Eva Jordan reviews… Mother by S.E. Lynes

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Mother is a dark psychological thriller that takes place in Leeds in the UK during the late 70s, early 80s set against the backdrop of the true-life murders taking place in the area at that time by the serial killer, Peter Sutcliffe, dubbed by the press as the Yorkshire Ripper. Written in the third person by an unknown narrator, Mother tells the story of eighteen-year-old Christopher Harris just as he is about to leave home and set off for university. However, shortly before doing so, Christopher discovers a letter that sets off a chain of events that will change his life forever.

Christopher Harris is socially awkward, which may in part be attributed to his age, in part to his upbringing. It is obvious Christopher is loved and cared for by his parents but it also clear they are not particularly demonstrative and as a result, Christopher has always felt different, like a bit of an outsider. “Not that Jack and Margaret Harris were bad people. They were what you’d call traditional, but like all parents, they did their best.” So when Christopher discovers a letter in a battered old suitcase in the loft he is surprised but not necessarily perturbed to find that, unlike his younger brother and sister, as a baby, he was adopted.

The first half of the book then sees Christopher settling into student life at university alongside his search for his birth mother whom he discovers and makes contact with. Christopher has high expectations regarding his ‘real’ mother, hopes that through her he will discover his ‘real self’, and “for her, he would be everything she was hoping for in a son. He would be a boy she could not refuse. For Phyllis, he would be normal”. 

Initially quite slow to begin with, the story rapidly picks up pace in the second half. It would also be fair to say that the first couple of chapters, like some reviewers have stated, are also slightly confusing. However, I would implore readers to stick with it as all will be revealed as events and characters slot into place. Brilliantly written, this is a dark, coming of age story exploring the basic human need to assimilate, to somehow ‘fit in’ and belong – sometimes at any cost. It is also a story about obsession, both for the things we want in life and for the life we believe we are entitled to.

The characters are well developed and believable and although Christopher, at times best described as creepy, also proves to be extremely vulnerable, desperate, even. Lynes use of language is wonderfully descriptive and emotive and it was great to reminisce and be reminded of the music, fashion and culture of my own formative years. If you like creepy psychological thrillers with some dark twists and turns then this is a must read.

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Eva Jordan reviews… Till The Dust Settles by Pat Young

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Published by Bloodhound Books

Pat Young’s debut novel, Till The Dust Settles, is an intriguing and cleverly woven thriller based around the fictitious life of downtrodden young wife, Lucie Young, and the terrible but real life September 11 attacks (usually referred to as 9/11), which most of us will remember were a series of coordinated alleged terrorist attacks that took place in 2001, resulting in the collapse of New York’s Twin Towers. Not to mention the death, serious injury and disappearance of thousands. 

After winning a much-coveted scholarship in the States, talented young athlete, Lucie Young, decides to leave her parents and native Scotland to pursue her running ambitions. There, she meets her rather charming track coach, Curtis Jardine, whom she falls in love with and marries. However, the opening chapters show Lucie caught in what at first appears to be some kind of snowstorm, “Lucie ran, stumbling and lurching blindly through the dust. Hoping she was heading north. Following the snowpeople up ahead till they melted into white and disappeared … White powder lay inches deep on car roofs and their parking meters wore peaked caps. The blacktop of the road was white, confusing as a negative photo”. This, of course, transpires to be the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers. 

As the story unravels we are soon made aware that Lucie had in fact been on her way to a job interview at one of the Twin Towers in a bid to earn some much-needed cash to escape her abusive marriage. However, when Lucie stumbles upon the dead body of successful businesswoman, Charlotte Gillespie, and mistakenly takes her handbag instead of her own, an idea begins to form. Lucie sees the opportunity to make a new life for herself, far away from her own browbeaten existence. Nonetheless, all is not as it first appears and Lucie’s life is about to change in more ways than she bargained for.

Set against the aftermath of 9/11, Till The Dust Settles is an easy read and a great debut. Written in the third person and seen from three perspectives, the characters are both well rounded and believable. The narrative moves along at a steady pace with plenty of intrigue to keep you turning the page. I also enjoyed the authors writing style, which at times was hauntingly evocative and wonderfully descriptive. A great thriller and definitely one I would recommend. 

