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November Book

Road trips, shopping, cooking, dishes, gathering around the dinner table, eating, eating, eating – this month hosts a lot of time with family. A lot. And so does this month’s book. Rabbit Cake is a debut novel by Annie Hartnett (released March, 2017). IMG_1086Listed as one of Kirkus Reviews’ best books of 2017, it’s the story of Elvis Babbit, and family, after her mother’s suspicious sleep-swimming drowning.Her mother is survived by Elvis, her sister Lizzie (a sleep eater), and her father. As told from the perspective of 12-year-old Elvis, we start to see under the many layers of the Babbit family’s dirty laundry. But there are things yet to be uncovered. There are a few things that don’t seem right to Elvis, so she begins looking into the details of her mother’s life and death.

Written with a very original, charmingly young voice, you feel like you’re experiencing all the nitches of this bizarre family through the eyes of Elvis Babbit.


“Elvis investigates the strange circumstances of her mother’s death and finds comfort, if not answers, in the people (and animals) of Freedom, Alabama. As hilarious a storyteller as she is heartbreakingly honest, Elvis is a truly original voice in this exploration of grief, family, and the endurance of humor after loss.”


So if you’re with us, and would like to meet a new family entirely weird in their own right, read Rabbit Cake with us this month! How? Read at your own pace, sometime this month, and then chime in with any thoughts or pictures here with comments or on our Instagram.

Special Review: The Hiding Place

While doing some light research on our October book (The Chalk Man) and its author C.J. Tudor I read that she has a second book coming out this winter. So I took a chance and asked for an early copy to review along with The Chalk ManTHANK YOU to Crown Publishing for sending along the advance copy of Tudor’s next thriller The Hiding Place! It did not disappoint.

Not all four of us read it, just me, Katherine C. Although you can bet I’ll be recommending it to all of our Bookly Katherines as soon as it’s released.

SYNOPSIS

Joe never wanted to come back to Arnhill. After the way things ended with his old gang–the betrayal, the suicide, the murder–and after what happened when his sister went missing, the last thing he wanted to do was return to his hometown. But Joe doesn’t have a choice. Because judging by what was done to that poor Morton kid, what happened all those years ago to Joe’s sister is happening again. And only Joe knows who is really at fault.

But the hardest part of all will be returning to that abandoned mine where it all went wrong and his life changed forever, and finally confronting the shocking, horrifying truth about Arnhill, his sister, and himself. Because for Joe, the worst moment of his life wasn’t the day his sister went missing. It was the day she came back.

With the same virtuosic command of character and pacing she displayed in The Chalk Man, C. J. Tudor has once again crafted an extraordinary novel that brilliantly blends harrowing psychological suspense, a devilishly puzzling mystery, and enough shocks and thrills to satisfy even the most seasoned reader.

In the beginning I was a bit turned off by all the similarities to The Chalk Man: a male protagonist with a failing career in education and a closeted drinking problem rehashing the sins of childhood friendships in his hometown. But in reading these two back to back I was bound to recognize each and every overlap. It didn’t take long before I was totally wrapt in the evil mysteries of The Hiding Place.

This book made The Chalk Man feel like a dress rehearsal. And the main show is not to be missed! Tudor’s writing felt more confident, it accelerated at just the right pace, the town—a character all its own—haunted you from every page, the characters were full and flawed, and yet again Tudor delivered some excellent twists and turns. I felt like I could see the town, I could feel the “creeping cold” that stalked Joe around every corner, and in the end it was truly scary. Although a bit more predictable than The Chalk Man, I liked this second book even more. It had everything I want in a spooky thriller; like an insidious Goonies meets the best of Tana French suspense mixed with that rare Stephen King surrealism, and of course twists and turns that keep you guessing like only Tudor can create.

So, if that sounds good to you order your copy of The Hiding Place as soon as you can (coming out February 2019)!

Great Mysterious Confusion

I’m always game for a good thriller or scary story. I think it goes back to why I first started loving to read. I remember watching my cousin devour R.L. Stine’s Fear Street series and telling me how scary it was. I was sure books couldn’t be scary. How could words on paper come close to a scary movie or haunted house? I wasn’t quite Fear Street ready so I started with Goosebumps. To my surprise Welcome to the Dead House was actually scary. Who knew words could have such power?! I know, give me a break, I was young.

Then came Fear Street, all things Mary Higgins Clark, and any good scare I could get my hands on. And that hasn’t changed. C.J. Tudor’s The Chalk Man was exactly what I was in the mood for, especially this time of year. Written by an English, author set in an English town, it tells the story of four young friends— Eddie, Mickey, Hoppo and Fat Gav— and how the horror of one summer haunts their lives. Playing with chalk figures to send each other coded messages, the figures start to appear at sites of sudden violence and crime around the town. Who drew them? What do they have to do with these four friends? And how are they connected? Are they connected?

