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 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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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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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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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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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.