The Writer’s Cats by Muriel Barbery, illustrated by Maria Guitart

A very big thank you to Isabelle over at Gallic for gifting me this wonderful book! As you might have gathered I am a huge fan of Muriel’s, and this is simply a treat!

Synopsis

Like so many writers, Muriel Barbery is a lover of cats. Grey-furred and amber-eyed (matching her home décor), Barbery’s four Chartreux cats keep her company as she works from her house in the French countryside, entertaining her with their quirks and foibles, inspiring her with their beauty, and soothing her nerves.

But that’s not all. For Kirin, Ocha, Mizu and Petrus – named after the writer’s love of all things Japanese, and, in true French style, of good wine – are no ordinary felines. These intelligent creatures have taken it upon themselves to guide their owner’s writing – flicking aside sections of her manuscript with a disdainful tail, pointing an approving paw at others. And it’s time these put-upon literary consultants got the recognition they deserve.

With delicious wit and irony, the international bestselling author of The Elegance of the Hedgehog gives an insight into her writing life – and the paws behind the pen. Accompanied by delightful illustrations by Maria Guitart, The Writer’s Cats is the perfect gift for cat lovers and book lovers everywhere.

Thoughts

Exquisite!

In this ever so clever illustrated story, sneak a peak into Muriel’s intimacy and writing process.

Through an incredible amount of humility and poetry, she shares with the readers how Kirin, Ocha, Mizu and Petrus provide invaluable assistance to cure the symptomatic writer’s afflictions: restlessness, doubt, denial.

Every single one of us needs help sometimes, and what a beautiful way to admit it, doing so through paws and meows. 

She opens the doors to her home and her heart with much ingenuity, and Maria’s illustrations accompany it all so well; It is simply delightful!

It is out on 19 October so make sure to pre-order a copy! And if you haven’t read any work by Muriel Barbery yet, I can only try and persuade you to do so: The Elegance of the Hedgehog is a masterpiece!

–About the Author – Muriel Barbery–

Muriel Barbery is a former lecturer in philosophy and the author of four previous novels, including the IMPAC-shortlisted multimillion-copy bestseller The Elegance of the Hedgehog. Published in France in 2006 and in the UK in 2008, the novel was translated in 44 countries, selling more than 10 million copies worldwide, and was described by Le Figaro as ‘the publishing phenomenon of the decade’. Muriel drew on her own experience of living in Kyoto, where she was a writer in residence at the Villa Kujoyama for two years. She has also lived in Amsterdam and Paris and now lives in the French countryside.

“Her Little Secret” by Julia Stone – Blog Tour

Thank you very much to the Orion Dash team for having me on this tour!

Synopsis

His therapist. Their love affair. Her Little Secret.

Cristina knows all about boundaries. As a therapist, it is vital that she keeps her clients at a professional distance.

Enter new client Leon: educated, charming, affluent — and newly bereaved, following the death of his married lover, Michelle. Cristina soon learns that Leon has an ulterior motive for approaching her: Michelle was one of her clients, and Leon is desperate for her insights into the woman he loved.

Moved by the depth of his feelings, Cristina is drawn to help him through his grief. But as she struggles to ignore her own growing attraction to sophisticated, attentive Leon, her boundaries start to blur and then collapse, and the two embark on their own clandestine love affair.

But why does Leon switch so quickly from charm to criticism, attentiveness to distance? Can anyone truly be as perfect as he paints his beloved Michelle to have been, and what is hidden inside of her off-limits therapy file? Torn between her conscience and curiosity, Cristina is about to discover the truth is far beyond anything she could have imagined…

For fans of You, Before I Go to Sleep and Obsession, Her Little Secret is an utterly chilling new psychological thriller about obsessive love and the danger of crossing lines.

Review

The French say you can’t play chess if you are kind-hearted. Like war, you need strategy and a killer instinct to win“.

A very interesting take on psychology and therapy, bound to make you feel quite tense as you never know how far things will escalate to. 

After the death of her father, Cristina isn’t quite sure how she fits in, how to move forward. She is on and off with her ex-husband Davy, who is himself moving on. She’s still grieving and this makes her connect more deeply and differently with Leon. 

The reader really gets to delve into the characters’ psyche and witnesses the psychological shift that operates in Cristina’s head. She is desperate to appear (and be) professional after a year off, but Leon somehow manages to get her to let her guard down.

It truly was fascinating to get prime access to the “behind the scenes” and insights into a therapist brain; especially when said therapist becomes her own worst enemy. Human nature and human brains are so ambivalent. There are always many different options, different reasons hidden behind someone’s behaviour.

In this book, you are much more than a reader. You become an observer, a voyeur, it is somehow intimate. You are privy to Cristina’s internal struggles between her ethics, personal and professional, and her desire of acceptance from this man who she is falling for. 

She wants to save him as much as to be loved by him. All along Leon slowly weaves this web, demonstrating strange behaviour that you can’t help but try and analyse with her. 

The more Leon drags her into this bizarre menage a 3 with his late lover Michelle, against whom Cristina cannot help but compare herself to, the more boundaries are slipping away, the lies are increasing, and the insecurities intensify.

Will Cristina let herself get tangled in all of it? What are Leon’s real intentions? Will she throw away her whole life, friends, career for him? What are their respective secrets?

Get a copy today to find out!

With Love
AGJ

Out now in e-format and paperback with Orion Dash.

About the Author – Julia Stone

Julia Stone is a psychologist, trainer, coach, and psychotherapist. She attended Faber Academy in 2017 and in 2018 won The Blue Pencil First Novel award. Julia has a background in psychology and psychotherapy and has a passion for writing and the arts.  She was born in London and has lived east, north and west but never made it south of the river. Several years ago she moved to the countryside and now lives in rural Suffolk with her partner and varying numbers of ducks, muntjac and moorhens.

Don’t forget to check out what my fellow bloggers are saying!

Bonus Content: The Inspiration for Her Little Secret by Julia Stone

This morning my Twitter followers expanded by one, with the addition of a famous international actor. Of course, I politely followed back – having first checked his profile. He has the photo, the banner header, the many images from his films, and the requisite thousands of followers. It appears to be him. But that begs two questions: how could I ever be sure that this person is who they say they are? And, if he is Mr Megastar, then why on earth would he be following me?

These questions relate to the original inspiration behind Her Little Secret. What if a client presents a story which isn’t true? In my work with couples I sometimes hear two completely different versions of events. Like a mirror image. She paints him as a miser. He describes her as wasting their savings. Both believe their interpretation is ‘the truth’. But how would I know if one of them was lying to me?

How would you know if a stranger is lying to you from the start? TV detective programmes suggest there are visual ‘tells’, a scratch of the nose, eye contact maintained too long. Stories which are too detailed, too consistent. But these are amateurs’ mistakes, a practised liar knows how to lie.

Cristina, the therapist in Her Little Secret, observes: ‘Unlike prospective employers, it would be frowned on for a therapist to search social media for background information, check out websites or scour LinkedIn CVs… All we have to work on is what the client choses to share with us.’ Cristina doesn’t get to meet her client’s friends and family, she doesn’t see them at work or at home in the evenings. All she knows is what she sees, hears and feels in the therapy sessions. 

But what if someone came for therapy and didn’t tell the truth? What possible reason could they have…?  These were the questions that got me thinking.

As a therapist, Cristina has been trusted with a lot of secrets. Leon is being selective with the truth because he wants something – something only Cristina can tell him. The story idea blossomed from there.

What does she know that he wants to find out? 

What drives his desperation? And how far will he go to get what he wants? 

“The Garfield Conspiracy” by Owen Dwyer – Blog Tour

Thank you very much to Sofia Saghir and Midas PR for organising this tour and having me on board!

It’s out not with Liberties Press. 

Synopsis

Richard Todd, an award-winning writer, is outwardly successful but inwardly plagued by uncertainties. Worst of all, he can’t seem to write any more. When a bright young editor, Jenny Lambe, arrives on his doorstep to work with him on his latest book, about the assassination of US president James Garfield, his life is sent spinning off in a new direction.

President Garfield was killed by Charles Guiteau, who was tried and hanged for the murder. But was he acting alone, in July 1881, or was there a more sinister force at work? Richard hears Guiteau’s voice in his head, and as his relationship with Jenny deepens, he is visited by other characters from the assassination drama – including Garfield himself, his Secretary of State James Blaine, Republican senator Roscoe Conkling, Conkling’s mistress Kate Chase Sprague, and the investigating police officer, Detective McElfresh. Are they helping Richard to solve the mystery surrounding Garfield’s murder – or pushing him further towards the edge?

A remarkable, disturbing portrait of a middle-aged man torn between his carefully constructed life and new adventures which may beckon, in the present and the past, from one of Ireland’s most exciting emerging authors, and based on original research into a little-known period in US history.

Review

A refreshing and interesting read!

Richard has unfortunately reached the point in his life where he’s facing the so-called “writer’s block”. Unsure what to write about next, he’s chosen to dive into the conspiracy behind the assassination of President Garfield in 1881. 

