Black Chalk by Christopher J. Yates

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One game. Six students. Five survivors. 

In the intimidating surroundings of Oxford University a group of six friends begin to play a game — an elaborate variant on truth or dare, in which the loser of each round has to perform an embarrassing challenge. The eventual winner stood to walk away with a sizable prize, not simply the money that each had contributed to the pot from their student grants, but a substantial sum staked to them by a mysterious campus organisation known as the Game Society, provided that the students agreed to keep both the Game and its sponsorship secret.

But the game quickly assumes a life of its own: the stakes grow higher and the dares more personal, more humiliating, finally evolving into a vicious struggle with unpredictable and tragic results. Now, years later, one player, who believed he had fled the Game long ago, discovers that it is far from over.

We played a game. That’s all. A game. Isn’t that how we teach children the ways of the world? Are we not all supposed to learn early in life how to cope with defeat? But then there were the consequences, the price paid for losing. Ah, the consequences. Yes. We went to far.

Black Chalk is psychological suspense of which I’ve never encountered. First off this is the type of the book that should be enjoyed while drinking hot coffee on a cold rainy day in the most comfortable recliner you can find because you won’t be moving after you start this story and you won’t want to. The story starts as the narrator received a phone call that shakes his world and has to mentally prepare to leave his hermit existence to finish the Game. The story switched between present day and fourteen years ago as the narrator explains the events leading to and the fallout after the invention of the Game. A series of psychological consequences assigned by chance and designed to humiliate the player and increase in degree as players lose. As the story progresses the friendships between the six players are tested and pushed to the absolute limit. “It’s not that type of game” but someone won’t survive. The outcome will astonish you. The characters and their motivations were complex and diverse. The plot was full of twist and every time you think you have something figured out another mind blowing revelation comes out. The book was astounding and the only thing that fell off for me was the way the Game ended. It was too simple and didn’t make sense nor did it follow the attitude and motivations of the character. The ending itself was also wrapped up too neatly for me. However, this is a worthwhile read. I will be looking forward to reading more works from this author. I give it a 4/5 and I recommend it to all those suspense lovers out there.

Sufficient Ransom: Review and Author Interview

What a mother wouldn’t do for her child. Ann Olson takes her life for granted until her young son, Travis, disappears from the backyard one evening. Searching for her son, Ann throws caution to the wind. Soon, she finds herself enmeshed in the seedy world of Mexican drug dealers who operate just across the border in Tijuana. Does Ann, an atheist, embrace Christianity despite her husband warning that her pastor friend is more interested in converting her than in finding Travis? Does she make it out of the drug tunnel alive, or is her rashness her downfall? And is Travis’s disappearance related to that of other recently missing children in San Diego? A story of a mother’s love, courage in the face of evil, and her unexpected journey of self-discovery along the way.

Sufficient ransom is amazing debut novel by new author Sylvia Sarno. Her story takes you on a journey from San Diego to Tijuana as main character Ann tries desperately to find her kidnapped son. The characters were very well thought out and developed and each person plays a significant role in the story. You won’t know who the good guys and bad guys are until the very end. As the main character Ann was quite annoying at times. She kept jumping to conclusions and being impulsive which lead to her ending up in life threatening situations on multiple occasions. However, as the story progresses she learns a lot about herself and her worth as mother. She leaned to trust herself and grows significantly by the end of the book. The author also injected an internal struggle of faith within Ann. She is torn between sticking to being an atheist or exploring the comfort christianity offers her. Religion and drug trafficking are intricately and brilliantly woven together and build into an amazing and mind blowing ending! This is an amazing suspense novel that will not disappoint and you will not want to put down. The author has been kind enough to grant me an interview and provide some more insight about the book.

 

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1. How did you come up with the title?

