The Chalk Man

9781524760984The Chalk Man by CJ Tudor (which is a rad name) Her Twitter, FB, bio

I read it as a: hardback

Source: publicist ARC

Length: 277 pp

Publisher: Crown

Year: 2018

Thoughts: This was a debut? Holy shit! It was so good! Good job, debut novelist! The tension was strong throughout and the plot twists were interesting. I did not guess them all, and I am generally really good at figuring out whodunnit. And that last scene! Ahh! Loved it. Such a great end.

The characters were believable and complex. They were not all likeable, including the protagonist, which is fine. I don’t necessarily have to have all likeable characters, especially not in a murder mystery. But in this case, it worked well. Eddie was sometimes a bit weak, but that was part of the theme. Metal Mickey was the token sociopath of the group. Fat Gav was the leader and general peacemaker. Nicky was the tomboy. They all had their roles, and various iterations of them played out over time. The changing group dynamics was as interesting to watch as the mystery itself, which was really well done.

There wasn’t a lot of gore on the page, which may appeal to some readers. Gore on the page doesn’t bother me as long as it’s not kids or animals being hurt. Hurt grown-ups, but not kids or animals. I think leaving it out here, though, added a Hitchcock-esque feel to the novel, making it creepier than it would have been otherwise.

The only thing I didn’t like – or maybe it isn’t that I disliked it, more that I felt it was absent – was that it didn’t really feel like the earlier times were in the 80s. For example, with the show Stranger Things, you KNOW you’re in the 80s because of the ubiquitous presence or allusions to D&D, the new Star Wars films (NOT the ones with Poe Dameron), Trapper Keepers, the music, and just general 80s pop culture permeating the setting. I didn’t really get that so much in this book. It felt more like a generic time period than specifically set in the 80s.

But seriously, that last scene! Totally made up for anything I missed from the 80s.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

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Read Harder 2018 – in the works!

book fantasySo the 2018 Read Harder challenge posted a few weeks ago. I spent way more time than I ought to have done figuring out what books I might use for each task. I have as much fun doing research as I do actually reading, I think. #nerdalert. I managed to get a couple to double dip, which is awesome, and allowed for the challenge. I’m adding another layer of challenge to myself and will only use books I already own and haven’t gotten around to reading, or will use my library, to complete this challenge. I will not buy any more books this year. Unless someone gives me a gift card. Or I get a reading copy from a publicist.

Below is my tentative 2018 Read Harder list, which will probably change as I read throughout the year. It is always interesting to see what I had planned to read vs what I ended up actually reading…

  1. A book published posthumously: Northanger Abbey – Jane Austen OR The Aeneid
  2. A book of true crime: The Wicked Boy – Kate Summerscale or The Monster of Florence – Douglas Preston & Mario Spezi
  3. A classic of genre fiction (i.e. mystery, sci fi/fantasy, romance): The Moon is a Harsh Mistress – Robert A. Heinlein
  4. A comic written and illustrated by the same person: Perspolis – Marjane Satrapi
  5. A book set in or about one of the five BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, or South Africa): The Bear and the Nightingale – Katherine Arden
  6. A book about nature: The Long, Long Life of Trees – Joanna Stafford
  7. A western: Topaz – Beverly Jenkins
  8. A comic written or illustrated by a person of color: Perspolis – Marjane Satrapi
  9. A book of colonial or postcolonial literature: Interpreter of Maladies – Jhumpa Lahiri or Half a Yellow Sun – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  10. A romance novel by or about a person of color: Topaz – Beverly Jenkins
  11. A children’s classic published before 1980: The Witch of Blackbird Pond – Elizabeth George Speare
  12. A celebrity memoir: Wishful Drinking – Carrie Fisher (or maybe The Princess Diarist)
  13. An Oprah Book Club selection: Midwives – Chris Bohjalian
  14. A book of social science: Homo Deus – Yuval Noah Harari or We Should All Be Feminists – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  15. A one-sitting book: won’t know for sure until I read it, though I think The Witch of Blackbird Pond would do the job. It’s short.
  16. The first book in a new-to-you YA or middle grade series: Howl’s Moving Castle – Diana Wynn Jones or One Crazy Summer – Rita Williams-Garcia
  17. A sci fi novel with a female protagonist by a female author: ALL the NK Jemisin books! OR An Unkindness of Ghosts – Rivers Solomon. Or the space books by Anne McCaffrey (The Ship Who Sang, etc)
  18. A comic that isn’t published by Marvel, DC, or Image: Perspolis – Marjane Satrapi
  19. A book of genre fiction in translation: The Three-Body Problem – Cixin Liu
  20. A book with a cover you hate: maybe One Crazy Summer – Rita Williams-Garcia? I hate the way the copy I have depicts the girls. Not a fan of cartoonish book covers.
  21. A mystery by a person of color or LGBTQ+ author: The Cutting Season – Attica Locke OR Devil in a Blue Dress – Walter Mosley
  22. An essay anthology: View from the Cheap Seats – Neil Gaiman or The Sweetness of a Simple Life – Diana Beresford-Kroeger
  23. A book with a female protagonist over the age of 60: Mrs Queen Takes the Train – William Kuhn
  24. An assigned book you hated (or never finished): something by Charles Dickens OR The Aeneid

