The Chalk Man

Finished The Chalk Man by CJ Tudor. I received a copy from the publisher for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“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.”

This book has been compared to IT and Stranger Things, which means that it’s been getting a lot of attention lately. If it’s possible, try not to have that in your head when you read this. It’s not as good as those two things, but it’s still an incredibly good (and incredibly creepy) read. While yes, all three deal with spooky occurrences and childhood friends, this didn’t focus on that aspect as much as IT and Stranger Things do. (This isn’t a complaint, because this book is excellent on its own terms.)

There’s a lot going on here (mysterious deaths, childhood friendships, potential hauntings, people in the present—and past, really—who aren’t who they appear to be) and it’s all handled incredibly masterfully.

I will admit that this book has completely freaked me out. There were more than a few full body shudders, and I had no idea what was going on or who was responsible. I’m not sure any thriller fan could reasonably expect anything else.

Recommended.

 

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The Post & I, Tonya

Yesterday, I had the best (if tonally different) double feature ever: The Post and I, Tonya. (The Post is also one of the AFI’s 10 best movies from 2017.)

I think both will get quite a few Oscar nominations, though I don’t believe either will win much. (Allison Janney may win Best Supporting, though I think Laurie Metcalf will win.)

The Post was a little bit of a letdown (though I really liked it). It’s not Tom Hanks’ best work (or Spielberg’s) but Meryl Streep is an absolute powerhouse. The scenes with her are absolutely riveting.

But I, Tonya was a total surprise. I expected it to be fun (and it was) but it was also really good and really interesting. I felt really sad for Tonya Harding, even as I acknowledged that she did it to herself and that I don’t think she’s a particularly good person.

Both of these movies are still relevant today. Obviously the role and responsibility of the press is a major factor today, but so is class in America and the way we enjoy tearing people down. (Both major themes in I, Tonya.)

Thunderhead

Finished Thunderhead by Neal Shusterman.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Rowan and Citra take opposite stances on the morality of the Scythedom, putting them at odds, in the second novel of the chilling New York Times bestselling series from Neal Shusterman, author of the Unwind dystology.

Rowan has gone rogue, and has taken it upon himself to put the Scythedom through a trial by fire. Literally. In the year since Winter Conclave, he has gone off-grid, and has been striking out against corrupt scythes—not only in MidMerica, but across the entire continent. He is a dark folk hero now—“Scythe Lucifer”—a vigilante taking down corrupt scythes in flames.

Citra, now a junior scythe under Scythe Curie, sees the corruption and wants to help change it from the inside out, but is thwarted at every turn, and threatened by the “new order” scythes. Realizing she cannot do this alone—or even with the help of Scythe Curie and Faraday, she does the unthinkable, and risks being “deadish” so she can communicate with the Thunderhead—the only being on earth wise enough to solve the dire problems of a perfect world. But will it help solve those problems, or simply watch as perfection goes into decline?”

This is the second book in a trilogy, and just to warn you—you will be so desperate for the third book when you’re done with this one.

It’s hard to review second books, but this does everything one’s supposed to do: provide answers and more questions, raise the stakes, be complete enough to reasonably stand on its own but to also make obtaining the third book an absolute necessity. (Unfortunately, the third book will obviously not be here until 2019 and there isn’t an on-sale date yet. Could be roughly this time in 2019; could be end of December 2019.)

I love this book and this series. Highly recommended.

Before I Let Go

Finished Before I Let Go by Marieke Nijkamp. I received a copy from the publisher for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Best friends Corey and Kyra were inseparable in their snow-covered town of Lost Creek, Alaska. When Corey moves away, she makes Kyra promise to stay strong during the long, dark winter, and wait for her return.

Just days before Corey is to return home to visit, Kyra dies. Corey is devastated―and confused. The entire Lost community speaks in hushed tones about the town’s lost daughter, saying her death was meant to be. And they push Corey away like she’s a stranger.

Corey knows something is wrong. With every hour, her suspicion grows. Lost is keeping secrets―chilling secrets. But piecing together the truth about what happened to her best friend may prove as difficult as lighting the sky in an Alaskan winter… ”

This book is so hard to describe. It’s a sort of ghost story and a sort of cult story and definitely one about grief and friendship. (Basically all my favorite things in one gorgeous mishmash that shouldn’t work, but does.)

