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Book Review and International Giveaway – Black Chalk by Christopher J. Yates

Synopsis:  Who knows better than your best friends what will break you?

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.

First Line:  I(I) He phones early.

Random Quote:  As a child, aged twelve perhaps, I began to regard Jane Austen as my mother and Charles Dickens as my father.  These were the only two constants in my life, the only two people to whom I gave my unconditional love.  Austen and Dickens whispered bedtime stories to me, made me laugh, taught me all about life.  And soon came three sisters:  Anne, Charlotte, and Emily.  This was my family and between them they couldn’t do anything wrong.  I loved them for their words as others love, without question, for blood or lust or family ties.  As I got older I unearthed thrilling aunts and uncles.  Green, Nabokov, Woolf, Updike.  Each would come to visit with fascinating tales from worlds a million miles away.  And they too earned by love, my adoration.  Here was a family I could choose, not the other way round.  I read and I read and I loved.

Russian Nesting Dolls Puzzle (image source)

Review:  First things first – I absolutely loved this book.  I couldn’t get enough of it and I mourned when it ended.  It hit all my high points – a close-knit group of friends, a fictional college at Oxford University, an intricate psychological game with unforeseen consequences.  It is intelligent, literary, and intricate – revealing itself in bits and pieces that don’t truly come together until they are all collected and the heart of the story is revealed.

In the beginning one of the group is reflecting back to the game as it played out fourteen years earlier.  We don’t know who this person is for quite awhile, but we do get a sense of the characters in the flashbacks: Jolyon, interesting, complicated, and fascinating; Chad, the ugly American; Jack, always offensive, mildly funny; Mark, the physics genius who can’t stop sleeping; Emilia, an object of desire for reasons that aren’t clear; and Dee, a poet writing five hundred poems.  It is a constellation of friendship such as occurs at college when you meet someone the first day and then meet others and there at the pub or the cafeteria you’re thrown intensely together.  Then, there is the Game Society, a small group that funds the game and who remain dark and mysterious, moving in the shadows.

The game is a complicated version of Truth or Dare and it quickly becomes as serious as a heartbeat with consequences that feel predictable, but because of the nature of the writing never are.  Mr. Yates, the author, is a puzzle master, and his skill shows in the way the game is put together, but perhaps even more in the way the story is put together.  It’s like a Russian nesting doll if a Russian nesting doll was also an thousands of pieces puzzle that may have some crucial pieces missing.

Black Chalk is a compelling read – it caught me in its web instantly and I could  not put it down.  I found its mysteries compelling and its suspense excruciating.  Another one of the best books I’ve read this year.  If you liked The Secret History and The Bellwether Revivals (I did) you’ll love this book although the details are stunningly original and the payoff mindblowing.  This is a book I plan to read again to learn what I missed – it’s so rich I know there are things I haven’t figured out yet.  Read this book!

FTC Disclosure:  Advance copy from publisher for TLC Book Tours

Publishing Information:  Harvill Secker – September 19, 2013

Format:  Kindle


I am very pleased to be a part of Mr. Yates’ virtual book through TLC Book Tours!  Check out the other stops on the tour for additional reviews and chances to win a copy of the book!

About Christopher J. Yates

Christopher J. Yates (image source)
Christopher J. Yates studied law at Wadham College, Oxford from 1990-93 and initially pursued a career in law before he began working in puzzles, representing the UK at the World Puzzle Championships. Since then he has worked as a freelance journalist, sub-editor and puzzles editor/compiler. In 2007 he moved to New York City with his wife, and currently lives in the East Village.
For more information on Christopher, please visit his website,


Monday, March 31st:  A Bookworms World
Tuesday, April 1st:  My Shelf Confessions
Tuesday, April 1st:  Books and Movies
Wednesday, April 2nd:  Chaotic Compendiums
Thursday, April 3rd:  Joyfully Retired
Thursday, April 3rd:  Bibliotica
Friday, April 4th:  Not in Jersey
Monday, April 7th:  Jenns Bookshelves
Monday, April 7th:  Tiffanys Bookshelf
Tuesday, April 8th:  Booksies Blog
Wednesday, April 9th:  Reading Reality
Thursday, April 10th:  Read. Write. Repeat.
Friday, April 11th:  Book Journey
Monday, April 14th:  Book Dilettante
Monday, April 14th:  Daily Mayo
Tuesday, April 15th:  Svetlanas Reads and Views
Wednesday, April 16th:  No More Grumpy Bookseller
Thursday, April 17th:  October Country
Friday, April 18th:  Daily Mayo  author interview
Monday, April 21st:  Kritters Ramblings
Tuesday, April 22nd:  Redheaded Book Child
Wednesday, April 23rd:  Sarahs Book Shelves
Thursday, April 24th:  My Bookshelf
Friday, April 25th:  Between the Covers
Thursday, May 1st:  Books a la Mode
Friday, May 2nd:  Books a la Mode  guest post

I know I’ve raved about this book and that makes me really pleased to be able to offer a giveaway.  Use the form below to enter to win one (1) copy of the book.  No country limits on winners – this is an international giveaway!  No PO Boxes, please.  Winners announced on Sunday, 4/13.

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