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 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.

 

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.

 

 

Eva Jordan reviews Silence and Songbirds by @AuthoJon published by @EyriePress

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Silence and Songbirds is a thought provoking tale that transports the reader across the sea to the beautiful islands of the Marlborough Sounds, an extensive network of sea-drowned valleys at the northern end of the South Island of New Zealand. Tane, the story’s narrator, is an indigenous islander whose name means ‘man’ in Maori culture. He shares his name with the god of forests and light who, the Maori believe, is also responsible for creating the tui bird. Tui, like most songbirds have two voice boxes which enables their complex variety of songs and calls. Early European colonists called them mockingbirds, and for good reason. Like parrots, the tui bird has the ability to clearly imitate human speech.

The story begins with Tane heading towards the end of his life. “My ancestors’ voices are sounding. When I close my eyes at night, I can hear them calling me in my native tongue… It is a little unnerving, yet beautiful. There are shifting rhythms that sway and swirl like sand in the wind, while the lilting melodies of their voices slide and glide through the lulling lows and haunting highs… Soon I shall take a final voyage, this time into the mysterious underworld. I am not afraid of death.” Tane reflects on his long life, and in particular, his formative years when, after a terrible accident that resulted in the loss of those closest to him, he not only suffered great pain and sorrow but also his ability to speak. However, by striking up a carefully nurtured and mutually respectful friendship with a local tui, plus a chance encounter with a young English girl called Emily, Tane once again discovers his voice, enabled by the healing power of love and friendship.

Silence and Songbirds is a novella that, less than a hundred pages long, can easily be read in one sitting. Beautifully written, it is a story everyone can relate to. An evocative tale of love and loss but also a coming of age story that demonstrates the positive power of friendship, in whatever guise it manifests itself. Sad and joyous, Tane’s thoughts and feelings are as complex and colourful as his surroundings, “where the dolphins play and the orca hunt, where the plates of the earth rise up in thunderous earthquakes, and, of course, where the tui sings.”

 

Kindle Edition: 77 pages

Publisher: Eyrie Press (2 Nov. 2019)

 

Amazon buying links here and here.

Eva Jordan reviews Miss Marley by the late @VanessaLafaye, and @rebeccamascull @HarperCollinsUK

Eva Reviews Miss Marley.png

 

Every Christmas it has now become customary for me to read Charles Dickens’ wonderful Christmas story, A Christmas Carol; the tale of solitary miser, Ebenezer Scrooge, who is taught the true meaning of Christmas through a series of ghostly visitors on Christmas Eve, including his old business partner Jacob Marley. However, for those of you who don’t know, there is a prequel to this great Dickensian ghost story, namely Miss Marley.

Written almost two centuries after A Christmas Carol, Miss Marley tells the story of orphans Clara and Jacob Marley. The siblings spend the first happy years of their young lives living in a grand house with their parents. However, some years later after the tragic loss of both parents, Clara and Jacob then find themselves homeless and penniless. Living on the streets of London, in the shadow of the workhouse, the youngsters scavenge for food as, “Every Friday afternoon, the butcher threw scraps from his back door to the hungry street children, but all the best morsels went to bigger boys and vicious stray dogs”, relying on their wits and one another to keep each other safe. Then an opportunity presents itself, one that will allow the intrepid youngsters to flee the dangerous city streets and escape poverty. Jacob seizes it, despite the great moral price to his soul. Later, after much hard work, with the siblings once again elevated in society, Jacob meets Ebenezer Scrooge… and so begins their infamous partnership.

The author’s note by Vanessa Lafaye states how she often wondered about Marley’s backstory; an exercise that eventually consumed her imagination. Sadly, Vanessa passed away in February 2018, unable to finish this beautiful prequel. But at the request of Vanessa’s husband, and her publisher, it was, I’m pleased to say, completed by Vanessa’s good friend and fellow author, Rebecca Mascull. 

Written in third person, this is the bittersweet story of Jacob Marley as seen through the eyes of his sister, Clara. Clara is a character entirely invented by the author who believed “that the idea of inhabiting Marley himself felt too much like trespassing”. Masterfully written, this evocative fable offers insight into the social observations of Victorian life, which at times reflect some of our current issues, whilst also capturing the Dickensian spirit of Christmas, complete with ghosts, goodwill, hope and redemption.

 

Hardcover: 176 pages

Publisher: Hq (1 Nov. 2018)

Amazon buying links here and here.

Eva Jordan reviews Closer Than You Think by @darrensully @HQDigitalUK

“It was the darker things in life that drew humanity in…”

Closer Than You Think is the third psychological thriller written by best-selling author, Darren O’ Sullivan, and the first of his books I’ve read. Recommended by a good friend, my expectations were high. I’m pleased to say it didn’t disappoint.

The story begins with a prologue narrated in close third person via the voice of the unknown antagonist of the story, in this case a serial killer. He explains to the reader how he believes people become who, and what they are based on their environment and experiences, and how he also believes that the possibility of changing who we are, is, essentially impossible. However, he also believes people can evolve: “He [himself] had experienced several evolutions which had altered the direction of his thoughts and actions. But these didn’t change who he was. He would always be someone who killed.” Make no mistake; he is not a nice individual.

