Book Review: Bird Box by Josh Malerman

January 4, 2016 2 comments

cover_birdboxSummary:
Malorie thought the hardest thing she was going to have to face was dealing with her pregnancy and impending single motherhood.  She thought the warnings about seeing something that makes you go crazy and become violent was just the news blowing things out of proportion, or at least just hysteria.  Her sister believed in it, but not herself.

But that was all years ago, and now Malorie is alone in a house with her two children. Children who have never been outside without blindfolds on. She only leaves the house blindfolded, tapping the ground with a stick to find the well.  But now it is time for her to be brave and to take a boat on the river, just she and her two children, blindfolded, in the hopes of finding salvation.

Review:
I was drawn to this book for two reasons.  First, the mere thought of a mother and two young children boating down a river blindfolded had me intrigued.  Second, it’s set in Michigan, which is where my husband is from, and honestly I can’t recall the last time I saw a book set in Michigan.  These two elements came together to tell me this book is probably unique.  So when I saw the kindle version on sale on Amazon, I snatched it up.  What I found was a chilling tale that could easily fit within the Lovecraft mythos.

The order the story is told in helps build the suspense and keeps it from being a same old apocalypse and survivors’ tale.  The book opens with Malorie and her two children living alone in the house.  It opens post-apocalyptic.  Through flashbacks we learn various things such as who used to live in the house with Malorie, why there are certain parts of the house she doesn’t like to go to, and why neither she nor the children leave the house without blindfolds on.  From here, the reader is then taken forward into Malorie’s action onto the river, going down it trying to find a safe haven of other survivors that she knows used to be there years ago.  It’s a nice combination of flashback and plot progression forward that keeps the suspense interesting.

It is no spoiler to say that what caused the apocalypse is something that causes people to go stark raving mad when they see it.  This is included in the official book blurb.  What was interesting to me was how Malerman kept this from being purely straight-forward. Some characters believe in the mysterious creatures right away, others don’t.  Some think that merely believing it will cause you to go crazy makes you go crazy.  Some think that some are affected and others aren’t.  Some wonder if animals are affected too, and no one knows where the creatures came from or, if you don’t believe in the creatures, how the phenomenon started.  The lack of clear-cut answers reflects reality.  In general, with large-scale catastrophes, it’s hard to know exactly what happened or what is going on.  This lack of knowing made the situation read as real, even if the exact situation is an absurd sounding one at first.

I was also struck by how well Malerman wrote a female version of experiencing the apocalypse.  Malorie is both focused on surviving for herself and her baby but also distracted from the apocalypse because she is having normal hormonal reactions to pregnancy.  Similarly, while some characters embrace her as a symbol of hope, others see her as a burden.  Malorie was a refreshing change from the young, virile, kick-ass heroine often seen in post-apocalyptic books.  She is strong, yes, but not in a kick-ass way.  She is strong in a she’s doing her best to be a good mom and still survive type way.  And that’s a nice thing to see in post-apocalyptic horror fiction.

The book naturally ends up pondering “madness” a lot.  The creatures drive any who see them into near-caricature depictions of madness. Sometimes the person becomes violent against others. Sometimes the person turns on themselves, killing themselves or self-injuring to the extent that they die.  There are a lot of questions about what the human mind can handle.  There is a lot of argument in the book for agency against all odds.

It’s better to face madness with a plan than to sit still and let it take you in pieces. (loc 4034)

On the one hand, I appreciate the argument for agency and fighting for your sanity and humanity.  On the other hand, I’m not sure how I feel about a metaphor where madness happens to people who just aren’t careful enough or don’t have enough of a plan.  While it’s valid that a mental illness must be fought every day and some have more natural resiliency than others, there’s a tone of blame to the theme that strikes me the wrong way.

