The Unravelling by Polly Crosby – Blog Tour

A big thank you to the team over at HQ for having me on the blog tour! This book was simply stunning and will undoubtedly haunt me for weeks to come. Beautifully written and compelling, I am a fan of Polly’s words and having not read The Illustrated Child, I will definitely make sure to find a spot for it on my 2022 TBR pile. 

Synopsis

When Tartelin Brown accepts a job with the reclusive Marianne Stourbridge, she finds herself on a wild island with a mysterious history.

Tartelin is tasked with hunting butterflies for Marianne’s research. But she quickly uncovers something far more intriguing than the curious creatures that inhabit the landscape.

Because the island and Marianne share a remarkable history, and what happened all those years ago has left its scars, and some terrible secrets.

As Tartelin pieces together Marianne’s connection to the island, she must confront her own reasons for being there. Can the two women finally face up to the painful memories that bind them so tightly to the past?

Atmospheric and deeply emotional, The Unravelling is the captivating novel from the author of The Illustrated Child.

Review

The sea is made up of unspeakable sadness

1927: on their hauntingly beautiful island, the Stourbridge family seem to prosper. Marianne loves spending time with her father, chasing after butterflies, studying them, collecting them. But as he decides to expand his business interests beyond herring fishing, he begins to grow more distant. He wants Marianne to inherit his new silkworm venture, his magnanery. And to manage it, he brings in a new girl from France: Nan. Enigmatic and knowledgeable, she will trigger Marianne out of her boundaries, out of childhood, and shake her world for ever. 

2018: Marianne is back onto the island after it was requisitioned during the war. Now much older and incapacitated, she is looking for an assistant to help her pursue her lepidopterist’s interests, studying mutations that have occurred here since she left. She is a recluse, difficult to interact with, a very complex character, hiding many hardships and an immense grief behind her tough facade. 

When Tartelin arrives and starts working for her, she becomes obsessed with finding out what happened to her, her history. Mourning herself the recent passing of her adoptive mother, this peculiar place without electricity or internet, disconnected from the rest of the world, is the perfect escape from the pain. 

She is forced to face the horrible reality that the one special person in her life is no longer with her. Always an outsider, with her ever so special ruffle of skin on her cheek, she connected with her mother in a way not many people ever will. 

“It is impossible to watch someone you love die” 

Tartelin’s sorrow becomes more and more palpable as she embarks on this therapeutic journey within this ethereal refuge. She feels a growing connection with this strange woman and her island. The more she explores, trying to coax Marianne along out of her shell, the more she hopes to soothe the pains, put the ghosts to rests, unravel the mysteries surrounding this place and its inhabitants. As she hunts butterflies, she also hunts for the truth; about Marianne, about the island, about herself, about life.  

The pull of it. Magnetic. As if it wants me to search out its secrets.” 

Unearthing secrets page after page, opening windows into the past, you get to delve deep into the protagonists’s feelings, their evolving relationship, and it makes you question your own relationship to nature, to life and death. 

Polly Crosby’s writing is absolute perfection. The story unfolds in such a poetic way, the words so delicate, touching you with the fragility of butterfly wings, something about it reaching out deep into your emotions, into the extraordinary depth of the characters, allowing you to feel the grief, the briefness of life, the atmospheric island and the magic of it all. Stunning.

There is something immensely sad about this book, but it is also full of hope. As much as things mutate, some things remain the same, like anchors. Once the island takes a hold of you, it will never let you go.

With Love
AGJ

Out now with HQ Stories

About Polly Crosby

After a whirlwind of a year which saw Polly receive writing scholarships from both Curtis Brown Creative and The University of East Anglia’s MA in Creative Writing, she went on to be runner up in the Bridport Prize’s Peggy Chapman Andrews Award for a First Novel. Read Polly’s piece for the Bridport Prize’s blog here.

Polly’s novel was snapped up by HarperCollins HQ in the UK and Commonwealth in a 48 hour pre-empt, and a few days later by HarperCollins Park Row Books in North America.

Polly grew up on the Suffolk coast, and now lives in the heart of Norfolk with her husband and son, and her very loud and much loved rescue Oriental cat, Dali.

The Illustrated Child is her first novel. Her second novel, The Unravelling, is out on 6th January ‘22.

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The Book of Sand by Theo Clare – Blog Tour

Thank you so much Isabelle and Century Books for inviting me to take part in this tour. What a fascinating and gripping read!

I was quite moved to discover that Theo Clare (aka Mo Hayder) died from Motor Neurone Disease (MND) in July 2021, as it is unfortunately a subject very close to home, with someone in my family affected by the very same disease, and degrading slowly everyday, making it sometimes quite unbearable to watch, and forever heartbreaking.

