Book Review – Reputation By @SVaughanAuthor Published by @simonschusterUK

“It takes a lifetime to build a good reputation, but you can lose it in a minute.” –Will Rogers

Well, what can I say! This, the fifth novel and third thriller by Sarah Vaughan, which was released on Thursday 3rd March, is, I’m pleased to say, another superb pulse-racing legal drama. Like the author’s first thriller, Anatomy Of A Scandal; a Sunday Times top five bestseller and soon to be released major Netflix series (which I loved), Reputation takes us back to the to the courtroom and the Houses of Parliament. Suffice to say, my expectations were high, and I’m delighted to say I wasn’t disappointed. 

Set-in present-day London and Portsmouth, this is the story of Emma Webster; a high-profile Labour MP who wants to make a difference. The honourable member for Portsmouth South––also a devoted single mother to her teenage daughter, Flora––helps launch a campaign to protect women from the effects of online bullying after it comes to light that one of her constituents, a young woman who was the victim of revenge porn, has taken her own life. Ironically though, her involvement in the campaign only adds to her own online abuse, including veiled and open threats of rape and attack which, although deeply disturbing, she handles like a true professional. “Keyboard warriors, they called themselves. Such a pathetic term. Laughing at them, even if the laughter was hollow, helped a little – though it did nothing to unpick the knot in my stomach”. Inwardly, however, it is obvious Emma is struggling, despite outwardly putting on a brave face suggesting otherwise. At least, that is, until her teenage daughter’s reputation is threatened, which, unfortunately, fuelled by fear, leads to disastrous consequences culminating in accusations of murder.

Reputation is a gripping read with wonderfully written prose that is succinctly, yet beautifully descriptive. A clever, timely, courtroom drama that helps shine a light on violence and misogamy towards women with an important message about the treatment of women in the public eye.

Book Review – Senbazuru: Small Steps To Hope, Healing And Happiness by Michael James Wong Published by @MichaelJBooks

“Mindfulness is the art of living in the moment, the willingness to slow down and become completely present, on purpose, without judgement, as each moment unfolds.” ––Michael James Wong

If you’re looking for gift ideas for Valentine’s Day, you won’t go far wrong with this. In fact, as we continue to navigate these still very uncertain times, this practical but beautifully illustrated book would make a great addition to anyone’s bookshelf. Written by Michael James Wong: speaker, author, yoga, and meditation teacher, Senbazuru: Small Steps to Hope, Healing and Happiness is best described as a contemplative guide to mindful living. However, as well as a collection of short stories and traditional proverbs accompanied by beautiful hand-painted illustrations, this wonderful compendium also teaches the reader, in twelve straightforward steps, the practice of orizuru.

Orizuru is the art of folding Japanese paper cranes, a bird that symbolises peace, hope, and healing, which, according to Japanese tradition, if you were to fold a thousand of in a single year, would grant you a single wish that could bring good fortune, eternal luck, long life, and happiness. The tradition of folding one thousand paper cranes is called Senbazuru (“sen” meaning “one thousand” and “orizuru” meaning “paper crane”), hence the book title. It’s not easy either. Folding paper requires patience and intention and shouldn’t be rushed, which is, of course, the intention of this book. “In our haste for complexity, we can easily be tempted to move too fast and look beyond the present moment,” says Wong. 

At a little over 250 pages long, this beautiful hardback, including proverbs, anecdotes, and gentle words of wisdom, interspersed with enchanting drawings, can be read sequentially or randomly. And, although it is a book that teaches the reader an ancient art form, at its heart the message is clear, namely slow down and be present… right here, right now.

If you’d like to know more about the author, check out his website or follow him on Instagram:

Website: https://www.michaeljameswong.com/

Instagram: @michaeljameswong

Eva Jordan in conversation with writer and investigator @DavidVidecette

Recently on my blog I reviewed Finding Suzy, which delves into the real-life crime and investigation case of 25 year old Suzy Lamplugh, an estate agent who went missing in July 1986 and has never been seen since. Written by David Videcette, it is a thought provoking, compelling read and you can read my thoughts about it here.

