Eva Jordan reviews The Giver of Stars by @jojomoyes published by @PenguinUKBooks

Jojo Moyes

 

Wow, just wow! This is undoubtedly one of the best books I’ve read so far this year. Beautifully written and heartfelt, The Giver of Stars is, above all else, a testament to the power of positive friendships and the simple joy of books.

Set in 1930s America, this story is based on a fascinating piece of American history regarding the horseback librarians of rural Kentucky. The aim of the Pack Horse Library Project, which was set up in 1934 by Eleanor Roosevelt, was to aid the education of those living in the more remote parts of the state, often hit hardest by the Great Depression. Hazardous work, including travel across tough terrain, often in adverse weather conditions, it was no easy task for the librarians (who were mostly women) who would regularly ride 20-mile routes into the Appalachian Kentucky Mountains via horseback. However, this band of women, who proved to be as determined as they were dedicated, delivered books and magazines to the people and families that requested them, as committed to their jobs as the mail carriers were.

Narrated in the third person, the main protagonist of this story is Alice, a young English woman who, desperate to escape the rigid confines of polite society and her well-to-do family, marries a handsome young American called Bennett, whom she meets when he is visiting Europe on an outreach mission. However, when she arrives at her new home in America, all is not as Alice imagined it to be. She does her best to adjust to her new surroundings but it soon becomes apparent that her new life in the small Kentucky town of Baileyville, despite the cultural shift from Sussex, is almost as stifling as her old one. Things change, however, when she volunteers to become a horseback librarian where she discovers new friends, including Margery O’Hare. Margery is unlike the other townswomen, or any of the women Alice knew in England. She wears leather breeches and unpolished boots. ‘I suit myself [she said], and people generally leave me be… That’s how I like it.’ The two women develop an unlikely friendship which, set against the vibrantly drawn landscape and mountains, interwoven amongst the beautiful imagery of the ever-changing seasons, we follow the ups and downs of this pioneering duo alongside their other spirited friends.

However, when tragedy strikes, their friendship is truly tested…

With vividly drawn characters, including the villain of the peace, The Giver of Stars is a beautifully crafted and meticulously researched work of art. A real page-turner, both evocative and thought provoking, and full of heartfelt love and hope. Succinctly put, it is a story about a group of women finding themselves and their tribe, but above all else, it is a wonderful celebration of friendship and books.

 

 

 

Eva Jordan in conversation with writer Wendy Fletcher

In convo with Wendy

 

I’m currently reading a beautiful memoir called The Railway Carriage Child, written by the lovely Wendy Fletcher. Look out for my review in next month’s magazine. In the meantime I thought we’d get to know Wendy a little better…

 

Hi Wendy, thanks for agreeing to chat with me. Can you tell our readers a little bit about yourself?

Hi Eva, I live in the railway carriages just outside Whittlesey, the last ones still occupied in this area – as far as I am aware. These have been in my family since 1935 and I spent my childhood there with my parents and grandmother; attending school at King’s Dyke and March. I returned to the carriages in 2009. Then my mother died and I realized how much history was lost with each generation. I started to record my memories, originally just for the family. Edward Storey, well-known chronicler of the Fens, suggested that this might appeal to a wider audience and The Railway Carriage Child evolved.

 

Your memoir is beautifully written. Have you written any other books and do you have plans to write more in the future?

This is my first book. I am currently collecting material for a book on the social history of King’s Dyke, which I hope to publish as a tribute to the families who lived and worked in that small community just outside Whittlesey. I am also 12,000 words into writing a novel and have started two children’s books. I am enjoying having a variety of projects and swap from one to the other, as inspiration takes me.

 

Finally, what advice would you offer anyone thinking of writing a memoir?

My first experience of writing was very lonely and isolating. I was surrounded by piles of notes and half-remembered images from more than fifty years ago. I found the balance for this by setting up a creative writing group (U3A Whittlesey Wordsmiths). Through them, I have met like-minded people and received support and encouragement. My advice to anyone considering a similar project would be ‘You don’t need to do it on your own’.

 

You can purchase The Railway Carriage Child here at Amazon or locally (when they re-open) at the Whittlesey Museum, and Parkers Newsagents. Plus, if you’d like to read more by Wendy, you can read a number of her short stories in two anthologies published by the Whittlesey Wordsmiths, Where the Wild Winds Blow (read my review here) and A Following Wind, also available at Amazon and at the Whittlesey Museum.

