Review of Bird Box

bird boxI only picked up this book because of the Netflix film, of the same name. I’d seen the film and thoroughly enjoyed it. Having seen the Netflix film, I knew what I was getting into when I started the debut novel written by Josh Malerman. Having said that, I’m glad I picked it up. Both versions of the story are equally great.

The story begins with the main character, Malorie, standing in the kitchen thinking. It’s been four years since the apocalyptic event that swept across the earth killing untold millions. What follows is a forty-three chapter game of tennis. Malerman switches from the present to the past almost every chapter. In the present, Malorie is gearing up to travel on the river with her two children, Boy and Girl. The destination is a promise of a safe place from the insanity inducing creatures. In the flashbacks, the reader gets the full story of why Malorie is alone and why she has two children of the same age with her.

This is one of the charms of the novel because when a chapter ends, it’s typically a cliff hanger and the reader won’t figure out what happens until a few chapters later. There were moments when I would reach the end of a chapter, look at the clock knowing I need to be somewhere, but couldn’t wait so I continued reading.

Another charming thing that Malerman does in his novel is never show the monster. The apocalyptic event is this creature that causes insanity in those that view it. So, reasonably, the reader never gets even the hint of a description other than it might smell bad. Even when the characters see the creatures, they don’t see the creature. For some writers, that might be a hindrance, but for Malerman he writes it really well. The way characters live in the world where vision is a danger, they wear blindfolds. This natural isolation makes even a leaf falling on the characters shoulder spooky. Is it a leaf? Is it a crazy person taunting the character? Is it the creatures? The characters don’t know and that’s when their imagination is the enemy. Even though it’s a leaf or a random twig breaking is intense to a reader because they don’t know either. They are, literally, in the dark like the characters.

The one thing that bugged me about the story was the lack of technology it employed. Presumably set in 2014 when Malerman wrote it, there isn’t much use of technology. Characters use phone books to call numbers using a landline. They don’t access the internet even though their power is still on. There is no GPS and the characters have to use mileage on their cars to judge distance. It felt like I had picked up a book from the early 1990’s. Which isn’t a bad thing, but for younger readers it may not be a relatable literary experience.

Bird Box is an interesting tale of survival and what a mother would do to protect herself and her two children. It’s an intense novel that’s a true page turner. Even though you know the fates of the characters, you’ll be cheering for the ill-fated characters during the flashback chapters. If you’ve never seen the Netflix film, give it a watch because it’s really pretty good. If you’ve never read the novel written by Josh Malerman, give it a read because it’s equally as good.

If you want to read an apocalyptic novel that doesn’t include the normal amount of blood and gore that is commonplace in most books of this genre, Bird Box is the novel for you.

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The Legends of Luke Skywalker

The_Legends_of_Luke_Skywalker_final_coverKen Liu writes an interesting anthology of tales that center around the myth of Luke Skywalker. The story is centered around some passengers on a transport barge on its way to Canto Bight. If you’ve seen the film Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi (2017) then this destination will be familiar. In fact, it really shouldn’t be a surprise because the book is included in part of the “Journey to Star Wars: The Last Jedi.”

To pass the time, the passengers tell tales of Jedi Master Luke Skywalker. This novel falls between Episode VI and Episode VIII as far as the timeline.

The first thing that I enjoyed about this book is the structure in which it was made. There are six stories about the Jedi Master with interludes in between. Also, the edition I read had fully colored illustrations of the story about to be told that were beautifully drawn by J.G. Jones.

The next thing that I enjoyed about the book was the fact that not all tales about Luke were true. Told by many different characters, the tales of Luke and the Rebellion vary from being saviors of the galaxy to just a bunch of con artists as told in the short story “The Myth Buster.”

If you’re a fan of Star Wars but have never really delved into the cannon/non-cannon books, then this one might be the one to try out. This book is considered cannon, but like I said earlier don’t really count on the legitimacy of what’s being said about Luke Skywalker.

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Just one example of the artwork in this book crafted by Artist J.G. Jones.

Overall, the book is great in terms of writing. Author Ken Liu does an amazing job crafting these stories and making each sound different in terms of the tones of the narrator that’s telling them. My favorite story is at the very end. It’s titled “Big Inside” and is about Luke and the narrator being trapped in the belly of gigantic monster. In order to get out, Luke and the narrator must accept the sacrifice from another trapped group. “Big Inside” contains the most wisdom in the anthology stating that:

“It was one thing to sacrifice yourself for something you believed in, but how much heavier was the burden of accepting someone else’s sacrifice?”

The genius of this concept for a Star Wars book is that since each story is told by different people, nothing can be considered “true” even if Luke did the things that he did in the book. The writing trick of “the unreliable narrator” is used here to make the reader ponder what really happened in each tale.

