‘Bird Box’ by Josh Malerman #bookbloggers #BirdBox #bookreview #amreading

There’s a lot of buzz about this book at the moment. I bought it a while ago, and it had been waiting patiently on my TBR pile. Then the Netflix film hit, and before I had the chance to read it, my husband had put it on TV. Slightly miffed that I hadn’t got to read it first, I gave in, because it just looked so good. I had also listened to the director, Susanne Bier, talking about it on Women’s hour on Radio 4 the previous week, and found what she said about it fascinating.

I loved the film, despite finding it stressful and frightening. Putting all else aside, I decided to read the book next.

The book is different, as you’d expect. Worse things happen. The film is faithful to the story, with obvious artistic license. When I had read it, I realised how well the casting had been done, for a start. Sandra Bullock has got the character of Malorie down to a tee. She is incredible in this role.

The book then, starts in the most recent period of the story, where Malorie is facing the awful decision to leave the house where she and her two very young children have been for over four years. They must do so blindfolded, and we are struck immediately by the bleakness of their situation and the peril in which she has to put them all to try to escape it. They must somehow negotiate a 20-mile trip down the river, relying only on their hearing in order to navigate it. They believe that someone can help them at the end of this journey, if they make it.

We move interchangeably from the time immediately prior to the collapse of society, where Malorie and her sister, Shannon, are living in a flat together, just starting to notice news reports of unexplained mass suicides in areas of Russia and Europe, to the time where Malorie lives with a group of survivors, and then the journey down the river alone with the children.

During the week where Malorie discovers she is pregnant, following a brief fling, the news that the suicides have come to the USA, and the rumour that it is something that people are seeing, creatures maybe, causing it, leads Shannon to put blankets over the windows and start to block out the outside world. There is no going back from this darkness throughout the vast majority of this novel. The sisters live like this for three months, eating everything they have in the house without leaving it, watching the breaking news which becomes increasingly despondent.

People flood to social media over everything now. I don’t think an apocalyptic event would stop that in the first days, but it doesn’t explicitly happen here. The author is a young guy; I don’t think he would ignore this without purpose, so I guess it was a choice to leave it out. It’s actually scarier without, somehow. As though the emerging situation was of such horror and fear, that people just couldn’t bear to talk about it between themselves. Malorie follows blogs, and reads theories online, but there is no mass hysteria in the way that social media would generate.

Then, the worst happens. Malorie finds her sister dead, and it’s horrific. The blanket had fallen a little from an upstairs window. There is no doubt that there is something outside, and that it’s causing rational people to lose their minds. I can honestly say that I don’t think there is a more chilling premise for a story out there. This situation must come close to the absolute worst thing you can think of. Josh Malerman’s mind is a dark and brilliant place.

Malorie has seen an advert for a place she can go, where other survivors are. Somehow, she drives there with her eyes mostly closed, seeing sinister movement in her peripheral vision. She then begins a prolonged and tense cohabitation with strangers who have survived. The owner of the house, who placed the advert is already dead.
If you have ever cohabitated with other adults before, it’s difficult. Personality clashes, falling out, the peacemakers, the confronters, positive outlook people, negative Noras.

The dynamics are altered here because of the situation; everyone has lost every other person close to them, but the undertones of cohabitation begin to come through, as there is no escape from each other. There is incredible pressure on resources. Malorie and Olympia are the two pregnant women in the house, each with their own huge anxieties about what will happen during and after the birth of their children in this terrifying, claustrophobic, blind world. Tom is the housemate (at the risk of going all Big Brother) who Malorie knows she can rely on, but he is the innovator, the solutions guy, who goes outside to try to find things to help them survive. On one journey, he finds some birds, who are put outside in a box as an alert system. The birdbox outside, resembles the birdbox inside, all trapped.

It turns Sylvia Plath’s bell jar of suicidal thoughts on its head; Malerman’s birdbox is the only prevention from it, although both are suffocating and claustrophobic.

I like how the author gets across the division between what are considered ‘old world fears’, like fear of the dark, fear of basements and attics, and the ‘old world’ problems. The new world is ONLY fear, and nothing else, apart from perhaps, the remotest glint of hope. This is not hope of defeating what’s out there. Malorie’s only desire is to get her children somewhere where they won’t starve, they can take off their blindfolds, and to let them have a taste of a childhood.

Disaster strikes the house eventually, and devastatingly, Malorie is left alone. She is resourceful and determined though, a meticulous planner.

