Review: Black Chalk by Christopher J Yates + Giveaway

black chalk by christopher yatesFormat read: ebook provided by NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook
Genre: mystery, suspense, thriller
Length: 352 pages
Publisher: Random House
Date Released: April 1, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

One game. Six students. Five survivors.

It was only ever meant to be a game.

A game of consequences, of silly forfeits, childish dares. A game to be played by six best friends in their first year at Oxford University. But then the game changed: the stakes grew higher and the dares more personal, more humiliating, finally evolving into a vicious struggle with unpredictable and tragic results.

Now, fourteen years later, the remaining players must meet again for the final round.

My Review:

I’m tempted to start out by saying, “Shall we play a game?” where the time-honored response is from the movie War Games. Black Chalk is not about global thermonuclear war, but the results to the six players of “The Game” are every bit as shattering as war.

Perhaps a better analogy would be Truth or Consequences, except that in this particular game, the proper title would be Truth AND Consequences, because each consequence reveals yet more truth about the one suffering it.

Six students meet in their first year at Oxford; 5 Brits, 1 American on a one-year study-abroad fellowship. They spend their first term as the absolute best of friends, and the rest of the year as increasingly bitter and brutal rivals.

What happens?

The simple answer is a game. In pursuit of a £10,000 prize, they invent a game that temporarily becomes their whole universe. While it appears on the surface to be a game of luck, in fact, it’s a game of mental manipulation. One they play against each other, and one that the prize committee is playing against them. Or perhaps it goes further up. That’s one of the mysteries.

What isn’t a mystery is what happens to the players. While they start out as friends, they are also fiercely competitive. They would have to be to get into Oxford University. Once the game starts, they all play to win. Some of them play to win at any cost.

Although the storyline is about the lives of the players as their friendship disintegrates and they self-destruct, the perspective is that of an unreliable narrator remembering his own misbegotten past. A past he sees through a glass not just very darkly, but with cracks.

We view the game through the lost memories of one of the players, a man who is now completely broken and trying to pull himself together for the final round of the game.

When the winner takes it all, what is it that he takes from the losers? And what has he lost in his own pursuit?

Escape Rating B+: As I read Black Chalk, it reminded me of The Magic Circle by Jenny Davidson. It has some similar themes about the potentially all-encompassing nature of games, and the manipulative lengths that people will go to win them at all costs.

The reader of Black Chalk starts out the story not knowing which of the six players is narrating. And as the story progresses, even the narrator is not sure that he is totally responsible for the course of the story as he writes it. He is sure that others are adding material that he doesn’t remember writing, even if he does remember the experience.

As cracked as Jolyon’s perspective is, we’re not sure whether someone really is messing with him, or whether he is so broken that he doesn’t remember all the things he does. Probably both.

In reading Jolyon’s account, it’s difficult to decide whether the players are exactly likeable or not. When they were at Oxford, they were all young, seemingly invincible and felt somewhat entitled; not by money (at all) but by their intelligence. The shattered Jolyon of 14 years later is much less manipulative and much more sympathetic.

The ending is sly and subtle and hits like accidentally biting on a jalapeno pepper. It takes a minute for you to realize that your mouth, or brain, is on fire..


Chris and Random House are giving away a copy of Black Chalk to one lucky winner. It’s the winner’s choice of paperback or ebook, and this giveaway is open internationally!
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***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Guest Post by Author Andrea Kane + Giveaway

Kane_Andrea_2010-190x300Today it is my very great pleasure to welcome Andrea Kane to Reading Reality. Andrea is the author of not just one of my new favorite series, but one of my favorite ensemble teams, the Forensic Institute team that solves the puzzles and catches the evildoers in her memorable thrillers, The Girl Who Disappeared Twice, The Line Between Here and Gone (reviewed here) and my review today of Andrea’s latest FI edge-of-your-seat suspense puzzler, The Stranger You Know.

I asked Andrea if she would write a bit about the creation of the crack (and sometimes wise-cracking) investigative team that makes this series such a terrific (and sometimes terrifying) joy to read.

