This is a series of reviews of my favorite books published between 2010 and 2019. These are shorter reviews of good reads published in 2014.
Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes (2014)
In Detroit, a young boy is murdered and the top half of his body attached to the legs of a fawn, kicking off a hunt for a serial killer-avantgarde artist who is definitely operating outside of the mainstream. It took me a while to immerse myself in Broken Monsters. The story is told from several points of view, and Beukes takes her time introducing all the characters. Connections between them don’t become clear until the end. This is not just a police procedural about an investigation into a string of bizarre murders; it’s also an examination of urban decay and, I think, literal decay between the edges of our reality and other places. Appropriately set in the infamously apocalyptic city of Detroit, Broken Monsters is the written equivalent of all those haunting photographs of the abandoned city, which are mentioned frequently in the story.
Crooked Heart by Lissa Evans (2014)
Ten-year-old Noel Bostock is an odd boy: smart, a reader, independent. He lives with his godmother until she goes senile and then dies. Left bereft, Noel is evacuated with other London children at the start of the Blitz, when Vee takes him in on impulse. Vee lives hand-to-mouth, always with some small scam going, always on the point of eviction; she has a shiftless son and a doddering mother. Together, Noel and Vee are an odd couple, but Noel begins to help Vee improve her scams, and their relationship deepens as the bombing of London gets under way. This is a sweet and charming book about how people need each other, quiet for the most part, and often humorous, which is a take on the Blitz I’ve not yet seen. (I particularly enjoyed Vee’s mother’s letters to the prime minister and the scenes in the crowded shelters during the air raids.) I’m not sure how well it will stick, but I found it a light-hearted and quick read and an antidote for all the horrifying WWII books I’ve been getting burned out on.
Bird Box by Josh Malerman (2014)
Suddenly, people who see mysterious creatures turn violent and attack one another or themselves, so everyone who survives must barricade themselves indoors and not open their eyes outside. First of all, the premise for this book is ridiculous. Malerman handles this by not making the story at all about the “creatures” but instead about the effects of having to avoid seeing them. Also, this is a horror story, not a survival story, so Malerman glosses over the niceties of staying alive in such an environment. As a result, he keeps the tension high and the pace quick, with several genuinely creepy moments, and the story works on that level as long as the reader doesn’t get overly concerned about the details. Not deep, but a nice, creepy little read.