Today, David is my guest. Welcome David, thanks for chatting to me today. Can you please tell everyone a bit about yourself?

I’m an investigator, security consultant and writer. My background is in criminal investigation, having spent decades in the police, the majority fighting organised-crime and terrorism as a Scotland Yard detective.

It’s clear the Suzy Lamplugh case meant a lot to you as does the need to resolve it. When you’ve experienced the worst sides of human nature, is it hard to see the good in people?

We’ve probably all heard the phrase ‘humans are inherently good’? Yet many philosophers have struggled to understand why we humans inflict the most unspeakable acts on each other.

I believe most people are born ‘good’. If someone collapses in front of your eyes in your local high street, it’s a natural reaction to rush to their aid. But what of those who use the occasion for criminal gain? What motivates those people who see it as an opportunity to steal a bag from someone in obvious distress?  And what of those who look the other way?

It’s these questions that have always fascinated me in any crime I’ve investigated, including the case of missing estate agent, Suzy Lamplugh.

Most people can live together in large scale societies, even when they strongly disagree. But whereas bees and ants may instinctively cooperate and work together for the common good, humans are often self-interested. First and foremost we will look out for our own safety. After that come motivations to maintain reputation, social standing, and material wealth. Underpinning all of that will be animalistic desires and drives, placing us in direct conflict with others.

I can’t counteract human nature. Untangling people’s real motivations in any interaction is what makes investigation so fascinating and cold cases so challenging to solve.

As a writer, how does writing fiction compare to writing to non-fiction?

Although all of my books are rooted in real cases, I am bound by the Official Secrets Act, which barred me from writing factual books about my time in the police. Instead, I began by writing crime fiction as a cathartic exercise. My first two books are thrillers: The Theseus Paradox focuses on the London 7/7 bombings and The Detriment unravels the Glasgow Airport attacks.

I write using my memories of experiences, so you get the pure raw emotion and intensity on the page. All of my books put the reader front and centre. You experience the action in real time, as I did.

My third book, Finding Suzy, documents my real-time hunt for answers in a true crime case I’ve worked on since returning to civilian life. I’ve spent five years reinvestigating the mysterious disappearance of missing estate agent Suzy Lamplugh. Because people don’t just disappear…

And finally, the question I love to ask all writers! For anyone thinking of becoming a writer, what advice would you offer?

Writing is just like anything else we do – the more you do it, the better you become. Never give up.

If you’d like to know more about David, you can find him at the links below:

The DI Jake Flannagan crime thrillers based on real events (in order):

The Theseus Paradox (ebook): www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B015UDFYQ6

The Theseus Paradox (paperback): www.amazon.co.uk/dp/099342631X

The Detriment (ebook): www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B07227XS4G

The Detriment (paperback): www.amazon.co.uk/dp/0993426336

True crime investigation/non-fiction:

Finding Suzy (hardback): www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/0993426387

Finding Suzy (paperback): www.amazon.co.uk/dp/0993426379

Finding Suzy (ebook): www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B0999M1FJ4

Amazon author page UK: www.amazon.co.uk/David-Videcette/e/B015UNLEN8

Website: www.davidvidecette.com

Book Review – Finding Suzy by @DavidVidecette Published by Videcette Limited

“Absence from whom we love is worse than death, and frustrates hope severer than despair.” ―William Cowper

My first book review for the New Year is Finding Suzy by writer, investigator, and former Scotland Yard detective, David Videcette. As well as having a wealth of investigative experience behind him, including several high-profile cases like the July 2005 London bombings, David is also the author of the fictional DI Jake Flannagan crime thriller series. However, it is this, the author’s own private investigation into the real-life missing person case of estate agent Suzy Lamplugh, that really piqued my interest.

