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.
The Chalk Man. C.J. Tudor. Crown Publishing Group, 2018.
If you’ve been on this blog before, you’ve probably noticed that I don’t often dabble in science fiction. It might be unfair to lump all sci-fi and fantasy books together, but I generally find that they have too much jargon and not enough world building. I also don’t have the patience for drawn out sagas (I make an exception for Harry Potter.) I’ve been on a dystopian kick for the past three years, and, somehow, Ready Player One made it onto my list of books to read.
Overall, I enjoyed this book. While it has a lot of references to 80’s pop culture, I didn’t feel overwhelmed. For some reason, reading the book was really nostalgic, despite having never experienced the 80’s first-hand. There were a lot of technical terms, but I found that Ernest Cline was really deft at explaining those ideas without being heavy-handed.
The story is set in a futuristic America where the majority of citizens interact in an online universe called the OASIS. The death of the creator of the OASIS, James Halliday, brings an action-packed quest to find his Easter egg and win control of the universe. Ready Player One focuses on contemporary issues in society as well. The hunt for Halliday’s egg quickly becomes dominated with those who wish to monopolize the OASIS (the Sixers), and keep poorer citizens from accessing it.
After several years of searching for the key to the first gate, Wade Watts, or Parzival as he is known in the OASIS, becomes the first player to get on the scoreboard. As he continues on the quest, he finds that the Sixers will stop at nothing to win control of the OASIS and must trust people he’s never met to help him win.
Ready Player One. Ernest Cline. Crown Publishers, 2016.
In the interest of full disclosure, I did not technically read this book. Rather, I listened to the audio version and was completely blown away. My new job affords me eight glorious hours of audiobook/podcast listening. I think it’s safe to say that I’ve listened at least a dozen of audiobooks since starting my job at the beginning of April.
Cristina Henríquez’s novel chronicles two immigrant families’ experiences in the U.S. I adore books told from multiple perspectives, and the characters who mold this story are so sympathetic. The story revolves around two teenagers, Mayor Toro and Maribel Rivera, children of immigrants who meet after Maribel’s parents move into the Toro’s apartment building. Unbeknownst to Mayor, Maribel’s family emigrated from Mexico to seek treatment for her brain injury. As Mayor falls more in love with Maribel, their families face the difficulties of living in the U.S.: racism, low wages, and language and cultural barriers. As the two continue their relationship, their families must face the repercussions caused by it.
This has been one of my favorite books I’ve read this year. The story was great, the characters were complex, and their experiences are important. The audiobook was read by multiple people, which really helped me get into the narrative. If you’re interested in topics like identity in America, you should read this book.
The Book of Unknown Americans. Christina Henríquez, Knopf, 2014.
If novels had theme songs, the one to Naomi Alderman’s The Power would be “Electric Feel” by MGMT. But in all seriousness, The Power centers around the idea that women have awakened a biological power that allows them to dole out electric shocks, causing massive pain towards others and leading them to take power away from men.
Now, I love a good dystopian novel, especially one that focuses on women’s experiences. One of my favorite books of all time is The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood and I’m constantly looking for books that contemplate women’s roles in an oppressive patriarchy. I was prepared to like this book. Reviewers have said it was innovated and even my girl Maggie Ats applauded the book. It was such a letdown.
The premise is certainly interesting; women are suddenly able to tap into a biological power that makes them stronger than men. Taking a note from patriarchy, women overtake the world, subjecting the men to sexual harassment, physical abuse, and general misandry. The story follows five characters, as they experience this newfound power and the social order that becomes of it.
My problem with the book is not the premise. Alderman’s examples of misandry are well-chosen mirrors of the unfair treatment women face on a daily basis. There were scenes of sexual harassment and rape in which the perpetrators (women) claimed the victims (men) were asking for it. At some point, the government of a newly formed country mandate that all men be registered under a female keeper who will dictate how they move about the country. The examples throughout the book certainly have parallels in both history and modern-day and were effective.
However, the book seemed undeveloped. There’s so much time spent on describing how women become powerful and not enough time developing the characters or building the world in which this happened. I found it unbelievable that male dominated societies, with militaries, weapons, money, and political power could not find a way to stop these women. While I was intrigued by the ideas that people with power will abuse those without it regardless of their sex and that matriarchies can be as violent as patriarchies, I felt that those ideas were not completely fleshed out. In short, the world in which The Power takes place still seems really hazy to me, which is really disappointing.
The Power. Naomi Alderman, Viking, 2017.
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.
The Dinner. Herman Koch, Horgarth, 2013.
I think I’ve finally found a book to recommend to friends who want to read about the Holocaust, but don’t want to be submerged in an “orgy of violence.” (Note: I am not a fan of using the phrase “orgy of violence” to describe the Holocaust, or any mass atrocity for that matter, but other historians use this phrase frequently in their writing.)
We Were the Lucky Ones, by Georgia Hunter, is a multigenerational story of the Kurc family and their experience during the Holocaust. The book chronicles the entire Second World War as seen through the eyes of Nechuma and Sol Kurc and their five children. What’s wonderful about this book is that it’s essentially the author’s family history in novel form. The story demonstrates multiple experiences from the Holocaust. For example, one son, Addy, lived in France under the Vichy government and fled to Brazil to escape persecution. Genek and Herta were deported to Siberia and subjected to forced labor under the Russians. Mila sought to raise her daughter in a Jewish ghetto after her husband disappeared. While it’s about the Holocaust, practically none of the story takes place in concentration camps, which is something I love about it. Instead it shows other experiences of the Holocaust, while highlighting the persecution and uncertainty the Kurc family lived in during the war.
I can’t say this this is an easy book to read; it’s heart-wrenching, terrifying, parts of it are graphic, and there are a lot of characters to keep up with. However, it’s such an important piece of history to read. The writing is excellent, the storylines are interesting; I loved this work because it highlights that there was no universal experience during the Holocaust, except terror. Also, I really appreciated that at every section, there was a timeline of what happened during WWII that corresponded with the story’s timeline. It definitely helped contextualize the Kurc’s story against the historical narrative and is a great way to sneak in your daily dose of history.
We Were the Lucky Ones. Georgia Hunter, Viking, 2017.
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?
In a Dark, Dark Wood. Ruth Ware, Harvill Secker, 2015.