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Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog THE SILENT BROTHER by Simon Van der Velde (@SimonVdVwriter) A hard-hitting novel, beautifully written and observed, and a lesson in narrative

Hi all:

I bring you another book by an author whose very special book of short stories, Backstories, I featured recently. This one is a novel, and it is quite a novel.

The Silent Brother by Simon Van der Velde

The Silent Brother by Simon Van der Velde 

When his beloved little brother is stolen away, five-year-old Tommy Farrier is left alone with his alcoholic mam, his violent step-dad and his guilt. Too young to understand what has really happened, Tommy is sure of only one thing. He is to blame.

Tommy tries to be good, to live-up to his brother’s increasingly hazy memory, but trapped in a world of shame and degradation he grows up with just two options; poverty or crime. And crime pays.

Or so he thinks.

A teenage drug-dealer for the vicious Burns gang, Tommy’s life is headed for disaster, until, in the place he least expects, Tommy sees a familiar face…

And then things get a whole lot worse

Links:

Northodox Press – https://bit.ly/3qObqdl

Amazon https://amzn.to/3uK9sNC

Barnes and noble https://bit.ly/3MOA8CS

Goodreads – https://bit.ly/3ri3std

Author Simon Van Der Velde

 About The Author

Simon Van der Velde was born and educated in Newcastle upon Tyne where he trained and practiced as a lawyer. Writing, however, was always the real passion, and Simon has now left the legal profession in order to concentrate on his writing.

Since completing a creative writing M.A. (with distinction) at University of Northumbria in 2011, Simon’s work has won and been short-listed for numerous awards including; The Yeovil Literary Prize, (twice), The Readers’ Favorite Gold Medal, The Wasafiri New Writing Prize, The Luke Bitmead Bursary, The Frome Short Story Prize, The Writers’ and Artists’ Short Story Prize, The Harry Bowling Prize, The Henshaw Press Short Story Competition and The National Association of Writers’ Groups Open Competition.

Simon is the founder and chair of Gosforth Writers Group and author of the widely acclaimed, Amazon bestseller, Backstories, ‘the stand-out most original book of the year’ in 2021. His literary crime novel, The Silent Brother is published on 16th June, 2022 by Northodox Press. Simon is

currently working on both Backstories II and his follow-up crime novel, Dogwood.

Having travelled throughout Europe and South America, Simon now lives in Newcastle upon Tyne with his wife, labradoodle and two tyrannical children.

https://www.amazon.com/Simon-Van-Der-Velde/e/B08SKCFFNY/

My review:

I read and reviewed Simon Van der Velde’s book Backstories, which was a great success with many other members of Rosie’s Book Review Team as well; I expressed my interest in reading the second volume of that book (due in autumn 2022), and I ended up exchanging several messages with the author. He told me he had finished a novel and asked me if I’d be interested in reading it, although it was quite different to Backstories. When he told me what it was about, I could not resist, and I thank the author for providing me with an early ARC copy of The Silent Brother, which I freely chose to review.

The author, of course, was right. This novel is pretty different from Backstories, although it retains some of its best qualities and goes further still, building up the setting and, especially, the characters, creating fully-fledged individuals and a universe that merges realistic details with fictional but truly believable and understandable situations. One wouldn’t be surprised to read some of the episodes featured in the novel in a local (or national) newspaper, and, unfortunately, many will be quite familiar, especially to UK readers. (Not that similar stories don’t happen in other places, but one of the beauties of the novel is in the detail, and the author explains where the story comes from and how and why it was born, in his note Victims or Perpetrators? The Inspiration Behind The Silent Brother). I suspect that for many people in the West, the idea of poverty wouldn’t include their neighbours or people living just a few streets away from them, but there are many who are born into families with little to no resources and for whom “dysfunctional” is perhaps an understatement in our own countries and cities.

Tommy, the protagonist of the novel, is one of those people. Born into a family that is far from conventional (or happy), he lives a very traumatic event when he is very young, and he blames himself for what happened and feels guilty ever since. This is only the first of many traumas he manages to survive, but not unscathed, and it is easy to understand why and how he ends up becoming a criminal. There is never much of a reprieve for Tommy, though, and every time things seem to be going right for him, something happens and reality comes crashing down on him. But, one of the qualities that will endear him to most readers is that he never gives up. His decisions might get him (and others) into trouble quite often, but he is loyal to his friends (in his own way), and he is a better judge of character than he gives himself credit for.

