Housebreaking by Colleen Hubbard

If you haven’t heard yet, there is a fabulous debut that came out on 11 August! It’s called “Housebreaking” by Colleen Hubbard and if you love Elizabeth Strout this is definitely for you!

Thank you so much to Clare over at Two Fond of Books and to Corsair Books for making me one of the lucky people to have already read this great story!

Synopsis

Following a long-standing feud and looking to settle the score, a woman decides to dismantle her home—alone and by hand—and move it across a frozen pond during a harsh New England winter in this mesmerizing debut.

Home is certainly not where Del’s heart is. After a local scandal led to her parents’ divorce and the rest of her family turned their backs on her, Del left her small town and cut off contact.

Now, with both of her parents gone, a chance has arrived for Del to retaliate.

Her uncle wants the one thing Del inherited: the family home.

Instead of handing the place over, and with no other resources at her disposal, Del decides she will tear the place apart herself—piece by piece.

But Del will soon discover, the task stirs up more than just old memories as relatives—each in their own state of unraveling—come knocking on her door.

This spare, strange, magical book is a story not only about the powerlessness and hurt that run through a family but also about the moments when brokenness can offer us the rare chance to start again.

Review

She wanted to go through life completely unnoticed, below level, submarine.”

Meet Del. 24 without much to show for. She lives with Tym, an old friend of her late father, and she just cannot be bothered. She can’t retain a job, she has no purpose, 0 ambition, and no social life. 

So when she loses yet another menial job, and Tym asks her to move out, she gets quite a kick up the backside! Coincidently, a ghost from her past shows up: her cousin Greg. He came to make her an offer on behalf of his father, her Uncle Chuck: he wants to buy her parents’ house. 

As she travels across the country and back in time, intent on accepting this offer, she is forced to face the feelings she’s buried all of those years. And when reality strikes that they are not interested in her or the house, but in fact in the land to develop and make money out of it, something in her snaps.  

She goes back to a feral state, a core and primitive instinct possessing her that she cannot (nor want to) get rid off, embarking on this insane project to deconstruct the house room by room, piece by piece, and move it across the pond as an act of vengeance against this family she so despises. 

What a clever story Colleen Hubbard has written here!

As Del has no choice but face her past, you cannot help but wonder if one can ever really escape the past? Aren’t we always forced to confront it in order to move forward?

You’re a mystery wrapped in an enigma wrapped in a terrible haircut.

By deconstructing the house, Del also deconstructs her life. To free herself from the shackles and hurts from the past, she will have to perform an exorcism. She will have to face and accept the dichotomy of nostalgia, make peace with herself, her late parents, their shortcomings, and this town and its people that she loathes and loves at the same time. 

I need to finish this. I do. I can’t explain it.

She’s so stubborn, it might kill her but she won’t give up! For once in her life she doesn’t want to. It is stronger than her, it’s an urge she cannot shake. In her determination and her fury, she takes herself to the brink, turning into a wounded animal who wants to be left alone. 

But it is without counting on others forcing a helping hand. By reluctantly (not) accepting for other people to unexpectedly make their way into her life and her project, she is given something even more unexpected: hope. 

Through this crazy endeavour, Del is working towards finding herself and letting go of the past, ready for the future, and you cannot help but wonder: what would I have done in her shoes?

With Love
AGJ

About the Author

Colleen Hubbard is an American writer who grew up in New England and now lives in (old) England with her British husband and children. Her debut novel, Housebreaking, was published in the US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand in April 2022, in August 2022 in the UK, and is forthcoming in 2023 in translation. Her essays have appeared in Electric Literature, Literary Hub and other publications.

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.

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

Seadogs and Criminals by Alex Fisher – Blog Tour

A big thank you to Eleanor from Literally PR for inviting me on this blog tour! I love a good treasure hunt!

Synopsis

Victorian London. 

Joseph Winter is a master criminal, known around the backstreets as Trace – because he never leaves one. That is, until a tip-off about a fabled treasure map turns sour, shattering his reputation and turning his dreams to dust.

With nothing left to lose, Joseph decides to take the leap and persuades a group of interesting strangers to join him on the hunt. After taking to the waves, they are catapulted into a wonderous odyssey stretching across the globe, unearthing not only missing clues, but their own hidden depths when pushed to extremes demanded by the sea.

The treasure hunt leaves questions. Yet soon Joseph begins to ask his own…

Why are they doing this? Who can I trust? Who am I now?

Review

In need of some adventure? Look no further! Embark on Joseph Winter’s journey and sail away in the hope of discovering the Lost Loot…

When two writers, Alex and Charlie, overhear someone recounting tales of treasure in a pub, they jump at the chance to go and meet the elusive Mr Winter to hear his story first hand.

Being a criminal in Victorian London isn’t as easy as it seems… Having what it takes to be a talented thief is one thing, but finding someone reliable to sell the swag is another matter! 

Joseph “The Trace” cannot help it… It is part of him and his itch is uncontrollable. He keeps on promising his lover Lucy that he will stop, but the lure of profit and the thrill of the act is too grand. 

So when Mad Vinny tempts him with the prospect of finding a map, leading to the legendary Lost Loot, Joseph cannot refuse. His grandfather was an explorer, and it seems like fate that he should follow in his footsteps.

Unfortunately, things go horribly wrong and The Trace is thrown in jail, but not before retrieving the first clue of his fantastic journey out in the seven seas. 

Being strong minded and resourceful, it isn’t long before he manages to enlist likeminded individuals to escape and accompany him on this voyage of a lifetime, aboard Captain Robertson’ ship.

Through doubts, dangers and storms, all of our protagonists will have to find their place and question everything they thought they knew. Life at sea can be cruel sometimes and the lessons to be learned are not only about how to sail… if they hope to succeed, they will have to dig deeper into their past, and delve in the secrets and clues scattered for them.

Who is a friend? Who is a foe? Turning criminals into seadogs is not enough, the elements will be testing and Joseph will have to watch his back…

Fancy sailing out towards the Equator and beyond? Pick up a copy today! 

And if like me you’ve enjoyed reading this book, you are in luck because book 2 is out now too!

With Love
AGJ

Out now and published by Grosvenor House Publishing.

About the Author – Alex J Fisher

Alex Fisher grew up in Cambridgeshire with his parents and two sisters, and still lives there today. Alex says, “Despite the obvious beauty of the flat fields and ongoing horizon there is not much to do, and you need to be able to drive to get anywhere. My active imagination extended beyond childhood, although now I exchange action figures for blank sheets of paper and a keyboard.”

Alex has learned many things whilst on the trowel and honed his skills these past few years so that he can build houses of a quality standard. He also has some experience in other trades too such as plastering, tiling, groundworks and drainage, but bricklaying is his main area of expertise. This, as well as creative writing. After an idea had been planted, he began writing Seadogs and Criminals when he was 18, making sure to at least write for an hour a night after work. Toward the end of the book though, this turned into three and a half hours a night and became an obsession. It was a thrill to write, absorbing him into the story so much so that he became lost in the pages with the characters. It was a mixture of sadness and exaltation to finish the book and now, after years of proof-reading and editing, he managed to self-publish Seadogs and Criminals into a series of two books, the second of which was published in August. Even though this is the end of a chapter, he somehow feels that this is not the end of the book. There is more to come, and he is excited to discover where his journey leads next.

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

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.

“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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Grown Ups by Marie Aubert – Blog Tour

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

–Synopsis–

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

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

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

–Review–

A short, nevertheless very thought-provoking book! 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With Love
AGJ

Out now with Pushkin Press 

–About the Author – Marie Aubert–

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

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