But that’s not going that great either..

When his publisher sends him Jenny Lambe to assist with his work, his world will become a rollercoaster, gifting him a one-way ticket to rock bottom. 

Falling madly in love with Jenny, he is addicted to being revered. Since his fame has wilted, due to years without any quality writing, this new jolt arrives as a godsend… or is it tolling the bells..?  

The more he throws his life away, the weirder his research around Garfield turns out. When Secretary of State Blaine, Senator Conkling, Vice President Arthur and Officer McElfresh start being more than words in books, it really looks like the beginning of the end.

From voices in his head to proper physical manifestations, Richard’s mind conjures up all the protagonists that can help him untangle the conspiracy surrounding Garfield’s death, along with Charles Guiteau himself, driving Richard into fear and folly, guiding him to the truth. 

Charles Guiteau was indeed the murderer. But was he that insane? Did he get a nudge in the “right” direction by someone close to Garfield? Or was he even pushed? He believed he acted in the name of “the Deity”, his action sanctioned by God, but was it solely God who suggested he should kill? 

Through all those conversations, the reader follows as much the history surrounding this period of US political life, as Richard’s analysis of his own failures and shortcomings. Those characters give him clues as to who might have had something to gain from Garfield’s death, but not only. They question him about his existence, his future, forcing Richard to confront his mid-life crisis and through analysing his past, his marriage, his upbringing, his new relationship with Jenny. 

A really cleverly crafted novel, mixing historical facts amongst fictional writing, informative without drowning the reader into too much boring data, just the right amount of investigation versus personal internal struggles. 

It is a subject I didn’t know much about an I’m glad I’ve been given the opportunity to read this book!

Was it really a political necessity or a plot for power? Only one way to find out!

With Love
AGJ

About the Author

Owen Dwyer is a prize-winning short-story writer who has won the Hennessy Emerging Fiction Prize, the Silver Quill (twice), the Smiling Politely Very Very Short Story competition, the South Tipperary County Council Short Story competition and the Biscuit Fiction Prize, and has had stories published in Whispers and Shouts magazine. His previous novel, Number Games, was published to glowing reviews by Liberties Press in 2019, and follows The Cherry-picker (2012) and The Agitator (2004). Owen lives in Dublin with his wife and their three children.

Don’t forget to check out what my fellow bloggers are saying!

“A Single Rose” by Muriel Barbery – Blog Tour

I have to start this post by saying how grateful I am to Isabelle over at Gallic Books for having me on this tour, and for gifting me this wonderful book. 

I loved The Elegance of the Hedgehog so much that I couldn’t resist this one! Huge Muriel fan here!! 

Having read it in French I can also only praise Alison Anderson for a fabulous translation. 

Synopsis

The temples and teahouses of Kyoto are the scene of a Frenchwoman’s emotional awakening in the stunning fifth novel by international bestseller Muriel Barbery.

Rose has turned 40, but has barely begun to live. When the Japanese father she never knew dies and she finds herself an orphan, she leaves France for Kyoto to hear the reading of his will.

In the days before Haru’s last wishes are revealed, his former assistant, Paul, takes Rose on a tour of the temples, gardens and eating places of this unfamiliar city. Initially a reluctant tourist and awkward guest in her late father’s home, Rose gradually comes to discover Haru’s legacy through the itinerary he set for her, finding gifts greater than she had ever imagined.

This stunning novel from international bestseller Muriel Barbery is a mesmerising story of second chances, of beauty born out of grief and roses grown from ashes.

Review

A single rose is every rose

This short beauty (only 140 pages!) is a philosophical prowess: it forces you to question and reflect on so many different aspects that it puts you in a state of transcendence…

I’m not going to lie the first time I read it I wasn’t sure, so I read it again, in a calm and solitary manner, far away from all possible distractions, and then, it simply hit me.

What a powerful and beautiful read! Utterly thought provoking, and pure poetry, Muriel’s style is, as always, stunning and I can’t praise her enough! 

So cleverly crafted, this book is a wonderful ode to Japan, with each chapter beginning by a Japanese tale, somehow matching Rose’s own journey in this unknown country.

Rose is such a grabbing character, enigmatic botanist, she has a very skewed and warped version of life and of herself. You dive into her psyche and the incredible journey she embarks on.  

She flies to Kyoto to hear the reading of her father’s, Haru, will. Little did she know that he’d asked his assistant, Paul, to take her round on a tour of the city, and that this tour will trigger a rift in her.

How many people ever come to know their father through the child he once was?

She never had a father in her life, but somehow there’s always been a link between them that she will get to discover. By following the path he wished for her through the temples, she gets to familiarise herself with his legacy, whilst freeing herself of the shackles of her existence.  

Full of compelling metaphors, allegories and other “figures de style“, this beautiful and touching story is bound to make you question your life and beyond… “If a person is not ready to suffer, they are not ready to live” that’s quite something to think about… 

Similarly to a flower, Rose will feel her corolla grow, expand, in the hope of anchoring some roots. As she goes from temple to temple, meet extraordinary people who knew her father, she manages to distance herself from this unhappiness that grabbed her one day and never left, from her mother’s melancholy and sorrow that clearly defined her, from the absence she’s always lived with. 

You have to die a first time in order to be truly born”.

Rose’s voyage pushes grief and mourning to the forefront of the mind. To discover who she is, she has to embrace what she has lost: grieving the loss of her mother, her grandmother, the death of her father, along with the missed opportunity of ever having a relationship with him, the loss of her childhood, of who she once was… acceptance is the key but it isn’t a painless task for a person who has never allowed themselves to feel.

From the food to people and places, the experience is far from anodyne. Muriel’s divine words will transport you to this foreign and spiritual land, through time, space and memory, unlocking feelings alongside Rose.

There is so much more that I could say but I do not want to spoil this lyrical wonder for you! The only way is to pick up a copy (why not directly there to support Gallic Books, it’s out on 23rd of September : https://belgraviabooks.com/product/a-single-rose) and experience it for yourself.

When I finished it the second time, it left me the opposite of speechless… in need of discoursing on, dissecting and analysing it!

So when you pick it up, please, please write to me to discuss it! I can’t wait to know what everyone else thinks!

I will simply leave you with what I might refer to as my favorite quote (but there are just so many to choose from that triggered something in me that I cannot be certain) “the mere fact of being alive means that all the risks have already been taken”.

With Love
AGJ

–About the Author – Muriel Barbery–

Muriel Barbery is a former lecturer in philosophy and the author of four previous novels, including the IMPAC-shortlisted multimillion-copy bestseller The Elegance of the Hedgehog. Published in France in 2006 and in the UK in 2008, the novel was translated in 44 countries, selling more than 10 million copies worldwide, and was described by Le Figaro as ‘the publishing phenomenon of the decade’. Muriel drew on her own experience of living in Kyoto, where she was a writer in residence at the Villa Kujoyama for two years. She has also lived in Amsterdam and Paris and now lives in the French countryside.

Don’t forget to check what my fellow bloggers are saying!

The Undying Tower by Melissa Welliver – Blog Tour

Thank you so much Peyton and Agora Books for having me on this tour, what a treat to have had the privilege of reading the first installment in what promises to be a fantastic and epic YA trilogy!

Synopsis

What if living forever was a death sentence?

Decades after the discovery that a small percentage of the population has stopped ageing, the Avalonia Zone is in crisis. From overpopulation to food shortages, the ‘Undying’ have been blamed for the state’s problems, banished to the fringes of society, and punished for every minor infraction.

When sixteen-year-old Sadie takes the fall for an attack by a rebel group, The Alchemists, she suddenly finds herself wrenched away from her quiet life and from her ailing father.

Armed with little help and even less knowledge, Sadie is thrust into a cold and cryptic ‘correctional facility’ – The Tower. Here she’ll have to rethink everything she’s been told about the Undying population in an attempt to save the life she knows, protect a group of unlikely friends, and give voice to the voiceless in a society on the brink of catastrophic upheaval.

Review

Welcome to the Avalonia Zone.

After nuclear bombings, climate change and riots, the world as we know it has ceased to exist. Instead, this dystopian world has taken over, and the Protectorate rules over the AZ. Many areas such as London are radioactive and inhabitable, and the population has been divided and rationed. 

Although, saying “divided” doesn’t quite cut it. 

During this period of evolution, more and more people have stopped aging past 25 years old, and developed heightened senses and skills: “The Undying”. Representing 5% of the population, they became chastised and marginalised in a frightening and demeaning way, forced to live in ghettos and given dangerous jobs.

The Protectorate managed to instigate fear towards them, referring to them as “Locust”, and marking them for all “Normals” to see: branding them with a blue armband monogramed with the letter U…

This new order is strongly in place, with banned words and items, related to religion or monarchy, and brainwashing the kids through rewritten history and mandatory attendance to public executions. 

However like in any oppressive dictatorship, an elusive group of rebel is fighting for freedom: The Alchemists. Friends or foes? So-called terrorists but are they really? 

