Book Review—Why I Write by George Orwell Published by Penguin; 1st edition (2 Sept. 2004)

“Literature is doomed if liberty of thought perishes” –George Orwell

This month’s book review may interest all the writers and would be writers out there. Written by Eric Arthur Blair, better known as George Orwell, Why I Write is part of Penguin’s Great Ideas series. Pocket-sized works of, largely, non-fiction inspired by pioneers, radicals, and visionaries, including subject matters such as philosophy, science, politics, and war.

Orwell, born in 1903, is most famous for his fictional works including the political satire Animal Farm, published in 1945, and the dystopian nightmare vision of Nineteen Eighty-Four, which, first published in 1949, is a sci-fi story centred around a country known as Oceania (in 1984), controlled by an overbearing, paranoid government insistent on manipulating every aspect of its citizens’ lives. A place where information is suppressed, history re-written, and propaganda reigns supreme. It is also, one could argue, as a work of fiction written over 70 years ago, a story that feels eerily remarkably current.

Considered one of England’s most accomplished authors and social commentators, this collection includes four of Orwell’s essays. However, the title is deceiving, with only the first, brief essay dedicated to writing. The other three examine Orwell’s views on society, politics, and the economy during WW2, which I found equally fascinating. “As I write, highly civilised human beings are flying overhead, trying to kill me” he wrote in one.

At only 100 pages long, Why I Write is short enough to read in one sitting and littered with humorous nuggets of writing advice. I’ll leave you with one of my favourites which, if you’re a writer, you’ll completely understand. If not, and it’s a profession you’re thinking of taking up, all I can say is, be warned!  

“Writing is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout with some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.”

Book Review – Foyles Philavery by Christopher Foyle Published by Chambers; Reprint edition (27 July 2007)

“I know nothing in the world that has as much power as a word. Sometimes I write one, and look at it, until it begins to shine” –Emily Dickinson

This month, I thought I’d choose something a little different to review. A book that has been in my possession for a number of years and is the perfect companion for all writers and budding writers alike. Scrabble players too, would love this. Anyone, in fact, that like me, has a fascination with words.

Foyle’s Philavery (pronounced fil-a-vuh-ri), a word invented to describe the book, is, according to the introduction, “an idiosyncratic collection of uncommon and pleasing words”. Written by Christopher Foyle; businessman, philanthropist and writer, who took over the running Foyles, the eponymous family bookshop in 1999, first began making a note of unusual words in 1990. This was around the time of the first Gulf War when US commander, General Norman Schwarzkopf, described information he deemed of no value as, ‘bovine scatology’. Not familiar with the latter word, I quickly thumbed the relevant page for its meaning, which immediately saw me laughing out loud. Simply put, bovine scatology is another, more sophisticated way of saying, stupid crap!

Some of my favourite words include, samizdat, which (in the former Communist countries of Eastern Europe) means “the clandestine copying and distribution of writings banned by the government”. Then there’s scriptorium, which is “a room set apart for writing”. And finally, kakistocracy, which, feeling particularly relevant at this present time, stands for, “a system of government in which the rulers are the least competent, least qualified or most unprincipled citizens”.

This treasury of unusual, quirky and obscure words is a pure delight. It’s not the kind of book you’ll read in one sitting, but rather one you’ll be drawn to time and again. A must have for all word lovers.

Eva Jordan reviews… Anything You Do Say by Gillian McAllister‏

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Cleverly written, Anything You Do Say is the first Gillian McAllister book I’ve read, and it definitely didn’t disappoint. Described as a Sliding Doors psychological thriller, the story starts with Joanna, the main protagonist, committing a criminal offense, albeit accidentally, at which point the story splits into two; one called Reveal, the other, Conceal.