Here’s Andrea…

Creating a Maverick Investigative Team
by Andrea Kane

I can’t remember the exact moment when the Forensic Instincts team was born. I just know that, rather than a single protagonist, my mind kept jumping from one character to another as I struggled to focus on one. At first, I was frustrated. I knew and understood Casey Woods. She was my strong, female protagonist. She had a background in behavioral analysis and psychology. She was no longer working for someone else— she was out on her own. She was vivid in my fertile imagination. Why then, did I keep flashing to a covert former-Navy SEAL/FBI agent and a hunky gym rat/techno genius? These guys weren’t Casey’s friends or lovers, so why were they intruding on my brewing storyline?

girl who disappeared twiceBecause they belonged in that storyline. In fact, they belonged in every storyline of what soon became the “core three” of the Forensic Instincts team. There would be three new members to that team (don’t forget to count Hero!) before Book #1— The Girl Who Disappeared Twice— was fully written. And, yes, there might be more yet to come.

Once I opened my mind up to the idea of writing an ensemble, rather than a single, protagonist, the floodgates burst open wide. What a completely different, yet completely cohesive, team of brilliant minds with one thing in common— a blatant disregard for the confines law enforcement placed on them that crimped their style. They were all about getting the job done, and getting it done now. Their skills were undisputable, as was their loyalty to each other. You’ll see just how loyal when you read The Stranger You Know, where one of their own is in danger.

line between here and gone goodreadsThere were definitely some highlight moments when I was forming Forensic Instincts. I loved giving Ryan a strategic mind and all the most cutting-edge technological skills, and yet not making him a Dilbert, but rather a smolderingly handsome hunk who attracted women like a magnet, and who was a gym-rat, to boot. Talk about destroying a stereotype! And Marc, with his Special Ops and FBI Behavioral Analysis background, being such an enigma with so many facets to him, including a softer side where it comes to children. Oh, and let’s not forget the non-human-but-human team members— Yoda, the supreme artificial intelligence system created by Ryan but with an hysterical personality all his own, and Gecko, the “little critter” that Ryan built who can crawl his way through physical boundaries to acquire audial and visual evidence that would be an impossibility for a human being to accomplish. Secretly, I think of Yoda and Gecko as C3PO and R2D2.

I could go on and on, but, suffice it to say that each team member became a whole human being to me— compelling, dynamic, and so relatable. I laugh out loud when they bicker like children, and I hunker down and root for them as they take on each challenge— some of which I don’t even know about until those challenges stop FI and me in our tracks.

I guess it’s obvious how much I love writing the Forensic Instincts team. For me, they’re the very best combination of memorable characters and nail-biting plots. The team and their investigations develop more with each passing book. I hope you read all the novels in the series, and that you feel the same magnetism and excitement in reading them as I feel in writing them.


For more information about the Forensic Instincts series, the FBI and my other novels, please visit, connect with me on Facebook and follow me on Twitter.


Andrea and TLC Book Tours have graciously agreed to give away a print copy of The Stranger You Know to one lucky US/CAN winner. To enter, use the Rafflecopter below:
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Review: The Stranger You Know by Andrea Kane

stranger you know by andrea kaneFormat read: ebook provided by NetGalley
Formats available: Hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genre: Mystery, Suspense, Thriller
Series: Forensic Instincts #3
Length: 368 pages
Publisher: Harlequin Mira
Date Released: September 24, 2013
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

It begins with a chilling phone call to Casey Woods. And ends with another girl dead.

College-age girls with long red hair. Brutally murdered, they’re posed like victims in a film noir. Each crime scene is eerily similar to the twisted fantasy of a serial offender now serving thirty years to life—a criminal brought to justice with the help of Forensic Instincts.

Call. Kill. Repeat. But the similarities are more than one psychopath’s desire to outdo another. As more red-haired victims are added to the body count, it becomes clear that each one has been chosen because of a unique connection to Casey—a connection that grows closer and closer to her.

Now the Forensic Instincts team must race to uncover the identity of a serial killer before his ever-tightening circle of death closes in on Casey as the ultimate target. As the stalker methodically moves in on his prey, his actions make one thing clear: he knows everything about Casey. And Casey realizes that this psychopathic won’t stop until he makes sure she’s dead.