It’s not a secret that Kyra has been diagnosed bipolar. The whole town knows and the whole town (except for Corey, basically) has shunned her. Except when Corey goes to a new school out of town, somehow things have changed and the town now views Kyra as…well, to paraphrase Groundhog Day,  something like A god, if not THE god.

And now that Kyra is dead and Corey has no idea what happened to her friend, she is trying to piece together exactly what happened. (It doesn’t help that she is now viewed as an outsider–seriously, guys, this place is hardcore creepy.)

To say more would be to rob this story of its beauty (and creepiness, and it has both in roughly equal measure). You want to experience this for yourself. Recommended.

You’ll Miss Me When I’m Gone

Finished You’ll Miss Me When I’m Gone by Rachel Lynn Solomon. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“Eighteen-year-old twins Adina and Tovah have little in common besides their ambitious nature. Viola prodigy Adina yearns to become a soloist—and to convince her music teacher he wants her the way she wants him. Overachiever Tovah awaits her acceptance to Johns Hopkins, the first step on her path toward med school and a career as a surgeon.

But one thing could wreck their carefully planned futures: a genetic test for Huntington’s, a rare degenerative disease that slowly steals control of the body and mind. It’s turned their Israeli mother into a near stranger and fractured the sisters’ own bond in ways they’ll never admit. While Tovah finds comfort in their Jewish religion, Adina rebels against its rules.

When the results come in, one twin tests negative for Huntington’s. The other tests positive.

These opposite outcomes push them farther apart as they wrestle with guilt, betrayal, and the unexpected thrill of first love. How can they repair their relationship, and is it even worth saving?

From debut author Rachel Lynn Solomon comes a luminous, heartbreaking tale of life, death, and the fragile bond between sisters.”

Oh you guys, this book. This book could have been a horrible Lifetime movie of an experience and instead it’s this amazing, wonderful thing. It’s smart and sad and completely unexpected.

I feel like we have a very specific narrative with illness. People suffer bravely and gain these profound insights, right? But when one of the sisters learns that she has the gene for Huntington’s, there are no insights. There is rage and pettiness and a little bit of a malaise.

I also want to mention that I read the acknowledgments (as I always do) and I love the fact that she wanted to write a story about Jewish people that wasn’t a Holocaust narrative. (I’m sure there are plenty of stories that center around Jewish people that aren’t—one that immediately comes to mind is my beloved OyMG by Amy Fellner Dominy—but there aren’t many. And I love the portrayal of faith here, too.)

This book subverted all my expectations for what would happen. I cannot believe this is a debut novel. Rachel Lynn Solomon is definitely one to watch. Highly recommended.

The Running Girl

Finished The Running Girl by Sara Blaedel. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“Louise gets a call from her son, Jonas. It’s every parent’s worst nightmare: A school party has ended in terrifying chaos after a group of violent teenagers forced their way into the building in search of alcohol and valuables. Dashing to the scene, Louise discovers one of the students gravely injured-struck by a car while attempting to run for help. Now the girl’s distraught mother, pushed to her emotional breaking point, will do anything to make those who hurt her daughter pay.

So when someone targets the gang members with a vicious attack, the girl’s mother is the obvious suspect. But Louise can’t shake the feeling that the case might not be as cut-and-dried as it first appears. Someone is lying-but who?

Masterfully plumbing the darkest depths of human emotion in this propulsive new novel, Sara Blaedel again delivers an intense ride filled with unexpected turns that will have you on the edge of your seat…”

Sara Blaedel has been one of my favorites for years and I’m so happy that her earlier backlist is being translated into English.

This book is so intense and so creepy (those kids are terrifying). With every new bit of information, I would think “OK, I definitely know who’s responsible” but the next chapter and its reveal would turn everything on its head.

But as with any series, this one succeeds because of Louise Rick. I love her. I know that she’s prickly, but she is also fantastic. (My only complaint is that Camilla was largely absent; she and her son were on vacation. I’m just a lot happier when she and Louise are together and solving cases as friends do. Fortunately, because I’ve read the later books, I know that she comes back.)

