#Bookreview – Missing Pieces by @LauraPAuthor Published by @AgoraBooksLDN

“How fragile our lives are anyway. How quickly things can change.” –Nancy E. Turner

Missing Pieces is the beautifully crafted debut novel by Laura Pearson. It is also the first book I’ve read by this author and although heart-wrenchingly sad, I’m pleased to say it is also a story about love, hope and healing.

Written in the third person, this is a family-based drama that explores the ripple effect that one devastating moment can bring to a family. Composed of two parts, each chapter title is a date, with a sub-heading stating the number of ‘days after’. The opening chapter, ‘5th August 1985’, ‘21 Days After’, is incredibly sad. “The coffin was too small. Too small to contain what it did…” and it quickly becomes apparent that Linda and Tom Sadler, who have befallen some sort of tragedy, are burying their three-year-old daughter, Phoebe. Phoebe’s older sister, Esme, is also present, but the circumstances concerning the family’s misfortune are not revealed until much later in the story. What is clear, though, is how the grief of each character differs, but nonetheless sees them all struggling to communicate honestly with one another, which undoubtedly affects all their lives, both as individuals and collectively as a family.

Part Two introduces us to Bea, Esme, and Phoebe’s younger sister. It is 2011 ‘9610 Days After’ and Bea, estranged from her family, is living in London. However, a life-changing decision sees her moving back to the family home. But it’s not a decision she makes lightly, not after a childhood where loneliness was more acute when she was with her family than when she wasn’t.

Written with great sympathy and empathy, Missing Pieces is a story about motherhood, family, and the heart-breaking grief that follows the loss of a young child. However, it is also a redemptive tale that reminds us how healing forgiveness is, and how powerful love is.

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

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.

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.

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.