Bird Box by Josh Malerman is one of the most suspenseful books I’ve ever read. The intense mystery is set in the very first chapter and does not cease until the very last page.
The only comparable suspense novel I can think of is The Shining, and that is high praise.
A Strange, Strange World
In the first chapter we meet Malorie and two four-year-old children who are trying to escape a life of terror to a place they can only get to by rowing blindfolded down a river for several miles. Why is her life filled with terror? Why does she have to be blindfolded? Why are all the windows on their house boarded up and covered? Why has Malorie not seen sunlight for over 5 years? Why does she never refer to the children by name? Where are all the people?
All these questions and more hook the readers’ curiosity and the intense danger Malorie feels is transferred to the reader. With every chapter, more answers are revealed but more questions also arise. Malerman reveals just enough to keep the reader understanding this strange world more all the time, but keeps the door closed on the biggest secrets until the very end.
Great Suspense Stems From Great Writing
Without giving too much away, I will tell you that the characters in this world refuse to open their eyes outside. This had two major effects on the writing: 1) sight was often lost, and the author deepened upon the other senses for description, 2) not knowing what could be right next to you, something dangerous, something deadly, adds a lot of suspense all by itself.
At one point, Malerman integrates counting into a suspenseful scene. Set outside in a world full of unseen dangers, the characters are putting themselves at risk every second they are outside. The counting draws attention to those danger-filled seconds ticking by.
Without a doubt, Bird Box is the best book I’ve read so far this year. If you love suspense, horror, apocalyptic stories, or simply good writing, you should read this book!
After reading Tobias Wolff’s This Boy’s Life, I wanted my next read to be lighthearted and plot based. So, I picked up an old Dean Koontz novel, By the Light of the Moon. The two books could not be more different. Of course genre plays a big part, but the difference in writing styles is striking.
Koontz’s writing style is heavy in description and his plot moves forward minute by minute. Wolff puts the bare bones on paper, jumping right to the action and cutting all unnecessary description, plot, characterization, ect. I don’t think This Boy’s Life contains a single wordy sentence. Koontz, on the other hand, loves lengthy metaphors and diving deep into characters’ thoughts, even during heated action scenes.
Koontz and Wolff are two of my favorite writers but their styles could not be more different. Reading their books back-to-back really opened my eyes to those differences. Let me show you some specific examples.
Here are a few sentences that begin chapters in Wolff’s This Boy’s Life and Koontz’s By the Light of the Moon.
- The sheriff came to the house one night and told the Bolgers that Chuck was about to be charged with statutory rape.
- My father took off for Las Vegas with his girlfriend the day after I arrived in California.
- When I was alone in the house I went through everyone’s private things.
- Shortly before being knocked unconscious and bound to a chair, before being injected with an unknown substance against his will, and before discovering that the world was deeply mysterious in ways he’d never before imagined, Dylan O’Conner left his motel room and walked across the highway to a brightly lighted fast-food franchise to buy cheeseburgers, French fries, pocket pies with apple filling, and a vanilla milkshake.
- These were extraordinary times, peopled by ranting maniacs in love with violence and with a violent god, infested with apologists for wickedness, who blamed victims for their suffering and excused murderers in the name of justice.
What difference do you notice? Length? Who is more action-oriented? Who is more introspective?
By the Light of the Moon: 140 pages into the novel less than three hours have passed in the plot with very little background/flashbacks. A high-speed car chase (not really a chase but a mission) that lasts approximately 10 minutes in real time, stretches 15 pages in the book. At times, I forget the chase was even happening because the side tangents and in-depth character thoughts were so dense.
This Boy’s Life: the plot skips large chunks of time, covering approximately eight years in total. In the following sentence Wolff captures the entire time frame of 7th grade (aka puberty): “I kept outgrowing my shoes, two pairs in the seventh grade alone.” Of course Wolff does go into normal-speed scenes in his memoir, but they are strongly action-based with little filler.
Which writing style do you enjoy more?
Does one style draw you in more than the other? Why do you think that is? I personally enjoy both. Certain months I relish the bare bones of Wolff, Carver, and the like. Other months I crave the second-by-second, in-the-mind-of-the-character stories of Dean Koontz, Stephen King, and others.
Comment with two writers who are very different, yet you love them both.
Here is my favorite blog post of the year, a list of my favorite books read in 2015. Although the publishing dates range from 2001 to 2014, they all found their way to the top of my reading list last year and I’m very glad they did!
Life of Pi by Yann Martel
This novel is inspiring, imaginative, unique, and fulfilling. It’s a story I want so badly to be true that sometimes I ignore the label of fiction it possesses.