Out Of Bad, Comes Good!

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The great thing about being a writer … is meeting other writers! Having met author, Louise Jensen, earlier this year, I was honoured when, in August, she kindly invited me to her book launch for the paperback version of her debut novel, The Sister, which took place at Waterstones, Market Harborough. Originally released as an ebook in July 2016 with digital publishers, Bookouture, The Sister has met with great success. However, when I first met Louise and we got chatting, I was both intrigued and surprised to find that the circumstances behind penning her first novel shared some similarities with my own journey. Louise, like me, always aspired to be an author and through no fault of her own, again like me, found herself victim to a set of circumstances that would forever affect her health. Finding she was less active and unable to do some of the things she was used to doing was, Louise admitted, a real struggle, and at times quite depressing. Little did she know, as she set about putting pen to paper, again, like me, it would be the start of her writing career and see a long awaited dream come true.

Louise has since written a second novel, The Gift, and her third novel, The Surrogate, was released last month and is already getting some rave reviews. Since writing, The Sister, with translation rights having been sold in 16 countries, Louise has also acquired a literary agent and has been signed to write another novel with Bookouture, with the paperback versions of her books now in the safe hands of Sphere (Little, Brown).

The book launch was a great success and all concerned had a great night. There was enough wine and nibbles to sink a battleship and even a cake, The Sister 1

although sadly I had to leave before I had chance to nab a slice. The only downside for me was my car journey home. What should have taken an hour instead turned into a rather wearisome two and half hours as I met with not one, not two, but three roadblocks! Nonetheless, I refused to get down, instead looking for something positive from my little detour. After all, as a writer, no experience is ever wasted, and, thankfully, I have a rather active imagination. So, as the Shat Nav in my car led me down one narrow, winding, and eerily dark country road after another, an idea for a story began to take root. Due to other commitments I’ve parked it for now, but, when I’m ready, I will no doubt resurrect it and put it to good use, my little diversion thus not a complete waste of time! Therefore, next time you find yourself in a situation you’d rather not be in, remember, as my unwanted little rendezvous suggests, and as Louise’s story proves, sometimes amazing things can happen as a result of difficult times in our lives, and, ultimately, out of bad, comes good.

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Write Your First Novel – In A Month!

 

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A couple of months ago I had the pleasure of attending an author event to hear crime writer, Elizabeth Haynes, talk about her writing career. I also had the honour of meeting and chatting with Elizabeth afterwards, who proved to be both lovely and very gracious with her time. After then going home and devouring her current novel, Never Alone (a great read and one I’d highly recommend if you like crime thrillers) which I read and reviewed last month (and you can read again here), I decided to write a post about the event, and pass on some of Elizabeth’s writerly wisdom

Elizabeth, a former police intelligence analyst, hasn’t always been an author but, like me, she did always aspire to be such, one-day. Her first novel, Into The Darkest Corner was published in 2011 and won Amazon’s Book of the Year and Amazon’s Rising Star Award. During the course of the evening the author discussed her previous career and where she gets her ideas and inspiration from to write her novels. The idea of Never Alone came to Elizabeth when she was thinking of moving house and found herself spending far too much time browsing through the houses of various property websites. She came across a grey stone house nestling in a remote country hillside providing the inspiration for the house in the novel, Four Winds Farm, which plays a pivotal role in the setting of Never Alone.

The author also discussed, despite juggling a family and a full time job, how she eventually came to write her first novel. She became, and continues to be, a participant in the National Novel Writing Month, otherwise referred to as NaNoWriMo – an annual challenge to write 50,000 words in the month of November (approximately 1667 words a day, or roughly four sides of typed A4 paper). So, this is my challenge to all you would be writers out there, you have a couple months to prepare yourself before the start of November and possibly the start of your first novel. It may mean getting up a couple of hours earlier every day, or going to bed a couple of hours later each night. It may also mean you let the housework slide for a couple of weeks, get someone else to do the cooking, walk the dog, whatever – but it is only for one month.

