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The Chalk Man

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In 1986, Eddie and his friends are just kids on the verge of adolescence. They spend their days biking around their sleepy English village and looking for any taste of excitement they can get. The chalk men are their secret code: little chalk stick figures they leave for one another as messages only they can understand. But then a mysterious chalk man leads them right to a dismembered body, and nothing is ever the same.

In 2016, Eddie is fully grown and thinks he’s put his past behind him, but then he gets a letter in the mail containing a single chalk stick figure. When it turns out that his friends got the same message, they think it could be a prank–until one of them turns up dead. That’s when Eddie realizes that saving himself means finally figuring out what really happened all those years ago.

The Chalk Man by C.J. Tudor

Publication Date: January 9, 2018 by Crown Publishing

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My Thoughts:

One of my goals for 2018 is to focus more on reading books by female authors. I find that crime/psychological fiction is often dominated by male authors and since it is the genre I find myself most drawn to, I hope to be more conscientious about the thrillers I choose to read this year. Needless to say, I was ecstatic to get my hands on a copy of C.J. Tudor’s The Chalk Man this month!

This is such a fun read! I essentially read this book in one sitting because I was hooked in immediately. The Chalk Man has all the best elements of a crime fiction novel – an unreliable narrator, well-developed characters, and a murder that intertwines multiple characters and story lines. I particularly loved the format – chapters switch back and forth between the present in 2016 and the summer of the crime in 1986. There was a lot to dig through with the plot and I appreciated the subtle hints and nuances that the author leaves as the novel progresses.

The Chalk Man is also not so straightforward in plot either – I particularly loved the twists that Tudor included at the end of the novel since it made me question everything I had previously learned through the narrator’s point of view. Very similar to Catherine Burns’ The Visitors , Tudor’s novel is a fast-paced, psychological thriller with layers of plot twists and untrustworthy characters.

I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review.

 

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Red Clocks

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In this ferociously imaginative novel, abortion is once again illegal in America, in-vitro fertilization is banned, and the Personhood Amendment grants rights of life, liberty, and property to every embryo. In a small Oregon fishing town, five very different women navigate these new barriers alongside age-old questions surrounding motherhood, identity, and freedom.

Ro, a single high-school teacher, is trying to have a baby on her own, while also writing a biography of Eivør, a little-known 19th-century female polar explorer. Susan is a frustrated mother of two, trapped in a crumbling marriage. Mattie is the adopted daughter of doting parents and one of Ro’s best students, who finds herself pregnant with nowhere to turn. And Gin is the gifted, forest-dwelling homeopath, or “mender,” who brings all their fates together when she’s arrested and put on trial in a frenzied modern-day witch hunt.

Red Clocks by Leni Zumas

Publication Date: January 16, 2018 by Little, Brown and Company

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My Thoughts:

I’ve seen a lot of reviews that compare Zumas’ novel to Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and while both are feminist dystopian novels that deal heavily with reproductive rights/issues, I think it’s important to recognize Red Clocks as its own unique story to avoid certain expectations going into the storyline.

It took me some time to adjust to the formatting of the novel – chapters rotate among four major characters (The Mender, The Daughter, The Wife, and The Biographer) with each chapter broken up by a section of the biographer’s current work on a novel about a female polar explorer. At first, I was worried that I wouldn’t feel connected to the characters just based on the writing style and lack of names, but the reader slowly learns the identities of all four characters as the story progresses. I also finally realized after a few chapters the brilliance of titling each woman by a category rather than a name, as it provided further commentary on how women are often identified by their traditional roles instead of their individual identities. I’m not sure if that was what Zumas meant by this stylistic choice, but I found it to be a clever way to highlight the struggles women go through with societal pressures to fit certain molds (i.e. wife, mother, etc.).

‘I want you to learn a lesson from this. Don’t repeat your mistakes. Like I tell my daughters: be the cow they have to buy.’

‘Sorry?’

‘Don’t be the free milk.’