 

Read Harder 2017 – 95.8% Complete

bookstoreSo I didn’t finish every task on the 2017 Read Harder Challenge. Try as I might, I couldn’t find a book that kept my attention for task #4. But 23 out of 24 tasks complete, a couple in multiple ways, is pretty good in my book, so I’m ok with not reading one book that I maybe should have. I read a ton of other books this year on top of the RH Challenge anyway, partly for myself and partly because I was reviewing them, either for the Historical Novel Society or for Discovering Diamonds. All told, I read 85 books in 2017, though there are still a few days left. I might squeeze in one or two more.  

So my final list ended up as follows (my originally planned books are in parentheses):

  1. Read a book about sports: Riding Lessons – Sara Gruen (The Sport of Kings – CE Morgan)
  2. Read a debut novel: Scribe of Siena – Melodie Winawer (Cinder – Marissa Meyer)
  3. Read a book about books: My Life with Bob – Pamela Paul (The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane – Katherine Howe)
  4. Read a book set in Central / S. America by a Central/S American author: did not finish. I tried Perla by Carolina de Robertis, a collection of short stories by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, one of Isabel Allende’s novels, and some random book I found in the library. I was just bored. It was the last task I got to. (I’d planned to read House of Mist – Maria Luisa Bombal)
  5. Read a book by an immigrant or with a central immigration narrative: Listen, Slowly – Thanhha Lai (Funny in Farsi – Firoozeh Dumas)
  6. Read an all-ages comic: Phoebe and her Unicorn – Dana Simpson (read as planned)
  7. Read a book published between 1900 – 1950: The Door in the Wall – Marguerite di Angeli (had also considered I Capture the Castle, And Then There Were None, 1984, or The House of Mirth)
  8. Read a travel memoir: Wild – Cheryl Strayed (Gorge – Kara Richardson Whitely)
  9. Read a book you’ve read before: The Door in the Wall – Marguerite di Angeli (didn’t have one in mind)
  10. Read a book set within 100 miles of your location: Stargirl – Jerry Spinelli (I’d planned The Turquoise Ledge – Leslie Marmon Silko)
  11. Read a book more than 5000 miles from your location: so many. Listen, Slowly – Thanhha Lai; Leonardo da Vinci – Walter Isaacson; the Du Lac Chronicles – Mary Anne Yarde; GoddessGirls 1-4; Deeds of Darkness – Mel Starr; Season of Blood – Jeri Westerson; A Secret History of Witches – Louisa Morgan; An Argument of Blood – JA Ironside; Down the Common – Ann Baer; Homegoing – Yaa Gyosi; Half Sick of Shadows – Richard Abbott; Hunting Prince Dracula – Kerri Maniscalco; The Colour of Cold Blood – Toni Mount; The Colour of Gold – Toni Mount; The Eleventh Hour – MJ Trow; The Inquisitor’s Tale – Adam Gidwitz; Daughter of Destiny – Nicola Evelina; The Thief Taker – CS Quinn; The Scribe of Siena – Melodie Winawer; H is for Hawk – Helen Macdonald. (Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala; Flirting with French; The Tale of Raw Head and Bloody Bones; The World We Found; The Light Between Oceans)
  12. Read a fantasy novel: Miranda and Caliban – Jacqueline Carey (didn’t have one in mind)
  13. Read a nonfiction book about technology: Astrophysics for People in a Hurry – Neil Degrasse Tyson (Bringing Columbia Home by Michael Leinbach or Rise of the Rocket Girls by Nathalia Holt)
  14. Read a book about war: Listen, Slowly – Thanhha Lai (House of Splendid Isolation – Edna O’Brien)
  15. Read a YA or MG book by an author who identifies as LGBTQ+: Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel – Sara Farizan; Tattoo Atlas – Tim Floreen (read as planned)
  16. Read a book that has been banned or frequently challenged in your country: The Color Purple – Alice Walker (The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood)
  17. Read a classic by an author of color: The Color Purple – Alice Walker (Lakota Woman – Mary Crow Dog)
  18. Read a superhero comic with a female lead: The Legend of Wonder Woman vol 1 (Captain Marvel – Kelly Sue DeConnick)
  19. Read a book in which a character of color goes on a spiritual journey: Labyrinth Lost – Zoraida Cordova (Ceremony – Leslie Marmon Silko)
  20. Read an LGBTQ+ romance: Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel – Sara Farizan (Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters)
  21. Read a book published by a micropress: Deer Woman – Elizabeth LaPensee; Fig Tree in Winter – Anne Graue (read as planned)
  22. Read a collection of stories by a woman: Prickle Moon – Juliet Marillier (Interpreter of Maladies – Jhumpa Lahiri)
  23. Read a collection of poetry in translation on a theme other than love: The Rubaiyat – Omar Khayyam (Old Norse Women’s Poetry – Sandra Ballif Straubhaar)
  24. Read a book wherein all point-of-view characters are people of color: Listen, Slowly; Labyrinth Lost; The Color Purple; When Dimple Met Rishi; Little & Lion; The Hate U Give; Deer Woman (Association of Small Bombs – Karan Mahajari)