However, Elizabeth did also point out that 50,000 words is not a novel (most novels are anything from 60,000 to 100,000 words, much more in some cases), but what you will have is the bare bones of a novel, a good start and something you can build on. Why not take a look at the official NaNoWriMo website nanowrimo.org and sign up now. You’ll find lots of help and inspiration, including pep talks and the chance to meet other authors online and in person. Good luck if you take part and please let me know how you get on!

Elizabeth Haynes

Me and Elizabeth Haynes!

Eva Jordan reviews… Never Alone by Elizabeth Haynes

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Publisher – Myriad Editions

My Review

This is the first novel I have read by crime writer Elizabeth Haynes and I can safely say it won’t be the last. Gripping, thrilling and wonderfully written, for me, it was a real page-turner.

Never Alone is a story about Sarah Carpenter, a middle-aged widow who lives with her two dogs in a remote farmhouse set in the North Yorkshire Moors. Sarah has two adult children, Kitty, her daughter, who is away at university most of the time and her son, Louis, who, although lives locally to Sarah is, for all intents and purpose, estranged from his mother. Still struggling to come to terms with the death of his father, Jim, it’s obvious Louis blames his mother for his father’s death despite the fact it was clearly an accident.

Sarah too is struggling, but her battle is more about isolation, what it means to live alone. ‘She has a house and debts, and, while she doesn’t need to worry about the children any longer, it’s a hard habit to break, worrying.’ Neither particularly happy nor unhappy she is presented as someone who, although on the surface appears to be reasonably calm and collected, is nonetheless floundering. When she first met her husband, Jim, as a young woman at university, although she didn’t love him, at first, ‘he promised to be there for her forever, and it was that permanence that attracted her. The idea that whatever lay ahead, she would have Jim.’ However, when Aiden, an old friend from university, also the ex-best friend of her deceased husband, turns up and agrees to rent the small cottage Sarah has at the back of her farmhouse, Sarah quickly realises she is not alone. And, as the story unfolds, she also realises there are worst things than being alone.

Narrated through two voices, namely Sarah and Aiden, as well as one unknown malevolent voice, it soon becomes apparent Aiden is hiding something from Sarah. The story starts off quite slow then gradually picks up pace culminating in a number of shocking twists and turns.

Easy to read, Never Alone, is a well-written psychological thriller that is as much about human relationships as it is about the human psyche. The characters are well rounded and believable and Haynes cleverly uses the weather (being snowed in), location (the isolation of the moors and the old farmhouse, Four Winds Farm) and animal instinct (the whines, low growls and body language of Sarah’s two dogs, Basil and Tess) to build atmosphere and tension that greatly add to the mounting suspense of this brilliant read. Definitely one I’d recommend.

Eva Jordan reviews… Jawbone Lake by Ray Robinson

 

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Publisher – Windmill Books

Ravenstor, the Peak District. New Year’s Day.

A young woman stands on the shore of a frozen lake and watches a Land Rover crash off the bridge wall and into the ice. Two hundred miles away, a young man is woken by a devastating telephone call. The accident, and what it brings to the surface, will change both of their lives forever.

My Review

Set in a small town in Derbyshire’s Peak District, Jawbone Lake is a compelling and cleverly woven thriller about a young man’s search for the truth behind the disappearance of his father. However, it is also a heartfelt look at life after death and the impact of such on those left behind seen through the eyes of the story’s two main protagonists, Joe Arms and Rabbit.

Living in London, Joe is the successful owner of a thriving software company he set up from scratch after leaving university. However, Joe has had enough of London life and his manic work schedule. He decides to sell the business and leave London for a while. Early one morning Joe receives a phone call from his mother, Eileen, telling him there’s been an accident. His father’s Land Rover, which crashed into a frozen lake off a bridge, has been found but his father, CJ, is missing. With no idea if any other vehicles were involved and no apparent witnesses, the police are somewhat baffled by the circumstances surrounding the accident. Joe’s father is missing, presumed dead. Distraught, Joe sets out to find the reason behind his father’s disappearance only to uncover some unsettling truths along the way. This was the man Joe thought he knew but his quest leads him to a past that began in Hastings and another life in Andalusia in Spain, which throws up the age-old question – does anyone ever truly know someone?