Suzy Lamplugh went missing in July 1986 and has never been seen since. Her mother, Diana Lamplugh, said, “There has not been a single trace of her. Nothing. Just as though she had been erased by a rubber”. It was (and still is) a case that drew a lot of media attention, but the generally accepted narrative is that Suzy left the Fulham office she worked at, showing a house by appointment to a “Mr Kipper” who it’s then believed, abducted, and killed her. However, her body has never been found and 16 years later, following a second investigation, John Cannan, jailed for abducting, and killing Shirley Banks, is believed to be the illusive “Mr Kipper”. However, as David’s thorough investigation shows, any links made to Cannan and this case are dubious to say the least. So, the author did what any good investigator would and he began the investigation again, from scratch.

Easy to read, thought provoking and compelling, Finding Suzy is a gripping read that shines a light on how missed opportunities, politics, and even the grief of Suzy’s family have perhaps hindered the discovery of her whereabouts. David makes a good argument about where she might be and surely, if only to give her family some closure, the police owe it to them to follow this up.

To get your copy of Finding Suzy click here.

Book Review – Coming Home by @pbadixon published by @bloodhoundbook

“The family is one of nature’s masterpieces.”–George Santayana

I absolutely adored this book. Set in the present day with flashbacks to the past, Coming Home is a beautifully written festive family drama full of secrets and lies, intrigue and deceit, but above all else, love and hope. The story opens on Christmas Eve 1969, where we meet six-year-old Carmen Appleton.

“A child is seated at the kitchen table, that’s me. My mother, Sylvia, with her blonde beehive and candy-pink lipstick is opposite. She’s beautiful… A sound distracts me… Dad. He’s home… my wonderful most perfect dad… All I have to do is close my eyes and go to sleep and it will be Christmas morning, the Christmas it should have been before the knock on the door that ruin[ed] everything.”

Fast-forward to the present day, 2021, and we meet Carmen as she is now, a mother, grandmother, and successful businesswoman and owner of Appleton Farm. Christmas is always a bittersweet time for Carmen, not least because of that fateful night during her childhood, but she loves her family and has always done her best to make it a special time. This year, though, everyone is coming home for Christmas and Carmen is determined to make it the best one ever, plus, she has an announcement to make, a secret to share. However, little does Carmen know, her three adult daughters, Rosina, Violetta, and Leonora, are all harbouring their own secrets. Secrets that are weighing them down but are too afraid to share for fear of ruining their beloved mother’s merry plans.

The characters of this festive tale are well-rounded, wonderfully human individuals with Granny Sylvia, in particular, providing some delightful moments of comic relief. Written with humour, pathos, and depth, Coming Home has all the ‘feels’ of a typical Christmas story with all the ‘chills’ of a compelling family drama.

A well deserved 5 stars from me!

Rating: 5 out of 5.

To grab your copy of this wonderful festive read click here

Book Review – Killing Time in Cambridge by Philip Cumberland

“AI is likely to be either the best or worst thing to happen to humanity”­­––Stephen Hawking

This month I interviewed local author (to me) Philip Cumberland (see here), who is also one of the coordinators and founding members of a local U3A Writing Group, Whittlesey Wordsmiths. As well as a contributing author of several anthologies written by the group, Philip has also recently published his debut novel, Killing Time in Cambridge, and this is my review.

The story opens with an axe wielding knight of old, dressed in full body armour, clanking down the corridor of a software company, who then hacks down the office door of the managing director, demanding to know who the ‘master’ is. The poor MD then has a heart attack, the knight disappears, and a short time later the building is besieged by medieval catapults. At this juncture, we are introduced to the main protagonist of the story, Detective Chief Inspector Cyril Lane, better known to everyone as Arnold, a self-effacing individual who likes his food and has a keen, pragmatic approach to his work. It’s Arnold’s job, and that of his colleagues, to figure out what is going on. However, as the story unravels and the plot thickens, it quickly becomes apparent that time travel plays a huge role in this quirky tale, which also includes several eccentric secondary characters including the quick-witted Sylvia, who provides some fine moments of comic relief, not to mention Marvin, the mind reading AI (Artificial Intelligence).