As the book is dedicated to this cause, I am inviting you to look up what this atrocious illness is here: https://www.mndassociation.org/. It isn’t as known as it should be and for the time being, no cure has been found and many people are suffering every day.

Now, onto this fabulous book, which deserves to be read and re-read, and I cannot wait for the publication of the next installment. We were lucky that the author managed to write it before passing away and it shouldn’t be in vain.

Synopsis

Enter a world of simmering heat and shifting sands.

Where danger lies around every corner.

Where death lurks as night falls,

And you will kill – just to stay alive …

Outlines of several once-busy cities shimmer on the horizon. Now empty of inhabitants, their buildings lie in ruins.

In the distance a group of people – a family – walk towards us.

Ahead lies shelter: a ‘shuck’ the family call home and which they know they must reach before the light fails, as to be out after dark is to invite danger and almost certain death.

To survive in this alien world of shifting sand, they must find an object hidden in or near water. But other families want it too. And they are willing to fight to the death to make it theirs.

It is beginning to rain in Fairfax County, Virginia when McKenzie Strathie wakes up. An ordinary teenage girl living an ordinary life – except that the previous night she found a sand-lizard in her bed, and now she’s beginning to question everything around her, especially who she really is …

Two very different worlds featuring a group of extraordinary characters driven to the very limit of their endurance in a place where only the strongest will survive.

Review

Everything about this story is a test, about pushing the limits and the boundaries.

Meet the Dormilones, Spider, Elk, Amasha, Splendour, Noor and the others, a peculiar family not related by blood. All so distinct, from different part of the worlds, alternative backgrounds and upbringings, having nothing in common but the fact that they were chosen. But by whom? And why? 

Sent to this hostile desert, this “Cirque” and its invisible borders, to find a mysterious object known as “The Sarkpont“, they’ll have to be fierce and relentless in their search. They’ll have to dig deep into their past, their previous lives, their individual skillsets. Time is of the essence and unity is key, their survival depends on it. 

Within this terrifying and ever evolving world, heat and sun are as much a friend as an enemy. The rules are brutal, no space for self doubt or pity. Children won’t be soothed if they cry, injured won’t get a rest if they need to. They have to keep going, never stop, for they’ll face terrible peril if they do. Dangers can arise from anywhere, and the vile “Djinni“, creatures of the night, will keep coming for them. 

Meanwhile, back in Virginia, when she is visited at night by a lizard, McKenzie starts questioning her sanity and who she really is. Junior in high school, with exceptional abilities and dreaming of Caltech, she’s never felt quite right, never thought that she belonged. 

Always at odds with her brothers and the other students, she is obsessed with sand, dunes, the world around her. She has always been at one with the weather, read clouds, always the outsider, bullied, mocked, but also feared. 

More strange events keep happening and her whole world starts to unravel when presenting her science project, she uses her lizard that no one else can see… no one except for Newt… Can he really see it too? Or does she have skyzophrenia or a brain tumor as the doctors seem to think? 

As those parallel worlds and lives unfold, all the characters are put to the test, questioning their purpose, their raison d’être. What are they supposed to do? Can they make it to the end? Can they find what they’re looking for? 

This book is so cleverly crafted, and the twists and turns totally unexpected. So well rounded that I guarantee you’ll get addicted from the very first page. It’s a fantastic start to the series and I cannot wait to read what comes next as this first installment very wittily offered us the premises of a fabulous saga. 

With Love
AGJ

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Out now with Century Books

About Theo Clare

Mo Hayder in Bath, 2010. Her books about the troubled detective Jack Caffery earned her legions of fans. Photograph: Christopher Jones/Rex/Shutterstock

THEO CLARE left school at fifteen. She worked as a barmaid, security guard, filmmaker, hostess in a Tokyo club, educational administrator and teacher of English as a foreign language in Asia. She had an MA in film from The American University in Washington, DC and an MA in creative writing from Bath Spa University, UK. She wrote crime novels under the name Mo Hayder, and her fifth novel Ritual was nominated for the Barry Award for Best Crime 2009 and was voted Best Book of 2008 by Publishers Weekly. Gone, her seventh novel, won the Edgar Allan Poe Award, and her novel Wolf was nominated for Best Novel in the 2015 Edgar Awards and is currently being adapted for the BBC. Theo Clare was diagnosed with motor neurone disease in December 2020 and passed away in July 2021.

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The Intersection by Catherine Grace – Blog Tour

Thank you very much Erin and the team over at Jasami Publishing for having me on this tour!

Synopsis

The story of a young woman haunted by the memory of her dead husband, who has not left her home in three years. Suddenly she is being stalked by her husband’s doppelgänger and someone is attempting to kill her. With her friends’ help, Em searches to solve the question of the mystery man. How did Peter really die? And will she find the answer before the killer strikes for the last time? 