During one of said Undying execution, an Alchemist bomb goes off and our main protagonist Sadie, gets arrested for it. Sadie is no ordinary teenager. She is a model citizen and does everything she can to succeed. She takes care of her dad who is awaiting a heart transplant, and apart from her best friend Jasper, she pretty much keeps to herself and is driven to become an artist.

But the most fascinating thing about Sadie, is that her emotions translate into sounds, smells, tastes and colours… How incredible is that? I’d really like to know why Melissa made those choices as regard to associating particular colours and smells to specific emotions…

In this really accomplished and cleverly crafted novel, going back and forth through time between the few weeks preceding the blast and now, the reader embarks on Sadie’s journey and discover the infuriating and unfair world she lives in. 

A word of caution though, once you start, you won’t be able to put it down, you just get hooked from page 1!

I am truly impressed by the fact this is a debut, it is so well written and thought through, drawing sometimes from historical facts. Sadie is perfection. You witness her evolution from naïve and oblivious to what is really going on around her, thanks to the people she gets to meet and the hidden truths uncovered. She is a true heroine, becoming a new version of herself as the story unfolds, discovering things about herself, her past, her parents, the world she lives in, unleashing the powers hidden within herself and accomplishing things she never even imagined were possible!

From striking a deal with the head of the Anti-Terrorism Unit, accepting to spy in prison to find out an Alchemist mole, in exchange of hope of a heart for her dad, little did she know about what was waiting for her behind those doors…

I cannot say anymore by fear of blurting out a spoiler so I will simply leave you with those words: pick a copy straight away and join us down in Avalonia ! Once you’ve read it, you too will be seeing all pink and turquoise!

Out now with Agora Books

With Love,
AGJ

–About the Author – Melissa Welliver–

Melissa Welliver writes speculative fiction about how the End Of The World is never really the end of the world. After studying MA Creative Writing under Jeanette Winterson at the University of Manchester, she went on to complete Curtis Brown Creative’s Writing for Children course. Her work has listed in Bath Novel Award, Mslexia, the Hachette Children’s Novel Award, and the Wells Book for Children Competition. She has been published in two short story collections and is an avid member of the Twitter writing community. Born in Stockport, she now lives in the High Peak with an assortment of doggy friends. The Undying Tower is her first novel.

In case you missed it, go check what my fellow bloggers have been saying!

Grown Ups by Marie Aubert – Blog Tour

A very big thank you to Tara McEvoy over at Pushkin Press for having me on this tour!

–Synopsis–

Ida is a forty-year-old architect, single and starting to panic. She’s navigating Tinder and contemplating freezing her eggs, but forces these worries to the back of her mind as she sets off to the family cabin for her mother’s sixty-fifth birthday.

But family ties old and new begin to wear thin, out in the idyllic Norwegian countryside. Ida is fighting with her sister Marthe, flirting with Marthe’s husband and winning the favour of Marthe’s stepdaughter. Some supposedly wonderful news from her sister sets tensions simmering even further, building to an almighty clash between Ida and her sister, her mother, her whole family.

Exhilarating, funny and unexpectedly devastating, Grown Ups asks what kind of adult you are without a family of your own.

–Review–

A short, nevertheless very thought-provoking book! 

Through this honest portrayal of antipathic Ida and her dysfunctional family, you are pulled into this eternal debate of “what does it mean to be a “grown-up”?

Ida is 40, single, and demonstrates quite a few self destructing traits. Life as she believes she should have hasn’t materialised for her, but does she really want it to? 

In her eyes, her sister Marthe is the opposite of who Ida aspires to be, but somehow has it all: a boyfriend Kristoffer, a step daughter Olea, and, coming as an unwanted surprise to Ida, a baby on the way. Ida wants nothing more than to overtake her.. or does she really?

Their mother has settled with her long term boyfriend Stein, having had to suffer through the girls father deserting them when they were young. She sparks up the siblings rivalry but is it on purpose or is she simply oblivious?

In this very clever book, wonderfully translated by Rosie Hedger, Marie Aubert takes no kid gloves to show that as much as we’re sometimes pretending, in the end aren’t we just still kids playing grown ups? 

Tantrums, jealousy, lies, selfishness, deceptions, cries for attention, as much as Ida and Marthe try to pretend to have it all figured out and together, they’re bickering and behaving like 6 year old, experiencing the same feelings they did when they were young. 

What shapes our behaviour? Does being a parent, owning a cabin, driving a boat, really means being a grown up? “You have to let kids be kids”.. but do we ever really stop being kids? 

With Love
AGJ

Out now with Pushkin Press 

–About the Author – Marie Aubert–

Marie Aubert was born in 1979 and lives in Oslo. She made her debut with the short story collection Can I Come Home with You (2016), which was a huge success in Norway, selling more than 10,000 copies. Her acclaimed first novel Grown-ups (2019) won the Young People’s Critics’ Prize, and was nominated for the Booksellers’ Prize.

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TSARINA by Ellen Alpsten

An absolute masterpiece! Thank you so much to Becky Hunter for gifting me this wonderful book! I cannot wait to finish the sequel “The Tsarina’s Daughter” for my spot on the upcoming blog tour.

–Synopsis–

Lover, mother, murderer, Tsarina

1699: Illegitimate, destitute and strikingly beautiful, Marta is sold into labour at the age of fifteen – where in desperation she commits a crime that will force her to go on the run.

Cheating death at every turn, she is swept into the current of the Great Northern War. Working as a washer woman at a battle camp, she catches the eye of none other than Peter the Great. Passionate and iron-willed, Peter has a vision for transforming the traditionalist Tsardom of Russia into a modern, Western empire.

With nothing but wits, courage and formidable ambition, Marta will rise from nothing to become Catherine I of Russia. But it comes at a steep price and is tied to the destiny of Russia itself.

–Review–

Ellen Alpsten is such a talented writer and storyteller. She has expertly crafted an historical novel into an addictive page turner.

1725, INTERREGNUM, Peter the Great is dead, and Catherine (formerly known as Marta) only has a few hours to make or break her destiny.

Whilst she waits for the Council to arrive, she thinks back on her life… and what a life she has led!

Her story is one of bravery, love, resilience, strength, courage, dedication. Her journey through the world is simply breathtaking. Catherine went through so much, had to endure so much, however she had but one motto: show no fear.

Amidst the wars, feasts and famines, social pressures to abide by, such as the dreaded “obligation” to produce sons, Ellen very skillfully depicts what it was like to be a woman in this men’s world. 

Despite it all, Catherine had a very singular relationship with Peter. He chose her (makta), and she chose him (tsarik). She stood by him through all the storms, through his obsessions and ambitions, she accompanied him to almost all the battle camps during the Wars against Sweden or Persia, she nursed him through is long lasting disease (syphilis). 

Peter’s relationship with people, and especially his own son from his previous marriage, were quite tumultuous and she always acted in the background to try and appease things. Catherine was good, kind and lenient. She saved many people from his wraths and managed to secure long lasting friendships and loyalty amongst his closest. Her influence in the background was key, but too often forgotten by historians.

Peter’s reign was one of major changes, new territories, new laws (many, many of them), new capital erected from the ground up (St Petersburg), constitution of a Senate, and much more. Peter was desperate to shake things up and tear apart the old customs, build a new world. In the shadows she played such an important role in this tumultuous period which reshaped Russia, and it simply is a delight to ready this beauty of a book, giving her back the credit that she duly deserved.

Through hell and back, from poverty to wealth, from washerwoman to Empress, Catherine’ story is an inspiration and I am truly grateful to Ellen for sharing her extraordinarily detailed amount of research with the world to bring us this book. 

I personally adored the descriptions of all the jewels… As a qualified gemologist I was pleased to see Ellen’s depictions matching my own (limited) knowledge in this respect!

Ellen’s writing is spectacular, I was completely hooked from the start and couldn’t put it down. Even if I had vague notions of this part of Russian history, reading this incredible destiny greatly enhanced my knowledge and desire to know more. It is a book that everyone should read (although a word of caution, this is not a story for the fainthearted!)

Ellen, if not done so already, it has to be translated in French, I know a few people who will absolutely love this!

With Love
AGJ

TW: rape, adultery, sex, abuse, death, violence, still birth
Out now and available in hardback, paperback, e-format and audio – Published by Bloomsbury Publishing

–About the Author – Ellen Alpsten–

Novelist and journalist

Ellen Alpsten was born and raised in the Kenyan highlands, before attending L’Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Paris. Whilst studying for her Msc in PPE she won the Grande École short story competition with her novella Meeting Mr. Gandhi and was encouraged to continue writing.

Upon graduating, she worked as a producer and presenter for Bloomberg TV in London: knowing no-one and working gruesome night shifts on breakfast TV, she started to write in earnest, every day, after work and a nap. Tsarina, the first and only account of the incredible rise of Catherine I of Russia from serf to Empress, is her debut novel. 

Today, Ellen works as an author and as a journalist for international publications such as  VogueStandpoint and CN Traveller. She lives in London with her husband, three children and a chubby, moody fox-red Labrador.