My Review:

The title is a clue. It’s also a double play on words, both that the killer is a stranger that Casey Woods knows, and that people are often stranger than anyone can know. In this particular instance, quite a bit stranger.

girl who disappeared twiceAlso this third case that the Forensic Instincts team is investigating (after their awesome beginning in The Girl Who Disappeared Twice and equally compelling followup The Line Between Here and Gone) the two cases that the team is investigating are both about a stranger, and about someone that team leader Casey Woods knew all too well.

The kidnapping, rape and murder of her best friend 15 years ago was the impetus for Casey’s founding of Forensic Instincts in the first place. It may also be linked to the cold case that a dying father has asked them to re-open.

But when a serial rapist and murderer starts taunting Casey on the phone, linking new crimes to her past and to a psychopath definitely behind bars, the team scrambles to figure out what the link is between a prisoner supposedly without privileges and a killer who is definitely on the loose. Both of whom want revenge on Casey and are determined to torment her by killing an ever-tightening circle of women who look just like her.

The tension ratchets up higher and higher as the team brings all of their formidable talents to bear on catching the killers; while the shadowy assailant continues to stay one step ahead of them and his motive remains unknown.

Just when it seems that they have finally caught a break in the cold cases, they discover that they have only played into the hands of a convicted serial murder.

line between here and gone goodreadsEscape Rating A-: What makes the Forensic Instincts series so awesome is the team dynamic. Although this case turns out to be about Casey Woods and her past, the way it gets solved requires the talents of every member of the FI team, except possibly the dog.

The FI team is an absolutely marvelous example of the “Five-Man Band trope”. (See for complete explanation) If you have never previously delved into tvtropes, be prepared to lose at least an evening.

The story in Stranger is primarily of the suspense/thriller type. The reader follows the team and they solve the puzzle. We don’t know anything until they do. We might guess, but we don’t know, although we do get a couple of extra clues that they don’t, which is what separates this story from a true mystery.

Nevertheless, this is a chilling tale. We spend time following the thought processes of a serial killer and rapist as he self-aggrandizes and justifies his crimes. It’s ugly and so is he.

But it’s absolutely fascinating to watch the team solve the puzzle. The psychopath is one step ahead of them all the way, until the very end. Good triumphs over evil, but the cost is shown to be very, very high.

The ending packs one hell of a jolt.

This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews.
***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: Cut & Run by Madeleine Urban and Abigail Roux

Cut & Run by Madeleine Urban and Abigail RouxFormat read: print book borrowed from the Library
Formats available: ebook, paperback, audiobook
Genre: M/M romance, mystery/thriller
Series: Cut & Run
Length: 376 pages
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Date Released: September 1, 2008
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

A series of murders in New York City has stymied the police and FBI alike, and they suspect the culprit is a single killer sending an indecipherable message. But when the two federal agents assigned to the investigation are taken out, the FBI takes a more personal interest in the case.

Special Agent Ty Grady is pulled out of undercover work after his case blows up in his face. He’s cocky, abrasive, and indisputably the best at what he does. But when he’s paired with Special Agent Zane Garrett, it’s hate at first sight. Garrett is the perfect image of an agent: serious, sober, and focused, which makes their partnership a classic cliché: total opposites, good cop-bad cop, the odd couple. They both know immediately that their partnership will pose more of an obstacle than the lack of evidence left by the murderer.

Practically before their special assignment starts, the murderer strikes again – this time at them. Now on the run, trying to track down a man who has focused on killing his pursuers, Grady and Garrett will have to figure out how to work together before they become two more notches in the murderer’s knife.

My Review:

First we have the typical buddy-cop scenario, one agent is completely buttoned-down and by-the-numbers; and the other one blows off all the rules but closes so damn many cases that the constant insubordination is just barely tolerated.

We’ve seen this play before. Of course they can barely stand each other. Of course the rule-breaker pushes the buttoned-down agent’s buttons until they explode.

Of course they’ve been assigned to work together because their approaches to a case complement the heck out of each other. Analytical mind meets gut instinct, or so it seems.

Then they switch personas in the middle of the case, and nothing is as it seemed. Except that they still need each other to solve the case. And they just plain still need each other.