*small spoiler*
At one point, it is postulated that perhaps the only ones immune to being driven mad by the creatures are those who are already mentally ill because they are already mad.  There is no science behind this thought.  There is simply a character who appears to have paranoid schizophrenia who firmly believes the creatures are not actually dangerous because he has seen them and is fine.  Yet he is a character who ends up instigating an incredibly violent scene.  While it is true that there are violent extremes of mental illness, there are also those that are not.  The book fails to bring out the subtleties and varieties of mental illness.  Imagine the power that could have been from a character who had, for instance, OCD and was able to see the creatures and interact with them without harming anyone and able to understand that others cannot see them safely.  Imagine if it was simply that seeing the world differently already, being abnormal, protected one from being driven truly mad by the creatures.  What an interesting direction that could have taken the story.
*end spoilers*

Thus, in general, while I appreciate the more unique and interesting things the book did, such as focusing on a pregnant woman and then a young mother as the main character and telling the plot in a non-linear way, ultimately the book did not push the boundaries or the ideas far enough to truly enrapture me.  Recommended to horror, Lovecraft, and post-apocalyptic fans looking for a read with a young mother as the focus.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Amazon

Buy It

2015’s 5 Star Reads!

January 1, 2016 2 comments

Since 2011, I’ve been dedicating a separate post from my annual reading stats post to the 5 star reads of the year.  I not only thoroughly enjoy assembling the 5 star reads posts, but I also go back to them for reference periodically.  It’s just useful and fun simultaneously!  Plus it has the added bonus of giving an extra signal boost to the five star reads of the year.  You may view the 5 star reads for 2011, 2012, 2013 , and 2014 by clicking on the years.

With no further ado, presenting Opinions of a Wolf’s 5 Star Reads for 2015!

cover_dreamsnake

Dreamsnake
By: Vonda N. McIntyre
Publication Date: 1978
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
Genre: Scifi, Post-apocalyptic
Themes: Healing, Prejudices, Adoption, Hubris
Summary:
In a far-future, post-apocalyptic Earth, all medical aid is brought by healers.  The healers use a trio of snakes to bring this healing.  One newly-minted healer first visits the desert people, but mistakes lead to the loss of her dreamsnake, the only snake that can bring pain relief to the dying.  She enters a journey to attempt to find a new dreamsnake.
Current Thoughts:
My full review of this book has yet to come, so I’ll keep my current thoughts short.  A 1970s work of scifi by a woman that intrigued me due to many reviews mentioning the positive depiction of snakes.  It wowed me. I read it via my Audible subscription, and I really am going to have to get a vintage paper copy for my female scifi collection.
Full review still to come.

Book Review: The Kin of Ata Are Waiting for You by Dorothy Bryant

The Kin of Ata Are Waiting For You
By:
Dorothy Bryant
Publication Date: 1971
Publisher: Evan Press
Genre: Scifi
Themes: Redemption, Self-Actualization, Healing, Mindfulness, Community
Summary:
Running from his demons, a man crashes his car and wakes up being assisted by a deceptively primitive people–the kin of Ata. He discovers that he’s been mysteriously brought to an island inhabited only by these people.  As time passes, he comes to learn there is much more to them than first appears.
Current Thoughts:
This is a book I know I will revisit. The parable for self-actualization and the journey of mindfulness is something that rang so strongly with me.  When I think about it, I remember it as a beautiful, touching book.
Full review

cover_twentiesgirl

Twenties Girl
By:
Sophie Kinsella
Publication Date: 2009
Publisher: Bantam Press
Genre: Chick Lit
Themes: Living Fully, Living Authentically
Summary:
Lara Lington has always had an overactive imagination, but suddenly that imagination seems to be in overdrive. Normal professional twenty-something young women don’t get visited by ghosts. Or do they?

When the spirit of Lara’s great-aunt Sadie–a feisty, demanding girl with firm ideas about fashion, love, and the right way to dance–mysteriously appears, she has one last request: Lara must find a missing necklace that had been in Sadie’s possession for more than seventy-five years, and Sadie cannot rest without it. Lara, on the other hand, has a number of ongoing distractions. Her best friend and business partner has run off to Goa, her start-up company is floundering, and she’s just been dumped by the “perfect” man.  Sadie isn’t having any of it. And soon the question winds up being, who is really helping who?
Current Thoughts:
A book that really shows how great chick lit can be.  What starts out light and ridiculous eventually hands over some real thought-provoking lessons about a life lived versus a life lived well.  It was just the light, humorous take on life and death I needed when I picked it up. Also, I actually laughed out loud while reading it.  A real complement.
Full review still to come.

