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.

Out Of Bad, Comes Good!

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The great thing about being a writer … is meeting other writers! Having met author, Louise Jensen, earlier this year, I was honoured when, in August, she kindly invited me to her book launch for the paperback version of her debut novel, The Sister, which took place at Waterstones, Market Harborough. Originally released as an ebook in July 2016 with digital publishers, Bookouture, The Sister has met with great success. However, when I first met Louise and we got chatting, I was both intrigued and surprised to find that the circumstances behind penning her first novel shared some similarities with my own journey. Louise, like me, always aspired to be an author and through no fault of her own, again like me, found herself victim to a set of circumstances that would forever affect her health. Finding she was less active and unable to do some of the things she was used to doing was, Louise admitted, a real struggle, and at times quite depressing. Little did she know, as she set about putting pen to paper, again, like me, it would be the start of her writing career and see a long awaited dream come true.

Louise has since written a second novel, The Gift, and her third novel, The Surrogate, was released last month and is already getting some rave reviews. Since writing, The Sister, with translation rights having been sold in 16 countries, Louise has also acquired a literary agent and has been signed to write another novel with Bookouture, with the paperback versions of her books now in the safe hands of Sphere (Little, Brown).

The book launch was a great success and all concerned had a great night. There was enough wine and nibbles to sink a battleship and even a cake, The Sister 1

although sadly I had to leave before I had chance to nab a slice. The only downside for me was my car journey home. What should have taken an hour instead turned into a rather wearisome two and half hours as I met with not one, not two, but three roadblocks! Nonetheless, I refused to get down, instead looking for something positive from my little detour. After all, as a writer, no experience is ever wasted, and, thankfully, I have a rather active imagination. So, as the Shat Nav in my car led me down one narrow, winding, and eerily dark country road after another, an idea for a story began to take root. Due to other commitments I’ve parked it for now, but, when I’m ready, I will no doubt resurrect it and put it to good use, my little diversion thus not a complete waste of time! Therefore, next time you find yourself in a situation you’d rather not be in, remember, as my unwanted little rendezvous suggests, and as Louise’s story proves, sometimes amazing things can happen as a result of difficult times in our lives, and, ultimately, out of bad, comes good.

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Eva Jordan reviews… Shtum by Jem Lester

Book Review

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Publisher – Orion

Shtum is definitely a book I will not be keeping shtum about. At times heartbreakingly sad, at others wonderfully witty, although the humour would be best described as dark, this is a candid tale about three generations of the Jewell family and what it really means to live with, and care for, an extremely autistic child.

Married couple, Ben and Emma, agree to do whatever it takes to give their autistic son, Jonah, the opportunity of a better life. Jonah is offered a place at a specialist residential school but Ben and Emma have a fight on their hands with the local authority. To strengthen their case, Ben and Emma pretend to split up, after all, it’s difficult enough to care for a severely autistic child without the added problem of single parenting. Ben and Jonah move out and take up residence with Georg, Ben’s father and Jonah’s grandfather.

The three main protagonists throughout are Jonah, Ben and Georg, and all three are brilliantly drawn and flawed. Ben is immature and never really wants to take responsibility for anything, using alcohol to anesthetise himself. Georg, who clearly adores Jonah, is, at times, overly harsh and judgemental of Ben. However, it is ten-year-old Jonah, who sometimes kicks and bites that I really fell in love with. Unable to talk, Jonah is central to the storyline and, as the blurb says, “lives in a world of his own. He likes colours and feathers and the feel of fresh air on his skin. He dislikes sudden loud noises and any change to his daily routine.”

Be warned though, this is not a sugar coated tale of triumph over adversity, or of amazing parents coping with superhuman qualities. This is a story of heartbreak, pity, and self-blame. However, it is also a story about love, of family and secrets, and a story about fathers and sons, and forgiveness. It is tragically real but also warm, insightful and full of compassion. And, as the story unfolds, what becomes painfully obvious and wonderfully ironic is that, although he has no voice, Jonah speaks much louder and more eloquently than either his father or his grandfather.

Clearly based on the author’s own experience, Shtum is a remarkable story that shines a “no holes barred” light on the everyday reality and struggles some families of autistic children experience. Gritty, funny and poignant, it is a marvellous portrayal of ordinary people managing extraordinary difficulties during day-to-day life, and, one that will stay with me for a very long time.

 

Eva Jordan reviews… Beautiful by Katie Piper

 

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Publisher – Ebury Press

Several months ago, I had the great honour and pleasure of meeting the writer and TV presenter, Katie Piper. The victim of a horrific acid attack, mostly to her face, neck and upper body, Katie is a shining example of triumph over adversity. Friendly and approachable, Katie, who smiled constantly, proved to be genuinely warm and extremely generous with her time. So, this month’s book review is a work of non-fiction by Katie Piper.