 

 

 

 

Eva Jordan reviews The Roommates by @RachelSargeant3 published by @HarperCollins

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This book has a great cover; one I find both thought provoking and sinister. So when the author contacted me and asked if she could send me a copy in exchange for an honest review, how could I refuse? I’m a huge fan of psychological thrillers so I was more than happy to oblige. However, as most of the story is set on a university campus and the four main characters are a group of young female students thrown together as roommates, I must admit to being a little reticent at first. My chief concern being that I might exceed the target reading age. I’m pleased to say I was wrong, and The Roommates is a thought provoking, dark tale, full of intrigue, that kept me gripped from the first page.

The story begins with a character, as yet unknown, standing on a bridge, clearly distressed, clearly suicidal. But why? Fast forward three years to the present day and one by one we are introduced to the four main protagonists of the story, namely Imogen, Tegan, Phoenix and Amber. Roommates, strangers at first, brought together as they embark on their first exciting year at university. However, each of the characters has a personal backstory, including a hefty amount of emotional baggage in some instances. Imogen, in particular, seems very pre-occupied and withdrawn – but for good reason. Seven months prior, her older sister, Sophia, went missing, and despite an in-depth investigation by the police and a frantic search by Imogen and her family, she remains missing, which is something that has, and continues to haunt Imogen. So, when the four flatmates attend the Freshers’ Fair together during their first week on campus and something, or someone, appears to spook roommate Amber, who then disappears, we find Imogen (through some misplaced guilt for failing to find her sister) compelled to look for her, also drawing her other roommates into the search.

Could Amber’s disappearance have something to do with the hooded stranger that Phoenix has noticed loitering outside their flat, or the creepy student Riku, that occupies the room opposite?

Gripping and unsettling, The Roommates is easy to read with short, snappy chapters and believable characters. A well written, intriguing, and clever whodunit that will keep you turning the pages to the very end.

 

Eva Jordan reviews The Women by @SELynesAuthor published by @bookouture

 

The Women

This is the second psychological thriller I’ve read by this author (read my review of Mother here) and she is fast becoming one of my favourite writers in this genre. Inspired by the #MeToo movement, for me, this story brings to mind writer Neil Gaiman’s quote – “I like stories where women save themselves” – which is just what this story does.

However, at what price?

We begin in Rome where newlyweds Samantha and Peter are on their honeymoon. They are queuing to visit a famous stone carving of a man’s face called Bocca della Verita (The Mouth of Truth) where, according to legend, if you place your hand in the mouth and tell a lie, the stone jaw will clamp down and bite if off. Samantha is intrigued. “The gargoyle is disconcerting, she admits. But the urge to put her hand inside the mouth is almost overwhelming. At the same time, she imagines the mythical severance, the bloody stump of her own wrist, the horror on the faces of the crowd as she staggers, bleeding, onto the street.” Peter, on the other hand, seems harassed, reluctant to be there.

But why?

We are then taken back in time and introduced to Samantha Frayn, a university student from Yorkshire studying in London, where she meets the rather handsome Peter Bridges. Peter, who is much older than Samantha, is an accomplished, charismatic history lecturer. “He is slim. He dresses well—how she imagines an American academic might dress: soft blues, fawns, tan brogues.” He spots Samantha at a university social event and begins chatting to her, offers to take her for a drink. Samantha, both young and impressionable, is completely swept away by his charm and sophistication. She is flattered that a man such as he, a man with a wine cellar, who whistles classical music, drives a sports car and lives in a beautiful house on a hill, would single someone like her, a nobody, out. Their ensuing romance is immediate, thrilling and intense. Quite unlike anything Samantha has experienced before, especially with boys her own age, and before she knows it, she has moved in with Peter.

Later, when she looks back, Samantha will wonder at what point the subterfuge began.

As in her previous novels, the author’s prose, which is succinct yet brilliantly informative and descriptive, completely draws you in, making The Women an enthralling psychological thriller that is perfectly paced with just enough tension to keep you turning the page to the very end.

 

If you’d like to purchase The Women, or find out more about the author, go to Amazon here and here.

 

Five Centuries – Five Influential Female Writers #InternationalWomensDay #IWD2020 #EachforEqual

Yvey IWD 2020

Today, Sunday 8th March, is International Women’s Day. With its humble beginnings going as far back as 1911, International Women’s Day helps shine a light on the economic, social and political achievements of women. The call to action this year is #EachforEqual drawn from a notion of ‘Collective Individualism’. The idea being that, “Collectively, each one of us can help create a gender equal world”.

about-iwd

As an author I have been inspired by many female writers over the years, many of whom defied the rigid rules of society, often risking ridicule and reputation in order to pursue a writing career. Trailblazers, if you will, that both individually and collectively paved the way for future generations to come.

So, in order to mark IWD 2020, here are my thoughts on some of those trailblazers, whose lives and work have both inspired and intrigued me.

