ARC REVIEW: Date Night – by Samantha Hayes

Title: Date Night
Author: Samantha Hayes
Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Suspense
First published: August 20th 2019
Publisher: Bookouture
Finished reading: August 10th 2019
Pages: 350

“My thoughts are all over the place. Finally, my head catches up with the panic in my heart.”

*** A copy of this book was kindly provided to me by Netgalley and Bookouture in exchange for an honest review. Thank you! ***

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After being blown away by The Liar’s Wife last year, I couldn’t help myself and requested a copy of Date Night as soon as it was available. I mean, the blurb alone sounds absolutely fantastic: a missing girl, a murder, lots of secrets and a possibly innocent and wrongly accused main character… How could I resist that? And I’m glad I didn’t, because Date Night turned out to be a highly entertaining read. This is a psychological thriller created to mess with your mind and this story will make you doubt every single fact you thought you learned as you keep turning the pages. The strength of this story is in the complex and well crafted plot, designed to mislead you and hide certain facts from you to keep you guessing. And while it’s true that the whole unreliable narrator technique is getting a bit old, I found the idea of having a possibly innocent main character wrongly accused very refreshing and definitely fascinating.

Date Night starts like most domestic psychological thrillers, with the typical family of two successful working parents and their children and this balance being disrupted by a turn of events. In this case in the form of a ominous note left for the wife, Libby. What you first think is a simple cheating husband or ‘someone with a grudge’ scenario soon turns out to be a whole lot more complicated as their babysitter Sasha goes missing… And a few weeks later somehow the police thinks that Libby killed her. Date Night switches between the (recent) past and present, making full use of the unreliable narrator technique while slowly revealing more facts about what really happened that night and exactly what secrets are in play. And trust me, there will be a LOT of those. Oh yes, Date Night is basically a web full of lies and secrets you will find yourself trapped in, trying to untangle the truth while you wonder if Libby is really innocent, and who could have been behind Sasha’s disappearance otherwise. And while it’s true I guessed part of the final twists right, there were other aspects I wasn’t able to guess at all.

There is one thing that made me enjoy this story slightly less though: the characters. I know it’s common for unreliable characters to be unlikeable as well, and sadly in this case I wasn’t able to connect to the main characters at all. I found especially Libby’s behavior in general to be very frustrating, and while her flawed character worked well to hide those twists and keep the suspense up, not being able to connect to her made me care less about her possibly being wrongly accused. I wasn’t a fan of the other main characters either… But with an intricate and well developed plot, excellent writing and lots of secrets and twists to discover, I had a great time reading Date Night anyway. Fans of the genre will enjoy this one!


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BLOG TOUR REVIEW: The Escape Room – by Megan Goldin #blogtour #TheEscapeRoom @stmartinspress

Hello and welcome to my little stop of the The Escape Room blog tour! A huge thanks to Kelly Klein (St. Martin’s Press) for inviting me to be part of this blog tour. There was just something about this story that caught my eye immediately and as soon as I saw the positive reviews popping up I knew I had made the right decision to read this title.  And it was without doubt a thrilling ride… Want to know why? Please join me while I share my thoughts!

Title: The Escape Room
Author: Megan Goldin
Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Suspense
First published: July 30th 2019
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Finished reading: July 20th 2019
Pages: 352

“If we all knew the truth, it would bring out our worst, most primitive instincts. We’d turn into feral animals. We’d consume one another.”

*** A copy of this book was kindly provided to me by Netgalley and St. Martin’s Press in exchange for an honest review. Thank you! ***

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I admit that I was sold as soon as I read the blurb. I mean, we are dealing with a Wall Street angle combined with a potentially lethal escape room setting here; how am I supposed to resist that?! You guessed right, I didn’t, and it turned out to be a very interesting ride. There are a lot of good things I can mention about The Escape Room, and also a few minor issues, but overall it is without doubt a story I can recommend to fans of the genre.

