments where characters are blindfolded and fetching water or something from outside and they're plagued by images of what might be lurking just beyond their blindfold and the terror as they start to imagine something touching them and gradually descend into panic feels so real.  It perfectly conveys that feeling when you walk into a pitch black room and have that fleeting "But what if…?" thought and suddenly have to get a light on.

The novel also manages to touch on the social impact of strangers being forced to rely on each other to survive, the plight of being torn between the desire to help save others and saving yourself and it all feels very (worryingly) realistic.  The ending isn't exactly definitive but it worked for me and even while it introduced a whole host of new moral quandaries, it did wrap up the story enough and didn't feel as though Malerman had just got bored and stopped writing.

I really, really liked this book.  It was terrifying and it was brutal but it was completely gripping. I like stories that are told through flashbacks and this one uses the technique particularly well.  You know what's coming (in a way) but I was still completely astonished when it came to the point of actually getting there.  Bird Box won't be for everyone because it doesn't shy away from some very raw and gory details of people's demises (particular warning to those who especially don't want to read about violence/death of animals).  There was a scene in particular towards the end that really freaked me out and that made me feel physically ill so even if it's by no means a pleasant read, it is a hell of a gut-punching one.

Overall: With the benefit of hindsight, I can say that I'd definitely recommend Josh Malerman's debut. While I was reading it, I alternated between fervent hope for characters, disgust and all sorts of other over-wrought emotional states.  It was a trying time but one I'd say is worth inflicting on yourself.  It actually looks as though HarperCollins will be publishing Malerman's second novel, Black Mad Wheel, later this year and I'll definitely be picking up a copy when it's out.


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Date finished:  14 January 2017
Format: eBook
Source: Bought
Genre: Dystopian fiction; thriller
Pictured Edition Published: in January 2015 by HarperCollins Publishers

Buy your own copy (affiliate links):  Amazon  |  Wordery

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

January Wrap-up and Favourites

I think last year was the first year that I've posted a wrap-up for every month. They may not have been "on time" (they were definitely not on time) but they were there and that's something.  This year, I've decided to do something a little bit different.  Alongside a bit of a reading wrap-up and recapping blog stuff, I'm going to mix in a Favourites section with books, films, TV, music, food and that kind of thing depending on what I've been up to in the month!  

As with last year, I don't have any "goals" in reading other than getting back on track with my Classics Club list.  I'd like to say that I'll read more books than I acquire but I'm very much in a book buying mood at the moment so who knows?

What I've Been Reading

I finished 4 books in January and, with one notable exception, they were pretty good!  The Smoke Hunter by Jacquelyn Benson was one I saw on Ellie's blog and bought straight away.  It may not have been super literary but it was so much fun!  A Suffragette archaeologist comes across what she is sure is a map and decides to boldly go where no females have gone before and see if she can find a lost ancient city.  It's pretty much non-stop action and a really good distraction of a book. I read and reviewed Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake and was disappointed.  I picked up a short story collection by Sophie Hanna next, The Visitor's Book and Other Ghost Stories.  It was a super short little volume that I read in a couple of hours so I didn't feel as though I could give it more than three stars but the stories are weird and definitely haunting (especially The Visitor's Book!) and it's worth a read, even if I wouldn't quite recommend buying it.  Then I finished Bird Box by Josh Malerman and freaked myself out thoroughly.  A dystopian tale of a world where humans are being menaced by something so terrible that just seeing it once drives you out of your mind and spells your doom.  Very dark but I was totally gripped and horrified so it was definitely...an experience!

The rest of the month, I've been happily making my way through the 1,000 pages of The Shadow Rising, the fourth book in the Wheel of Time series.  I remembered not really loving it as a teenager but this second reading has been a completely different experience.  I love the characters and I'm really appreciating the back story and gradual plot development this time around!  I have about 400 pages to go so I'm planning on finishing it up this coming weekend.

Book of the Month:  Bird Box by Josh Malerman

Other Favourites!

TV Programme of the Month:  The Crown.  We finally decided to give this a try one evening and I love it.  I'm in no way a royalist so I wasn't sure what I'd make of it but it focuses on the historical and political context and developments of the reign of Elizabeth II and it's so well done that I can't help but love it.

Film of the Month: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.  This is actually a bit of a cheat since I saw it technically at the VERY END of December but I don't think I've watched any other films in January so I'm counting it.  I think I cried about five times in the cinema (thank goodness for 3D glasses) and I adored this story.

Recipe of the Month: Flamenco eggs with serrano ham and tomatoes from Rick Stein's Long Weekends.  The series that accompanied this book was a hot contender for favourite since it focuses on different European cities and their food cultures, which is something I'm always going to be bowled over by. I'll settle for giving it a nod here with this recipe that you can find recreated here.  It's basically serrano ham in a Spanish style sauce, topped with eggs and chorizo and it sounds a bit lacklustre but really it's the perfect Sunday brunch dish.

Beauty Product of the Month: Avon Matte Lipstick in 'Red Supreme'.  I can be a bit of a make-up snob but I decided to give this lipstick a try because it looked like the kind of deep red colour I fancied giving a try and came with a relatively modest £5 price tag (at the time) that made "giving it a try" not too much of a gamble.  I love it.  The colour's gorgeous and it stayed on all day with only a couple of minor top-ups.  I'll definitely be mixing in a couple of other colours from this line among my usual MAC favourites.

Album of the Month:  First Aid Kit's Stay Gold.  I'd never heard anything by these Swedish siblings until Apple Music mixed the song My Silver Lining into a playlist I was listening to while working.  I don't really know how to go about describing music but it sounds like a blend of pop and folk music to me and I love their voices, their lyrics and how their music makes me feel like Spring is just around the corner.

And they were the highlights of my January!  Tell me all about the highlights of yours.  Anything I missed and need to get caught up on?