The Chalk Man

For nearly two years, I’ve been on a mission to read the books on my “to read” shelves. I can count on one hand the number of books I’ve purchased since the beginning of last year. And yet it’s still shocking that I have dozens of books I haven’t cracked open since purchasing them (sorry, 1984.)

Last weekend, I started The Chalk Man by C.J. Tudor. Since I don’t often read thrillers, I wasn’t expecting much from this debut novel, but the synopsis on the dust jacket seemed interesting and I was in the mood for something creepy.

The Chalk Man is divided into two time frames. In the summer of 1986, a group of teenage friends begin drawing chalk men throughout their neighborhood to communicate with one another. When they notice several white chalk men leading them into the forrest, they follow them, and discover a dismembered body. Questions arise as to who would kill this girl, but when the main suspect commits suicide, the case is put to rest. Thirty years later, the narrator, Eddie, reconnects with an old friend who is convinced he knows who the real killer is. Eddie begins to question his own experiences and decisions he and his friends made in the past.

The book is a bit slow starting off, but the last 50 pages are so filled with plot twists that it was a very exciting read. I think I’ll revisit this in a couple of months because Tudor tied everything together so perfectly at the ending, there’s bound to be foreshadowing I completely missed.

*** I do feel I should include a Trigger Warning because there’s a very graphic rape scene in the book. As someone who’s quite sensitive to depictions of sexual violence, I wish I had skipped over that section because it’s absolutely horrific. If you have the hardback edition, it will fall around pages 66- 71.

Publication info

The Chalk Man. C.J. Tudor. Crown Publishing Group, 2018.

ISBN: 9781524760984

277 pages

35356382

Advertisements

The Dinner

When I was in college, I read Life a User’s Manual by Georges Perec. I was absolutely stunned that Perec’s 500 page tome takes place in a single moment.  The Dinner by Herman Koch follows a similar pattern, and while it’s not as long as the aforementioned, it still manages to build tension and stay interesting.

The premise of the book is simple: four adults, two brothers and their wives meet for dinner together. The tension over their meal builds, as they anticipate the impending conversation about their children. There’s a hint that something horrible has happened, and Koch slowly shares details that illuminate the events that transpired. Over the course of their meal, the parents come to realize that their three sons are capable of heinous acts and their parental instincts take over as they attempt to formulate a plan to deal with the repercussions of their sons’ actions.

Koch has a real talent for developing characters and building anticipation. The narrator, Paul, is unreliable af, but I found myself trusting him. Although I didn’t find any of the characters to be sympathetic or likable, I still found myself invested in their story. And, yes, the book was slow paced, but I really enjoyed Koch’s writing and didn’t mind that the book essentially builds to a single conversation.

Publication info

The Dinner. Herman Koch, Horgarth, 2013.

ISBN: 0770437850

292 pages

15797938

 

 

 

In a Dark, Dark Wood

I normally don’t read psychological thrillers, but since my mom helped me move from North Carolina to Kansas, I decided to download an audiobook she’d like to entertain us on our 16 hour drive.

In a Dark, Dark Wood, written by Ruth Ware, is a story of Nora who meets her friend, Clare after years of not speaking. Nora attends Clare’s hen party that takes place in a remote cottage in the English countryside. As the two are reunited, secrets about their past begin to emerge and… I’ll stop there because I’m lazy  I don’t want to spoil the book for you.

While I’m not an expert on psychological thrillers, I thought the audiobook was excellent.  Imogen Church is a talented reader, and the plot made the drive through Kentucky, southern Illinois, and Missouri bearable.  My mom, who’s an avid mystery reader, called the ending in St. Louis, but still enjoyed the book.

What’s your favorite mystery novel?

Publication Info

In a Dark, Dark Wood. Ruth Ware, Harvill Secker, 2015.

ISBN:1846558913

352 pages

Small Great Things

Happy New Year, everyone! I finished another book in the final hours of 2017 and I thought you’d want to know about it.

Small Great Things is Jodi Picoult’s latest novel (at least I think it’s her latest novel and one of my New Year’s Resolutions is to stop second-guessing myself) and tells the story of an African-American nurse, Ruth, who is thrown into an impossible situation. While working on the maternity ward, she is taken off a case because she’s black. The parents of the newborn are white supremacists and refuse to allow Ruth handle their child. As fate would have it, the child goes into cardiac arrest and Ruth is the only one in the nursery. Should she help the baby because it is her duty as a nurse? Or should she carry out the parents’ wishes and her supervisor’s direct orders and not help? Her choiceless choice leads to an indictment and a trial in which she is charged with murder and negligent homicide.

In the way of most of Picoult’s novels, this story is told from several perspectives. Ruth, the nurse, reflects on her career, her family, and the discrimination she’s faced throughout her life. Kennedy, Ruth’s white public defender, slowly comes to terms with white privilege and passive racism. Turk, the white supremacist father, spews racist thoughts and anger for losing his son.

