Book Reviews: The Chalk Man, The Fellowship of The Ring, The Night Circus, Ways to Hide in Winter

Reading Challenge update time: Absolutely the most gratifying group of books I’ve read this year. All attending to different moods, not the least of which was tackling a book hovering on my to-be-read list for over 20 years.

Fantasy--Fiction, classics
--adventure stories
--Middle earth
--might Elrond's council end soon? I need another cup of tea
--skip the prologue

The Fellowship of the Ring: being the first part of the lord of the rings | J.R.R. Tolkien (takes place on a journey) ★★★★★

“Frodo the hobbit and his companions set out to deliver the One Ring of Power to the dark land of Mordor in order to destroy the ring in the forge of its creation.” -Houghton Mifflin.

Hobbits, elves, dwarves, wizards and men band together in brotherhood as darkness falls about middle earth. Hunted by black riders and battling cruel elements of nature, they face perils upon every path of their weary trek. 
With language and sentiment so beautiful I could cry, but mostly I simply marveled. Secure in the snugness of Hobbiton, experiencing the majesty of the shimmering elves (I didn’t expect to fall for them as I did), from the respite of the greensward and golden contemplation of Rivendell to the ancient wisdom of Lothlorien, I felt as if I was one of their Company. Pondering at the doors of Durin, treading Moria’s caverns with dread and reveling in moments of merriment and clever song throughout, I won’t deny I was dazzled by Tolkien’s elaborate creation.

But what truly moved me by this old and twisted tale was not the masterful world building, nor the adventure that takes time to unfold, it was the
the crucible of the battle the characters carried inside their hearts. Frodo, Gandalf, Bilbo and the rest were tormented with doubts and flaws, even stout-hearted Sam grappled with fear. Yet they knew they could not turn back, unlearn what was made plain, or let another carry their burden regardless of what might become of their fates. 
Without walls to offer protection, the danger surrounding them was palpable as their bodies, hearts and wills were exposed and they only had each other’s courage to rely upon. As Frodo wished for simpler times and pottering about the garden, I felt his distress as keenly as I could hear the varied footfalls of the company’s progress up the lonely mountain. Finishing the book felt like saying goodbye to old friends, but the lure of the one ring has ensnared me, it won’t be long before I return in The Two Towers.

--killer signatures
--you've got a secret, and you've got a secret, and you've got one too

The Chalk Man | C. J. Tudor (debut author) ★★★☆☆

In 1986, Eddie and his friends are just kids on the verge of adolescence. 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 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.” –Crown

An opening of poetic prose sets the scene for the dark subject matter at the heart of the ghastly tale. Tudor writes adeptly for both young Eddie, the informal child narrator, and the adult Ed, who’s besieged by regret in this dual timeline story. Ed’s narration propels the plot and stays true to character throughout. Clever editing uplifts the uneven writing, at times filled with keen observations and hard truths, such as, “we think we want answers but what we really want are the right answers” and beset by debut novel blunders. Employing one too many tropes of the psychological suspense genre: unreliable narrator, vivid nightmares, unprecedented revelations and the unlikelihood that every single character has a secret, Tudor’s ending left me feeling tricked rather than satisfied. 

Unique in it’s exploration of the psychological mine field of memory and reality of memory loss, yet derivative in theme. With echoes of Stephen King’s The Body and some story elements from It, The Chalk Man is a modern homage to childhood friends confronting past evil (and past selves). Except, the monster who reappears isn’t a monster at all, it’s the consequence of human frailty, folly and the sinister ability to wear a public mask to hide private wrongs. A page-turning if somewhat contrived debut, I recommend it for seekers of thrilling suspense, with a twist.

--Circus performers
--magical realism

The Night Circus | Erin Morgenstern (book on my tbr) ★★★★★

audio book read by Jim Dale ★★★★★ (his talent is incomparable, although I was distracted by Harry’s, Luna’s and Voldemort’s voice more than once) 

“Waging a fierce competition for which they have trained since childhood, circus magicians Celia and Marco unexpectedly fall in love with each other and share a fantastical romance that manifests in fateful ways.”-Doubleday

Beautifully conceived, a novel like nothing I’ve come across before. Filled with wistfulness, the longing to surround one’s self with magic and love, and the ardent desire to pursue your dreams. Classic themes of star-crossed love and fate are crafted in an entirely original way, set in the magical Le Cirque des Reves. An elegant narrative unfurled at an unhurried pace,
 the plot points revealed so subtly I was often unaware they were occurring. It’s perfectly executed thirty year timeline never left the reader to wonder where it’s headed, only to get swept away. Morgenstern’s inspiration of The Tempest and Romeo and Juliet cast tragic undertones, especially to the diabolical motivations of the shadowy ‘game’ developers, cruel Prospero and Alexander. 

Knowing my friends Sandra and Julie also read it this year for the book challenge fills me with glee. I can imagine their equal pleasure at the lucid descriptions of every circus element. Each tent, stoppered bottle and jar, each taste and scent which filled the air, a celebration for the senses. Exploring the circus like a Reveur, one cannot help but feel the obvious love Morgenstern had for her fantasy world. That powerful love realized in the magicians’ battle of imagination to create the circus for each other.
Inhabiting the tents, the courtyard (I adored Thiessen’s elaborate clock) and
 the lives of these memorable characters left it’s indelible imprint on me.
The novel’s constancy in style and tone, and it’s unwavering story were almost transcendent;)

*Eagerly anticipating  Morgenstern’s long-awaited second book out November 2019.

