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 in conversation with… Betsy Reavley

Eva Jordan in conversation with Betsy Reavley

On my blog I’ve been lucky enough to host some great interviews with some amazing local authors, and just recently that extended to a wonderful and informative Q&A session with prolific book blogger, Linda Hill, which you can read here. However, this month I’m really honoured to bring you an interview with someone who is both a successful author and one half of a successful husband and wife team behind the publishers Bloodhound Books and Bombshell Books, Betsy Freeman Reavley. 

  1. Hi Betsy, can you tell everyone a bit about yourself? 

I began my career as a writer and started my first novel when I was twenty-two years old. After having my first daughter and then getting married, I finally got round to finishing it and I was thrilled when an indie publisher offered me a contract and went on to publish the book.

The birth of eBooks and Amazon changed how people could publish and gave me, and my husband, an opportunity to start our own business, which we did in 2014. Bloodhound Books was born and we’ve never looked back. 

  1. What is the most difficult/frustrating part of being a publisher? 

The publishing world has changed since the birth of eBooks. Many authors still think of publishing in traditional terms and some authors struggle with the idea that our focus is on eBook sales, despite the fact we also produce paperbacks.

  1. As we all know, life can be difficult at times. Do you have a quote (either your own or someone else’s) or a motto that you try and live by, not just during the tough times but the good ones too? 

I listen to music to encourage me to focus my mind. Anything from BB King to Eminem will help me concentrate on what I want to achieve and keep going. The lyrics are all important to me and I take strength from them. I also love poetry, which inspires me to never give up.

  1. Truthfully, which do you prefer, writing or publishing?

They are both fulfilling but require very different skill sets. I couldn’t say. The pressure from publishing can be stressful but keeps life interesting. Writing is a lonely pursuit but one that I love.

  1. Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones? 

I used to read every review, taking each to heart, whether those words were good or bad. I am grateful to anyone who takes the time to leave a review, be it good or bad, but I’ve grown a thicker skin and now worry much less. What I do care about are sales figures. I am not a literary writer who does it for the art of writing. I am a career woman and I want to make a good living.

  1. And finally, what advice would you offer anyone thinking of becoming a writer or a publisher?

I don’t think you can advise someone how to become a writer. It’s either in you to do it or it isn’t. Writer’s write, it’s that simple. As for publishing, I never thought I’d end up being a publisher but I have discovered that I enjoy business and the opportunity to give talented writers a platform. The one thing I would always encourage people to remember is that publishing is based on opinions. Do I like this book? Can I sell it? What one publisher may think another may disagree with. Neither is wrong. It’s all just opinion. As long as you remember that, then you’ll keep your head screwed on properly.

 

 

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.