Overall, I am pretty happy with the end results, though I ended up reading less diversely than I had intended. I am planning to go back and pick up the ones I had wanted to read, like The Association of Small Bombs or an LGBTQ romance that actually fits the romance genre a little better and use those in the 2018 Read Harder Challenge. I am also challenging myself to use only books from my own bookshelf or, in a pinch, from the library. I refuse to buy more books this year (barring receiving a gift certificate or getting review copies from publicists).

Did you do any reading challenges this year? If so, what one(s) did you do and how did you fare?

The Last Hours

511pcahhayl-_sx335_bo1204203200_The Last Hours  by Minette Walters

I read it as a: paperback

Source: my own collection because of Book Depository! Otherwise, I would have had to wait until Aug 2018 to be able to read this in the US.

Length: 547 pp

Publisher: Allen & Unwin

Year: 2017

 

The Last Hours is the account of one demesne, Develish, and its occupants as they struggle to survive and make sense of their terrifying new world in the grip of the bubonic plague. Lady Anne of Develish is left behind with her daughter, Eleanor, when her husband, Sir Richard, heads out to the neighboring demesne of Foxcote, intending on securing a husband for Eleanor. Instead, they encounter the pestilence and death. Lady Anne, convent raised and well educated, knows enough about health and healing to understand the importance of cleanliness and quarantine, and so orders her serfs within the walls of the manor and then seals off the manor, not allowing anyone to enter or leave. Sir Richard and his retinue return to find the manor barred against them and all but one of them die outside the walls. Anne surreptitiously send her steward, Thaddeus, a bastard serf, outside the walls on reconnaissance with the surviving member of Sir Richard’s retinue, Gyles, the captain of the guard. Eventually, Gyles is allowed to return within the walls when it is clear he does is not sick with the plague. Within Develish’s walls, serfs unused to inactivity are beginning to get stir crazy, stores are running low, and then a murder occurs. Thaddeus takes five young men, sons of the leading serfs, with him outside the walls to go in search of more supplies, and to help cover a scandal that could shatter the fragile peace Anne has created and which her daughter Eleanor seems determined to destroy.

This was a fast-paced and fun historical novel overall. The descriptions of the land and clothes were vibrant, and the effects of the plague were terrifyingly real. It seems that Walters did some thorough research on both, which is much appreciated. There were quite a few other areas that required a huge suspension of disbelief, and which were a bit too much to overcome – noblewomen with basically modern sensibilities teaching their serfs to read comes to mind – which draw away from the historical quality of the story. I think the same effect could have been achieved simply by acknowledging historical fact – so many deaths did occur that skilled serfs and farmers were needed and they could move up the social ladder in ways that hadn’t been open to them prior to the plague. Fact. Teaching the serfs to read isn’t necessary for that to have happened within the story, and it would have been more believable in the end. Just my two cents.

The characters were well developed and all were interesting, even the ones you love to hate. Anne was a more complex character than she first appears, and it becomes more apparent as the plot comes to its climax. Some intriguing questions are posed about her character and personality and I hope that they are answered in the next book. Thaddeus is intriguing, even if I don’t believe that such a man would really have existed, or not very likely, and I hope to know more about him as well. Gyles is one of my favorites and I want him to get more of the limelight. Eleanor is odious and I want to know how she ends up. There are too many unanswered questions and I am really excited that the book specifically said “to be continued” at the end, because I would be so unhappy otherwise.

