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 … 

Luster by Raven Leilani

What a sucker punch!

I listened to the audiobook last month, courtesy of NetGalley and Macmillan Audio UK (thank you very much!) and I do understand why it was long listed for the women’s prize for fiction, but more importantly why it won the Dylan Thomas prize! Congratulations Raven, well deserved!!

— Synopsis —

Edie is just trying to survive. She’s messing up in her dead-end admin job in her all-white office, is sleeping with all the wrong men, and has failed at the only thing that meant anything to her, painting. No one seems to care that she doesn’t really know what she’s doing with her life beyond looking for her next hook-up. And then she meets Eric, a white, middle-aged archivist with a suburban family, including a wife who has sort-of-agreed to an open marriage and an adopted black daughter who doesn’t have a single person in her life who can show her how to do her hair. As if navigating the constantly shifting landscape of sexual and racial politics as a young black woman wasn’t already hard enough, with nowhere else left to go, Edie finds herself falling head-first into Eric’s home and family.

Razor sharp, provocatively page-turning and surprisingly tender, Luster by Raven Leilani is a painfully funny debut about what it means to be young now.

— Review —

What are you ready to endure to be loved ? To feel some sort of connection?

Edie is young, broke and doesn’t know what she wants. She’s an artist, she’s struggling, she could be so much more but she just doesn’t know it yet. She doesn’t have anyone who can help her, no family or friends to tell her that she’s worth something so she goes for the worst kind of men and accepts all sorts of horrifying behavior, just to feel something.

She is desperate to find her place in the world, but her job is all but fulfilling, and the relationships she tries to cultivate all seem to turn from bad to worse.

Then, she meets Eric through a dating app. He is married but his wife Rebecca has agreed he could have someone else on the side, under certain rules and conditions… which turns into the zaniest of situation!

Raven’s writing is so clever! She broaches heavy subjects such as class, race, alcoholism, depression in a very subtle fashion.

Crude, poetic, dark and funny, this is such a compelling story.

It makes you feel so uncomfortable, but at the same time hopeful, sad, and laughing out loud.

Through totally madcap situations, Raven go through the extremes to depict how hard it can be to belong somewhere, to find a way through life. Witty and raw, this is a must read (or in this case a “must- listen”!) 

AGJ

TW: depression, sex, violence, racism.

Opinions are my own

Out now
Published by Pan Macmillan

“Lie Beside Me” by Gytha Lodge

Synopsis

Louise wakes up. Her head aches, her mouth is dry, her memory is fuzzy. But she suspects she’s done something bad.

She rolls over towards her husband, Niall. The man who, until recently, made her feel loved.

But it’s not Niall who’s lying beside her. In fact, she’s never seen this man before.

And he’s dead . . .

As Louise desperately struggles to piece her memories back together, it’s clear to Detective Jonah Sheens and his team that she is their prime suspect – though they soon find she’s not the only one with something to hide.

Did she do it? And, if not, can they catch the real killer before they strike again?

Such a dark and brilliantly enthralling book!

Thank you very much Michael Joseph for treating me to this proof, I absolutely loved it! Addictive from the very first page, I couldn’t put it down and devoured it in almost one sitting (if only there were more hours in the day to just sit and read!).

The story skillfully unfolds following Louise on the one hand, and the development of the police investigation on the other hand. 

Louise writes to Niall and recounts what she remembers, or at least what she thinks she does, and goes back to the day they met, digging dip into her alcohol problems and the reasons she’s become this person. She is such a fascinating protagonist, so complex, she made me go through all the range of emotions possible: laughter, love, sadness, anger, bafflement; my heart was aching for her.

She has journeyed through life “unconsciously” impersonating different alter egos, and you get to witness how she acquired her different personae. Alcohol has made her conjure up “Drunk Louise”, this dangerous personality trying to make “Sober Louise” disappear, in a way granting her that wish of oblivion: Drunk Louise came to life to fill in Sober Louise’s multiple voids in hers, the loneliness, the lies, betrayals, lack of confidence. She is the mask one puts on to avoid facing their demons, the sweet bliss of forgetfulness being so easy to get tempted by. 

Drunk Louise is a very witty metaphor showing us the dangers of alcohol and excess to oneself or others, and where they could lead. Absolutely brilliant!

