Book Review: The Chalk Man, by C J Tudor #TheChalkMan

Publisher:  Michael Joseph (Penguin)

Publication date: January 2018

Yes, I appreciate this one’s not published for aaages but I really, really need to talk about it because: 1) it’s AWESOME and 2) I’m pressing the pause button for an extended blog break – a separate post that also features a few exceptional reads of 2017 so far, and this title is included!…

What. A. Stunner.

The Chalk Man is highly compelling, the ordeals utterly convincing, and its delivery so captivating I was going nowhere until I had drained the words from every page.

With subtle undertones of Stand by Me, a series of unfortunate events tests the friendship of a gaggle of kids living their 1980s childhood to the max. Not quite understanding how the world works exactly, but knowing that sometimes parts of it get broken, and yet it keeps on turning.

The Chalk Man has all the hallmarks of an accomplished thriller. Combine the appearance of seemingly harmless juvenile ‘Chalk Man’ drawings, a tragic accident, a gruesome discovery in the woods, and a secret so well disguised that it left me beaming from ear-to-ear.

The story creeps seamlessly between the alternating dual timeline of 2016 and 1986. Readers who may remember this era (myself included) will appreciate the nostalgic realism and there’s some bang on dialogue exchanges injected into the plot.

As the forty-something narrator reflects, he also investigates the implications of fresh doomed doodles and it becomes clear that although certain circumstances from their youth have affected the characters’ futures differently, something has given permission for grave consequences to raise its ugly head.

This is undeniably one of the best thrillers I have read this year and I would urge you to keep your eyes peeled for it – in fact, I insist! It’s a colossal and attention-grabbing book that will be arriving at a bookshop NEAR YOU in January 2018.

It’s awesome, and then some.

Rating:  5/5

(My thanks to the publisher for providing an unexpected early copy of this title for which I’m incredibly grateful and it’s my pleasure to provide this review.)

(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

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

Looking back, it all started on the day of the fair and the terrible accident. When twelve-year-old Eddie first met the Chalk Man.

It was the Chalk Man who gave Eddie the idea for the drawings: a way to leave secret messages between his group of friends.

And it was fun, to start with, until the figures led them to the body of a young girl.

That was thirty years ago and Ed thought the past was behind him. Then he receives a letter containing just two things: a piece of chalk, and a drawing of a stick figure. As history begins to repeat itself, Ed realises the game was never over . . .

Everyone has secrets.

Everyone is guilty of something.

And children are not always so innocent.

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(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

C. J. TUDOR lives in Nottingham, England with her partner and three-year-old daughter. Over the years she has worked as a copywriter, television presenter, voice over and dog-walker. She is now thrilled to be able to write full-time, and doesn’t miss chasing wet dogs through muddy fields all that much. THE CHALK MAN is her first novel.

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Book Review: Diaboliad and Other Stories, by Mikhail Bulgakov

Publisher:  Alma Classics

Publication date:  This edition – 15th April 2015

Diaboliad My Review

Diaboliad and Other StoriesThis slim volume is bursting with four tall tales that are simply a rhapsody of random.

The characters’ often confusing psychological metamorphosis throughout is either a result of a mind of high intelligence, or someone that’s completely off their trolley. The jury’s still out on that one, I’m afraid!

The absurdities presented by strained Russian political situations in the early 20th century allow the plots to run riot, blitzing bureaucratic streets, oppressive workplaces, and the biting cold of uninviting apartment complexes.

A quick rundown of the stories include: a dismissed office clerk’s sulphur induced hallucinogenic doppelganger effect, the abrupt end to a tough regime that thrives courtesy of an insufferable building supervisor, an immigrant’s unintentional progression within the Russian army, and a surreal dream in which a man cons an entire province out of billions.

I can’t remotely fathom the whys and wherefores of the individual plots, other than Diaboliad and other Stories grips an ‘arrogant’ regime with both hands and attacks it with shrewd rebellion and an undiluted irony.