One of the central themes of this novel is motherhood, and to what lengths Malorie forces herself for the children to survive. It’s impossible to fathom what it must be like to think or do the things Malorie does. It’s against instinct. The children are completely compliant with her and are unfailingly obedient. They have learned how to hear and identify sequences of up to forty of the minutest individual sounds. They are only called Boy and Girl, a reflection of Malorie’s reluctance to be attached to them, when she has lost everyone else. She has spent four years training them to make this journey.

If you can follow the journey down the river with Malorie and the children without suffering palpitations, I admire you. It’s just the worst thing. The capability and resilience that children can have in desperate situations is captured so poignantly. Josh Malerman’s ability to describe hearing without seeing in the most hostile world imaginable is terrific.

It is just a happy coincidence that they lived so close to the river in the first place! There are some questions, but I’m not sure they really matter. It’s a cracking book. If you’ve enjoyed the film, the book, I’m sure won’t disappoint you, and likewise, the film won’t let fans of the book down.

‘Thirteen Reasons Why’ by Jay Asher

My heart feels heavy. I believe I knew what to expect from Thirteen Reasons Why, and I think that it fulfilled all those expectations, in terms of both how it was written and of the content.

I had a primary reason for reading it, and for many parents, I suspect it’s the same. Is this appropriate reading matter for my young teens? I wouldn’t have bought it for them, in the same way that I wouldn’t have let them watch the Netflix series, however, a couple of years ago (when my daughter was only 11), she came home with a bundle of books she had borrowed, on a long-term basis, from her friend of the same age. She then, on her lift to school, had been talking about the books she had recently acquired with her friend in the car. I then got a call from her friend’s mum, who had taken her to school, to warn me not to let her read this one as, in her view, it was extremely harmful subject matter.

I then went to get the book, and removed it to the downstairs bookcases, and popped it behind some other books (all my shelves are double stacked – it isn’t an exaggeration to have named my blog thus) and waited to see if she would ask me about it, and she never has, up to press.

It has taken me over a year to get around to picking it up, and the (other) reason I did, was because my Facebook reading group (The Fiction Café – book club) has set several reading challenges for the year; the first of which, was to read a book about mental health. Thirteen Reasons Why was my choice for this, while it doubled up as the opportunity to see whether I felt that it was appropriate for my now 13-year-old daughter, or my 12-year-old son.

They have, since they were about 11, brought home from school, books which I was surprised that the librarian would let them borrow, as I considered them a few years too old for them. Then I thought that maybe, I was just being prudish or old-fashioned – surely, nooooo!! Generally, they loved and raced through the books they borrowed, and I kept my opinions to myself. After all, I hadn’t actually read them.

However, this is one that I am going to continue to hold back and there are reasons for this, for me personally. The first is that I don’t believe that it would be beneficial for their mental health. I have other books they can read. Matt Haig’s Reasons to Stay Alive, and Notes on a Nervous Planet are far superior, I think. And I would let my children read them any time, because they are essentially hopeful and inspiring, whilst being completely honest about how emotions can hurt very badly.

Secondly, I had poor mental health as a teenager and into young adulthood. I won’t go into it, but I don’t think reading this would have worked well for me. I think it would have made me feel worse. I can’t be sure of course, as those days are (mostly) a long time ago and I could well just be thinking as ‘adult me’. If it had been there, I would have read it though, and so I’m glad it wasn’t.

Apologies, as I know this has read less like a book review than I would have liked. If the blurb interests you, read it, as you won’t be disappointed in the writing or the emotional way that the story progresses, and the ending is good. It flows well, and I had finished it in a day.

Particularly if you can see it less as a blame game inflicted on other people, and more as the internalised and flawed reasoning of a young person who has suffered the perfect storm of events and feelings that has led to her suicide, and this has been written as an externalised expression of it. Also, to view it as the reasons that we should be kinder to each other.

My view is, that there is only one character in this book who does dreadful things, and I’m not talking about Hannah Baker, so the other trigger warnings, beside suicide, are bullying, sexual harassment and rape.

Samaritans (UK), tel: 116123
SANEline (UK), tel: 0300 304 7000
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (USA), tel: 1-800-273-8255
‘Reasons to Stay Alive’ Matt Haig
‘Notes on a Nervous Planet’ Matt Haig

‘The Cruel Prince’ by Holly Black #TheCruelPrince #HollyBlack #bookreview #bookbloggers #amreading #lovereading

In ‘The Cruel Prince’, the first in The Folk of the Air series, Holly Black has created a Faerie land which is dangerous, vindictive, exploitative and violent. It’s a far cry from any of the Disney fairies. The only fairy dust you’ll find here will be being wiped away by an enslaved and ensorcelled human, who likely believes herself on her gap year in the Maldives.

