Tag Archives: suspense

The East End by Jason Allen

ABOUT THE BOOK

A terrible tragedy unleashes a fateful chain of events for two families from starkly different worlds in a breathtaking new tale of suspense that doubles as a razor-sharp take on class conflict in today’s America.

In his remarkable debut, THE EAST END (Park Row Books; May 7, 2019; $26.99 U.S./$33.50 CAN.), novelist Jason Allen constructs a multi-layered story about the powerful and the powerless, about love and loss, and about self-destruction and the possibility of redemption. Set in the Hamptons over one explosive holiday weekend, this immersive must-read illuminates both sides of the socio-economic divide in a place where dreams of escape drive potentially catastrophic decisions. 

Unfolding from multiple perspectives, THE EAST END opens with the countdown to Memorial Day underway and recent high school graduate Corey Halpern in need of a fix.  A townie, he burns off his resentment of the affluent “invaders” who flock to the community in the summer months by breaking into their lavish mansions and pulling harmless pranks. Staring down a bleak future, he sees his hopes of going away to college vanishing. He can’t disappear, not when his troubled mother, Gina, is barely making ends meet, trying to get away from an abusive, deadbeat husband, and chasing pills with too much booze. Trapped in a downward spiral, she staggers towards rock bottom as Corey and his brother look on helplessly.

Before calling it a night, Corey makes one last stop at the sprawling lakeside estate where he and Gina work. There he intends to commit his first-ever robbery but nothing proceeds according to plan. Married billionaire CEO Leo Sheffield shows up to his ultra-exclusive Gin Lane property early, accompanied by his handsome, much-younger lover, Henry. In an instant, everything changes: Drunk, high, and all alone, Henry is the victim of a fatal poolside accident.  Unfortunately for a distraught Leo, Corey saw what happened—and so did someone else.

For this immensely privileged man who is not used to getting his hands dirty, his very existence now depends on containing the collateral damage. And time is running out. Leo’s overbearing wife and three grown children will be arriving soon, along with a house full of high-maintenance guests. Desperate to preserve his fortune and his freedom, Leo takes irrevocable steps that expose him to scandal and far worse. Over the next few tension-filled days, hidden entanglements, unexpected opportunities, and clashing loyalties propel Corey, Gina, and Leo to extremes—and ultimately, to shocking outcomes no one will anticipate.

Atmospheric, emotionally probing, and complexly unmissable, this kaleidoscopic narrative plunges its brilliantly realized characters into timely, all-too-relatable moral quandaries that defy easy answers and resound long after the final page.

LAEL’S REVIEW

Corey breaks into the houses of the wealthy who summer in the Hamptons, to play pranks on them as a way to vent his frustrations as a local serving these “invaders.” The night he chooses to enter the home of his mother’s employer Mr. Sheffield, he learns a scandalous secret and witnesses a tragedy, and then he falls in love. The weekend brings a multitude of challenges for the Sheffield family and Corey’s mom, who’s fighting a drug addiction and a violent ex, as well as Corey and his new love. Allen brilliantly portrays the blurred lines of integrity and honesty for the haves and have-nots in a scenario that flips dependency from one to the other and exposes everyone’s agenda. No character is truly endearing, nor is any character wholly evil, but all are complex, self-serving and compassionate in turn. Fans of “Somethings in the Water,” “Beautiful Bad,” or “Hunting Annabelle” will appreciate this story. It’s a peek at what we might do if we had the chance, and what happens when we involve ourselves in something that’s not our business. I received a digital copy of this fantastic story from Park Row Books through NetGalley.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jason Allen grew up in a working-class home in the Hamptons, where he worked a variety of blue-collar jobs for wealthy estate owners. He writes fiction, poetry, and memoir, and is the author of the poetry collection A Meditation on Fire. He has an MFA from Pacific University and a PhD in literature and creative writing from Binghamton University. He currently lives in Atlanta, Georgia, where he teaches writing. THE EAST END is his first novel.

Beautiful Bad by Annie Ward

Maddie fell hard for Ian, British security detail, when she taught English in Bulgaria and her BFF Joanna was a humanitarian working in Macedonia before and during their civil war. He’s hard to pin down, even after she marries him despite Joanna’s inexplicable hostility toward him. He insists on moving from NYC to her small, Kansas hometown, though he spends much of his time in the Eastern bloc, working in a security business he started with his brother after leaving his government position. The story unfolds in layers as it goes back and forth in time and around the globe to explain the horrible murder. Ward does an excellent job evoking sympathy for Maddie, who appears to be on the receiving end of Ian’s PTSD. This novel portrays young American idealists who get caught up in tragedy, differences in maturity levels of best friends, and how lack of self-awareness contributes to obfuscation, as a mismatched romance leads to its horrifying conclusion. I was fortunate to receive this brilliant story from the publisher Park Row Books through NetGalley.