The story’s second protagonist is Rabbit, a young woman who works in the local ice-cream factory who, unbeknown to anyone else, was standing by the lake when CJ’s car went into it. She also witnessed the presence of another car and a man with ‘a dark shape silhouetted in his hand.’ Hers is a mundane existence and one where she is still coming to terms with the loss of her baby son. ‘Sensing the vastness of the water out there, its pull, she was reminded how, towards the end of her labour last year, it felt as though her stomach had created its own field of gravity…And even though he was now gone from her world, she still felt him inside her, floating like a tiny underwater astronaut.’

Although Jaw Bone Lake delves into the murky dealings of the criminal underworld this is not a fast-paced action thriller but rather a look into the aftermath that crime and the loss of a loved one leave on those left behind. The characters are well rounded and the narrative moves along at a steady pace. Robinson’s use of language is beautifully evocative and his description of places and changing scenery simply breath-taking. Robinson is clearly a writer who understands the art of writing and this is definitely a book I’d recommend.

Eva Jordan reviews… In The Shadows by Tara Lyons

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Publisher – Tara Lyons

Detective Inspector Denis Hamilton is tasked with apprehending a brutal murderer stalking the streets of London – and leaving not a shred of DNA evidence. As the suspect list mounts, his frustration and pressure from his superiors intensify.

Grace Murphy, who is dealing with the recent loss of her beloved grandfather, falls deeper into despair when her friends’ bodies are discovered. Fearing she may be the killer’s next target, she begins to question if her horrifying nightmares are the key to unravelling the murderer’s identity.

How far would you go to uncover the truth? Would you venture into the shadows to unmask a killer?

My Review 

In The Shadows is the debut novel by crime writer Tara Lyons and what a gripping read and great start to her writing career it is. Set in present-day London, a serial killer is on the loose and young women are being murdered. The opening sentences of the prologue introduce the murderer and leave little room to doubt the state of their troubled, deeply disturbed mind:

They never found the first dead body. I didn’t want them to. I was in control, powerful, and important. My fingers tightly gripped the smooth black knife handle, and I felt the rush of excitement as the sharp tip pierced her chest. All my energy, power and hate spurred me on, telling me to push harder – so hard that I saw the last breath escape her dark lips and mingle with the frosty midnight air…It was the first time I took someone’s life and the rush was euphoric.

The story unfolds through the voices of three main protagonists, namely the assistant director of a local theatre, Grace Murphy, Detective Inspector Denis Hamilton and, faceless and nameless, the murderer themselves. However, Grace was the character I felt most drawn to throughout the book.

Deeply sensitive, Grace is clearly struggling after the recent death of her beloved grandfather. It also becomes apparent she was either a friend or colleague of some of the murder victims, which of course gives Grace grave concern for her own safety. Does she know the killer and if so is she the next victim? Her sleep becomes plagued by nightmares and more often than not Grace reaches for alcohol, seeking solace at the bottom of a wine bottle, or two. Of course, as should be the case with any good whodunit story, Lyons does a great job of offering the reader a selection of possible suspects including her slightly creepy, slightly inappropriate boss Michael, and Grace’s love interest Eric, who thinks nothing of using women, Grace included, for his own gratification.

At the insistence of her stricken mother, Grace seeks psychological help to try and make sense of her troubled dreams. She agrees to undergo hypnotherapy in the hope of providing some understanding, some link to the murders still taking place around her. With no real evidence or DNA will be Grace be the one to help DI Hamilton and his team?

I became quite invested in the characters of the story, particularly Grace, and my only small criticism is that there was not enough background information on them. Grace was clearly close to her grandfather and there was no doubt she was affected by his death so it would have been both helpful and interesting to have a bit more information as to why the recollection of important or special memories. However, I don’t think we’ve seen the last of Grace Murphy so perhaps the writer will tell us a bit more about her in her future novels. Nonetheless, fast-paced with plenty of intrigue and suspense, In The Shadows is a great psychological thriller and a great read.