Book Review: MALORIE by Josh Malerman

A few years ago while browsing the “Staff Recommendations” section at my local bookstore, one of the employees approached me and asked about my interests. When I mentioned I loved to be scared, he asked, “Have you read Bird Box?” I was sold after a quick synopsis and mention of Josh Malerman being from Michigan. Looking back, I’m so grateful for that encounter, as it led to a new favorite author and many more fantastic reads.

Why am I starting this review by telling you about Bird Box first? For a couple of reasons:

  1. I discovered “Bookstagram” around the time that I read the book. At that point, I’d yet to write a book review, and I don’t think I ever went back to write one for that novel. So, I’m giving it some extra love here and now.
  2. Without Bird Box, it’s likely we wouldn’t have Malorie. Now that I’ve read both, I can’t imagine one book existing without the other.

Bird Box was unlike any horror novel I’d read at the time. I devoured it, and loved every minute. Everything that makes it a great novel is also present within the pages of this sequel. In both of these novels, Malerman provides the perfect combination—colorful characters, tension that snowballs, and settings that come to life. I’ve come to expect nothing less from this author. Each story that he writes shares these features while also being insanely creative and original. Here’s where I begin to tell you just how Malorie fits the Malerman mold and stands out as one of my favorites…

Let’s start with the characters, as that’s what will make or break a story for me. Malorie provides us with a closer connection to the woman herself, as well as her two children. We jump ahead in time and have a chance to further explore the minds of Malorie, Tom, and Olympia along their journey. I enjoyed the opportunity to observe these characters twelve years after the events in Bird Box. It added a completely new element to the continuation of this saga, considering that Tom and Olympia are now teenagers. This novel continues their story of survival, but now there’s a coming-of-age aspect that works so well. It was exciting to watch the two kids become more independent and also to see how Malorie changes over time. There’s a somewhat smaller cast of characters in this one, and it works so well.

Being from Michigan, the setting in this story has always held strong importance to me and I’ve probably raved about it one too many times. I can’t help it. Reading about places that I love and have been to makes the story a bit more near and dear to my heart. Imagine my delight when I realized that some of the events in Malorie take place right next door to where I live. I’ll stop raving about that, and tell you that while it adds something special for me, I’d love this story no matter where it was set. The descriptions of place in this story are excellent; the settings come to life, and you feel like you’re there throughout the entire experience.

I mentioned tension earlier, and this story has a ton of it. It starts off in the midst of some action, and then the reader is given a slight reprieve to catch their breath before the tension and dread begin to build again. The pacing is spot-on and it all builds to a wonderful ending.

I want to avoid spoilers as much as possible, so I think I should leave the rest to the readers’ imagination and allow others to discover the amazing aspects of this story on their own. I have a few final thoughts and experiences from this read that I’d like to add before I go:

  • Bird Box still stands on its own without a sequel, but Malorie takes this experience to another level, continuing the journey and bringing forth that additional closure that many of us wanted at the end of the first story.
  • After only a few pages into this book, I wanted to be blindfolded to the rest of my life so that I could feast my eyeballs on nothing but Malerman’s words. I only put this book down when I was forced to sleep and go to work.
  • Malerman is a master of words and a creative genius. There were some really beautiful lines in this story—some figurative language that had me re-reading, but also descriptive language here and there which made me pause. I was moved to tears several times while reading this book, and it wasn’t always when you’d expect.
  • The inclusion of little nuggets from the characters’ experience in Bird Box (and from Malorie’s old life prior to the events) add another element to this novel, making it even more special.

I can’t say enough good things about this one. I had high expectations, and it truly lived up to every one of them. Malermaniacs are going to fall in love with this book, and I hope it prompts new readers to grab a copy of Bird Box and begin their journey to the satisfying conclusion that is Malorie.

 

5/5 Stars

Publisher: Del Rey

Release Date: July 21, 2020

Thank you to the publisher and author for providing an advance copy of this novel for review consideration.