The story is told in the first-person from Tommy’s point of view, and although he is not always the most reliable of narrators (Personally, I think he knows when to stop telling a story and when to edit out some things. He is clearly in control of the narrative), his pretty unique point of view and his inside knowledge serve the reader well, because he is insightful enough to pick up on clues and events that are important even before he knows why, and although he hides some things even from himself, he evolves and has learned to face the truth by the end of the novel.

I have talked about Tommy, and, as I have mentioned before, I think the characters are all very well written, recognisable, and memorable. There are truly bad baddies; some that fall in the grey area (most of the rest); some likeable but puzzling and ambiguous (sometimes, perhaps, because we see them through Tommy’s eyes, and his emotions and feelings toward them change); and some that we can’t help but feel sorry for. Tommy sometimes annoyed me, but he also intrigued me, grabbed my attention, and wouldn’t let go, and I loved Annie from the very first. She is a wonderful character, despite (or perhaps because of) the terrible circumstances she finds herself in, and she is full of ambiguities, as real people are.

Beyond the social commentary (which makes the book well-worth a read already), particularly aimed at the changes many cities in the North of the UK went through in the final decades of the XX century (in this case, the Northeast, especially Newcastle and Sunderland), we have many themes that are explored in the novel: single parenthood, the underclasses, alcohol and drug abuse, abusive relationships including domestic violence, the role of social services, bullying, gang crime and violence, drug dealing, family relationships, regret, guilt, trauma, self-harm, PTSD, the self-expressive and healing power of art, different kinds of friendship, the nature of storytelling and narratives, and above all, this is a story about love: fraternal love, family love, and also romantic love, against all odds.

The writing is wonderful, though harsh at times, of course. The author has a talent for descriptions, and I don’t mean only physical descriptions —which he does well enough— but he can make us see a person, a place, and feel as if we were living a moment, by focusing on the small details: a noise, a touch, a gesture… He recreates the atmosphere of the city, the pubs, the clubs, the houses, the social services office… And he immerses us inside the head of the main character, getting us to share his thoughts and his experiences. It can be a pretty uncomfortable place to be in, but, somehow, you don’t want to leave until you’ve seen the whole thing through. The story is told (mostly) chronologically, although at times there are intrusive memories and thoughts that disrupt the character’s perspective, sending him (and us) back to particular events.

Rather than sharing my favourite quotes (and there are many I highlighted), I include an excerpt at the end, chosen by the author.

As you can imagine from the list of themes, the book is tough and pulls no punches. This isn’t a look at life through rose-tinted glasses, so people who find bad language, violence, and any (or all) of the topics mentioned upsetting, should be wary of the contents. Despite all that, though, this is a very hopeful book, and I loved the slightly bittersweet ending. I won’t give too many details, because I don’t want to spoil it for readers, and some things aren’t revealed until the very end and might come as a surprise, but let’s say that I was satisfied with the fate of most of the characters, and I hope most readers will be as well.

I recommend this novel to those who already know the author (I’m sure they’ll love it as well) and to those who don’t but appreciate realistic and hard-hitting stories, beautifully written, full of heart, with social consciousness, especially those set in the contemporary UK (particularly the North of England). It does not pull any punches, so people worried about certain types of content (violence, substance use, abuse…) should be warned, but otherwise, this is a novel whose characters will stay with the reader, and one that will make us face some uncomfortable truths as well. The author has more novels coming out soon, so make sure not to miss any. I won’t.

Excerpts from The Silent Brother

‘They’re coming for you,’ Mam said

That’s how it all got started…cos of me being a coward

Bells, it says, but it doesn’t ring, it crashes

‘Do as your told and there’s five grand in it for you. Or you can piss about and get another kicking’

Back in Walker …with the police camera that never works and the half bricks lying in the road, and all those mean-eyed bastards sitting on their front steps, getting pissed, shouting the odds at anyone who looks at them.

‘All I want is a fair cut.’ ‘You want your cut? I swear, you f*ck me about and you’ll get your f*cking cut’

I’ve got a good feeling about this. I’ve got a good feeling about everything. So long as I keep the music playing and the money coming, so long as I don’t go back down Belmont Street, so long as I keep on flying and never look down.

Her arms pull me closer. Her body draws me deeper. I don’t know where I end, where she begins.

The place is normally lit in this pink-ish dusk with silk sheets hanging off the balcony rail, so it looks like the sort of boozer

Aladdin might’ve bought it after he found his genie. But Aladdin didn’t buy it. Eddie Burns did. That’s why we’re sitting here, shitting ourselves, waiting to see exactly how pissed off Eddie’s going to be.

