Monday, 18 December 2017

The Chalk Man by C.J. Tudor - a chilling thriller

The Chalk Man by C.J. Tudor

My review

Wow - what a fabulously well written book! I can't believe this is a debut novel, it's so slick and accomplished, with a way with words which makes the story slide through your mind like treacle. Move over Stephen King, there's a new kid on the block, she's English and I love her mind.
Being a child of the 80's shows in her writing.

Gliding effortlessly back and forth in time spanning an era of 30 years we follow the life of Eddie and his little gang of mates, fat Gav, Metal Mickey, Hoppo and Nicky when they are young adolescents and in the present time when Ed has grown into a solitary 43 year old who has been shaped by events this fateful year when he was a 13 year old. That summer of 1986 there is a lot going on, there is a terrible accident, a dismembered body, a new teacher, friendship, bullying, parents behaving unpredictably, as parents often do, and a game the lads play with a bucket of coloured chalks sending messages via chalk men to each other which is at the very heart of the terrifying tale which is The Chalk Man.

Between the fun of the fair, cycle rides through the woods and games at the playground a chilling darkness spreads its talons and scary things, that will make your skin crawl, occur. It's wonderfully terrifying, achingly nostalgic and a thoroughly, jaw-droppingly good, read, peppered with tricksy twists to make you gasp.

I had a reading slump in the latter part of 2017 but this (and the wonderful Three Things About Elsie by Joanna Cannon) have completely renewed my faith in my ability to be totally absorbed in a book, in fact, although a very different kind of story, Chalk man reminded me a lot of The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by the same Joanna Cannon, both involving kids growing up in a 1980s they made me remember growing up in, even though I was fully grown by then!

I finished the Chalk man last night and I'm still reeling with awe and admiration. If you want something to send shivers up your spine - read it! It's dark, relentless, scary and nostalgic.

The Blurb

In 1986, Eddie and his friends are just kids on the verge of adolescence. They spend their days biking around their sleepy little 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 each other as messages only they can understand. But then a mysterious chalk man leads them right to a dismembered body, and nothing will ever be 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 his other friends got the same messages, 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

Sunday, 17 December 2017

My favourite reads 2107 - another darned list!

As everyones doing it at this time of year I may as well join in by listing my favourite reads of 2017. I'm quite disappointed with myself, at how few books I actually managed to read right to the end this year, perhaps because I did end up with quite a few duds which just didn't float my boat enough to finish them but I struggled on trying to get into them and losing time which could have been spent reading something I loved.

Here are a few of the books which did float my boat and kept me joyously entertained throughout.

Starting with possibly the most enjoyable read this year for me, the perfectly stunning Sealskin by Su Bristow an absolutely enchanting and captivating, tear at your heart, love story with the twist that it’s based on a legend yet is completely believable.

Before the Rains is a great historical romantic read by one of my go to authors for escapism Dinah Jefferies

The Wild Air by Rebecca Mascull is yet another historical book that stayed with me, a coming of age, a love story and a historical novel about early flight which swept me away.

He said, She Said by Erin Kelly is a delightfully different and darkly convoluted contemporary psychological thriller/ domestic Noir drama that gripped me and twisted my brain.

The very clever Six Stories by Matt Wesolowski blew me away with its quirky take on podcasting and a twisty crime story from six viewpoints.

Exquisite by Sarah Stovell is a darkly twisted story of a toxic relationship between two women. A stunning and immaculately fragmented tale of twisted perfection.

The amazing Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine is an utterly captivating and delightful genre bending book which defies categorization being both hilariously humorous yet darkly profound too.

Maria in the moon by Louise Beech, is also a light/dark book, dealing with a desperately dark subject in a heartwarming and accessible way threaded with wry humour.

The next two books are yet to come for most readers and I appreciate the greatly privileged position I'm in to have had the chance to read them both in advance of publication.

Two to look out for in 2018 are the wonderful

and Three Things about Elsie by the amazing Joanna Cannon

It would be remiss of me to publish this post without a warm mention and LOUD "thank you" to the quite superb Orenda Books from whom many of my very best reads this year have been. 

Many of their titles seem to be tailormade for me and I consider it a real privilege to be afforded advance copies of some of their titles.

If you're reading this maybe we share similar reading tastes, so do yourself a favour and have a browse through their current and forthcoming titles.