 

Aphra Behn – a celebrated poet and novelist, was also one of the most influential dramatists of the late 17th century. Working as a spy for the British Crown after her husband passed away, then refused remuneration for her services, she found herself in desperate need of money. She vowed never to depend on anyone else for money again and took up writing to support herself. Her first play, The Forc’d Marriage was produced in London in 1670. She became of the period’s foremost playwrights and continued earning her living in the theatre and as a novelist (links to The Rover here) until her death in April 1689.

Virginia Woolf said of her:

“All women together, ought to let flowers fall upon the grave of Aphra Behn… for it was she who earned them the right to speak their minds… Behn proved that money could be made by writing at the sacrifice, perhaps, of certain agreeable qualities; and so by degrees writing became not merely a sign of folly and a distracted mind but was of practical importance.”

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Mary Wollstonecraft – was an 18th century philosopher and proto-feminist, best known for her feminist philosophy A Vindication of the Rights of Women, written in response to educational and political theorists of the time who did not believe women should receive a rational education. Instead of viewing women as ornaments or property to be traded in marriage, Wollstonecraft maintained that they were human beings deserving of the same fundamental rights as men. Her daughter, Mary Shelley, also went on to become a writer, best known for her Gothic novel, Frankenstein.

 

Elizabeth Gaskell – was a 19th century English novelist, biographer and short story writer that I was first introduced to whilst studying at university. Like Charles Dickens, Gaskell’s stories offer detailed portraits on a wide variety of Victorian society including the poor, and the appalling state of impoverished workers in the industrial centres of the North. Her novels are therefore of great interest to social historians as well as lovers of literature and because of the social realism in them, her stories attracted the attention of Charles Dickens, who in turn invited her to write for the periodicals he edited: Household Words and All Year Round which included my favourite Gaskell novel, North and South – if you haven’t read it, you should.

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Jean Rhys CBE – best known for her critically acclaimed novel Wide Sargasso Sea – the prequel to Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre (written over a hundred years later) – Jean Rhys was a 20th century novelist born on the Caribbean island of Dominica to a Welsh doctor and a third generation Creole. However, when she was 16 she moved to England for education purposes. In Wide Sargasso Sea she turns to the themes of dominance and dependence, especially in marriage, depicting the mutually painful relationship between a privileged English man and a Creole woman from Dominica – namely a certain Mr Rochester and his first “madwoman in the attic” wife, (Bertha) Antoinette, who is drawn in quite a different light than she was in Jane Eyre.

I love this quote by Jean Rhys:

“Reading makes immigrants of us all. It takes us away from home, but more important, it finds homes for us everywhere.”

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Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – is a 21st century Nigerian writer of novels, short stories and nonfiction, and was described in The Times Literary Supplement as “the most prominent” of a “procession of critically acclaimed young Anglophone authors [who] is succeeding in attracting a new generation of readers to African literature”. My first introduction to her work was We Should All Be Feminists, an essay based on TEDx talk of the same title that the writer gave in London in 2012 (here). She shared her experiences of being an African feminist and said gender as it functions today is a grave injustice. However, she also said she is “hopeful because I believe deeply in the ability of human beings to make and remake themselves for the better”.

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Eva Jordan in conversation with author @AuthoJon @EyriePress

 

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Last month I reviewed the beautiful novella Silence and Songbirds (which you can read here), a thought provoking tale that transports the reader across the sea to the beautiful islands of the Marlborough Sounds, written by author Jon Lawrence. This month we get to know him a little better…

 

  1. Hi Jon, thanks for chatting with me. Can you please tell us a little bit about yourself? I understand you used to be a singer-songwriter?

 

Yes, I trained as a musician and ethnomusicologist (which has fed quite nicely into my writing). I was lucky enough to perform all over the country and Europe as singer-songwriter. I released a number of albums, then my literature work started to take over. However, I still teach music and I enjoy writing musicals every year for the school I work with.

I was born in Pontypridd, so I am a child of the valleys. I moved out east with my work as a music lecturer, where I taught song-writing and world music. I have a wonderful wife, Kerry-Ann and two children, who always support me.

I love working with young children and have written some illustrated songbooks for them. Children are a huge inspiration for me. The way they view the world is unique and they represent an innocence that I have been searching for in my writing since I started writing books.

I am interested in all areas of written expression and I don’t feel pigeon-holed in any area. I have published poetry, plays, children’s books, essay and magazine article because I simply love to write.

I am also interested in travel. The world offers many wonderful landscapes which intrigue me. I have a particular fascination with New Zealand – a place which has a special place in my heart. I have based two novels there (Silence and Songbirds and Playing Beneath the Havelock House). Indeed, in all of my novels and novellas, stories have come out of the landscape. When I see a desert, a forest, a mountain range or an island, I ask myself, ‘Who lives here? What is their story?’