Thanks to Rosie and the members of her team for introducing me to this author, thanks to the author for the book, and thanks to all of you for reading, for your support, for sharing with all who might be interested, and remember to keep smiling and being your wonderful selves. ♥

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Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog BLACK IRISH BLUES: A Caesar Stiles Mystery by Andrew Cotto @andrewcotto A great combination of good writing, great characters, and a compelling setting #RBRT

Hi all:

I bring you another book from Rosie’s Book Review Team. Short but full to the brim with great characters and stories.

Black Irish Blues by Andrew Cotto

Black Irish Blues: A Caesar Stiles Mystery by Andrew Cotto

“Being a fan of Dennis Lehane, George Pelecanos and Walter Mosley, I would certainly label Andrew Cotto as a comparable read to these luminaries in terms of style, characterization and the depiction of life in a tough neighborhood.” –Raven Crime Reads

“Cotto’s lyrical prose reads like Raymond Chandler taking dictation from Walt Whitman.” –Publishers Weekly

Black Irish Blues is the return-to-origin story of Caesar Stiles, an erstwhile runaway who returns to his hometown with plans to buy the town’s only tavern and end his family’s Sicilian curse.

Caesar’s attempt for redemption is complicated by the spectral presence of his estranged father, reparation seekers related to his corrupt older brother, a charming crime boss and his enigmatic crew, and – most significantly – a stranger named Dinny Tuite whose disappearance under dubious circumstances immerses Caesar in a mystery that leads into the criminal underbelly of industrial New Jersey, the flawed myth of the American Dream, and his hometown’s shameful secrets.

Black Irish Blues is a poetic, gritty noir full of dynamic characters, a page-turning plot, and the further development of a unique American character.

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B08P26X8ZC/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B08P26X8ZC/

https://www.amazon.es/gp/product/B08P26X8ZC/

Author Andrew Cotto

About the author:

Andrew Cotto is an award-winning author and a regular contributor to The New York Times. He has written for Parade, Men’s Journal, Rolling Stone, La Cucina Italiana, AARP, Rachael Ray In Season, Maxim, The Huffington Post, the Good Men Project, Salon, Conde Nast Traveler, Italy magazine and more. Andrew has an MFA in Creative Writing from The New School. He lives in Brooklyn, NY.

https://www.amazon.com/Andrew-Cotto/e/B006SHJK4Q/

My review:

I write this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team, and I received an ARC copy of the novel, which I freely chose to review.

This is my first experience reading this author’s work, although when I checked his biography I realised that he had not only been writing for quite a while, but this is not the first novel he publishes with Caesar Stiles as the main character, although the first one was published in 2012, and it’s only available in paperback. It makes perfect sense when we read the story, as there are references to what has happened before, but it is not necessary to have read the previous novel to enjoy this one.

The description of the book provides a good overview of the plot, especially as I want to avoid any spoilers. I’ve been thinking long and hard about the genre of this short novel, and although it might sound like an impossible combination (and I suspect the author wouldn’t agree) if there was something like a “noir-cozy” or a “hard-boiled-cozy” this would be it. Let me explain what I mean because I know the two concepts seem impossible to reconcile. What I mean by cozy is that the novel has not only a pretty peculiar protagonist (who left his home in quite traumatic circumstances and has been wandering the roads of America ever-since), but many of the other characters that make an appearance are also unique (a fantastically charming “good” baddie, an intriguing father, a bodyguard with plenty of style, a driver-cum-guide with plenty of hidden talents, a rich businessman with an alternative view of life…); there is also a strong focus on a small town and its inhabitants, peculiarities, and power structures and games; and a lot of attention is paid to Caesar’s cooking, with lengthy descriptions of some of his favourite dishes and how to cook them. Cozy mysteries tend to combine the actual mystery with some sort of side attraction or plot-line (cooking and baking are quite popular, but there might also be magic, paranormal elements, acting, song contests or a multitude of other subjects). The crimes investigated in that genre can be serious (murders are quite common), but the investigation itself is not discussed in too much detail; it is hardly on the level of a police procedural novel, and the level of violence tends to be either very minor, bizarre or cartoonish rather than realistic, or not discussed in detail. This novel, like many American novels, depicts a small-town that is far from the white-picket fence oasis urban dwellers imagine. It has a dark side, and there are plenty of non-cozy subjects that make an appearance (prostitution, corruption, prejudice, hints of racism, organised crime, bullying and child abuse…), but although I can’t go into detail, let’s say that the nature of the mystery/crime and the ending of the novel are a bit surprising considering some of the less-than-savoury themes discussed.

