Sunday, January 28, 2018

The Chalk Man (Book Review and Giveaway)

Title: The Chalk Man
Author: C. J. Tudor
Publication: Crown Publishing, Hardcover, 2018
Genre: Psychological Suspense
Giveaway:  I have one copy to give away to someone who likes suspense.  Please leave a message by March 3rd telling me why you would like to be entered and I will pick a winner.  U.S. only.

Plot: In 1986, Eddie and his friends are scruffy English schoolboys on the verge of adolescence. They spend their days biking around their sleepy little 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 a solitary adult who 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.  Alternating between flashbacks and the present day, The Chalk Man is the kind of suspense novel where the characters are compelling, albeit creepy, and where the twists will surprise even the most cynical reader.

Audience: Fans of authors such as Paula Hawkins, Ruth Ware, Jonathan Kellerman.

My Impressions: Set in the depressing present, looking back at the sordid past, this is a novel of suspense about four 12-year-old English boys, juggling a surprising number of secrets between them (some they know and some which are just beyond their grasp), and how those secrets have endured and poisoned their adult life.  Eddie Adams is at the heart of the story, both as the narrator and because he was in the right place to help save a life at the beginning of the story. As we all have heard, if you save someone’s life, it then belongs to you – or, at the very least, you share a special bond with that person.  And it is surely no coincidence that Eddie became a teacher like the odd Mr. Halloran, who taught at the boys’ school and, among other things, saved Eddie and his father from abuse and false accusations, respectively.  

The best books are about secrets, and this one is fast paced and full of quirky individuals. It was a quick and entertaining read, marred only by the lack of any appealing character. I was reminded of In the Woods by Tana French but she has a defter hand at creating multi-dimensional characters who are flawed yet likable. However, while French and her narrator Rob deliberately leave questions unanswered, C. J. Tudor is more considerate of her reader and clears up some loose ends at the end, which I appreciated.  Then she adds a startling new development on the last page, just to make sure we were still paying attention! Nice touch!

Source: I was provided a pre-publication copy of this book by TLC Book Tours and the publisher for review purposes.
Please join C.J. Tudor for other stops in her tour and follow her on Twitter
Tuesday, January 2nd: BookBub blog “18 Books for Stephen King Fans Coming in 2018”
Friday, January 5th: BookBub blog and Facebook video “16 Novels We’re Looking Forward to Reading in 2018”
Monday, January 8th: Katy’s Library blog and @katyslibrary
Monday, January 8th: Jenn’s Bookshelves
Tuesday, January 9th: @everlasting.charm
Tuesday, January 9th: Clues and Reviews and @cluesandreviews
Wednesday, January 10th: She Treads Softly
Wednesday, January 10th: Moonlight Rendezvous
Wednesday, January 10th: Tome Tender
Thursday, January 11th: Books a la Mode – author guest post
Thursday, January 11th: Rockin’ & Reviewing
Friday, January 12th: Snowdrop Dreams
January 15th: BookBub Blog – author guest post “Eight Thrillers with Scary Children/Teenagers”
Tuesday, January 16th: Bewitched Bookworms
Tuesday, January 16th: Booksie’s Blog
Wednesday, January 17th: Suzy Approved
Wednesday, January 17th: A Chick Who Reads
Thursday, January 18th: Lit Wit Wine Dine
Thursday, January 18th: Bibliotica
Friday, January 19th: Write Read Life
Friday, January 19th: 5 Minutes for Books
Monday, January 22nd: What is That Book About
Monday, January 22nd: Ms. Nose in a Book
Tuesday, January 23rd: A Bookworm’s World
Tuesday, January 23rd: The Book Diva’s Reads
Wednesday, January 24th: Girl Who Reads
Thursday, January 25th: Black ‘n Gold Girl’s Reviews
Friday, January 26th: Lovely Bookshelf
Monday, January 29th: Novel Gossip blog and @novelgossip
Monday, January 29th: A Literary Vacation
Monday, January 29th: Patricia’s Wisdom
Tuesday, January 30th: From the TBR Pile
Thursday, February 1st: No More Grumpy Bookseller

Thursday, January 18, 2018

The Wild Woman's Guide to Traveling the World (Book Review)

Title: The Wild Woman’s Guide to Traveling the World
Author: Kristin Rockaway
Publication: Trade Paperback, Center Street/Hachette Publishing, 2017
Genre: Fiction
Plot: Sophie is a busy IT consultant, used to leaving New York for weeks at a time to work for various clients, savoring the frequent flyer miles she earns to satisfy her wanderlust. When she meets Carson in Hong Kong, she is immediately attracted to a man who is her opposite – a carefree artist who isn’t interested in a traditional career but has been traveling around the world. Sophie thinks it’s a once in a lifetime fling and throws herself into it, ignoring the emails piling up from her boss and skipping an important meeting. When it’s time to part, she heads back to NYC where she is punished for her vacation inattention by being stuck preparing for audits with a lazy coworker. She misses Carson but his lack of ambition bothered her. Sophie is conflicted between her commitment to the tedious job that she has worked hard to get but doesn’t enjoy and her fear that leaving would make her a failure. It takes losing Carson to make Sophie realize he was right to challenge her to take risks and she can use her inner “wild woman” to find fulfillment – and that perhaps he is not gone for good . . .