Since the story is about a kidnapping, the word “ransom” seemed like a natural choice to include in the title. When a friend suggested I look to Shakespeare for inspiration, I came up with the expression “sufficient ransom” from Two Gentlemen of Verona. In Shakespeare’s context, the term refers to an offer of sorrow for a misdeed. This meaning fit well with Ann’s guilt feelings as a mother. When I discovered that “sufficient ransom” is also a term from the bible, I knew I had a winner. “Sufficient ransom” addressed all the main points of the book: the kidnapping, a mother’s guilt, and the religious theme. And it was only two words, giving me a nice short title.

2. How much of the book is realistic?

Unfortunately, events similar to those in Sufficient Ransom have happened. But I can’t go into detail without giving too much away. A veteran crime investigator I consulted when I was doing research told me that if his child were kidnapped he would have taken matters into his own hands the way Ann did; and he would have gone to Mexico if necessary. Regarding the drug smuggling tunnel that Ann discovers on the border, more than one hundred tunnels have been discovered in recent years both on the San Diego side and the Tijuana side.

3. If you had to do it all over again, is there anything you would change about the book?

I’m happy with the final product. What I would have changed, which would have saved me a lot of time, is the approach I took to writing it.

4. How did the idea for the cover come about?

The book cover was definitely a collaborative effort. I had read a lot about what makes for a good book cover, but didn’t know what would make my cover good. My website designer, Susan Gilbert, referred me to Alexander von Ness of Nessgraphica. In looking at samples of his work, I knew right away I wanted him to do my cover. With each variant of the cover that Alexander designed for me (he did about 12 different ones) I learned more about what would work for my story. My book club friends—a group of very literary women—were invaluable in this. For most of the mock-ups Alexander did, they told me what they liked and didn’t like. Hearing their astute feedback, I finally honed in on the idea that I wanted a child on the cover with a partially hidden face.

5. What were the challenges (research, literary, psychological, and logistical) in bringing it to life?

The biggest challenge I faced in writing Sufficient Ransom, was that I really didn’t know what I was doing when I started it. But I didn’t know that I didn’t know. In the beginning, I did all the textbook things a writer should do. I researched the world of the story. I wrote journals for each of the characters in their own voices. And I outlined the story in great detail. After I wrote the first draft, I hired a professional novelist, who does editing on the side, to critique the first 100 pages. Her conclusion: I should scrap the story and start over. I agreed with her reasons and took her advice. Keeping the kernel of the idea, I rewrote the entire book. Next, I hired an experienced editor. Her encouragement and interest in the story inspired me to revise the story even more. The more I revised, the more I learned about the craft of writing. After a few more major edits, I felt I was finally on the right track.

6. What inspired you to write your book?

When I was a child living in Italy, there was much talk about kidnapping. A high-profile kidnapping in Rome in 1973 had set the whole country on edge. Years later, those fearful feelings came back to me and gave me the idea for Sufficient Ransom. Something my husband once mentioned about what he’d just read, gave me the specific angle for the story.

7. Were there any qualities that you shared with the main character?

I have to admit, I’m a little compulsive. But not as bad as Ann! Also, my husband tells me I jump to conclusions more than I should. Like Ann I also love classical-style art.

8. What advice do you have for other writers?

Learn about the craft of writing before and during the process of working on your book. Take classes. Ask your teachers to critique your work. Never take criticism of your work personally; rather, use it to improve your writing.

 
9. What book do you wish you had written?

Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. I love that book!

10. Do you read your reviews? Do you respond to them, good or bad? Do you have any advice on how to deal with the bad?

I do read them. The response has been overwhelmingly positive and has made all the work worthwhile. I responded to only two reviews. In the first case, the reader posted that pages were missing from her ebook. I offered to send her an ebook in place of that. She took me up on the offer, read the book, and posted a wonderful review. In the second case, I responded to a reader who was upset about certain parts of the book. I responded that I was sorry she was upset, explaining that I wrote it that way to get people thinking. I respect what readers have to say—good or bad. And I don’t take any of it personally. Going forward, I will take my husband’s advice and not respond to negative reviews.