On the other side of the mirror, you get to follow the amazing team of DCI Jonah Sheens. Each member brings something important to the investigation, the spotlight being mainly on Juliette Hanson and her own demons. You get completely engulfed in trying to make sense of the trail of clues alongside them, and I’m not ashamed to say I DID NOT SEE THIS COMING! I was completely swept up my feet by the denouement. 

The characters were all so well rounded, they all possess different sides and you are kept wondering who they really are right until the end. Everyone had something to hide; Friends? Foes? Both? Was Alex a real victim? What was he hiding? What were they all doing in that club on the night of the murder? Is Louise innocent? What is Niall doing with his ex-wife? Who really is April, Louise’s mysterious best friend? What happened to Juliette? Will her past catch up to her again? This book has so many different aspects, so many side stories and complications, I was on the edge of my seat asking myself how it was all going to come together; and Gytha has done it! Masterfully linking and merging it all together into perfection. This story left me in a total state of wonderment. 

I am a fan of thrillers, and this one is definitely one of the best I’ve read in a while! A true success! I will officially call myself a convert to the Jonah Sheens series, more please ! 

Opinions are my owns
Published on 18 March 2021 by Michael Joseph, part of Penguin Random House

“THIS NOWHERE PLACE” by Natasha Bell

Synopsis:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or it might just it bury you . . .

Thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“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.

THE PROPHETS, by Robert Jones, Jr.

I am in awe… in awe of this incredible and magnificent book by Robert Jones, Jr. His quill is pure poetry and, even though his prose is heartbreaking, it is also breathtaking. I could not put it down. I was transported right there and then, mesmerised by it all.

The story takes place in Mississippi, at the Halifax’s family cotton plantation, whereby you meet different, complex and multi faceted characters; from master and enslaver Paul Halifax, his wife Ruth and their son Tim, through James the overseer, to the enslaved Maggie, Sarah, Puah, Essie, Amos, Adam, Beulah, and their memory: the Ancestors. Each of them sharing with you their point of view regarding life (and lack of) on the plantation, but more importantly deep, private, and painful secrets, and opening up a window through which you get to discover “The Two of Them”.

Samuel and Isaiah.

Two slaves. Two children. Grown into men by force, surviving the hell that is slavery in this place referred to as “Empty”, by loving each other in the secret of the night and the stars.

Their relationship and “forbidden” love brings out mixed emotions in all the characters, from indifference, to anger, to love. Some see them as the best tool for toil, others as a threat to the community’s survival. Despite it all, they choose freedom. The freedom to decide who they love and how.

Through the Ancestors, the words reach out of the page and cradle your head with their strong but invisible hands and your eyes are forced wide open: you are compelled to bear witness to the atrocities of the past, and reflect upon it all. They share their memory and try and instill hope and will that it shall never happen again. They open your heart up to love.

Robert Jones, Jr. transports you with brio to the deep recesses of the protagonists’ souls, “The Prophets”, where he depicts so brilliantly the power of love, the power of freedom; you get engulfed, slapped and submerged with emotions; sharing the enslaved’s innate secrets, what makes them hold on to life, that piece that is theirs and theirs alone, that no one knows about and therefore cannot be stolen away from them, that secret power that fuels their desire to survive, amongst the horrors they all had to endure.

Robert Jones, Jr.’s writing is pure genius, it makes you feel like someone reached down your throat with their bare hand, grabbed your guts and twisted them. You feel it all. Everything in its entirety. The joys, the pains, the disgust, the horrors, the love… everything. This book swallows you whole and spits you out feeling oh so fragile, weak, torn apart but enriched.

Humanity is depicted at its purest and at its worst, recounting how fear makes some of us behave like monsters, trying to bend those who are different to us to fit our established beliefs and expectations of conformity.

Lyrical and powerful, this book is truly a masterpiece, approaching themes so relevant in today’s society, but which won’t prevent it standing the test of time and becoming a classic.

I can only humble myself and say: thank you Mr Jones, Jr. you have shaken me to my core.

Anne.G.J

Book published on 5th January 2021 by Riverrun, an imprint of Quercus Edition Limited, an Hachette UK Company.

Disclaimer: these opinions are my own – this books touches upon difficult subject and will get the reader faced with depiction of sex, rape, slavery, murder, death, torture.