Set during the present day, both stories, told in the first person, centre on Joanna Oliva, a young woman living in London with her husband, Reuben. The story begins with Joanna on a night out with best friend Laura. They are in a bar and leave when a man, who has been harassing Joanna, unsettles them. Once outside, and away from the bar, Joanna and Laura call it a night, say their respective goodbyes and head home in different directions. Joanna hears someone walking behind her. Too afraid to look she is convinced she is being followed. She spots a flash of red at the top of a set of stairs on a towpath, which confirms her suspicions. Her pursuer is wearing the same red trainers worn by the man who earlier, in the bar, had been harassing her. In her panic, Joanna spins round and pushes “his body, firmly, squarely, the hardest I’ve ever pushed anything in my life” down the concrete stairs, and this is where the story splits.

We then follow Joanna’s journey where in one story she reveals what has happened, and in the other, she conceals what she has done. As expected, both choices have huge ramifications, which impact on both her life and that of friends and loved ones. Joanna is one of life’s procrastinators, who, unlike her husband Reuben, prefers to avoid her problems—“He’s (Reuben) never done denial. Not like I have… He confronts issues head on… Calmly, not hysterically, not the way I eventually tackle things I’ve been avoiding for years.” However, due to her actions, Joanne is forced to face up to herself and what she has done—in both stories.

Gripping, pacy, and well written, Anything You Do Say glides easily between the two parallel timeframes with no awkward repetition. I was totally invested in the characters and particularly enjoyed the exploration of the ‘what ifs ’ in each story, as well as the diverse responses and differing attitudes to Joanna’s behaviour by those closest to her. Well worth a read, and one I really recommend.  

Eva Jordan reviews… The Silent Christmas by M.J. Lee

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Thanks to a cousin who has been researching our family tree, I recently discovered I had a Great-Great uncle who served in the trenches during WWl. He joined at the start of the war as a volunteer in 1914, and just one year later, aged twenty-one, he was dead, killed in action, his body never recovered but is commemorated on the Menin Wall in Ypres, Belgium. How apt then, I should stumble upon Martin Lee’s recently released novella, The Silent Christmas, the fifth in the Jayne Sinclair Genealogical Mystery series, which can also be read as a stand-alone.

Set in both the present day and the WWI trenches, the story centres on the informal football match believed to have taken place between the English and German soldiers during a brief truce on Christmas Day 1914. The first chapter takes us straight to the trenches on December 21st in Belgium, capturing the conditions and possible mindset of some soldiers, ‘He lay on his back on the hard ground and dreamt of England; picnicking on the grass in front of the bandstand, straw hat tipped over his eyes to shield them from the sun… A shadow crossed his face and he felt a tap against his foot. ‘Time to get up, Tom, we’re moving forward… The men began packing up… As they did so, a solitary shell from a German whizz-bang whistled overhead, landing one hundred yards past the farm. None of the men moved or even ducked; each one carried on preparing to move forward as if nothing had happened.’ We then move forward to the present day and discover Jayne Sinclair, a genealogical investigator, asked, just days before Christmas, if she can help shed light on the mystery of several items, namely a label, a silver button and a lump of leather, found in a chest in the attic of her client. Ms Sinclair, who says, ‘Our role as genealogists is to use our research to bring these lost people, the vanished people of our family, back to life,’ agrees, and the mystery begins to unravel.

Written in the third person throughout, The Silent Christmas is a fictional tale exploring the actual events that took place during December 1914, later called the ‘Christmas Truce.’ A real “feel good” story handled with great care and respect, full of hope and love, that is both well written and researched. And, as 2018 marks the 100-year anniversary of Armistice it is also particularly poignant.

You can find The Silent Christmas on Amazon 

Writer Martin Lee

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Eva Jordan reviews… Corrupted by Simon Michael

 

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Corrupted, the latest book by fellow Urbane published author Simon Michael, is the fourth in a series of noir gangster crime thrillers concerning criminal barrister Charles Holborne. However, although part of a series there is just enough back-story for it to read perfectly well as a standalone. Set in London’s swinging sixties, the author mixes historical fact with fiction, making Corruption a story that sees its fictional barrister, Charles Holborne QC, drawn into the real-life investigation of a sex ring scandal that involved the Kray twins and some very powerful but corrupt politicians. The author’s note reads, ‘This is not a true crime novel, but the historical facts upon which it is based did actually occur.’

