book lists

Kali’s 10 Best Brackish Books of 2015

bestof2015

Alright, here it is. A best books list. I was going to do a traditional best books list, including all the books, but I haven’t even finished A Little Life. I got to the part after all is revealed where a weak Jude must be scooped out of his chair by Willem after a wonderful dinner with friends. Jude peeks back to the hearty laughter and gives a pathetic little wave. And I was just like, “I’m going to put this aside for a bit.” I set it aside, and didn’t pick it back up.

Clearly there’s a type of book I love most. If you’re a reader of the blog, you’ve caught on to that. A guy at work exclaimed the other day, “You have a fascination with criminals!” And maybe I do. I like my books a little salty, a little lurid, enveloped in a whole lot of darkness with a few well-deserved twists. That means that most of my faves fall somewhere between literary fiction and thriller, walking a tightrope of noir and psychological horror. Some were released in other countries before this year, but it’s a blog, and I make up my own rules.

Without further ado:

  1. Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh eileenThis book has all the things I hold dear to my heart. A slightly unhinged narrator. A wacky alcoholic family member. A boy’s home for adolescent offenders. A beautiful woman with dishonorable motives. And a bunch of raw nervous energy. You can read my original review.
  2. The Truth and Other Lies by Sascha Arango the-truth-and-other-lies-9781476795553_hr The Truth and Other Lies is bitingly funny. Its cool narrator, a man taking credit for his wife’s blockbuster novels, steers the plot headlong into disaster. My original review.
  3. A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay
    head full of ghostsI see this one becoming a cult classic, if anything published by William Morrow and nominated for a Goodreads Reader’s Choice Award could ever be considered cult. The one word used to describe this horror novel is meta. This is a horror novel fully aware of horror novels, and films, and all the better for it. My review.
  4. Disclaimer by Renee Knight disclaimer I absolutely loved the premise of this one so much I had to go out and get a copy. A woman picks up a book and begins to read the story of her life. She notices the disclaimer in the front, that one that ensures the story isn’t based on true events, is crossed out. Who wrote the book? How did it get to her? My review.
  5. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins the girl on the train Unless you were living under a rock this year, you are familiar with this one. It was a runaway hit, hailed as this year’s Hitchcock-ian Gone Girl. Rachel watches an ideal couple each morning from the commuter train. When the wife of the couple shows up missing on the news, Rachel places herself into the investigation. Read my original review.
  6. Black Chalk by Christopher J. Yates black chalk This is a bit of a cheat, as I had a copy of this last year. Random House UK released this in 2014, but it was released in the US this year by Picador with a beautiful new cover. Black Chalk brings a psychological Hunger Games to Oxford University. Six incredibly close friends agree to a game run by the mysterious ‘game soc’ club at their school. The game becomes more involved, taking over their lives, as the students begin to lose control. My review.
  7. The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi The Water Knife Let’s throw a little bit of near-future climate fiction on here, shall we? The Water Knife is brilliant because it pushes what is happening now just a bit farther, and magnifies it into something shocking. States are battling for water rights, and water knives slip through the night to bomb water plants and kill the right people, ensuring powerful cities stay wet. If you like drinking water, read this book. My review.
  8. Bone Gap by Laura Ruby bone gap And also we’ll add a tad of magical realism to the list. Bone Gap is a bright and crisp and beautiful young adult novel. I haven’t reviewed it because I’m just not sure what to make of it. As a lover of straight-shooting mysteries and thrillers, its more fantastical elements disappointed me. But does that mean I still don’t think about its lovable, well-crafted characters? Its charming little town? No, of course not. A part of me may always be in Bone Gap.
  9. Missoula by Jon Kraukauer missoula This isn’t even fiction. This is an exposé of the rape culture on America’s college campuses, with a focus on Missoula, Montana. It is shocking, and an absolute must-read. My original review.
  10. The Cartel by Don Winslow the cartel How many ways can people die in one book? Books about cartels love to explore this question. I became weary of all the descriptions of death, but at the same time understood it was part of the rough and angry territory of a sprawling epic of the Mexican drug war. Proceed at your own caution–the characters here are masterfully crafted, but also masterfully executed. My original review at the Manhattan Book Review.