The first thing that stands out in The Escape Room is of course the setting in the financial world. This story mostly takes place in New York, with a focus on Wall Street and just how brutal the financial sector is. Ambition is an understatement and people will crush their competitors and crawl over their dead bodies if that means they could add more money to their already generous paycheck that way. Addiction comes in many forms, and this story shows us that there is definitely such thing as money (and power) addiction. This insight in the Wall Street lifestyle of the elite is without doubt one of the most fascinating aspects of this story. The work that goes behind the multi million deals, the possible consequences for those involved, the competition, the discrimination and sexism still involved in the financial world, the physical and emotional toll the sheer pressure of the job has on those involved… All these elements and more are incorporated into the plot of The Escape Room.

We mainly learn more about the financial world through the chapters told from Sarah Hall’s POV. While we are not sure in the beginning exactly what role this character plays in the whole escape room situation, Sarah’s POV is essential to understand more about the background and events leading up to the escape room. Sarah’s chapters are altered with those set inside the elevator where the escape room is situated. These chapters have a more acute feel as there seems to be an underlying feeling of danger present at all times… And since you already know some basic facts about how things will end, because it’s right there in the very beginning of The Escape Room, you will find yourself wondering how things could have escalated to that point. I personally didn’t mind already knowing the ending before the story had even started, because it was intriguing to slowly try to discover why those specific characters ended up in the elevator and how Sarah’s character fitted in. The actual suspense is more subtle that way, in the sense that we don’t have a pile of crazy plot twists to recover from, but I could personally really appreciate how the plot itself was constructed.

Next up one of my issues with The Escape Room, and it has all to do with the main characters. I’ve never met a bunch of main characters that were each and every single one completely and utterly unlikeable and frustratingly irritating. Ok, I’m lying, I did mostly like Lucy as a character, but she wasn’t as present as the other five (Sarah, Vincent, Sylvie, Jules and Sam) so technically she doesn’t count right? There is a lot of complaining going on by all five characters before you reach the final page. Complaining about money: wanting more money, not having enough money, wanting to make more than their colleagues…Complaining about their situation in the elevator: they have better things to do than being stuck in an elevator, why them?, it’s not fair! etc. etc… Complaining about the job: the pressure, not receiving the recognition they deserve, blaming the job for their addictions… And I could go on and on. Each of the five of what I call the principal characters have a whole lot of negative personality traits and negative behavior we are forced to deal with and it makes it a lot harder to make yourself care about both what is happening in the elevator and about Sarah’s story as a whole.

I also had some issues with the credibility of it all, as some aspects of the plot are extremely farfetched and will make your eyebrows work overtime if you are looking for a credible and realistic thriller. On the other hand, if you are looking for an fast and crazy pageturner that will keep you entertained all the way, you will find yourself more than satisfied by what you find. It’s true that I would have liked to have more focus on the escape room itself, with less bitching and complaining of course and more secrets and clues to solve (some of the existing ones were really easy to guess), but there is just something about The Escape Room that made me enjoy the ride anyway despite the fact I saw the end coming quite early.

In short, if you don’t mind your stories on the insane side and think you can stomach the unlikeable characters, you will find yourself having a great time reading about what you can call a conspiracy plot mixed with an intense escape room situation.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Megan Goldin worked as a correspondent for Reuters and other media outlets where she covered war, peace, international terrorism and financial meltdowns in the Middle East and Asia. She is now based in Melbourne, Australia where she raises three sons and is a foster mum to Labrador puppies learning to be guide dogs. The Escape Room is her debut novel.

CLICK HERE TO BUY


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ARC REVIEW: The First Girl Child – by Amy Harmon @amazonpub @aharmon_author

Title: The First Girl Child
Author: Amy Harmon
Genre: Fantasy, Romance
First published: August 20th 2019
Publisher: 47North
Finished reading: July 22nd 2019
Pages: 400

“I’ve come to believe that home is not a place. Home is inside of us. Home is the people we love. Home is what we strive for.”

