“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!

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.

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.

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

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 … 

The Secret Life of Albert Entwistle by Matt Cain

It’s official… I am in love with Albert!

Such a wonderful, moving and joyous adventure! This is a story that everyone needs in their life!!! Thanks again Rosie over at Headline for gifting me this incredible proof, and the biggest thanks to Matt Cain for writing this story!

— Synopsis —

IT’S NEVER TOO LATE TO START YOUR LIFE’S BIG ADVENTURE . . .

Albert Entwistle was a postman. It was one of the few things everyone knew about him. And it was one of the few things he was comfortable with people knowing.

64-year-old Albert Entwistle has been a postie in a quiet town in Northern England for all his life, living alone since the death of his mam 18 years ago. He keeps himself to himself. He always has. But he’s just learned he’ll be forced to retire at his next birthday. With no friends and nothing to look forward to, the lonely future he faces terrifies him. He realises it’s finally time to be honest about who he is. He must learn to ask for what he wants. And he must find the courage to look for George, the man that, many years ago, he lost – but has never forgotten . . .

Join Albert as he sets out to find the long-lost love of his life, and has an unforgettable and completely life-affirming adventure on the way . . . This is a love story the likes of which you have never read before! 

— Review —

Albert wants to be invisible. Over the years, he has devised a well-established technique to keep human interactions to a minimum. It’s just him and his cat Gracie, since his mother passed away.

Albert wasn’t always like that though, and throughout the pages you get to discover what happened almost 50 years ago, along embarking on this self-discovery journey with him.

3 months before his 65th birthday, he is told he will have to go on compulsory retirement. From there, his whole world starts unravelling: Gracie dies, and he forces himself to go through his mam’s belongings, which he left untouched since she passed away years ago.

This brings out so many memories for him, most of them painful, especially when he finds in his mam’s box of treasures, the letters he used to exchange with the one and only love of his life… George.

His romance with George was the happiest time of his life, but things somehow ended dramatically. Since then, Albert has never allowed himself to feel anything for other men, or be loved by anyone else. He closed himself off from the world.

When reminiscing his past, you get to witness the unfortunately sad history of gay persecution, from it being a crime in the 60s to the police raids, beatings, insults and worse. Some chose to fight for their rights, where others like Albert decided that they were rotten and destined to a life of loneliness.

But all of it is too much for Albert and he decides it’s about time to get his act together if he doesn’t want to die alone. He wants his next 30 years to be happy ones and will take you with him on his magnificent journey.

Finding George turns out not as easy as Albert firstly anticipated! To succeed at finding love, he must find himself first. And to do that he will have to open up and… well you’ve guessed it.. COME OUT!!!

This fantastic adventure makes Albert become who he was meant to be all along, open himself up to the world to find his inner happiness. Getting out of one’s comfort zone is the best thing that can happen, opening up new horizon and embracing the best of what life has to offer. From Toddington to Bradford, Blackpool, Manchester and London, he will have to be honest with who he really is, and stop hiding.

“In some ways I’m like a picture that hasn’t been coloured in yet. Or one that I’m still in the process of colouring in…”

Albert cannot go about it alone, and has no choice but surmount the fear of judgement.

Through this beautiful story of resilience, you’re reminded of the importance of love and friendship in life! All the amazing protagonists you meet along the way are so lovable and relatable. Their depth demonstrates to perfection that everyone is more than meets the eyes.

From Nicole the “lioness” protecting her girl and fighting for a better life, refusing to be judged by her boyfriends parents, to Marjorie always loud and happy, as a facade to hide what’s really going on in her world, this is so much more than a simple love story. One should never judge others, you never know their personal circumstances and their difference isn’t a threat. Our individuality is our strength and this book is a great reminder that love, tolerance and acceptance conquer all.

A true delight that I can only recommend! Get your copy now! It will leave you in a wonderful place! 

With love,
AGJ

Opinions are my own
Out 27 May
Published by Headline Review, an imprint of Headline Publishing Group


About the Author – Matt Cain

Matt Cain was born in Bury and brought up in Bolton. He was educated at state schools and then Cambridge University.
 
Matt spent ten years making arts and entertainment programmes for ITV, including documentaries about Freddie Mercury, Mamma Mia! and The Da Vinci Code, and profiles of Ian McKellen, Darcey Bussell and Will Young for The South Bank Show.
 
Between 2010 and 2013, Matt worked in front of the camera as Channel 4 News’ first ever Culture Editor, a role in which he attracted acclaim for his coverage of the Women’s Prize for Fiction, the Mercury Music Prize and the Turner Prize, as well as interviews with Grayson Perry, the Spice Girls and Pedro Almodóvar.
 
Matt’s first novel, Shot Through the Heart, was published by Pan Macmillan in 2014. The second, Nothing But Trouble, followed in 2015.

Between 2016 and 2018 Matt worked as Editor-in-Chief of Attitude, the UK’s biggest-selling magazine for gay men. Whilst in the role he negotiated world-exclusive covers with Sam Smith, Ricky Martin and James Corden, launched and hosted the popular #AttitudeHeroes podcast, and ran the Attitude Awards, hosted by Tom Daley, with winners including Prince Harry and Kylie Minogue. He also wrote exclusive reports on his personal experience of HIV prevention drug PrEP, homophobia in Russia, and life for gay people in China.

As a freelance journalist, Matt has written for all the UK’s major newspapers and appeared on Sky News, BBC Breakfast and Good Morning Britain. He was a judge for the 2013 Costa Book Awards and the Polari First Novel Prize in 2014 and continues to judge the South Bank Sky Arts Awards. He has been nominated for Stonewall’s Writer of the Year award and in 2017 was voted winner of Diversity in Media’s Journalist of the Year award.

In 2017 Matt crowdfunded his third novel The Madonna of Bolton, after receiving over 30 rejections from publishers, reportedly due to its gay protagonist and theme. The title reached its funding target in seven days, becoming Unbound’s fastest-crowdfunded novel ever. Pledges came in from 28 countries and the project was backed by celebrities including David Walliams, Mark Gatiss, David Nicholls, Lisa Jewell and Gok Wan. The Madonna of Bolton was published by Unbound in 2018.

Matt is an ambassador for both Manchester Pride and the Albert Kennedy Trust, the UK’s national youth LGBT+ homelessness charity. He’s also a patron of LGBT History Month. 

He lives in London.



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

“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.