The main protagonist of the story is a woman called Claire Moore. Narrated in first person, she is a physically and emotionally damaged character who ten years prior survived the brutal attack of a serial killer. However, although she escaped the clutches of the man the media dubbed The BlackOut Killer, Claire’s husband didn’t, and it has haunted her ever since. To the general public Claire represents hope and survival, but behind closed doors life is a struggle, despite the fact her attacker was actually apprehended and imprisoned. However, fast forward ten years and Claire is slowly feeling stronger again. She is tired of living in fear. So, with the continued support of close friends and family, she begins to fight back the demons that have, for all intents and purposes, kept her a prisoner in her own home. At least that is… until she hears the news about a recent murder; one where the killer has used the same modus operandi adopted by her perpetrator years before. But how is that possible? Is it a copycat killer? Or… is the killer closer than Claire thinks!

Closer Than You Think is a taut whodunit. A domestic thriller, both well written and easy to read. The characters are well drawn, the writing atmospheric, and there are just enough twists to keep you turning the page, including an ending, I can also safely say, that was very unexpected.

Paperback: 384 pages

Publisher: HQ Digital (30 May 2019)

Amazon buying links, here and here.

If you’d like to know more about the author, you can read my interview with Darren here.

Eva Jordan reviews… The Hospital Hoppities by Charlotte Hartley-Jones Illustrated by Anjalee Burrows @anjaleebee Published by @EyriePress

My book review this month is something a little different for me. The Hospital Hoppities is a beautifully illustrated children’s story aimed at younger children that have to spend extended periods of time in hospital, the idea being to make their stay a little less scary and a lot more fun.

Ollie, a little boy waiting for his operation, is bored. His wise old grandmother tells him about the Hospital Hoppities: small, furry rabbits, with big eyes, shimmering fur and log floppy ears. They are, according to Ollie’s grandmother, magic rabbits that live in hospitals. “They look after the children and help the hospital be a happier place, but they don’t like to be seen”, so most of the time they make themselves invisible. They do this by thumping their back paw. However, one-day Ollie spots a Hospital Hoppity in the drawer of his hospital bedside cabinet. Somehow he has got his paw stuck. Ollie helps the Hoppity release his paw but when he taps it to make himself invisible, it doesn’t work. The Hospital Hoppity then asks Ollie for help, and between them they fly around the wards of the hospital carrying out good deeds.

Charlotte Hartley-Jones, the author of this delightful story, is a trained clinical psychologist and writer. She was inspired to write this story after her own first-hand experience of life on a hospital ward with a son with a chronic medical condition. She was keen to write something children could relate to, especially those that spend a lot of time in hospital, by taking some of the fear out of the experience. Therefore, although the story itself doesn’t focus on individual health conditions, the beautiful illustrations by Anjalee Burrows, a digital illustrator, do show medical equipment like heart monitors, drip stands and hospital staff wearing stethoscopes and scrubs, helping to ‘normalise’ such things. The storyline also empowers Ollie, the main character, by giving him a helping role, instead of a dependent one.

The Hospital Hoppities is a wonderfully magical, beautifully illustrated story that is both entertaining and comforting, especially for small children that have to spend time in hospital. It also makes the perfect companion for children visiting siblings and loved ones in hospital, helping to ‘normalise’ what can sometimes be a very daunting experience.

Hardcover: 32 pages

Publisher: Eyrie Press (30 Jun. 2019)

Eva Jordan reviews… The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris Published by @ZaffreBooks

“Hope begins in the dark,

The stubborn hope that if you just

Show up and try to do the right thing,

The dawn will come.

You wait and watch and work:

You don’t give up”

–– Anne Lamott

Having recently visited the Auschwitz–Birkenau concentration camps in Poland I knew it was time to read a book that, due to the subject matter, I’d been putting off for a while. However, The Tattooist of Auschwitz, despite the horror and sadness surrounding it, is in fact a love story. One that shows, where possible, even during the most wretched of circumstances, you should never give up hope.

The author’s note at the beginning of the book reads, “This is a work of fiction, based on the first-hand testimony of one Auschwitz survivor”. She suggests reading some of the many detailed accounts available about the holocaust for those that would like further information on the subject. This story, however, in the main, concerns the experiences of survivor Lale Sokolov, a 24-year-old Jewish Slovakian who arrived at Auschwitz–Birkenau in April 1942. Lale becomes the camp tattooist, a position that affords him slightly better food rations and sleeping conditions than most. He hates what he does, “Tattooing the arms of men is one thing; defiling the bodies of young girls is horrifying”, but he does as he’s told because—well, what choice does he have? One day he spots a young woman waiting in line with her number written on a piece of paper. Shaking, she is obviously terrified but Lale takes her hand and begins tattooing her arm. Bravely, she doesn’t flinch, and when he’s finished she smiles at him. Lale discovers her name is Gita, and for him it is love at first sight. With a renewed sense of purpose Lale knows he has to survive Auschwitz, if only to ensure the survival of the woman he loves.

