Book Review: Unbury Carol by Josh Malerman

Carol has a condition that sometimes puts her into a coma-like state that makes her appear dead, except she can still hear everything going on around her. When her best friend dies and she falls into the coma, her husband, thinking he's the last person left who knows, pretends she dead and enacts his plan to finally get rid of her. Except he forgot about James, her ex-lover, and the one other person who knows, and now James is riding the trail to try and save Carol before she's buried.

Book Review: Unbury Carol by Josh Malerman | reading, books, book reviews, fantasy, paranormal/urban fantasy, western
Title: Unbury Carol
Pages: 384
My Rating: 3 Stars
More Info: Goodreads, Amazon, Goodreads


*I received an ecopy of this book via NetGalley. This has not influenced my review.*

Although this book was about a woman in a supernatural coma, it actually had quite a bit going on. I struggled with the slow pace at first, but I got more invested as the story went on and the plot lines for all the characters started converging and it really became a race against time. Would Carol wake up before her burial? Would her ex-lover James get there in time to stop the burial if she didn’t? Would Smoke, the triggerman hired to kill James, succeed before James got there? Would Dwight, Carol’s no-good, scheming husband who was using her condition to finally get rid of her, lose his mind or incriminate himself somehow? Would Sheriff Opal figure out what was going on?

The characters were interesting, and each one was unique. I liked Carol for how, even stuck in a coma-like state, she kept fighting, trying to move, trying to do something to save herself. Dwight was a scumbag who was trying to kill his wife, so obviously I didn’t like him, but I did wonder what he might do as he got more and more panicked and anxious. Then there was Smoke, who was so villainous he made Dwight’s murder scheme look like child’s play. Smoke was messed up and used his specially made lower leg prosthetics to spill oil around and burn people alive. Last but not least, there was James. I didn’t like that he left Carol all those years ago just because he couldn’t handle her condition, but he felt guilty about that and set out to help her when she needed it. And really, who doesn’t like a mysterious outlaw with a good heart? 😉 I even liked Sheriff Opal for how he didn’t immediately jump to conclusions but was rightfully suspicious and not an idiot about things either.

One thing I didn’t like though was the head-hopping/omniscience. I found myself getting confused sometimes when I thought I was in one character’s head only to suddenly be told another character’s thoughts in the next sentence. And there were a lot of characters whose thoughts/POVs we got even though they didn’t all seem necessary.

I’m also disappointed that a certain carrot was dangled in front of the readers throughout the entire book, but then we never got an answer. I guess that was the point, to keep the reader wondering, but I found it frustrating.

Something that could go either way for readers was the supernatural aspect. It was written in a way that made me unsure what was real and what was just happening in characters’ heads. But I think it was meant to be this way, I felt like it made more sense as the story continued, and it’s the kind of thing each reader will come to their own conclusion about.

Overall though, this was a unique paranormal western story with some mystery, some magic, some darkness, and some outlaws, and you just might be surprised at who the real hero turns out to be.


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  1. Adrian

    Nice review. I’m dropping mine tomorrow. I also had a big problem with the pacing which I found deathly slow. Some of the characters were cool but man it was so damn slow.

  2. Luna & Saturn

    So glad you reviewed Unbury Carol 🙂 Like we mentioned in your first Recs post, Unbury Carol seemed like the type of book we would love. We’re feeling a bit iffy now after reading your review – we dislike books which are waaaaaaay too slow at the start and then suddenly jolts into a lot of action. And that one carrot for which we never get an answer, that’ll probably frustrate us a lot. But it’s nice you enjoyed it. A really helpful review! 🙂

    ~ Luna & Saturn @ Pendragons

    1. Kristen Burns

      I can understand the iffy feeling. It was pretty slow to start, but I did enjoy it in the end. But ugh, that carrot they dangled but didn’t answer really frustrated me!

  3. ShootingStarsMag

    I’m really curious about this one, as I loved Bird Box. I feel like that one could be seen as kind of slow too, but this sounds a bit slower in pace. I’m not sure what I’ll think, but I do want to check it out! Thanks for your honest thoughts.


  4. Bookworm Brandee

    This one does sound interesting but those things you mentioned that you didn’t like….yeah, I wouldn’t like those things either. I hate being confused about who’s talking when reading because it takes you right out of the story when you find out you weren’t in the head you thought you were. And I really don’t like a dangling carrot that’s left dangling. What was the point?? But still. The well developed characters are a plus and the story does sound pretty good overall so I’ll have to check it out sometime. 🙂

    1. Kristen Burns

      Head-hopping is one of my biggest pet peeves because it definitely takes me out of the story. And the dangling carrot was so frustrating! But yeah, at least I still enjoyed other things about the book 🙂 I hope you like it if you try it!

  5. Barb (boxermommyreads)

    Oooooh, now you have me curious…who is the real hero? I have this one coming in subscription box and you have me even more excited about it now. I’m sort of in the mood for a moody strange western. Now there’s something I never thought I would say!

    1. Kristen Burns

      I knew I’d get someone with that last line *laughs evilly* 😛 I think if you’re in the mood for moody strange western, then you might really enjoy this one!

  6. Daniela Ark

    oh well I think you are going to make me read westerns LOL

    BUT I do have to say… even though I love outlwas and dark paranormal stories… Being paralyzed while I can still hear everything going on around her is one of my more feared nightmares. I don;t know if I’d liek to read about that.

    Don’t tell me don’t! LOL xoxo

    1. Kristen Burns

      Lol one day I’ll get you to read one 😉

      I agree, that would actually be super horrible and terrifying, so it kinda freaked me out a bit too!