Audience: Fans of women’s fiction such as Sophie Kinsella, Meg Cabot, and Emily Giffin

My Impressions: This book is a light-hearted escape, written for armchair travelers and those with their noses to the grindstone who yearn to escape from their jobs for an adventure. At times, it was easy to identify with Sophie who is very good at her job and used to working long hours, trying to get the most out of her work travel by adding a few hours exploring on her way home, as I used to do, but I also found her annoying and overcritical. When the story begins, Sophie is in Hong Kong with her best friend on vacation, and the tearful friend decides to leave after less than a day because she misses her boyfriend. That brought me right back to a time when my friend Christine canceled a trip to England (for a man, of course) with me after I had bought my plane ticket (it took years to forgive her)!

I did feel that Sophie brought most of her troubles on herself. If your boss reluctantly says you can take a vacation if you squeeze in a visit to an important client in Hong Kong and you fail to show up without even calling to cancel, that is rude and irresponsible even if you have met a sexy stranger. And if you have sex with a coworker at the holiday party, it is inevitable that you will have embarrassing interaction with him later. And if you call in sick, it is stupid to stop by your office later in the day looking healthy. And getting drunk in a strange city and picking up strangers in a bar as a woman traveling alone is the opposite of sensible, but has apparently been Sophie’s pattern during her travels. (I think these things were irksome because she was a little sanctimonious while being far from perfect herself!) However, all these missteps lead to Sophie gaining the courage to recognize and follow her dreams, and she gains maturity along the way.   I just wasn't vested in her right to a happy ending!

I enjoyed the cast of characters and the vivid descriptions of New York, especially the charming German restaurant downstairs from Sophie’s apartment. I am not a big beer fan but I would try a pint of Bitburger if ever I come across it!

About the Author: Like her heroine, Kristin Rockaway has an insatiable case of wanderlust. After working in the IT industry for far too many years, she traded the city for the surf and moved to Southern California, where she spends her days happily writing stories instead of software. This is her debut novel.   Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest.

Source: I was provided an electronic copy of this book by the author and publisher for review purposes.
Please join Kristin on her “wild woman” travels with TCL Book Tours by visiting these other bloggers:
Monday, January 22nd:
Friday, January 26th: Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers
Friday, January 26th: Wining Wife
Tuesday, February 6th: Rockin’ and Reviewing
Friday, February 9th: Bibliotica
Monday, February 12th: Literary Quicksand
Tuesday, February 13th: Palmer’s Page Turners
Wednesday, February 14th: Ms. Nose in a Book
Thursday, February 15th: Eliot’s Eats

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Need to Know (Book Review)

Title: Need to Know
Author: Karen Cleveland
Publication: Ballantine, Hardcover, January 2018
Genre: Suspense
Plot: Vivian is a dedicated CIA analyst who has been working on an algorithm to identify Russian agents in sleeper cells in the US. Anticipating a breakthrough, her blood runs cold when she sees her husband’s name on the list of five names. In an instant, she sees terrible choices before her – to turn in Matt, the beloved father of her four children, or to betray her job and country? Even worse, what if neither choice will keep her or her family safe?

Audience: Fans of psychological suspense; authors such as David Baldacci, Jodi Picoult, Nora Roberts

My Impressions: I loved this fast paced debut thriller about a working mother every reader will find appealing. Vivian is dedicated to her job but finds it stressful, and worries she is shortchanging her children by working long hours. When she sees her husband’s name in an encrypted file, she can’t believe it, yet cannot dismiss it, and is worried about how to bring it up in conversation when she has scrupulously avoided talking about her job and recognizes that accusing your husband of being a Russian spy is - at the very least - a relationship-changer.
Vivian and Matt, their children, and a cast of supporting characters are vividly depicted, making this book impossible to put down. Told alternatively in the terrifying present and in flashbacks recounting how Vivian’s and Matt’s lives came together, this thriller begins with a heart-stopping dilemma and does not slow down until the final page. It is plausible, convincing, and terrifying. It was so nerve-wracking I wished it would end, then wished there had been another hundred pages! It will be great to see how this CIA analyst-turned author develops.

Source: I was provided a pre-publication copy of this book by NetGalley and the publisher for review purposes. This was one of my Best Books of 2017 and will be published this month.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Favorite Reads of 2017

2017 was full of outstanding books! I read about 166 books, of which 18 were audio books and 19 were ebooks (a higher percentage than usual due to more electronic review copies and because I did more reading at the gym using a Kindle). Here is a link to my Goodreads year in review which shows everything I read. All but three books were fiction, but two of those made the favorites list listed by genre below:
Historical Fiction
The Black Madonna and Lords of Misrule – The Black Madonna is the first novel in Stella Riley’s Roundheads and Cavaliers series, and Lords of Misrule is the fourth. I had to go back to reread The Black Madonna after reading Lords of Misrule (not because I had forgotten anything, I just missed the characters). Set in the 17th century during the English Civil War, the primary male character is a true anti-hero, a sharp-tongued goldsmith trying to redeem his family’s honor while dodging the partisans on both sides of the English Civil War, most of whom look down on him but seek to borrow money from him. He comes into contact with red-headed Kate Maxwell and her warmhearted family, but has no time for friendship or romance or anything that will distract him from vengeance. You’ll see how that works out! Lords of Misrule is the long awaited story of Kate’s brother Eden but please don’t read out of order!  Fans of Stella Riley will be delighted her books are all in print.