Friday, 15 December 2017

Sal by Mick Kitson - survival of the boldest

Sal by Mick Kitson

My review

Firstly, I loved reading this book, secondly I am aware that it could be a bit of a marmite book - for the survival purists it is a big leap of faith to accept the premise of the story which is that a 13 year old schoolgirl and her little sister can survive in the wild armed only with some bear grylls outdoor equipment and knowledge gleaned from youtube videos! It's about not just survival in the outdoors but surviving abuse and ill treatment too.

But as a Bear Grylls fanatic and would-be wild camper myself, I put aside any preconceptions and just rolled with it and found myself enchanted by the voice of Sal and entranced by the characters she meets especially the wonderful Ingrid.

Sal wants to escape the clutches of her alcoholic Mums abusive boyfriend Robert before he turns his attentions to her beloved little sister Pepper. So it follows that she needs to plan this very carefully using any means at her disposal which are mainly a thirst for knowledge and a canny nature.

For a whole year she endures the drunken violence whilst devouring youtube survival videos and binge watching every Bear Grylls episode she can find whilst plotting to escape. Using her stash of stolen credit cards she hoards Amazon and ebay purchases of outdoor all-weather equipment and tools whilst planning and plotting their escape. Until she reaches breaking point and murders the brutish Robert and takes for the wilderness wearing Gore-Tex boots and her rucksack weighted down with Belvita biscuits and Dundee cake.

Into the forest they go and Sal proves to be a capable survivor, with guts and a rough at the edges love for her sibling, coupled with a rare vocabulary of swear words and the innate ability to be able to work out “What Bear Grylls would do” in any given situation. Her rough little voice struck a chord and I loved this kid who shows us how far its possible to go to protect someone we love.

It's delightful and captivating and oh so enjoyable, especially to the kind of reader who dreams of walking out of the door one day and taking up residence in an abandoned shack somewhere remote.

It reminded me of “The Outlander” by Gil Adamson The Outlander which is one of my all time favourite books and I am positive it will be a huge hit. 

I genuinely felt bereft when I finished it, it’s one of those books where I really envy everyone who hasn’t read it yet because you’ve got it all ahead to enjoy. Pure reading delight.

Here is the Blurb

This is a story of something like survival.

Sal planned it for almost a year before they ran. She nicked an Ordnance Survey map from the school library. She bought a compass, a Bear Grylls knife, waterproofs and a first aid kit from Amazon using credit cards she'd robbed. She read the SAS Survival Handbook and watched loads of YouTube videos.

And now Sal knows a lot of stuff. Like how to build a shelter and start a fire. How to estimate distances, snare rabbits and shoot an airgun. And how to protect her sister, Peppa. Because Peppa is ten, which is how old Sal was when Robert started on her.

Told in Sal's distinctive voice, and filled with the silent, dizzying beauty of rural Scotland, Sal is a disturbing, uplifting story of survival, of the kindness of strangers, and the irrepressible power of sisterly love; a love that can lead us to do extraordinary and unimaginable things.

Thursday, 14 December 2017

#TallChimneys by Allie Cresswell #Blogtour extract and #review

Tall Chimneys by Allie Cresswell

Once in a while a book comes along whose description ticks all my boxes and Tall Chimneys is one such novel, so I was delighted to be offered the chance to take part in the blog tour organized by Rachels Random Resources

Read on to read my review and an extract.

Please join me by reading an enticing extract and please visit some of my fellow bloggers on this tour too.

My Review

Tall Chimneys is an engaging literary historical novel set in a rambling tumbledown old country house set in a remote dip in a brooding moorland setting which sets the perfect bucolic scene for this nostalgic tale with a dual time twist.

With plenty of characters to dislike and the antiquity of the location it sets out to draw us into the baleful world of Tall Chimneys, a book about a house and the people who lived there.

Almost as soon as I began reading this book I was reminded of The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters. It has the same sombre, brooding, feel of time passing by behind old Oak doors, a subtle air of faded gentility, crumbling grandeur and something just a little askew in what should be an idyllic setting.

From the outset at the beginning of the 20th century we are thrust firmly into the shoes of Evelyn Talbot, spinster sibling whom the family view as a burdensome reliability. From childhood she has felt unwanted and unloved.  As this disagreeable family cast their fates far and wide Evelyn remains at the crumbling and equally burdensome family pile, a rural mansion falling into decay and disrepair.