--national forests
--psychological suspense

Ways to Hide in Winter | Sarah St. Vincent (gifted book) ★★★★☆

 *An advanced copy was provided by Melville House publishing, all opinions are my own. 

“In the wintry silences of Pennsylvania’s Blue Ridge Mountains, a woman befriends a mysterious newcomer from Uzbekistan, setting in motion this suspenseful, atmospheric politically charged debut. ” -Melville House

The icy stillness of the landscape doesn’t hint at the inner turmoil experienced by the main characters. Kathleen and Danya are recovering, each from their own extended imprisonment in situations they never imagined their lives could become. To reconcile the consequences of their captivity, the physical and mental anguish they not only faced, but also caused, they build a fragile friendship to ward off the bleakness. But like the quiet winter in the mountains, it cannot last, as their circumstances grow increasingly desperate. 

Delivering answers to questions that strike like a punch to the gut: how much can be taken away before we break? Should we be judged solely by our worst act? When fighting for survival, what level of our humanity remains? And how much can be regained over a simple game of chess? I’d classify this novel as sensitive suspense. Kathleen is incredibly, painfully real, her life outlined in visceral detail while Danya remains a mystery. St. Vincent creates incremental tension and paradoxes that can’t be easily resolved. The ending was more subtle and cathartic than I anticipated, but in it’s way achieved more meaning.

If you are paying attention to the Bookish Jay and Reading Mermaid challenge (closer attention than I have been) you’ll notice I messed up my list and read two books for the debut author prompt. I must to do some clever rearranging of past prompts in order to fit it all in, but I didn’t want to leave out any of these satisfying reads. With 6 specific prompts remaining and 5 books left, it will be a race to the finish per usual. My final recap will be at the end of the year, I hope you join me and that you are doing better with your reading goals.

10 thoughts on “Book Reviews: The Chalk Man, The Fellowship of The Ring, The Night Circus, Ways to Hide in Winter

  1. I agree 100% with Your review of The Chalk Man. I really enjoyed the first 2/3rds of the book- the build up, mystery, and puzzling but the ending was so uneventful and lackluster that it left me missing the unsolved portion of the read.


    1. The ending wasn’t a stinking pile of Buckaroo as Fat Gav would say, but it didn’t work for me either. I thought Mr. Halloran’s story was well done, left me guessing, but Metal Mickeys part/Nicky’s were unsatisfying.
      Also thought she threw so many things at the end just to see what would stick.
      That haunting last line, tho @_@


  2. You are really on a roll. It’s so funny I can’t read books about circuses! I’ve tried numerous books but I just can’t do it – LOL. Ways to Hide in Winter sounds intriguing. I enjoyed The Hobbit, but it was short! I’ve finished 10 of the 12 challenge reads that I wanted to do and should have the remainder done by the end of the year. I’ve had a blast doing this challenge!


    1. I understand your hesitation on circus settings, they aren’t my favorite locales, but this one was completely unlike any notion of circus you may have (the only animals mentioned are performing kittens). I’d describe it as more of a battleground for magicians, a place where they fulfilled their most fanciful dreams and whims. And the descriptions were stunning, you could hear, taste and smell the magic<3
      I only worked on the Hobbit for a speech cut and my husband read me a few passages, I should really take the time to read it in it's entirety, I remember being engaged by it.

      I'm so happy you came along on the challenge and had fun, I did too! Thanks for popping in to mention it and Merry Christmas Mari:)


  3. The Chalk Man, and your description of it, sound nearly exactly like this book I read last year called The Guardians for Julie’s book challenge – I did a mani for it. It was also about childhood friends bound by mystery, loss and grief who have to reconvene in their hometown to confront their demons, which are less actual demons and more the demons inside themselves…der-iv-i-tive. Like, it sounds beat for beat like that book (which was written by a Canadian author, Andrew Pyper.) Is there a factory where they churn these things out?

    I didn’t know that Miss Morgenstern had another book coming out, but now I’m very excited – that’s got to be highly anticipated. And I’m so, so overjoyed that you loved The Night Circus! But I knew you would. 🙂 I thought you would especially love the tent of scent memories, and of course the Wishing Tree. Sigh, that book just made me feel great, I’m looking forward to re-reading it next year.


    1. Premises do seem similar and The Chalk man’s was unoriginal however, there were some well-done sub-plots with an albino school teacher/(the titular Chalk Man) and ruminations on Alzheimer’s and memory loss that were new to me. It just didn’t deliver the ending after a solid build-up. The difference here might be the focus on one character’s perspective, the others are minor players and somewhat unresolved. I do remember thinking your review of the Guardian sounded interesting, so I guess it’s my type of psychological mind-trip.
      Re:Morgenstern= so excited😬 and I loved the scent memories tent, thought of you and Julie for sure!


  4. YES!!!! I cannot tell you how happy it makes me that you loved the LotR as much as I did. You captured my feelings with succinct intensity. And I love that we all enjoyed Night Circus. It would be fun to pick some wax tarts or something all together that reflect the book. I am excited for you and all this pleasure reading.


    1. I KNOW! When I read the Rhadogast the Brown part I thought of you and chuckled, what a special gift of a story. Your daughters are so lucky to grow up with it, I might have been lost reading them at their age. Any favorite parts in the final 2 books I should anticipate?
      The Night Circus was wonderful, it went in unexpected original directions, I love that.


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