Most of the time I was utterly confused. In a good way! Usually I can see where a mystery is leading, but Tudor kept the story twisting and turning in such a way that at times I didn’t know which was was up. Just when I thought I knew where the clues were leading something would happen to throw me off course. There was one thing I did see coming. In the first pages of the book the author introduces you to someone taking a trophy from a crime scene and I did predict who that would be. But otherwise, most of it was a thrilling surprise. There was even a little mystery leftover in the end, which I liked.

{SPOILERS} Who was really drawing the chalk men? I have a theory: it was a haunting. The insidious drawings first appear after Sean haunts Eddie from his driveway. So it’s a surreal representation of the town’s evil, embodied in Sean’s spirit that’s creating these chalk men drawings. But I’m not fully convinced that’s the right theory. My husband made the point that Eddie’s grasp on reality is not the best. It’s alluded to more than once that he has gaps in his memory, that he dreams these dreams that feel all too real, or he wakes up one morning with twigs in his hair without an idea why. We know Eddie drew the figures that led to Elisa, could he have drawn the others??

I’d say this book was exactly what I predicted it would be: good. Not great, but good. And entertaining. The pacing was a bit off (took me awhile to get into it) and I felt like I wanted more meat to the characters and the setting. Nor was it all that scary. Gruesome at times, yes, but not scary. Although I really did enjoy how it kept me guessing, and how at any moment the story would turn completely upside down and lead you in a new direction. In this, her debut novel, Tudor’s gift for thrilling writing definitely tells me I should be on the lookout for whatever she writes next.

In fact, Crown Publishing was kind enough to send along an Advance Copy of her second book The Hiding Place (out February 2019)! Check out the review here, it’s not one you wanna miss.

October Book

The weather is changing and there’s a new chill in the air, so now’s the time for a chilling story. Maybe more than any other month, October begs you to read something fit to the season; something a little spooky to give you the creeps and put you on the edge of your seat. So if, like us, you’re in the mood for a good ghost story read with us!

This month we’ve chosen The Chalkman by C.J. Tudor thanks to our Instagram community. Normally we come up with suggestions among the four of us and vote. But this year we opened the suggestion box to our Insta community and The Chalk Man was a nomination by one of our followers. And we’re so glad she suggested it!

It’s British author C.J. Tudor’s debut novel that Stephen King commented on as, “Want to read something good?…If you like my stuff, you’ll like this.” Tudor lives in Nottingham, England and before writing she’s had a long history of various other professions (dog walker, voice actor to name a few). But with the success of this first novel it seems she’s found her calling as a full-time author. And her second book is in the works, set to be released in February of next year (The Hiding Place)!

Here’s what you need to know about The Chalk Man


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.


If you want to read with us (we hope you do) it’s pretty simple…

  • Read The Chalk Man at your own pace throughout the month of October.
  • Use the hashtag #booklymark on any posts so we can keep up with and share your posts!
  • At the end of the month, or early next, we’ll have a casual discussion for those who want to share their thoughts.
    We’re debating between a discussion post or an Instagram Live chat — let us know your preference in the comments below!

We hope to hear from you, happy reading!

Seven Brief, Though Thorough and Therefore Sort of Difficult to Follow, Lessons on Physics

If you read Katie C.’s review, you already know that I gave her a heads up that I found this hard to read. And it was. Despite being brief, the lessons were still lessons on physics, and physics was never really my subject.

HOWEVER. I still very much appreciated Rovelli’s “brief” book of essays. I highlighted more passages in this book than I expected to and than I have in most other books. And I highlighted for a lot of reasons. In some places I highlighted words, like “phantasmagorical,” because I simply can’t think of a better word, or phrases, like “Genius hesitates,” because they were awesome. Sometimes I highlighted because the prose is simply beautiful. For example:

A reality that seems to be made of the same stuff that our dreams are made of, but that is nevertheless more real than our clouded, quotidian dreaming.

I highlighted because I felt gobsmacked by what I read, because I certainly had no idea that “If a person who has lived at sea level meets up with his twin who has lived in the mountains, he will find that his sibling is slightly older than he.” WHAT?! But I also highlighted because I found myself laughing at how little I understood of what I read, and I wanted to return to it later and see if I could make more sense of it.

And lastly I highlighted SO. MUCH. in Rovelli’s closing chapter “Ourselves.” And most of this I highlighted because it scared me. It made me think. It made me wonder. And it made me really hope that what we have triggered can be undone or reversed or slowed.

What’s more, we do damage. The brutal climate and environmental changes that we have triggered are unlikely to spare us.