While Diaboliad (first published in 1924) was by far my favourite story from this odd collection, each tale was colossally chaotic enough to compel me to keep reading. After this taster I’d be intrigued to try this author’s further work, as the flash of ideas that rebound off the page are strangely engaging and utterly unique – ‘quirky’ doesn’t quite do it justice!

Rating:  3.5/5

(I received this copy from Alma Books in a Twitter competition they ran earlier in 2016. Yep, it’s been on the TBR a while!)

Diaboliad Book Summary

(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

In Bulgakov’s ‘Diaboliad’, the modest and unassuming office clerk Korotkov is summarily sacked for a trifling error from his job at the First Central Depot for the Materials for Matches, and tries to seek out his newly assigned superior Kalsoner, responsible for his dismissal. His quest through the labyrinth of Soviet bureaucracy takes on the increasingly surreal dimensions of a nightmare. This early satirical story, reminiscent of Gogol and Dostoevsky, was first published in 1924 and incurred the wrath of pro-Soviet critics. Along with the three other stories in this volume which also feature explorations of the absurd and bizarre, it provides a fascinating glimpse into the artistic development of the author of ‘Master and Margarita’.

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Diaboliad Author Profile

(Courtesy of Goodreads)

Mikhail Bulgakov was born in Kiev in May 1891. He studied and briefly practised medicine and, after indigent wanderings through revolutionary Russia and the Caucasus, he settled in Moscow in 1921. His sympathetic portrayal of White characters in his stories, in the plays The Days of the Turbins (The White Guard), which enjoyed great success at the Moscow Art Theatre in 1926, and Flight (1927), and his satirical treatment of the officials of the New Economic Plan, led to growing criticism, which became violent after the play The Purple Island.

His later works treat the subject of the artist and the tyrant under the guise of historical characters, with plays such as Molière, staged in 1936, Don Quixote, staged in 1940, and Pushkin, staged in 1943. He also wrote a brilliant biography, highly original in form, of his literary hero, Molière, but The Master and Margarita, a fantasy novel about the devil and his henchmen set in modern Moscow, is generally considered his masterpiece. Fame, at home and abroad, was not to come until a quarter of a century after his death at Moscow in 1940.

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Book Review: Exquisite, by Sarah Stovell

Publisher: Orenda Books

Publication date:

15th May 2017 [Kindle] 

15th June 2017 [Paperback]

Alternating narratives fan the flames of a liaison until its blaze roars out of control and threatens to raze people’s lives to the ground.

Caught up in the emotional inferno are Bo (a celebrated author), Alice (a creative writing student), and a reflective and anonymous voice from a women’s prison, all of whom do a magnificent job of disguising a fundamentally flawed relationship born from the vulnerabilities they each possess.

A disturbing pattern emerges between intervals where faith is restored and promptly eroded. As each of them lose their way their journeys are signposted with compulsive infatuation and an intense ache for something that has been absent from their lives.

As they recount their own interpretation of how their situation progressed their individual stories are highly persuasive, and even though it wasn’t a huge surprise to discover where their dark and twisted path took them I was satisfied with the final destination.

The brooding Exquisite is effective and skilfully written, enhanced by the characters who wear their fictional peculiarities well and the location chosen as the stage for their tragedy to unfold. I’d be very curious to see what this author may have to offer in the future, but for now I’m more than happy to recommend this one.

Rating: 4/5

(My thanks to Karen Sullivan at Orenda Books for providing a digital copy of this title – it’s my pleasure to provide this unbiased review.)

(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

A chilling, exquisitely written and evocative thriller set in the Lake District, centring on the obsessive relationship that develops between two writers…

Bo Luxton has it all – a loving family, a beautiful home in the Lake District, and a clutch of bestselling books to her name.

Enter Alice Dark, an aspiring writer who is drifting through life, with a series of dead-end jobs and a freeloading boyfriend.

When they meet at a writers’ retreat, the chemistry is instant, and a sinister relationship develops… Or does it?

