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.