The Readers’ Room by Antoine Laurain

Thanks so much to Isabelle over at Gallic Books for my copy of this fantastic book! 

I absolutely loved it! Obviously it’s a French author so I start biased but I just adore Antoine’s books ! 

Quick (only 182 pages), easy and so so gripping it’s just perfection ! 

Violaine Lepage is a woman of many vices. And after a near death experience during a plane crash, she seems to have forgotten them all! Somehow the accident makes her a better version of herself. She doesn’t smoke anymore, she no longer is unfaithful, but what else might have she forgotten…

Through the pages, Antoine Laurain pays homage to many authors, and especially Proust.  Violaine cannot remember aspects of her life, but rather than reminiscing with a taste, smell or other sensations, her madeleine is actually Marcel Proust himself, philosophising with her. 

Such a clever book! A mystery with a pinch of romance, philosophy, psychology, identity, sprinkled with inexplicable events, leaving you wondering, triggering your imagination and opening up your power of  interpretation! 

A wonderful nod to books and their magic, conjured up when a reader picks them up. Books have a life of their own…

It is a book that you will want to read several times… at least I know I will!! 

For my French friends, you can find this beauty published under the title “Le Service des Manuscripts”.

With Love
AGJ

Out now

— Synopsis—

When the manuscript of a debut crime novel arrives at a Parisian publishing house, everyone in the readers’ room is convinced it’s something special. And the committee for France’s highest literary honour, the Prix Goncourt, agrees. 

But when the shortlist is announced, there’s a problem for editor Violaine Lepage: she has no idea of the author’s identity. As the police begin to investigate a series of murders strangely reminiscent of those recounted in the book, Violaine is not the only one looking for answers. And, suffering memory blanks following an aeroplane accident, she’s beginning to wonder what role she might play in the story … 

Diamonds at the Lost and Found by Sarah Aspinall – BLOG TOUR

— Synopsis —

Thank you so much to Hannah at Midas PR and to 4th Estate the publisher for having me on this blog tour, and to Sarah Aspinall for writing such a gem.

For readers of Hideous Kinky, Dadland and Bad Blood; the astonishing, beguiling story of Sarah Aspinall’s harum scarum childhood, and a love letter to a woman who defied convention to live a life less ordinary.

My Mother attracted unusual people and events to her, and she made things happen….

Sarah Aspinall grew up in the glittering wake of her irrepressible mother Audrey. Born into poverty in 1930s Liverpool, Audrey had always known that she was destined for better things and was determined to shape that destiny for herself. From the fading seaside glamour of Southport, to New York and Hollywood, to post-war London and the stately homes of the English aristocracy, Audrey stylishly kicked down every door she encountered, on a ceaseless quest for excitement – and for love.

Once Sarah was born, she became Audrey’s companion on her adventures, travelling the world, scraping together an education for herself from the books found in hotels or given to her by strangers, and living on Audrey’s charm as they veered from luxury to poverty – an accessory to her mother’s desperate search for ‘the one’.

As Sarah grew older, she realised that theirs was a life hung about with mysteries. Why, for instance, had they spent ages living in a godforsaken motel in the Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina? Who was the charming Sabet Sabescue, and what was his hold over Audrey during several months in Cairo? And what on earth happened to the heirlooms that an ancient heiress, Miss Gillette, gave Sarah when they visited her in Palm Springs?

And why, when they returned to Southport was Audrey ostracised by the society she so longed to be part of?

Diamonds at the Lost and Found tells the story of how Sarah eventually pulled free of her mother’s gravitational pull to carve out a destiny of her own. It is a beguiling testament to dreams, defying convention and exasperated love.

— Review —

What a fascinating and thought provoking story! In this memoir, Sarah, aka Sally, shares with us the intimate moments of her childhood alongside her very unconventional mother Audrey.  

Let’s get this show on the road” was Audrey’s motto. 

Audrey was many things and so much more, to Sally and everyone they met along the way. She was “a chancer, a dreamer, a procurer, a delinquent, as well as a teller of tales.” She was never standing still, always restless, always wanting more. She needed to dazzle, sparkle, glitter, whether physically or through her personality.

Her life was this never ending quest, this “hunt” for love and fantastic stories, which was as fulfilling as costly. 

Audrey’s duality was simply fascinating: she would have stopped at nothing to get her “happy ever after”, she was a resilient, resourceful, determined and independent woman, who would never take no for an answer and as far from the domestic type as possible, but she was desperate for a man in her life! She somehow couldn’t detach from this primal need; she wouldn’t feel complete without a man!

When Neil, Sally’s father, died ever so young from poorly treated illness, Audrey decided to continue her journey but this time accompanied by Sally, her “partner in crime“.

From Liverpool, to Southport, America, Asia, New Zealand, Australia, Cairo and everywhere in between, on cruise ships, in trains, cars, and hotels around the world, Sally was her wing-woman.

Shocking, funny, heartbreaking, exciting, lonely, and most peculiar, Sally’s coming of age story is simply extraordinary. 

Sarah takes you on this sensory discovery journey, whereby you are growing up with her. You get to experience all those things she discovered. You smell the perfumes, scents of places, of people, you touch the fabrics, delight your eyes and ears with the music, songs and dances. What a wonderful world she got to be part of. 

It certainly had its downsides and finding yourself in the shadow of such an exuberant mother is no easy task.

Audrey probably wouldn’t have won “mother of the year” award, in that she didn’t push for her daughter to have an academic education, she didn’t cook, and was quite self absorbed in her desperate attempts at finding love. Audrey despised all sports (apart from dancing) and cultivated an absolute loathing of getting one’s hair wet, so she never forced Sally to go to school, especially not on swimming days! 

Sally was treated like an adult, used to lure men, included in choreographies and random appearances, she didn’t fit with other kids. She was often alone, sometimes even neglected, so she took refuge in her books and in the company of other travelers, often much older. 

She had to become her own person without much support, and with what she had. Younger she was doing everything to please her mother. She was astonishingly obedient, staying alone for long period of times. She ended up living 2 lives; Audrey’s, and one she got to discover for herself, through art, literature, music, plays and encounters.

Despite Audrey’s self centered personae, she managed to raise an extraordinary girl. She made sure to give her the tools to fend for herself, and instilled in Sally this resilience, this strength and desire for life. She gave her amazing principles such as “all the world loves a tryer“, “don’t ask don’t get“, and she helped shape the woman Sarah has become. 

Such an inspiring story, and I really loved reading a book depicting implicitly the importance of the school of life. This is something too often dismissed, but as equally important as academia, if not more! Success is as much based on what we learn from books and teachers as what we learn in the world and from the people we meet throughout. 

Even if Sally resented her mother for spoiling her education, she was taught so many precious skills that it made up for Audrey’s shortcomings. 

Audrey didn’t want Sally to be a kid but becoming an adult meant to separate from her and she couldn’t bear it. And when the teenage years started kicking in, Sally’s desire to be different from her mother became almost an obsession. 

But can we really escape taking on some of our parents behaviours? Are we doomed to follow in their footsteps? What does it take to free ourselves from the imprints made by them in our DNA?

After all, Audrey did really love Sally, in her own special way, and she gave her everything she thought she could. And this is really what this book is all about: LOVE.  It drives us, consumes us but it is the best feeling in the world, and when you get to experience it you do fell like the luckiest person alive. 

I cannot stop thinking about it, I was transported in this life story that sometimes seemed out of this world. I stickered and post-ited so many pages for further contemplation, especially about the different sides inside ourselves…

Please pick up this book and embark on this magical and thought-provoking journey with Sally and Audrey, you can only come out on the other side feeling somewhat transformed. 

With Love

AGJ

Out now with 4th Estate

— About the Author – Sarah Aspinall —

And don’t forget to check out what my fellow bloggers have to say!

Luster by Raven Leilani

What a sucker punch!

I listened to the audiobook last month, courtesy of NetGalley and Macmillan Audio UK (thank you very much!) and I do understand why it was long listed for the women’s prize for fiction, but more importantly why it won the Dylan Thomas prize! Congratulations Raven, well deserved!!

— Synopsis —

Edie is just trying to survive. She’s messing up in her dead-end admin job in her all-white office, is sleeping with all the wrong men, and has failed at the only thing that meant anything to her, painting. No one seems to care that she doesn’t really know what she’s doing with her life beyond looking for her next hook-up. And then she meets Eric, a white, middle-aged archivist with a suburban family, including a wife who has sort-of-agreed to an open marriage and an adopted black daughter who doesn’t have a single person in her life who can show her how to do her hair. As if navigating the constantly shifting landscape of sexual and racial politics as a young black woman wasn’t already hard enough, with nowhere else left to go, Edie finds herself falling head-first into Eric’s home and family.

Razor sharp, provocatively page-turning and surprisingly tender, Luster by Raven Leilani is a painfully funny debut about what it means to be young now.

— Review —

What are you ready to endure to be loved ? To feel some sort of connection?