Jessica Strawser—Writer, Editor, and Speaker

Photo by Corrie Shaffeld

Tell me about your writing process: schedule, environment, strategies / techniques, and inspirations material and abstract.

I’m an organic writer—I think a lot ahead of time about the characters and what my story’s central questions will be, but don’t outline in detail or swear by any particular tools or strategies, beyond reading voraciously, as much as I’m able. I’m very disciplined, with daily and weekly goals, and believe firmly in the power of forward momentum once I get going on a manuscript.

I wrote my first two novels by night, as my babies/toddlers slept, while working a demanding day job as editorial director for Writer’s Digest magazine. Not long after signing the contract for Forget You Know Me, I scaled back my role at the magazine and shifted to writing by day as my primary focus. A writing career involves a fair amount of evenings and weekends for things like book clubs, conferences and festivals, so this is a much more workable focus for my family, which always comes first.

Describe your publishing process, from final draft to final product, including publishing team and timeline. How did your work in the industry prepare you for the writing world as an author?

It’s been a little different for every book, particularly as staffing changes at my publisher have led to a few editorial team transitions, but I’m working at the pace of about a book a year. I refine a draft until I think (hope) it’s close to working as what I envisioned for the story, then get feedback from a few trusted readers and revise yet again before turning it over to my editor. Then comes another round to incorporate the excellent suggestions from her professional eye.

My work in the industry taught me what a team effort publishing is; I have enormous respect for my editors, having been one, and deep gratitude for the efforts of the hardworking support teams—marketing, publicity, design and beyond.

Who are your biggest cheerleaders online and IRL, and how did you get into the Tall Poppies (beyond being an excellent storyteller)?

My family and friends—who’ve seen firsthand my dedication to this craft since long before I ever got published—are my biggest cheerleaders, and their warm support means the world to me.

Also, at the start, were my colleagues at Writer’s Digest—we were all writers with a genuine love for the work we were doing there, and it was humbling to have them so enthusiastically in my corner—as well as a debut author group called 17 Scribes—it was invaluable to be tapped into a network of other authors publishing their first novels in 2017, and many of us remain connected today.

I’d met some of the Tall Poppy Writers through conferences, WD, the Women’s Fiction Writers Association, and online, and had admired their collaborative spirit and talented body of work for years; I was elated when they invited me to join.

How does your life influence your writing and vice versa? Please share fun details about being the 2019 Writer-in-Residence for Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County.

While I don’t write directly from life experiences, of course we all are heavily influenced by the phases of life in which we find ourselves and the beautiful (and not so beautiful) aspects of human nature that turn our heads. I’d find it impossible to separate the two!

It’s a wonderful honor to be serving as the newly minted Writer-in-Residence for the Cincinnati library system this year; it encompasses more than 40 branches, and I’ll doing community engagement with local readers (visiting library branch book clubs and hosting a podcast) as well as aspiring writers (teaching free workshops and holding office hours, for instance).

What do you love most about your creativity?

Through dreaming up a story from pure imagination, somehow, I end up feeling more like me.

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Hunting Annabelle by Wendy Heard—pub date December 18

After leaving a California psychiatric prison, Sean Suh relocates to Austin, Texas, where he spends his days drawing people and their auras at a local Disneyland knockoff. A girl with a copper aura tempts him despite his understanding that he need protect her from himself. He witnesses her kidnapping, but no one believes him based on his mental health and conviction record, and suspicion falls more heavily on him as he conducts his own investigation. He learns interesting things about this girl he has immediately fallen for, but he could not have foreseen who did it. Heard brilliantly leads the reader through Sean’s emotional turmoil at each new piece of information; this could well be a manual for becoming a serial killer. Flashbacks from Annabelle’s point of view would have given her more depth. Being privy to Sean’s thoughts exposed his internal struggle, a fascinating insight that almost (but not quite) invokes compassion. Fans of Liane Moriarty and Gillian Flynn will appreciate this novel. I was fortunate to receive a digital copy of this fantastic thriller from the publisher through NetGalley.

