Eva Jordan reviews… Anatomy of a Scandal by Sarah Vaughn

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They say timing is everything and to my mind, this is a story that couldn’t be more socially and politically relevant. With global movements like #MeToo and #TimesUp, Anatomy of a Scandal delves into the murky waters of sexual harassment, political corruption and abuse of power, the underlying suggestion that the perpetrators of such deeds are often orchestrated by those who have obtained their position in life through privilege and opportunity.

The story centres around three key characters, namely Kate, a highly ambitious barrister, James, an MP and close friend of the Prime Minister, and Sophie, his loyal wife. Kate, working class, single and child-free, has worked hard to forge a successful career for herself. With a few close friends and barely any social life she is a somewhat serious character. She also has a strong belief in right and wrong, in justice, which in part powers her ambition to succeed. However, as the story evolves, you can’t help but wonder what other forces fuel her drive.

James, Oxford-educated, is both charming and attractive. Unlike Kate, James, thanks in part to his privileged upbringing, has a strong sense of entitlement and, despite his charming façade, harbours a sanctimonious disdain for anyone he believes is beneath him, including most women. Sophie, James’s wife, recalls a conversation with her husband, “‘The trouble with women,’ James once told her, making the sort of sweeping generalisation he would never make in front of female colleagues but did at home, ‘is that they lack the courage of their convictions. Mrs Thatcher aside, they don’t have our self-belief.’”

Sophie, with “a look that belonged to a certain class” is both snobbish and elitist, “James will be fine (she says when her husband is accused of a criminal offence) because he is the right type … and he has the prime minister’s patronage.” She is not a particularly likeable character but she does redeem herself towards the end of the story.

Part courtroom drama, part psychological thriller Anatomy of a Sandal is set during the present day with flashbacks to the past. Gripping and pacy it is extremely well written with believable, well-rounded characters. A timely thought-provoking study of class, privilege and toxic masculinity, eerily echoing recent and current debate. A brilliant read and one I highly recommend. A big fat five stars from me!

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Eva Jordan reviews… Fifty Years of Fear by Ross Greenwood

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Fifty Years Of Fear is one of three novels in the Dark Minds Series written by Ross Greenwood, all of which are set in or around Peterborough. Sad but thought-provoking, this is a story about families, lies and secrets, brothers, loss and regret, and missed opportunities. It is also a reminder that we should never be too quick to judge others and cautionary tale that shows how a simple act of kindness can literally change your life – forever.

The opening of the book tells us that Vincent Roach was born in 1966, the same year as England won the World Cup – “When I look back, it sometimes feels as though it was downhill after that.” Chapter one begins fourteen years later. It’s 1980 and Vinnie, unlike his older brother Frank, who comes across as a bit of a thug, is both quiet and unassuming. Both brothers live with their parents and their father has just had a stroke. A bit of a book lover, bullied at school until Frank steps in, Vinnie is, for all intents and purposes, quite unremarkable. We are also made aware that a childhood accident at the age of seven has left Vinnie without much memory of his life prior to then. Chapter by chapter, we then follow Vinnie’s life for the next thirty-six years.

Through a series of flashbacks, Vinnie starts to remember his early childhood, although it will take years for him to understand that things are not always as they first appear. Vinnie matures into a young man. Happy for a while we see him get his first taste of independence and a holiday to Cromer where he falls in love. Then comes the loss of his father, followed a couple of years later by the death of his mother. Vinnie marries a girl he meets at work. He’s happy for a while but it’s short-lived. When the newlyweds move into a new home of their own, with new neighbours, life slowly descends in the wrong direction for Vinnie. However, although at times sporadic, and despite Vinnie’s concerns that trouble and violence appear to follow him around like a bad smell, it is older brother Frank that remains a strong presence in Vinnie’s life, a much valued constant. Which proves especially true when Vinnie finds himself behind bars. Is Vincent really guilty of the crime he is accused of?

Fifty Years Of Fear is a gripping tale about misfortune and redemption and a reminder of just how easily things can go wrong in life, despite our best intentions. It is also a story about self-discovery, that people are not always as they first appear, including how we think we come across to others. Vinnie, written in the first person, is the main protagonist and storyteller throughout and, like all the characters we are introduced to, is both extremely well drawn with plenty of emotional depth. The author has a distinctive writing style and covers some upsetting issues with great sensitivity. Despite being quite an emotional read at times it is also well paced with a few moments of humour. There is even a mention of the infamous ‘Crown to Town’ pub-crawl – if anyone reading this lived in Peterborough and is old enough to remember! A remarkable story, one I highly recommend and one that will stay with me for a very long time.

 

 

 

Eva Jordan reviews… A History of Britain in 21 Women by Jenni Murray ‏

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Published by Oneworld Publications

This year marks the  100th anniversary of women gaining the right to vote in the UK.  Also, on March 8th, it was International Women’s Day, a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women, observed annually since the early 1900s. I, therefore, thought it appropriate to review a book that was both fitting and relevant to both these historic events.