Edie is young, broke and doesn’t know what she wants. She’s an artist, she’s struggling, she could be so much more but she just doesn’t know it yet. She doesn’t have anyone who can help her, no family or friends to tell her that she’s worth something so she goes for the worst kind of men and accepts all sorts of horrifying behavior, just to feel something.

She is desperate to find her place in the world, but her job is all but fulfilling, and the relationships she tries to cultivate all seem to turn from bad to worse.

Then, she meets Eric through a dating app. He is married but his wife Rebecca has agreed he could have someone else on the side, under certain rules and conditions… which turns into the zaniest of situation!

Raven’s writing is so clever! She broaches heavy subjects such as class, race, alcoholism, depression in a very subtle fashion.

Crude, poetic, dark and funny, this is such a compelling story.

It makes you feel so uncomfortable, but at the same time hopeful, sad, and laughing out loud.

Through totally madcap situations, Raven go through the extremes to depict how hard it can be to belong somewhere, to find a way through life. Witty and raw, this is a must read (or in this case a “must- listen”!) 

AGJ

TW: depression, sex, violence, racism.

Opinions are my own

Out now
Published by Pan Macmillan

A MAN NAMED DOLL by Jonathan Ames – BLOG TOUR

Thank you very much to Tara @Midas PR and Pushkin Press for having me on this blog tour!

–Synopsis–

Happy Doll is a charming, if occasionally inexpert, private detective living just one sheer cliff beneath the glass houses of Mulholland Drive with his beloved half-Chihuahua half-Terrier, George.

A veteran of both the Navy and LAPD, Doll now works through the night at a local Thai spa that offers its clients a number of special services. Armed with his sixteen-inch steel telescope baton, biting dry humour, and just a bit of a hero complex, the ex-cop sets out to protect the mostly undocumented immigrant women who work there from clients who won’t take “no” for an answer.

Doll gets by just fine following his two basic rules: bark loudly and act first. But when things get out-of-hand with one particularly violent patron, even he finds himself wildly out of his depth.

A MAN NAMED DOLL is a highly addictive and completely unpredictable joyride through the sensuous and violent streets of LA – and a scathing indictment of the corruption, vanity, and inequality that plagues it.

–Review–

So refreshing!

I am a fan of crime fiction and this one didn’t disappoint. It has all the ingredients of a dark and twisted crime novel, with the added bonus of noir humour… Brilliant!

Happy Doll, also referred to as Hank or Hap, is the perfect anti-hero. He’s got some attributes such as strength and deduction, but it all goes wrong. He’s not yet hit rock bottom in his life but he’s about to.

Murphy’s Law catches up to him when his best friend Lou (Shelton) asks him for a kidney, and ends up dead 24 hours later. Doll will stop at nothing to find out what happened even if everything starts to unravel. You follow Doll through the rabbit hole that never seems to end.

My logic was stoned logic; everything I was doing was smart if you were stupid”

As flawed as he is endearing, there is so much depth to Doll’s character despite his facade. With his mother dying during childbirth, being raised by a mocking and unloving father has left its scars. He is committed to getting better though, and is going to therapy (4 times a week).

But despite it all, Happy really tries. He is most loyal to the one relationship in his life, and the most important: the one with George, his unconditionally loving and faithful dog, as happy as its master’s name!

Unfortunate deaths, near misses, violence, disfigurement, absurdity, sarcasm, satire, I could go on and on about the variety of subjects you get to experience whilst reading this book.

A really quick and easy read, that I highly recommend – to be experienced with a pinch (or two!) of salt – I cannot wait for the next books in the series.

There is also a Spotify Playlist (https://open.spotify.com/playlist/4vA6JKnFQPo2qHbKlcD3jK?si=6AbsNGW1QwecpygPqJWxOw) available that I strongly recommend listing to whilst reading. Enjoy!

AGJ

Don’t forget to check out the thoughts of my fellow bloggers on the tour!



–About the Author – Jonathan Ames–



Novelist, essayist, creator of the beloved TV series Bored to Death and Blunt Talk, Jonathan Ames is celebrated not only for his comic sensibilities and devotion to the absurd but for his lurid attraction to inner demons. He is the author of nine books including Wake Up, Sir!The Extra Man and You Were Never Really Here, all published by Pushkin Press. You Were Never Really Here was adapted for an award-winning film, starring Joaquin Phoenix, by Lynne Ramsay.
__

A Man Named Doll, published by Pushkin Press Vertigo on 29 April 2021.

Opinions are my own

FRIDGE by Emma Zadow – BLOG TOUR

I am really excited to be posting about this intriguing playscript today, as it is my stop on the blog tour organised by the great people at Renard Press. Special thanks to Will for having me on board.

Synopsis

Alice hasn’t been home for a while – for seven years, in fact. But when her little sister Lo tries to take her own life, she has to return to the life she left behind. The change of scenery from London to Norfolk proves quite the culture shock, however, and Alice has to confront what she left behind all those years ago.

The sisters’ relationship hasn’t evolved in Alice’s absence, and when she steps through the door she’s plunged back into the same world she escaped from. Set against Norfolk’s bleak landscapes, but masquerading as childhood nostalgia, Fridge is an all-too-familiar exploration of the broken promises of youth, and a bitter exposition of a generation left behind.

Review

As my first playscript review, I truly hope that I have captured enough below to do it justice.

This play is the proof that you don’t need much to make a great story: 3 characters and 1 fridge.

In the wittier of fashions, through references to Disney, tales, music and drinks, Emma transports you back to the 90s and makes you feel nostalgic and certainly in need of escapism.

It’s suffocating, it’s deep and cringey, it’s brilliant.

I read it several times and I just loved discovering new layers, new depth and subtleties after each read.

Lo is struggling with mental illness and depression but has no one to help and support her. She just needs to be loved, and even though Charlie has been the one constant, the anchor, he has always loved Alice.

Alice. She wanted more than this Norfolk life, so she left. She left for London and escaped. She needed it, as much as Lo needed to escape too, even if she tried to do so by very different means.

Alice has had to assume too many different roles: friend, sister, mother. After some reprieve she is now right back in the middle of it all and reminiscing. Nothing has changed, but can it ever? Is there hope that things can get better? You get to embark on the reverie of what once was and what could be.

More importantly: the fridge. What a clever metaphor. The fridge is always there, literally or figuratively depending on the scenes.

It represents so many different things. Sometimes a bus shelter, sometimes a TV, it is so much more than just a prop. As much of a comfort place as it is a prison, it is the key to the whole story. The present, the past and the future, the hiding place and the portal to a different world, a different time, the happiness and the sadness, the escape.

As Emma herself mentioned in an interview, the fridge is there and its meaning left to everyone’s imagination.

Alternating dark and funny, emotional and blunt, the dialogue is well thought through, the protagonists are wonderfully complex, and I have to admit I would really love to see this play!

It took me back to my theater years with my friends, and gosh I miss those days!

I can’t wait for theaters to reopen and to be able to go and enjoy the show.

Out now with Renard Press
Order your copy here: https://renardpress.com/books/fridge-limited-edition-hardback/

About the author – Emma Zadow

https://twitter.com/emmazadow

Emma Zadow is an actor, playwright and screenwriter from Norfolk. She trained at Rose Bruford College as an actor, and her plays have been performed at the Arcola, the Old Red Lion Theatre, Camden Fringe Festival, Norwich Arts Centre and Pleasance Theatre. Emma is an alumni playwright from the Soho Theatre Writers Lab, and she was shortlisted for the ETPEP Award and Tony Craze Award. A BBC New Creative, her screenplays include the hit short film The Cromer Special and Jigging. Emma now lives in London.

Don’t forget to check out my fellow book bloggers reviews on the tour!

Opinions are my own.

AGJ

THE WITNESS by Terry Lynn Thomas – Blog Tour

Thank you very much HQ Stories for having me on this blog tour, it is always a joy to be able to read new gems in advance!

Synopsis

From the USA Today bestselling author, comes the second explosive thriller about attorney Olivia Sinclair who must solve a cold-case murder to clear an innocent man’s name…

HE SAW WHAT YOU DID…

Teenager Ebby Engstrom witnesses a murder – and then passes out. The next morning, he wakes in his bed with no memory of how he got there, and is told his mother was stabbed to death the previous night.

Thirty years later, the case has gone cold, with numerous suspects but no new clues – until Ebby starts having uncontrollable flashbacks to that night. As repressed memories surface, he questions his own role in the murder, leading to a dramatic confession and Ebby’s arrest.

Family friend and attorney Olivia Sinclair is convinced of Ebby’s innocence, but the only way to clear his name is to find the real killer herself. And it seems almost everyone connected to the Engstrom family had a reason to want Cynthia dead…

An unputdownable thriller full of suspense, perfect for fans of Gillian McAllister, Alafair Burke and The Good Fight.

–Review–

If you haven’t read the first one in the Olivia Sinclair’ series, fear not! You won’t be lost as Terry cleverly introduces reminders of what happened in the first installment.

And what a great second one! This time, Olivia is not accused of murder and she is trying to turn her life around.