Review

“It was her way to live life on the outside without ever having to go out into the world that had taken so much from her. She knew if she stayed safe inside she would not feel the loss, the devastating pain that engulfed the outside world.”

Em hasn’t been outside in years. She will not leave this flat, designed by her late husband Peter. She tries and keep his memory alive, amongst his things, to the exact specifications he wanted.

She cannot bring herself to face the outside world. It is brought to her daily by her friends Stefan, Sarah and Tommy.

As a writer, she draws her inspiration through what she calls “Her Intersection” = gazing from her window and watching people, imagining their lives, their hopes, their dreams. Which way will they go? Left? Right? What are they thinking? How will this simple choice affect their lives?

It is far easier for Em to imagine that live her own life. That is until Derek shows up. Who is Derek? Once pretending to be Peter himself, having survived, once introducing himself as Peter’s long lost twin brother… which one is it (if any)? And who is that mysterious dark and petite woman spotted with him?

As Em’s world gets shrouded in mystery, she will find herself at an intersection of her own, having no choice but to try and uncover the truth behind Peter’s accident; forcing her to take uncomfortable decisions, move on with her life and getting to know more about this enigmatic neighbour of hers Stefan.

This title was first published in 2020 with Jasami and has now been tweaked and relaunched to give Cathrine the tour she deserves. Overall a lovely mystery / whodunnit, centered about friendship, love, touching upon mental illness is a very poetic manner, keeping you guessing with the right balance of suspense.

With Love
AGJ

About Catherine Grace

Catherine Grace was a journalist, wrote computer  tutorials, and worked international corporate events. Her creative outlet was always creating stories. Inspired by one of her professors she decided to put pen-to-paper or in her case fingertips to keyboard and write what she loves: mysteries.

The reason she selected Jasami Publishing Ltd to assist with her first publication is that it aligned with her personal ethos, to give back to the community. Catherine resides in Scotland.

The Memory Box by Kathryn Hughes

A very big thank you to Rosie Margesson for my copy of this wonderful book! It’s out now with Headline Review.

Synopsis

Jenny Tanner opens the box she has cherished for decades. Contained within are her most precious mementoes, amongst them a pebble, a carving and a newspaper cutting she can hardly bear to read. But Jenny knows the time is finally here. After the war, in a mountainside village in Italy, she left behind a piece of her heart. However painful, she must return to Cinque Alberi. And lay the past to rest.

After a troubled upbringing, Candice Barnes dreams of a future with the love of her life – but is he the man she believes him to be? When Candice is given the opportunity to travel to Italy with Jenny, she is unaware the trip will open her eyes to the truth she’s been too afraid to face. Could a place of goodbyes help her make a brave new beginning?

Thoughts

Remarkable! I really didn’t expect to be swept away like that!

Kathryn’s writing is beautiful and easy, she transports you instantly within this wonderful story of love and loss, where you get to meet 2 amazingly endearing, flawed and relatable main characters.

Jenny is 100 years old, and knows that time is running out. Her most prized possession is this hand carved wooden box, made with love, offered out of love, and filled with love. As she takes her loving Green Meadows’s carer Candice though those few precious items, she gets to share her life story. 

And what a life she has led! Candice unknowingly becomes the guardian of Jenny’s adventures, griefs, losses, love stories, sufferings, joys and regrets. We get privy to terrible ordeals from the dark part of our history that is WWII, signing an implicit pact that the sacrifices that happened should never be forgotten, and making you wonder what you would have done in the same situation. 

Kathryn Hughes wittily alternates different narrations, and different timelines, keeping us on our toes. 

In the 1940s you follow Jenny being sent away to Wales with her little brother Louis to ensure their safety as WWII is raging; but even amongst adversity, she still managed to meet the love of her life, Nico, for whom she will sacrifice everything, including break the heart of her new Welsh family. 

Nico, the beautiful, dark and mysterious type, declared enemy alien by Churchill simply for being an Italian in the United Kingdom. This offers the reader an insight into a lesser known side of WWII (at least from my perspective). Italy fought too, and from within, against the fascists and “Il Duce“, thanks to very brave men and women known as partisans.  

As Jenny shares deeper and darker memories with Candice, back in our 2019 present, she subtly helps this simple and caring girl detangle herself from the web of lies and abuses her boyfriend Beau has created around her, whilst hoping to take Candice along to one last trip to Italy.

God I despised him so much! Through Beau’s character and behaviour, Kathryn demonstrates the subtle face abuse can take. It shows the hurt and danger words can represent – violence isn’t simply physical, it can take many forms, including devious comments, implied threats, lies and manipulation. It infuriated me so much to witness Candice’s blindness and submissive acceptance to it all! 