Reading Goals and Changes for 2016

December 31, 2015 4 comments
awesomewolf

Source: yenn87 on DeviantArt

Hello my lovely readers!

As I mentioned in my 2015 reading stats wrap-up, I decided to break out my reading goals into a separate post this year because I also have some changes to announce.

As long-time readers know, I had two big life events in 2015. I married my best friend and my father passed away.  You may not know that in 2016 I’m turning 30.  These three personal events have combined to make me really evaluate my life, my time, and my goals.

I feel a real sense of both how fleeting time is and how important it is to me to build a good life and family with my husband.  I want to live with intention and forethought, while holding on to the new ability I’ve found with my husband to embrace the unexpected and do things that are not planned.  That’s a pretty wordy way of saying I want to live mindfully.

My sense of time passing has made me realize that I don’t have forever to write the books I want to write in my lifetime.  And that means I need to stop claiming all of my reading time is contributing to my writing. While it’s true that a writer must read, a writer must also consistently write.  A writer cannot simply read.  I have writer friends who have said before they had to dial back some of their reading to make time for writing, and I now understand why that is so.

This same sense of time passing has made me realize that I no longer wish to spend my time reading books I don’t enjoy.  My whole life I have almost always finished not just every single book I’ve started but most books I’ve acquired as well (with a few exceptions that I got rid of when my now husband moved in with me).  Since my father passed away, I realized life is too short for that.  I went through my books and got rid of any that didn’t make me feel the spark of a happy reader when looking at them or their description.  I’ve also started a few books that I simply stopped reading and got rid of.  I’ve also finally been honest with myself about certain types of books I enjoy that I was once a bit ashamed of.

What does all of this mean for Opinions of a Wolf? Well, many things, actually.

1) Expect there to be far fewer 2 and/or 1 star ratings.
With the exception of books I accept for review (ARCs), if I start a book and am not enjoying my time reading it at any point, I am going to put it down (for good). I am still not comfortable reviewing books that I haven’t read in their entirety.  So I will simply not be reviewing these books.  Don’t take the sudden lack of lower star ratings to mean that I am no longer being honest.  I am just choosing to spend my time in a different manner.  It is still possible for there to be low ratings, though, if a book disappoints me at the end (goes off the rails, as it were) or if I’m reading it because it’s akin to watching a train wreck, haha.  I will still finish any ARCs I accept, however.  To this end…..

2) Books submitted to me for the annual review were accepted in a different manner this year.
This year instead of setting a number I would accept, I only accepted however many books actually appealed to me.  I also required submissions with excerpts, so I could read the first few pages and see how I felt about the writing.  I am hoping the combination of these two means that my review of indie ARCs will serve both for me to find more obscure books I will enjoy and to offer good indie authors beneficial reviews.  Again, though, if a book winds up disappointing me, I will finish it (since it is an ARC), and I will give an honest review.

3) The genres I read are going to change. Some.
I’ve always had a secret thing for humorous (usually British) chick lit.  In fact, the last two books I read this year fit in this category perfectly.  I am not just done hiding this genre, I am also done hating on it.  I feel a lot of the hate comes from a culture-wide judgment of femme things (because of judging women).  I would rather build it up as the respected (albeit silly/not serious literature) genre it should be, rather than participate in ignoring it.  Similarly, before I started the book blog, I read quite a bit of self-help.  I still read it sometimes but I didn’t want to read it too much, worried about what people might think of me.  I’m not going to seek it out, but if one appeals to me, I am going to pick it up and not worry about what people might think.  One thing that won’t change is the love of scifi/fantasy, that will stay.  However, my husband noticed my growing collection of older scifi/fantasy paperbacks by women authors and commented on how cool that was.  I hope to feature these books more in some way yet to be determined on this blog.  I’m even going to be dedicating a whole bookshelf in our studio apartment to it.  I also will be doing more reading of nonfiction I need to read to research my writing, rather than reading things that I think will help make me look smart or that I think I *should* read.  Basically this whole section is saying: I’m done caring about what people think of me. I’m gonna be real. Fuck it.