A truly enjoyable thriller, I read it really quickly in 2 sittings (if only I didn’t need to sleep). Through amazingly fluid writing and a great story line, you get engulfed in the mystery until the end! A steady pace, nothing slow and nothing rushed. Perfect!

This story is so much more than just a chase after a murderer from a 30 year old case. Terry spoils us with gripping side stories that perfectly tie in together in the end! 

Who stole the mysterious gold coins at the time of Cynthia Engstrom’s murder? Where did they disappear?

The protagonists are really well rounded and full of secrets. Everyone has something to hide and you never know who will surprise you next.

Through the clever flashbacks and following Ebby, you are discovering the truth alongside him and you get involved in the story, rooting for him to remember.

What is his family hiding? What are they protecting him from?

What is Mark guilty off? Ebby’s awful brother is certainly not as innocent as he wants us to believe!

Who is this mysterious Leanne in Brian’s life? As Olivia and Brian’s relationship is evolving, has a new threat arisen?

Olivia is such a refreshing protagonist, she’s an attorney, she’s clever but she’s no action woman and doesn’t try to be, she’s authentic, genuinely nice and a great person ! We all want her as our friend if we’re ever accused of murder!

Really great story with all the required ingredients: suspense, romance, betrayal, secrets, family drama.

Another success for Terry Lynn Thomas which should delight the fans of whodunnit stories!

Out 23 April 2021 in e-format (Kindle, Kobo, or check out your preferred site)

Out 10 June 2021 in Paperback and Audio By HQ Stories / HarperCollins 

About the author – Terry Lynn Thomas

Terry Lynn Thomas is the USA Today bestselling author of six historical mysteries. The Drowned Woman (previously published as Neptune’s Daughter) won an IndieBRAG Medallion, The Silent Woman and House of Lies released to critical acclaim and became USA Today bestsellers. The Betrayal is Terry’s first foray into the world of domestic suspense. 

When she’s not writing, Terry likes to spend time outdoors with her husband and her dogs. 

Keep up with Terry on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/terrylynnthomasbooks/) Twitter (@TLThomasbooks), Instagram (@terrylynnthomasbooks) or via her website at http://www.terrylynnthomas.com.

Check out review from fellow book bloggers!

Opinions are my own.
AGJ

“Lie Beside Me” by Gytha Lodge

Synopsis

Louise wakes up. Her head aches, her mouth is dry, her memory is fuzzy. But she suspects she’s done something bad.

She rolls over towards her husband, Niall. The man who, until recently, made her feel loved.

But it’s not Niall who’s lying beside her. In fact, she’s never seen this man before.

And he’s dead . . .

As Louise desperately struggles to piece her memories back together, it’s clear to Detective Jonah Sheens and his team that she is their prime suspect – though they soon find she’s not the only one with something to hide.

Did she do it? And, if not, can they catch the real killer before they strike again?

Such a dark and brilliantly enthralling book!

Thank you very much Michael Joseph for treating me to this proof, I absolutely loved it! Addictive from the very first page, I couldn’t put it down and devoured it in almost one sitting (if only there were more hours in the day to just sit and read!).

The story skillfully unfolds following Louise on the one hand, and the development of the police investigation on the other hand. 

Louise writes to Niall and recounts what she remembers, or at least what she thinks she does, and goes back to the day they met, digging dip into her alcohol problems and the reasons she’s become this person. She is such a fascinating protagonist, so complex, she made me go through all the range of emotions possible: laughter, love, sadness, anger, bafflement; my heart was aching for her.

She has journeyed through life “unconsciously” impersonating different alter egos, and you get to witness how she acquired her different personae. Alcohol has made her conjure up “Drunk Louise”, this dangerous personality trying to make “Sober Louise” disappear, in a way granting her that wish of oblivion: Drunk Louise came to life to fill in Sober Louise’s multiple voids in hers, the loneliness, the lies, betrayals, lack of confidence. She is the mask one puts on to avoid facing their demons, the sweet bliss of forgetfulness being so easy to get tempted by. 

Drunk Louise is a very witty metaphor showing us the dangers of alcohol and excess to oneself or others, and where they could lead. Absolutely brilliant!

On the other side of the mirror, you get to follow the amazing team of DCI Jonah Sheens. Each member brings something important to the investigation, the spotlight being mainly on Juliette Hanson and her own demons. You get completely engulfed in trying to make sense of the trail of clues alongside them, and I’m not ashamed to say I DID NOT SEE THIS COMING! I was completely swept up my feet by the denouement. 

The characters were all so well rounded, they all possess different sides and you are kept wondering who they really are right until the end. Everyone had something to hide; Friends? Foes? Both? Was Alex a real victim? What was he hiding? What were they all doing in that club on the night of the murder? Is Louise innocent? What is Niall doing with his ex-wife? Who really is April, Louise’s mysterious best friend? What happened to Juliette? Will her past catch up to her again? This book has so many different aspects, so many side stories and complications, I was on the edge of my seat asking myself how it was all going to come together; and Gytha has done it! Masterfully linking and merging it all together into perfection. This story left me in a total state of wonderment. 

I am a fan of thrillers, and this one is definitely one of the best I’ve read in a while! A true success! I will officially call myself a convert to the Jonah Sheens series, more please ! 

Opinions are my owns
Published on 18 March 2021 by Michael Joseph, part of Penguin Random House

“THIS NOWHERE PLACE” by Natasha Bell

Synopsis:

Nothing ever happened here . . . Until the first girl died.
______

Ten years ago, Mo arrived at the white cliffs of Dover, befriended by teenagers Cali and Jude.

They thought they’d save each other, yet within months their friendship would see two of them dead and the third scarred for life.

Now documentary maker Tarek and his film crew are in town, asking difficult questions about what happened that summer.

Because in the shadow of the white cliffs it’s easy for people and their stories to get lost . . .

And as Tarek will discover, the truth is something that must be unburied carefully.

Or it might just it bury you . . .

Thoughts:

What an incredible discovery! A dark, thought provoking mystery that hooked me right in. Thank you so much again to the lovely people from Michael J Books for sharing this amazing book with me. 

When I read the summary and synopsis, I was expecting a thriller / mystery, but this turned out to be so much more than I imagined.  

2026, Dover, Tarek Zayat, Syrian refugee having turned his life around, is filming his next documentary. He hasn’t told anybody about this, but he has more than a professional interest in this new subject “The Dover Girls”. 

Cali. Jude. Mo. Three 15 year old girls whose fate has been sealed in the darkest ways 10 years ago. In a city where extreme nationalism and racism are still (way too) prominent, finding its place and a purpose can be truly hard. How far would you go for love or friendship? 

The construction of the story was very clever: moving from clips/script of the filming – to 2016 and what really happened – to 2026 and what all the protagonists are recounting – and finally how it all comes to light in the end.. and what an end this is!!! I didn’t expect that, or if I did, I didn’t want to believe this would be it!

I really fell in love with all the protagonists, even Jude which I really disliked the behaviour of. They all had so much depth and complexity, it completely transported you with them, to Dover, and the immersive experience within their feelings was quite raw.

This fascinating tale also broached very deep and powerful topics through the background and the characters, and I wanted to expand on those;

Racism: history seems to never stop repeating itself, the way the migrants are treated is simply appalling and those nationalism movements made anger rise from deep within myself. We all need to unite and fight this off, it is so important, more than ever. It was so infuriatingly true to read statements such as “it isn’t that 52% of the population is racist, It is the racists who think they have the support of 52% of the population”. Or the comments of some people that swimming across the channel is comparable to what migrants go through, hundreds of them on a boat amongst dead bodies… 

Immigration: the horrors all those refugees had (and still have) to suffer through to arrive to a land where they are often not welcome, at least and sadly not by everyone. Tarek’s recollections of the life of bombs and death he left behind, his excruciating journey as tragic as the first, escaping one level of hell to find himself in another, was truly heartbreaking. Even if you don’t get to experience Mo’s, you can only imagine she has gone through the same as Tarek, which brings another dimension to it all.

Mental health issues: when untreated and undiagnosed, mental health problems have so many devastating effects on the afflicted people but also on those around them. Through this book, you witness how profoundly a parent’s mental issues can affect their children. The grief Cali and her sister Rose had to live with led them to extreme behavior and dramatic changes. Cali had always been a sweet, happy and positive child, generous with the world and everyone – but a seriously depressed mother, the absence of a father, being deprived of people in her life being there for her, made her question everything. Following her transformation from happy to suicidal turned out to be a very sorrowful experience, it made me feel so powerless. 

It really made me appreciate everything that I have. How lucky I am to be surrounded by loving people who are there for me, that will never stop telling me everything is going to be ok, that support me through adversity, and love me no matter what. Without love and a support system, people to count on, the feeling of worthlessness can engulf you completely, and the consequences can be terrible and destructive. Natasha demonstrated the importance of support in one’s life, and what a difference it makes in the end.