Highly recommended.

 

Just Like Jackie

Finished Just Like Jackie by Lindsey Stoddard. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

For as long as Robinson Hart can remember, it’s just been her and Grandpa. Robbie knows they look like an odd pair, because her blond hair and pale skin don’t match his dark complexion—but those differences don’t mean anything to her. And though she wishes Grandpa would tell her more about the rest of her family, she’s learned over the years that he doesn’t like to talk about the past.

But Grandpa’s memory is starting to get bad, and Robbie’s worried that soon he won’t remember their family—including her—at all. She’s sure that he would get better if she could stay out of trouble, but it’s hard to keep her fists to herself when bullies like Alex Carter make fun of her for not having a mom or for looking so different from Grandpa. It’s up to Robbie to learn how to deal with her anger and to keep her family together—no matter what.”

Ooof, this book. It reminds me quite a bit of The Great Gilly Hopkins (one of my favorite books as a child) in that (a) Robinson has all this yearning for a family she knows nothing about and (b) she is so completely full of anger.

This offers some coping mechanisms for children who may have similar anger problems, but it also shows compassion for the other characters and explains why bullies can be that why, as well as that sometimes people are just insensitive and not actively mean.

I loved this book and cannot wait to read more from Lindsey Stoddard. Recommended.

Between Me and You

Finished Between Me and You by Allison Winn Scotch. I received a copy for review. This was originally published on August 8. 

Depending on where you are in the book, Ben and Tatum are unhappy and divorcing or the best couple ever. That’s because Tatum’s narrative starts at the beginning and moves forward and Ben’s starts at the end and moves back. We get the full picture, but not right away. 

This masterpiece of a novel has elements of A Star is Born (pick your favorite version) and also reminds me of Almost Paradise by Susan Isaacs, but is completely its own thing–it doesn’t read like a pale imitation of either. 

If you love love stories or Hollywood (Yes, they are a Hollywood power couple, though they take turns eclipsing each other) or smart stories told perfectly, this is for you. You need this book. 

I’ve been a fan of Allison Winn Scotch’s for years and this is her best book by far. (This is also an incredibly high bar. All of her books are excellent.)

Highly recommended. 

Together at Midnight

Finished Together at Midnight by Jennifer Castle. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“What does it really mean to be kind . . . and why does it sometimes feel like the hardest thing in the world to do? High school senior Kendall, who just returned from a life-changing semester in Europe, and Max, who is drifting his way through a gap year before college, struggle with these questions when they witness a tragic accident in New York City during the holiday season. Racked with guilt, the two accept a dare to perform random acts of kindness to strangers. The challenge pulls these two teens, who have a history together from back home, closer and closer as they explore a vibrant city filled with other people’s stories and secrets.

Kendall and Max can’t deny their growing bond, even though they both have other romantic entanglements and uncertain futures. As the clock counts down on New Year’s Eve, will they find themselves together at midnight?”

This book is absolutely adorable. It’s sweet and fun, the kind of book that is perfect for winter and reading under a warm blanket or by a fire. It’s also an incredibly fast read.

I liked the fact that we also got brief chapters from the perspective of the seven people helped. It was interesting, but made me wish that we heard more from them. (I especially wanted to know what happened to Luna, the woman who was hurt and who set everything off.) In a way, though, it makes sense–there’s no way to realistically know what happened next. (And yet.)

I don’t think this is the book that will stick with me, but I hope it’ll help me be a little nicer to strangers.

Weekend Update

Greetings from the ice planet Hoth! I know that Baltimore fared a lot better than most East Coast cities, but we are currently dealing with subzero wind chills, so I do feel justified in complaining.

I’m hoping to finish the rest of the January 2 releases and then dive in to the January 9 ones (so excited! I am really psyched for The Chalk Man and The Immortalists especially but they all sound amazing). I’m also hoping to really make a dent in my movie watching. I’m planning to see I, Tonya today. I haven’t decided what tomorrow’s movie will be, but there should definitely be a better MoviePass update on Monday.

I’m already sick of winter and we have so much of it to go.