Set in the present day (with glimpses through time) in the beautiful historic city of Cambridge and the surrounding fens (including Ely, Hunstanton, Heacham, and Ramsey) Killing Time in Cambridge is a good old whodunnit (think Inspector Morse, Midsomer Murders, and Inspector George Gently) featuring a mix of light-hearted whimsey and dark humour and, rather unexpectedly, time travel and AI.

Killing Time in Cambridge is available at Parker’s newsagents, on Amazon, from Niche Comics and Books Huntingdon, Waterstones and whittleseywordsmiths.com.

Eva Jordan in conversation with writer Philip Cumberland.

This month I’m chatting to local author Philip Cumberland. As one of the founding members of a local writing group, Phil reached out to me several years ago to ask if I’d be interested in reviewing a book the group had put together called Where the Wild Winds Blow: an eclectic mix of fact and fiction, featuring short stories, poems, and memoirs, contributed by the various members of the Whittlesey Wordsmiths. Honoured, I said I’d love to. Since then, Philip has released his own debut novel, Killing Time in Cambridge, which was also my choice for this month’s book review.

Welcome Phil, thanks for being my guest. Can you tell everyone a bit about yourself?

Thank you for inviting me, Eva.

I grew up in Huntingdon and have lived in Cambridgeshire all my life, the last thirty-five years in Whittlesey. 

I was originally a motor mechanic, then an engine tester. During the thirty years before I retired, I was a metalworker, with my own business.

Have you always wanted to be a writer, and if so, what writers have inspired you?

I suppose off and on I have always wanted to write but couldn’t find the time until I retired.

I read sporadically. After leaving school at fifteen I finished reading the recommended books for O level English, of them, Catcher in the Rye made the biggest impression. My reading is mainly crime fiction and espionage thrillers. I read some science fiction and of course humour.

Favourite authors include Peter Lovesey, Isaac Asimov, P D James, John le Carre, Len Deighton, and Douglas Adams. I also enjoy some more local authors among them Alison Bruce, Tony Forder, and yourself.

My favourite author of all is Raymond Chandler, he paints wonderful pictures with his words, capturing perfectly for me the time, place and characters that inhabit the pages of his books. Chandler’s dialogue is brilliant, it is said Billy Wilder had him write the dialogue for Double Indemnity, he thought there was no one better for the job.

Your debut novel, Killing Time in Cambridge, is, I would argue, a good old whodunnit featuring a mix of light-hearted whimsey and dark humour, and includes, rather unexpectedly, time travel and AI. When did the idea for this story come to you and how important was it to keep the setting real and local?

I am pleased you liked it, Eva. As you know, if people enjoy your writing that is a real joy.

I started writing Killing Time in Cambridge in 2010, while still working full time, its original title was Bernard the Twelvicator. The pressure of work forced me to put the book on hold until I retired in 2016.

I used to drive a lot and part of my mind would go walkabout while driving, designing new products for the business and on this one occasion thinking about computer processors. Before I knew and I suspect most people knew of Quantum processors a processor could only be in two states, on or off. I speculated that if a processor was able to be in twelve different states at the same time, it could be capable of things beyond our imagination.

I enjoy Cambridge and the fens. Fenland sunrises and sunsets painted over the vast canvass of a 360-degree sky have always filled me with awe, I think I am digressing, not many people know I do that.

It was important to me that I kept the story local it gave me the excuse to wander around Cambridge for research, sometimes my brother-in-law would accompany me travelling on the guided bus from St Ives, other times I went alone.

I feel comfortable in the territory of my book and have a great affection for the area it inhabits. I had worked in Ely and used the area known to me in the story. Heacham and Hunstanton are for most of us living locally familiar holiday destinations, myself included.

And finally, my favourite question! For anyone thinking of becoming a writer, what advice would you offer?

Just write.