Tell Me No Lies by Alex Sinclair—pub date October 25

Grace Dalton watched her husband die after being struck in a hit and run accident. After a brief period of submerging herself in the grief, she begins to move on, speaking with his lawyer to learn of a secret bank account and life insurance. Then she sees her husband, sending her best friend into conniptions for some reason, and she ends up in several bizarre emergency sessions with her psychiatrist. Much of this story, once you get past the repetition (and the repetition continues throughout the book), lacks credibility, such as Grace’s phone sessions with her psychiatrist, and then her best friend dragging her to so many emergency sessions instead of listening to Grace. Her best friend comes across as more like a mean sister, making the ending even less likely. This story had such potential, and then Grace ended up being more crotchety than the damsel in distress. The reader does not need reminding in every chapter that Grace wallowed in her grief for six weeks. The story is in there if you want to earn it! I was graciously given an early copy by Bookouture through NetGalley.

Lies by T.M. Logan—pub date September 11, 2018

Joe Lynch espies his wife in a heated debate with their friend Ben at a hotel restaurant after his son sees mommy’s car and they follow her to say hi. After she leaves too quickly to follow, Joe confronts Ben, who laughs off his suspicions. His wife explains away the argument as Ben’s obsession with her; then Ben disappears. Suddenly, Joe is being framed for Ben’s murder, seemingly by Ben himself, so that Joe must find the purposely evasive man to clear his name.

Logan deftly weaves in and out of the fast lane, with Joe’s wife Mel explaining away everything that Joe uncovers, to allay his fears until the next bombshell. The scene of resolution contains the dreaded trope of criminal shows, where the villain’s motivation and MO are thoroughly laid out—by the villain. The reveal explains questionable character actions that should have been questioned by Joe, but weren’t. All in all, the biggest bombshell will expose some readers’ unintended biases, and that’s okay. It’s good to shine the light into the nooks and crannies that seemed of no concern before, as uncomfortable as that can be, in order to become a better person. This book is a fast, fun read, and not soon to be forgotten. I was fortunate to receive an early copy from the publisher through NetGalley.

Sometimes I Lie by Alice Feeney

Amber comes to from a coma, but realizes that she is not awake, only aware. While in her hospital bed, she hears her husband and sister discuss mysterious happenings related to her car accident. Flashbacks to a week before bring the reader up to date slowly through an unreliable narrator. Journal entries from childhood fill in blanks and spew a haze of ambiguity regarding the sisters, until the reader is delightfully confused and enlightened repeatedly, like the proverbial roller coaster ride. Feeney plops out a big, ole’ shocker at the end—twice!—that makes the reader go, “Hmm…” It’s a fun read and worth the time to try to figure out what’s going on between the sisters, and if anyone is trustworthy, or if all of them are constantly scheming. The journal is brilliantly done, without revealing anything. Much murder and mayhem ensue, beyond the family, a deliciously wicked family. I was fortunate to receive an advanced copy from the publisher of this fantastic novel.

Jorja DuPont Oliva—Author of Chasing Butterflies trilogy

 

Jorja sent me a friend request last year, and after looking at her page, I accepted. She’s a brilliant storyteller who is always supportive of other writers. She’s mystical and magical in an unseen universe (see what I did there?), and chaotically creative. I’m privileged to have a connection with Jorja and wished to share her stories—about her life and in her fiction. She’s a lovely human.

 

Tell me about your writing process, including environment, inspirations, schedule, strategies, and muse (if you have one!).

Is there ever a process for anything when you have kids? I try to steal time to write, but I do it every day. I journal, I write ideas when they pop up, and I write poetry. I am an emotional storyteller, because in all honesty, I struggle with my emotions, so in turn I heal. I don’t write from a desk or have an office. I write from my laptop, which is portable, so I can take it places, but mostly I write from my couch. I have been known to write in my car while my son is at football practice, I would say a third of Sisterly was written or edited there. It is for me, really, no different than reading a good book, an escape, but I get to choose the ending. As for a muse, this is the concept that I thought only I experienced. When I write I do feel as though I am channeling many muses. I like to think of them as my writing angels. My grandmother (my mother’s mother) was, in her lifetime, the best storyteller. When I was a child, she would tell us a story that I would visualize so vividly. I would like to think that she is still telling me those stories I loved to listen to as a child. Our stories are very important to generations to come. They learn from our mistakes and gain knowledge to what works. Life is not easy.

I love the story of how you started writing—elaborate upon that and how the relationship with your mother encouraged you in this direction.