Written in close third person, Charles, the flawed main protagonist, narrates throughout and the story itself unfolds during several crucial months of 1964, namely Friday 26th June–Monday 24th August. Charles, a Jewish East Ender doing well for himself, building his reputation as a brilliant murder trial lawyer, is living with his partner Sally. On the surface all looks well, however, Charles is clearly at odds with himself. ‘An East Ender, born and bred on the wrong side of town, the wrong side of the track and the wrong side of the law, Charles has muscled his way into the Establishment by becoming a war hero, barrister… His acquaintances include Oxbridge graduates with country seats, titles and racehorses; they also include boxers, burglars and con artists. He no longer quite fits in anywhere, and everywhere feels like the wrong place.’

Charles is asked to help a young lad called Teddy who has been arrested and accused of murder. Charles agrees to take the case on and in doing so takes the reader on a magical mystery tour of 1960s London including the music, fashion and haircuts of the time. The author also gives the reader a fascinating glimpse of Fleet Street during the sixties, sprinkled with sporadic but fascinating historical facts like the time Charles takes a run past Jack Straw’s Castle–the pub and reputed favourite haunt of Charles Dickens, Karl Marx and Bram Stoker. However, at the heart of this story is a dark, uncomfortable tale about power, corruption and sexual abuse. Pacey, but often sombre and heartbreaking, it also includes great dialogue and some extremely well-written courtroom drama. A thrilling page-turner and one I highly recommend.

Eva Jordan reviews… Over My Shoulder by Patricia Dixon

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This is the first book I’ve read by this particular author and it definitely didn’t disappoint. Over My Shoulder is no holds barred look at the physical, mental and emotional effects of a controlling, abusive relationship. A dark psychological thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat racing through the final pages.

Set in Manchester, written in the first person, the story is narrated retrospectively through the voice of Freya, the main protagonist. Freya takes us back to where it all began, as a young woman in her twenties during the 1990s. I didn’t particularly warm to Freya, to begin with. It wasn’t that I disliked her as such, but first impressions painted a picture of someone shallow, materialistic, more concerned about her looks and labels, easily impressed by those who could afford the finer things in life.

However, I quickly realised my initial judgment was somewhat harsh. I also remembered what it was like to be a young woman at the start of my own adult life, all the angst, uncertainty and possibilities that lay ahead, the need to forge my own identity and yet at the same time the need to assimilate, to somehow fit in.

So in that sense, the author got Freya’s character bang on because she also demonstrated just how vulnerable young people are, how prone to manipulation they can be and therefore, despite coming from a loving and caring family, what a prime target for dangerous, and controlling individuals like Kane, they can be. Kane is the antagonist in this tale, a real anti-hero, the very epitome of evil, although, as with all good storytelling, the reader is not privy to the depths of Kane’s depravity until much further into the story.

Over My Shoulder is a dark tale of domestic abuse and the far-reaching, destructive effects such a relationship can have on the victim and their loved ones. Well written with a sympathetic understanding of a difficult subject matter, it is a rollercoaster of a read that also delves into the murky underworld of criminals and sexual predators. Gripping, hard-hitting, it is not a read for the faint hearted but it is one that will find you taking a sharp intake of breath towards the conclusion and will also, perhaps, at times, like me, find you looking over your shoulder.

You can purchase Over My Shoulder on Amazon

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Eva Jordan reviews… Before The Fall by Juliet West

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A great war.
A powerful love.
An impossible choice.

A tale of forbidden love, Before The Fall is beautiful, poignant and heartbreakingly sad. Set in London’s East End during the First World War, this is a fictional tale based on true events.

