Book Bloggers – The Unsung Heroes Of The Book World

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Once a month I write a column for a local lifestyle magazine called The Fens. As well as offering writing advice I’ve also had the pleasure of doing some great interviews with some amazing authors. However, this month I thought I’d chat with one of the many brilliant unsung heroes of the book world, namely Linda Hill – book blogger extraordinaire. Among other things, Linda – a prolific reader – writes book reviews, takes part in blog tours and regularly hosts author guest posts on her award-winning Book Blog, Linda’s Book Bag. And like many book bloggers, this is all done in her spare time for nothing more than the sheer love of books.

  1. Hi Linda, can you tell our readers a bit about yourself?

Hi Eva. I’m a passionate and eclectic reader (and a bit of a closet writer) who used to be an English teacher, inspector and educational consultant. I’m self-retired and love books and travel.

  1. Have you always enjoyed reading books and when did you first become a book blogger?

I was a late reader as my sight is so poor that I didn’t realise those squiggles on a page had meaning! Once I got glasses at 7 there was no stopping me and I still have my childhood Paddington books.

I began blogging three years ago when I decided life was too short to keep working and I wanted to share my love of books. Since then my blog has grown and I might even say has got out of hand!

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

Learn to say ‘No’. There are only 24 hours in a day. It’s so tempting to accept every book you are offered for review and once you get known, the books keep arriving even if you’re not expecting them – I currently have over 900 physical books that have just turned up and I can’t get into my study.

Bloggers need to be very active on social media like Twitter and Facebook so that lots of readers see their blog posts.

I’d also say that authors never set out to write a bad book so be constructive and kind in reviews. A book that may not appeal to one person might be perfect for another reader.

I’d urge ALL readers to review on sites like Amazon and Goodreads, as well as a blog, as this is the only way many authors can get their books noticed.

And blog often!

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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!

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.

 

#PressforProgress – Still A Long Way To Go

 

“I do not wish women to have power over men; but over themselves.”

–Mary Wollstonecraft

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Image: Pixabay

Today, Thursday 8th March 2018, is International Women’s Day, a global day celebrating the social, political, cultural, and economic achievements of women. It is also a day that marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity. The call to action this year is #PressforProgress and with global activism for women’s equality fuelled by movements such as #MeToo and #TimesUp momentum is particularly strong this year. 2018 also marks the 100th anniversary of women gaining the right to vote in the UK. So, a century on, how are we doing?

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Image: Pixabay

Sadly, the findings of the World Economic Forum’s 2017 Global Gender Gap Report (International Women’s Day website) suggest gender parity is still over 200 years away. Disheartening to say the least. Further research suggests that globally, one in three women suffer from gender-based violence, sixty-two million girls, annually, are denied access to education, and women in the workplace still suffer in terms of pay and representation. Much has also been written about the inequality female writers still face in the writing and publishing world. As a female writer myself, I wanted to explore this a bit further.

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Image: Pixabay

In terms of reviews, literary prizes, and senior positions within publishing houses, many are still being awarded to men above women. Even World Book Night (The Guardian) shows that the picks of the last 5 years have been made up of 64 male versus 36 female authors. And author Nicola Griffith shows gender bias in her study, published in May 2015, of prizewinning books both here and across the pond, broken down by the gender of their protagonists. Her findings suggest that in the last 15 years, 12 of the Booker-winning novels have had male protagonists, two have had female protagonists, and one has had both male and female protagonists. The Booker fared better than the Pulitzer, which has had no female protagonist among its 15 winning books. I was also disappointed to find in a study carried out by The Guardian in August 2016, articles written by women, irrespective of their content or subject matter, attract more abuse and dismissive trolling than those written by men.

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Image: Pixabay

Aleesah Darlison (Writers Edit) attributes continued gender discrimination to “tradition and possibly even culture… It’s incredibly difficult to change centuries-old thinking, but women are continually striving to move forward.” 

Whereas some writers like Christine Piper (Writers Edit), author and winner of The Australian/Vogel Literary Award for After Darkness suggests that the confines of professional limitations based on gender are sometimes self-imposed and said “Like many women, I’ve been guilty of self-sabotage: doubting my ability, playing down my talents, taking rejections personally, and being shy about pursuing opportunities. Men are socialised to be confident and champion their abilities (but of course not all male writers are like this), while women are not – if a woman does do those things she’s often seen as arrogant or a ‘tall poppy’.”

However, it’s not all bad news, women are making advances. I only have to look at my daughter to see the opportunities available to her compared to my mother who, born in 1950, was paid half the wage of a man when she first started working. Nonetheless, let’s not get complacent, continue to unite, support one another and #PressforProgress for women.

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Image: Pixabay

 

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 in conversation with… Heidi Swain

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Last month you may remember I read and reviewed Heidi Swain’s lovely Christmas story, Sleigh Rides and Silver Bells at The Christmas Fair, set in Wynbridge, a remote, fictional town in the Fens. So for my column in this month’s edition of The Fens it seemed very fitting to interview the author who sets most of her novels in the Fens.

Heidi, can you please tell our readers a bit about yourself? How long have you been writing and did you always want to be a writer?

Originally from the Fens, I have lived in East Anglia for most of my life. I have been a Norfolk resident for around 16 years now and can’t imagine living anywhere else. Yes, I always dreamt of being a writer and have the stack of notebooks dating back to the eighties to prove it! However, it took a long time to pluck up the courage to take my writing seriously. I’ve been ‘writing with purpose’ for over six years now and by next summer will have had six novels published in three years.

I really enjoyed Sleigh Rides and Silver Bells at the Christmas Fair but I must admit it is the first of your novels I’ve read, mainly because I’m a writer myself and my reading time is limited. However, from what I can gather, most of your novels are set in the Fens, can you tell us why? What is it about the Fens that inspires you?

Yes, the fictitious town of Wynbridge is entirely my own creation but very much inspired by my childhood. My family have farmed the flat Fenland landscape for generations and even though I moved away in my early twenties, when I began looking for the perfect setting my thoughts travelled back to the dramatic skies and far off horizon. I find the no-frills, raw beauty of the Fens both soothing and uncomplicated.

And finally, for any would-be writers out there, before they put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, what one piece of advice would you offer them?

That’s simple – If you want to be a writer, write. If you put it off until you ‘have more time’ you’ll never put pen to paper. Stop procrastinating and make a start. You won’t regret it!

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Many thanks to Heidi for taking part in my Author Q&A and if you’d like some more information about the lovely lady herself, links to her are as follows:

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Amazon