*** A copy of this book was kindly provided to me by Netgalley and 47North in exchange for an honest review. Thank you! ***

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I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I consider Amy Harmon to be one of my absolute  favorite authors and her stories never fail to blow me away. What makes her books stand out is that with each new title we get offered a completely unique story belonging to a wide variety of genres. There are not many authors who can pull off more than one genre, and Amy Harmon is able to do so with utter and total success. The First Girl Child has once again proven to me that she truly is a brilliant writer. I already fell in love with her 2019 historical fiction release, What The Wind Knows, earlier this year, and this new fantasy title is the second book to receive the full five star rating this year. Want to know why you should add The First Girl Child to your wishlist straight away?

This is already my sixth Amy Harmon book and my first time reading one of her fantasy stories (I’ve been meaning to read The Bird And The Sword for ages though), and I was completely blown away by it. I know already that The First Girl Child will stay with me for a long time… Its high fantasy world being one of the favorite places I’ve been lucky enough to visit so far this year. Oh yes, the worldbuilding in this story is absolutely brilliant. Using Norse mythology influences, Amy Harmon has created a new God and son of Odin named Saylok, and has shaped the fantasy world around his story. I loved the idea behind the star-shaped island of Saylok, with its different clans named after the different animals representing the children of Saylok. And the animals are not just for decoration, as the inhabitants of each clan bear a resemblance to their respective animal in both a physical way and through their customs. You will find many many references to the Nordic culture and myths as you are reading Bayr’s story, and this was personally a huge bonus for me as I have a weak spot for Norse mythology and Nordic culture in general.

While the different clans and the inner workings of life in Saylok might have that historical feel, The First Girl Child also gives us a proper dose of fantasy with the help of the magic of the Keepers and the Runes. The fact that we don’t know a lot about the history behind the Runes and its power, other than that it’s basically blood magic, only adds to the mystery around the Keepers and the role they play in protecting Saylok. The Keepers play a big role throughout the story, with the main character Bayr growing up with them, and Temple Hill was a fascinating backdrop for Bayr’s story in general. The plot is well constructed and is build around the curse his dying mother put on Saylok and all its inhabitants. No girls will be born from the day she voiced her curse and died, and Bayr will be Saylok’s only hope… With no further explanation about how he is supposed to save Saylok available straight away, I kept eagerly reading and I loved seeing the future slowly unravel. Years pass in a fluent way, and the pace is kept at a speed that will make you turn those pages like there is no tomorrow. The brilliant writing only adds to this feeling and gives The First Girl Child the high quality I’ve come to expect when it comes to Amy Harmon‘s books.

But this story is nothing without its characters. Bayr, Alba, Ghost, Dagmar… Those are only a few of the characters that will win over your heart and make you fall in love with this story. The main stars of The First Girl Child are Bayr and Alba, and I adored both their characters and their relationship together. The character development in general is brilliantly done and shows them evolving realistically over time. The fact that nobody but Dagmar knows about the curse gives the story an interesting twist, and that is not the only secret that is being kept from the other characters. Things slowly escalate as years pass without another girl child being born, and I had a fantastic time learning all about Bayr and Alba’s story. The First Girl Child ended with a bang and without doubt left me wanting for more… And I’ll keep my fingers crossed we’ll get to visit Saylok and its characters again some time in the future.

The worldbuilding, the Norse mythology influences, the characters and their development, the plot, the writing… Oh yes, there were plenty of reasons that made me give The First Girl Child the full five stars it deserves. I can highly recommend this story to anyone who loves a good fantasy story with characters you cannot help but fall in love with and a healthy dose of Nordic references. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed.


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ARC REVIEW: Her Silent Cry – by Lisa Regan @bookouture

Title: Her Silent Cry
(Detective Josie Quinn #6)

Author: Lisa Regan
Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Crime
First published: August 14th 2019
Publisher: Bookouture
Finished reading: July 24th 2019
Pages: ?

“Every one of us goes through our days looking straight at people and things but not really taking them in.”

*** A copy of this book was kindly provided to me by Netgalley and Bookouture in exchange for an honest review. Thank you! ***

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I’ve been a fan of this series ever since I read the first book about eighteen months ago. With each new meeting with Detective Josie Quinn, my love for this series is only reconfirmed all over again and each book brings the promise of yet another intense and suspenseful ride. Her Silent Cry is no exception to the rule, and already the sixth successful installment of this detective series. Want to know why?