I am eagerly looking forward to the next instalment, literate serfs and all.

The Breathless

51vev2bp8tyl-_sx329_bo1204203200_The Breathless by Tara Goedjen

I read it as an: hardcopy

Source: Blogging for Books

Length: 368 pp

Publisher: Delacorte Press

Year: 2017

So, I was hoping for super creepy, atmospheric Southern Gothic, maybe a YA version of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. But this wasn’t remotely creepy. To be fair, I tend not to read a lot of YA – I find most of it simply too young (i.e., too immature, because I’m a grown woman with bills to pay and children to tend and I have little time for fictional teenage love triangles) – and I do read a lot of true crime and things that are actually scary. So I could be jaded. But this just wasn’t scary or creepy to me at all.

The writing style was rather off-putting as well, bouncing around between tenses and the changing perspective – the frequent use of you and we was just weird to me. Who is narrating? I thought at first it was pre-editing typos and such, but the copy I received appears to be a finished edition, not an ARC. However, the author does have some excellent descriptive writing of her scenery and it could be atmospheric and creepy if done in a different way. It’s like she was trying too hard and it just fell flat.

The racism that was laced throughout the novel is gross but should be taken with a grain of salt. I am not sure if it was because of the setting – it IS in the Deep South and there ARE parts set in antebellum South – or if it is because racism is still rampant in the country today and it was intended as some kind of social commentary. But, like, what diversity? Most of the characters were white. We have a more diverse society than that. I want my literature to reflect that.

Overall, I didn’t loathe this book, but I definitely didn’t love it. It just had too many unanswered questions, plot holes, unsympathetic characters, and just wasn’t my cuppa.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

 

The Du Lac Chronicles

I suck hard at updating my blog now that I write on Book Riot in addition to reviewing for Discovering Diamonds and HNS. That is all.

The Du Lac Chronicles by Mary Anne Yarde

I read it as an: ebook

Source: my own library

Length: 319 pp

Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform

Year: 2016

512bnkukze1l-_sx331_bo1204203200_

 

 

 

 

 

Not really an Arthurian legend, more Arthurian-adjacent. It featured Alden du Lac, the son of a certain Lancelot du Lac. Set in the 5th century, it takes actual historical events and people and superimposes an Arthurian spin on them in a believable and not-grating way. I hate when authors take real events and fuck them up or change them and make it inaccurate, but that is NOT the case here. This was historically accurate as far as the events and people, inasmuch as it could be, and was a fun story.

I loved the characters. Alden was tormented and uncertain. His younger brother Merton is just plain old fun, but also flawed and broken. Annis is learning to be a woman unto herself and find her own value. These are not perfect people, nor would I like them much if they were written as such. This was a wonderful read and I am looking forward to the next in the series.

The Rules of Magic

617x702bnxsl-_sx334_bo1204203200_The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman

I read it as an: advanced reading copy

Source: Edelweiss

Length: 384

Publisher: S&S

Year: 2017

It’s been a long while since I was last as enraptured by a book as I was with The Rules of Magic. I don’t know if it’s because I really love Alice Hoffman or if I was just ready for a good magical realism or if this was just the book I needed to kick me out of the awful reading slump I’ve been in for months. In any case, I devoured The Rules of Magic like I was freaking Oliver Twist. Please, Ms. Hoffman, may I have some more?

I’m a sucker for back stories anyway. Aunt Jet and Aunt Frances are among my favorite characters in modern literature. So I was delighted to see them get their own entire novel. Their stories are tragic and beautiful, and both entirely unique to themselves.

Frances is the elder of the two, tall and coltish with blood red hair. She’s prickly and difficult and likes science and has exactly zero time for superstition or family curses. And yet she thinks nothing of the fact that she can call wild birds to her hand just by lifting it up. Bridget, called Jet for her long black hair, is sweet tempered and loves people, though I can’t for the life of me understand why because she has the Sight. They also have a brother, Vincent, the only boy ever born to an Owens woman. He is so charismatic that his delivery room nurse tried to steal him as her own. All the children are talented, as befits Owens children. The sisters are beautiful, but Jet is so gorgeous that boys do dangerous things to try to get her attention. When a flirtation with twin brothers results in their death, Franny, Jet, and Vincent decide the family curse is real and vow not to fall in love. The ways in which they manage to finagle their way around that are truly inventive, sometimes amusing, often heartbreaking.