The style is definitely noir/hard-boiled, with dialogue that is stylised, hard-hitting, witty, and eminently quotable; there is gloomy foreshadowing; there is threatened and actual violence inflicted (although rather than gore and over the top, it felt fairly restrained in its description, perhaps because the story is narrated in the first person by Caesar and, as he reminds us a few times, he’s got used to enduring violence due to his previous experiences and can take a beating), I’ve already mentioned some of the topics typical of the genre, and as the story is set in the early 90s, we have plenty of characters misbehaving (smoking, drinking alcohol, flaunting their money and being conspicuously materialistic) but not much swearing; we have an old Sicilian curse; a character from the wrong side of the tracks with criminal connections who has lost most of his family by the time we meet him. There are plenty of rich descriptions that bring to life the place and the characters, and the book —which is rather short (a bit long for a novella, but pretty short for a novel)— covers a lot of ground in very few pages. There are plenty of secrets to be uncovered, surprises of all kinds that keep popping up, and friends and enemies are not always easy to tell apart.

I liked the central character and plenty of the other characters that make an appearance, although some we don’t get to know very well, and there are a few truly despicable ones. The fact that Caesar tells the story and is quite a contemplative person, who has a lot of stories in his past and plenty of memories to reflect upon helps us connect easily with him and with the characters he likes, even if some of them are ambiguous and not what they seem to be. He is trying his hardest to make things right and to put an end to the family’s curse; he is eager to reconnect with his past, to leave a worthy legacy, and to help others; and although he is not whiter than white (in fact, we learn that he’s done some pretty questionable things), he does have a sense of what is right and wrong and of morality that most readers will probably feel comfortable with.

As mentioned, the writing style is quite descriptive, and the descriptions do not always help directly advance the story. However, they contribute to create a picture of the places and the people we are reading about, and they also fit the narrative style of the protagonist, who is often told he should write his story, and who notes that he used to write lengthy descriptions of the places he visited and of the people he met in his letters to his mother all throughout the many years he was away. There are scenes of action; there are contemplative moments; there are cooking interludes; and there are memories and flashbacks interspersed in the novel, so the pace is not relentless and the storyline does not rush at breakneck speed, but it flows well, and it packs a lot of information and story into very few pages.

Without giving too many clues, I can affirm that I really enjoyed the ending, and it worked well for me. It is evident when we read the novel that the main character has a past, and recent events in his life have had a lot of impact in his current situation, but there is enough information provided for those of us who like to fill in the blanks in order to give us a good sense of the psychology and the complexity of the main character and to make us wonder what will happen next, while at the same time offering us a full and complex story with a satisfying resolution.

In sum, this is a short novel that manages to combine many genres, with a strong and likeable protagonist and some pretty memorable secondary characters, a vividly depicted setting, dark subjects aplenty, a noir writing style without extreme gore or swear words but full of unforgettable quotes, and enough cooking reference to delight gourmets, especially meat-eaters (not my case, unfortunately). A very interesting author with a unique writing style, and one I’ll make sure to keep my eyes on in the future.

Thanks to the author for his novel, thanks to Rosie and all the members of her team for their ongoing support, and thanks to all of you for reading, commenting, liking, and always being there. Remember to keep safe and to keep smiling.

Before you go, I kept thinking that I couldn’t share a post and not say something in Sue Vincent’s memory. Many bloggers have written about her and her passing already, people who knew her better and who’ve expressed what we were all thinking and feeling in a heartfelt and beautiful way, much better than I could. But just say that I won’t forget her smile, her inspiring images and posts, Annie and her stories, her son Nick and his bravery and example, and her courage and sense humour in the face of adversity. Keep smiling, Sue, wherever you are.

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Book review Book reviews Rosie's Book Review Team Rosie's Book Team Review Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog WINTER FLOWER by Charles Sheehan-Miles #RBRT A highly recommended tough and inspiring read

Hi all:

I bring you another review of one of the books in Rosie’s team. Another great find.