So I’m going to echo what Katie said in my own words: Read it for the beauty of Rovelli’s writing. Let yourself be in awe of the fact that someone can write so gorgeously about science. And if throughout the book, you find yourself understanding a little bit of something or learning something new, give yourself a pat on the back.

{A Reaper at the Gates} Cover Redesign

First things first. Have you read Sabaa Tahir’s An Ember in the Ashes series yet? I’m not a consistent fan of dystopian novels, but I’ll read them every once in awhile. Out of all the others like it that I’ve read (The Hunger Games, Divergent, A Darker Shade of Magic) this one is by far my favorite. The kickass female protagonist isn’t beholden to a love triangle or under the thumb of more powerful male characters. She’s independent and calls the shots all her own. The writing is that awesome, keeps you on the edge of your seat type. And the story has layers of mystery and magic with interesting twists at every turn.

But alas… let’s just say, without going into too much critique, the cover’s not a style that I think represents what’s inside. So, it’s been awhile, but every so often I like to design a concept cover. Just for fun, what do I think the cover should look like?


Some of the various covers to date . . .


 

After reading the third in the series (fourth and final yet to come), which was released along with a new set of covers which also fail to capture the story, I finally decided to take a crack at a redesign. Just for A Reaper at the Gates, to start. Here are some of the concepts I drafted…

   

 

I think this one is my favorite, which one is yours?

 

Humanity in Two Forms

I’d been looking forward to both of these books for awhile. The Giver is one I wish I’d read as a young adult, but never did. I still wish that, but better late than never, right? And Seven Brief Lessons on Physics initially hooked me with the beautiful cover and tiny size. But let’s take this one at a time…

IMG_20180921_181704

I first read The Giver by Lois Lowry, a long awaited check off my must-read-eventually list. But I think I made a mistake before even picking it up. A few years ago I saw the movie (2014), and I wish I hadn’t done that. As I was reading I was picturing the movie set, the actors, and turning over in my head the differences between the movie and the book. It ruined some of the magic. At least it’d been quite awhile since I’d seen the movie so it wasn’t fresh in my mind, but it was present enough to color my first impression. So if you haven’t read this one yet, definitely don’t watch the movie first.

That being said, I enjoyed Jonas’s story, the intrigue and themes of the world Lowry created, the beautiful balance between what you know and what you don’t know, and the timeless qualities of the world that creates a picture of the future no matter the time and place you’re reading from. It said so much about what it is to be innocent, to lose that innocence, and the essence of what it means to truly live. To me it seemed to put a lense up to the meaning of our humanity. It’s definitely a book I’d like to re-read in the future, probably with my daughters someday. I think it’s a story with messages to be heard anew with each reading, and I look forward to picking it back up someday.


 

“Nature is our home, and in nature we are at home.
This strange, multicolored, and astonishing world that we explore—where space is granular, time does not exist and things are nowhere—is not something that estranges us from our true selves, for this is only what our natural curiosity reveals to us about the place of our dwelling. About the stuff of which we ourselves are made. We are made of the same stardust of which all things are made, and when we are immersed in suffering or when we are experiencing intense joy, we are being nothing other than what we can’t help but be: a part of our world.”

Seven Brief Lessons on Physics
by Carlo Rovelli

 


And second, I read Seven Brief Lessons on Physics by Carlo Rovelli. I picked this one up for my husband actually a few years ago. It’s a compilation of seven essays Rovelli wrote, originally in Italian, that attempt to bring some of the world’s most complicated scientific theories to a level you and I can understand and learn from in a way that teaches us something more about what it means to be human and living among these laws of nature.

Side note: the book’s website is beautiful and fun just like the dust jacket.

00100dPORTRAIT_00100_BURST20180921180411567_COVERBefore reading it I’d heard from a few people that it was hard to follow and seemed to bring more confusion than clarity. But frankly, I think hearing those perspectives before reading it benefited my experience. I read each lesson under the assumption that I’d not be able to really understand most of the science. Sometimes I did, and sometimes I didn’t. But not working too hard to piece together the science made me really appreciate the larger message; how these theories of physics say so much about our humanity, how we fit into nature’s path, our curiosities, how much we’re capable of, and how much more there is to learn. I also read most of the book in one sitting which I think helps since as you progress lesson to lesson Rovelli refers back to previous theories.

But ultimately I LOVED this book. I didn’t think I would. It surprised me. But I think it was just what I was in the mood for… a step back for a look at who we are outside of the daily, for lack of a better word, bullshit. I could have highlighted nearly half the book. I found his writing poetic and the messages enlightened, intelligent, and hopeful (themes that seem to be lacking as of late). So if you haven’t read this one yet, pick it up! It’s 80 pages that will teach you some fantastic, mysterious, amazing things about the world we live in and who we are.

