#Bookreview – The Orphan of Ironbridge by @rebeccamascull #MollieWalton Published by @ZaffreBooks

“In family life, love is the oil that eases friction, the cement that binds closer together, and the music that brings harmony.” ––Friedrich Nietzsche

I haven’t read much historical fiction for a while, but after a recent trip to Ironbridge, which, if you’ve never been, is well worth a visit, this seemed very apt. Addictive and heart-warming, it didn’t disappoint.

Set in the nineteenth century in the real town of Ironbridge, The Orphan of Ironbridge was inspired by the author’s trip to the world’s first iron bridge, which was erected over the River Severn in Telford in 1779. The main protagonist, Hettie Jones, is the spirited and kind-hearted adoptive daughter of the hard-working Malone family. Loving and proud, the Malone’s raised Hettie after her mother died and her father was deported. They love Hettie as one of their own, and she loves them, especially Evan, the second eldest son. Working as a pit bank girl, Hettie’s job is physical hard graft. However, Hettie’s fortunes change when she is summoned to meet with Queenie, head of the wealthy King family, inviting her to become her ladies’ maid. Hettie accepts the offer, which shocks the Malone’s and causes a rift between her and her adoptive family. This, in part, is because of ongoing animosity between the two families, some of which is attributed to the death of the eldest Malone son, Owen, who died in a fire at the King’s family home. However, Hettie’s succession leads to very intriguing and unforeseen circumstances.

Unaware at the time of reading it, this is the third and final instalment in The Ironbridge Saga. However, it works perfectly well as a standalone and took nothing away from my enjoyment of this beautifully written story. Well researched, evocative, and hugely compelling The Orphan of Ironbridge is a gritty period drama, brimming with history and family angst, and above all else, filled with love and hope.

If you’d like to know more about the author, click on the following links.

https://molliewalton.co.uk/

https://www.facebook.com/RebeccaMascull

https://www.facebook.com/MollieWaltonbooks

https://www.instagram.com/beccamascull/

https://www.tiktok.com/@beccamascull

Twitter: @rebeccamascull

#Bookreview – The Baby Shower by @SELynesAuthour Published by @bookouture

“The truth will out in the end.” ––William Shakespeare

Released in March this year, The Baby Shower is a taut, multi-layered psychological thriller exploring the themes of friendship (good and bad), infidelity, gaslighting, infertility, broken families and, rather interestingly, male consent.   

Set in present day Wimbham, a fictional, once scruffy South London suburb, but now a gentrified smart London village, this is the story of thirty-somethings Jane and Frankie Reece who, although not particularly wealthy, each run their own successful businesses; Jane, as the owner of an independent coffee shop, and Frankie, who has his own plumbing company. Like most married couples, they’ve had their share of problems, but overall, they are happy. Jane’s friendship circle – Sophie, Hils and Kath – is small but close, and, coming from a broken home, one that Jane puts great value on. However, when Sophie introduces someone new to the group, Jane’s world is turned upside down. Lexie, with her glossy hair and flawless skin, who looks like she’s just stepped out of a magazine, doesn’t like Jane, which is obvious from the outset, but only to Jane, because Lexie is a master manipulator, which often sees Jane confused and questioning herself, wondering if she’s being oversensitive, or imagining things until, within a week of Lexie’s arrival, she has an uncomfortable sense of no longer belonging.  

Easy to read but brilliantly written with well-drawn, realistically flawed, believable characters, The Baby Shower is a suspenseful, pacy page turner that delves into the murky world of toxic friends and relationships. The author writes with great compassion and sensitivity about fertility and pregnancy, and I particularly enjoyed some of her witty social observations, which, despite being a psychological thriller, had me laughing out loud at times. I suspected the outcome quite early on, but it did nothing to spoil my enjoyment of this fabulous book.

If you’d like to know more about the author you can read my interview with her here.

#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.”