Book Review: BY BIZARRE HANDS by Joe R. Lansdale

Well, it finally happened. After countless mentions of his name and talk of his immense talent, I took the plunge and read my first book by Joe R. Lansdale. As you know, I believe that short fiction collections are a great place to begin a new (to me) author’s work. Because of this, I decided to start my trip into the land of Lansdale with BY BIZARRE HANDS. The edition I have is a 2016 republication of the original, which was released in 1991. It now contains both a foreword (by Lewis Shiner) and an afterword (by Ramsey Campbell). I love these additions to a book, and in this case, each was a perfect bookend to the stories found in between.

If you’re already a fan of Lansdale, you won’t learn anything new from my review, but I hope you’ll keep reading as I further validate the praise you’ve given this author. If you’re waiting to take the plunge into Lansdale’s writing, what I tell you here might be similar to what you’ve already heard, but I hope this time it prompts you to jump in. Better late to the party than never, right?

Lansdale’s writing is everything I was told it would be. BY BIZARRE HANDS is a horror collection, but the stories within span so many genres that they can’t be confined to just one. Together, they form a perfect example of how versatile and limitless the genre can be—a full display of how “horror” cannot be narrowly defined or fit into a box. Here you’ve got a wide range of story types: western, post-apocalyptic, alternate history, and coming-of-age are just a few. They are all horror stories in the sense that they force the reader to look fear in its face and leave feeling unsettled, shaken, or even flat out frightened. I love that these stories are so versatile, and believe that more readers would take a chance on horror if they knew it could be like this.

The stories in this collection are memorable. The writing is unapologetic, and a perfect blend of great storytelling elements. The dialogue and setting are often characters in their own right, and the human characters themselves are what seal the deal in each of these tales. Most of the stories in this book have no hint of the supernatural, and are further proof that it’s not a necessity in order for horror to be effective. In this collection, Lansdale has written some of the most frightening stories I’ve ever read, with the majority of them based on human monsters. The characters are real, raw, and often downright vile. In these tales, I’ve come across some of the most memorable antagonists I’ve ever encountered. As I was reading, I often felt like I was watching crime unfold from the sidelines—like I couldn’t stop watching in horror, and I was helpless to stop it. This is some highly effective writing, friends.

My Top 5 in this collection are:

-BY BIZARRE HANDS

-BOYS WILL BE BOYS

-NIGHT THEY MISSED THE HORROR SHOW

-DOWN BY THE SEA NEAR THE GREAT BIG ROCK

-ON THE FAR SIDE OF THE CADILLAC DESERT WITH DEAD FOLKS

After reading just this one collection, I understand why Joe R. Lansdale’s work is treasured by so many. Many of my favorite authors have been influenced by him, and now that I’ve read it for myself, I can see hints of his fingerprints on the work of those he has inspired. I have no doubts that he can write in any genre and the end results will be spectacular. These stories won’t be leaving my memory any time soon, if ever. I’m thankful I’ve got more of this author’s work waiting on my shelves. From this day forward, you can count me in as a member of the chorus singing Lansdale’s praises.

5/5 Stars

Book Review: GATEWAYS TO ABOMINATION by Matthew M. Bartlett

When one of my favorites recommends another author, I listen. So, when I saw John Boden post about Matthew M. Bartlett’s work, I immediately ordered his short fiction collection, Gateways to Abomination. It took me awhile to get to this one, but it was worth the wait.

After I finished reading this book, I had to set it aside and allow myself to think on it for a few days before I could write this review. It’s hard to categorize this type of book into a subgenre of horror. Bartlett has a unique writing style that shines in this collection and there are no wasted words. The stories are all connected by a common link—transmissions from a sinister radio station called WXXT. But don’t go into this book expecting each story to read like a radio broadcast. That was my initial expectation upon reading the synopsis, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that’s not the case. These stories tie together through mention of WXXT at times, but they are also linked by some recurring locations and characters.