Breathlessly pacey, taut and terrifying, Exquisite is a startlingly original and unbalancing psychological thriller that will keep you guessing until the very last page.

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(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

Sarah Stovell was born in 1977 and spent most of her life in the Home Counties before a season working in a remote North Yorkshire youth hostel made her realise she was a northerner at heart. She now lives in Northumberland with her partner and two children and is a lecturer in Creative Writing at Lincoln University. Her debut psychological thriller, Exquisite, is set in the Lake District.

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Book Review: Nameless (The Hellbound Anthology), by David McCaffrey

Publisher: Britain’s Next Best Seller

Publication date: 17th May 2017

Source: My own purchased copy

…real power is not given, it is taken.

Welcome to the Obadiah Stark appreciation society, with followers so hopelessly devoted to their murderous idol’s philosophy that they personally subscribe to his macabre brand of ‘making a point’ by taking the lives of unwilling volunteers themselves.

Stark, a serial killer known also as ‘The Tally Man’ for his trademark tattoos keeping count of his victims, blighted the world with his butchery and warped vision of society. The cult’s sole purpose is to continue the work of Stark, who they believe was treated unjustly (I wholeheartedly encourage you to read Hellbound, which is a reckoning of sheer magnificence before you embark on this brutal journey).

From the way his supporters revere Stark as a gift to humanity, I’m surprised they haven’t built a grisly theme park in his honour. Then again the property they reside in is a horrific playground, but a trip to Madame Tussauds it’s not – in fact, it wouldn’t even come close.

They have an interest in a certain character from Hellbound and given this person’s previous obsession with Obadiah Stark the cult leader happily parades obvious hints and clues as to their existence, as they know this individual will be powerless to resist the main attraction – a merciless exhibition of their authority with the capacity to carry on regardless.

With the exception of certain scenes representative of a classic slasher movie, the really scary thing is the cult’s conduct which operates with the composure of a hive – the drones busy themselves with their duties making sacrifices where required, no matter what that may be, recruiting new workers to further their cause. It makes you wonder what hideous catalyst could have occurred in these individual’s previous lives that would encourage them to believe their practices are acceptable in any way.

Nameless occupies the realms of horror / thriller and doesn’t hold back. In places, the procession of gruesome spectacles are so intensely savage and graphic to the point that I don’t think this book would be to everyone’s taste.

But, if this book has caught your attention you may also be interested in reading In Extremis, a short introduction into the magnitude of another terrifyingly furtive operation in the Hellbound Anthology – ‘The Brethren’, who have been making disconcerting appearances since the infamous days of James Maybrick, aka Jack the Ripper.

My curiosity is itching to know what scars Obadiah Stark could possibly leave behind next, despite existing as nothing but newspaper headline…

Rating:  4/5

(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

‘There is no hunting like the hunting of man, and those who have hunted armed men
long enough and liked it, never care for anything else thereafter.’
Ernest Hemingway

One serial killer terrified the world. Imagine what an army of them could do…

A cult member is arrested at the scene of a brutal murder. She will only speak to former crime reporter, Joe O’Connell.

Joe’s obsession with Obadiah Stark a.k.a The Tally Man cost him everything. He is about to learn that Stark’s message did not end with his death.

They believe in what The Tally Man stood for. They believe in what The Tally Man did. But he was one, and they are many. Once they have you, they will never let you go…

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(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

David lives in Redcar in the North East of England and works as an Infection Prevention and Control nurse in a local Acute trust. He has a Kelly, a Jake and a Liam.

A huge fan of Steve Alten, John Grisham and Lee Childs, David loves reading as much as he enjoys writing. Hellbound was his first novel, all thanks to Britain’s Next Bestseller and the aforementioned Steve Alten who took a chance on him as a writing coach client and taught him so much about what it takes to be a writer.

Hellbound was voted by W H Smith readers as one of 2014’s most underrated crime novels.

