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.



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

THE WITNESS by Terry Lynn Thomas – Blog Tour

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

Synopsis

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

HE SAW WHAT YOU DID…

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

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

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

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

–Review–

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About the author – Terry Lynn Thomas

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

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

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

Check out review from fellow book bloggers!

Opinions are my own.
AGJ

“THIS NOWHERE PLACE” by Natasha Bell

Synopsis:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or it might just it bury you . . .

Thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“TRUST ME” by T.M. LOGAN

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

What an expertly crafted thrill!

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

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

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

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

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

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

So many, many questions!

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

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

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

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

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

SYNOPSIS:

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

“The Favour” by Laura Vaughan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Out 4 March 2021

Synopsis:

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

Fortune favours the fraud…


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

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

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

‘Intelligent, elegant and immersive’ Claire Kendal

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

ALL THE LONELY PEOPLE by Mike Gayle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With love,
AGJ

Paperback published in 2021 by Hodder & Stoughton

“WE ARE BELLINGCAT – An intelligence agency for the People” by Eliot Higgins

Happy Publication Day !!

Synopsis: « We Are Bellingcat tells the story of how a school dropout created a whole new category of information-gathering and galvanised citizen journalists to solve some of the biggest stories of our time, using just their computer screens. It charts the tools that have developed for analysing data since the 1990s, from geo-location software that can pinpoint a precise place, to an app that can identify to the half hour the time of day when a photograph was taken. And it digs deep into some of Bellingcat’s most successful investigations – the truth about the downing of Malaysia Flight 17 over the Ukraine, the sourcing of weapons in the Syrian Civil War, scoops into journalistic phone hacking – with the drama and detail of a crime novel. »

“Identify, Verify, Amplify” – and this is how Bellingcat’ story goes. 

From a “one-man band” gathering data and posting on message boards during the Arab Spring to a full independent enterprise capable of identifying Russian killers, Eliot Higgins has grown a great deal. Through these pages, you get to discover the fascinating “behind the scenes” of open-source investigation and how it all began.

You get to immerse yourself in Eliot’s journey from his blog relying on crowdfunding to the company employing many, that is Bellingcat today. The author takes us through a very detailed account of the techniques used by the Bellingcat “sleuths” during the biggest stories they have covered: war in Syria, Salisbury attack, downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight “MH1”. All of this ensuring that all data provided and shared can be verified by whoever accesses it. 

Using many different tools, ranging from the simplest to more advanced (such as geolocalisation via the analysis of the sun’ shadows, Google Maps / Earth, image reversing, analysing hours of footage, scouring social media accounts and so much more), Bellingcat has uncovered so much evidence regarding some of the worst acts of our time, sometimes even shaming the governments’ data gathering capabilities, and this only by analysing what was all along in front of our eyes and for all to see (if one knows where to look).

The only criticism that I can make is that we sometimes get lost in a vast amount of details and the transition from one case or one idea to the next, does not always makes sense. Even though I thoroughly enjoyed it, it isn’t an easy read for everyone – if you, like me, enjoy investigative reports or scientific journals, then you should definitely try and read it. 

What is truly incredible is that everyone could do it, if one is ready to spare some time. Behind the technicalities of it all, Eliot also demonstrates that we are stronger when working together. One person can start something wonderful but only with the help of others can it achieve its true potential, grow and strive. 

A truly informative book, and if you would like to investigate further, you can also check out their website: https://www.bellingcat.com.

Thank you NetGalley and Bloomsbury Publishing for the advance e-copy. 

Book published on 4 February 2021 by Bloomsbury Publishing Plc

Opinions are my own

“WE ARE ALL BIRDS OF UGANDA” by Hafsa Zayyan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book published on 21 January 2021
An imprint of Merky Books

Disclaimer: opinions are my own.