I left gender out of the above description deliberately. Without adding a romance, Cut & Run might have worked as merely a buddy-cop story. There is a serial killer on the loose, and the FBI is dragged in to solve the case. Once they’re in, the finger starts pointing to a crooked agent (or a crazy agent) in their own house.

As mystery/thriller, Cut & Run would still have worked. There was plenty of tension to go around. A standard romantic suspense with a male/female pair of agents might have been possible. For an example where it does work and the female is treated as an equal, just look at Kensi and Deeks in NCIS: LA. But I’d submit (no pun intended) that Marty Deeks is definitely the beta fish in that school of sharks.

Instead of doing anything that would have been remotely standard, Urban and Roux took their mystery/suspense/thriller story and threw their two male FBI agents into a highly dysfunctional romantic relationship. I say highly dysfunctional because both Ty Grady and Zane Garrett are themselves dysfunctional human beings throughout the story. They are both fantastic agents, but as humans, they need a lot of work.

And as FBI agents at the top of a very competitive food chain, they are both used to being top dogs. Once they enter into a relationship with each other, no matter how on-again/off-again, they constantly jockey for the position of top.

While someone else is showing off their particular prowess as a serial killer for their own express amusement.

Escape Rating B+: I found Cut & Run to be a compelling mystery/thriller with two flawed men as the romantic leads. I will admit that I did figure out “whodunnit” long before Grady and Garrett did, but that wasn’t the point for me, the point was in watching them figure out not just whether they could work together, but sometimes simply whether they could manage to work at all, either personally or professionally.

I enjoy mystery/suspense/romantic suspense a lot. But even with a dominant couple in the picture, I find it more fun when there is a solid support network to follow. I hope that these two develop some reliable backup, because they surely do need it.

They are not merely stronger together, they are pretty damn co-dependent. Watching them negotiate a relationship is going to fun, at least from the reader’s perspective. Now that I’ve started, I understand why so many people recommend this series.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: Trust Your Eyes by Linwood Barclay

Format read: print book from publisher
Formats available: Hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genre: Thriller
Length: 512 pages
Publisher: NAL Hardcover
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Book Depository

Thomas Kilbride is a map-obsessed schizophrenic so affected that he rarely leaves the self-imposed bastion of his bedroom. But with a computer program called, he travels the world while never stepping out the door. That is until he sees something in a street view of downtown New York City. Thomas’s keen eyes have detected an image in a window…an image that looks like a woman being murdered.
Thomas’s brother, Ray, takes care of him, cooking for him, dealing with the outside world on his behalf, and listening to his intricate and increasingly paranoid theories. When Thomas tells Ray what he has seen, Ray humors him with a half-hearted investigation. But Ray soon realizes he and his brother have stumbled onto a deadly conspiracy.
And now they are in the crosshairs…

There will be an inevitable comparison to the movie Rain Man.  But Ray Kilbride is in no way as self-centered at Tom Cruise’s character in the movie. And Thomas is a lot more functional than Dustin Hoffman’s. In the end, also more self-centered.

But if we’re talking about movies, think of Trust Your Eyes as Rear Window crossed with Google Earth, viewed by a map-obsessed shut-in. Thomas Kilbride could go out, but he doesn’t. He thinks he’s working for the CIA, memorizing cities in the event of an unspecified computer viral pandemic that will wipe out all the GPS systems in one swell foop.

While the computer virus and the CIA assignment are illusionary, or delusional, Thomas Kilbride’s map memorization capabilities are all too real. And do we really know what Google sees when it maps our streets? Whose car is parked in which driveway in the middle of the day when it shouldn’t be?

Thomas Kilbride sees a murder. In New York City. Several months ago. And no one believes him because people are all too used to not believing Thomas Kilbride. After all, Thomas thinks that Bill Clinton phones him every night for updates. Yes, that Bill Clinton.

But after Ray comes home to figure out what to do about Thomas after their father dies in a rather suspicious lawn mower accident, things start to unravel. Thomas convinces Ray to take a printout of that possible murder to New York, just to take a look at the scene. Ray has a meeting in NYC, so he thinks he’ll humor his brother.

