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.

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.

Zero Alternative by Luca Persaro

Scott Walker is a fugitive from the quicksands of Finance, with one card to play – DeepShare, a silicon oracle coveted by billionaires, hitmen and hackers. As he fights for survival and vengeance, digging deeper into the dark heart of the global economy, one question torments him: what price will the world have to pay?

He didn’t known what to do; this was too outside his universe. He should just go to the police, but there would be so many questions- he would have to talk about DeepOmega and he didn’t have a shred of proof, just two missing computers in a convoluted story.

And powerful enemies working against him as he tried to defend himself in front of the law. You might be truly screwed, Yours.

Zero Alternative was a fast paced thriller. Luca Pesaro takes you on a rollercoaster ride trough the shady and dangerous world of banking. Scott Walker (Yours) and his friend DM have a program with the ability to predict the market. With a resource so accurate and powerful many people want to get their hands on that program by any means. The beginning was a little slow because of the introduction of the banking world and the financial jargon but Pesaro does an excellent job of explaining concepts without making the reader feel as though they are sitting in a classroom. The characters are well thought out and quirky. The things one character does in the story is so twisted and cringe worthy you will be squirming in your seat. Betrayal, murder, sex, and espionage are all served up on a platter and fed to you in a decadent feast! I recommend this with no hesitation. There is zero alternative to buying this 5/5 rated thriller.

Fine Young Gentleman by C.W. Slater

*CONTENT WARNING: coarse language, sexuality, graphic violence including murder, may be disturbing to some readers, mature themes. Not for children. Recommended for 16+* 

The controversial Young Adult suspense-thriller that dares to show how teenage boys REALLY think. Dark, satirical, intense and raw. This is a book you shouldn’t read if you are easily shocked or offended! 

Take a twisted journey inside the heads of three raunchy, impulsive sixteen-year-old boys at the elite Percy College School—where status-hungry moms blackmail students, and self-absorbed administrators will do anything to protect the school’s reputation. Craig is the popular golden boy struggling to hide a terrible secret. Jacob is a creepy emerging psychopath plotting to eliminate his rivals. Sex-obsessed Matt is desperate to lose his virginity at all costs. 

The first book of the upcoming Fine Young Gentlemen series.

Please note the content warning. This is not a Young Adult romance

“I know hate is a strong word and everything, but its okay: we’re teenagers.”

 

This was  an absolute heart stopping read! I advise you definitely heed the warning before reading this book. The title may be called Fine Young Gentleman but the things these guys get into falls no where under the gentleman category. This was a dark and intense look into the minds of three teenage boys. Some things were expected like constantly wanting to get laid but other things will totally blow your mind. For example the psychopathic tendencies one of the characters starts to exhibit and eventually gives into. The point of view changed between each boy as well as some secondary characters and the author was exceptional at capturing and conveying each of their voices. Throughout the story every one of the guys became a bad guy in some way so you won’t know which direction the story will take until the very end. It’s so unlike anything I’ve read before. It’s dark, hilarious, suspenseful, and edgy. It’s a must read and you won’t be disappointed. I give this a 5/5 rating and I absolutely recommend this read. Available at Amazon.com.

I was given a copy from the author for a honest review.

Conduit by Angie Martin

How do you hide from a killer when he’s in your mind?

Emily Monroe conceals her psychic gift from the world, but her abilities are much too strong to keep hidden from an equally gifted killer. A savvy private investigator, she discreetly uses her psychic prowess to solve cases. When the police ask her to assist on a new case, she soon learns the killer they seek is not only psychic, but is targeting her.

The killer wants more than to invade her mind; he wants her. Believing they are destined for each other, he uses his victims as conduits to communicate with her, and she hears their screams while they are tortured. She opens her mind to help the victims, but it gives him a portal that he uses to lure her to him. With the killer taking over her mind, she must somehow stop him before she becomes his next victim.

“Why should I spare you? What do you offer the world that is important?”
Jillian’s eyes widened and her fave came to life. “I really don’t want to die. I’m only twenty one and I have so much to live for. My parents would be devastated if I died. I have a lot of friends and I just started back at school to get my business degree. I know my job at the coffee shop doesn’t seem that important but it is to those who need coffee in the morning. I might even open a coffee shop of my own someday.”
David stopped listening to her spouting out worthless reasons to live and studied the animation in her eyes and face. She believes her pitiful reasons for loving would work with him.

Conduit is a heart pounding suspense novel that will grip you from the first sentence! This was unlike any thriller I have ever read. The plot is killer..literally. The psychic element of the book just boosted the story to a completely new level. It’s not only a suspense and thriller it also packs a supernatural punch. I was so engrossed in the story I actually spooked myself a few times. The author does an incredible job of delving into the mind of David. His story will take you to a place you can’t even imagine. The development of all the characters was amazing. I love strong female characters and Emily and Cassie are a kickass duo. The relationships between Emily, Cassie, and Jake were so authentic and later add a whole new layer to the story when certain things come to light. This is book is just totally captivating and will keep you in its clutches until the last word. This is a 5/5 star book and absolutely recommended for a read. It’s available at Amazon.com.

Archetype by M.D. Waters

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Available at Amazon.com

Emma wakes in a hospital, with no memory of what came before. Her husband, Declan, a powerful, seductive man, provides her with new memories, but her dreams contradict his stories, showing her a past life she can’t believe possible: memories of war, of a camp where girls are trained to be wives, of love for another man. Something inside her tells her not to speak of this, but she does not know why. She only knows she is at war with herself.

Suppressing those dreams during daylight hours, Emma lets Declan mold her into a happily married woman and begins to fall in love with him. But the day Noah stands before her, the line between her reality and dreams shatters.

In a future where women are a rare commodity, Emma fights for freedom but is held captive by the love of two men—one her husband, the other her worst enemy. If only she could remember which is which. . . .

“No,” I moan, and my chest shudders with another sob. ” This is not happening.” Foster glances between the other two. “What’s going on?” I shake my head sharply from side to side, trying to stabilize my thoughts. “You tried to kill me here,” I whisper hoarsely to Noah. I point straight ahead. ” the tank used to be there. You turned off the life support and Sonya stopped you.” Foster glares at Noah. “Is that true?” He jerks his head up to Sonya for confirmation. “Is it?” “Yes,” Sonya says. Noah drops hard to the floor. He stares at me with wide eyes. “They were only nightmares at first,” I say to no one in particular. “Not once did I think they were real. Over time I believed them to be a bad memory.” Another sob breaks through. ” I still have these dreams almost every night.” I stand and then to face Her. I came here for answers, only to come away with more questions. I have been seeing this place through Her eyes.

Archetype was an OK read for me. I wanted to really love this book but just couldn’t connect with the story. I thought the plot was amazing and original but the delivery fell short for me. The main issue I had was that Emma didn’t know herself or anything for such a long time it became a chore to read through it. I think the problem in this sense was the excellent writing. The author was so amazing at setting the tone and the voice of Emma that it didn’t come across well with me. It also bothered me that she never used contractions. It made sense in the beginning of the book when she was learning everything but as time went on she could’ve spoken like everyone else. Especially when she regains her memory. I was also disappointed with the love interest in the story. I didn’t like either one of the guys all that much. However, between the two choices she had I felt she picked the wrong one. As far as the science goes I felt like by the end of the story the author was reaching. It wasn’t that it’s a bad book it just wasn’t for me personally.