Written in close third person, this is an unsettling story. Having researched the holocaust whilst studying for my degree I am no stranger to the horrors that took place in the Nazi concentration camps. However, I’m also pleased to say, despite my initial trepidation about reading it, Heather Morris has written a tale about friendship and love, and above all else, a story of hope, which, unbelievably, even amongst the everyday occurrences of death, starvation and brutality, people still managed to hold on to. Well-written, honest and brave The Tattooist of Auschwitz doesn’t skirt the atrocities of the holocaust but neither is it too graphic. An engaging and powerful read including a beautifully written afterword by Gary Sokolov – Lale and Gita’s son – who growing up remembers a home filled with “love, smiles, affection, food and my father’s sharp dry wit”––testimony to, if it was needed, the shining strength of the human spirit.

Publisher: Zaffre

Paperback: 320 pages

Eva Jordan reviews…To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee Published by Arrow @penguinrandom

‘Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit ‘em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.’

It’s a long time since I read a classic and having read a lot of contemporary books of late, I decided I’d like to add a few more classics to my repertoire. Books I’ve promised myself I’d read but have never got round to. This month I chose Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird. An instant success when it was first released in 1960, widely read in schools and a Pulitzer Prize winner, it has become a classic of modern American literature. Therefore, it’s safe to say my expectations were high… I’m relieved to say I wasn’t disappointed.

Set in the sleepy fictional town of Maycomb, Alabama, during the Great Depression of 1930s America, this story centres on the trial of Tom Robinson, a black man accused of raping a white woman. Narrated in the first person by “Scout” real name Jean Louise Finch, across three years of her life, beginning at age six, the story’s main protagonist looks back in retrospect an unspecified number of years after the events of the novel have taken place. Scout, who also has an older brother, Jeremy “Jem” (a constant playmate and companion), is the daughter of one the town’s well-respected lawyers and hero of this story, Atticus Finch, also defence lawyer for the accused Tom Robinson. Atticus, a widower with a droll sense of humour, has instilled in his children his strong sense of ethics and justice. He is one of the few residents of Maycomb committed to racial equality and when he agrees to defend Tom Robinson, he exposes himself and his family to the anger and prejudices of the white community. However, with his strongly held beliefs, wisdom and compassion, Atticus serves as the novel’s moral backbone.

Beautifully descriptive, with a court scene that evokes all the senses, this is a humorous, nostalgic, innocent, and, as the novel progresses, increasingly dark and foreboding critique of society, including the era it was written in (there was a lot of civil unrest in America during the 1960s) and the time it was set in. To Kill A Mockingbird was a story of its time, however, it was also, in my humble opinion, a story ahead of its time… one that resonates as much now as it did sixty years ago.

Publisher: Arrow; 50th Anniversary edition (2010)

Paperback: 320 pages

Eva Jordan reviews… Truly Madly Guilty By Liane Moriarty Published by @PenguinBooks

Eva Jordan Reviews Truly, Madly, Guilty

“This story begins with a barbecue…”

I thoroughly enjoyed Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty, and the TV adaption was pretty good too, so I was really looking forward to reading Truly Madly Guilty. I’m pleased to say I wasn’t disappointed. Easy to read with well-written dialogue and deliciously flawed characters, it hooked me from the start.

Set in Sydney, Australia, and centring on a group of friends at a barbecue, it quickly becomes apparent something troubling has taken place, something, which has deeply affected everyone, and keeps you guessing to the end, adding to the suspense and pace. The plot and chapters are character driven with each chapter either flitting back to the day in question, or forwards to the days and weeks that follow it. Written in close third person, the characters are likeable and annoying in equal measure, like real people. Marriage, childhood, parenthood, and friendships are some of the themes explored, and although each character comes with their own set of middle-class, suburban baggage, they are all authentic, well-rounded, and sympathetically drawn individuals. Moriarty uses wit, which is devilishly acerbic at times, and close, almost psychoanalytical observation to show us the three faces of her characters, namely, the face the world sees, the second face, reserved for close friends and family, and the third face – usually the truest reflection of an individual but also the face no one else sees, except, of course, the person themselves. Like all good writers, Moriarty allows the reader access to all these versions of her characters, whilst at the same time observing what makes them tick, including guilt, loneliness, PTSD, and difficult childhoods. When tragedy strikes, Moriarty’s brilliant prose sums up the thoughts, feelings and emotions surrounding the event in a way that feels both genuine and relatable via the inner ramblings of one of her characters, Clementine — “This is what it feels like. You don’t change. There is no special protection when you cross the invisible line from your ordinary life to the parallel world where tragedies happen. It happens just like this. You don’t become someone else. You’re still exactly the same. Everything around you still smells and looks and feels exactly the same…”

Brilliantly observed characters with a plausible plot, Truly Madly Guilty has enough twists to keep you turning the pages and enough depth to keep you immersed.

 

Publisher: Penguin (28 July 2016)

Print Length: 320 pages