Kali’s 10 Best Brackish Books of 2015


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!

Halloween Treat Alert! Ghastle and Yule by Josh Malerman

Malerman’s Ghastle and Yule is the sort of calorie-free Halloween treat you can’t miss. It’s less than a dollar, so the price is right.

Review – Bird Box by Josh Malerman

bird box

In our entertainment-laden society, it is hard to create something scary. We live in the time of the seven (!) Saw movies, which coined the phrase “torture porn.” We’ve seen the evolution of Stephen King both in his novels and the screen, topiary bushes in the shapes of animals rushing towards us each time we leave them unwatched, clowns waiting to snatch us and carry us down gutters into their lairs, bubbles thrust down upon towns from the sky. We’ve known sweet women possessed and more stern but kind exorcists than we can count, guys keeping the faith even when their church has cast them out for their beliefs. And we’ve known haunted houses. Oh, the haunted houses we’ve known.

But Josh Malerman brings us, with Bird Box, the sort of hysterical fear Edgar Allen Poe builds to an almost unbearable height in his short story The Tell-Tale Heart. The air in this book is so thick with anxiety you can cut it with a knife, you can dive into it like it’s a pool. You could almost see the anxiety, if you could just open your eyes.

Because you must keep them closed: in Bird Box, people catch a glimpse of something which drives them mad. They start killing each other, killing themselves. Those unaffected start covering their windows, not leaving their homes. The unaffected choose to act as if they were blind, using brooms or canes to find their way when they must venture out. As time progresses, only those who blindfold themselves outside, to prevent seeing whatever sort of awful thing outside is poisoning humanity, survive.

This is a book of people stumbling in the dark, feeling for things they aren’t sure are there. This is a book in which the moment you decide to take off your blindfold and open your eyes could be your last sane moment on earth. This is a book that heavily relies on mood, one voice calling out slowly to another voice. “Are you still out there…?” “Yes, I’m still here.” “…Are you okay?”

In one of its most memorably terrifying scenes, getting water from a well (what should be a short distance from the safety of home) turns into a sensory delirium, all panic and doubt, as footsteps are heard or imagined, objects felt or brushed over, queries distorted by distance and fear. A short walk turns into an agonizing plunge through the unknown. Bird Box is very scary, indeed.

As those countless Saw films illustrate, brutality is a simple formula, blunt and easy to replicate. Much more difficult to execute is suspense. Suspense happens in all the moments we’ve trained ourselves to ignore, as we rush from one action film to the next, as we save reading only for our daily commutes. Malerman creates, with Bird Box, a world in which each statement, each movement or pause, is dripping with a delicious suspense that demands your full attention. Bird Box deserves a dark house and a warm cup of tea, it deserves your full attention as you pause and think, with each character: “Is this the moment to open your eyes, despite all that may be out there, waiting?”

Bird Box by Josh Malerman on Amazon.com/Powells.com/Indiebound.org

The Shining!

the shining

I just finished Stephen King’s The Shining, in anticipation of reading the recently released Doctor Sleep.  Doctor Sleep, a sequel to The Shining, features a grown-up but still traumatized Danny Torrance.  The Shining is one of the most horrifying books I’ve ever read, and it is amazing how King manages to heighten the fear around harmless things like topiary art to an intense level.

I love to read King’s comments on his work, as he always has great perspective. Here are some great thoughts written by the author in an introduction to a new edition of The Shining, written in 2001:

A killer motivated to his crimes by supernatural forces was, it seemed to me, almost comforting once you got below the surface thrills provided by any halfway competent ghost story.  A killer that might be doing it because of childhood trauma as well as these ghostly forces…ah, that seemed genuinely disturbing.

The decision I made to try and make Jack’s father a real person, one who was loved as well as hated by his flawed son, took me a long way down the road to my current beliefs concerning what is so blithely dismissed as “the horror novel.”  I believe these stories exist because we sometimes need to create unreal monsters and bogies to stand in for all the things we fear in our real lives…

That truth is that monsters are real, and ghosts are real, too.  They live inside us, and sometimes they win.

The Shining by Stephen King on Amazon

Doctor Sleep by Stephen King on Amazon /Doctor Sleep on Indiebound