First of all, the simple fact of being able to meet up with some of your favorite characters again is always a fantastic feeling. Josie Quinn and her team managed to win over my heart from the start, and with each new story it feels as if you are meeting up again with old friends. You can see their characters develop over time, the events of the different books leaving its mark on their characters as well as the dynamics between them. While it’s true you can technically read Her Silent Cry as a stand-alone with only minor loss of background information, you will miss out on references to the past and might not fully get the dynamics between the different characters. And with the first five books all being thrilling and intense rides, there’s no excuse not to catch up with the past before diving into the newest Detective Josie Quinn!

In Her Silent Cry you will find new developments relating to the personal life of Josie Quinn, and that part of the storyline definitely left me wanting for more! Josie, Noah, Gretchen and even Misty and Trinity play a role throughout the story, although the main focus is on the new case that started developing right under Josie’s nose. It’s a missing child this time around, and a case that turns out to be a lot more sinister and complicated than you might think when little Lucy first goes missing… The little chapters with nameless characters give you a hint, but you’ll find yourself wondering how everything actually connects as you keep turning those pages and things are getting more and more critical. A fast pace is combined with a suspenseful and twisted plot filled with secrets and turns and together they will make the intensity level go through the roof. Josie Quinn and her team are finding themselves in a race against the clock, desperately trying to find Lucy alive and stop more people from getting hurt… But things are not that simple as certain people seem to be hiding crucial information that could potentially help them get Lucy back. As always, you might wonder about the credibility of certain aspects of the plot, but I myself was too busy flying through the pages and enjoying myself to really stand still by that. If you are a fan of intense and thrilling detective thrillers that pack a punch, you should definitely schedule yourself a meeting with Detective Josie Quinn soon!


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ARC REVIEW: Along The Broken Bay – by Flora J. Solomon

Title: Along The Broken Bay
Author: Flora J. Solomon
Genre: Historical Fiction
First published: July 1st 2019
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Finished reading: July 19th 2019
Pages: 389

“Manila’s magic was gone, replaced by an undercurrent of fear potent enough to be sensed by an observer.”

*** A copy of this book was kindly provided to me by Netgalley and Lake Union Publishing in exchange for an honest review. Thank you! ***

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I have always had a weak spot for historical fiction, and especially if the story is set during WWI or WWII. I admit I was sold as soon as I read the blurb of Along The Broken Bay, as you don’t often see a WWII fiction setting in the Philippines and Gina’s story of working in the resistance sounded absolutely fascinating. I was looking forward to fully emerge myself in what I thought would be a new favorite story, but sadly fate had a different reaction for me in store. Because while I still think that the premise of this story is fascinating, unfortunately I can’t say I enjoyed the execution all that much. I’ll try to explain below why.

First of all I have to state that the description of the Manila and Zambales mountains settings is thorough and gives us insight in the local flora and fauna. It made the Philippines come alive and gives this WWII fiction read an exotic vibe. I can’t say I was too happy with how the local population was described though, nor how the main characters interacted with them. The demeaning way the locals, their culture and how they interacted was described left me with a very bad taste in my mouth and for me it crossed the line of racial discrimination. I think that the fact that (rich) Americans and Europeans living in Manila might have seen the locals in that way back in the 1940s is no excuse to degrade certain characters in such way. Likewise, I found Gina to be too much of a typical ‘rich white woman with prejudices’ cliche; her constant whining and complaining about the precarious situations she suddenly finds herself in not only distracting but also highly highly annoying. I really couldn’t stand her character, and as the story was basically build around Gina, it was really hard to convince myself to stay invested in the story. In fact, I had such a strong averse reaction to her that I confess that I probably wouldn’t have made it to the final page if this wouldn’t have been an ARC.