      Shhhh the more you talk about HD3 the more I want to say something about it, haha. But you said you don’t want to know ANYTHING, so I’m trying to not say anything!

      1. Daniela Ark

        haha I KNOW that’s why I keep saying “don;t tell me!” and you asked WHY is not on my “reading next” list. HAHA because I’m not as organized as you are! The release is not until mid May and I won’t get to it until last moment you know that! ;-P

          1. Daniela Ark

            That would be if I actually stuck to the list LOL!

            BUT you know this bookworm’s habits better than anyone [even my own family] so you know that I don’t 🙂

            you win the organized prize between the two of us for sure! xoxo

  7. Greg

    Yikes that would suck. And her husband clearly does too lol. Definitely a unique premise! I’m already hoping the husband meets some horrible demise?? Smoke sounds like a badass (in a bad way). And wait a minute… that lst line if yours- who the real hero turns out to be? Ooh do we have some misdirection/ last minute plot twist going here?

    We definitely have more Old West/ weird west/ whatever stuff coming out and I’m kinda here for it??

    1. Kristen Burns

      It would be terrifying! Lol the husband was awful, and yeah, Smoke was definitely badass but in a terrible way. Honestly the real hero thing was one of my favorite things about the story, but I won’t spoil it!

      I feel there’s so much more weird west stuff than I ever thought there was!

  8. Alit

    I’d say in general I felt about the exact same! I think I gave it 3.5 stars? Now, I can’t remember what the “carrot” is that they’re dangling in front of us???? What did I forget?

    1. Kristen Burns

      How did James shoot that guy without drawing his gun??? Did he actually have magic? Cuz he also did other things that were like magic. But we never got an explanation!

      1. Ali

        Well now the details are getting fuzzy so I’m 100% on this, but I thought that was sort of explained by the last bit in the end when the other guy helped kill our villain. Like that was how it happened?

        1. Kristen Burns

          I… don’t think so? Ok *SPOILERS* (in case anyone else is reading this)

          He let someone else pretend to be him sleeping at the end so that he could get the jump on Smoke. But I don’t see how that explains how he won a shootout in broad daylight with a whole crowd of people w/o drawing his gun. Or how he made that gun go off when he was in the prison cell on his way to get to Carol. Or how he did what he did to Dwight at the end with all the strings (that was him, right? my memory is a bit fuzzy too lol). My best guess is that he did have magic?

  9. verushka

    … wait, this is a Western?I don’t know why, but I never realised that before — it’s not a genre I enjoy, so I don’t know any cues for it in the blurb until you mentioned it in the review and it hit me. Carol’s condition is not one I enjoy watching or reading to be honest — the thought of being aware but unable to do anything is just the scariest thing to me.

    1. Kristen Burns

      Sorry to disappoint, but yep, it’s a western! Outlaws and riding trails are generally western things, I think, so now you can know to look for those 🙂 But yeah, I can understand that, being essentially paralyzed but awake would be absolutely terrifying.

  10. Lorna

    Is there an explanation for her supernatual comas? And the changing of POV from one line to the next would have me tearing my hair out I think. Probably a good thing that I’m not a fan of old westerns in this case!

    1. Kristen Burns

      There’s not much explanation for anything, now that I think about it. I don’t recall there being an explanation for the comas, it’s just part of the premise you have to accept. But yeah, the POV jumping is something that really bothers me.

  11. JJ @ This Dark Material

    A little bummed to hear about the slow pacing, but the plot still has me intrigued. Like one of the other commenters said, I haven’t seen a rave review for this one yet, so I may hold off and read Bird Box first instead. Loved the breakdown in your review! 🙂

    1. Kristen Burns

      I’ve seen some great reviews on GR, if that makes you feel any better? But it does have a slow pace, in the beginning especially. I’ve definitely seen more rave reviews for Bird Box though, so that might be the place to start!

  12. Stephanie Jane

    The synopsis for this had me intrigued, but now I’m not so sure. Slow pace often doesn’t bother me if the prose is good enough to compensate, but I do like to know whose POV I’m reading and that unresolved carrot would annoy me!

  13. Sam @ Spines in a Line

    That sounds so cool and also terrifying! I’ve had the same issue with changing POVs in some of the books I’ve read. It really annoys me when it’s not clearly marked, especially the books that jump around in time too

    1. Kristen Burns

      It would be terrifying! But yeah, head-hopping like that is one of my biggest bookish pet peeves cuz it throws me out of the story when it confuses me :-/

  14. Becky @ A Fool's Ingenuity

    Excellent review for a book which sounds like it should be hella confusing but also seems really cool. The pacing issue could be an annoyance but I’m glad to see you got really invested in the story. It sounds like there were a few cons to this book for you and it’ll definitely make me debate whether to pick it up but it seems like a really cool read.

  15. Olivia Roach

    I don’t mind a lot of plot lines which all come together at a certain point, as long as there aren’t too many that are doing that. I also do like head-hopping but a clear distinction has to be made when we swap jump into someone else’s POV so the reader is always on track and aware of what is going on!!

    I feel like slow pacing is one of the biggest problems you tend to have with books DD: It can be such a hard thing to get right I guess…

    1. Kristen Burns

      Well, if there’s a clear distinction, it’s not really head-hopping, it just multiple POVs, which can still be bothersome to me if there are a bunch of unnecessary ones but is at least not confusing. But yeah, when the POV jumps from paragraph to paragraph or line to line, it just throws me out of the story cuz it confuses me.

      Lol do I have that problem a lot? I don’t even mind a slow pace if I’m into the characters enough, but it does have to be done right.