Sunday, January 28, 2018

#BookReview The Chalk Man by C.J. Tudor @cjtudor @CrownPublishing #Crime #Thriller #SerialKiller

Book Review: The Chalk Man by C.J. Tudor
(Crown Publishing; Publication: January 9, 2018)

2016: Ed Adams (42) has lived in his money-pit Victorian home all his life in the small market town of Anderbury, England. Ed teaches at the Anderbury Academy, the same school he attended as a boy. He's single, doesn't have any children, and likes to drink. He recently has taken in a lodger, young Chloe (late 20s), but, other than that, his life remains static. Ed still sees friends from boyhood, Gavin ("Fat Gav") and David ("Hoppo") Hopkins. They were inseparable when they were kids, "meeting up most Saturdays." The group included Fat Gav's best friend "Metal Mickey" Cooper and a single girl, Nicky. (Ed was known as "Eddie Munster.") They liked going into the woods, riding their bicycles or meeting up at an old playground. Each one is slightly different from other children in town. Fat Gav's parents own The Bull, a local pub, and live in a new housing development. They're nouveau riche and garish. Hoppo's mother is single and a cleaner (his father left when he was a baby). Mickey has a brutish older brother Sean. Nicky is being raised by her single father, the local vicar Reverend Martin. And Ed's mother works as a doctor, and is bigger breadwinner than his father, a freelance writer for magazines and newspapers. The kids are all a bit odd.

"Thinking back, I guess one of the reasons our gang all hung out together was that none of our families was exactly 'normal.'"

During their six-week summer school holiday in the summer of 1986, the children are twelve and loving their time off. A new, odd-looking teacher has moved to town. In July a fair comes to the village. Fat Gav's parents throw him a big barbecue in August to celebrate his twelfth birthday. While in the woods building a den, the group is attacked by others. There are other, grown-up matters, some very ugly and dark, as well as menacing events happening in Anderbury that summer. The adult Ed spends much of the novel trying to recall and make sense of details from the past in order to prevent yet more threats in the present--and to solve a murder.

The Chalk Man clearly draws inspiration from Stephen King's work, such as the novella The Body (the basis for the film Stand By Me) and Heavenly Shades of Night Are Falling (the basis for the film Hearts in Atlantis), Stephen Spielberg films like E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and Super 8), and from the television show Stranger Things (which is, itself, inspired by King and Spielberg and the 1980's). The novel explores the scary parts of childhood, and how children experience of the world uniquely. Children see and hear things they "shouldn't," and they recognize older people for who and what they are--even if other adults don't listen or believe them. Kids also have a lot of anxiety for they know if there are problems at home, that they have to deal with bullies, and that they face-to-face with actual evil, no matter how much parents attempt to keep them safe. 

While this novel certainly pays homage to the two great Stephen's, C.J. Tudor's debut is its own phenomenon. Her first-person narrator, Ed Adams, is quite the philosopher, both as a child and as an adult. He allows the reader to reflect on how our childhood may define the rest of our lives. He's as unreliable as the other characters, so there is no one whom we truly can trust to be telling the true version. The plot has hair-pin turns, both in the past and the present, and the reader has barely recovered when something new is revealed. Tudor is a highly skilled storyteller, and her plot, narrative, pacing and characters are carefully, perfectly constructed. The Chalk Man offers readers the chance to go on a terrifying thriller ride. This reviewer is not going to give away any spoilers, only advice: take the ride!

Thank you to the publisher for allowing me to read a digital version of this novel through NetGalley.

Monday, January 22, 2018

#BookReview Anatomy of a Scandal by Sarah Vaughn @SVaughanAuthor @EmilyBestler @AtriaBooks #Thriller #MustRead

Book Review: Anatomy of a Scandal by Sarah Vaughan 
(Emily Bestler Books, Atria Books; Publication: January 23, 2018)

Kate Woodcroft, QC (41) is a barrister with an outstanding record. Kate has devoted herself entirely to her career at The Bar, to the exclusion of husband and children. She is a workhorse, whip-smart, detail-oriented, disciplined, canny, and nearly fanatical in her pursuit of justice. Her clerk brings her a high profile case on December 2, 2016 which literally is life-changing.

Sophie Whitehouse (42) is happily married to James Whitehouse, a politician, a junior Home Office minister, who is a very close friend of the Prime Minister Tom Southern. Sophie and James have two children, Emily (9) and Toby (6), and the family resides in tony North Kensington. Sophie feels fortunate to be married to James, who owes much of his success to his beauty and charisma. Their life is idyllic--until James is accused of a crime. 