His second book, the novella prequel to Hellbound titled ‘In Extremis’ is currently available on Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com on both Kindle and paperback and is a Semi finalist in the Kindle Book Awards 2016. ‘In Extremis’ is also available as an audio book on Audible, Amazon and ITunes; Hellbound is due out as an audio book before the end of the year.

He is currently working on Nameless, the next book in the Hellbound Anthology which is due for release before the end of the year.

His project with Stephen Sayers, “By Any Means Necessary” is due out 15th November 2016.

A self professed geek, David loves Doctor Who, Arrow, Supernatural, Batman, Superman, D.C Comics, Person of Interest, Continuum, Gotham, Star Wars, The Flash, The Walking Dead, The Blacklist…beginning to see a pattern here?

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Book Review: S.T.A.G.S, by M A Bennett

Publisher:  Hot Key Books

Publication date: 10th August 2017

Source: Reader’s First website

S.T.A.G.S (St Aiden the Great) is an elite educational establishment with a deep-rooted code of conduct. It’s where ‘old school’ rules and the practice of embracing traditional methods is the most acceptable way to conduct one’s self. The use of smart phones, kindles or even the internet itself is deemed to be ‘Savage’.

Student role play, maybe? A teenage fad, perhaps? Nope. It’s a movement of young folk who have, quite plausibly, adopted the title of the ‘Medievals’. Anything that clashes with the strange ideology of the cultured few will keep you outside their circle, and that’s a very isolated place to be.

What a relief then, to be among the ‘Savages’ who receive the highly-prized invitation to attend a ‘Medieval’s’ manorial estate for a spot of Huntin’, Fishin’ and a Shootin’. Oh my, if ever there was a weekend that should have health and safety crawling all over it was this one!

The location provides the perfect terrain for a spot of macabre recreation. One thing newcomers learn during their stay is: never underestimate your game – its instinct is to survive, it merely depends on who is stronger – the hunter or the prey.

I loved how the privileged hunting party operates in an aristocratic pack, yet successfully creates a distinctly primal atmosphere for their unsuspecting guests. Just how far this traumatic experience will affect them is for you to discover for yourself – all I know is “ Huntin’ Shootin’ Fishin’ ” is an invitation I’m unlikely to RSVP any time soon!

S.T.A.G.S heralds a terrific story line with a cracking pace and shows that moral rivalry is alive and kicking. One unfortunate irritation did arise from the over-indulgence of movie references, which began to resemble a compilation of nominees for best film/theatre production. I’m all for one or two of these casually thrown in for a nostalgia boost, but the overkill (excuse the pun) influenced what could have been a 5/5 rating from me.

Despite the fact that vulnerable creatures are targeted for sport, S.T.A.G.S is an exceptionally good read. The warped logic used to justify certain unethical behaviour was repulsive yet riveting, and I especially enjoyed the devious taunt from the conclusion – to be, or not to be, continued. Now that IS the question…

Rating: 4/5

(I received a copy of this title from the publisher via their Reader’s First website and it’s my pleasure to provide this unbiased review.)

(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

Nine students. Three bloodsports. One deadly weekend.

A twisting thriller for fans of Looking for Alaska.

It is the autumn term and Greer MacDonald is struggling to settle into the sixth form at the exclusive St. Aidan the Great boarding school, known to its privileged pupils as S.T.A.G.S. Just when she despairs of making friends Greer receives a mysterious invitation with three words embossed upon on it: huntin’ shootin’ fishin’. When Greer learns that the invitation is to spend the half term weekend at the country manor of Henry de Warlencourt, the most popular and wealthy boy at S.T.A.G.S., she is as surprised as she is flattered.