Winter Flower by Charles Sheehan-Miles
Winter Flower by Charles Sheehan-Miles

Winter Flower by Charles Sheehan-Miles

This book is all about love, family, survival, acceptance and forgiveness… one big giant emotional rollercoaster ride

  • Book Freak

From the bestselling author of Just Remember to Breathe and The Last Hour, a shocking and poignant story of a family on the brink of destruction and the transformational events that could bring them back together–or tear them apart.

Every day, Cole Roberts reminds himself that life wasn’t always this bleak. He was once passionately in love with Erin. Sam used to be an artistic and lively kid. They hadn’t always lived in a shabby two-room house in rural Alabama, where he runs a mediocre restaurant in the middle of nowhere.

That was before Brenna disappeared. It was before Cole lost his job and they lost their home.

Every day it gets worse. Erin drinks wine out of the bottle and spends her days with a tormented expression, searching the web for signs of their daughter. Sam hides in his room and rarely speaks. And Cole works himself to a stupor for a paycheck a fraction of the size of his old salary.

Until one day a phone call changes everything.

Winter Flower is at once a tragic tale of the disappearance of a child; struggling with gender identity; of the dark world of sex-trafficking and the transformation and healing of a family. Sheehan-Miles’s longest novel delves into the depths of family life–and how, sometimes, we can heal and find restoration.

https://www.amazon.com/winter-flower-Charles-Sheehan-Miles-ebook/dp/B07R91MG6Q/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/winter-flower-Charles-Sheehan-Miles-ebook/dp/B07R91MG6Q/

https://www.amazon.es/winter-flower-Charles-Sheehan-Miles-ebook/dp/B07R91MG6Q/

Author Charles Seehan-Miles
Author Charles Seehan-Miles

About the author:

Charles Sheehan-Miles has been a soldier, computer programmer, short-order cook and non-profit executive, and is the author of several fiction and non-fiction books, including the indie bestsellers Just Remember to Breathe and Republic: A Novel of America’s Future. Charles and his partner Andrea Randall live and write together in South Hadley, Massachusetts.

Charles’ books include:

The Thompson Sisters & Rachel’s Peril
A Song for Julia
Falling Stars
Just Remember
to Breathe
The Last Hour

Girl of Lies
Girl of Rage
Girl of Vengeance

America’s Future
Republic
Insurgent

Other Books:
Prayer at Rumayla
Saving the World on $30 A Day

Find out more at http://www.sheehanmiles.com

You’re also invited to join the Remember to Breathe Facebook group at https://www.facebook.com/groups/rer

https://www.amazon.com/Charles-Sheehan-Miles/e/B002BM0T7E/

My review:

I write this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team (authors, if you are looking for reviews, check here), and I freely chose to review an ARC copy of this novel.

This is the first novel I read by Charles Sheehan-Miles, who is a brand new author to me, although he has published a large number of books, and from the comments, I guess he has a legion of fans that were surprised by this book, as it is not a romance. I cannot compare it to his previous work, but I agree with the warning. If readers from his previous books approach this novel as a romance, they will be shocked, because it is far from it.

This is a long book (over 600 pages long), divided up into four parts, with a prologue set two years before the main action of the book, although there are flashbacks (memories) narrated in the first-person by the four main characters —all members of the same family— that offer readers a good understanding of the background to the current situation and help them get to grips with their circumstances, their pasts, and who they are. This is the story of a family, a married couple and their two children, on the brink of collapse due to a terrible tragedy that took place two years before the action we follow chronologically. Or so it seems. (The truth is a bit more complicated than that). Sam and Brenna, the children (adolescents by the time we met them) are close, and Brenna has always willingly played the role of big sister to Sam, there to protect and guide. Until she disappears. Carrying on without her puts a big strain on a family we soon learn was going through difficulties already (some more out in the open than others), and whose communication had ground almost to a halt. The parents, Cole and Erin, are living example of the “opposites attract” edict, at least from a political perspective (Cole, the father, who as a young man decided formal education wasn’t for him and moved up the corporate ladder at lightning speed, is conservative as can be, while Erin, the mother, a college  graduate, is a convinced liberal who sacrificed her career to look after her children), and although the story opens up with Sam’s narration, we soon get to read their own perspective on the matter and the kind of traps they find themselves in.

