A Thousand Steps

A Thousand Steps
A Thousand Steps by T. Jefferson Parker

Friday, June 25, 2021

FLASHBACK FRIDAY- My Sister's Bones by Nuala Ellwood- Feature and Review


In the vein of Fiona Barton's The Widow and Renée Knight's Disclaimer, a psychological thriller about a war reporter who returns to her childhood home after her mother's death but becomes convinced that all is not well in the house next door—but is what she’s seeing real or a symptom of the trauma she suffered in Syria?

The One Person You Should Trust Is Lying to YouKate has spent fifteen years bringing global injustice home: as a decorated war reporter, she’s always in a place of conflict, writing about ordinary people in unimaginable situations. When her mother dies, Kate returns home from Syria for the funeral. But an incident with a young Syrian boy haunts her dreams, and when Kate sees a boy in the garden of the house next door—a house inhabited by an Iraqi refugee who claims her husband is away and she has no children—Kate becomes convinced that something is very wrong.

As she struggles to separate her memories of Syria from the quiet town in which she grew up—and also to reconcile her memories of a traumatic childhood with her sister’s insistence that all was not as Kate remembers—she begins to wonder what is actually trueand what is just in her mind.

In this gripping, timely debut, Nuala Ellwood brings us an unforgettable damaged character, a haunting , humanizing look at the Syrian conflict, and a deeply harrowing psychological thriller that readers won’t be able to put down.



My Sister's BonesMy Sister's Bones by Nuala Ellwood
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

My Sister’s Bones by Nuala Ellwood is a 2017 William Morrow Paperbacks publication.

Bleak, atmospheric, somber-

Psychological thrillers are not all created equal. They can come in all shapes, sizes and forms and still solidly fall within the specifications applied to this genre, but with various degrees of success.

While this book adheres to the standard requirements, the author turns the genre on its ear by producing a multi-layered literary piece told from the first -person perspectives of two sisters, both of whom are dealing with immense loss, psychological demons, and emotional scars, but unable to find comfort in each other.

Kate is a journalist who has spent the past several years covering the atrocities in Syria. After her mother’s death, she returns home to put her affairs in order. It soon becomes obvious that being back in her childhood home is bringing back torturous memories, on top of being haunted by the images of war, topped off by her sister, Sally’s, alcoholism. The stress manifests itself with vivid nightmares and hallucinations.

Sally’s alcohol issues multiplied after her teenage daughter, Hannah disappears. Now, after the death of her mother, she crawled inside the bottle, not even bothering to hide it or fight it.

The only sane person in this shadowy land of illusion is Sally’s husband, Paul. He takes care of both sisters and they work their way through childhood abuses, PTSD, and their broken relationship with each other.

The imagery is Aleppo is haunting, reminding us that journalists are out there in the crossfire, and can suffer the same ill effects of war as soldiers, and even lose their lives on occasion. What happens to Kate in Syria easily explains her PTSD, and how she ends up in the shape she does.

The subject matter is heart wrenching, harsh, and cruel- so if you are sensitive to scenes of psychological and physical abuse, or the depictions of war - be aware of these possible triggers- most of which occur in the first half of the book.

Sally holds deep resentments toward Kate, who she believes was her mother’s favorite child, and while Kate wishes to help her, Sally resist to the point where Kate feels helpless and hopeless, especially under the circumstances.

While all this is very interesting and is an absorbing character study, there are some odd occurrences thrown in that makes us question our narrator. The author planted seeds of doubt, making me wonder just what is real and what is deceptive. I was very caught up in the story, but the deeper I tread, the more I began to wonder where on earth all this was leading. Wasn’t this supposed to be a thriller?

As a matter of fact, yes, it is, and I’m glad I was patient, because when the twist came, it hit me hard, right in the gut, and I could have kicked myself for not seeing it sooner.

Once the bottom drops out, it’s a harrowing, white knuckled fight that held me enthralled and made me a little jumpy, while totally screwing with my head.

At the end of the day, I was mentally exhausted and stunned emotionally by this moody, melancholy, but exceptional novel. I am impressed with the author’s style, the way she layered the events so I was kept off guard, using a powerful prose to slowly entice me into her web.

This is a novel with much more going for it than most standard thrillers. This book examines thorny issues, made me think, forced me to work at solving the puzzle, and packed an emotional wallop that left me shell shocked.

While the story is very dark, and rarely offers a moment of reprieve, the ending did show much improvement and even a ray oaf hope for those who live to tell the tale.

This is one of the very best psychological thrillers I’ve read this year. So, if you are a fan of this genre, I highly recommend it!!





Nuala Ellwood is the daughter of an award-winning journalist. She was inspired by his experiences and those of foreign correspondents such as Marie Colvin and Martha Gellhorn to secure Arts Council funding for her research into PTSD for her debut psychological thriller MY SISTER’S BONES.

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