Journey. Expedition. Adventure. None of these words quite capture the magic felt while cruising the Pacific’s current with Pi Patel, a zoo-keeper’s son who finds himself stranded on a lifeboat in the middle of an ocean with a murderous bengal tiger.
Without cramming Life of Pi‘s theme into a single word or phrase, it is about… Humanity. Peace. Storytelling. Faith. And how we interprets these things. What we choose to believe and how we push away the improbable as impossible.
I recommend it to anyone who wants to be inspired by imagination.
Dry by Augusten Burroughs
One of the best pieces of creative nonfiction I have ever read. Burroughs’ brilliant storytelling mixes pure truth with dirty humor in this memoir about his struggle with alcoholism.
I recommend it to lovers of creative nonfiction, people who want to understand what creative nonfiction is all about; and anyone interested in getting a first-person perspective of an alcoholic.
A Visit From the Good Squad by Jennifer Egan
There is an argument surrounding A Visit From the Goon Squad whether it is a novel or a collection of linked short stories. That gray area is a main reason I loved this story. It jumps in time, switches character perspective, and leaves you slightly dazed and confused.
I recommend it to readers and writers who want to think about time and those who enjoy blurred boundaries.
Redeployment by Phil Klay
This collection of short stories surrounding political, emotional, and humanity issues of the Iraq War is must-read! Klay’s writing is concise, dense, and relevant to our time. While some stories may draw you to tears, others may outrage you into action.
I recommend it to every American.
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
The Kite Runner is one of the most powerful stories I have ever read. Like Redeployment it is a story of our times, portraying an insiders view of Iraq in the years before America declared war. But don’t mistake this novel for a war story, it is a story of human nature through and through. The story is one I will not easily forget.
I recommend it to thoughtful readers who are curious about human nature and why we do the things we do.
Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger
Set in the Minnesota summer of 1961, Ordinary Grace is an enriching story about real life and untimely death. It is filled with memorable, flawed characters; written in a clear, comforting voice; and set in a world that feels far away yet so close to the heart.
I recommend it to readers looking for an honest, realistic, heart-felt story. Also to anyone looking for an exceptional audio book!
The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson
The Devil in the White City is a story about the Chicago World Fair in 1893 and the notorious mass murderer, Dr. H. H. Holmes. While so many historical nonfiction authors are not, Erik Larson is a story teller, making the story very entertaining. The story drops teasers like a suspense novel, builds character like literary fiction, and weaves multiple story lines better than most novels in any genre.
I recommend it to fiction lovers who crave a little history.
Elegies of the Brokenhearted by Christie Hodgen
Through detailed looks at side characters, we get a gradual picture of the main character’s life. Elegies is a story of unique structure that will make you take a close look at the people in your life and the impact left lingering long after they disappear.
I recommend it to readers and writers who crave something other than the lovable main character in the typical obstacle-based plot.
I read Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury for the first time in middle school. I remembered it had a futuristic story and big meaning. Other than that, I didn’t remember much so I decided it was time to read it again. Especially after I picked it up at a book sale for $1. 🙂
Setting novels in the future takes a lot of creativity but also a lot of knowledge. A great futuristic setting will be believable, with specific or vague science/theory to back up the created reality. Ray Bradbury certainly had the vision in 1953 when he published Fahrenheit 451.
Wall-sized, interactive TVs. Fireproof homes. Robot dogs. And of course, a society that limits the public’s ability to think freely.
Thankfully our society hasn’t stooped to book burning yet, but some of his imaginative predictions are not so far off.
I remember Fahrenheit 451 having a strong affect on me in middle school. Growing up in a country where free speech is encourage at every corner and individuality is praised, it was strange to think of a world without those things. Thankfully, the magic of books helps us think outside our tiny little worlds.
Rereading the novel now, I was not impressed. I thought it lacked substance, emotion, and depth.
2.5 stars. Unfortunately, I found a lot of the characters to be dull. The pacing was inconsistent, slow and first then too fast at the peak of the action. That being said, I still believe this is an excellent book for middle age readers. It will open their eyes to a world different than their own without too much violence or depression. The reading level is also perfect for the middle school kid.
Did you know Fahrenheit 451 was originally published in a shorter version and titled The Fireman?!
Presented by EpicReads! These are just my favorites, click on the link above for more!