This is a story that deals in many important subjects, and it could have been told in a variety of ways, but I am impressed not only by the subjects (adultery and its toll on family relationships, sex trafficking, rape, prostitution, bullying, harassment and violence against the LGBT community, missing youths, the isolation of the trans-gender experience for young people, prejudice and harassment at work…) and the sensitive and enlightening way they are handled, but also by the way the story is told. The author allows each character to tell his/her own story, and that makes us walk a mile in their shoes, no matter how uncomfortable they might feel. I am sure many readers will think, as they read, that they would have never reacted in a certain way, or allowed their circumstances to deteriorate to such an extent, but, do we truly know? Although, as the author reminds us in the final note, the events in the book are far from unique (yes, it is a work of fiction, but many individuals and families, unfortunately, will go through similar experiences to those depicted in the book), many of us will never have been in close contact with somebody in such dire circumstances, much less be directly affected by it, so, how do we know what we would do? The characters are not necessarily the most likeable when we meet them (drinking heavily, harassed, afraid for their lives, paralysed and frozen, unable to make decisions and move on), and they are all closed off from each other, trapped, physically or mentally, sometimes by others and their preconceptions, sometimes by their own fears and inability to grief and forgive. The author also makes a conscious decision to introduce the rest of the family —the parents and Sam— first, so we get to see the effect her loss has had on the family before we meet Brenna, the missing girl. Her situation is heart-wrenching, and the most extreme and difficult to read about, although none of the characters have an easy ride.

Thankfully, the author manages to achieve a difficult balance between telling the story, not pulling any punches, making sure people can understand and empathise with what the characters are going through, while avoiding extremely graphic scenes (both of sex and violence), and gratuitous iterations and repetitions of the abuse, which would risk further exploitation rather than facilitating understanding and empathy. Don’t get me wrong; this is a hard read, and readers with triggers around topics such as child abuse, rape, bullying, violence against women and the LGTB community, and racism need to be aware of it. Even people who don’t have such triggers will find it a tough read, but, on the other hand, this is a book with a big heart, and the individual journey of each character, and of the family as a whole, make for an inspiring and hopeful read.

I have already talked about how impressed I am by the story and the way it is told. I grew fond of all the members of the family by the end of the book (it’s impossible for our hearts not to go out to Sam and Brenna, but we get to appreciate their parents as well), and I particularly enjoyed the journey of enlightenment Cole’s father goes through. The author includes most of the reactions we can imagine to these subjects, from the sublime to the ridiculous, (not everybody changes and accepts either. Bigotry remains alive and well, as we all know), and they all felt true. I was particularly fond of Jeremiah and his wife — almost too good to be true— who are an ideal we should all aspire to. I also liked the fact that the story does not stop when most readers would expect it to, and even Sam makes comments on that. There is no magical happy ending here that just makes everything right again. All the members of the family will have to keep working at their relationship and supporting each other, but that is as it should be.

There were no negative reviews of the book at the time I wrote this, and the only objections (apart from the warning that it is not a romance) some people had referred to were Sam’s virtual game playing (that a reader didn’t feel added anything to the novel. Personally, I think it helps readers understand what life is like for the character and experience the kind of coping strategies adolescents in similar circumstances might use), and some others felt the book could have been shorter and still managed to tell the same story. That might be true, but I suspect some of the nuances would have been lost.

This is an excellent book that manages to combine complex and credible characters with a plot that deals with several difficult subjects, without becoming preachy or too graphic. It is horrifying, touching, and insightful all at the same time, and it makes readers witness the highs and lows of the human condition. I recommended it to readers interested in the subjects, but I advise those who might worry about possible triggers to proceed with caution. The author adds some resources (links to websites) for people who need more information about some of the issues raised in the book, and I thought the final conversation of the book, between Brenna and her grandfather in the garden —when the grandfather talks about the snapdragon, and how it grows back after getting rid of the dead stuff, stronger and more beautiful— stands as a great metaphor for the story, and explains the title. Highly recommended.

Thanks to Rosie, her team, and the author, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and remember to always keep smiling.

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Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview THE CHALK MAN by C. J. Tudor (@cjtudor ‏) A morally ambiguous thriller and a story of tainted friendships that will appeal to readers of King’s It. #crimefiction

Hi all:

I read this book a little while back but I waited until it was published (it was due for publication on the 11th January 2018, so I hope it’s now available) to share it, so you wouldn’t have to wait to read it if you felt as intrigued by it as I was. Well, I won’t make you wait any longer:

The Chalk Man by C.J. Tudor
The Chalk Man by C.J. Tudor

The Chalk Man: A Novel by C. J. Tudor

A riveting and relentlessly compelling psychological suspense debut that weaves a mystery about a childhood game gone dangerously awry, and will keep readers guessing right up to the shocking ending

In 1986, Eddie and his friends are just kids on the verge of adolescence. They spend their days biking around their sleepy English 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 fully grown, and 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.
Expertly alternating between flashbacks and the present day, The Chalk Man is the very best kind of suspense novel, one where every character is wonderfully fleshed out and compelling, where every mystery has a satisfying payoff, and where the twists will shock even the savviest reader.