Unsurprisingly Evelyn and the house have an affinity, nevertheless the one place this young misfit of a woman feels she fits in, becomes a burden to her too. Poor Evelyn all she wants is affection and to fit in, yet every move seems to place her further apart from the society she craves.

Her family and their staff include some thoroughly obnoxious characters, which make the reader root for Evelyn, even if she isn’t always the easiest of women to like, and makes ill advised decisions galore, you will sympathise with her and the way she lives as you grow to know her.

An unexpected encounter brings an unlikely hero into her world which eventually leads to an unexpected, somewhat blighted romance for the lonely and unloved protagonist and as time passes she finds she must choose between her own chance at happiness and the chance to save Tall chimneys.

There is a meandering and sonorous quality in much of the writing which like the house, shrouded in mist and set apart from the world at large, makes you feel weighted by time itself, but the narrative and the story take an unexpected twist or two.

Spread over a century, the authors love and knowledge of history and the very authentic character she has created in Evelyn complement the rather gloomy dust ridden monument which is Tall Chimneys and where I wouldn’t have been surprised to find Miss Havisham lingering.

This is not a ghost story but has a haunting and mesmerising quality which will keep you turning the pages at Tall Chimneys.

The Blurb

Considered a troublesome burden, Evelyn Talbot is banished by her family to their remote country house. Tall Chimneys is hidden in a damp and gloomy hollow. It is outmoded and inconvenient but Evelyn is determined to save it from the fate of so many stately homes at the time - abandonment or demolition.

Occasional echoes of tumult in the wider world reach their sequestered backwater - the strident cries of political extremists, a furore of royal scandal, rumblings of the European war machine. But their isolated spot seems largely untouched. At times life is hard - little more than survival. At times it feels enchanted, almost outside of time itself. The woman and the house shore each other up - until love comes calling, threatening to pull them asunder. 

Her desertion will spell its demise, but saving Tall Chimneys could mean sacrificing her hope for happiness, even sacrificing herself. 

A century later, a distant relative crosses the globe to find the house of his ancestors. What he finds in the strange depression of the moor could change the course of his life forever.

One woman, one house, one hundred years.

An Extract from Tall Chimneys to whet your appetite

The Author - Allie Cresswell

I often think that the experience of being evacuated during WW2 must have been terrifying for the children. Sent off to strangers, arriving in locations so alien to their experiences, little knowing when or if they would return home or see their parents again. And all this in the days before Child Protection - the hosts might have been cruel, mean, violent, even paedophiles. On the other hand, they may have been kind. In this extract, Evelyn collects three girls evacuated from Leeds. 


At Tall Chimneys we had more mouths to feed. Kenneth drove us to the station and we came back with four evacuees from Leeds, where Lancaster bombers and munitions were being churned out by the factories, some of which were owned by Sylvester Ratton. 

Kenneth and Rose wanted a boy because he would have to share a room with Bobby. A school-age boy would be ideal, as Rose was, by then, expecting a baby and didn’t want an extra child who would be under her feet. They picked Malcolm. He was about Bobby’s age but whereas Bobby was chubby and dimpled, Malcolm was thin to the point of being skeletal. He was filthy; ill-turned out in torn trousers and shoes so badly scuffed we could see his toe through the leather. He was snot-nosed and whiney, standing rather apart from the other boys waiting on the platform. Kenneth chose him in preference to the more appealing alternatives because he looked so frightened and Kenneth felt sorry for him. 

I went in search of the girls and spotted one aged about seven in the waiting room. She was holding the hand of a toddler perhaps two and also cradling a baby who was under a year old. They were all dressed in clothes which, though well-mended, were immaculately clean. The hair of the older girls was neatly braided and in ribbons. The baby wore a home-crocheted bonnet. As I approached the little group, the oldest girl shrank away from me and pulled the toddler behind her.
‘We have to stay together, Mam says,’ she announced, defiantly.

The woman who was supervising bustled over with a clip-board. She was hatchet-faced, prim and terrifying, without a shred of maternal instinct or kindness. The girls shrank even further into the grimy corner of the waiting room. ‘Which will you take?’ she asked me. ‘Madam here says they’re to stay together but I’ve told her nobody will have room for three.’
‘I have room for three,’ I said, quickly. ‘I’ll take them all.’ The big girl’s face remained stoical and determined, but a fat tear oozed from her eye and dribbled down her face.