The cast of characters throughout this gorgeous novel is complex and well rounded. The Owens have a long list of cousins and aunts who make appearances, most notably April Owens, the granny of Sally and Gillian of Practical Magic fame, and Aunt Isabelle. She filled the role in this book that Frances and Jet would later fill for Sally and Gillian: wise woman, mentor, role model, friend. She was the best.

The book was sprinkled with Hoffman’s typical vivid language and, appropriately, rules of magic. For example, uncross your knives if there is a quarrel at the table; do walk in the moonlight; wear red shoes; wear black; go barefoot; plant night-blooming flowers; read novels about magic. To mourn properly, you must drape all the furniture in white sheets, war a black silk band on your right arm, turn the mirrors toward the wall, sprinkle salt on the windowsills, leave sprigs or rosemary outside the doors, wear white to the funeral, go barefoot to it out of respect. Make a protection amulet with black cloth sewn with red thread and containing clove and blackthorn, or lavender. Wear a blue string coated with lavender oil, also for protection. I was inordinately tickled that I do a lot of these things by nature. Wearing black, going barefoot, wearing red shoes if I MUST wear shoes at all… are there people who don’t automatically do these things?

There are also references to various teas that I want to try blending, just because they sound tasty:

  • Fever Tea: cinnamon, bayberry, ginger, thyme, marjoram
  • Frustration Tea: chamomile, hyssop, raspberry leaf, rosemary
  • Clairvoyant Tea: mugwort, thyme, yarrow, rosemary
  • Travel Well Tea: orange peel, black tea, mint, rosemary

One recipe I really wish was included, like an actual recipe, and which I have wished for since I first read about it in Practical Magic, is the black soap all the Owens women use to wash their faces. I know it’s just soap and not magic – maybe – but I still want to try making some for myself. The only thing I can find that might possibly be similar is African Black Soap, but that still doesn’t seem quite right. Can anyone help us out? Bueller? Bueller? Ms. Hoffman?

Hoffman’s magical realism is as nuanced and ubiquitous as ever in The Rules of Magic. Birds coming to Franny’s call, Jet reading minds, plants flowering overnight and out of season, all abound. The real beauty of the book, though, comes from learning more about beloved characters, and watching them learn who they are. Through them, we discover that true magic comes from embracing our genuine nature and learning to love ourselves despite, or because, of it.

The Colour of Gold & The Colour of Cold Blood

51kij9g8mnl-_sx322_bo1204203200_The Colour of Blood novella by Toni Mount was actually my entree into the the Sebastian Foxley medieval mystery series, and it was enough to whet my appetite for more. It is actually the second entry in the series, but each story is written with the intention of being able to stand on its own. The novella focuses on the weddng day of Sebastian and his sweetheart, Emily. The tradition of borrowing a livery collar from one’s guild is showcased in this story. Things go awry, however, when Seb’s livery collar turns out to be a fake. Seb, his brother Jude, and a fairly charming street urchin named Jack have to figure out where the real collar is before Seb himself is accused of stealing it and ending his marriage before it has a chance to begin.Read More »

The Hour of Land

51akddeut2bl-_sx368_bo1204203200_In The Hour of Land, Terry Tempest Williams invites readers (or in this case, listeners) along with her on a journey celebrating a selection of her favorite national parks. She takes us from Grand Teton to Big Bend to the Gulf Islands, Acadia to Glacier. It actually made me interested in America, which almost never happens. This dumb fucking country. But it has some really pretty places, assuming the imbeciles in charge don’t ruin them all, and I would like to go see some of the pretty places now, in part thanks to this book.

This is the first book of Williams’ that I’ve read. I have When Women Were Birds on my TBR but haven’t gotten to it yet. I love her writing, the meditative quality of it. Her descriptions are quiet and lovely and thoughtful. Her social commentary is considerably less quiet and makes you want to take action.

Between The Hour of Land and the other book I’m reading, The Nature Fix, I kind of just want to say fuck it to everything and go run off and join the Forest Service and live in a look-out in the trees.

The Hour of Land

Author: Terry Tempest Williams

Format: Audio book

Source: Phoenix Public Library/ Overdrive

Time: 11h 1m

The Stranger in the Woods

61cbvznrdjl-_sx336_bo1204203200_The Stranger in the Woods was a very compelling book and I have things to say about it. It is the tale of Christopher Knight, the hermit of the Little North Pond of Maine. When he was twenty, he packed up and went into the woods, made a camp, and made no other contact with people after that for nearly 30 years. He survived by stealing from unoccupied cabins and camps nearby the entire time. Read More »