Preorder THE book of 2018. The Chalk Man is coming . . .

None of us ever agreed on the exact beginning.

Was it when we started drawing the chalk figures, or when they started to appear on their own?

Was it the terrible accident?

Or when they found the first body?

****

What authors are saying about The Chalk Man

 

‘[I] haven’t had a sleepless night due to a book for a long time. The Chalk Man changed that. Many congrats C. J. Tudor’ Fiona Barton, bestselling author of The Widow

‘What a great book. A twisty thriller and downright creepy ending. 5 stars’ Sarah Pinborough, the bestselling author of Behind Her Eyes

‘Tense, skillful storytelling’ Ali Land, bestselling author of Good Me Bad Me

‘Absolutely brilliant. I was expecting a creepy horror story that I’d have to read with all the lights on but this book is so much more than that – it’s witty, insightful, clever, thoughtful, mysterious, gripping, nostalgic and utterly compelling. Publishers often talk about “an exciting new voice in fiction” and I genuinely think C. J. Tudor is going to be huge. This book has bestseller written all over it and if it doesn’t go to number one I will eat my crime writing hat’ C. L. Taylor, bestselling author ofThe Missing

‘With its driving plot and sensitive evocation of friendship and loneliness, The Chalk Man is an utterly gripping read, with an ending that will make the hairs on the back of your neck bristle’ Karen Perry, bestselling author of Can You Keep a Secret?

‘What an amazing debut! Such an ingenious, original idea. I was engrossed from the very first page. I loved how the 1986 and present day storylines weaved so skilfully together to create that unforgettable and unexpected ending. Compelling, taut and so very, very chilling. This book will haunt you!’ Claire Douglas, bestselling author of Last Seen Alive

‘It’s been a while since I’ve read such an impressive debut.The pace was perfectly judged, the characters superbly drawn and there’s a creeping sense of unease that starts with the prologue and grows throughout the book. And then that ending! It feels so fresh and deserves to be a huge success’ James Oswald, bestselling author of theInspector McLean series

‘Impossible to put down, cleverly constructed and executed’ Ragnar Jonasson, author of the bestselling DarkIceland series

‘Finished reading The Chalk Man by C.J Tudor last night. What a book! Enjoyed every minute of it.A total banger!’ Amy Lloyd, author of The Innocent Wife

‘Kept me up until five in the morning. Wonderfully written. I loved it!’ Kimberley Chambers, bestselling author of Backstabber

“The grip the past has on the present reveals itself in ever more sinister and macabre ways in this utterly original and relentlessly compelling psychological thriller. The Chalk Man kept me guessing all the way to the end” Fiona Neil, bestselling author of The Betrayals

 

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Chalk-Man-C-J-Tudor-ebook/dp/B06XXSVQ9T/

https://www.amazon.com/Chalk-Man-C-J-Tudor-ebook/dp/B06XXSVQ9T/

Author C.J. Tudor
Author C.J. Tudor

About the author

C. J. Tudor was born in Salisbury and grew up in Nottingham, where she still lives with her partner and young daughter.

She left school at sixteen and has had a variety of jobs over the years, including trainee reporter, radio scriptwriter, shop assistant, ad agency copywriter and voiceover.

In the early nineties, she fell into a job as a television presenter for a show on Channel 4 called Moviewatch. Although a terrible presenter, she got to interview acting legends such as Sigourney Weaver, Michael Douglas, Emma Thompson and Robin Williams. She also annoyed Tim Robbins by asking a question about Susan Sarandon’s breasts and was extremely flattered when Robert Downey Junior showed her his chest.

While writing the Chalk Man she ran a dog-walking business, walking over twenty dogs a week as well as looking after her little girl.

She’s been writing since she was a child but only knuckled down to it properly in her thirties. Her English teacher once told her that if she ‘did not become Prime Minister or a best-selling author’ he would be ‘very disappointed.’

The Chalk Man was inspired by a tub of chalks a friend bought for her daughter’s second birthday. One afternoon they drew chalk figures all over the driveway. Later that night she opened the back door to be confronted by weird stick men everywhere. In the dark, they looked incredibly sinister. She called to her partner: ‘These chalk men look really creepy in the dark . . .’