In Cali’s case, it can lead you to an irreversible act, but in Rose’s case, this feeling of worthlessness drove her to heart-breaking self destruction through drugs, alcohol, meaningless sex, anything to fall into oblivion; in both cases, a desperate cry for help. Fitting in when you’re different, whether because of the color of your skin, your family situation, or your sexual orientation is one of the biggest challenge in our society. 

Natasha really dug deep through emotions, what drives people to act in a certain way, what motivates their behaviors, how our perceptions are flawed by our own personal situations. Different upbringings can create a wedge overtime, and affect our decisions. It is brought to light for each protagonist but I was particularly touched by Tarek’s contemplations as regard to his unborn child: how being a migrant without family will affect him in his role as a father. Powerful.

The twists and turns were perfection, the execution was flawless, this book is a true success. It’s out tomorrow and everyone should get a copy!

Thank you Natasha, I will make sure to pick up “His Perfect Wife” whilst I wait for your next work.

TW: death, suicide, substance abuse, mental illness, depression, racism

Out 18 March 2021 – Published by Michael Joseph, part of Penguin Random House.

“TRUST ME” by T.M. LOGAN

Please protect Mia
Don’t trust the police
Don’t trust anyone

What an expertly crafted thrill!

It all starts in a train when Kathryn asks Ellen to keep an eye on Mia, this beautiful 3 months old baby, just for a minute and then disappears. 

Set over the course of 6 (very) stressful days, this fast paced story keeps you on the edge of your seat and dramatically increases your heart rate!

Who is really Ellen? She is clearly not an ordinary woman. She is going through a tough time in life, her marriage is falling apart, she has just been told she cannot have children. Her barren state and the pain resulting from it add to her compulsion to protect Mia at all costs but there is something more, something that makes the reader connect with her – I personally spent the whole time desperately wanting to help her!

Where did Kathryn vanished to? Is she safe? Why would someone just leave their 3 months old with a complete stranger ? What danger is she in? Is she even the mother? Is someone after her? 

Who are those men following Ellen? How do they link to the whole mystery? 

Why did Kathryn say the police shouldn’t be trusted? Are they involved somehow?

So many, many questions!

Connections are perfectly made throughout the chapters, the pieces of the puzzle fall into place exactly when they are supposed to. Every single protagonist is suspicious and you get engulfed in wittily linked parallel stories, leaving you wondering about the subtle clues until the end. 

Without giving any spoilers, I was glad to finally discover that my suspicions had been right but T.M Logan brilliantly threw me off the scent many times and made me question and doubt everything until the last chapter. 

I highly recommend you pick it up if you are a mystery enthusiast and thrill chaser!

Thanks again Readers First and TM Logan for the opportunity to read it in advance. 

Out on 18 March – available to pre order 
Published by Zaffre Books

SYNOPSIS:

TWO STRANGERS, A CHILD, AND A SPLIT SECOND CHOICE THAT WILL CHANGE EVERYTHING . . . Ellen was just trying to help a stranger. That was how it started: giving a few minutes respite to a flustered young mother sitting opposite her on the train. A few minutes holding her baby while the mother makes an urgent call. The weight of the child in her arms making Ellen’s heart ache for what she can never have. Five minutes pass. Ten. The train pulls into a station and Ellen is stunned to see the mother hurrying away down the platform, without looking back. Leaving her baby behind. Ellen is about to raise the alarm when she discovers a note in the baby’s bag, three desperate lines scrawled hastily on a piece of paper: Please protect Mia Don’t trust the police Don’t trust anyone Why would a mother abandon her child to a stranger? Ellen is about to discover that the baby in her arms might hold the key to an unspeakable crime. And doing the right thing might just cost her everything . 

“The Favour” by Laura Vaughan

I was lucky enough to be given the chance to listen to the advance copy of the audiobook narrated by Helen Keeley, and I have to admit that I absolutely adored this story.

“This is not my place, these are not my people”. 

Quite a catchy mantra to illustrate the core of this beautiful book: how far would you go to fit in?

Ada is obsessed. Adopted as a baby by the great writer Anthony Howell, she is desperate to belong to his world, to be “one of them”. After his death when she was 13, she’d had to endure the disappointing ordinary life her mother wanted for her. 

However, a chance to reclaim her rightful destiny presents itself when her godmother offers to pay for her to embark on a trip throughout Italy: “The Dilettantes’ Discoveries”. 8 weeks amongst the elite society following a tradition established since the 17th century, to “delight” in arts and intellectual discovery and enjoy “la Bella Vita”. 

Ada has one goal: to become essential to those entitled and privileged people that are part of the voyage, to be part of their inner circle and appear indispensable. When tragedy strikes, the perfect opportunity to enmesh becomes reality, but at what cost?

Laura Vaughan’s writing is brilliant. I adored her exquisite depiction of Italy, its art and monuments, its streets and treasures. It made me travel right there and then to those places I have been to before and where I desperately long to go back to. She successfully made me feel the air and the heat on my skin, smell the scents, taste the food, bask in the beauty of this country. 

The characters are so full, complex and deep, you are compelled to try and enter their thoughts, only to be proven wrong about what you thought you knew.

Such a gripping mystery that keeps you guessing until the very end with exciting twists and turns. This book is a true delight. An successful immersion experience that I highly recommend. 

Thank you NetGalley and W.F.Howes Ltd for giving me the opportunity to listen to the audiobook in advance

Out 4 March 2021

Synopsis:

‘Absorbing, intelligent and atmospheric… Genius’ Elizabeth Haynes
_________________________

Fortune favours the fraud…


When she was thirteen years old, Ada Howell lost not just her father, but the life she felt she was destined to lead. Now, at eighteen, Ada is given a second chance when her wealthy godmother gifts her with an extravagant art history trip to Italy.

In the palazzos of Venice, the cathedrals of Florence and the villas of Rome, she finally finds herself among the kind of people she aspires to be: sophisticated, cultured, privileged. Ada does everything in her power to prove she is one of them. And when a member of the group dies in suspicious circumstances, she seizes the opportunity to permanently bind herself to this gilded set.

But everything hidden must eventually surface, and when it does, Ada discovers she’s been keeping a far darker secret than she could ever have imagined…

‘Intelligent, elegant and immersive’ Claire Kendal

‘A compulsive story, written with steely intelligence and wicked prose’ Elizabeth Buchan

ALL THE LONELY PEOPLE by Mike Gayle

“Apparently, loneliness is a bigger killer than cancer, can you imagine that?”

What an incredible and uplifting book. Mike Gayle’s writing is flawless and made me fall in love with all the characters. I could not get enough of it and did not want it to end. I cried, I laughed, I loved, I was so surprised by the unexpected twists and turns: this is the recipe for a 5 stars book. I don’t tend to give star rating as I don’t always consider it fair but there is no question from me here.

Meet Hubert Bird. 84 years old living in Bromley, speaking to his daughter Rose every week on the phone, living an uneventful quiet life, even though he pretends the opposite to Rose. When she announces she will be visiting for the first time in years from Australia, Hubert is caught up by the lies and the friends he invented: he only has a few months to build real life friendships to redeem himself. Since Joyce, the love of his life died 13 years ago, Hubert has slowly closed himself off from the world. But this is a wake-up call.

When his new neighbours Ashleigh and Layla force themselves into his life, Hubert cannot escape the glum realisation the he is deeply lonely. “People, it seemed, were either too busy, too closed off, too suspicious, or too deaf to make friends.”

Cleverly taking us back and forth from the late 50s when Hubert arrived in the UK as part of the Windrush generation all the way to his quest for friends today, Mike Gayle opens a window onto what it was like to be West Indian from Kingston in England. Racism, abuse, hardship, were unfortunately the lot of Hubert and his friends. Thankfully things have changed today but clearly not enough.

Through all those beautiful, complex and deep characters, Mike’s message is one of hope. Proof that if you are lucky enough to meet true love everything is possible. It is so important to be surrounded by people you love to get through tough times. When people get together behind a cause, it can truly make a profound difference and instigate change.

I am yet to read more books from Mike Gayle but he has definitely made it to my auto-order list with this beauty. It was love at first word, and I can only recommend you pick up a copy if you haven’t already read it.

With love,
AGJ

Paperback published in 2021 by Hodder & Stoughton

“DREAMLAND” by Rosa Rankin – Gee

In a dystopian “near” future, the inequalities are reaching their paroxysm. 

Paid to “relocate” to a desolated version of Margate, Chance and her family settle there as best as they could. 

Amid a life of drugs, abuse and theft, Chance finally meets a girl her own age from London: Francesca aka Franky. Falling under her spell, Chance even introduces her to Davey, her best friend, and Blue, the sweet little boy that is the ray of sunshine of her family. 

As their relationship evolves the world around them unravels, with rumors of extremism seeping through the government politics getting increasingly potent. 

Climate change is bringing dangerous tides and waves that could well be sinking the coastal towns, and so called humanitarians start interfering in the community’s affairs; 

A poignant, cleverly written book where Rosa Rankin-Gee is sounding the alarm. An eye-opening story showing us what could be the future if we do not act against inequalities, extremism and climate change. This book also makes you appreciate what you have in life and that you can easily take for granted. 