The pace in Along The Broken Bay is quite slow as well, and combined with my repulsion for the main character and the way the story treated the local population I ended up struggling considerably to reach the final page. I still think the premise on its own is intriguing, and it was interesting to learn more about how the resistance operated and their network in general. The nightclub was also an interesting twist; the dangers of the operation adding a hint of suspense to the story. The little chapter introductions featuring the thoughts of Gina’s husband Ray while he is separated from his family were likewise a nice touch. And while Along The Broken Bay clearly wasn’t my cup of tea despite my love for the genre, I’ve also seen that most people seem to have a very positive reaction to this story, so definitely don’t give up yet if you are intrigued by the premise.


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ARC REVIEW: The Silent Ones – by K.L. Slater @bookouture

Title: The Silent Ones
Author: K.L. Slater
Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Suspense
First published: July 24th 2019
Publisher: Bookouture
Finished reading: July 6th 2019
Pages: 432

“I have nurtured and protected my daughter for ten whole years, and now she’s slipping away from me like sand through my fingers and there’s nothing I can do about it.

Nothing at all.”

*** A copy of this book was kindly provided to me by Netgalley and Bookouture in exchange for an honest review. Thank you! ***

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I think most will know by now I’m a huge fan of Kim Slater‘s psychological thrillers and she is without doubt one of my favorite authors of the genre. I absolutely loved 2019 release Finding Grace earlier this year, and I might have squeeled a little when I saw that we were going to have a second Slater title coming out this year. Of course I couldn’t resist getting a copy as soon as I saw it was available on Netgalley, and of course I knew it wouldn’t be waiting long on my kindle either. And guess what? The Silent Ones was without doubt another winner! The only reason I didn’t finish this story in one sitting is that I started it too late in the evening and I needed to get some sleep in to be able to function as a human being the next day… Because trust me, this is one of those stories that will make it hard to let go and stop reading before you reach the final page. What a read!

Why was The Silent Ones yet another success for me? The first thing that stands out is the writing, which is just as brilliant as always and draws you right in. I found myself to be hooked as soon as I read the first chapter, and the beginning of the story sets the right tone for the rest of the book. The Silent Ones is basically a family focused psychological thriller with a dramatic twist and a LOT of secrets that will keep you on your toes. I think this contrast between the family drama and the shocking crime and accusation of the two ten year olds is what makes this plot so fascinating. On the one hand we have the two sisters, Juliet and Chloe, who seem to have their issues and secrets within their family and past. More about this part of the story is slowly revealed in the chapters set in the past as well as the present, and this storyline serves as a contrast with the more brutal and accute present situation. Because the real ‘stars’ of The Silent Ones are their ten year old daughters Maddy and Brianna. The fact that they are the only suspects of the brutal assault of an older member of a small community is shocking considering their age, and you are left wondering if one of them really could have done it. Likewise, we have that same community already convicting the whole family before the girls are even charged with something… Something that sadly is all too believable and still happens all the time. I admit I did see part of the final reveals coming, but it cannot be denied that it was a brilliant way of turning around the story completely. If you are looking for your next psychological thriller read, you should definitely consider this well written, complex and gripping little gem.


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BLOG TOUR REVIEW: The Closer I Get – by Paul Burston #blogtour #RandomThingsTours @Orendabooks @annecater

Hello and welcome to my little stop of the The Closer I Get Random Things blog tour! A huge thanks to Anne Cater for inviting me to be part of this blog tour. There was just something about this story that caught my eye immediately and Orenda titles have yet to fail me, so of course I couldn’t wait to get my teeth into this story. My instincts were right, because The Closer I Get completely blew me away. Want to know why? Please join me while I share my thoughts!

Title: The Closer I Get
Author: Paul Burston
Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Suspense
First published: July 11th 2019
Publisher: Orenda Books
Finished reading: July 11th 2019
Pages: 276

“The whole online world is one big stalking exercise. If I’m guilty, then so are millions of others.”

*** A copy of this book was kindly provided to me by Anne Cater and the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Thank you! ***

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I admit it doesn’t happen often, but every once in a while I come across a story that is able to blow me away in such a way that I find myself unable to put a coherent sentence on paper, let alone write a review that would do it justice. The Closer I Get is one of those stories. I normally write my reviews almost immediately, not wanting to forget about the details of the story as well as conveying my thoughts accurately. This time around, I found myself unable to conjure the words to describe my thoughts for more than a week, my brain still recovering from the impact of Tom and Evie’s story. In the end I simply had to put my foot down, make myself open my WordPress draft, start my rambles and see if it would make my creative juices start flowing. Let’s see if I can get my thoughts on paper somewhat coherently, shall we?