Sarah Vaughan's debut thriller is brilliant on every level. Vaughan's talented writing resounds on every page. The story is enthralling, both classic and timely as it hinges on politics and sexual misconduct, men and women, marriage, choices and privilege. The plot revelations occur at exactly the perfect points and not easily sussed out. The pace is perfection. With a vast gift for depicting both the fallibility and the strength of her characters, Vaughan brings them to life. The dialogue and the interior monologues are authentic. Characters experience trauma and behave in its aftermath in ways which are genuine and believable. 

The book is written with multiple points of view with chapters from different characters' perspectives. Only Kate's are written in the first person. The story switches seamlessly back and forth from the present (2016/2017) and the past (1992/1993). The author offers us a look into the world of English privilege by following a few young students at Oxford. Some first year students are from generation after generation of upper class breeding and old money. Others are making their way to a better life obtaining that place at Oxford. No student is immune from the pleasures there, whether scholarly, social, athletic, sexual or bacchanalian. Youthful "indiscretions" sow the seeds for present-day impropriety, disgrace, and revenge.

Anatomy of a Scandal is the genuine article, a page-turner which will take you on an incredible, emotionally wrought, and satisfying journey. You will be entertained and you will think about your own suppositions about power, privilege, sexual abuse and justice. This novel already is a bestseller in the U.K., and certainly shall be in the U.S. (and worldwide). The question of a screen adaptation is a "when" not an "if." Kate, Sophie and James each are characters which would showcase actors to their best advantage. I look forward to reading Sarah Vaughan's next thriller with great excitement and anticipation.

Thank you to the publisher for allowing me to read a digital copy through NetGalley.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Happy New Year: Day One 2018 - It's Freezing, I Have Had the Flu for the Past Month, and I Watch Too Much TV

I tried to start off the New Year on an optimistic note. Forces have worked against me.

  • It's as cold--if not colder--than it was during the Ice Storm of 1973. I have an annoyingly fantastic memory, but the fact that the Ice Storm began on my eleventh birthday (December 17, 1973) means I will never forget it. I couldn't bring cupcakes to my Sixth grade classroom and celebrate with my friends! My father had to chop up costly two-by-four's in the basement. Why we had them, I don't know. And why did we have an ax in the house? My father was a CPA and a tax analyst, and we lived in a suburban town on Long Island. I may never know, and that's irritating. Our family of five sat by the fireplace in our center-hall colonial all day. We wore layers of clothes. I read, my younger sister drew pictures, and my younger brother built ice castles out of Legos. Daddy was a bit stingy with the wood. (I told you those two-by-four's were costly!) He tried to make me feel better about missing out on my birthday celebration by telling me how cold it was when he served in Korea. I cried for him, but mostly for myself, and vowed that all my future birthdays would be glorious. What a sucker's bet that was.

  • I have had the flu, and complications since December 6, 2017. It's so last year. But I did not heed the CDC warning. I did not get a flu vaccine in October, as I should have. I was too busy stressing out about misogny, racism, nuclear obliteration and losing my health care so I DIDN'T MAKE TIME TO GET A FLU VACCINE! As a history buff, I think it would be ironic if I were to die from the flu on the centennial of the Spanish Influenza Pandemic. (I am a morbid and twisted soul.)

  • As I said, it's freezing cold. Climate Change is real. Read this article by Dr. Marshall Shepherd and improve your "science literacy." A Response For People Using Record Cold U.S. Weather To Refute Climate Change I live in a Pre-war building on the Upper West Side. The radiators clank-a-lank all day long and supply my apartment with steady steam heat from the boiler. Yet, I am wearing three or four layers of clothing: silk thermal underwear (top and bottom), a long-sleeved tee, jeans, merino wool v-neck, and an Aran Islands cardigan sweater. It's heartening to know that when they find my frozen corpse authorities will be able to identify me by my clan sweater pattern. (See aforementioned declaration of being a morbid and twisted soul.)

  • Due to the sub-zero temperatures and the "ague," I have not left the building in days. I am unable to read (sinus pressure) so I watch French crime series. It may be the fever, but I believe I am beginning to think in French. I sip red wine (grape juice), tear off pieces of bread (pumpernickel, not a baguette), and pretend to be smoking cigarettes when my breath condensation appears. Mostly I bemoan the fate of humanity, think of death, consider that Jerry Lewis may have been a genius, and wish that I were thin, young and had a lot of great sex like these crime cops do. Maybe I'm not morbid and twisted. Maybe I'm French. C'est possible.
I wish you all "Bon Chance!"