It reads like a first-person historical fiction, rich on the fine detail of what it is to grow up in the Faerie court circle, with all the associated intrigues and deceptions. Faerie folk cannot lie; however, they can hide a great deal, and all seem to be playing the long game.
Our heroine and narrator, Jude Duarte has a twin sister, Taryn, and an older sister, Vivi.

Within the opening moments, their parents have been murdered and they are taken by their murderer to be brought up in his home in Faerie. The plot is thicker than that though.

Growing up in Faerie, Jude and Taryn are among the only free humans, and among their circle of peers at the high-born school, and in court, they are brutally victimised for their fragile mortality, in a world where everyone else in their sphere is considered strong, beautiful and immortal.

However, Jude has greater ambitions for herself. Using her acquired skill with weaponry, her intelligence and her ruthless, headstrong attitude, she navigates this threatening and dangerous world, and begins to forge a life for herself, from which she may never be able to return, and in which, she will never be safe if her wits fail her.

There are a few cruel princes here, but none crueller to Jude than Prince Cardan. He is dark and dangerous, but weak, arrogant and obsessive. This is an interesting dynamic for any potential romance, but when and how it will come, who knows? The author, probably.

I love how Jude and Taryn negotiate this environment in their own ways. It’s difficult to remember that they are twins somehow, because they are so very different. They are too young to remember their old normal lives and the incongruence between themselves and the Faerie folk is so well expressed in this novel.

“Of course I want to be like them. They’re beautiful as blades forged in some divine fire. They will live forever.

And Cardan is even more beautiful than the rest. I hate him more than all the others. I hate him so much that sometimes when I look at him, I can hardly breathe.”

Holly Black writes beautifully, the world is rich and vibrant, the characters are vivid and emotive. It is tense, clever and enchanting. I really loved it, and am in complete agreement with what Victoria Aveyard said: “I require book two immediately. Holly Black is the Faerie Queen”.

If you would like a copy, you can get one here:

‘The Retreat’ by Mark Edwards #TheRetreat @mredwards #lovebooks #amreading #bookbloggers #bookreview

I’ve devoured this book, as I simply couldn’t put it down. Now I feel like I’ve cheated myself because I would have liked to have made it last so much longer. It was excellent.

The blurb:

A missing child. A desperate mother. And a house full of secrets.

Two years ago, Julia lost her family in a tragic accident. Her husband drowned trying to save their daughter, Lily, in the river near their rural home. But the little girl’s body was never found—and Julia believes Lily is somehow still alive.

Alone and broke, Julia opens her house as a writers’ retreat. One of the first guests is Lucas, a horror novelist, who becomes obsessed with finding out what happened to Lily. But within days of his arrival, the peace of the retreat is shattered by a series of eerie events.

When Lucas’s investigation leads him and Julia into the woods, they discover a dark secret—a secret that someone will do anything to protect…

What really happened that day by the river? Why was Lily never found? And who, or what, is haunting the retreat?

I chose The Retreat as my prize, after I won a book voucher from the lovely Facebook book club of which I am a member (The Fiction Café Book Club – if you love reading, writing, or both, join up. It’s the friendliest corner of the Internet). When I posted my choice of book, I was inundated with enthusiasm from fellow members, telling me how great it was.

So, I abandoned The Old Curiosity Shop (Dickens, you’ve never failed me before, but blimey, I got bogged down and fed up with this one), quickly read my Netgalley book as the deadline approached, and without further ado, opened The Retreat.

The book cover is wonderfully sinister, and by the time I had read the first page, I knew I was in the capable hands of someone who really knows how to write.

Our narrator is the horror writer, Lucas Radcliffe. He has written one successful book, and, suffering from writer’s block and a looming deadline for his next one, he books in to a writers’ retreat, near where he was born, in Wales.

The cottage is an old, cold, odd place, and is remote enough to give Lucas some confidence that this will be the ideal spot to work on his writing, despite the worrying development when he learns that the house is a ‘dry’ one. The other writers who are sharing the retreat are down at the pub at the time Lucas is meeting Julia Marsh, the owner of the house. The scene is being set at this point for a chilling tale, as there are some Bluebeard’s rooms in the cottage, which are creepily out of bounds. By the time, the other writers return, I had almost convinced myself that this was going to be like The Haunting of Hill House, and they were going to be supernaturally bumped off, one after the other. (Not a spoiler. Didn’t happen.)