‘Oh!’ The woman took a step backwards and looked me up and down. ‘Mrs…?’
‘Johns, from Tall Chimneys,’ I said, picking up the small leather suitcase which was propped against a nearby chair leg.

The woman sniffed; she knew me, clearly, by repute. ‘Regulations state…’ she began, but I cut her off.
‘This is no time to be hidebound by regulations,’ I declared, stoutly. ‘There’s a war on. We all have to do our bit.’ I reached out my hand to the toddler, who let go of her sister’s and took mine. It was hot and sticky, as Awan’s often was.
‘I’m not sure I can…’ the woman tried another tack.
‘Have a heart,’ I hissed, glancing at her chest as though I doubted she had such a thing - it was as flat as a board - and then at the pathetic sight of the three children. ‘If you doubt me, Mrs Greene can vouch for me.’ Kenneth’s mother was a redoubtable figure in and of herself and a big mover in the WI world. Her name seemed to do the trick.

‘Very well,’ the woman sniffed, leafing through her file of papers. ‘You’ll take Marion, Audrey and Kitty Blakney. Marion is the big one. It says here she wets the bed.’

The seven year old gave a little cry of outrage and shame. Her brave demeanour collapsed and she sank onto the bench behind her in a torrent of tears. The child whose hand I held - Audrey - began to cry also and the baby, naturally, followed suit. The harridan with the clipboard gave a satisfied smile. ‘Good luck,’ she said, nastily, stalking off to exert her authority elsewhere.

If thats made you want to read the book you can order it now from Amazon uk


Sunday, 10 December 2017

My Review of #ThreethingsaboutElsie by @JoannaCannon

My Review:

Firstly I must confess I’ve been having a bit of a struggle recently to concentrate on my reading and find books which grab and hold my attention well enough to ensure I can’t put them down. 

Three things about Elsie has been the exception to the rule and has renewed my faith in my ability to devour and drown in and adore a book.

It also quite broke my heart – Joanna Cannon how could you put me through this?  By the end I was sobbing those great big ugly gut wrenching Waah’s that you just can’t do quietly – Thank goodness I was reading it in bed and not on the bus!

Like her debut novel “The Trouble with goats and sheep” which I also read and loved, this author peoples her writing with wonderful characters to believe in and peppers it with wry observations and astoundingly astute and beautiful prose.

We are introduced to the narrator Florence as she lies prone on the floor of her sheltered accommodation waiting for someone to find her following a fall.

She spends her time reminiscing, interspersed with detailed imaginings of how different folk will to react if they are the ones to discover and rescue her.

In her mid 80s Florence has a lively mind which treats us to some colourful and detailed observations, yet people assume she is losing her memory because she is old – how can they, she never forgets a thing, well  not when her best friend Elsie is around to help jog her memory. Her BFF is her constant companion and the 2 old ladies have been together since they were friends as teenagers, so what one may have forgotten the other will be sure to remember.

But when a sinister face from the past shows up in the very place Florence feels safe, she takes it upon herself to unravel the mystery of why a man who was supposed to have died donkeys years ago is still very much alive and seems to be posing a threat to Florence.  Not many people believe Florence except of course her loyal pal Elsie, and sprightly pensioner the wonderful Jack, who also becomes her staunch champion.

There are a few mysteries to be solved and dear Florence is determined to solve them all, if only she didn’t have so many little gaps in her ageing memory.

This is a simply stunning book, read it, love it and please take my advice and read it with a hanky tucked up your sleeve.

The Blurb

There are three things you should know about Elsie.

The first thing is that she’s my best friend.

The second is that she always knows what to say to make me feel better.

And the third thing… might take a little bit more explaining.

84-year-old Florence has fallen in her flat at Cherry Tree Home for the Elderly. 

As she waits to be rescued, Florence wonders if a terrible secret from her past is about to come to light; and, if the charming new resident is who he claims to be, why does he look exactly a man who died sixty years ago?

Blog tour The Museum of Lost Love by Gary Barker a #Randomthings #BlogTour

Blog tour The Museum of Lost Love by Gary Barker a #Randomthings #BlogTour Hello blog readers and book lovers. Today I am joining in t...