My Sister’s Bones by Nuala Ellwood

Debut novel
Debut novel

Kate and Sally grew up in the family home in Herne Bay. From early childhood they would frequently witness their drunken father viciously beating their mother and when Kate moved to intervene he would beat her too. Realising that an earlier family tragedy had inextricably bound her parents together Kate escaped as soon as she could and now sees violence and bloodshed on a near daily basis as a war reporter. Sally became an emotionally damaged teenaged mother who struggled to manage her daughter, but life sometimes gives second chances and now she has an adoring spouse. Nevertheless her daughter Hannah ran away at the age of sixteen and Sally is driven to seek refuge in alcohol abuse and denial.

Their father is long dead when the tale begins but now their mother has died and Kate has flown home to settle her mother’s estate. Sally is drunk for most of the time and the animosity between the sisters is such that Kate has opted to stay alone in their mum’s house and enjoy the peace. But peace is something Kate cannot find, suffering from PTSD from her work as a war reporter she can barely sleep and combines pills with alcohol to blot out the vivid nightmares. To add to her misery her long-term lover has ended their relationship in favour of his wife and Kate has miscarried the only baby she might ever have had. Confusing nightmares and family history with current reality Kate becomes certain that there is an unhappy child in the house next door although her neighbour denies it.  Then Kate sees the child again but this time he is crying in the night and her reporter’s instincts refuse to be silenced. Her actions lead to her arrest and she is held for a full psychiatric assessment that involves raking in detail over the past she doesn’t want to face. Released with a restriction preventing her from returning to the street Kate opts to go back to Syria, but before she leaves she pays a visit to Sally and despite their many ongoing disagreements she begs Sally to keep an eye out for the little boy. From here on both sisters find themselves plunged into terrible danger.

The first half of the story skilfully intersperses details of Kate’s life and past as revealed through the psychiatric assessment interview, with the events of the week leading up to her arrest and her decision to return to Syria. The rest of the tale then develops the mystery of the little boy and reveals, as studies have shown, that children who witness domestic violence are more likely to be affected by violence as adults – either as victims or perpetrators.

At its heart this is a tale full of violence, darkness and illness, but it is also a tale of love and of survival. It is packaged as a thriller and it keeps its secrets right up to the terrifying dénouement. It’s a clever, complicated and well executed story with excellent character development and sound psychology behind it. This is Ellwood’s debut novel and she found inspiration for the themes in the experiences of her sister and her father, both of whom are journalists. I found it absorbing and disturbing and felt compelled to read it through in one day.

I give it 4 bites, a meal that leaves a bitter taste but I expect it to be a very popular dish.

 

Tamara Thomas
I am the only girl and youngest of four children, I grew up in a home stuffed with books, and now some fifty years later, great piles of them still appear in every room I inhabit. I won’t waste my time reading books that leave me feeling sour, dirty or depressed; books are a source of light and inspiration in my world. Nevertheless, I love a book that makes me cry with loss or sadness such as Captain Corelli’s Mandolin or The Book Thief. Bliss is a winter’s afternoon on the sofa, snuggled in with my dogs, stove blazing and an absorbing book.

Himself by Jess Kidd

Debut Novel
Debut Novel

Mahoney is a dark eyed, dark haired, leather jacketed lad down from Dublin for a holiday in the tranquil village of Mulderrig, or so he claims as he chats to Tadgh the publican.

His real reason for visiting is…well, rather more complex; raised by nuns in St Martha’s orphanage he’s just received an anonymous letter that was written at the time he was abandoned. Now he knows his mammy’s name, where she came from and even his own name – not that he’s intending to use it. He also knows she was considered the curse of the town. Among the many things he doesn’t know is what happened to her, why he was abandoned, who his father is and why, oh why, he can see ghosts.

With laughing eyes and a charming smile Mahoney attracts much interest and before a day has passed Tadgh has introduced him to half the town and found lodgings for the handsome stranger.

Up at Rathmore House young Shauna Burke is struggling to keep the fine old house going, her mother left years ago and her father took to his garden shed in grief where he reads about fairies and talks to himself in a Protestant accent. Her one paying guest is the ancient thespian Mrs Cauley, tiny in size, mighty in nature and comfortably wealthy she refuses to kowtow to the dogma of the local priest, Father Quinn. Recognising a kindred spirit in Mahoney the old woman takes him under her wing determined to help him find the truth about his mother.