If you have a story to tell and imagination or see the world differently, share it, other people may like the things you see. Remember you are your first reader, if your writing captivates you, entertains you and makes you laugh or cry it will do the same for other people. Not everyone but those who enjoy the same things you do, and that is a lot of people.

If you need support, encouragement, and help, join a writing group, Whittlesey Wordsmiths have helped me enormously.

Killing Time in Cambridge is available at Parker’s newsagents, on Amazon, from Niche Comics and Books Huntingdon, Waterstones and whittleseywordsmiths.com.

Book Review – The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton By Edith Wharton Published by Wordsworth Editions

“One can remain alive … if one is unafraid of change, insatiable in intellectual curiosity interested in big things and happy in small ways” ––Edith Wharton

The nights are drawing in, there’s a nip in the air and with Halloween just around the corner, it feels like the perfect time to curl up with a mug of hot chocolate and a good ghost story or two. So, this month I’m reviewing The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton; a collection of well-paced, atmospheric, spooky short stories.

Wharton (1862–1937), Pulitzer Prize winner for her novel The Age of Innocence, claimed she didn’t believe in ghosts whilst paradoxically admitting she was frightened of them. Her interest in the paranormal began during her childhood and continued into her adult life with writers like M. R. James and Walter de la Mare some of her favourite authors in the field.  The writing style of this beautifully written compilation is comparable to Henry James including the speech and dialect that is very much of its time, which some readers may find a little dated but I feel only adds to the intrigue and suspense of each brilliantly crafted story. With fifteen separate stories in total, set in or around the period they were penned, the reader is also given a window into the social history of the time, which, although not that long ago, almost feels other worldly itself. Be warned though, if you’re looking for horror stories, or out-and-out tales of terror, this is not the book for you. 

Wharton’s style of writing is both subtle and sublime, weaving a sense of foreboding, menace, and mystery into her stories rather than outright revelation, cleverly building a sense of dread before leaving the reader hauntingly intrigued. And, with fifteen tales to choose from, The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton is the perfect ghostly companion for those whose reading time is limited.

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 – Mine by @kellyflorentia published by @bloodhoundbook

“I remained too much inside my head and ended up losing my mind” ––Edgar Allan Poe

This is Kelly Florentia’s fourth novel (read my fab interview with her here) and first psychological thriller. It is also a first for me by this author, and as a huge fan of the genre, I’m pleased to say it didn’t disappoint. Easy to read, intense, and full of twists and turns, ‘Mine’ will keep you gripped from start to finish.

The story opens with a prologue; the voice of the narrator, anonymous, says, “I know what you did and you have to pay. All I’ve got to do is figure out a way to get rid of you. For good”.

Chapter one then introduces us to Lucy Harper, the main protagonist; endearing, suspicious, and at times quite gullible. Reeling from her recent divorce to ex-husband, Andrew, who left her for her long-time school friend, Jasmine, Lucy relies a little too heavily on alcohol to get by, which often clouds her judgement and makes her recall unreliable. She wakes from an evening out unable to remember how she got home, and worse still, who the man in her bed is. He seems pleasant enough, and as he replays their boozy night back to her, Lucy slowly but surely remembers who he is; Teddy Fallon, the new gardener of her best friend Alison, who, with the help of her mother, Karen, set the pair up on a blind date. Teddy is keen to meet again, Lucy less so. However, when Lucy receives an anonymous text message, including a photo, accusing her of something she’s sure she didn’t do, her life begins to spiral, setting off a chain of events that sees her shunned by her friends and suspicious of everyone around her. The texts keep coming with the emphasis on blackmail, and the only person Lucy can confide in, the only person who seems to believe her, is mild-mannered Teddy, but even that’s questionable at times.

Full of believable, well rounded characters, ‘Mine’ is a gripping, fast-paced debut thriller that will see you turning the pages long into the night. I did figure out the final reveal, however, guessing the ending didn’t make reading this fab novel any less thrilling. On the contrary, it is full of so many intriguing revelations and surprises, I often found myself doubting my hunches as much as poor Lucy did.