As far as what I didn’t like about the book, there wasn’t much. If I had to nitpick and find one negative in this book of positives, then I would have to say that one of the stories dragged on and didn’t really capture my attention. “The Tale of Lugubrious Mote” was about the true brains behind the comedic genius in Jabba the Hutt’s palace. That story didn’t quite accelerate until Luke showed up which wasn’t until thirteen pages into the story.

This book can be read by children of all ages. As far as swear words, I didn’t catch any. If you’re looking for a Star Wars book that doesn’t really add to the canon of the films, but does provide some good tales to read then The Legends of Luke Skywalker written by Ken Liu is your book.

If you’re wondering whether or not to purchase the book in hardback or ebook, I would recommend hardback. There is not a book sleeve on it and therefore is just a glossy cover, but the book is extremely durable and has a great feel to it.

To-Be-Read List of 2019

Writers need to do two things: Read a lot and write a lot. Stephen King said something to that effect in his book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. If he said it, then it must be true. That is one of my goals for the New Year. To read a lot and to write a lot. Here is my To Be Read list, or TBR list:

• Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews

• Rose Madder by Stephen King

• Dance Macabre by Stephen King

• Gwendy’s Button Box by Stephen King and Richard Chizmar

• Wizard’s First Rule by Terry Goodkind

• Rise of Empire by Michael J. Sullivan

• Heir of Novron by Michael J. Sullivan

• Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

• The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orezy

• Scythe by Neal Shusterman

• The Wolf Gift by Anne Rice

• The Last Magician by Lisa Maxwell

• Angel Dust Apocalypse by Jeremy Robert Johnson

• The Ninth Circle by Brendan Deneen

• Battlefront II: Inferno Squad by Christie Golden

• Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer

• Dying to Live: a novel of life among the undead by Kim Paffenroth

• The Undead Volume III: Flesh Feast edited by D.L. Snell and Travis Adkins

• Ordinary Monsters: High School and the Final Solution by Frank Martin

• Fire in the Hole and Other Stories by Elmore Leonard

• Arthurian Magic by John and Caitlin Matthews

• Last Shot by Daniel Jose Older

• The Book of Dust by Philip Pullman

• American Dream Machine by Matthew Specktor

• The Aeronaut’s Windlass by Jim Butcher

• Dead Zero by Stephen Hunter

• The Third Bullet by Stephen Hunter

• Sniper’s Honor by Stephen Hunter

• That Hideous Strength by C.S. Lewis

• Liliane’s Balcony by Kelcey Parker

• For Sale by Owner by Kelcey Parker

• The Bitter Life of Bozena Nemcova by Kelcey Parker

• A Lot of Bull by James F. Walsh

• Pretty When She Destroys by Rhiannon Frater

• Escaped with Honor by Charles Layton

• Le More d’Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory

• I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes

• The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan

• Empire by David Dunwoody 

• Frankenstein: Lost Souls by Dean Koontz

• The Darkest Evening of the Year by Dean Koontz

• Hocus Pocus and the All-New Sequel by A.W. Jantha

• The Magician’s Apprentice by Trudi Canavan

• Tentyrian Legacy by Elise Walters

• Leia: Princess of Alderaan by Claudia Gray

• The Death and Life of Superman by Roger Stern

• The Bazaar of Bad Dreams by Stephen King

• Anne Bonny’s Wake by Dick Elam

• Fully Awake by Ken Davis

• Nocturne of the Sea by Cameron Davis

• Widow of the Empyrean by Nikki Collins-Mewha

• Human Ouija by L. Bachman

• Harvest by L. Bachman

• Maxwell Demon by L. Bachman

• We Will Heal These Wounds by Nicole Thorn and Sarah Hall

• The Curse of Ormshire by S.L. Perrine

• In the Shadow of the House of God by Jeffrey G. Roberts

• We Will Change Our Stars by Nicole Thorn and Sarah Hall

• We Will Bleed by Nicole Thorn and Sarah Hall

• Way Down Below by Nicole Thorn and Sarah Hall

• We Will Gain Our Fury by Nicole Thorn and Sarah Hall

• The Human-Undead War: Patriarch by Jonathan Edward Ondrashek

• In Obscura Silva by Ellie Piersol

• Mysterium Excelsum Unum by Ellie Piersol

• Wind Up Toy by David Owain Hughes

• Choice Cuts Delicatessen by David Owain Hughes

• Forgotten Hero: The Chronicles of Death Book 1 by Brian G. Murray

• We Could Be Heroes by Sarah Dale

• Manleigh Cheese by James Crawford

• Rowan’s End by L.D. Ricard

• The Starhawk Chronicles by Joseph J. Madden

• The Dinosaur Lords by Victor Milan

That’s a lot of books to read in a year. Of course, I’ll not be able to read all of these books in this year, but I’m hoping to make a dent. What’s your TBR List? Let me know in the comments below and maybe I’ll expand mine a bit longer.