 
11. What literary character is most like you?

I had no idea how to answer this question, so I took a quiz on Abebooks.com to see which literary character I am most like. The answer was Galadriel of Lord of the Rings, the one played by Cate Blanchett in the movies.

12. What was your favorite chapter (or part) to write and why?

I especially loved writing the final chapters. First because I was glad to be coming to the end. Second, because they were especially emotional.

13. What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author? What has been the best compliment?

Toughest criticism: My main character is “somewhat of an idiot.” Admittedly, Ann doesn’t always show the best judgment, but she is willing to try anything if it means finding her son.

The best compliment: “I couldn’t put your book down.” I’ve heard this a lot. Yea!

 
14. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

I live a middle class life in Southern California. I’m a mom and a wife. My family is awesome. They’re fun, funny, and interesting. Education and a love of learning are important to me. I encourage my kids to work hard in school so that they will have as many doors open to them as possible when they get older. Before we had kids, my husband and I traveled and ate out a lot. Our focus now is on our family. It’s a good, busy life.

15. Fruit loops or Frosted Flakes?

I’d have to say Fruit Loops. I like all the colors and the pink-blue milk.

16. Where can we find more about you and your book?

http://www.sylviasarno.com

http://www.sylviasarno.com/20-things-you-didnt-know-about-me/

https://www.facebook.com/SylviaSarnoFiction

https://twitter.com/SylviaSarno

Sufficient ransom can be found at amazon.com.

Branded by Abi Ketner & Missy Kalicicki

Fifty years ago the Commander came into power and murdered all who opposed him. In his warped mind, the seven deadly sins were the downfall of society. He created the Hole where sinners are branded according to their sins and might survive a few years. At best.

Now LUST wraps around my neck like blue fingers strangling me. I’ve been accused of a crime I didn’t commit and the Hole is my new home.
Darkness. Death. Violence. Pain.

Now every day is a fight for survival. But I won’t die. I won’t let them win.
The Hole can’t keep me. The Hole can’t break me.
I am more than my brand. I’m a fighter.

My name is Lexi Hamilton, and this is my story.

“You can overcome anything…short of death.”

In continuation of the one word named dystopian YA books the Boomworm brings you Branded. In the beginning of the story readers are introduced to the main character Lexi trying to kill herself. She doesn’t get to accomplish this task and is instead chased and captured by guards. So right away it starts out with action and something huge going on. When Lexi is put into the Hole and is attacked before she even makes it all the way in, that just added to the excitement of the story. The action was almost non stop and brutal. The authors didn’t hold back in that aspect. They also make sure you never really know who is going to die, get hurt, disappear or what and you don’t really know who to trust until the very end. That’s about all that kept me interested in the story. Everything else was just confusing and the timing was all over the place. For example, Lexi gets attacked (multiple times) and ends up with 26 staples in her head as well as a fragment of her skull removed. Yet a few days later she’s good as new and they take them out. Despite the fact that she had a concussion and never rested like the doctor ordered. Another confusing timeframe was when she started training. In like a week she went from being a weakling to a fighting and shooting machine. Now as with a lot (most) of YA books there is a romance and like a lot of books in the genre it was underdeveloped and had no basis whatsoever. In the beginning of the book Cole has this need to protect Lexi that goes beyond his orders but he doesn’t understand why and Lexi just swoons and falls in love with him just because he’s a little bit nicer than the other guards. Even they admit in the book that they dont know why they are in love with each other but that doesnt stop them from killing people, possibly dying and trying to destroy a whole justice system to be together. As for as the idea for the book I thought it was great and had promise. I think the story just needed to be polished a bit more. It seemed like this is more of a draft instead of a finished version of the story. However, I will be looking out for the next book in the series. I think sometimes as series progress the writing becomes more developed and the characters more interesting so I will stick with it. Overall it was a cool story and I would give it a 2.5/5 only because I feel it needed more work but I still recommend people give this a read.