But when Greer joins the other chosen few at the ancient and sprawling Longcross Hall, she realises that Henry’s parents are not at home; the only adults present are a cohort of eerily compliant servants. The students are at the mercy of their capricious host, and, over the next three days, as the three bloodsports – hunting, shooting and fishing – become increasingly dark and twisted, Greer comes to the horrifying realisation that those being hunted are not wild game, but the very misfits Henry has brought with him from school…

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(Courtesy of Reader’s First Website)

M. A. Bennett is half Venetian and was born in Manchester, England, and raised in the Yorkshire Dales. She is a history graduate of Oxford University and the University of Venice, where she specialised in the study of Shakespeare’s plays as a historical source. After university she studied art and has since worked as an illustrator, an actress, and a film reviewer. She also designed tour visuals for rock bands, including U2 and the Rolling Stones. She was married on the Grand Canal in Venice and lives in north London with her husband, son and daughter.

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Book Review: Unforgivable (DC Will MacReady #2), by Mike Thomas

Publisher: Bonnier Zaffre

Publication date: 27th July 2017

A very happy publication day to author, Mike Thomas!

When a malicious spectre’s intent is merely to inflict indiscriminate damage to innocent lives their actions are Unforgivable.

From the immediate tone of the story and an accompanying eye-witness report you would naturally assume that the suspect’s actions were racially motivated. As new evidence materialises complications ensue and it becomes clear that the action during the first chapter is just the beginning. So sit tight, it’s going to be a very bumpy ride…

There’s no doubt it’s an explosive beginning, both literally and metaphorically. The search for the culprit may be extensive but it’s supported by inadequate manpower, which lends an insight into interesting police procedures and few absurd errors of judgement by investigators who are, after all, only human too – solving the case of this magnitude relies on heavily on perception but government cuts, lack of shut-eye, the archaic attitude of a colleague, and even a complicated personal life on the skids can disrupt proceedings.

I’d imagine that the author’s previous background as a former police officer contributes enormously to the reality of the complex labyrinth of evidence Will MacReady and co. are faced with. The narration is edgy and feels staggeringly authentic, so too are the observations of the resulting carnage at specific locations where herds of people gather. Add to this the false sense of relief when everyone believes the danger has passed, and the engineer’s indifference as they appreciate their handiwork, and you have all the ingredients of a riveting read.

And I hadn’t even realised this was book two in a series! It’s apparent there are some references to earlier event(s) as to why MacReady is the subject of a few wisecracks from his ‘buddies’ but I’m happy to report this didn’t affect my overall reading experience. The necessary background is casually integrated into the story without dwelling or hindering the pace.

To sum up: Unforgivable has a solid plot where ordinary people face extreme scenes that no one could have prepared for – except a vengeful and vicious choreographer, of course.

Rating:      4/5

(My thanks to the publisher via their Reader’s First website for providing a copy of this title, for which It is my pleasure to provide this unbiased review.)

(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

A dark slice of Cardiff crime for fans of TONY PARSONS, JAMES OSWALD and LUCA VESTE. There isn’t always a welcome in the valleys . . .

Bombs detonate in a busy souk, causing massive devastation. 
An explosion rips apart a mosque, killing and injuring those inside. 
But this isn’t the Middle East – this is Cardiff . . . 

In a city where tensions are already running high, DC Will MacReady and his colleagues begin the desperate hunt for the attacker. If they knew the ‘why’, then surely they can find the ‘who’? But that isn’t so easy, and time is fast running out . . . 

MacReady is still trying to prove himself after the horrific events of the previous year, which left his sergeant injured and his job in jeopardy, so he feels sidelined when he’s asked to investigate a vicious knife attack on a young woman. 

But all is not as it seems with his new case, and soon MacReady must put everything on the line in order to do what is right.

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(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

Mike Thomas was born in Wales in 1971. For more than two decades he served in the police, working some of Cardiff ’s busiest neighbourhoods in uniform, public order units, drugs teams and CID. He left the force in 2015 to write full time.

His debut novel, ‘Pocket Notebook’, was published by William Heinemann (Penguin Random House) and longlisted for the Wales Book of the Year. The author was also named as one of Waterstones’ ‘New Voices’ for 2010. His second novel, ‘Ugly Bus’, is currently in development for a six part television series with the BBC.

