Diamonds at the Lost and Found by Sarah Aspinall – BLOG TOUR

— Synopsis —

Thank you so much to Hannah at Midas PR and to 4th Estate the publisher for having me on this blog tour, and to Sarah Aspinall for writing such a gem.

For readers of Hideous Kinky, Dadland and Bad Blood; the astonishing, beguiling story of Sarah Aspinall’s harum scarum childhood, and a love letter to a woman who defied convention to live a life less ordinary.

My Mother attracted unusual people and events to her, and she made things happen….

Sarah Aspinall grew up in the glittering wake of her irrepressible mother Audrey. Born into poverty in 1930s Liverpool, Audrey had always known that she was destined for better things and was determined to shape that destiny for herself. From the fading seaside glamour of Southport, to New York and Hollywood, to post-war London and the stately homes of the English aristocracy, Audrey stylishly kicked down every door she encountered, on a ceaseless quest for excitement – and for love.

Once Sarah was born, she became Audrey’s companion on her adventures, travelling the world, scraping together an education for herself from the books found in hotels or given to her by strangers, and living on Audrey’s charm as they veered from luxury to poverty – an accessory to her mother’s desperate search for ‘the one’.

As Sarah grew older, she realised that theirs was a life hung about with mysteries. Why, for instance, had they spent ages living in a godforsaken motel in the Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina? Who was the charming Sabet Sabescue, and what was his hold over Audrey during several months in Cairo? And what on earth happened to the heirlooms that an ancient heiress, Miss Gillette, gave Sarah when they visited her in Palm Springs?

And why, when they returned to Southport was Audrey ostracised by the society she so longed to be part of?

Diamonds at the Lost and Found tells the story of how Sarah eventually pulled free of her mother’s gravitational pull to carve out a destiny of her own. It is a beguiling testament to dreams, defying convention and exasperated love.

— Review —

What a fascinating and thought provoking story! In this memoir, Sarah, aka Sally, shares with us the intimate moments of her childhood alongside her very unconventional mother Audrey.  

Let’s get this show on the road” was Audrey’s motto. 

Audrey was many things and so much more, to Sally and everyone they met along the way. She was “a chancer, a dreamer, a procurer, a delinquent, as well as a teller of tales.” She was never standing still, always restless, always wanting more. She needed to dazzle, sparkle, glitter, whether physically or through her personality.

Her life was this never ending quest, this “hunt” for love and fantastic stories, which was as fulfilling as costly. 

Audrey’s duality was simply fascinating: she would have stopped at nothing to get her “happy ever after”, she was a resilient, resourceful, determined and independent woman, who would never take no for an answer and as far from the domestic type as possible, but she was desperate for a man in her life! She somehow couldn’t detach from this primal need; she wouldn’t feel complete without a man!

When Neil, Sally’s father, died ever so young from poorly treated illness, Audrey decided to continue her journey but this time accompanied by Sally, her “partner in crime“.

From Liverpool, to Southport, America, Asia, New Zealand, Australia, Cairo and everywhere in between, on cruise ships, in trains, cars, and hotels around the world, Sally was her wing-woman.

Shocking, funny, heartbreaking, exciting, lonely, and most peculiar, Sally’s coming of age story is simply extraordinary. 

Sarah takes you on this sensory discovery journey, whereby you are growing up with her. You get to experience all those things she discovered. You smell the perfumes, scents of places, of people, you touch the fabrics, delight your eyes and ears with the music, songs and dances. What a wonderful world she got to be part of. 

It certainly had its downsides and finding yourself in the shadow of such an exuberant mother is no easy task.

Audrey probably wouldn’t have won “mother of the year” award, in that she didn’t push for her daughter to have an academic education, she didn’t cook, and was quite self absorbed in her desperate attempts at finding love. Audrey despised all sports (apart from dancing) and cultivated an absolute loathing of getting one’s hair wet, so she never forced Sally to go to school, especially not on swimming days! 

Sally was treated like an adult, used to lure men, included in choreographies and random appearances, she didn’t fit with other kids. She was often alone, sometimes even neglected, so she took refuge in her books and in the company of other travelers, often much older. 

She had to become her own person without much support, and with what she had. Younger she was doing everything to please her mother. She was astonishingly obedient, staying alone for long period of times. She ended up living 2 lives; Audrey’s, and one she got to discover for herself, through art, literature, music, plays and encounters.

Despite Audrey’s self centered personae, she managed to raise an extraordinary girl. She made sure to give her the tools to fend for herself, and instilled in Sally this resilience, this strength and desire for life. She gave her amazing principles such as “all the world loves a tryer“, “don’t ask don’t get“, and she helped shape the woman Sarah has become. 

Such an inspiring story, and I really loved reading a book depicting implicitly the importance of the school of life. This is something too often dismissed, but as equally important as academia, if not more! Success is as much based on what we learn from books and teachers as what we learn in the world and from the people we meet throughout. 

Even if Sally resented her mother for spoiling her education, she was taught so many precious skills that it made up for Audrey’s shortcomings. 

Audrey didn’t want Sally to be a kid but becoming an adult meant to separate from her and she couldn’t bear it. And when the teenage years started kicking in, Sally’s desire to be different from her mother became almost an obsession. 

But can we really escape taking on some of our parents behaviours? Are we doomed to follow in their footsteps? What does it take to free ourselves from the imprints made by them in our DNA?

After all, Audrey did really love Sally, in her own special way, and she gave her everything she thought she could. And this is really what this book is all about: LOVE.  It drives us, consumes us but it is the best feeling in the world, and when you get to experience it you do fell like the luckiest person alive. 

I cannot stop thinking about it, I was transported in this life story that sometimes seemed out of this world. I stickered and post-ited so many pages for further contemplation, especially about the different sides inside ourselves…

Please pick up this book and embark on this magical and thought-provoking journey with Sally and Audrey, you can only come out on the other side feeling somewhat transformed. 

With Love

AGJ

Out now with 4th Estate

— About the Author – Sarah Aspinall —

And don’t forget to check out what my fellow bloggers have to say!

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

“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

“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