She is never knowingly over-dressed. She has never owned a handbag and the last time she wore heels (twelve years ago) she broke a tooth.

She loves The Killers, Foo Fighters and Frank Turner. Her favourite venue is Rock City.

Her favourite films are Ghostbusters and The Lost Boys. Her favourite authors are Stephen King, Michael Marshall and Harlan Coben.

She is SO glad she was a teenager in the eighties.

She firmly believes that there are no finer meals than takeaway pizza and champagne, or chips with curry sauce after a night out.

Everyone calls her Caz.

https://www.amazon.com/C.-J.-Tudor/e/B074WBT1GL/

My review:

Thanks to NetGalley and to Penguin UK for offering me an ARC copy of this novel that I freely chose to review.

This story, told in two different time frames by Eddie Adams (known as Eddie Munster as a child, because all the friends had nicknames and somehow the Munsters and the Adams became conflated into one…), has all the elements fans of mysteries and thrillers love. Strange characters, plenty of secrets, red herrings and false clues, lies, many suspects, a slightly odd setting, bizarre murders, strange relationships… A murder involving bizarre circumstances (a chopped-up body with a missing head, strange chalk drawings…) took place in a small and picturesque UK city (it sounds small enough to be a town, but as it has a cathedral, it is a city) in 1986 (although there were other strange things that happened at the time too, coincidental or not), and became known as the Chalk-Man murder. Thirty years later someone starts asking questions and stirring things up. Eddie narrates, in the first-person, the events, including his memories of what happened when he was a teenager and also telling us what is happening now. Those of you who read my blog know I have a thing for unreliable narrators, and, well, Eddie is a pretty good one. He is an English high school teacher and seems fairly reliable and factual in his account, and he does a great job of making us feel the emotions and showing us (rather than telling us) the events; although slowly he starts revealing things about himself that make him less standard and boring, and slightly more intriguing. Eddie does not have all the information (it seems that the friends kept plenty of things from each other as children), and sometimes he is unreliable because of the effect of alcohol, and possibly his mental state (his father suffered early dementia and he is concerned that he might be going down the same path). But there are other things at play, although we don’t fully get to know them until the very end.

The story reminded me of Stephen King’s It, most of all because of the two time-frames and of the story of the children’s friendship, although the horror element is not quite as strong (but there are possible ghosts and other mysterious things at play), and the friends and their friendship is more suspect and less open. In some ways, the depiction of the friend’s relationship, and how it changes over time, is more realistic. Of course, here the story is told from Eddie’s point of view, and we share in his likes and dislikes, that are strongly coloured by the events and his personal opinions. The main characters are realistically portrayed (both from a child’s perspective and later from an adult one), complex, and none of them are totally good, or 100% likeable, but they are sympathetic and not intentionally bad or mean (apart from a couple of secondary characters but then… there is a murderer at work). Morality is ambiguous at best, and people do questionable things for reasons that seem fully justified to them at the time, or act without thinking of the consequences with tragic results. I am not sure I felt personally engaged with any of the characters (perhaps because of Eddie’s own doubts), but I liked the dubious nature of the narration, and the fact that there were so many unknowns, so many gaps, and that we follow the process of discovery up-close, although there are things the main character knows that are only revealed very late in the game (although some he seems to have buried and tried hard to forget). The parents, and secondary characters, even when only briefly mentioned, serve the purpose well, add a layer of complexity to the story and are consistent throughout the narration.

The mystery had me engaged, and the pieces fit all together well, even when some of them are not truly part of the puzzle. I can’t say I guessed what had happened, although I was suspicious of everyone and, let’s say I had good reason to be. I liked the ending, not only the resolution of the mystery but what happens to Eddie. If you read it, you’ll know what I mean.

The writing is fluid, it gives the narrator a credible voice, it gets the reader under the character’s skin, and it creates a great sense of place and an eerie atmosphere that will keep readers on alert. The story deals with serious subjects, including child abuse, bullying (and sexual abuse), dementia, and although it is not the most graphically violent story I have read, it does contain vivid descriptions of bodies and crime scenes, and it definitely not a cozy mystery and not for the squeamish reader.

A great new writer, with a very strong voice and great ability to write psychological thrillers, and one I hope to read many more novels by.

Thanks very much to Penguin, NetGalley and the author for the book, thanks to all of you for reading and remember to like, share, comment, click and of course, REVIEW!

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