 

 

 

  1. You’ve recently completed a touring show called “Good Grief” – can you tell us what that was about?

 

My father died of cancer just over two years ago. Before he died I promised him that I would do five 100k treks on five deserts on five continents to raise money for a cancer charity. So, between August 2018 and April 2019 I walked the Atacama in Chile, the Sahara in Morocco, the Rangipo in New Zealand, the Wadi Rum in Jordan and finally, the Mojave in America. My journey gave me a lot of time to think about my father and the sometimes difficult relationship we had. It afforded me a little time and space to work through my grief.

I documented each part of the trip and published a book last year called Good Grief. To promote the book, I have been performing a one-man show around the country telling the story of my adventures around the world and how the journey helped me to come to terms with things. The show contains video footage from my trips, photographs, anecdotes and music specially written for the show. It’s light-hearted, informative but also moving (I hope). I resume the tour in Stamford Arts Centre on February 4th with the tour visiting Diss, Bungay, Wells-next-the-sea, Doncaster, Birnam in Scotland, before concluding in Auckland, New Zealand in April.

 

  1. How does writing songs compare to writing books?

 

The thing about writing songs, is that you have to compress what might be a huge subject (life, death, world peace), into about twenty lines, sometimes less. You have to be able to move someone emotionally in two, verses, a middle-eight and a chorus. It has to get to the listener’s heart straight away. There’s no time to set scenes, establish characters or consider subplots. You have to be very clever with words. That’s why Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ is so brilliant. It gets you hooked form the first line and by the time it has finished it has you questioning everything you ever thought you knew about life!

Conversely, when you write a book, you start with what might be a small idea – a quote, a title, something you have seen – and then expand it to establish the bigger picture.

Some people might say that a song only takes fifteen minutes to write (such as ‘Every Breath You Take’) but some songs take months even years to shape and mould into the final version (Springsteen’s ‘Born to Run’ and ‘Thunder Road’ are perfect examples of this).

They are both tremendous art forms.

 

  1. And finally, what advice would you offer anyone thinking of becoming a writer?

 

My view is that everyone is a writer; some people just have a go, some people never do it for fear of what others might say. If you write a diary, you are a writer – you express your thoughts and feelings through words. In the first instance, write for yourself.

Then when you have a story, make sure you plan it. If I have a story idea, I go through a number of planning stages before I start to write (despite the desire to get writing straight away). A book might take up eighteen months of your life so you need to know that the story and the characters will still be of interest to you at the end. I have made the mistake of starting stories without proper planning, only to lose my way three months in. That’s a lot of time to waste.

Just have a go!

 

 

If you’d like to know more about Jon, click on the links below:

Website

Facebook

Eva Jordan reviews Wham! George & Me by @ajridgeley Published by @PenguinUKBooks

 

Wham!

 

Wham! George & Me, was given to me, as a gift for my birthday late last year and what an absolute pleasure it’s been to read. I was immediately transported back in time to my formative years, reminded of a more innocent time in my life. One that included dancing around handbags at school discos, Thursday night’s must-see of Top of the Pops, and Sunday evening’s listen-in to the Top 40 countdown. Perhaps I’m biased, my memories tinged with nostalgia, viewed through the lens of rose-tinted glasses, but whatever your thoughts of the 1980s––including the fashion, big hair, movies and mix tapes––it was undoubtedly one of the best and most diverse times in popular music history. Some of my favourite singers included Madonna, Kate Bush, Cindi Lauper and Prince, and some of my favourite bands at the time were Duran Duran, U2, Spandau Ballet, and New Order (to name but a few)––and of course, Wham! The pop duo singing sensation that comprised of George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley. 

Sadly, George passed away in 2016. However, this is not a story about George Michael per se, but rather a fascinating account of one of the UK’s most iconic pop bands seen through the eyes of Andrew Ridgeley––former band mate and lifetime friend of George. Like all good stories, this one starts at the end—28th June 1986 to be exact. Seventy-two thousand screaming fans all gathered together at Wembley Stadium for Wham! ‘The Final’ otherwise known as the farewell concert. From there Andrew takes us back in time, introducing us to his home-life and of course to the moment he first met a rather shy, bespectacled, frizzy haired lad called Georgios Panayiotou. From boyhood friendship to fame, Andrew, who described himself as both a self-assured and outgoing individual, explains how he and George, who was rather studious and introvert, were actually “two sides of the same coin… joined at the hip through a shared love of music”.

After Wham! George Michael embarked on a solo career, becoming one of the best-selling music artists of all time. Wham! George & Me is the prequel to that story. A tale of childhood friendship to iconic pop band––forged from a passion for music, maintained by mutual love and respect. Filled with sensitive reflection, plus an array of wonderful photographs, it is both an entertaining and fascinating read.