Cuddle up with a cat and a comforter, cozy up with some cocoa and your Kindle. You’ve got a lot of books to get through. Happy reading!

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For Valentine’s Day: Books On Love, Hate, And Everything In Between

Because can you ever really know which emotion you’ll end up with?

The Spookiest Novels I’ve Read

Halloween is just around the corner, and inquiring minds around the book-o-sphere are asking, “What’s the scariest book you’ve ever read?” Lists of scary stories are being passed out like Halloween candy. LitReactor even has the “5 Scariest Grammar Issues.” Adding to that festively dark spirit, here are a few of my favorite spooky novels.

1. Bird Box by Josh Malerman

bird boxI reviewed this back in July, and it still stands out as one of the scariest books I’ve read in quite a while. I highly recommend listening to this as an audiobook, as it features a world in which people go mad by catching a glimpse of otherworldly creatures.

In Bird Box land, you hunker down at home, hiding behind windows covered with with mattresses and blankets. You need to protect yourself from seeing whatever thing is outside. When you must go out for supplies, you go out blindfolded, fumbling, and very afraid. This book is agonizing in some places, as it presents characters with countless fears they must face blinded.

2. House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski

house of leavesThe best kind of spooky novel doesn’t make sense in places, and MZD’s House of Leaves creates a world in which nothing is quite right. There are layers here, and each one of them hangs like a crooked picture on a wall of madness.

First, we meet photojournalist Will Navidson and his family, who have moved into a house which is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. He films his ventures into the home’s more bizarre aspects.

In the second layer of the story, Navidson’s film is analyzed by Zampanò, a blind academic who devoted much of his work to studying the documentary “The Navidson Record.”

The third layer is that of Johnny Truant, who stumbles upon Zampanò’s notes, and thus the story of Will Navidson and his home, and begins to assemble those notes into a narrative, often including his own story and thoughts.

Got all that? As Truant falls deeper into the house, you’ll find yourself falling too…

3. The End of Alice and Appendix A by A.M. Homes

the end of alice collageNot all spooky things are creatures or possessed houses, and The End of Alice is more terrifying than any ghost story precisely because it talks about human evils.

A pedophile (nicknamed Chappy, a reference to a childhood love of Chapstick) has been locked away for years, and begins receiving letters from a catty young woman who claims to also be a pedophile. Through this young woman’s questions and her own stories, Chappy walks us through his long and dark hall of memories, each one building up to a more brutal, sad, and sadistic result than the last.

Appendix A, for those of you who really want to get freaked out, is a collection of (obviously fictional) evidence surrounding Chappy’s crime: his confession, some self-portraits he created, evidence bagged from the crime, and photos of his very disturbed family.

A.M. Homes is a beautiful, lyrical writer, so the concept manages to work without being unbearable to read. However, this is the most disturbing book I’ve read, and it definitely doesn’t have a happy ending. If you aren’t looking for something gruesome and grim, choose another from the list.

4. The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

the haunting of hill houseThis is my current spooky Halloween read, and thus far it is not disappointing. It is, in fact, totally epic. It is thought to be the best haunted house story ever written, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Dr. Montague hopes to investigate the paranormal activity at Hill House, a ghost hunter before his time, and he invites three young guests to stay in the house with him. Shirley Jackson is a master of creating mood, and the suffocating, nauseating mood in Hill House as its first new resident steps in, summoned in a letter by Dr. Montague, is unforgettable.

Those who have seen the movies know it all goes downhill from there.

5. Syndrome E by Franck Thilliez

syndrome eI’m going to be talking about Franck Thilliez’s Syndrome E more in the next coming months as there is a sequel coming out in January, Bred to Kill.

I think this book hasn’t seen its peak in popularity yet, as there’s some buzz about it being made into a movie by writer Mark Heyman, who penned Black Swan. Uhm, amazing.

If there’s something spooky in a book and it isn’t a house, you can bet it is going to be an old film. In Syndrome E, an old film is blinding people who watch it. Two detectives converge on the case from very different directions; they uncover all sorts of dark and twisted stuff all over the world. I’m not going to give it away here.

Go get your read on, you dark and twisted children of the night!