Each year Mrs Cauley finances and stages a show in aid of the Church and this year SHE has decided it will be The Playboy of The Western World with Mahoney in the lead role. Under the guise of auditions Mrs Cauley sets to work asking questions that should have been asked twenty years earlier and uncovering a web of deceit so dark that it is surprising that the sun can ever again shine upon shameful Mulderig. Aided and abetted by ghosts, dreams and love struck women, Mahoney is kept busy following up the leads. Meanwhile with the troublesome priest doing his very best to bring down hell and damnation on the wicked stranger nature has decided it’s time to make its presence felt on the priest.

This book is an entire firework display of delights. The characters are spicy and gnarly despite some small town caricatures and by page thirty I was dreaming of Aidan Turner in the role of Mahoney with Maggie Smith as the force of nature that is Mrs Cauley. Engaging, humorous, dark and witty the dialogue crackled with spite and brilliance as small town secrets were revealed. The lilting Irish phrasing practically sang off the page while touches of magic realism combined to keep what is at its heart a dark and brutal tale from leaving a bitter taste.

I so enjoyed this book I want to read it all again immediately. It has to score a perfect 5 from me

Tamara Thomas
I am the only girl and youngest of four children, I grew up in a home stuffed with books, and now some fifty years later, great piles of them still appear in every room I inhabit. I won’t waste my time reading books that leave me feeling sour, dirty or depressed; books are a source of light and inspiration in my world. Nevertheless, I love a book that makes me cry with loss or sadness such as Captain Corelli’s Mandolin or The Book Thief. Bliss is a winter’s afternoon on the sofa, snuggled in with my dogs, stove blazing and an absorbing book.

Out of the darkness, Katy Hogan

 

Click through to Amazon
Click through to Amazon

This novel is about the fog and pain of loss and the extraordinary healing bonds that can be forged when we let our barriers down. It is also about spirituality and life after death. It opens with Jessica who ten months on from the death of her mother is struggling with the void in her life and has delayed dealing with the practicalities that fall to her, the only child, to sort out. Her anger and sadness cause her to have an out of character one night stand with a stranger – who she never sees again. Realising she must do something to take control of her life she reluctantly joins a bereavement group and so triggers a series of seemingly casual meetings that, combined with her unexpected pregnancy, are about to change her life.

Among those who Jess meets is Alex, a young American woman who has recently moved to Brighton. Alex left her previous job because of major health problems and is starting life over as a voluntary art teacher. However since her move to Brighton Alex has come to believe that she is being haunted. In a search for answers she persuades Jess to accompany her to a spiritualist church meeting where, despite cynicism and farce, a meaningful message is received.

Hannah, a fellow attendee at the bereavement group, is drawn by chance into the friendship with Jess and Alex. Hannah’s mother has been lost in bitter grief for a year and Hannah has had to bear both grief and loss without the love of her mother or any support from her controlling husband. But hidden bonds connect the friends and these three young women support and strengthen each other and by extension their families. Their friendships are further deepened by the birth of Jessica’s son and they are all feeling more positive.

The hidden bonds gradually reveal themselves and bring the families closer just in time to deal with further unexpected tragedy.

This debut novel from Katy Hogan shows real promise. It is warm, considered and well thought out and she uses her own experience of  the spirit world to underpin the tale. The world of the medium is shown as a strange blend of the dowdy and the flashy, the inept and the skilled. The twists in the tale are cleverly concealed and although some might think it all a little too coincidental and tidy I found it heart-warming and entertaining. My only criticism is the feeling I had that Katy tried too hard to shape each line and to add the right number of adjectives, similes and metaphors, consequently some paragraphs have a formulaic feel. Nevertheless it is a good read, thoroughly enjoyable and I imagine it might well be uplifting for those struggling with grief. I’m torn between awarding a 3 bite accolade or awarding a 4 – why don’t you give it a go and see what you think.

Tamara Thomas
I am the only girl and youngest of four children, I grew up in a home stuffed with books, and now some fifty years later, great piles of them still appear in every room I inhabit. I won’t waste my time reading books that leave me feeling sour, dirty or depressed; books are a source of light and inspiration in my world. Nevertheless, I love a book that makes me cry with loss or sadness such as Captain Corelli’s Mandolin or The Book Thief. Bliss is a winter’s afternoon on the sofa, snuggled in with my dogs, stove blazing and an absorbing book.