The first thing that stands out in The Closer I Get is the focus on social media and the dangers behind online presence and relationships. It’s a theme extremely relevant in today’s society, as a lot of people give more and more importance to their online presence and frequently ‘hide’ behind their online personality. Frankly, the online stalking as described in The Closer I Get chilled me to the bone and made me seriously wonder if I should just shut down all my social media accounts to be on the safe side. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy my time on bookish Twitter and Instagram and I love sharing the bookish love, but we all know that trolls are out there and the possibility of online stalking is evidently real. This is only confirmed by Paul Burston‘s interview in the Guardian which I saw shared on social media a while back, where he tells us about his personal struggle with being stalked by someone… Adding even more authenticity and power to message of The Closer I Get. It’s true that one of the perks of social media is getting to meet new people with similar interests you probably won’t be able to meet otherwise, but who can garantuee your new follower/friend is who they claim to be? Or if they have an ulterior motive for befriending you? If you start standing still by these questions, social media quickly becomes a scary place to be…

The Closer I Get isn’t just a story about online stalking though. With the help of an intricate and well developed plot, the story focuses on two flawed and complex characters with their own secrets and past. It’s a tale of obsession and unrequited love, one that ends up in court and has serious consequences for both sides. Told with the help of a daunting, sharp and flawless writing style, The Closer I Get will grab you from the first chapter and will have you looking over your shoulder and biting your nails sooner than later. The story alternates between the POV of Evie and Tom, giving us the chance to get to know better both stalker and victim and giving you a (seemingly) less biased view of the situation. You will learn more about Evie’s story through the letters she writes to Tom after her conviction, letters she can never send due to her restraining order. She tries to explain her view on the situation in these messages, never faltering in her belief that her actions are justified and her feelings for Tom mutual. On the other side we have Tom, who is clearly affected by the whole online stalking situation as well as his struggle with writing another successful story after his second book flopped. Reading about his deteriorating mental state as well as his decision to leave London find inspiration to finish his book Hastings was without doubt intriguing. And while it’s true that I didn’t find Tom or Evie particularly likeable characters, it’s also true that I found their development on its own to be both fascinating and realisticly done.

What makes this story even more intriguing is that basically both Tom and Evie are unpredicable and unreliable characters. There are no clearly defined boundaries between the so-called good and bad guys. Instead, we have two characters that you will find basically cannot to be trusted. Who is lying? Could part of their story be true? What secrets are the characters hiding? Life as well as The Closer I Get is not black and white, instead giving us blurred boundaries between truth and lies and that haunting. feeling that somehow part of the puzzle is missing. The plot will slowly evolve and escalate up until the point you will find yourself unable to sit still and biting your nails to the quick. The tension might be slow building at first, but this story will have some spectacular surprises for you in store and an ending you won’t be able to see coming.

Evocative, daunting, well versed and simply shocking… The Closer I Get will leave you breathless and disquieted about your own online presence and the possible consequences and dangers it entails. As you might have guessed already, I can highly recommend this title to any fan of the genre.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Paul Burston is the author of five novels and the editor of two short story
collections. His most recent novel The Black Path, was a WHSmith bestseller.
His first novel, Shameless, was shortlisted for the State of Britain Award.
His third novel, Lovers & Losers was shortlisted for a Stonewall Award. His
fourth, The Gay Divorcee, was optioned for television. He was a founding
editor of Attitude magazine and has written for many publications including
Guardian, Independent, Time Out, The Times and Sunday Times. In March
2016, he was featured in the British Council’s #FiveFilms4Freedom Global
List 2016, celebrating “33 visionary people who are promoting freedom,
equality and LGBT rights around the world”. He is the founder and host of
London’s award-winning LGBT+ literary salon Polari and founder and chair of
The Polari First Book Prize for new writing and the newly announced Polari
Prize.


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