The first in the MacReady series of novels, ‘Ash and Bones’, was released August 2016 by Bonnier Zaffre. ‘Unforgivable‘, the second in the series, is released in July 2017.

He lives in the wilds of Portugal with his wife and two children.

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Book Review: The House, by Simon Lelic #TheHouse

Publisher: Penguin

Publication date: 17/08/17 [Ebook] 02/11/17 [Paperback]

Once upon a time there were two people in the big city of London who found buying their first fairy tale property together a thoroughly dreadful experience. Then, after many, many disappointments, their dream came true when a detached house, complete with the previous owner’s creepy taxidermy, became theirs.

Those two lucky, plucky people are Sydney Baker and Jack Walsh and The House is where their nightmare begins…

I have one word for this book – fright-tastic. The couple’s alternating written monologue, entitled simply ‘Jack’ or ‘Sydney’ as chapter headings, relays their initial excitement from the shock of winning the auction bid and how that took a massive nosedive the longer they resided in The House.

At first I wondered why the story is being narrated in this weirdly dynamic fashion. I won’t elaborate simply because all becomes clear other than to say it kept me on my toes throughout. Their tale of terror is brought to the boil by casually inserting a few perfectly timed Stephen Kingisms into the dialogue, which raised a smile. And when situations begin to resemble Mr King’s creations you realise just how grim your world has become.

Jack and Sydney’s exchanges are naturally heartfelt and their fear so fresh I could almost smell it. The rhythm and pitch of their voices felt as if their account was being spoken aloud by them, not read by me. I could instantly tell when events unsettled them and they even revealed one or two unsaid things to each other as the true nature of the menace took hold.

This is the “Titanic” of home ownership, only the hazard manifests itself in a way no one could have expected. If only it was dry rot or a cockroach infestation they had to contend with instead of the alarming instances that would change their lives forever.

The House is a deviously chilling and hypnotic read. On the face of it, a young couple’s future is clouded by an unseen shadow. One that watches them, rattles them, and won’t let go – much like the story itself as I was bewitched from the first sentence.

Yes. Yes. I appreciate I have been deliberately cryptic, but that’s only so you can experience The House for yourself without any hint as to what you will discover when you visit. With its cracking momentum and a mystery that does a terrific job of keeping its guard up I liked this one, a lot.

Rating:  4/5

(I received a copy of this title from the publisher with my thanks. It was my absolute pleasure to read this book and provide this unbiased review.

(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

THE PERFECT COUPLE. THE PERFECT HOUSE. THE PERFECT CRIME.

‘HUGELY GRIPPING AND SPOOKY AS HELL’ Mark Billingham

Londoners Jack and Syd moved into the house a year ago. It seemed like their dream home: tons of space, the perfect location, and a friendly owner who wanted a young couple to have it.

So when they made a grisly discovery in the attic, Jack and Syd chose to ignore it. That was a mistake.

Because someone has just been murdered. Right outside their back door.

And now the police are watching them…

‘AN INTRICATE AND POWERFUL THRILLER’ Tana French

‘TAUGHT, TENSE AND TERRIFYING, I LOVED IT’ Sharon Bolton

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(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

Simon Lelic is married, with two young boys. As well as writing, he currently runs his own import/export business. Previously, he worked in London as a journalist for eight years, primarily on business-to-business publications dealing with topics relating to information technology.

Simon has a BA (Hons) degree in History and an MA in European Studies from the University of Exeter, and a Magistar in Sociology, awarded by the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland, where he studied for four months. He also holds a post-graduate qualification in journalism.

Other than his family, reading is Simon’s biggest passion, but he also runs, plays golf and takes regular snowboarding trips. Otherwise, his main hobby is karate, in which he trains daily and holds a black belt.

Simon’s father was born in Slovenia, and moved to the UK when he was sixteen. Simon was born in Brighton, England, and recently moved back there with his family.

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