The dynamic between those 2 women is stunningly portrayed. Both freeing each other from the darkness in their lives, liberating themselves of regrets, protecting each other, without even realising it.

Through the exploration and explanation of the significance of the items in Jenny’s memory box, the story unravels for both of them, taking twists and turns that I never expected! I, for one, was truly blindsided by the denouement. 

Such a clever, thought provoking and heartwarming story, I strongly recommend it!

With Love
AGJ

–About the Author – Kathryn Hughes–

Kathryn Hughes was born near Manchester, UK in 1964. After thirty years working as a secretary and bringing up two children, she finally realised her dream of writing a book. Her debut novel, The Letter, set in her home town, was first published in 2013 and since then has become an international best-seller, translated into 30 languages.

Lemon by Kwon Yeo-Sun, translated by Janet Hong

Thank you so much to Jade over at Head of Zeus for having me on this tour! What a fabulous book, so refreshing and peculiar! I had to read it twice to really appreciate it – I cannot say I am familiar with Korean literature, but this has definitely piqued my interest!

Synopsis

In the summer of 2002, nineteen-year-old Kim Hae-on was murdered in what became known as the High School Beauty Murder. There were two suspects: Shin Jeongjun, who had a rock-solid alibi, and Han Manu, to whom no evidence could be pinned. The case went cold.

Seventeen years pass without justice, and the grief and uncertainty take a cruel toll on her younger sister, Da-on, in particular. Unable to move on with her life, Da-on tries in her own twisted way to recover some of what she’s lost, ultimately setting out to find the truth of what happened.

Told at different points in time from the perspectives of Da-on and two of Hae-on’s classmates, Lemon is a piercing psychological portrait that takes the shape of a crime novel and is a must-read novel of 2021.

Review

What happened? 

This is the main question posed by Yeo-Sun in this very short, but ever so clever book. 

More specifically, what happened to the deceased Hae-on? Accident? Murder? What happened to the people she left behind after her death?

This novel is simply fascinating. A cross between genres, a hybrid beauty, where crime mystery meets psychological drama. Very witty.

The imagination is just as painful as reality. No, it’s more painful. After all, what you imagine has no limit or end.”

Be prepared to let yours run wild as you follow the different characters’ thoughts. You might answer this main question, you might not, you might think you have, but in any event, you will not stop thinking about it. 

Yeo-Sun throws clues at you, as much as she throws you off. Every chapter brings its share of questions and shattered beliefs. 

She delves into the psychology in the face of loss, and dissect how each protagonist filled the void left by Hae-on’s death. It pushes the reader to reflect on the impact of death on their life and behaviors, showing you very subtly how it can shape the future = different degrees of guilt escalating to different degrees of madness. Lines between right or wrong become blurry. 

Was Hae-on somehow punished for her breathtaking beauty? Her nonchalance?

A suspect fleeing to America shortly after… out of guilt? Or simple opportunity?

Why was Hae-on in Shin Jeongjun’s car? Why didn’t she come home that night?

What does Yun Taerim know? Did she see anything? She was so envious, jealous of Hae-on. When she died, she could shine again… but at what price? 

Was Han Manu a simple witness? Was he involved? Or was he then as unlucky as he seems to have been his whole life?

How far will Da-on go to keep her sister alive ? To come close to some truth? Having had no other choice but to assume responsibility for the household from childhood, she bears the guilt to the same level, if not higher, than her mother. How does one live through something like this? What does it take to stop “falling”?

Life has no special meaning. […] Life begins without reason and ends without reason.”

So many questions, not always straight answers. This novel will force you to analyse every little detail and find your own personal way through the story. Packed with a hell of a punch, thought-provoking, and eliciting a wide range of feelings and emotions, I can only recommend you pick this up, I am confident it isn’t like anything you’ve read before!

With Love
AGJ

Out now with Head of Zeus in Hardback and e-book.

About the Author – Kwon Yeo-Sun

Kwon Yeo-sun is an award-winning Korean writer. She has won the Sangsang Literary Award, Oh Yeongsu Literature Award, Yi Sang Literary Prize, Hankook Ilbo Literary Award, Tong-ni Literature Prize and Lee Hyo-seok Literary Award. Lemon is her first novel to be published in the English language.

About the Translator – Janet Hong

Janet Hong is a writer and translator based in Vancouver, Canada. She received the TA First Translation Prize and the LTI Korea Translation Award for her translation of Han Yujoo’s The Impossible Fairy Tale, which was also a finalist for both the 2018 PEN Translation Prize and the National Translation Award. Her recent translations include Ha Seong-nan’s Bluebeard’s First Wife, Ancco’s Nineteen, and Keum Suk Gendry-Kim’s Grass.

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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.

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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.

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“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.

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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.

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