After Midnight Cover Reveal

Every so often, I’m asked to help my fellow authors get the news out about their newest book release. Sometimes, that help looks like participating in Facebook release parties and other times it’s helping them promote their newest book cover.

Like today. After Midnight is the newest book in the Miss Hyde Novellas written by the very talented Kindra Sowder. For the last few years I’ve had the privilege to call Kindra both my friend and my boss at Burning Willow Press, LLC. So when she asked for help regarding the new cover reveal I leapt at the opportunity.

So without further ado, here it is…

Hyde5 frontBlythe’s world is changing. She has finally accepted who — or what — she is. Hyde’s keeping to their arrangement. Blythe can now move forward from all she endured including a new romance with Emmett. Not only does he make her feel normal but helps her see a possible future.

But what of the elusive Adam Burnside? The man who could be her equal in not only state of mind but also body. With Cyra handing over journals filled with clues to her origins, Blythe needs to make sense of the new information within.

 

FB_IMG_1515772882925Author Bio:

Kindra Sowder was born and raised in Rancho Palos Verdes, CA until the age of 12, when her family moved to Spartanburg, SC. She graduated from high school in 2006 with full honors and as a member of her high school Literary Club and the Spanish Honor Society. In January 2014, she graduated with her second degree in Criminal NeuroPsychology. She married her husband Edd Sowder in May 2014 and still lives in Spartanburg, SC where she is basing Burning Willow Press. Her works have earned multiple award nominations.

If you are interested in all of Kindra’s other amazing works, here are a list of her Author Links.

Author Links:

Amazon: http://amzn.to/2HPrZwG

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/12587201.Kindra_Sowder

Twitter: https://twitter.com/KindraSowder

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/kmkinnaman

Web: www.ksowderauthor.com

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Review of “Twilight of the Living Dead”

Peanut butter and jelly, cookies and milk, ice cream and chocolate syrup. Combinations as classic as those are things of legend. Think of some more, come on, I’ll wait.

Did you?

Great, but there’s probably one combination you may have overlooked. Nazis and zombies. Unless you’re a fan of horror and/or zompoc fiction. The Third Reich has been reanimating dead people in film, literature, and even video games. So with all of that out there in the open, how does the story written by Scott Baker stack up against the rest of the horde?

Really well. The story is based around a group of Nazi soldiers and civilians that sought refuge in a tower. It’s set during the final days of World War II. Beset on all sides by enemies (quite literally), the surviving Germans struggle with how to survive and whether or not being captured by the Allies would be better than being ripped apart by the undead.

In the same fashion as most zompoc, there is a power struggle between the human survivors. Unlike most zompoc literature, however, both sides are Nazis. What Baker does well in his tale is blur the lines of morality when bringing the Nazis to life. The reader will be rooting for the undead to tear the German soldiers apart, but will also feel sorry (slightly) while thinking that.

Baker also locks in the historical setting with excellent use of detail and dialogue that will make the reader visualize themselves in that tower with the Nazis.

The pace of the story is well timed as well. At no time does the story feels like it’s dragging. Either there’s vivid description about what is happening or there’s intense action that fuels the story right to the ending. The reader won’t fall asleep while reading Twilight of the Living Dead.

If I had to offer one criticism about this story, and that’s if my leg is being pulled, it would be about the ending of the story. While I will not spoil it for you, I will say it’s a bit predictable. Having said that I will also say that it in no way deters my feelings about this tale of Nazis and the undead.

Whether you’re a zompoc fan, an alternative history fan, or just a reader with an appreciation for the horror genre you’ll derive pleasure from reading Twilight of the Living Dead written by Scott Baker

I won’t guarantee that you’ll get as much pleasure as one of his zombies biting into the flesh of a member of the Luftwaffe. I’ve only read the Twilight of the Living Dead. I’ve never bitten into the flesh of a member of the Luftwaffe so I don’t have an accurate comparison. That doesn’t change the fact that you should definitely go out and find this literature gem and devour it (not literally).

Review of Sleeping Beauties

img_5038A small town is mysteriously the center of a supernatural event and their actions will effect the rest of the world. Sound familiar? If so, you’ve probably read some of the other works written by Stephen King. Throw in a virus that incapacitates more than half the worlds population, then you have a definite novel by the king of thriller and horror genres.

Sleeping Beauties is a novel that is co-authored by both Stephen King and his son Owen King. The storyline of the novel centers around the dilemma that all of the women that fall asleep in the stay asleep. When they fall asleep a cocoon is mysteriously woven across their faces. If the cocoon is disturbed in any way, the sleeping woman will attack the men around them. As the pandemic continues the situation grows dire for those women that are trying to stay awake.