What made Red Clocks so terrifying is how closely it resembled our political climate. It doesn’t seem far-fetched to imagine a country where Roe vs. Wade has been overturned and a fetus is considered a human being. The interactions between men and women often reminded me of things I’ve heard or even had said to me and the frustration, anger, and sadness all four women experience for various reasons rang true for me – either because I have felt it myself, or because there’s a woman in my life who has gone through it themselves.

Accused witches in the seventeenth century were dunked in rivers or ponds. The innocent drowned. The guilty floated, surviving to be tortured or killed some other way.

This isn’t 1693! the biographer wants to yell.

She shakes her head.

Don’t just shake your head.

While she hid out in Newville, they closed the clinics and defined Planned Parenthood and amended the Constitution. She wanted on her computer screen.

Don’t just sit there watching.

Red Clocks is such a frightening and poignant read because it hits so close to home. There is something in this novel that any woman could relate to and it’s a reminder of how easily one’s rights may be taken away when you become too complacent or comfortable – to think it could never happen here when it so easily can at any moment. While it would be easy to assume this is a depressing novel, I actually felt empowered once I was finished. This is a book that every woman (particularly in America) should read as it’s a reminder of what we are capable of even in the darkest of times if we refuse to settle for what men tell us to accept for ourselves.

I Love You Too Much

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Thirteen-year-old Paul is a lovable but unloved boy on the vulnerable cusp of manhood. Paul lives in Paris, in a world of privilege where beauty dominates, adults are intent on their own satisfaction, and everything looks perfect. There’s nowhere to get dirty, or so it appears.

His mother is glamorous and powerful, distracted by a younger lover and her own fear of aging. His wealthy father is desperately seeking to assuage his endless discontent. Paul lives between the two apartments of his broken family, looked after by a Filipino babysitter who hasn’t seen her own children in years. When Paul meets Scarlett, a beguiling classmate, he uncovers the cruel gulf between the world as it is and how he imagined it to be. It’s only a matter of time before Paul witnesses a shocking event and inherits a burden he’s far too young to shoulder.

A dazzling coming-of-age story, I Love You Too Much is a devastating literary debut born from the saying, Je t’aime trop: a distinctly French expression of excessive love. In a world of abundance, a Paris where parents don’t always mean what they say, Paul must look beyond his glamorous home to find a love that’s real.

I Love You Too Much by Alicia Drake

Publication Date: January 23, 2018 by Little, Brown and Company

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My Thoughts:

I went into this book without any real expectations – I was unfamiliar with the author and had not previously heard of the book prior to Little Brown graciously offering to send me a free ARC. This was my first official read of 2018 and was an easy five star rating!

Paul is such a sweet, naive, lovable character and it was often painful and felt voyeuristic to witness many of the interactions he has with family members and classmates. While I didn’t find his parents likable, Paul’s point of view shows two adults that are just so unhappy with their own lives that they don’t have the time to even think about their son’s happiness. Paul is at the pre-adolescent age where he has yet to recognize his parents as individual’s with flaws and rather views much of their behavior as his own fault – something that makes his story so much sadder.

Drake’s writing is really what made me fall in love with this book – she paints a picture of a Paris I’ve only visited once and yet I felt like I was there with Paul throughout the book.  While I loved the complicated characters and was most affected by Paul’s experiences, there is something about the setting that really adds to the overall atmosphere of the novel.

This is definitely a book I would recommend to someone who loves coming-of-age stories and is okay with books that don’t necessarily have happy or neatly resolved endings. I am forever grateful that Little Brown offered to send me my copy! Alicia Drake is definitely an author who will stay on my radar for future releases.

The Visitors

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Marion Zetland lives with her domineering older brother, John in a decaying Georgian townhouse on the edge of a northern seaside resort. A timid spinster in her fifties who still sleeps with teddy bears, Marion does her best to shut out the shocking secret that John keeps in the cellar.

Until, suddenly, John has a heart attack and Marion is forced to go down to the cellar herself and face the gruesome truth that her brother has kept hidden.

As questions are asked and secrets unravel, maybe John isn’t the only one with a dark side.