I set this one down a couple of times in between stories, but now that I’ve finished it, I highly recommend reading the stories in order, and in one sitting (if possible) for full effect. I’d actually like to go back and re-read this again in that fashion. I think I’d take even more from the writing in that way. I am not sure I can select “favorites” from this collection because the stories just work so well together, and I feel like one without the others would not be the same.

The horror in this collection is subtle at times, and strong and visceral in other moments. There’s an underlying and sinister hum of the occult that you can feel pulsing throughout the pages as you read. These stories gave me the creeps and left me disturbed, and that’s exactly what I was hoping for with this read. This book won’t be for everyone—I guess you could describe it as “weird” fiction. If it were a film it would be that hidden indie gem that’s often overlooked in a sea of Hollywood blockbusters. Gateways to Abomination is weird and wonderful, and the kind of content that would make for a great live reading. I’ll be picking up more of Bartlett’s work soon, and recommend this is if you’re looking for something to refresh your horror collection.

4.5/5 stars

March 2020 “TBR Talk”

I’m struggling to believe that it’s already March. This month I’ll be hosting my first book challenge on Instagram and tackling this overly ambitious TBR stack, all while starting another round of Whole 30. It’s going to be a challenge, but I’m up for it.

For my March reads, I tried to mix it up a bit, but not overthink it as I was plucking books from the shelves. Here’s what I’m planning to read this month…

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SHOCK ROCK, edited by Jeff Gelb (various authors)I’ve been holding onto this one for a few months, and I think it’s a perfect book to go along with my “Musical March” challenge. It’s packed with short stories by authors including Stephen King, Graham Masterton, and David J. Schow, among others. Plus, there’s a foreword by Alice Cooper. Does it get any cooler? 

THE MIDNIGHT EXHIBIT VOL. 1 by Stephen Graham Jones, Philip Fracassi & Renee Miller: This is the first book in Unnerving’s 2020 “Rewind or Die” series of novellas. These books all have the coolest covers and are reminiscent of 80’s/90’s horror. I’m here for it, and I’ve purchased paperbacks of the first 5 books or so at this point. Can’t wait to read them all! The books in this series don’t need to be read in order, but I’m weird about that and will be reading them sequentially. 

THE FIRST ONE YOU EXPECT by Adam Cesare: I  picked this one up at STC Weekend last summer, and had the pleasure of meeting Adam. Sorry to say that due to my book hoarding, I haven’t read his work yet, so I have decided to change that this month. 

THE MONGREL by Seán O’ Connor: Another book that I’ve wanted to read for ages– finally making it happen this month. I’ve heard nothing but great reviews for this one!

COCKSUCKER by Lucas Milliron: Ah, the book that I likely can’t post on Facebook for fear of offending someone with the title (insert laughing emoji here)…this sounds like a wild and hilarious story. Can’t wait to see what it’s about. 

MONSTERS AND ANIMALS by J.F. Gonzalez and Wrath James White: This book features two novellas, both prequels to Gonzalez’s novel, SURVIVOR. I’m planning to read this and then add SURVIVOR to my April TBR. 

SIXTY-FIVE STIRRUP IRON ROAD- various authors: a novel in which each chapter is written by a different author– includes names such as Brian Keene, Jack Ketchum, Edward Lee, J.F. Gonzalez, Bryan Smith, and more. Had to have it. 

SOFT APOCALYPSES by Lucy A. Snyder: After reading Snyder’s short fiction in the MISCREATIONS anthology, I remembered that I had this on my shelf. It’s a collection of her short fiction, and I’m anticipating some great stories in the bunch. 

ATOMIC LOVE by Jessie Rose: another rock n’ roll themed novel for this month. The author was kind to send this to me for review consideration, and it sounds great! 

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That’s my designated list for this month, but there will also be spur-of-the-moment mood reads, a couple other ARCS, and a possible beta read in March. As always, I’m grateful to you all for reading my posts/reviews and interacting. Now, it’s time for me to get reading…