4) I’m going to be spending more time writing.
Whether this will impact how much I read is yet to be seen, since I tend to read faster when I actually enjoy what I’m reading.  I am working on incorporating writing into being a daily habit and, if I have enough material, I may start publishing some shorts or flash on here.  Alternatively, there may just be a few more publication announcement posts.  Or, I might just do a recap of writing accomplishments in some fashion.

5) I’ve adjusted the Mental Illness Advocacy Reading Challenge to be more flexible.
You may now sign up for ongoing or annual versions of the challenge.  I realized for me personally reading books featuring characters with a mental illness in a positive light has become just something I seek out in my reading. It’s not a number I strive for annually.  I figured, why not add that as a more casual option for folks.  You can see more details on the dedicated page.

So that’s what to expect in 2016.
Expect things to be a bit more real around here and hopefully to see more of a mix of reading and writing.  I’m excited to see what 2016 will bring.

2015 Reading Stats!

December 30, 2015 6 comments

Every year, I wrap up the old year and start the new one here on the blog with a look back at my reading stats.  You can see my stats for the years 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014 by clicking on the years.

Total books read: 52
Average books read per month: 4.33
Month most read: July with 7
Month least read: September with 2. This is no big surprise, since that’s the month I got married!
Longest book read: The Years of Rice and Salt by Kim Stanley Robinson with 763 pages

Fiction: 46 (88.5%)
Nonfiction: 6 (11.5%) (I read slightly less nonfiction this year.)

Series: 26 (50%)
Standalone: 26 (50%)
(I’m fascinated that this wound up exactly 50/50!)

Formats:
–print:  13 (25%) (Almost the same as last year.)
–ebook: 27 (51.9%)
–graphic novel: 2 (3.8%) (I successfully read 2 of the graphic novels I already own. I believe I have 2 left.)
–audiobook: 10 (19.2%)

New Categories
I decided to track a few new categories this year.  The author’s gender, whether the book is indie or traditional, the publication year of the book, and the target age-range.  Snazzy graphs for all of these!

Screen Shot 2015-12-30 at 11.49.19 AM.png

I read more female than male authors.  This isn’t a surprise, since I actively seek out scifi and fantasy by female authors.

Screen Shot 2015-12-30 at 11.51.28 AM

You will definitely hear about some indie books if you follow this book blog! ;-) Note that I only accepted 6 ARCs to read this year, so that means I read 7 indie books I sought out myself.

Screen Shot 2015-12-30 at 11.52.53 AM

I mostly read books from the 2000s. I did solidly touch upon the 1970s and 1980s.  I’d like to read a bit more from older books next year.  Maybe up to more like 20% to 25% of my total.

Screen Shot 2015-12-30 at 12.01.39 PM

I mostly read adult books.

Genres:
–Scifi: 14 (26.9%)
The subgenre I read the most of in scifi was dystopian (28.6%).
–Fantasy: 13 (25%)
The subgenre I read the most of in fantasy was urban fantasy (46.2%)
–Historic Fiction: 5
–Horror: 5
–Contemporary: 4
–Nonfiction history: 4
–Romance: 4
–GLBTQ: 3
–Mystery: 3
–Nonfiction science: 3
–Chick lit: 2
–Alternate history: 1
–Erotica: 1
–Nonfiction cookbook: 1
–Nonfiction self-help / psych: 1

Number of stars:
–5 star reads: 3 (6%)
–4 star reads: 26 (50%)
–3 star reads: 20 (38%)
–2 star reads: 3 (6%)
–1 star reads: 0 (0%)

This was a slower reading year than last year, but given everything that happened (my wedding and the loss of my father), I’m happy I was able to make my goal of one book a week.  Honestly, next year I intend to keep the same goal and focus my energy on writing more. I think a book a week is a good amount for a writer to read.

My new stats I tracked this year show with hard data what I already know.  I mostly read adult books and read more female than male authors, although I do still read a strong minority of male authors.  I also read a strong minority of indie books.  I’m interested to see how this changes with time, and with some of my new reading goals, which are such a big deal I’m going to be making a whole separate post about them.