Banded by Logan Byrne

In dystopian Manhattan, society is divided into six zones, with each one representing a citizen’s benefit to society: Stalwart (strength), Astute (intelligence), Collusive (greed), Radiant (beauty), Quixotic (no life direction), and the Altruistic (willingness to help others).  On a citizen’s sixteenth birthday, a computer suggests a new zone for them based on their inherent benefit to society.  When Kalenna Slater is sorted out of her home zone Quixotic and into Altruistic, she thinks things can’t get worse.  Life looks dismal until she meets Gavin, a boy also just sorted into Altruistic who becomes the light needed on her cloudy days. 

During sorting she receives a device known as ‘The Band’.  It’s a large watch-like device that never comes off, and it measures a citizen’s karma on a scale from one to one hundred.  If a citizen does good, they gain points.  If a citizen does bad, including breaking laws, they lose points.  When your number reaches zero, the band acts as judge, jury, and executioner, and you are injected with toxins that kill you within minutes. 

After sorting, recruits are taken to a three month long mandatory school named HQ.  It’s at HQ she meets new friends from different zones, and finally begins to feel at ease.  Everything goes well until a rare trip home makes her discover that her father, who has been missing for a decade, may have taken part in a terrible program that stands to shake the fabric of society.

“Computer,” the Warden said.
“Yes, Warden?”
“Will you please deduct four points from Ms. Slater here,” he said.
“Certainly, sir,” the computer said.
My band buzzed on my wrist, and I looked down to see four points leaving from my score one by one. I was now left with ninety-five  points, the lowest of my class, and I was scared.

Banded was a quick and easy light read but wasn’t very satisfying. It felt like it was way too short and there wasn’t try anything going on besides the Warden harassing Kaleena and her falling for it every time. As a main character Kaleena was flat in my opinion. There was never a point where I really felt anything for her but annoyance at her non ability to keep her mouth shut. The storyline was very rushed and I didnt understand why Kaleena was coming up with the conclusions she had most of time. She went from just trying to get through HQ training to conspiracy theories and wanting to change the government in like a week. The were also elements from different books like Divergent incorporated in the story. There was even a bit of Harry Potter thrown in with the way the kids get sorted being a high tech version of the Sorting Hat. I felt like it was too much of a play of other things with just a few original concepts thrown in and the story just wasn’t all that great. I won’t be reading the following stories in this series and give it a 1/5 rating. If you don’t mind books with obvious elements of other stories and looking for a time killer this is for you.

Etched on Me by Jenn Crowell

On the surface, sixteen-year-old Lesley Holloway is just another bright new student at Hawthorn Hill, a posh all-girls’ prep school north of London. Little do her classmates know that she recently ran away from home, where her father had spent years sexually abusing her. Nor does anyone know that she’s secretly cutting herself as a coping mechanism…until the day she goes too far and ends up in the hospital. 

Lesley spends the next two years in and out of psychiatric facilities, where she overcomes her traumatic memories and finds the support of a surrogate family. Eventually completing university and earning her degree, she is a social services success story—until she becomes unexpectedly pregnant in her early twenties. Despite the overwhelming odds she has overcome, the same team that saved her as an adolescent will now question whether Lesley is fit to be a mother. And so she embarks upon her biggest battle yet: the fight for her unborn baby.

I stared down at the smudgy tabletop, my eyes smarting, my chest cramping with the sudden pang of yearning to be more than a day-tipper in achievement country, to accomplish something concrete and easily validated rather than merely refrain from doing something fucked up.

Etched On Me had me it’s grips on me from the start of the book. It gives an unflinching look into issues such as mental health, self harm, sexual abuse, as well as the failures on the healthcare system and the bright spots, such as the character Gloria, trying to help from within the limits. The author is blatantly honest and the subject matter mentioned will take you on an emotional journey with the main character Lesley. The reader will genuinely root for her and pray that she makes it through her obstacles. You immediately want her to win in the beginning when she finally gets the courage to get help and escape from her abuser. She has to constantly deal with a part of herself that tells her she’s nothing. With every set back she experiences and every time she picks herself up you feel what she feels and her experiences become your own. This book leaves you emotionally raw and open will linger with you after you have read the very last page. I give this a 5/5 and absolutely recommend it for a read.