My mother wrote for our local paper. She loved to write and would always talk about wanting to write a book. She could come up with stories that conveyed a message about love, friendships, and all the good things life has to offer (Hallmark channel was her favorite). Sadly, I lost my mother this year, February 2018. She unfortunately never published any of her works. She lived that dream through me I suppose. Let me step back and explain,–I talked my Mother into taking a class to teach you how to write a book. At that time I had no interest in writing a book. I just thought it was something we could do to spend time together and possibly help her achieve one of her dreams. I found a love for writing—it was my purpose, and looking back, I was always a writer. My Mother wrote many short stories through our adventure in this class, but my Mother always put her kids first. She became my biggest fan. By the end of the class I had created a book—Chasing Butterflies in the Magical Garden (2013). By the way, I plan to publish her work in the coming year. I see it like this—I have gained another writing angel during her time on earth and in her after life.

What finds its way into your stories and why?

I try to teach lessons or convey wisdom we learn through our lifetime by using every day stories. I love to entertain while doing this, which may be possibly why I add a little magic to my stories (I think I get that from my grandmother). I love to read stories that make you question or wonder, or have a spiritual aspect. I also love surprises. Metaphors are always welcome in my writing as well, and I like to hide them throughout my stories. So why not write what I enjoy reading?

Describe your support system—your team, everyone who works with you or gives you props.

Gosh, I have a lot of support, sometimes so much support, I will never be able to retire from writing. My family supports me with my writing the most. When my mother passed, I have to say, my emotions held me back from taking her writing. They were the first to tell me that they were mine. I got the whole box! There is something very connecting reading someone’s writing. It is the truest form of them. I am truly blessed. I also have a wonderful writing community. We meet once a week to discuss our writing endeavors. We do not critique. We only motivate and challenge our own abilities. That is the best kind of writing community to have. I’ll tell you why—each of us is different, we learn in many ways, and we have different interests. Readers are the same, are they not? Don’t get me wrong; we do at times read each other’s work and give suggestions, which in turn gets our own creative juices flowing. Last is a good editor, but not for typos, because let’s face it, typos happen! During final edit we worry about those. I have been fortunate to have two wonderful and patient editors. I spend most of my time on editing and rewriting. I am not going to tell you it is my weakness. I am just going to say I don’t edit while I write. Editing interferes with my creative process. When most people think of an editor, they think of someone who comes in and cleans it all up. I’m sure there are some editors out there that do that, but that isn’t my case. I have two supportive editing coaches. They show me things I missed or need to elaborate on and we work together to prefect it. It is usually a 4 to 6 time go-over on the story. While this is happening, I send my story with a WARNING to everyday people to read and send me feedback. Usually I have at least 4 to 5 people of different ages and opinions. I have even sent one of my first drafts to my 4th grade English teacher, who is now retired. I can’t express the importance of having many people working with you to produce the best you are capable of producing.

What do you love most about your creativity?

I love creating! I love everything about the process of creating. I’ll admit, with my first book, I wasn’t fond of rewriting and editing, because it was work. Now after 4 books, 2 anthologies, many short stories, and a screenplay, I enjoy the rewriting and editing process as much as I do creating the story. The only thing I do struggle with is the ending to a creative project, the moment it is published. I’m like a lost puppy looking for a new story to write.

 

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A Night Like This: A Flagler County Anthology benefiting Christmas Come True

Creative Chaos Anthology

A Distant Heart by Sonali Dev

Kimi spent her childhood in isolation due to an immune disease, her only friend, Rahul, the son of the police officer shot protecting her father, who sacrificed his own childhood to pay off the debt to her father for he and his siblings’ education. Love grew quietly, but was thwarted by class difference, complicated emotions, and, of course, things left unsaid. In this continuing story from the previous novel, the tone changes to the intimacy of an intense friendship created by Rahul supporting Kimi throughout her ongoing illness and eventual heart transplant. Switching from present tense to past tense when they first met, the reader watches their relationship grow and develop unevenly due to their differing class levels, and especially through the connection to her family through obligation on both sides. In the present, Kimi is in danger from the criminal operating the black market for stolen organs by murder. She must place all her trust in Rahul to aide her in finding out the truth behind her heart transplant, though in the end, it leads her back home to a horrifying secret.

The romance is deeply embedded in this suspense thriller, with hot and heavy hitting hard in intricate scenes of the back and forth of a couple who cannot allow themselves to be completely vulnerable. Dev does a superb job of crafting a relationship with obstacles seemingly too large to overcome, all the while ramping up the suspense of the danger to Kimi and the secret to which only the reader is privileged to know. The ending line will make the reader laugh out loud!

I was fortunate to receive this lovely novel from the author through a giveaway. Although it can be read as a standalone novel, A Change of Heart sets up the storyline and enriches the experience of this book. I highly recommend reading both.