Thank you Net Galley and Simon & Schuster for granting my request to read the advance e-copy. 

Available to pre-order – publication date 15 April 2021 (by Simon & Schuster UK Ltd)

CW: drug use, sex, violence, death. 

Synopsis:

https://www.simonandschuster.co.uk/books/Dreamland/Rosa-Rankin-Gee/9781471193811

“WE ARE ALL BIRDS OF UGANDA” by Hafsa Zayyan

“We were trying to exterminate them for a while [but] you can’t exactly stop birds from flying, can you? […] In a way, I suppose we are all birds of Uganda.” What a beautiful metaphor used by Hafsa Zayyan in her truly accomplished debut novel broaching the subject of migration and its consequences.

In today’ society where so many of us travel to and live in different countries to the one we were born in (including myself!), you would really hope that racism would be eradicated. Through a very well crafted love story, Hafsa Zayyan (winner of the Merky Books New Writer’s Prize) shows us that it is unfortunately not the case.

Cleverly switching from the contemporary story of Sameer, 26 year old London city lawyer born in Leicester, to the life of his grandfather Hasan in Uganda in the 20th century, Hafsa is offering us a very astute parallel between two worlds, both being quite different but paradoxically so similar, filled with complex characters mirroring each other.

Working relentlessly day and night at the law firm, Sameer is selected to go to Singapore and help set up a new office there. He shies away from breaking the news to his parents. He knows that they will refuse to understand this, as they expect him to take over the family business and marry a girl from the local mosque according to family tradition and culture. Trying to convince himself this move is a great opportunity, something still nags at him but he cannot figure out what. In the weeks preceding his departure, tragedy strikes one of his best friends back in Leicester, forcing him to feel the devastation and face the wrath of his parents. When an old family friend who knew and lived with his grandfather in Uganda comes and visits, Sameer suddenly feels the need to go and discover this amazing country, and maybe find the answer to what is troubling him deep down.

As for Hasan, the reader gets to discover him through the love letters he wrote to his departed wife Amira. With him, we are transported to Uganda in the 20th century (between 1945 and 1981), witnessing Sameer’s origins alongside the major events of this time there: independence from Britain, the rise of nationalism and racial tensions, political coup and pure hatred of non African, the expulsion of Asians out of Uganda, before being allowed back in after the end of the dictatorship.

Producing an easy read out of a heavy subject like racism is no easy feat. Mixing stereotypes and perception, past and present, history and fiction, love and betrayal, Hafsa wittily makes us face the reality of racism through many of its countless faces: from the unconscious daily bias, workplace discrimination, familial beliefs and expectations, social media slander, to the blatant hatred and violence towards people of a different colour. What is also brilliantly depicted is the irony of it all: even the victims of racism are guilty of perpetuating it in a different way; and everyone has its own “motivation”: tradition, culture, obligation, wealth redistribution, fear, love, hate etc.

How do you make things better? How do you consciously stop the bias, even an unconscious one? Have things really changed between Uganda in the 1970s and England today?

A truly thought provoking novel which makes you wonder and question yourself and the world long after putting it down. A real success. I thoroughly enjoyed it, highly recommend it and cannot wait to read Hafsa’s next work.

Thank you very much to Net Galley and Merky Books for sharing this beautiful story with me even though I requested it after publication. Thank you Hafsa Zayyan for captivating us with your words.

Book published on 21 January 2021
An imprint of Merky Books

Disclaimer: opinions are my own.

TAKING THE PLUNGE

As challenging as 2020 has been for obvious reasons, it has had the benefit to force me to stop and reflect upon my life and my accomplishments. I suddenly realised with dread that having spent the last 15 years evolving in the world of law without stopping, I had somewhat managed to loose myself.

Where has disappeared the fierce actress, dancer, writer, scientist, historian, archaeologist, astronaut, craving to always learn more, never satisfied, never standing still? That child that I once was and who is somehow hiding away in the depth of my soul?

We spend too much time as adults taming away that inner child, we silence them too drastically and we loose track of what makes the essence of who we are.

Enough is enough. It is about time to bring back some sense of purpose to the spaceship I am flying through this world. David Bowie’s words keep on resonating deep in me “Ground Control to Major Tom: it’s time to leave the capsule if you dare”. There are too many other unknown worlds to explore.

So here I am, “stepping out the door” with a brand new perspective, ready to take the plunge and writing a new chapter – literally – by starting my very own blog. The aim is principally to share my views and reviews on books and literary gems from all genres.

However, if there is one thing I despise, it is being circumscribed to one thing. So I reserve the right to write about many other subjects such as gemology, travel, music and other life’s treasures which form part of who I am.

If you feel like embarking on this journey through outer space with me, please follow me on social media https://www.instagram.com/anne_galmiche_johnson/, https://www.facebook.com/anne.galmichejohnson/, https://twitter.com/anne_galmiche, and via my blog https://agjbooksandgems.com.

One thing is for sure, “the stars look very different today” and it feels amazing to free dive into the cloud(s).

With love,

Anne G-J

Anne.G.J

Credit italic: “Space Oddity” by David Bowie.

Picture of “The Big Splash” by Joe Webb.

The Tsarina’s Daughter by Ellen Alpsten – Blog Tour

Thank you so much Becky Hunter for gifting me this wonderful historical novel and having me on the tour!

–Synopsis–

Ellen Alpsten’s stunning new novel, The Tsarina’s Daughter, is the dramatic story of Elizabeth, daughter of Catherine I and Peter the Great, who ruled Russia during an extraordinary life marked by love, danger, passion and scandal.

Born into the House of Romanov to the all-powerful Peter the Great and his wife, Catherine, a former serf, beautiful Tsarevna Elizabeth is the envy of the Russian empire. She is insulated by luxury and spoiled by her father, who dreams for her to marry King Louis XV of France and rule in Versailles. But when a woodland creature gives her a Delphic prophecy, her life is turned upside down. Her volatile father suddenly dies, her only brother has been executed and her mother takes the throne of Russia.

As friends turn to foes in the dangerous atmosphere of the Court, the princess must fear for her freedom and her life. Fate deals her blow after blow, and even loving her becomes a crime that warrants cruel torture and capital punishment: Elizabeth matures from suffering victim to strong and savvy survivor. But only her true love and their burning passion finally help her become who she is. When the Imperial Crown is left to an infant Tsarevich, Elizabeth finds herself in mortal danger and must confront a terrible dilemma–seize the reins of power and harm an innocent child, or find herself following in the footsteps of her murdered brother.

Hidden behind a gorgeous, wildly decadent façade, the Russian Imperial Court is a viper’s den of intrigue and ambition. Only a woman possessed of boundless courage and cunning can prove herself worthy to sit on the throne of Peter the Great.

–Review–

With yet another gripping prologue, you get engulfed in the epic story of Elizabeth Petrovna Romanova, daughter of Peter the Great and Catherine I of All the Russias.

What a fantastic book!

Enter, if you dare, the Russian court and all of its marvels. Thanks to Ellen’s divine and poetic writing, you get to experience, taste, smell, feel, touch it all to perfection. 

In this next installment of the unforgiving race for the throne of the Russian Empire, journey with Elizabeth through all the hurdles she had to overcome and her incredible destiny.

With all the scheming forces at work, this fierce woman had to show much resilience to survive. First promised to the King Louis XV of France, fate had other plans for her. 

Stakes are high and the price to pay even greater… Having lost both her father and her mother in the span of 2 years, the games became more dangerous than ever, the enemies lurking in the shadows. 

Wading through all the humiliations, the loss of her sister with whom she had once the strongest of bonds, the death of her fiancé and torture of her lover, only her eternal devotion to Russia and its people, the assistance of Lestocq, Schwartz and Alexis, the love of her life, kept her going.

I can only recommend you pick up a copy of this wondrous story of courage, resilience and tenacity, and witness Elizabeth’s fascinating transformation whilst facing adversity with bravery and humility.

And if you haven’t done so already, pick up a copy of Tsarina by the same author.

With Love
AGJ

Out 8 July with Bloomsbury Publishing
TW: torture, death, violence, sex

Don’t forget to check out what my fellow bloggers are saying!

–About the Author – Ellen Alpsten–

Novelist and journalist

Ellen Alpsten was born and raised in the Kenyan highlands, before attending L’Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Paris. Whilst studying for her Msc in PPE she won the Grande École short story competition with her novella Meeting Mr. Gandhi and was encouraged to continue writing.

Upon graduating, she worked as a producer and presenter for Bloomberg TV in London: knowing no-one and working gruesome night shifts on breakfast TV, she started to write in earnest, every day, after work and a nap. Tsarina, the first and only account of the incredible rise of Catherine I of Russia from serf to Empress, is her debut novel. 

Today, Ellen works as an author and as a journalist for international publications such as  VogueStandpoint and CN Traveller. She lives in London with her husband, three children and a chubby, moody fox-red Labrador.