Broken Symmetry by Dan Rix

Sixteen-year-old Blaire Adams can walk through mirrors. 

It’s called breaking symmetry. To her, a mirror feels like a film of honey. She can reach through it, grab things…even step inside. 

On the other side she lives every teenager’s fantasy: a universe all her own, zero consequences. She can kiss the hot guy, break into La Jolla mansions, steal things…even kill. When finished, she just steps back into reality and smashes the mirror—and in an instant erases every stupid thing she did. Gone. It never happened. 

But breaking symmetry is also dangerous. First there’s the drug-like rush she gets when passing through the glass, like a shot of adrenaline. She suspects it’s degrading her body, making a new copy of her each time. A reflection of a reflection, each one a little hazier. Then, of course, there’s the risk of getting cut off from reality. 

When she narrowly escapes a military quarantine zone with the San Diego Police Department hot on her heels only to discover her escape mirror littering the floor in shards, her worst fear is realized. Now, trapped in a broken reflection, she must flee through a mind-bending maze of mirrors, going deeper into the nightmare as she struggles to grasp a betrayal, uncover the chilling truth about her ability, and somehow find a way out of a dead-end universe that “never happened.” 

These police officers tell me I have been gone for eleven months,” he said. “This is not true—”
“Daddy, where’d you go?” I mumbled.
“Blaire, you have to listen to me,” he said. “I never vanished . . . you vanished.”

This book is the ULTIMATE mind bender. It’s so creepy and unbelievable and just sooo good! By the end of this book you’ll be scared of your own reflection. This story is refreshingly original for this genre and you will not want to put this down. I envy those reading this story for the first time. Rix has created a world that is so complex, yet so detailed and well thought out. Blaire is one of the more likable female characters ive come across. What I really enjoyed about her was that she recognized when she sounded like a brat. I loved how independent and take charge she was. What I also enjoyed was the well developed male character Damien as well as the character Charles. He was a very interesting and calculating antagonist. The plot was crazy and never deviated even with the introduction of a new love interest. The author never really let the romance take over the story. With the way the plot twists and turns you will be on a terrifying adventure until the last word. This is a must read for any sci fi lovers and all those YA fans out there looking for something new. Without a doubt this is a 5/5 story. It can be found at amazon.com.

The Poor Man’s Guide to Suicide by Andrew Armacost

Wesley Weimer, a twice-divorced prison guard and failed father of two, realizes that his life has grown lifeless. Child support payments suck him dry and so he’ll never finish that degree. Most of his free time is spent tending to his crippled mother or else writhing through painful visits with his children.

So with Christmas right around the corner, Wesley persuades a prisoner to strangle him for ten thousand dollars—this way, at least his kids can cash in on the life insurance. The only problem is, he doesn’t have ten thousand dollars…

“My initial suicidal ideations were pretty straightforward but have recently grown more elaborate, more ambitious, more demanding on the imagination.”

This was an amazing look into the psyche of a man who has lost all hope and optimism for life. The author does a wonderful job at conveying the voice of Wesley. The writing is smooth and jumps from past and present to really allow the reader to feel his despair. It’s very dark and gritty. The reader will really find themselves on a journey of self discovery. This is the type of story that will hit home for a lot of people. I really liked how the author showed that no matter what a person is going through or may have things can change at any moment. As was shown in the sudden change of circumstances with Wesley’s friend Cooper. The sudden downward spiral of Coopers life is the catalyst for Wesley to make changes in his own life. As a woman I found it interesting to read a book from the point of view of man who is also a noncustodial parent. It provided a lot of insight into how they may view their circumstances with their children as well the way it must feel to have children closer to their step parent than themselves. It was a brilliant portrayal of a truly decent man who through a series of events is at a dead end in life. This book has something for every reader to be able to connect with. Overall I would give it a 4/5 and I would recommend this for a read.