A History of Britain in 21 Women is written by Dame Jenni Murray; probably best known as Radio 4’s presenter of Women’s Hour and whom I had the very great pleasure of meeting last year. These short biographies are a personal selection chosen by Murray to present the history of Britain through the lives of twenty-one women, whose lives embodied hope and change, who refused to surrender to established laws of society, and, who still have the power to inspire us today.

In the introduction, Murray, born in 1950, states that growing up “the role of a woman was to learn how to be a good wife and mother, do the cooking and cleaning and nurture those her around her.” She quotes Thomas Carlyle, circa 1840, who said ‘The history of the world is but the biography of great men,’ and as a young girl growing up in Barnsley in the 1950s and ‘60s that’s pretty much what Murray believed. However, it was education that made her question the expectations placed on women, and after attending a wonderful girls’ school she began to discover many women that had influenced history and also challenged the assumption that a woman’s place was in the home.

Murray writes about, to name but a few; Boadicea, Queen of the Iceni tribe who fought bravely against the Romans to preserve a social structure that had been practised by, and was so important to the women of the tribes of Britain, namely equality; Aphra Behn, the first English woman playwright to earn her living by her pen; Astronomer Caroline Herschel, after whom a crater on the moon is named; And, computing pioneer Ada Lovelace. We are also given an insight into the courageous account of writer Fanny Burney (1752-1840) entitled ‘Account from Paris of a terrible Operation – 1812, who, when she discovered she had breast cancer and under the insistence of specialist surgeons, underwent one of the first recorded mastectomies at a time when there was no effective anaesthetic – ouch! She was 59 years old at the time and went on to live until the ripe old age of 88!

Written as biographies in small chunks, A History of Britain in 21 Women is well researched, informative and entertaining. Dedicated to “all the young people who need to know” it is an illuminating, easy read offering a great deal to both women and men of all ages. However some of Murray’s omissions were interesting and there was one woman in particular whom I felt wasn’t deserving of a place amongst such great individuals – but that’s purely politics. Nonetheless, a thought-provoking read finishing with a timely reminder that we still have a way to go and the fight for gender parity must continue.

 

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.

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. 

Eva Jordan reviews… Sleigh Rides and Silver Bells at the Christmas Fair by Heidi Swain

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Published by Simon & Schuster UK

I met author Heidi Swain earlier this year, albeit very briefly, at an author/blogger meet up. Sleigh Rides and Silver Bells at the Christmas Fair is the first of Heidi’s novels I’ve read and like the lady herself, it is absolutely charming. Whether you’re looking for something jovially celebratory to read in the run-up to Christmas, or something to curl up to with a mince pie and glass of your favourite tipple over the holidays, I can thoroughly recommend this festive, feel-good tale. 

Set in the fictional Fenland town of Wynbridge (with its very own Market Place not unlike my own home town) this is the story of Anna, who, for reasons not at first obvious, isn’t particularly fond of Christmas. A bit of a nomad, she pulls out all the stops to make sure she works every Christmas, preferably in a position that will keep her both busy, and as far away from the holiday festivities as possible. Anna spots and applies for what appears to be the perfect occupation, as companion to Catherine Connolly, convalescing after an operation. Catherine, along with her husband Angus, is the owner of the somewhat isolated Wynthorpe Hall, situated on the outskirts of Wynbridge, a remote town in the Fens, which sounds ideal to Anna. “Hunkering down in the barren and frosty Fenland landscape, without so much as a carol singer in sight, would be a much appreciated soothing balm to my troubled soul and I mulled it over with relish”. Only, as is often the case with most things in life, things are not quite as they seem.

When the Connolly’s youngest son, Jamie, arrives home just before Christmas, after spending time abroad, he finds himself faced with some difficult decisions. Ones that will no doubt affect his future and that of Wynthorpe Hall. Disillusioned with the family home, can Anna help Jamie fall in love with it again, and, more importantly, can Jamie help Anna, after years of refusing to celebrate it, help her fall in love with Christmas again?

Easy to read, the story is well paced, and, as one who lives in the Fens, the setting feels heart-warmingly familiar. The characters are well rounded and believable, although it is the rather eccentric, not to mention slightly mischievous, Angus, who really captured my heart. Full of festive cheer, love, laughter and hope, Sleigh Rides and Silver Bells at the Christmas Fair is a pure joy to read, providing some light relief and escapism from, what at times, feels like a very troubled world at the moment. Definitely one I’d recommend.

#Writing – it’s not a life, it’s an adventure!

I’m over on WE Heart Writing today talking about my journey to publication!

On 19th October my second novel, All The Colours In Between, was released followed a week later by the book launch at Waterstones. And, in several weeks time, I will also be celebrating a … ahem … certain milestone birthday. I’ve always wanted to be a writer but for various reasons it just never seemed to be the right time to knuckle down and get on with it, however, with two books now bagged before my 50th birthday it just goes to show that old saying is true – it’s never too late! ♥

 

Eva Jordan book launch, Peterborough, Cambridgeshire, on October 26, 2017.

Now, pop over to We Heart Writing to read the full article.