Quick side note: One adjective which is woefully underused, although I hadn’t realised until I read this book, is ‘buttery’, particularly when not used to describe a knife which has been used to spread butter. The author uses it to describe the walls in the cottage, and this gave me a quick jolt of memory. I used to live in a 200-year-old cottage, with my boyfriend at the time. It was in the village where I grew up, and when I was a child, it had been the Post Office, where a very old lady used to shakily dispense our family allowance. When I moved in, as an adult, the walls were indeed buttery. Not only that, but I used to wake up in the night and smell pipe smoke in the bedroom. Things went bump, day and night, and there were the proverbial cold spots. I’m not a believer in ghosts or the supernatural, and so I assigned these things to rational sources. However, this adjective alone, made me think of all these experiences, and I admit, gave me a bit of a chill down my spine.

Lucas discovers, sort of accidentally, about the loss of Julia’s family. Once he plucks up the courage to ask her about it, he finds himself on a path to find out what happened.

Poking around in the past, though, doesn’t seem to suit the cottage, and the eerie occurrences start, and unsettle the residents.

The story is deliciously terrifying, but our narrator is rational, providing a great balance, and propelling the plot forwards, as one ominous discovery leads to another, and another. Grief, sadness and slow healing, are also handled beautifully.

Yesterday afternoon, I was totally absorbed in the story and had to break myself away from it to make the dinner and get the kids in bed etc. My husband also went to bed early, so I settled back down with The Retreat at about 9pm. At 11:30 pm, the room I was sitting in went cold, suddenly. The plot was at a point where I was a bit scared. I put the book down and went to bed. I didn’t run though. I didn’t.

Because, obviously, the heating went off an hour earlier, and it’s January, so naturally it got a bit cold. Yep.

So, the same thought woke me this morning as I had when I first went to bed. What really happened to little Lily Marsh?

We know from the outset that she didn’t drown as the police investigation concluded.

I’ll end this review with one of my favourite quotes from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle;

“Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.”

And to make a story as good as The Retreat, yet to make the above true, is an amazing skill and must be the result of meticulous planning.

It’s an absolute triumph, I loved it. I want to read it again, but I can’t! There is too much reading to do. I will however comfort myself with the fact that Mark Edwards has written many more. I can’t wait!

‘The Chestnut Man’ by Søren Sveistrup #TheChestnutMan #netgalley #ScandiNoir #bookreview #bookbloggers #2019books

Brilliant, compelling, unputdownable!

This Scandi-noir novel by The Killing writer Søren Sveistrup, and translated into English by Caroline Waight, concerns the Copenhagen police investigation into a series of cleverly orchestrated and gruesome murders, carried out by a killer who becomes known as The Chestnut Man, on account of the seemingly innocent children’s figures which are found close to each mutilated body.

Rosa Hartsung, the Danish Minister for Social Affairs returns to work, following a period of absence after the abduction of her daughter, Kristine. She is known to have been murdered, but her body has never been found.

As the investigation into The Chestnut Man begins, it appears that Rosa Hartsung’s return to office, and her responsibility for child welfare, may be linked to the killings.
Naia Thulin is a smart young detective assigned to the case as her last, before her coveted move to the cyber-crime unit. To her irritation, Mark Hess from Europol is also transferred to the case. The Hague do not appear to be in a hurry to have him return; he seems to have left under a cloud. The pair’s relationship in the first instance, is polarised, with both detectives’ focuses being on their long-term career objectives, neither of which is to remain in Homicide.

The development and complexity of the case, however, brings them together and they become an effective and close-knit pairing. Thulin follows procedure but is assertive, tech savvy and clever; Hess is more unorthodox and intuitive. They know they are playing a game of cat and mouse with the killer and as they try to break his hold over the game, the darker and more disturbing the story becomes, but are they still being manipulated?

Cleverly sidestepping the obvious, without being obtuse, is one of the major strengths of this story. I suspected, with due motive, almost every character apart from the actual perpetrator. Although I don’t always need it to be so, as a reader, it is really very satisfying when a story ties up every loose end, and this does, despite ending on an unsettling note.

Typical to this genre, which is one of my favourites, this Danish novel is dark and macabre, set in beautiful autumn, beset by driving, relentless rain and bitter snowfall as the seasons change. It provides the faultless atmospheric setting for the brutality and perversity of the most odious side of human nature.

There are some disturbing subjects, particularly concerning children, but they are pertinent to the central theme.

It is written in the present tense, mostly in present day, only occasionally taking us back to events in 1989. This allows a flowing visualisation of the story, and I would love to see this on screen. Fans of The Killing and The Bridge will, I think, love this book.

Many thanks to Netgalley and Penguin Michael Joseph for an ARC, in exchange for an honest and impartial review.

The Kindle and hardcover release date in the UK is 10th January 2019.