I’m disappointed I only had three 5 star reads this year.  Where were the heart-gripping life-changing books?

The other thing of note is that half of my reads were scifi or fantasy.  This blog is half scifi/fantasy and half eclectic, lol.  I noticed throughout the year I wasn’t wanting to read thrillers, but I didn’t realize I’d read none.  I’ve definitely changed from a thriller reader to a mystery reader.

Normally I would talk a bit more about my future goals, but as I mentioned earlier, those are significant enough this year that they deserve their own future post. So keep an eye out for that!

I hope you all had a good reading year and found my reviews helpful in your pursuit of good books.  Sending best wishes for everyone’s 2016!

 

Giveaway: Porcelain: A Novelette by William Hage (INTERNATIONAL)

December 26, 2015 Leave a comment

cover_porcelainIt’s the sixth and final giveaway of 2015 here at Opinions of a Wolf.  Woohoo!!

There is ONE ebook copy of Porcelain: A Novelette by William Hage (review) available courtesy of the author, William Hage.

What You’ll Win:  One ebook copy of Porcelain: A Novelette (review) by William Hage.

How to Enter:

  1. Leave a comment below stating the second-hand item you own that you think is most likely to maybe be evil.
  2. Copy/paste the following and tweet it from your public twitter:
    Enter to win PORCELAIN: A NOVELETTE by @w0rdvirus, hosted by @McNeilAuthor http://buff.ly/1JAHQcP #giveaway #entertowin #horror #short
    You may tweet one entry per day. The blog comment gets you one entry. Each tweet gets you one entry.

Who Can Enter: INTERNATIONAL

Contest Ends: December 29th at midnight!

Disclaimer: The winner will have their book sent to them by the author.  The blogger is not responsible for sending the book.  Void where prohibited by law.

Book Review: Porcelain: A Novelette by William Hage

December 26, 2015 1 comment

cover_porcelainSummary:
Out near the Pine Barrens in New Jersey sits the Whateley Bed & Breakfast, home of a wide collection of knick-knacks and antiques for its guests to view, including a beautifully ornate porcelain doll. However, after the Whateley’s latest guest purchases the doll as a gift, a horrifying series of nightmarish events begins to unfold.

Review:
This is the final review for the 2015 ARCs I accepted (6 total).  Woo! This 8,000 word novelette was the perfect way to wrap up my year of ARCs.  Bite sized, it kept me entertained for almost precisely the duration of the public transit portion of my commute.

This short horror involves a father buying a doll for his daughter, only to have the doll wind up to be evil.  I don’t consider that a spoiler, because I think it’s pretty clear from the cover and the description that is what is about to go down.  While some of the evil doll aspects were about what I was expecting, others were not.  The scenes happened at just the right pace to hold interest, and I did find myself hoping I’d have time to finish the novelette without having to stop.  I think the story is helped by reading it in one sitting, so I would advise picking it up when you know you have enough time to finish it in one go.

All of this said, while I enjoyed it and it is well-written, it just didn’t linger with me.  I wound up feeling quite neutral about it.  Perhaps because the novelette is so short that there’s no time to establish an emotional connection with the main character.  It’s also possible that the ending just failed to wow me.  That said, other readers who are more generally into short fiction than I am will probably enjoy it more than I did.

Overall, this is a well-written piece of short fiction that should be read in one sitting.  Recommended to fans of short horror.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Kindle copy from author in exchange for my honest review

Buy It

Giveaway Winner: Unreal City by A.R. Meyering (INTERNATIONAL)

December 12, 2015 1 comment

cover_Unreal cityThe giveaway winner of one ebook or print copy of Unreal City (review), courtesy of the author A.R. Meyering herself is……..

Entry #1 Helen Adamopoulos!

Helen’s winning entry was for tweeting the giveaway tweet.

Screen Shot 2015-12-12 at 3.15.29 PM

Helen, I’ll be providing your email address to A.R. Meyering, who will send you your ebook directly.

Thanks for entering!

Categories: Giveaway
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