The Visitors by Catherine Burns

Publication Date: September 26, 2017 by Gallery/Scout Press

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My Thoughts:

Oh my god, what is there to say about this book other than I absolutely loved it?!

The Visitors is a psychological thriller with an unreliable narrator who is (semi) equal parts sympathetic and not. This is less of a traditional “horror” story and more of a character study which just happens to be more up my alley.

The entire novel is told from the point of view of Marion, a 50-something woman who has never lived anywhere other than her family home. At the time the reader is introduced to her, both of her parents have passed away and she is living with her older brother. Marion has never had a romantic relationship and only failed attempts at friendship throughout her life. It’s difficult to determine if she’s intellectually disabled or just so damaged from her disturbing childhood that she’s come to embody the type of person her mother always told her she was.

Early on, it becomes clear to the reader that Marion is aware of what her brother John is doing in the cellar and her complacency makes it difficult to feel entirely sympathetic for her. Yet, there were still times where my heart broke for the younger Marion and it’s easy at times to understand why Marion never stands up to her brother. In the glimpses we get of her upbringing, John is painted as a sociopath early on without ever being directly implicated in some of the awful things that occur.

The chapters switch back and forth between the present and Marion’s memories of her childhood which slowly begins to put together the pieces for the reader to understand who Marion and John are as adults. Traumatic experiences are told only from Marion’s point of view so it often is left to the reader to make inferences – something that becomes questionable by the end of the novel and left me having doubts about my earlier assumptions about Marion’s character.

For all his faults, John loved her and she loved him. Without him there would be no one. He was there on birthdays and at Christmas. He might only buy her something cheap or forget to buy her a present at all, but at least he was there. Someone to get angry with for not doing the right thing was better than no one at all.

Despite how horrific her brother is, Marion is so frightened of being alone that she often justifies his behavior. It was easy to identify Marion as a victim for much of the book, but yet it was still uncomfortable to know she could have done something to stop him. As the novel progresses, Marion’s innocence becomes questionable as well and a lot of questions are left unanswered by the end of the book – a style that isn’t for all readers, but I happen to love!

The Visitors is a slow-burning story that leaves a lot up to the reader to determine since everything is told solely from Marion’s point of view. I would recommend this book to readers who prefer psychological thrillers that make you think rather than those that are more plot-driven.

The Massacre of Mankind

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It has been 14 years since the Martians invaded England. The world has moved on, always watching the skies but content that we know how to defeat the Martian menace. Machinery looted from the abandoned capsules and war-machines has led to technological leaps forward. The Martians are vulnerable to earth germs. The Army is prepared.

So when the signs of launches on Mars are seen, there seems little reason to worry. Unless you listen to one man, Walter Jenkins, the narrator of Wells’ book. He is sure that the Martians have learned, adapted, understood their defeat.

He is right.

Thrust into the chaos of a new invasion, a journalist – sister-in-law to Walter Jenkins – must survive, escape and report on the war.

The Massacre of Mankind has begun.

The Massacre of Mankind by Stephen Baxter

Publication Date: August 22, 2017 by Crown Publishing

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My Thoughts:

The Massacre of Mankind is not a “bad” novel – I just wasn’t the right audience for it. It’s intended for those who want an authentic continuation of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds in both writing style and plot. The story picks up where Wells’ left off and while I appreciated the female narrative, this read more like a war novel than sci-fi fiction and I started to feel as if I was drowning in the heavily detailed prose.

I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review.

First Love

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From “one of Britain’s most original young writers” (The Observer), a blistering account of a marriage in crisis and a portrait of a woman caught between withdrawal and self-assertion, depression and rage.

Neve, the novel’s acutely intelligent narrator, is beset by financial anxiety and isolation, but can’t quite manage to extricate herself from her volatile partner, Edwyn. Told with emotional remove and bracing clarity, First Love is an account of the relationship between two catastrophically ill-suited people walking a precarious line between relative calm and explosive confrontation.