In most of Picoult’s novels, I think the multiple perspective writing really works. But I felt that this story focused too much on the white narrative. This book, at least for me, is ultimately about the discrimination and racism people of color face on a day-to-day basis in America. Wouldn’t that story be better told by the characters of color? For instance there are five other black characters whose voice could have been used. There was Odette, the state prosecutor; Edison, Ruth’s 17-year-old son; Adisa, Ruth’s sister; Howard, the young second-chair on the defense side; and Wallace Mercy, a social justice advocate and pastor.

As Picoult tried to highlight white privilege and the ways in which whites benefit from racism, she also took agency and voice away from her characters of color. Was it intentional or malicious? No. Picoult wrote this novel in response to the police brutality against the African American community and clearly stated in her author’s note that she cannot speak for African Americans. However, I think she could have addressed racism by using the voices of her black characters instead of focusing on an idealistic lawyer and a skinhead.

Publication Info

Small Great Things. Jodi Picoult. Ballantine Books, 2016.

480 pages

ISBN:0345544951

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter

Hey guys, I’m back! I know I’ve been gone a while, but I’m finally reading on a more consistent basis and wanted to share the book I finished last week.

This one by Tom Franklin had been on my list for over a year. I found it in one of those Pinterest lists of books you wouldn’t be able to put down. Crooked Letter takes place in Mississippi and flips between present-day and flashbacks to the 1970s.

Essentially, it’s the story of a man, Larry Ott, who was suspected of murdering a teenage girl when he was a younger. While he never confessed to the crime, and was never charged, the residents of his town ostracize him. So it’s no surprise that when a young college girl disappears from the county forty years later, Ott is accused of the crime. Silas Jones, the police constable who knew Larry when he was younger, leads the investigation of his former classmate. The two men’s stories intertwine as they discover secrets of their shared past.

That’s all I can tell you without spoiling the book. While I can’t say it was the most thrilling crime novel I’ve ever read, I’d certainly recommend it to anyone who wants a quick read with mostly sympathetic characters.

Publication Info

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter. Tom Franklin. William Marrow, 2010.

ISBN:0060594667

274 pages

Defending Jacob

I realized the other night that I haven’t yet written a review for a work of fiction, so I’ll do a short review of a crime novel I read a few weeks ago. Defending Jacob by William Landay was a quick read- I got through it in two days. Now, I should say that I don’t frequently read crime/mystery novels; while I love police procedural t.v. dramas (I’m looking at you, Law and Order,) actual crime novels aren’t of particular interest to me, so feel free to take my opinion with a grain of salt if you’re an avid crime reader.

I found Defending Jacob on a Buzzfeed list of books you won’t be able to stop talking about, and while I don’t think it’s that good of a book, I’d still recommend it if you want something to read this weekend.

The book is about ADA Andy Barber’s career and family after his son was accused of murder. Andy questions whether his son is capable of murdering his classmate, while facing his own family history  and coping with being dismissed from his job as assistant district attorney. I found most of the characters to be sympathetic, and the premise of the book is interesting enough that I couldn’t stop reading. I wasn’t blown away by the ending, though- it felt underdeveloped and there was enough foreshadowing throughout the novel that it wasn’t a complete surprise. Other than that, I thought Defending Jacob was a good read- it wasn’t filled with legal jargon and it had the overarching question of how far would a parent go to protect their child.

If you like mysteries and crime novels, is there a particular book you’d recommend for me?

Publication Info

William Landay. Defending Jacob. Delacorte Press, 2012.

ISBN: 0385344228

421 pages

Devil in the White City

I almost never recommend historical books, especially if they’re non-fiction. Mostly because historical non-fiction is almost always written for historians. While I read a lot of excellent books published by academic presses, I would never tell my friends to read them because, quite frankly, academic reading is much more rigorous than leisure reading.

Erik Larson’s work is the best of both worlds. Seriously. Larson was trained as a historian and a journalist, which means he knows how to dig for evidence and analyze what he finds, and write a narrative. Devil  is actually two stories- the first is of the building of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, the second of H.H. Holmes, America’s first known serial killer. Larson weaves accounts of Holmes’ murders against the backdrop of the designing of the World’s Fair.

The chapters on Holmes are, at times, gruesome, but I found them to be well-balanced with the story of the World’s Fair. This book does have a lot of detail in it, but I could not put it down. If you liked Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, I think you might like this one, although if you’re not a fan of Capote, you might still enjoy the history of the Chicago World’s Fair.

As a side note, have you read The Road by Cormac McCarthy? I’ve been trying to read it for over a week, but I keep losing interest. I think the dragging on may be part of his style and important to the book, but I’m not sure I can finish it. What do you think, should I hang in there, or move on to the next book?

Publication Info

Erik Larson. The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America. Vintage Books, 2004.

ISBN:0375725601

447 pages