 

Unlike Anything Else

For the past year I’d been hearing people rave about The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo. But frankly, I didn’t really believe the hype. I thought it was another romanticization of hollywood glamor and a fictional icon’s love story. Which I’m okay with, and it is that. But so much more.

This book is unlike anything I’ve read before. Beginning as the life story of Evelyn Hugo as she tells it to a unknown journalist for unknown reasons, we learn about each of the seven husbands as her story becomes more significant than I ever expected. I’d say there are two major twists in the story of Evelyn Hugo, neither of which I saw coming when I started reading. Eventually the first was hinted at, and I saw where it was going. But the second I didn’t see coming until it hit at the very end.

I enjoyed Jenkins’ writing (much like I did in One True Things), and the characters were interesting, but the story she tells is unlike anything I’ve ever read. I don’t know if that speaks to the lack of diversity in my reading habits, the lack of diversity in popular fiction, or both, or neither. But either way, give this one a try. Despite the occasional unlikability of a character or two, and a few instances of behavior that’s a bit of a far reach, this book is definitely worth reading.

You may notice I haven’t said much about what happens in the 350+ pages, but that’s because I don’t want to give anything away. There’s so much to unpack, but you’ll just have to read for yourself! And I highly recommend you do.

September Books

We’re doing a little something different this month. Like always, we’re reading in the theme of “back to school,” but when voting among the four of us on what to read we ended up with a tie. So we’re reading them both! Don’t worry, they’re very short. And this way you can read one or both along with us.

The first is a brief and approachable 80-page instruction on the subject of physics by Italian theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli. In this tiny international bestseller Rovelli offers relatively easy explanations of general relativity, quantum mechanics, gravity, black holes, and the role humans play in this weird and wonderful world. So if you have any interest in physics, or more likely if you just feel like getting a taste of those school years again and learning something new, read this one with us this September!

The second, The Giver by Lois Lowry, is a classic school days favorite. Some of us are reading it this month for the first time, and some are revisiting a childhood favorite. The story of life in an idyllic community where citizens are assigned their roles, partners, jobs, and every turn in their path of life is predetermined. Or so it seems. It’s a story that begs the questions, what makes a utopian society? What does it mean to be perfect? And what does that cost?

Like always, we look forward to reading with you all. And we hope to hear your thoughts! Share on social using #booklymark 🙂

Discovering the Truth About Evelyn Hugo

I did very little “research” of The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo before I read it. Basically just the jacket description (side note: I keep wanting to call her Eleanor Hugo and I’m not sure why…), and therefore I wasn’t totally sure what to expect from this one.  So, I thought I’d walk you through my thoughts as I read the book (spoilers abound!):

“Oh, this’ll be a good beach read… maybe a little like Devil Wears Prada” (i.e., girl trying to make it in journalism gets job of a lifetime, but has to make sacrifices, etc.)

“Well, Evelyn is no Miranda Priestly.” (i.e., I found Evelyn to have more redeeming qualities than Miranda out the gate)

“What does Evelyn want with Monique? What am I missing?” (and it was at this point that I started to do something I don’t usually do – I scoured every word I read for clues as to what the twist/kicker would be in this book)

“OH! Well. This is a beach read with a message. Love is love. Love it!”

“OK. So clearly Evelyn knows something about Monique’s dad. Did Monique’s dad catch Evelyn and Celia and photograph them and she had him murdered?!” (lol, I was really prepared for this to turn full trashy beach read)

“Wow… it is incredibly sad that she had to lead an entire phony life to cover up her true self all those years.”

“So clearly the car accident has something to do with Monique’s dad.”

“And… confirmed.”

“Oh. Another social message. Who’d have guessed that my August beach read would cover LGBTQ+ rights, interracial marriage, and ‘right-to-die.'”

I was not prepared for what this book ultimately was, but I really enjoyed it. At first I was conflicted about the fact that Reid gave away that there would be a twist (the hints dropped by Evelyn that Monique especially would know she’s not a good person). But the more I thought about it… without those hints, the bombshell that Monique’s father was the man in the car would have felt very… Nicholas Sparks (whose work I love, but in a different kind of way). Instead, since we are prepared that there’s something coming, I guess it made it same more plausible and easy to swallow.

Bottom line: It was a great beach read and I felt much better about reading it than I do most of my beach reads (which are usually beyond trashy). And I found myself really loving several quotes/passages that I found particularly profound. So I’m going to wrap this up by sharing them with you now.


But the truth is, praise is just like an addiction. The more you get it, the more of it you need just to stay even.


When you realize you can tell someone the truth, when you can show yourself to them, when you stand in front of them bare and their response is, “You’re safe with me”–that’s intimacy.


It’s always been fascinating to me how things can be simultaneously true and false, how people can be good and bad all in one, how someone can love you in a way that is beautifully selfless while serving themselves ruthlessly.