First Love by Gwendoline Riley

Publication Date: 2017 by Granta Books

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My Thoughts:

First Love is a vicious, cerebral little book and apparently exactly what I needed to kick-start my recent reading slump. Reading Riley’s novel feels a bit voyeuristic at times and her use of dialogue really does a fantastic job of playing out the tension as the reader witnesses the day-to-day of Neve and Edwyn’s dysfunctional relationship.

Finding out what you already know. Repeatingly. That’s not sane, is it? And while he might have said that ‘this was how he was’, for me it continued to be frightening, panic-making, to hear the low, pleading sounds I’d start making, whenever he was sharp with me. This wasn’t how I spoke. (Except it was.) This wasn’t me, this crawling, cautious creature. (Except it was.) I defaulted to it very easily. And he let me. Why? I wonder now how much he even noticed, hopped up as he was. No, I don’t believe he did notice. This was the lesson, I think. That none of this was personal.

Despite the entire novel being told from Neve’s point of view, she doesn’t paint a picture of herself being a victim and this makes the novel feel even more threatening since it’s unclear how much she plays a role in their unhealthy dynamic or if she is just unclear herself how much she is to “blame” for Edwyn’s horrible treatment of her. It was gut-wrenching to read through these dialogues and see how easy it can be to become stuck in the continual cycle of an abusive relationship. She may love Edwyn but the reader is never certain of Neve’s recognition that her love for him doesn’t make his treatment of her acceptable or normal.

This is a stunner of a book and I can’t wait to get my hands on the rest of Gwendoline Riley’s work!

Chronicle of a Last Summer

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Cairo, 1984. A blisteringly hot summer. A young girl in a sprawling family house. Her days pass quietly: listening to a mother’s phone conversations, looking at the Nile from a bedroom window, watching the three state-sanctioned TV stations with the volume off, daydreaming about other lives. Underlying this claustrophobic routine is mystery and loss. Relatives mutter darkly about the newly-appointed President Mubarak. Everyone talks with melancholy about the past. People disappear overnight. Her own father has left, too—why, or to where, no one will say.

We meet her across three decades, from youth to adulthood: As a six-year old absorbing the world around her, filled with questions she can’t ask; as a college student and aspiring filmmaker pre-occupied with love, language, and the repression that surrounds her; and then later, in the turbulent aftermath of Mubarak’s overthrow, as a writer exploring her own past. Reunited with her father, she wonders about the silences that have marked and shaped her life.

At once a mapping of a city in transformation and a story about the shifting realities and fates of a single Egyptian family, Yasmine El Rashidi’s Chronicle of a Last Summer traces the fine line between survival and complicity, exploring the conscience of a generation raised in silence.

Chronicle of a Last Summer by Yasmine El Rashidi

Publication Date: June 13, 2017 by Tim Duggan Books

Goodreads


My Thoughts:

For such a small book, Chronicle of a Last Summer is a slow, difficult read. I felt like this pace was mostly due to El Rashidi’s prose because although the content itself is heavy, the author’s writing style forces the reader to slow down. As someone who reads very quickly, this is not a book I could see reading during a commute or while in public since it demands your full attention.

That is not to say that El Rashidi’s novel is difficult to grasp, unless the reader does not have much knowledge on Egypt’s political history. I was grateful for my own culture/history coursework and personal interest in international affairs since it helped to clarify some of the topics that the author discusses in an intimate way that doesn’t lend to much clarification.

The book is broken into three different sections: 1984, 1998, and 2014. I struggled the most with the first section (1984) since the narrative flow felt very fragmented as it was told from the POV of the narrator at a very young age. I’ve never done well with novels told from a young perspective and Chronicle of a Last Summer was no exception. I was glad I powered through though since I felt most connected to the narrator during the section on 1998. I also found this portion to be the most powerful since it is during a time where our young narrator is beginning to find a voice and a purpose during such a turbulent time in her city.

While I enjoyed the book as a whole, I still didn’t feel entirely connected to the story. I think ultimately that El Rashidi’s prose, while beautiful, was not a good fit for me. I prefer coming-of-age stories to feel a bit more personal and I found something lacking in my connection with the narrator.

I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review.