The thing is…there really was a murder. And the killers had no idea that their crime has been posted on the internet for anyone to see. Anyone obsessive that is.

All they knew was that it was a totally botched job, one that they’ve covered up as much as possible, and have been waiting for months to see if anyone would come snooping around.

Ray Kilbride just snooped. Because his brother was obsessive about maps. Now everyone’s world is about to come crashing down.

Maybe someone should have listened to Thomas a little sooner.

Escape Rating B: Because Ray is genuinely a nice guy who is in over his head, the reader does feel for him. He wants to do the right thing, and Thomas is a challenge, to say the least. His father just died, the circumstances are weird, and Ray is stuck. He’s a freelance political cartoonist, so he can take some time to figure things out, but not much.

Thomas can’t be totally on his own, but he is fairly high-functioning. Also very self-centered. He can be reasoned with, up to a point. Late in the book, his condition is defined as schizophrenia, but I wonder if there’s more to it.

There are two parallel lines to the plot, and they eventually meet. Thomas sees a murder. One line is the track of convincing someone, poor Ray, to look into it and the results. The other half is the murder itself, what happened and why. The plot, motivations and people on the side of the “bad guys” was less clearly drawn for this reader than the Kilbride side.

Of course, the murder was very badly planned and executed and we’re not meant to sympathize, but I just didn’t get the motivations of the perpetrators as well, and that side of the story seemed a bit choppy.

At the end there was one last piece of business. Ray was still puzzled about his dad’s death. The solution to that final puzzle, that, that sent chills up my spine.

***Disclaimer: I was compensated for this BlogHer Book Club review but all opinions expressed are my own.

Blue Monday

“Blue Monday”, according to some very shaky pseudoscience, is the most depressing day of the year.

Which makes Blue Monday a fitting title for the first book in Nicci French’s new mystery series. Psychotherapist Frieda Klein features as the reader’s guide into the darker recesses into the human mind.

Frieda’s first “case” delves into dark places, indeed. Because this mystery is a case about lost people. Not just the initial tragedy of a missing child that opens the story, but all of the characters in this multi-act tragedy have lost essential pieces of themselves.

Including the psychotherapists who are supposed to guide their patients out of the depths. And the deeper this case goes, the murkier it gets. But it is enthralling until long after the last page is turned.

It all starts with a lost child. Twenty years ago, Joanna Vine disappeared on her way home from school. Her sister Rose lost track of her for just a couple of minutes, and little Jo vanished. Joanna was five years old. Rose Vine was only nine.

Joanna was never found. Not the child, not her body. Rose never stopped blaming herself for that one moment of childish selfishness.

The Vine’s marriage didn’t survive the tragedy. Richard Vine drank too much. Deborah Vine remarried and tried to move on.

Then a little boy disappeared, under almost identical circumstances, over twenty years later. But serial criminals don’t usually wait that long. Two doesn’t make a serial anything. But there is no other child snatching like these two, not in the long intervening years.

And psychotherapist Frieda Klein has a new patient. A patient who came to her before the boy, Matthew Faraday, was kidnapped. Frieda’s new patient described seeing a little boy just like Matthew waiting for him and imagined a little boy just like Matthew being his son.

Is Frieda’s patient, Alan Dekker, the kidnapper? This time? He’s not Joanna’s snatcher since he was a child then himself. But does he know something?

Frieda’s investigation into Alan Dekker’s lost boy unearths the lost, lonely, abandoned child that Alan Dekker used to be. A child who never knew Joanna Vine then, and doesn’t know anything about Matthew Faraday now.

But Alan’s lost history is the key to everything. If it doesn’t destroy him first.

Escape Rating A: This is a psychological thriller, and it is excellent. It also has one of those endings that twists at the very, very last second in a very neat and creepy/spine-tingling way.

The characters in this drama are fascinating. The story starts out as a tragedy with the lost child. But every single person has lost something important. There is a major theme about the loss of identity, and about adult children with major pieces of their identities missing. But even the supposedly “whole” people have major gaps in their lives and are patching over them as part of the story.

If you enjoy psychological thrillers with darker edges, read this one on a sunny day!