Hannah Loxwood is the struggling young mother of two children, namely 4-year-old Alice and 2-year-old Teddy. Her husband, George, one of many young men who has voluntarily enlisted to fight in the Great War, is across the channel, fighting. To help make ends meet, Hannah and her children move into the home of her older sister, Jen, and brother in law, Alec, and to help pay her way Hannah takes a job offer in a local café. There, she meets Mr Blake, Daniel, a welder. “This man, he’s not like your average docker. He’s well built all right, strong like you have to be, but there’s something unusual about him. A word comes to my mind – elegant – and I tell myself not to be so daft. It isn’t a word I’ve thought of before, let alone said.” Hannah quickly realises she is drawn to the quietly intriguing Daniel in a way she neither expected nor anticipated. The feeling, as it turns out, is mutual. “All the single girls in London and he has to fall for a soldiers wife … beautiful, odd, vulnerable.” Nonetheless, Hannah is a married woman; social norms must be observed at all times. Hence Hannah and Daniel must do their level best to suppress any thoughts or feelings that go beyond friendship. However, as the war rages on, Hannah finds herself wondering if her husband will ever return home again – and if indeed she actually wants him to.

Well researched, full of fascinating historical details, including police statements, newspaper reports and witness statements, Before The Fall is a brilliantly crafted, superbly written novel. The characters are well rounded and believable, especially Hannah, written in the first person – whom I became highly invested in – and Daniel, written in the third person. The author’s prose is wonderfully captivating and highly evocative – I could see the smog, smell the river, feel the hunger, and sense the desperation. However, although set amongst the fear and uncertainty of war-torn London, this is not a war story but rather a mesmerising, realistic, and haunting tale of love. It is also a story about the plight of women, their sad indictment and the difficulties they faced if caught challenging a ruthless wartime society. A sensitive, powerful, must-read.

 

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!

Eva Jordan reviews… Anatomy of a Scandal by Sarah Vaughan

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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 in conversation with… Ross Greenwood

Ross Greenwood

Each month I write a column for local (to me) lifestyle magazine The Fens and after reading and reviewing the brilliant Fifty Years of Fear (book 1 of his Dark Lives Series) by Ross Greenwood, I thought it a good idea to chat to the author himself.

Pictured from right to left: Ross Greenwood, author Jane E James, and myself

From right to left: authors Ross Greenwood, Jane E James and me!

  1. Hi Ross, can you please tell us all a little bit about yourself? How long have you been writing and did you always want to be a writer?

I’m 44 and was born in Peterborough. I travelled all around the world, living in Australia and Gibraltar of all places. Then I met my soon to be wife walking a dog about 50 metres from my back door next to the River Nene! I had an urge to write a book about 10 years ago, but life (kids actually) got in the way. The drive to finish it became irresistible, and I wrote Lazy Blood between 4 and 6 am after being woken up by son’s request for milk.

  1. I really enjoyed reading Fifty Years Of Fear (read my review here) and from what I can gather your first three novels are set in or around Peterborough, can you tell us why? Is it important to you to ‘write what you know’?

Fifty Years, Lazy Blood and The Boy Inside are all set in Peterborough. I wanted to write about my home town as there are few books set here. The ones that are, often portray a stark place that I don’t think exists. Characters from each book may pop up in the others, but they can all be read standalone. I worked in the prison for four years and used my experiences there to portray modern lives told with humour. I find writing flows when you pull the information from your own memory.

  1. And finally, for any would-be writers out there, what one piece of advice would you offer them?

You’ll find lots of people have advice about writing, but everyone’s journey is unique. The only advice that is guaranteed to be correct is to pick up your pen and begin. Then you are a writer, whatever anyone says. It’s unlikely you’ll make much money from it, but it’s a wonderful thing to do. Holding your own first book is an experience that’s within your reach, if only you pick up that pen and write.

Thank you for being a great guest, Ross. If you want to connect with Ross on social media you can find him on:
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Ross has also recently released his fourth novel, Abel’s Revenge, which is getting some rave reviews. Check it out here and here.

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