In the past, I have always been a 1-book-at-time gal and enjoyed it that way. For the past few years, I’ve gotten into reading two books at a time, one in paper and one on audiobook. I’m naturally a focused individual, not the greatest multitasker. Focusing on one thing at a time helps me get things done faster and to better quality. Thankfully, my mind can separate my paper book from my audiobook quite easily BUT I never read two paper books at the same time. If I begin a new book while in the middle of another, I’m unlikely to ever pick up that original book again.
I have always been hesitant to quit a book. I don’t like quitting (or taking breaks) in the middle of projects, whether its reading a book, mowing the lawn, or writing a story. But lately, I have encouraged myself to be more open to deserting bad/uninteresting books. There are too many great books out there to waste my time on something I’m not enjoying or learning from.
See my previous post on the subject, When to Drop a Bad Book.
Pros and Cons of reading multiple books at once, compiled from random blogs/articles:
Pros of Reading Multiple Books
Desire to read – One boring book won’t minimize your desire to read.
Flexibility – Being able to read more than one genre/story/author at a time. Choosing the book that matches your current mood.
Portability – Some books are more easily slipped into a purse or bag.
Cons of Reading Multiple Books
Split focus – As I am constantly deciphering the writing as well as the story, this is a huge disadvantage for me. I like to study the arch and structure and consistency of the voice while reading a book and switching between multiple books would make this difficult.
Memory – The more books you read, the harder it is to retain all the information you’ve read. If you leave sit too long, you may forget what is happening.
Less invested – Personally, I’m less likely to get enchanted by a story and its characters if I’m juggling multiple stories.
Encourages Short Attention Span – Reading is one area that still requires concentration on one thing for a long period of time. Reading multiple books at once will drop reading into the I-need-it-NOW-and-QUICK culture.
Max Brooks writes World War Z as if the worst of the zombie apocalypse has passed. In a Q&A interview style, Max Brooks writes the first-hand accounts of a variety of people effected by and involved in the zombie apocalypse. The interviewees include scientists and doctors that saw the very beginning of the disease, families chased out of their homes by the threat of the living dead, the President of the United States, a pilot whose plane crashed in the middle of zombie breathing ground but managed to find her way out, and so many more…
This is the only novel I’ve read written in an interview style. The interviews were organized chronologically, starting by explaining the beginning of the outbreaks, widespread panicking, contained villages, soldiers traveling across the U.S. and leaving mountains of zombie corpses behind them, and finally with the aftermath.
One reason I didn’t like the interview style was that it created a very choppy structure. It read more like a collection of short stories than a novel. Besides the interviewer (Max Brooks) characters come and go as quickly as their story is told. Therefore, I didn’t get emotionally connected to the characters, often forgot their names, and didn’t care if their entire family turned into zombies and tried to kill them or not.
My favorite part of the interview style were the variety of first-person perspectives that were given. Each character told their own story, that I love.
I listened to World War Z on audiobook and would recommend doing so. The novel was read by a full cast of characters, a different voice actor for every interview, which adds an entertaining twist.
World War Z the movie, starring Brad Pitt, was released in 2013. I loved the movie (even though zombies are not my thing) so I thought I would give the book a try as well. Besides the title and the presence of zombies, the book and movie have nothing in common. The story line and structure is drastically different, as the movie does follow a certain character (played by Brad Pitt) through the entire movie.
I was pleased to hear that a sequel will be made, World War Z 2, and is expected to be in theaters in 2017. Not surprising considering the original was Brad Pitt’s highest grossing movie of his career.
The book gets 3 stars; the movie gets 4.5 stars! A very fun style of writing but overall I didn’t love the structure or the story itself, both of which were better in the film adaptation. I’m not much of a zombie enthusiast and although the structure of the book is unique, its still a typical zombie story.
Here are a few books I would highly recommend to keep you relaxed and entertained over the long weekend.
My number one recommendation! This collection of fictional short stories about the Iraq War is perfect for whatever amount of time you want to spend reading. Read a few stories (see my favorites on the full book review) or get sucked into the entire collection like I did. Redeployment is my favorite book of 2015 (so far)!
Even if you’re not a reader, you’ve probably heard this title, and the suspense is excellent! I also enjoyed the film adaptation, if you’re looking for more of a screen buzz this weekend!
A short, beautiful book about life, love, and one extraordinary dog. Dean Koontz shares his personal story through the memoir of this dog. A great book for any dog lover!
A story that needs to be heard. Alice, a mother and respected Harvard professor, is diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s. A close-up look at a struggle of love, identity, health, and family, Still Alice is a must-read.
Lost, broken down, alone? This book is a great read for anyone feeling a little bit down in the dumps. No matter how pointless and cruel life seems, there is always light to be found.