Katie’s autobiography, Beautiful, explains how she was attacked, her life beforehand and the events leading up to that terrible, fateful day. Age twenty-four, living in London, Katie was a beautiful, successful, and ambitious young woman when she was brutally raped by her then-boyfriend, whom she had met on Facebook weeks earlier. Several weeks later she then had acid thrown in her face, also initiated by the same said boyfriend. “I heard a horrible screaming sound, like an animal being slaughtered … then I realised it was me.” However, if Katie’s perpetrator thought she was going to crawl away and hide her injuries from the rest of the world, he was sorely mistaken. He clearly hadn’t bargained for such a courageous and gutsy young woman. Through the love and support of wonderful family and good friends, not to mention an iron will powered by true determination and courage, Katie completely turned her life around. To many, she is both an inspiration and a role model. She is also, I think it is safe to say, still beautiful, incredibly successful and rightly ambitious – despite one man’s attempts to sabotage such qualities.

Some of you may recognise Katie from TV shows like Bodyshockers and Face to Face and like me, you may have read about her terrible ordeal back in 2008, but also like me, you may not have realised the full extent of her injuries, and the pain and suffering she endured, both mentally and physically. “It was just a normal mirror, a round sheet of glass encased in a white plastic frame, but as I reached for it, my hand trembled. ‘Take your time, Katie,’ my psychologist Lisa said gently…But I didn’t do things by halves – I never had…All of a sudden, that normal little mirror became a window into hell.” Katie has had and continues to have, countless operations and skin grafts, she is blind in one eye and because she swallowed some of the acid that permanently scarred her face, neck and arm, she also suffered internal damage, resulting in a great deal of scar tissue around her oesophagus. This left Katie unable to eat and swallow food properly, which again resulted in yet more surgery. Katie makes no attempt to hide the fact she struggled after her attack, describing some very ‘dark’ times, however, this is also a story of hope and inspiration.

Well composed, Beautiful is easy to read but not an easy read. Nonetheless, it is also written with great warmth, humour and aplomb. One woman’s triumph over evil and living proof that life does go on despite, at times, unimaginable difficulties and suffering.

Katie Piper

 

Eva Jordan reviews… Never Alone by Elizabeth Haynes

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Publisher – Myriad Editions

My Review

This is the first novel I have read by crime writer Elizabeth Haynes and I can safely say it won’t be the last. Gripping, thrilling and wonderfully written, for me, it was a real page-turner.

Never Alone is a story about Sarah Carpenter, a middle-aged widow who lives with her two dogs in a remote farmhouse set in the North Yorkshire Moors. Sarah has two adult children, Kitty, her daughter, who is away at university most of the time and her son, Louis, who, although lives locally to Sarah is, for all intents and purpose, estranged from his mother. Still struggling to come to terms with the death of his father, Jim, it’s obvious Louis blames his mother for his father’s death despite the fact it was clearly an accident.

Sarah too is struggling, but her battle is more about isolation, what it means to live alone. ‘She has a house and debts, and, while she doesn’t need to worry about the children any longer, it’s a hard habit to break, worrying.’ Neither particularly happy nor unhappy she is presented as someone who, although on the surface appears to be reasonably calm and collected, is nonetheless floundering. When she first met her husband, Jim, as a young woman at university, although she didn’t love him, at first, ‘he promised to be there for her forever, and it was that permanence that attracted her. The idea that whatever lay ahead, she would have Jim.’ However, when Aiden, an old friend from university, also the ex-best friend of her deceased husband, turns up and agrees to rent the small cottage Sarah has at the back of her farmhouse, Sarah quickly realises she is not alone. And, as the story unfolds, she also realises there are worst things than being alone.

Narrated through two voices, namely Sarah and Aiden, as well as one unknown malevolent voice, it soon becomes apparent Aiden is hiding something from Sarah. The story starts off quite slow then gradually picks up pace culminating in a number of shocking twists and turns.

Easy to read, Never Alone, is a well-written psychological thriller that is as much about human relationships as it is about the human psyche. The characters are well rounded and believable and Haynes cleverly uses the weather (being snowed in), location (the isolation of the moors and the old farmhouse, Four Winds Farm) and animal instinct (the whines, low growls and body language of Sarah’s two dogs, Basil and Tess) to build atmosphere and tension that greatly add to the mounting suspense of this brilliant read. Definitely one I’d recommend.