As this happens, a mysterious woman walks into the town of Dooling, a small Appalachian town. Found by Sheriff Lila Norcross naked and walking in the middle of a road covered in blood, the mysterious Eve Black is taken to the county prison solely for women.

As the town and the rest of the world spirals into the madness of a world devoid of women, the solution presents itself to the citizens of Dooling. The citizens are grouped into two sides: those that are tasked with keeping the mysterious Eve safe and those that are tasked with killing her.

The first thing that impressed me with the story is that even though it’s written by two authors, you wouldn’t know just from reading it. Having read almost everything Stephen King has read, I wasn’t able to pick out which sections were written by him and which sections were written by his son.

Another aspect of the novel that I enjoyed were the rich, detailed characters. There are a few main protagonists that have their own story arcs that crossover with other story arcs. Each of them are integral to the overall story and the characters are fleshed out so well that I was generally concerned with whether they lived or died. The antagonists receive the same loving tender care from the Kings. The only difference is that even though they are technically antagonists, readers will still care for their plights. The main antagonist, Frank Geary, does everything with his daughter in mind. He generally cares for his daughter and would do anything to get her to wake up safe and sound.

The one thing that I was disappointed with was the pacing of the novel. It begins with the characters in their normal day to day lives. Then the event happens and the females of the world, once asleep, never wake up. From there, the middle of the novel is split between the world of man and the world of woman. In the world of men, it’s all set up for the climactic battle at the end between those protecting Eve and those that are attempting to assassinate her. I won’t spoil what happens when the females fall asleep because it’s generally interesting and something that I found extremely intriguing. However, I felt that the middle of the novel was too long. As a reader, my favorite sections were the beginning and the end.

In the long list of books in Stephen King’s library, this is not the best. It is not the worst either. If you are interested in reading an average novel by the two Kings, then reading this book would be a safe bet.

The Devil’s Playground by Alice J. Black

Have you ever experienced a reoccurring dream or nightmare? If you haven’t then I find that odd. Most of everyone has experienced this type of dream. When I was a child, I had one such reoccurring nightmare. I would be walking to elementary school down the alley next to the house. With each step, the ground cracked like it was thin ice. I’d take off running, but it didn’t matter, the ground would disappear from under me and I’d fall. I’d fall on spikes and wake up just before they punctured my skin. It lasted until I graduated high school.

the devil's playgroundThe main character, Jake, in Alice J. Black’s The Devil’s Playground suffers from a reoccurring nightmare. It stems from the mysterious disappearance of his father, but it doesn’t stop at his high school graduation, it sticks with him throughout the rest of his life. The best thing in the character’s life happens: he gets engaged with the love of his life, Sam. Then the worst thing in Jake’s life happens: he suffers an accident that lands him in a coma. Even worse, he’s stuck inside that reoccurring nightmare, the Devil’s Playground.

What follows next is one of the most intense adventures that a character can experience. While Jake is in the playground, Sam also goes through the very real experience of dealing with the aftermath. Her fiancé is in a coma, there’s suddenly a void in her life. Black crafts such an interesting story that makes you want to read both character’s story arcs. Even though Jake’s fate will sometimes hang in the balance, the section changes and the reader is equally fascinated with the emotional journey of Sam.

Without giving anything away, one of the most interesting parts of the story is the Devil’s Playground itself. Jake awakens to find himself literally in a living Hell. The reaction after Jake realizes that he is not actually dreaming is priceless, but it’s just one of the many things that make this story memorable. The Playground is filled with grim versions of reality, sadistic hallucinations, and the bloodthirsty creatures that inhabit it. 

That’s where the book shines. When Jake’s section begins there is this buildup of tension and dread that will either payoff or cliff hang. The novel transitions to the emotional wreck that is Sam. This both allows the reader some time to calm themselves and to push Jake to the back of their minds while they sympathize with Sam and her feelings of utter hopelessness. Of course the novel will transition back to Jake’s story and the tension will begin to rise again. 

As a horror writer, even I had moments when I’d hear a noise outside and develop uneasy feelings. There was one such moment where I had to put aside the story and listen for the source of the noise. This was the first time in a very long time that I’ve been creeped out by a novel. 

The nice thing about this novel is that it doesn’t focus on blood, gore, foul language, or sexual content like most of the horror genre of our times. Yes, the Devil’s Playground does contain scenes where there is blood and gore, but it’s a practical use to them. Black isn’t excessive with the usage of them. 

If there was one thing that I did not like about The Devil’s Playground it’s that not everything is explained. The reader is wanting more. Which, admittedly, is not a terrible thing because there is definitely room for a sequel should the author desire to continue on with the story. 

If you’re a fan of horror, thriller, or dream novels then this is one for you to read. It can be found on Amazon.com as well as www.burningwillowpressllc.com.